In a move that was largely symbolic but still sent shockwaves throughout Marin, the to end its membership in the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG).
The council’s move was in protest of the regional agency’s role in allocating target numbers for the development of new housing throughout the Bay Area's nine counties and 101 cities and towns, including Marin. Some local residents have said the distribution of the targets have lacked transparency, call for too much high-density housing in Marin and don’t take into account the county’s rural and agricultural nature.
"Sometimes you just have to fight,” Councilman Michael Lappert said in a fiery speech at the March 6 council meeting. “It's not always about consensus. Sometimes you just have to draw the line."
Should Mill Valley follow Corte Madera’s lead?
In a survey of members of the Mill Valley City Council – the five people who would make such a decision – the consensus was no – or at least not right now.
“They’re going to lose their voice in ABAG, which is unfortunate,” Mayor Garry Lion said, noting that the move in no way changes Corte Madera’s obligation to meet the state-mandated targets for both market-rate and affordable housing, which ABAG is charged with allocating. Those targets stem from SB 375, a state law that seeks to tie transportation corridors to land-use planning as a way to cut greenhouse gases. ABAG and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) have spearheaded the implementation of SB 375 in the Bay Area through what has been dubbed Plan Bay Area.
“I’m just not sure what it gets them to opt out,” said Councilwoman Stephanie Moulton-Peters. “I don’t want to opt out of being part of the conversation. I want to be there with an oar in the water and pushing back where needed.”
As examples of the need to maintain a seat at the table, Moulton-Peters' cited recent pushback from Safe Routes to Schools on how the allocations would impact funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects, while Lion pointed out that Mill Valley is hosting the March 28 meeting of the Marin County Council of Mayors and Councilmembers. The event will feature ABAG Planning Director Ken Kirkey, who filled that same role for the Town of Fairfax until 2006.
“He understands the constraints we’re facing here in Marin,” Lion said.
Ezra Rapport, the executive director of ABAG, said he wished the Corte Madera council had waited until after last Friday, when ABAG released its Preferred Scenario allocations document, which incorporated past comments from Marin officials and adjusted the numbers accordingly. For example, while an earlier allocation pegged Corte Madera for 561 new units between 2010 and 2040, the new document calls for just 210 new units over that span. The total new households called for in the Bay Area dropped from 770,000 to 660,000.
“The town council was operating with misinformation,” Rapport said.
But while several Mill Valley council members called the Corte Madera council’s reactionary and largely symbolic, several noted that the town’s leaders were well within their rights to do what they did in the face of allocations that many feel are unfair.
“It’s a sign of overall frustration and dissatisfaction with being told to do something that the cities are just not capable of doing and which many in our community don’t want to do,” Wachtel said. “Whether symbolic or not, I laud Corte Madera for taking the discussion to the next level.”
“I don’t know whether this spark will ignite a movement, heighten debate or just be a flash in the pan,” he added. “But discussion, education and an exchange of ideas of issues is always good.”
Wachtel and Councilman Andy Berman said they were open to having a meeting on the subject of the housing allocations and ABAG’s role. Berman said he was open to having a council discussion “for informational purposes and for public awareness, not necessarily for decision.”
At the March 6 meeting, Corte Madera Councilwoman Carla Condon suggested that local municipalities form a Marin Council of Governments, or MCOG, that could act as a similar force as ABAG, but with more local control. The Corte Madera council will discuss the possibility of spearheading the creation of such an organization at a future meeting.
Several Mill Valley council members expressed doubt about that strategy, saying that while such a coalition would place more local control in Marin, it could also incite infighting among its towns and cities over the distribution of the housing targets.
“We would end up being given mandates directly from the state with no input and then we’d be fighting amongst ourselves in terms of who’s going to absorb the housing,” Lion said.
Councilwoman Shawn Marshall cautioned against having a Marin-based coalition of governments “become a platform for anti-housing NIMBY folks who insist that every town could abdicate from ABAG. The worry is that it ends up being dominated by people who are staunchly opposed to any idea of housing and who are forgetting that we live in a major metropolitan area. I firmly believe in local control and local decision-making, but I don’t believe that Marin gets a free ride.”
Moulton-Peters said it remained the cities’ job to balance progress towards the targets with maintaining community character.
“But Marin’s cities, including Mill Valley, can add a little bit of dense housing in their downtown cores,” she said. “I’m not for wall-to-wall density – but I think we can do some infill. Whether we can meet those housing numbers is a question. But we can do something to makes progress towards it.”
By all accounts, the city of Mill Valley hasn’t reached 100 percent of its housing targets for years. But several council members pointed out that the rules around the housing targets call for a municipality to make its “best effort” to achieve them, but does not mandate 100 percent success.
Berman said Mill Valley should continue to do what it has been doing, which is “to entertain reasonable good faith efforts to comply with all legal requirements without doing anything unnatural or offensive to our community.”
“We substantially comply, but some years it might be 50-60 percent,” Marshall said. “That doesn’t mean the state hammers us for it. We are showing progress.”
In the Preferred Scenario document, Mill Valley bears the third-highest burden in terms of new housing between 2010 and 2040 – from 6,530 units to 7,110 units, a 9 percent jump. Corte Madera, meanwhile, sees a 5 percent rise, from 4,030 units to 4,230 units over that same period.
Rapport noted that the final document on housing allocations will be released in April 2013.
“There is still plenty of time to work this out,” he said.
--Derek Wilson contributed to this report.