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Freedom Is The Battle Cry In The Fight Against ABAG

Corte Madera votes to dump the controversial Bay Area government group in hopes of preserving its heritage and regaining local control. Now, the town's leaders hope the rest of Marin will follow their example.

The battle lines have been drawn around the Town of Corte Madera.

Corte Madera's leaders found the grass roots support they were looking for Tuesday night and many Marin residents found the leadership they had been seeking.

Residents of Corte Madera, Greenbrae, Mill Valley, San Anselmo and San Rafael cheered at the end of the three-hour meeting after Corte Madera's Town Council voted 4-1 to bolt from the Association of Bay Area Governments.

"These are unelected people who have a personal vision of what's good for everybody else. They have no check, no balance. They force themselves on us… Let's do this," Councilman Michael Lappert said in a fiery speech. "Sometimes you just have to fight. It's not always about consensus. Sometimes you just have to draw the line."

Corte Madera is the first community in Marin County to formally decide to leave ABAG, but residents all over the county are hoping other cities will soon follow.

"I want to applaud the fact that you're having this conversation. There's many of us who have been wondering who's going to start talking about what's happening with ABAG for that feeling of the loss of local control," said Mill Valley's Susan Kirsch. "As many of us look at what ABAG is bringing forward, there is that gushing sound of freedom for local communities going out of our hands."

Corte Madera's had enough, it seems.

"The upside if we do this: What if it works? What if something happens? Well, we get back local control. That would be pretty great. I'd certainly be all for that. We'd get to control the way we want to build and create our communities," Corte Madera Mayor Bob Ravasio said. "Let's do it."

The original concept of ABAG was that local governments would be a more powerful lobbying force in one large group rather than individually. Lappert said that idea has gone insanely wrong. Corte Madera pays a reported $5,500 a year to ABAG in dues, with the expectation that the town would in turn receive funding for housing, transportation and other projects through ABAG.

ABAG has called on its members to increase housing in response to projected job growth. ABAG's planners have claimed that by building more housing near to jobs and transportation hubs, towns can cut down on greenhouse gases.

Local leaders are skeptical of ABAG's projections, however. They've asked for an explanation of how ABAG achieved its numbers but, according to some leaders, ABAG would not reveal its formula.

Another problem, ABAG's own scenarios don't show a significant decrease in greenhouse gases with its preferred housing proposals.

"I'd like to see ABAG defend its existence," Lappert said.

Corte Madera is home to two of Marin County's major shopping centers: The Village and The Town Center. It also boasts a number of auto dealers, including Mini of Marin which opens at its new Paradise Drive location Wednesday, March 7. Residents still place a high value on Corte Madera's small-town charm featured by the Town Band's performances at the Pavilion, just a short walk from Neil Cummins Elementary School and some of the town's oldest residential areas.

Locals are afraid that ABAG is changing Corte Madera forever … and not necessarily for better.

Corte Madera resident Peter Hensell graded ABAG "'A' for annoyance… It's not just taking away local control, it's taking away individual rights. ABAG has the potential to change communities and change neighborhoods."

The proposal to build a mixed-use development with 180 residential units on the former WinCup site angered some residents. That plan is going forward, driven in part by housing mandates from ABAG.

"I'm not sure that's where the problem begins, but it brings it into sharper focus," Ravasio said of the WinCup development. "A lot of people in town don't want that development. It never was our idea. We're doing that in response to an allocation from ABAG to increase housing. ... What really kicked things off was when we reviewed the Sustainable Community feedback and saw the huge housing growth projected for Corte Madera and the job growth for Corte Madera and we don't know where those numbers are coming from. ... ABAG is calling for job growth in Corte Madera that exceeds anything we've seen in the past 20 years."

Councilwoman Carla Condon said she couldn't find any evidence that Corte Madera had actually received any significant funding from ABAG. So, Corte Madera's leaders figured they really don't have much to lose by divorcing themselves of ABAG.

"This is a really emotional issue, but if we approach it rationally what's the downside to doing this and pulling out? Well, we're not going to get any grants from ABAG. Well, we haven't gotten any grants from ABAG, so not a lot of loss there. Potentially, we do lose our seat at the table and that is a concern to me. The point is, frankly, I'm not sure that we have one now. That's what I keep coming back to," Ravasio said.

Condon brought up the idea of gathering the other local municipalities to form a Marin County Council of Governments that could act as a similar force as ABAG, but with better local representation.

The only dissenting vote came from Councilwoman Alexandra Cock, but she didn't entirely disagree with the decision. Cock had hoped to develop an exit strategy before picking a fight with ABAG.

"I've been vehemently opposed to One Bay Area ever since they came out with the concept. I'm totally opposed to homogenization of our whole area. I see it happening in our whole country and I do not like it and I do not agree with it. At the same time I want what we do to be effective and I'm not sure whether voting in favor of withdrawing from ABAG is really an effective step," Cock said. "I think the idea of creating our own Marin Council of Governments is a great idea. Rather than voting to do this now as, what I consider to be sort of a reactionary move, I think we should lobby all the other cities and the county and see if we can get them all on board with forming our own COG."

City council members in Larkspur, Fairfax, Mill Valley and other areas have recently and increasingly raised their voices in showing their displeasure with ABAG. They have, more quietly, discussed leaving the group.

"I moved here 21 years ago from Chicago and I moved here because o this place, because 82 percent of the land is park land or it's zoned for agriculture. I moved here because of the beaches, because of the mountains, because of the character of the small towns. I do not want to see that change, dictated to us by some organization in Sacramento, or Vallejo, or wherever ABAG is," Ravasio said. "So, for me, I would vote for this and let the chips fall where they may. We need to start the conversation. The way to get the support from other towns is to see someone step out, see someone do something, see someone be a leader in this thing and see if we can start to generate support that way."

San Anselmo resident Nancy O'Connell recalled attending a One Bay Area workshop hosted by ABAG in San Francisco: "There were people who were concerned this is going to kill the Bay Area. There's a group of grass roots citizenry that wants local control and does not want this huge overlay of ABAG to come down and smash their communities. … I'm encouraged to take this back to the San Anselmo Council and to Fairfax. The Ross Valley needs help to stay the Ross Valley."

Tracy March 07, 2012 at 07:00 PM
Way to go CorteMadera Town Council. Let's put ABAG in the trash.
David Edmondson March 07, 2012 at 09:43 PM
This is a terrible idea. Do they think Sacramento will be more amenable to local concerns than ABAG, where Corte Madera at least had a voice? Do they think they can handle the requirements of SB375, or can deal directly with BAAQMD, BCDC, and MTC? What about grant applications for transportation? I have yet to see the report Condon continues to reference. She's the town's rep to ABAG; maybe it's internal?
Evelyn Stivers March 08, 2012 at 01:03 AM
I'm surprised that the Tea Party has such a hold on local politics in Corte Madera. The community is so outraged that teachers and sales clerks might be able to live in the same community where they work that they won't participate in regional planning? Aren't people worried about traffic? Air pollution?
Pat Ravasio March 09, 2012 at 12:18 AM
Government agencies dictating growth as part of an effort to create environmental "sustainability" is hypocritical, and part of the past. They actually propose that we solve traffic and air pollution by building high rise apartment buildings? At a growth rate that is twice the present pace? Let's find other ways to provide affordable housing, such as creating amnesty for existing second units, rather than putting more big faceless housing projects along the highway. I've lived in Chicago and other places where "affordable housing" became a priority, and the pressures on the communities and neighborhoods is intense, even in good economic times. At last I looked, this was still a democracy, and the people of Corte Madera clearly do not seem to want to become a large and faceless city. We believe we have the right to maintain our small town character and our current way of live. Growth is not the answer to our problems!
Lynn Marr March 25, 2012 at 09:27 AM
We are having similar challenges with SANDAG, San Diego Association of Governments. They have "projected" a growth rate, and current population here, that far exceeds the actual census numbers or any realistic growth rate. Yet these projections are used to force development of high density mixed use strips in our five communities, which constitute the city of Encinitas. Also, the projections and required units seem so much higher than in some surrounding communities. As a previous poster pointed out, these are unelected positions that create enormous stress on our community character, essentially dissolving it, in many instances. We incorporated, in 1986, to take back local control from the County Board of Supervisors. I don't appreciate that now SANDAG wants to start charging for day parking at the transit station, and issuing tickets. Bad idea! I feel that what the town of Corte Madera did took a lot of courage on the part of its elected officials. You are setting an good example to the rest of the state, not just other cities in your region! State housing mandates for affordable housing are based on often unrealistic projections. We are trying to do a general plan update, currently, but the general plan that's been in place for over 25 years, is essentially being trashed, so it's not a true update. We paid over $1.5 million to consultants, and then Council trashed their draft update, too! What a mess!

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