I wanted to convey caution and specific requests and clarifications:
1. Larkspur is Not Approving Development of 920 New Housing Units
Technically Mayor Morrison is correct. But this is almost being pedantic. I have learned a lot talking to council members and planners in San Rafael. In theory the process goes through a number of steps:
a) Station Area Plan (SAP) is adopted
b) Environmental Impact Report is adopted
(At this point stand by for developers to start buying the land because they know the deal is nearly done)
c) Zoning changes are made to the city's general plan
d) A developer requests approval for an actual specific development proposal
In San Rafael and other "station area plan" engagements these were just "visions" - but still visions that we now know set development expectations. However Larkspur is different in that it is a "specific plan". No, it is not a specific proposal by a developer to build something specific. But it means, depending on wording in the city's general plan, that once the SAP and EIR pass that zoning will change. It is not "just a vision".
Talking at length to a councilor and city planner in San Rafael I learned that the likelihood of residents successfully opposing any kind of 920 unit development significantly diminishes at each step in the process. I was clearly told if the opposition is in principal to 920 units then now is the time to fight this proposal, and not to step back and wait for specific development proposals.
2. Larkspur SAP is Not About Achieving Housing Quotas
Ann Morrison states "there are no mandates to approve specific numbers of units"
Citizen Marin and Planning for Reality have both ensured there is no miscommunication here.
a) Win Cup was built to meet mandates.
Win Cup simply serves as a monument as to what a 5 story 180 unit high density housing development looks like. Unless developed in adherence with ABAG's (erroneous) Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) quota Corte Madera faced significant risk of being sued by housing advocates.
b) Larkspur's Station Area Plan is not about meeting housing mandates. However, while it may not be affected by penalties or "sticks" such as quotas, Larkspur is incentivized via transportation funding "carrots".
Here we can be quite specific. The city of Larkspur's own FAQ concurs on page 1 that it was ABAG and MTC (architects of Plan Bay Area) that provided $480,000 in funding to "prepare the Station Area Plan and associated Environmental Impact Report".
I ask that the city of Larkspur publishes all documents related to this grant. Why? The San Rafael ABAG and MTC documents clearly hamstrung the city with obligations by stating that the plan must "maximize housing" and be must adopted by the city council or the city would be left with some of the bill (which is extremely challenging for cities already facing funding challenges with pensions).
I talked about precisely how the station area planning process was rigged by ABAG, MTC and the oversight committee in my Patch article "How to Rig the Community Input Process".
Given this pattern while I would concur with Mayor Morrison that the plan is not about meeting mandates, I'd like transparency to understand if there are contractual obligations as historically ABAG and MTC station area planning grants have come with heavy strings attached, and pressure via phone calls to council members.
Furthermore ABAG and MTC control the dispersion of transportation funding. The rules of the game are build high density near transit and get funding. This funding can then be matched. So what looks like $1m from MTC can then get doubled via other funding sources. One must not underestimate the power of this "carrot" as cities and their planners are strongly incentivized to secure such funding.
3) Mayor Morrison States that ABAG and MTC Fund Plans to Promote Transit Ridership
This is by far one of the most dangerous and flawed policies to be imposed on Marin and the entire Bay Area. Here are some facts:
- despite massive investment in transit in the Bay Area since the 1980s per capita transit ridership has fallen
- ferries are some of the worst emitters of greenhouse gases
- cars and light trucks have overtaken transit and are much greener
- the gap between transit emissions and car emissions is only growing (cars are becoming even greener)
- one in every 10 new cars sold in the Bay Area is a hybrid with very low emissions (Source: Forbes magazine). So the gap between cars and transit in the Bay Area is even greater
- New technology such as car chaining and adaptive cruise control can significantly help address congestion without requiring expansion of freeways
- the new residents will drive their cars. The Los Angeles Times produced an excellent report "Near the Rails but on the Road" disproving that the new residents would use cars significantly less.
- the new development will significantly add to congestion and cause more standing traffic leading to greater emissions and more greatly inconveniencing everyone who drives through Marin past Larkspur
Then what is occurring is very misleading:
a) The development has been referenced as a "station area plan". Many more residents would have understood the ramifications had it been called "Larkspur Rezoning Plan" or "Larkspur High Density Development Plan"
b) The development was funded by MTC and ABAG through station area plan funding grants triggered by the coming SMART train. The SMART train is no innocent catalyst. The SMART train is a clear "trojan horse" and enabler. Goal #1 of the plan is "Promote Transit Ridership". Quite remarkably nowhere in the goals of the plan is there preserving the quality of life for the residents of Larkspur and people that travel through Larkspur.
4) Mayor Morrison Highlights Larkspur's Importance to Bicyclists and Pedestrians
I agree with Mayor Morrison in some respects. Cycling and ped have certainly not seen sufficient investment over a long period. However what I am becoming more alarmed by is the over-emphasis of these transit modes when 95%+ of people going to or through Larkspur are using a car. Due to convenience and comfort this is unlikely to substantially change.
While opening up a 3rd lane on the Richmond Bridge could significantly diminish the northbound evening crawl on 101 (especially if combined with a 2 way toll to discourage east bay commuters who discovered the Marin "short cut" after Bay Bridge closures) this is being delayed or potentially blocked to allow a cycle lane to be built across the bridge.
What is much more concerning are the new "multi-modal" planning approaches being applied to new development in California. Until now "Level of Service" has measured the impact of development on delaying traffic at intersections.
The new planning methodology being proposed by the state, if approved, would throw all consideration of traffic impact out of the window! Don't believe me - then read this document:
Preliminary Evaluation of Alternative Methods of Transportation Analysis
With the enactment of this type of process all Larkspur development in "traffic infill zones" can effectively ignore traffic impact - it would seem all consideration of car impact is to be abandoned. It is assumed the roads are a lost cause and should be left to rot and congest. We will be forced onto transit or for those that can - bikes.
IMPORTANT - Larkspur has not been designated a "traffic infill zone" by the city council. Hopefully it will not be. Without such a designation impact on traffic, parking and aesthetics will still be covered by the Master Environmental Impact Report.
The Discussion is Being Framed
What is effectively happening is that state regulations such as the onerous state senate bills and a new traffic impact methodology. These are effectively framing the rules of the game. They are framing future developments as urbanization, with no consideration for preserving suburban ways of life.
Ultimately Mayor Morrison may be correct - this is not like WinCup, there is no direct outside control on the conversation. But the indirect control being imposed by the state and unelected bodies such as ABAG and MTC could not be more significant.