A Response to Global Site Plans’ Nick Danty

Every  now and then an article is published by those advocating rapid growth that is so poorly grounded on facts that one almost hesitates to respond. One such article is “Social Equity Or NIMBYism? Marin County’s Battle With Affordable Housing” on Global Site Plans written by Nick Danty, a recent CSU Chico graduate.

I’ve known of this post for a while, but it has almost not seemed worthwhile responding due to the nature of its inaccuracy and because it has slide down to the depths of ad hominem attacks – typically a strong indication of a lack of defensible arguments.

Writer Nick Danty responds to one commenter:

please keep your posts mature and without offensive language

Yet his article sets the tone by descending to name calling – labeling opponents NIMBYs. I find this offensive as it falsely simplifies a wholly complex and nuanced topic with a smear intended to distance observers. Such readers might otherwise read up on the topic, become informed and discover that Danty’s arguments are completely misplaced.

 Inaccuracies – Where to Start?

Moving onto the topic of inaccuracy, where to start? I shall endeavor to be precise and include citations. First let’s get the most obvious, and blatant inaccurate statement by Danty out of the way:

ultra right-wing community groups continue to believe that Plan Bay Area is the extension of a global agenda to rob Americans of their freedom. Groups such as Citizen Marin…

Danty might be surprised to learn that Citizen Marin was co-founded by Marin Democratic Central Party committee member Susan Kirsch:

http://citizenmarin.org/about-us/

Frank Egger, former seven time mayor of Fairfax – a town known for being ultra liberal – and director for the Ross Valley Sanitary District regularly attends Citizen Marin meetings and writes on the same exact topics:

http://www.savemarinwood.org/2015/01/marin-voice-what-have-elected.html

Bob Silvestri has also been highly involved in Citizen Marin speaking at a town hall event and sponsoring a subsequent community discussion in November 2014 in San Rafael.  Silvestri is also very liberal – he is outspoken about raising the minimum wage and is a former affordable housing developer. He has written a highly researched and readable book “The Best Laid Plans“ on the topic that goes into far more detail than Danty’s piece.

But having now laid bare the inaccurate smear tactics, let’s get down to the brass tacks of Danty’s mis-statements.

Systematically Disregard Residents Views, Then Smear them if they Still Disagree

Danty states:

The Marinites in question posit that urban planners are forcing the development of high-density affordable housing projects and transit systems in their neighborhoods. This NIMBYist (Not In My Backyard) attitude…

 Plan Bay Area primarily manifests using the vehicle of “Priority Development Areas” or PDAs that are supposedly volunteered by local communities to accept significant development growth.

I live the area that was formerly a PDA. The city nominated it to be a PDA, as for outreach this is what the city states:

There was no formal notification or community outreach employed when the PDA application was presented to the City County… PDA designations do not require any formal notification or outreach.

Source: Civic Center PDA Responses to Community Questions, City of San Rafael.

Only once the nature and purpose of PDAs became disclosed and apparent to residents, which they were forced to discover and research on their own watch, did opposition occur. The PDAs offered a paltry amount of transportation funding, in the case of Civic Center San Rafael’s mayor estimated $500k at best, but would set into motion planning for 1,300+ new housing units that would at the outset require the adjacent Freitas Parkway freeway interchange to be reconfigured at an estimated cost exceeding $15m.

Residents spent 2 years attending a workshop referred to conveniently inaccurately as a “Station Area Plan” – the true primary purpose of rezoning and planning high density mid-rise housing was concealed. The most common feedback, repeated more than any other piece of feedback, was regarding heights – please don’t build plan buildings over 3 storeys. Yet at its conclusion the committee spent an hour debating whether 4 or 5 storeys was appropriate completely disregarding a crowd of 50 residents who not only observed but further reinforced this concern.

In Marin almost every PDA except for downtown San Rafael (which may be appropriate as it is already relatively dense), California Park (which is a dud – no developer would build there) and Marin City remain. Every other PDA was finally exposed, exhaustive research conducted, and after overwhelming informed popular pressure the PDAs were rescinded.

You can watch a video of the quite extraordinary debate that ensued in Strawberry, a suburb of Mill Valley, where informed citizens had read up and educated themselves on the facts to a level where the Supervisor, Kate Sears, who had doggedly pushed the PDA through and refused at that point to rescind it was completely out of her depth defending the PDA.

Strawberry PDA Neighborhood Meeting

Note there are 4 parts to the above meeting – notice just how informed the residents are, yet how uninformed Supervisor Sears comes across – yet she still insists on the need for the PDA. Months later, after Supervisors had been asked in 14 successive meetings by their constituents to put the matter on the agenda, the PDA was finally rescinded. It is shocking and abhorrent in a Democracy that a neighborhood had to ask 14 times just to get the PDA put onto an agenda for discussion. Supervisor Sears is unlikely to remain after the upcoming 2016 election.

Progressive Believers vs. Aware Residents

At a higher level what seems to be occurring is two groups have formed, and my apologies for being simplistic or using labels – but I am not going to descend to derogatory labels such as Nick Denty has done.

  • Progressives: A group who believe they are being progressive, steadfastly believe that the Bay Area must grow and grow much faster than at previous rates, in order to address a number of ills: make housing affordable, address racial imbalances, reduce greenhouse gases, create jobs and keep the Bay Area competitive with an affordable workforce. This group stridently believes that the car must be replaced by transit, and that new and existing residents can be persuaded to adopt new, high cost transit investments such as trains. Although quite separate, this group is supported by housing developers, including non-profit developers (where execs still make exorbitant salaries) and Wall Street which finances new development such as Tamal Vista in Corte Madera – the carbuncle of Marin.
  • Aware Residents: A growing body of residents has found themselves involved in the debate as their neighborhoods have been “nominated” for densification – routinely without their consent or even outreach.  Somehow Democracy failed. They researched and realized that to build enough housing to return the Bay Area to being “affordable” is an exercise in ocean boiling that they would prefer not occur in their neighborhood. Neither do they feel any obligation to Silicon Valley tech CEOs to ensure the region remains competitive – the region’s global dominance as a technology leader is unlikely to change.

Claims of addressing racial imbalances fall amiss when it is realize that new housing cannot be selectively kept aside for minorities. In fact the Marin City PDA is set to actually remove one of Marin’s last areas with high diversity, replacing historic buildings with gentrified replacements. As for the idea to move everyone from cars to transit – what progressives fail to realize is the gap between whim and reality. Historically despite increasing investments in transit in the Bay Area per capita transit usage has actually dropped. This is covered here in the Planning for Reality  article Climate Action Plan Moves into Checkmate Position.

What actually gets built, when allowed, are buildings like Tamal Vista (WinCup) which is 90% market rate offering luxury apartments most suitable for well paid San Francisco workers more likely to drive.

Ultimately the author sees Plan Bay Area as  the manifestation of Sacramento’s Senate Bill 375. This seeks to achieve “sustainable communities” but is really a Trojan horse to help state senate and assembly leaders who have received substantial campaign funding from development and building union interests.  It is based on flawed analysis that if large numbers of new and existing residents can be switched from cars to transit this will alleviate greenhouse gas emissions. Besides failing to address causality whereby policies may actually reverse trends and lead to a new adoption of transit, the analysis overlooks that by about 2020 cars will emit less greenhouse gases per passenger mile than transit. I’ve run the math:

http://planningforreality.org/transit-oriented-developments-dirty-secret/ 

In fact the case for transit being green is even worse than I state as trains like SMART won’t carry 44.1 passengers on average, but at best about 32 riders on average. At that ridership this diesel train will significantly increase emissions.

Delusions or Reality?

Progressives operate on whims but who do not look at the facts, and when they do they like to cherry-pick. They believe they “know what’s best” and drive through their policies – which only works until their subterfuge is discovered. Since they know what’s best they are moving the playing field away from Democracy towards unelected, unaccountable regional governments such as the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and the equally questionable Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC). These two organizations that were behind Plan Bay Area can operate insulated from voter pressure and can disregard resident input.

And then there are “aware residents” that are growing in number. In Marin what was initially considered flash in the pan opposition became the dominant force in elections, removing almost every single “pro-development” candidate from office, one long-term incumbent even suffered a remarkable landslide defeat, something that rarely happens in politics:

http://www.marinij.com/opinion/ci_27336828/marin-voice-voters-want-leaders-limit-growth-marin

Mr Danty’s article is based on whim and inaccuracy and descends to name calling. It has taken me a while to respond to this article because on so many levels, as should be obvious from the above, it is not deserving of a response.