UPDATE: Corte Madera, Mill Valley At Odds Over ABAG

Corte Madera is trying to rally support from its neighbors to leave ABAG, but Mill Valley's City Council isn't on board with the move.

Pat Ravasio, a real estate agent with Frank Howard Allen and the wife of Corte Madera Mayor Bob Ravasio, appeared before the Mill Valley City Council Tuesday night to urge the city to join Corte Madera in its decision last March to leave the Association of Bay Area Governments in protest of the agency’s allocation of new housing development to it.

Corte Madera Mayor Bob Ravasio said his wife was at the Mill Valley City Council meeting "as a private citizen. She was not there in any kind of official capacity."

The council was set to discuss a letter City Hall had sent to ABAG, utilizing U.S. Census data to push back on its own allocation and make the case that Mill Valley is already accommodating population growth within its existing housing inventory.

Ravasio told the council that her husband was unable to make Tuesday’s meeting but intends to visit councils across Marin to ask them to join Corte Madera in a prospective Marin-centric replacement of ABAG, which is tasked with doling out allocations across the nine-county Bay Area to meet state-mandated targets for both market-rate and affordable housing.

“I’m encouraging you to be brave,” Ravasio told them.

Though the letter from Mill Valley put it on relatively similar footing as Corte Madera in objecting to its allocation, Ravasio didn’t get the response she sought.

That was partly due to the fact that the Mill Valley City Council hadn’t signed off on the letter, which was pulled together hastily to meet a Sept. 18 ABAG deadline to comment on the agency’s Regional Housing Needs Allocation, which covers 2014-2022. City officials were unaware of the deadline until last week, according to Mill Valley Mayor Garry Lion.

Some councilmembers said they were concerned that a letter was shipped off to ABAG without council approval. But some also served up a rebuke of Corte Madera's tactics.

“I don’t think it makes any sense to leave ABAG or to threaten to leave ABAG to get their attention,” Councilman Ken Wachtel said. “ABAG is not the villain. ABAG is the messenger. If you don’t like what ABAG is doing, deal with their bosses in the state Legislature. We’ve got to deal with the rules that are dealt to us unless they change the rules.”

Councilwoman Shawn Marshall agreed with Wachtel, in even stronger terms.

“I am so totally against creating small little islands of areas, whether it’s southern Marin or Marin County, that says, 'we’re unique, we’re the only ones that shouldn’t be taking our allocation and that we’re going to scream and threaten to leave,'” she said.

Marshall also noted widespread speculation that the reduction in Corte Madera’s housing allocation numbers earlier this year may have caused Mill Valley’s numbers to balloon, a move “which was not appreciated.”

Corte Madera Vice-Mayor Diane Furst has argued that Corte Madera is "built out." The town is 4.5 square miles, 1.5 of which are physically under water. Furst has said that the few lots that could be developed for housing are one steep hills and have limited or no access to utilities.

One problem, Mayor Ravasio pointed out, is that ABAG has regularly overestimated population growth in Corte Madera in the past by as much as 7 percent. Ravasio also related that he has heard from environmental groups that the worst thing a town could do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to increase housing density.

"Why did we leave ABAG? First of all, frustration," Ravasio said. "We have been doing our best to accomodate growth in Corte Madera ... but we felt local control would be jeopardized in this area."

The creation of a Marin-centric version of ABAG to dole out allocations, Marshall said, wouldn’t alter the need to meet state-mandated targets.

“You’ve potentially just brought the fight home so that we can duke it amongst ourselves (in Marin),” she said. “I don’t find that an effective strategy. I grew up here and I understand that we’re a suburb. But we live right next door to one of the biggest metropolitan areas in the country. We do not get a hall pass on accommodating our fair share of growth. And it is low. It is so much lower than the rest of the Bay Area that it’s not even funny.”

In a draft report on RHNA numbers earlier this year, ABAG allocated 292 new households to Mill Valley, and dropped that number to 129 in a July report (attached at right). The longer-term housing allocation is via the Sustainable Communities Strategy, which stretches through 2040. For that period, the earlier report allocated 750 new households to Mill Valley, while that was reduced to 450 in July, a number city officials said was still too high.

"(SB 375) is an affront to democracy and it is a usurpation of local communities and the rights of their zoning and the rights of their building," Mill Valley resident Clayton Smith said during a June presentation by ABAG. "This whole Plan Bay Area is based on a $250 million bribe by the federal government so as to buy off our local politicians and displace the rights of the actual residents of our community."

In his report to the council, City Manager Jim McCann hinted that the city’s best argument might not even be made to ABAG. The agency’s calculation is that population growth equals new households, which doesn’t jibe with the city’s argument that its growth is occurring without additional households.

Because of that distinction, McCann indicated that the city might have to take its case to the California Department of Housing and Development, the agency that would eventually certify the city’s Housing Element as part of its ongoing General Plan update.

“They are surprisingly human and flexible and open to discussion,” McCann said. “There is the ability to make arguments to HCD to present new data and creative ideas.”

“This is a new argument,” he continued. “At the same time we’re not being rash and saying, ‘ABAG, go away.’ We’re trying to work within the process and be smart and aggressive to address this.”

Mayor Ravasio said, "I think Mr. McCann is absolutely on to something with his idea of negotiating with the Department of Housing and Development. But in a (Marin group) we would negotiate directly with the Department of Housing and Development. We would deal directly with the appropriate parties in Sacramento."

Vice Mayor Andy Berman said the city’s General Plan update, for which he serves as the chair of the General Plan Advisory Committee, is a “fantastic vehicle” for this debate.

“Let this process play out,” he said.

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Ian September 21, 2012 at 04:43 PM
A complicated issue!
Haggis September 21, 2012 at 06:47 PM
Although the address to the Mill Valley Council should have been made by an elected official, I think Corte Madera is correct in challenging the authority of ABAG. Some times a dope slap does get the attention of official appointees.
Bob Ravasio September 22, 2012 at 01:16 AM
Pat Ravasio was speaking Tuesday night as a concerned private citizen from Corte Madera, not in any official capacity or as a representative of the Town. The Town has voted to leave ABAG June 2013, but has not approached any other towns about this issue.
Rocky September 23, 2012 at 06:14 AM
There are a lot people who are very passionate about ABAG, on both sides.
KFrances November 05, 2012 at 05:34 PM
Why are Unelected Outsiders given the power to determine their utopian 'Vison" for small towns? No to Centralized Government. It hasn't worked in history before... This is not the way to go - Go Corte Madera - way to lead !


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