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Is ABAG Playing a Shell Game with Housing Numbers?

TAM's review of the latest scenario for the Plan Bay Area Sustainable Communities Scenario leads some to wonder whether it's math or a con.

"This is not a shell game," declared Tiburon's Alice Fredericks, chairwoman of the Transportation Authority of Marin's Executive Committee during Monday's meeting. The committee was examining the Association of Bay Area Governments' Draft Preferred "Jobs-Housing Connection Scenario," and Fredericks was responding to a statement from an attendee that ABAG was playing a shell game with its allocation of required new housing development for Marin County by 2040. 

A number of attendees said they were perplexed and appropriately skeptical, about the latest ABAG allocations, particularly because of the significant shifts in the numbers from past iterations to the Preferred Scenario, which was released on March 9.

The committee members voted to send a letter to ABAG Director Ezra Rappaport expressing its dismay over the ABAG's projection of 17 percent job growth for Marin County in the next 30 years.

The letter reads in part: "Marin County lacks the type of developable land associated with traditional business growth, and has limited availability of water resources. It is unlikely that Marin can match the robust job growth of the 1980s."

ABAG originally released its 30-year projection that Marin County would see 19,000 more jobs by 2040, which would require 11,000 new homes. Some leaders choked on the numbers their towns and cities were being asked to bear. Novato complained loudly and .

The squeaky wheel got the grease — Corte Madera and Novato saw their numbers cut, but their neighbors could be forced to take on a heavier load as a result.

Fredericks suggested that if other communities have problems with the distribution of numbers, they might have to fight ABAG on their own.

The revised projections from ABAG show Corte Madera should plan for a 5 percent growth in apartments and housing units and a 7 percent growth in households. Those numbers are both lower than the original predictions.

Larkspur is supposed to plan for 140 additional housing units (2 percent) and 350 more households (6 percent).

Fairfax's projected growth shows 310 additional housing units and 360 more households. San Anselmo is being told to brace for an increase of 460 units and 510 households.

And in Mill Valley, where residents are protesting a proposal to build housing units on East Blithedale Avenue, the town can expect 570 more housing units and 740 households, according to ABAG.

Is there really any room for that many new housing units and that many more people, some wondered openly?

TAM's explanation was that "ABAG is a regent and the regent has a pot that they stir around." Because the Town of Corte Madera's predicted increase in the number of housing units and households was decreased, the leftovers went back into the regional pot, were stirred around and landed on someone else's plate.

The explanation did not seem to entirely satisfy anyone, not even Corte Madera Vice-Mayor Diane Furst.

"It looks like there was a shifting of numbers," Furst said.

Be careful what you wish for, Furst was told in a lighthearted warning. You never know how the numbers will add up.

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