In a scene that has played out a number of times over the past year, nearly 100 Marin residents packed into a conference room in San Rafael Tuesday morning to rail against the controversial Plan Bay Area, a multi-agency proposal to deal with the Bay Area's long-range land use and transportation challenges over the next 30 years.
The meeting, hosted by the Oakland-based Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) at the Embassy Suites in San Rafael, was intended to allow people to submit both verbal and written comments on the plan’s draft environmental impact report.
Over the course of the 90-minute meeting, dozens of Marin residents expressed a slew of concerns about the draft EIR and the plan itself, which seeks to connect projected population and job growth with new residential development near transit corridors. The plan projects that Marin will gain 33,000 new residents by 2040, calling for the development of 7,510 new housing units in Marin between now and 2040, a 7 percent increase from 111,210 to 118,720, to accommodate that growth. The plan also calls for the creation of 2,292 new housing units by 2022.
The plan also predicts 17 percent job growth in the county over that span, from 110,730 to 129,130 jobs.
Many of the concerns focused on the desire for local control over what many described as a “top down, one-size-fits-all” approach to planning.
San Rafael resident Robert Chilvers hailed Marin’s natural beauty, noting that the presence of national park lands and open space throughout the county did not happen by accident.
“How do we preserve our environment and our open space and our habitat? We fight,” he said. “It’s taken citizen action for decades and decades to preserve it. And the elected representatives who support this (Plan Bay Area) growth do so at their peril.”
Tam Valley resident Clayton Smith took an even more aggressive stance, accusing the agencies behind the plan of lining “the coffers of the bureaucracy and all of the people who feed off this bureaucracy. When Mussolini was asked to define fascism, he said, ‘Everything in the state and nothing out of the state.’ I would argue that this One Bay Area document is fascistic.”
Many questioned the projections for population and job growth on which the plan is based, noting the discrepancy between the numbers and those of the California Department of Finance, which projects that Marin will add just 6,818 new residents by 2040, far shy of the 33,000 new residents predicted by Plan Bay Area.
In a memo issued last month, the two bodies described the differences in the methodology between their respective projections, noting that the Department of Finance data didn’t factor in population growth that follows job creation in an area. ABAG Deputy Director Brad Paul said the Department of Finance made its projection during a span that included two economic downturns.
Nona Dennis of the Marin Conservation League praised the EIR for “identifying the areas of controversy and presenting the information objectively, whereas the plan itself is sugar-coated and is written through rose-colored glasses.”
“But the entire EIR and the plan itself are premised on those projections, and there are discrepancies,” she added.
Dennis, as well as former former Marin County planning director Marjorie Macris of Mill Valley, noted the EIR’s lack of specific information about the potential impact of sea level rise, particularly near the “planned development areas” around transit corridors.
“It’s very likely that they are under water in the foreseeable future,” Macris said of the PDAs.
Richard Hall, a San Rafael resident and a member of Quiet & Safe San Rafael, a group founded to oppose the growth projected growth in the area surrounding the Marin Civic Center as well as the Civic Center station for the SMART train, said he and his neighbors “don’t have to have such radical impacts on our daily lives.”
“Many of us here don’t buy into the transit-oriented development vision,” he said. “We want to have a voice and we’re consistently finding that our voice is not being heard. We are at our wit’s end. We just don’t buy into this vision.”
Marinwood resident Ray Day suggested that an influx of affordable housing would spike enrollment without providing the needed boost to the property tax base to accommodate that growth.
“This EIR ignores many things that are important to Marin community but are not allowed to be in the EIR,” Day said.
The lone attendee to speak in favor of the plan, Mill Valley resident Elizabeth Moody, noted that the regional plan is just that, continuing to allow for local land use agencies to make their own decisions on the merits of proposed development projects regardless of the over-arching projections for new housing development.
“My three kids, with their eight children, could not afford to live here, even though they worked here," Moody said. "It has been very distressing for me to see that this county is so wealthy and 80 percent white. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t cooperate, coordinate and integrate so that we have a better future in Marin.”
The public comment period for both the Plan Bay Area and the draft EIR on it ends May 16. A public hearing on the plan itself is set for 7-9 p.m. on April 29 at at the Marin Center in San Rafael.