The 2013 First Annual Marin Greenwashing Awards

The 2013 First Annual Marin Greenwashing Awards

Awards for 2013’s greatest “greenwashing” where facts and common sense never stood in the way of flawed high density housing or transit projects. Featuring Plan Bay Area and more…


Climate change is a very important matter. We only have limited resources to fight it, so it’s vital that we base our approach on facts. However facts have not got in the way of achieving political outcomes, or inflicting one’s personal vision of high density urbanization.

Many of the organizations and individuals receiving awards and nominations have their hearts in the right place and genuinely do seek to preserve the planet. However their use of the facts could be considered misguided, borderline reckless or simply intentionally serving political aims.

Over the course of the year Planning for Reality has touched on a number of newsworthy events and has garnered many new readers. At the New Year it seemed appropriate to revisit some of the most spectacular departures from reality that are being used to lead Marin, the entire Bay Area and the planet into dangerous territory.

The following awards represent the greatest greenwashing events of 2013:


Greatest Misappropriation of Credit

Winner: Plan Bay Area

Plan Bay Area was able to get 84% of survey respondents to agree that Plan Bay Area is an important as it reduces greenhouse gases, driving and provides access to housing and transportation…

What ABAG and MTC, the creators of Plan Bay Area forgot to mention in their survey was that:

  • Plan Bay Area took credit for policies that were already in place that reduced CO2 emissions to the levels targeted
  • Even without the plan, we have already reached, or are about to reach Plan Bay Areas stated goal of reducing emissions to 1990 levels
  • Plan Bay Area itself admits to making the cost of transportation and housing even less affordable for low and middle income residents (whoops!), increasing expenditures from 66% to 69% of incomes

The radical and imposing land use policies proposed by Plan Bay Area (but never clearly explained to survey respondents), which would see high density housing spring up all over Marin and the Bay Area, would account for less than a 1% reduction in per capita greenhouse gas emissions.

This is partially alluded to in the Plan Bay Area Draft Environmental Impact Report’s table 3.1-29 which shows that the majority of the impacts are already occurring thanks to California Air Resources Board Pavley emissions legislation (reduces CO2 emissions by 5.4%), MTC’s existing climate initiative (reduces CO2 a further 1.6%) yet Plan Bay Area reduces emissions by just 0.5%.


Most Significant Distortion of the Facts

Nominees: Sustainable San Rafael, League of Women Voters

Winner: Sustainable San Rafael

This category was especially hard to judge due to two near superlative entries:

Sustainable San Rafael
Managed to present an outlandish “fact sheet” defending the Civic Center Priority Development Area.

This sheet succeeds in conveying many sentiments and assertions while avoiding citation of any specific facts. Instead it provides a list of references to various documents where the reader is expected to pick through and find the supporting facts.

Unfortunately picking through the facts the reader may find that the assertions are unsubstantiated:

– SSR Claim: “The PDA Preserves Local Control” citing public hearings and zoning. This clearly ignores what happened with Win Cup where the Corte Madera City Council had to meet housing quotas imposed by ABAG or face lawsuits and liability.

The claim also overlooked the minor fact that the city signed a contractual agreement with MTC accepting over $0.5m in grants in return for adopting a plan that would “maximize housing”.

However the most remarkable claim is that residents within walkable, transit-oriented neighborhoods drive 25-75% less than those in more spread out areas. This completely ignored the fact that Civic Center was over 95 minutes from a major employment center (San Francisco) via the train and ferry, and connections were indirect and unreliable (the train will not operate when tracks are submerged – which occurred 3 days this year).

Robert Cervero, conceiver of transit oriented development, calls out 16 transit oriented development locations he deemed would achieve some significant trip reduction. However the difference between Civic Center and these 16 TOD locations could not have been more stark:

  • Civic Center was 95 minutes and indirectly connected to major employment center
  • the 16 TOD locations were on average 35 minutes from major employment centers and directly connected

More information can be found in my Patch post, The Civic Center PDA – A Square Peg for a Round Hole.

The Marin League of Women Voters
Quite the most singularly remarkable document to be circulated to Marin elected officials was entitled “Dispelling the Myths Surrounding Affordable Housing”. The piece advocated the need for high density housing in order to provide affordable or workforce housing.

The league conveniently omitted disclosing that the document was authored by the chair of the board of a billion dollar affordable housing organization. This concealment made the piece seem educational when it was clearly lobbying.

The piece was so dire in its misrepresentation of facts that I ended up publishing possibly one of the year’s longest blog postings –Dispelling the Dispelling in August 2013.

Ultimately the sheer dogged persistence and repeated letter writing of flowery sentimental arguments not backed up by facts meant that the award has to go to Sustainable San Rafael.


Honorary Award For Increasing Emissions While Acting Like the Planet’s Savior

Nominations: Mark Levine, Darrell Steinberg

Winner: Darrell Steinberg

Darrell Steinberg, head of the California State Senate, has a track record second to none at pushing through climate change initiatives. Some of his biggest campaign donors are builders, builders unions and transit companies.

Steinberg’s accomplishments include:

Senate Bill 375: A bill setting targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Cleverly engineered the bill, in conjunction with California Assembly Bill 32, focuses on near exclusively reducing emissions from cars and light trucks. The fact that car and light truck emissions are dramatically in decline, and already have achieved or are on course to achieve within 12 months the targeted 1990 emissions levels didn’t stop SB375 initiating Plan Bay Area.

Senate Bill 743: The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) ensures that all building projects, including high density infill, adhere to a planning review that considers:

– Traffic impact

– Parking impact

– Aesthetic impact (e.g. WinCup looks out of place in low rise Corte Madera)

Steinberg put through SB 743 to help the new Sacramento Kings stadium get built, bypassing all of reviews of traffic, parking and aesthetics required by CEQA.

However, just for good measure, Steinberg extended the bill so that it would apply to all “transit priority areas”. It looks like this bill may not apply to Marin (as it’s population is under the required 400,000 population threshold). However we are still checking as there may yet be ways SB743 can be applied in Marin.


Senate Bill 1: By far the most insidious bill, SB1 has so far not been enacted but it passed a State Assembly vote and is on the governor’s desk for signature early in 2014 unless enough objections can be raised.

Senate Bill 1 will institute new “Joint Powers Authorities” called Sustainable Communities Investment Authorities. Like ABAG, these new entities will be governed by appointed elected officials – so like ABAG most people will not be able to vote their SCIA appointee out. This would be fine if SCIAs were powerless organizations. But Darrell Steinberg has instead vested them with immense, inconceivable amounts of power previously only imbued to British monarchs:

– the power to declare an area within ½ mile of transit as “blighted”

– an exceedingly vague definition of “blighted” allowing nearly any suburban lower density neighborhood to be deemed blighted

– the power to then acquire the blighted area through eminent domain so that it can have high density housing built on it

– the power to impose taxes to pay for this

New State assemblyman and former San Rafael city councilor Mark Levine earns himself a nomination not only for voting to pass Senate Bill 1, but for failing to follow through with a campaign promise to provide a directly electable SMART board. SMART is already costing $1.6 billion and has a litany of issues:

  • the length of the line has been cut in half, despite promises
  • it will actually serve to increase greenhouse gas emissions
  • no valid, approved ridership projections exist
  • without valid ridership projections no dependable financial projections exist and the project is thus unaccountable


Most Spectacularly Misguided Event

Marin Grassroots: Declaration of State of Emergency

In 2013 many Marinites discovered that plans were being progressed by their representatives to impose high density housing in their neighborhoods. They attended frustrating council and city meetings claiming to garner resident input.

Marin Grassroots, an organization seeking “social equity” published a press release headlined “Groups say civil rights state of emergency threatens to engulf Marin County; ‘Lynch mob’ opposed to fair housing paralyzes civil participation”

The group somehow unilaterally decided that it could use the Marin Civic Center cafeteria – a taxpayer funded location – to conduct a press conference that was highly successful in gaining press attention. At the press conference the group implied that Marinites were a racist lynch mob.
Later it became evident that Marin Grassroots claim to be grassroots was in question. It received six-figure funding amounts from the billion dollar Marin Community Foundation in addition to Marin County – yes, taxpayers fund this group.

While Marin Grassroots has actively lobbied for high density housing in Marin it must be said that some of Marin Grassroots aims are laudable. However in it’s fervent execution this event was surely the biggest home-goal of the year.


Award for Driving Awareness of the Real Issues

Nominees: Randy Warren, MacFarlane Partners, Dick Spotswood

Winner: MacFarlane Partners (WinCup Developer)

(Note: This is a good award that the recipient should be proud to receive)

Randy Warren entered the hotly contested San Rafael city council race.  Despite a complete lack of track record, and raising less than half that of his nearest rival, with winners raising in excess of $50,000, Randy secured 18% of the city’s vote.

Based on counting North San Rafael precincts alone where high density housing had become an acute issue he would have won a council seat.  Randy has written and continues to write educated pieces defending Marin and highlighting flaws in transit oriented planning approaches.


Marin IJ columnist Dick Spotswood, despite being a transit advocate himself, managed to incur the wrath of housing and transit advocates alike. He managed to be lampooned as a horned and hoofed devil and even received an email containing damning vitriol of Marin’s longest serving supervisor.

His columns repeatedly exposed the issues – most recently highlighting the madness of failing to abate 101 and 580 traffic issues due to stubborn and unjustified insistence on building a bike path over the Richmond San Rafael bridge. Instead of addressing the needs of hundreds of thousands, Spotswood highlighted the absurdity of supervisors seeking to serve perhaps less than a hundred cyclists.


But without doubt the winner is MacFarlane Partners. There is simply no greater achievement that could have driven awareness in Marin County of high density housing than of building a 5 story, 180 unit carbuncle right adjacent to the freeway in Corte Madera where it can be seen by everyone. The building stands as a clear reminder to every Marinite that if we don’t fight high density this is how the county will be ruined. The property still hasn’t been completed but Corte Madera residents are bracing for parking and traffic issues.


Other Honorable Mentions

Supervisor Kinsey for not pushing through a 3rd lane on the Richmond San Rafael Bridge reducing traffic congestion and emissions on 101 and 580.

Supervisor Kinsey for demonstrating his continued support for questionable organizations such as Concerned Marinites and Marin Grassroots.

Supervisor Sears for ignoring requests on 9 occasions from Stawberry to review their PDA designation.

Supervisors Rice and Kinsey by claiming to represent us and yet voting to enact Plan Bay Area.

Dave Edmondson for relentless commenting in the Marin IJ and for believing that the Civic Center PDA had nothing to do with building more housing. For being the most outspoken advocate for his vision for urbanizing Marin despite the fact that he lives over 3,000 miles away in Washington D.C.

Allan Nichol for his nostalgic dream of returning Marin to the nineteenth century with a network of trolleys connecting high density housing neighborhoods that he architects. This is covered by my post Underpants Gnomes Set to Strike Marin with Trolleys.

Graton Casino in Rohnert Park for building a massive traffic attractor destined to flood 101 with thousands more cars adding to congestion and emissions.

Napa County Supervisor Mark Luce for being the executive president of the Association of Bay Area Governments. An organization with a plan for urbanization and high density through Priority Development Areas (PDAs). Mark managed to near single-handedly oppose Napa’s designation as PDA. His performance at May’s Great Planning Debate where he failed to defend Plan Bay Area was also a spectacular low-point.