I used to live blissfully unaware of the major plans that others had for urbanizing first my neighborhood, then Marin. But then I had a rude awakening as I discovered how special interests, assisted by seemingly compliant government agencies were pushing through radical plans to significantly increase growth.
The agency that kept catching my attention was the Transportation Authority of Marin (and ABAG – but let’s leave them aside for now). They first showed up on my radar after hundreds of neighbors discovered a rigged community input process around first the designation of our neighborhood as a “Priority Development Area” concentrating high density development – then via what was purported to be a “Station Area Plan” but which turned out to propose radical rezoning from 1,074 units to adding another 1,414 units within a 1/2 mile zone.
Resident input was summarily dismissed, and workshops somehow carefully avoided presenting “no change” options. Public meetings concluding setting height limits of 3 story height limits would magically come back from the oversight committee and planning consultants as 5 storys.
All Roads Lead to the Transportation Authority of Marin
More and more I discovered that more and more led back to the Transportation Authority of Marin:
- A TAM employee, Linda Jackson, was the project manager of the “Joint Project Team” (JPT) committee responsible for technical coordination
- TAM had lobbied councilors to discourage them from rescinding the Priority Development Area status when this was clearly the desire of the majority of residents
- TAM had been highly involved in the SMART Train – a project where all along the line “Station Area Plans” had popped up that put promoting ridership as their primary goal (see page 3 of this Larkspur Station Area Plan Workshop presentation), and the third goal was to “Increase Housing Supply Near StationAreas”. Nowhere was preserving the quality of life for existing residents a consideration, even though it was existing residents that would be the most impacted, and who would bare a significant amount of the burden.
TAM – A Chronology of Denials
Public Agencies are obligated to respond to reasonable requests for information from the public that they serve. They are working on the taxpayers dime and serving them – transparency ensures that the public is being served. One should ask why would TAM not respond to a reasonable request?
- January 25th request: I made my first request on January 25th via email and in writing. It requested the emails of 4 TAM employees over a 2 year period. Here is the request that I sent. Within 10 days I received this denial from Brian Case at the County of Marin.
- January 30th Request: I submitted a second request refining criteria. This narrowed down the request much further:
- Only emails to or from 2 instead of 4 members of TAM’s staff
- Only emails sent within specific time windows that combined lasted approximately 5 months
- Further filtered to emails sent to just 15 individuals or organizations
- This request was met with a second denial.
- February 7th Request: I further refined criteria specifying that only emails referencing certain keywords or topics. I presented this request in a format supplied to me by a journalist who routinely submits similar requests to government agencies.
This request was also denied by TAM.
- February 15th Request: I followed up again, again using the format used by the professional journalist and making the request quite specific that the criteria of the Jan 30th and February 7th requests were cumulative.
I also forwarded the request to Mayor Phillips of San Rafael who serves on the TAM board asking him to urge TAM to service my request. He responded with a one line email:
“So, does this meet the response requirements?”
Clearly this cannot be taken seriously – other observers reacted to Mayor Phillips email as demonstrating hubris.
TAM – Beyond the Law & Serving Whom?
At this point I am baffled by who TAM is serving. It seems abundantly clear to me that they serve special interests who want to rapidly develop Marin, and they serve promoting ridership for the SMART train. But there is a clear set of evidence that they do not support transparency or serve the interests of residents – which is their charter.
As I have been going through this process I have discovered that TAM is a Joint Powers Authority. This designation is very well explained by Bob Silvestri in his excellent blog posting entitled “The Enronization of Democracy“. This should be compulsory reading for anyone baffled by who a particular agency serves.
TAM is not a directly accountable public agency, but a quasi-public agency. Employees of TAM are not employees of any county of Marin government agency, but of “Regional Government Services – Local Government Services” (RGS-LGS). TAM doesn’t have any employees. Everyone who works there is an employee of RGS/LGS, provided to TAM under a long-term Joint Powers Authority.
RGS-LGS also provides full time and contract employees to a several other organizations that have been pushing special interests agendas such as the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, one of the major agencies behind Plan Bay Area.
The problem with this organizational set up is that it serves to reduce transparency, and could create a closed door environment where potentially special interests and not the public interests are being served.
What Can You Do?
1. Send an email to Dianne Steinhauser at TAM: email@example.com requesting that they respond with the information requested by Richard Hall’s Public Records Request. Please cc Brian Case firstname.lastname@example.org – the deputy county counsel at the county responding with denials.
2. Send your own request to Dianne Steinhauser at TAM: email@example.com
3. Find out if there are organizations affecting planning in your area that employ staff from Regional Government Services Local Government Services.
4. Submit your own records requests to these organizations.