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Op-Ed: Has ABAG Become Irrelevant?

Regional association keeps displaying signs of a disconnect with the people it is supposed to represent.

I recently attended a Marin County Council of Mayors and Councilmembers (MCCMC) meeting to given by Ken Kirkey, the director of planning to the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG). Kirkey gave an update on the One Bay Area plan and the latest Regional Housing Needs Allocation.

He was supposed to answer questions that councilmembers had submitted prior to the meeting but neglected to answer many of them. Residents were also given the opportunity to ask questions. In response, Kirkey oftentimes gave rote answers that had little to do with the actual questions, stated that the question(s) were outside ABAG’s purview, or simply stated that regardless of why a community would have difficulties complying with the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) numbers, they would have to plan for those numbers anyway. 

The presentation was another display of ABAG’s disconnect with the counties, cities and people it is supposed to represent.

The One Bay Area Plan (a state-required regional plan led by the Association of Bay Area Governments and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission) along with the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (determined by the state Housing & Community Development Agency and ABAG) use unrealistic jobs and population growth projections to mandate unsustainable housing development. Indeed, One Bay Area’s entire premise, that new development of high-density housing near transit will lower the area’s carbon footprint, is unfounded. Construction is one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gases.

Moreover, with insufficient infrastructure and public services, Marin County and its cities cannot properly provide for the current population, much less additional population. Hence, they most definitely should not be creating housing elements, development codes and zoning that encourage additional growth and that undermine local control, long standing development standards, environmental protections and public health and safety.

Marin County Supervisors, mayors and councilmembers are finally acknowledging that the RHNA housing quotas are untenable and based on unrealistic jobs and population growth projections. Some are questioning the validity of the One Bay Area Plan. But acknowledgement is not enough. Action must be taken.

It is time for city/town council members and county supervisors to join together to truly represent Marin residents and strongly push back against the One Bay Area Plan and the RHNA numbers. The cities and county must work together to lower the total allocation to Marin, not just shift the allocation numbers from one Marin jurisdiction to another. We are all connected. It makes no sense for one city in Marin to lower its allocation number, only for another city’s number to be raised.

ABAG was created to represent the counties and cities of the Bay Area, yet it has not properly represented Marin for many years. If ABAG does not push back against the state and lower the overall RHNA for the Bay Area and subsequently, substantially lower the RHNA for Marin, then why should Marin cities and the county remain affiliated with the organization?

And if our elected Marin officials do not stand up to ABAG and the HCD and take decisive action — both politically and legally — to drive realistic local plans, that preserve and enhance Marin's environment, public health & safety, neighborhood character, and quality of life, then why should they remain in office?

Joan Simmons May 10, 2012 at 07:19 PM
Construction, wherever it is, contributes to greenhouse gases. If we oppose it here in Marin County, those people who work locally but are unable to locate affordable housing here, will cause more construction in Brentwood or Tracy. They then will additionally spew many more pollutants into the air during their daily lengthy and stressful commute. Peter Calthorpe, a nationally recognized and highly regarded voice on regional planning, made exactly this point when he spoke at the Mill Valley Public Library last week as he gave the May feature presentation of the Library's ongoing First Friday event series.
Rico May 11, 2012 at 01:24 AM
Joan, This is not about enough affordable apartments for low wage workers who work in Marin. There is an abundance of apartments in Marin. Check out the EAH, they manage thousands of units all over Marin, even in expensive southern Marin, there are apartment buildings in Mill Valley (Shelter Hill), Strawberry, Tiburon, Homestead Valley, Tamalpais Valley and Manzanita (the Fireside) to name a few. Many of these units are section 8 subsidized units. They have been in existence for decades, but most people don't know about them. Yes, southern Marin has hundreds of section 8 units. What most people oppose, is building more high density units based on false population and job growth projections/estimates. If there is enough water, land, public funding for police, fire, road maintenance, sewer systems, schools and also the jobs over in Tracy and Brentwood, then they should build those additional units over where they are needed. And then, they should also move the SMART train project out of Sonoma over to Brentwood and run to Tracy. Problem solved in Marin. And if people are allowed to operate a business in Marin, then they should be mandated to pay a wage to cover renting a modest 2 bedroom un-subsidised apartment in Marin. In Marin, a person must earn at least $35 per hour (about $70,000 per year) to qualify to rent a 2 bedroom apartment. That is what the property managers insist on. So, if you want big box low prices in Marin, the big box wages must go up dramatically.
Susan Kirsch May 11, 2012 at 05:50 AM
I was at the same meeting Sharon refers too, and confirm that Ken Kirkey ignored the important questions identified in advance by Marin City Council members and spoke like a robot, sticking to the ABAG script. We all deserve better.
Bob Silvestri May 11, 2012 at 03:13 PM
It’s the height of irony that Peter Calthorpe and New Urbanism should now be used as an excuse to build high-density housing in Marin when New Urbanism was conceived for just the opposite reason. New Urbanism’s original inspiration and intention was to capture the scale, walkable, small town character and sense of community that Marin cities exemplify then recreate it in places devoid of it… Laguna West near Sacramento, Stapleton Airport in Denver, etc. And New Urbanism had nothing to do with affordable housing. That’s been added to keep the idea marketable. Peter Calthorpe has made a career out of selling his faux, nostalgic vision to a world weary public yearning for a simpler time, but he has nothing to teach us in Marin but a lot to learn from us because we already have everything New Urbanism promises and much much more. We need to work to address our unique challenges in ways that are locally based and community driven. That has always served us well and always will.
Veit May 11, 2012 at 04:25 PM
But even if you pay that kind of a wage, workers still make decisions such as "do I rather want to live in a 2 bedroom 1 mile from my job or in a 3 bedroom 30 miles from my job". And more often than not, they do want to live in larger spaces and are willing to commute. So that alone does not solve the problem...
Rico May 11, 2012 at 07:59 PM
Veit, So what is the solution ? The way things are set up, most people have a long commute, especially the low wage earners. So building more apartments in Marin will not solve the problem at all, unless, the new apartments are subsidized section 8 for the imported "working poor" to live in Marin. Marin is much different than the rest of the bay area. We have more open space and public park lands per capita than any other county in the greater bay area, we have higher median income than most counties and hence, much nicer and more expensive housing costs. That is the way it is, and no matter what wild dreams ABAG has of downgrading Marin to "equalize" the population with the greater bay area's lower quality of life, there is no one size fits all. It is one thing to say that workers who serve the residents of Marin should be able to live here in at least a rented apartment, but in Marin's case, these new apartments would only be built to import new residents in to live here and commute to where the higher paying jobs are like S.F. and the silicon valley. The only thing that will be accomplished is the overtaxing of our infrastructure, public services and water supply. Oh, I forgot the most important thing, to justify funding the SMART train.
Veit May 11, 2012 at 09:20 PM
Ricardo, As someone who used to commute to Silicon Valley from Marin, I know there are two situations which would have got me to quit doing it (BTW: these two work best in tandem): 1. Increase the cost of energy to reflect its true cost, including emissions. Add $1 in taxes per gallon of gas every year until gas hits $10/gallon. Help the poorer people with vouchers to make that shift more gradual for them. Use the money to improve public transportation. Then, while the 3bd rental in Sonoma might the same price as the 2bd rental here, cost of commuting would make it much more desirable to live closer to where you work. 2. Make access to big cities harder for cars. Ever been to Zurich? Imagine San Francisco being similar to Zurich - 2 lanes of the Golden Gate bridge reserved for trains, 2 for buses and only one lane going in and out for cars. Public transit having the right of way everywhere. Parking highly restricted in downtown Zurich. That would get people out of their cars and into public transit very quickly. It's faster to park your car at a Park&Ride outside of Zurich and take public transportation than driving in. Of course, I also understand that this scenario is politically undesirable here and thus will not happen. At least, ABAG would have to rethink its faulty approach...
Bob Silvestri May 11, 2012 at 11:30 PM
I always find this "get rid of cars" approach very strange. The logic is that cars are somehow an immutable thing that are a given, whereas in fact they're just another machine no different than our homes (which produce a lot of GHGs) or appliances and gadgets (which use lots of energy that's mostly not green), etc. The logic presents us only two choices, what we have now or a complete remaking of society (at a cost of hundreds of billions), a complete reengineering of human nature (to want to have a family and live in a home not an apartment), and to turn all this over to bigger and bigger government. Why not just force vehicle manufacturers to start producing 100% recyclable, 100% GHG free vehicles? The technology exists. Of course that would mean ending the centi-billion dollar annual subsidy to oil production, a sea change in politics and business cronyism as usual. Is turning the SF Bay Area into Zurich really the best solution available to us?
Bob Silvestri May 12, 2012 at 01:08 AM
Worth reading: http://www.newgeography.com/content/002818-the-export-business-california-people-and-jobs?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Newgeography+%28Newgeography.com+-+Economic%2C+demographic%2C+and+political+commentary+about+places%29
Linda Rames May 12, 2012 at 01:56 AM
Linda Rames It is clearly time for Marin County to opt out of ABAG. This organization is not only irrelevant, it is obsolete. Things are not the same as they were in 1961; yet, ABAG would have us believe a big brother, top down approach to workforce housing is the best way to solve a problem which actually doesn't exist in Marin. Why would we, the citizens of Marin County, agree to build housing for job holders when the jobs don't exist? Current studies and the 2010 census show that Marin has grown 2.1% in 10 years and has actually lost businesses which would employ low earning employees. So ABAG wants to build high density apartment complexes to house people who don't have jobs in Marin. Who benefits from this idiocy? Certainly, it is not the residents of Marin County. So, it is time to opt out of ABAG.
Dave Coury October 09, 2012 at 08:27 PM
Opt out? Do you understand the consequences? Marin would no longer have a voice at the table when regional planning issues are discussed. Marin would not be able to particpate in or influence decisions which would effect us; however, it would not negate Marin's responsibilities under State law.

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