Larkspur: The Carrots and Sticks are Out

In Today's Marin IJ Mayor Morrison of Larkspur published a Marin Voice piece responding to concerns regarding the Larkspur Station Area Plan.

Leading Marin to Ruin
Leading Marin to Ruin
In today's Marin Independent Journal I welcomed the Marin Voice piece by Ann Morrison, the mayor of the city of Larkspur seeking to address concerns and achieve a healthy dialog on the 920 unit so-called "station area plan" (SAP). 

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
We are told that getting people to ride transit will reduce greenhouse gases, but here's some facts:
  • 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
So the logic behind high density housing is deeply flawed. In fact what is more likely to occur is:
  • 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
3) Mayor Morrison states that the new SMART train is not the Catalyst for Development
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.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

bonnjohn January 03, 2014 at 11:08 AM
Has anyone thought about water with allthis building . Been here thru 76 drought sure are a lot more people now I think I know that answer NOT!! Live in Marin long enough to know we really have very few visionaries!!!! Bonnie kaiser
Richard Hall January 03, 2014 at 11:37 AM
@bonnjohn - yes, water is a major question. The Marin Municipal Water District has so far bowed to pressure from ABAG to somehow acknowledge that we can accommodate the growth it demands of Marin - and this is WITHOUT Larkspur which unlike WinCup had to be allowed to meet ABAG's quota. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Played out we can anticipate a protracted return to 1976 - but this time the drought won't last years but decades. Just consider Sonoma's PDAs plan to add 24,010 new houses = 62,666 new residents up north. That's equivalent to a city bigger than San Rafael being added and drawing on the same water supply as Marin. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- See page 16 to see what Sonoma's PDAs have planned: http://tinyurl.com/sonoma-pdas
Here since 1970 January 03, 2014 at 11:54 AM
This is a great review, and thanks for your considerable time and effort clarifying real objectives and tactics of those behind the plan. You characterize SMART as a "Trojan Horse", a view I share - the train itself won't make a dent in transit problems, but will provide the rationale to bypass objections have kept at bay such major development in the past - mainly limited water supply. And as to this last, remember the MMWD plan to "study" desalination? We voted to shelve those plans and MMWD said ok, until such time as need arises... Build the houses, then out will come the plans for the MMWD pilot plant, and we'll be off to the races. My concern is that Larkspur's elected officials are frankly unprepared to deal with significant political and financial pressures that exist outside our nice little town. And, by the way, I am also concerned that our nice little town's hired hands are only too ready to add a major transit hub development to their resumes. Just sayin...
David Kunhardt January 03, 2014 at 01:04 PM
The reason Mr Hall publishes in Patch, rather than the IJ, is there is no one editing Patch, to catch his errors and omissions, or discourage his sour shading of the truth. The Larkspur area planning analysis does make a detailed assessment of water and sewer infrastructure and impacts. And four-story WinCup (same height as four-story Town Center 2 blocks South) was not the product of ABAG, and no housing advocates threatened lawsuits in Corte Madera. Look at the rising rental rates in today's Patch for the motivation. Then Read Mayor Ann Morrison's balanced piece in the IJ, and follow her invitation to see the actual planning documents on line. That is the route towards truth.
Here since 1970 January 03, 2014 at 02:48 PM
At this point Planning Department analyses seem a pretty lame basis for giving a go-ahead on such projects. Better just take a drive around the SFD/101 area during rush hour, or try to find a parking place anywhere/anytime around Larkspur Landing or the ferry terminal. Or compare the effect of 4 stories at WinCup with Town Center, one looms over you and the other is on a site large enough to provide adequate setbacks (btw speaking of looming effect check the story poles on that property across from Picco and imagine what that's going to look like from the street - bet Larkspur Planning won't have a problem with this either). You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows...I think Abraham Lincoln or somebody said that.
Richard Hall January 03, 2014 at 06:51 PM
@David: Former Mayor Diane Furst who presided over Win Cup contradicts you, although the way you present your statement is misleading: ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Kunhardt: "no housing advocates threatened lawsuits in Corte Madera" ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Furst: "If we did not zone for the 244-unit RHNA mandate we would have been sued by one of the numerous affordable housing advocacy nonprofits in the region." Source: http://www.dianefurst.com/page3/page4/index.html ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- It is misleading because you suggest there was no threat, the threat would have become real had Corte Madera not permitted WinCup to be built. Here's what actually happened when cities did not meet their RHNA numbers: ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- In 2013 Menlo Park was sued by housing advocates for not meeting its RHNA quota: http://tinyurl.com/menlo-sue ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- In 2008 Pleasanton was sued by housing advocates for not meeting its RHNA quota: http://www.cp-dr.com/node/2109 Need I continue...?
Richard Hall January 03, 2014 at 07:03 PM
Quote regarding the threat of housing advocates lawsuits and WinCup from Publicadvocates.org:---------------------------------------- "The consequences of non-compliance can be severe. In Pleasanton, for example, a state court prohibited the city from approving any development until it met its obligation. The city ultimately paid nearly $2 million in legal fees as a result of a protracted fight"
Bob Silvestri January 03, 2014 at 08:59 PM
More well researched and well reasoned analysis from Richard Hall. For those of us who support appropriate, low density, infill housing serving a wider variety of affordable housing types needed (mico-units, lofts, live/work, assisted, and many more), and 21st century transportation solutions (zero emissions personal transportation vehicles and computer optimized, electric flex shuttles over 19th century heavy iron) this helps show how totally out of touch the profits driven and highly politicized development process is with the real challenges we face. Top down planning continues to fail us. Only locally driven, bottom up solutions can address our long term needs in sustainable ways (economically, environmentally and socially). The need for communities to organize and develop their own planning methodologies has never been greater.
Al Dugan January 03, 2014 at 09:06 PM
Bob, no need for me to comment, as as usual you have nailed it. You leave me nothing to do but second your comments on Mr. Hall's excellent blog.
Hopkin January 05, 2014 at 04:22 PM


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something