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Op-Ed: Why Are Local Leaders Paralyzed Over ABAG's One Bay Area Plan?

Longtime local resident says plan's focus on development contradicts its goal of reducing greenhouse gases and challenges county and local officials to "not run with the herd."

Dear Elected Officials:

I encourage you to please read Dick Spotswood's latest piece on the Association of Bay Area Governments' (ABAG) One Bay Area Plan. As he shows with great clarity, the growth assumptions of the plan are without any basis in facts.

To this, I would like to also add these facts:  

  • The number one greenhouse gas emitter in the U.S. and California is "energy production." In fact the Richmond refinery is the number one polluter in the state. That is followed in order by businesses and industry, agriculture, public an commercial transportation and then residential / local driving at the very bottom of the list. So this entire plan is focused on the least important contributor to green house gas emissions.
  • No development plan can guarantee or even guess where individual people will have to go or how far they'll have to go to get to their their job, so driving to work will likely be a part of our lives for any foreseeable future. In fact only tele-commuting will likely have any impact on that.
  • The number one "user" of energy in it's creation and every day after are "buildings." Our homes, commercial offices, institutional, industrial, etc. represent 40 percent of our total ongoing energy usage and their construction is the most resource intensive endeavor on the planet with supply chain impacts that add huge multiples to energy use and socio-economic / environmental impacts worldwide.
  • There is absolutely no science or any studies that would back up the claim that massive development can reduce green house gas emissions. In fact even a cursory review of the science would strongly suggest this will actually be a NET ADDITION to green house gas emissions over what normal regional growth will produce (which will be done gradually, as needed, and incorporate more advanced building technologies available in the future).

At the risk of injecting some logic to this discussion, ABAG / MTC are saying that we need to promote more buildings (and many times what we'll actually need to meet historical growth and using today's building technologies) to solve climate change? (truly "green" building technologies are not yet commonly or economically available) 

Ironically, all the ABAG / MTC greenhouse gas emission goals could be met by 2025 by simply increasing our state vehicle mileage standards by less than 5 percent!  This would cost us nothing, economically, environmentally or otherwise. It would penalize the source (vehicle manufacturers) and not taxpayers and citizens who are doing nothing more than trying to save the communities they've worked so hard to create.

How can you not be appalled by all this? Why aren't any of the Marin County Supervisors convening town halls and community meetings to hear what people have to say? 

Our representatives (city and county) seem paralyzed, cowering before these quasi-governmental juggernauts, without so much as raising their hand. All the focus seems to be on being polite and maintaining decorum at all costs, science and facts be damned.  

I urge you to lead not run with the herd.

This column was re-purposed from a letter sent to county and local leaders, with permission of the author.

Curry Eckelhoff March 03, 2012 at 12:41 AM
Please do not make the erroneous statement that Public Employees make 100% more than private sector. Not just a little bit wrong statement but a HUGELY wrong statement. Don't make the rest of what you say suspect because of this erroneous statement. I want to believe what you have to say and actially I do but do speak truth and not statements meant to inflame the reader.
Liz Specht March 03, 2012 at 01:33 AM
Bob Silvestri is Right ON about this!
Alex Zwissler March 03, 2012 at 03:05 PM
Sorry Bob, but your I think your points miss the mark. In order to have any chance to bend the growth curve of GHG emissions (which by the way increased in the US 3% last year) and their concentrations in the atmosphere, we need to do everything, and more. Therefore, one tactic is to encourage/Zone, and yes perhaps even require future housing growth in greater density closer to transit. Frankly, this will requirement will pale in the face of other choices, adaptations and accommodations we will face in the very near future. So to suggest that since such a requirement does not focus on other or greater sources of GHG emissions is analogous to arguing that we only need to focus on smoking in the fight on cancer, ignoring other causes. And while I completely agree with you that plans such as this are a very imprecise tool, particularly if they suggest they can predict live/work patterns, you again miss the mark in your final two points. You imply that future housing development will not reduce GHGs, and will add to their emissions...in that you are correct. But the point is to do so in greater density, closer to transit will result in far LESS emissions than more other more traditional suburban patterns. Sadly, I predict we will look back on this debate with a wistful nostalgia. The hard choices and changes we face in the battle to reduce GHG concentrations in order to have any chance of slowing global warming and its consequences will make this one look easy.
Baxter March 03, 2012 at 05:24 PM
Alex: It is wise though to phase in controls that are most cost-effective first, correct? If the current controls are costing $20/ton GHG reduced now, why would you want to jump to $100/ton type controls now? We want the California economy to move forward, don't we? If we pulled together and built a shale gas turbine power plant in China instead of them building all those new coal ones, what is the $/ton price of that? If we can't slow China and India's GHG emissions growth, perhaps our money is better spent here on adaptation for the coming change?
Angela March 04, 2012 at 03:06 PM
Marin Voice: Marin should challenge regional plans http://www.marinij.com/opinion/ci_20090959
Alex Zwissler March 04, 2012 at 03:09 PM
Thanks Baxter...I wouldn't disagree with any of the points you make in isolation...they reinforce mine that we need to do EVERYTHING, and faster than we are now. However, If you are suggesting we should prioritize mitigation and adaptation strategies based on a cost per ton analysis, I'd differ. Frankly, the challenges are so complex and enormous, I'd lean towards doing whatever is possible first. And yes, we need to be judicious in our choices so as to phase in such a way that recognizes short term economic growth needs. So bottom line, I think we are on the same page, maybe just a different paragraph ;-)
Carol March 04, 2012 at 04:08 PM
http://www.marinij.com/opinion/ci_20090959 Hello everyone, All these comments are excellent. I have read "A Portrait of Marin" and listened to the broadcast of that public meeting for One Bay Area. My Marin Voice piece on this subject of re-zoning for regional control, high density housing, etc. is in todays IJ - Sunday March 4. Please read. I believe there is a meeting on March 22 for that group called Marin Communities Coalition for Local Control and we should all attend. I heard it is at 7:00pm at the Northgate Mall conference room.
Baxter March 04, 2012 at 05:28 PM
Carol - Your Marin Voice article in this morning's I.J. is very interesting. I "get" the whole debate (pro's and con's) over development of dense affordable housing in Marin. What I don't quite understand, which has been brought up in other Patch Blogs, is can "they" (whoever that may be) actually take away or rezone already designated open space in Marin? Your article states " the committment to open space preservation [could] be set aside in order to construct high density housing." Does this mean that already designated open space could be rezoned for high density housing, or does this mean that any future development projects do not have to contribute to the designation of new open space land, not already designated? Last year the Marin County Open Space District told be in writing that any designated open space will remain that way in perpetuity. Nothing can change that....or can it?? It's a little scary to me that designated open space could be rezoned for development of any kind. Please clarify this. Thank you.
Tina McMillan March 04, 2012 at 06:16 PM
Novato's urban growth boundary makes it unlikely that open space will be lost here. What is more likely is that single family neighborhoods will be rezoned for high density/mixed use. For example, the Square Shopping Center has been suggested as a potential high density mixed use site because it is close to schools, transportation and existing housing. Last year after an outside consulting company put the Square up for zoning changes, neighbors joined together to create groups such as Balanced Housing to object to these changes. The ad hoc working group was formed and there was a request for lower density projects that were more in line with existing neighborhoods. Now ABAG has come back with new numbers forecasting job increases that require additional low income housing developments throughout Novato. Once Novato completes the current housing element we will begin work on the next element with these new numbers. That means everything goes back on the table again. We have challenged the numbers but it is up to ABAG and the state to decide if our challenge has merit. The root of the problem is regional agencies that are taking away local control. The Novato City Council has pushed back but so far the regional agencies in conjunction with SB375 have more power. I don't know how far this can actually go but I believe they will primarily redesign existing single family neighborhoods before they will intrude on open space based on the One Bay Area plan.
Virginia March 04, 2012 at 06:30 PM
The urban growth boundaries are set, in part, to force "infill" development. No one wants to tamper with open space, so there will be no choice but to increase density. Once again very skillfully crafted.
Tina McMillan March 04, 2012 at 06:40 PM
Virginia Yes! When urban growth boundaries were first created there was a belief that local planning would ultimately define development. With SB375 regional agencies have taken over these decisions under the guise of controlling climate change. Cities that are unwilling to accept ABAG numbers are punished by the state when money is withdrawn and local planning brought to a halt until a certified housing element is achieved.
Bob Ratto March 04, 2012 at 06:59 PM
http://www.marinij.com/opinion/ci_20090975 Just scroll to the end...look, the simple answer to everything...just build "up". This is exactly the "pack em and stack em" mentality that comes about when you are forced to abandon local control. When ABAG says "you will have local control", they reluctantly remind you that you can have it as long as you zone for their belief in job numbers and housing needs which do not square at all with reality.
Eleanor Sluis March 04, 2012 at 09:52 PM
While I am learning about the impact of high density on Novato and the mandate of Federal transportation and land use policies on reducing GHG, I came across some info on scenic highways. I wonder, since Marin is a tourist destination if Hwy. 101 could be partially designated as a scenic highway and create a better environment for all of us. It might mean that the 101 corridor high-density, commercial building future would be limited in exchange for more tourists coming to Marin and helping the economy, Any info on Federal Transportation rules and how we can better adapt to them instead of only listening to ABAG/MTC? How can Federal dollars be better used for Marin's agribusinesses and tourist economy and preserving our unique rural environment? On the other hand, can we support Corte Madera in opt out of ABAG and receiving federal funds? Do we need to accept federal aid for our unique situation in Marin? Thanks to many people who are doing the hard work and cooperating in planning better solutions for the future in spite of our angst, anger, and insecurities. As adults we must become involved in discussions and planning to show adolescents there is hope for their reaching their potential.
Carol March 04, 2012 at 10:35 PM
Hi Baxter, it would be a very "hard sell" for Marin officials to set aside open space for high-density housing. The Marin Community Foundation's report, "A Portrait of Marin" has suggested that as a way to build more high density, low income housing. I really doubt that our county officials would even try to float that to the voters but you never know. The pressure from regional agencies for us to buy into their hugely out of proportion housing needs and job growth numbers and then the report mentioning that we should consider setting aside open space to fulfill those bogus numbers, is a scary thought. But it is mentioned and it is called one of the solutions so it would be best for us to think on the side of caution and let it be known to our local officials that this is NOT acceptable to Marin's citizens. It doesn't matter that it was set aside for dedicated open space - if there is ever enough pressure, I don't doubt that pockets of dedicated open space might someday be set aside for development. There are some crazy ideas floating around with this whole One Bay Area plan - they do not like the fact that we have so much open space here in Marin but I say "too bad"...we worked hard for years to make it that way and our elected officials need to continue to protect it. Hope that helps. Thanks, Carol
Carol March 04, 2012 at 10:39 PM
Hi Susan - I tried to email you but the email was returned as "undeliverable". Can you tell me more about the meeting on March 22? Mary Feller told me it was 7:00pm at Northgate Mall conference center? Is there an agenda posted anywhere? I can be reached at carolBr@aol.com. Thanks, Carol
Baxter March 05, 2012 at 01:02 AM
Thank you Carol, Eleanor, Tina, Trish, Bob R.,Toni, Mr. Silvestri and others.....This is definitely food for thought and action. I hope every citizen residing in Marin County becomes educated and stays informed regarding the "scary" possiblility of losing our open space let alone infringement on our established neighborhoods. Although losing designated open space is a long-shot...I guess anything is possible. Thanks for all your wisdom and concerns. We need more vigilantees like yourselves to wake us all up. I'm going for a hike right now along our beautiful open space while it's still there!!
Carol March 05, 2012 at 08:38 PM
http://www.marinij.com/opinion/ci_20090959 Anyone know who David Davenport is? He just commented on my Sunday Op-Ed piece saying I am "crying wolf" about this whole thing. Hardly! I responded...nice but firmly!
Tina McMillan March 05, 2012 at 09:02 PM
Carol I don't recognize him from his picture but he hasn't done any homework if he believes the increased totals forced on Novato are a sample of "minor rezoning". The Novato City Council and the Marin County Supervisors have asked to ABAG to redesignate our status, from metropolitan to suburban and Novato has said that the increased affordable housing numbers are far too high for both the available jobs and land. Perhaps he is only interested in land that is now being used as open space. He may not care about infill development or its impact on city budgets.
Carol March 06, 2012 at 09:01 PM
Bay Are Regionalisan Oral History http://www.susanadamsforcongress.com/videos/ Supervisor Susan Adams is the Vice President of ABAG. In this video she talks about the vision of regional planning. It is 17 minutes long and pretty boring but I highlighted some of the key points. It is obvious that these agencies are on a big mission to push this forward and she is right at the helm. 1. Regional planning must go forward but there are many obstacles; people feel passionate about their communities and are concerned when they hear about linking transit corridors and increasing density. 2. Until ABAG was formed there was no Bay Area identity and agencies had to compete for federal and state dollars, while LA was getting a larger share of those dollars. Having ABAG, MTC, BAAQMD and BCDC all together will allow regional planning in order to maximize the economic opportunities for funding. These four agencies together have the strength to and ability to deliver the vision they are creating (note that this is THEIR vision, not ours). 3. She talks a lot about engaging the public, who she said are very busy with their jobs and soccer games and don’t really realize what is going on until the last minute and that it is important it is to start this “journey” together so that is consistent with the voice of the people (this is not the “voice of the people”, it is the voice of the 4 agencies).
Carol March 06, 2012 at 09:22 PM
http://www.marinij.com/opinion/ci_20091168 A very well written letter by Claudine Le Moal...in case you did not catch it in yesterday's IJ, on the related subject of the apparent "social engineering" agenda of our elected officials. I believe she is referring in part to the "A Portrait of Marin" report and the recent reactions to that report which is all interconnected to the re-zoning and regional planning issues.
Edwin Drake March 07, 2012 at 01:43 AM
This is a good place to ask. I just discovered I live in Kinsey's district. should I run against him? Would I, Edwin Drake, have any support? Just wondering. Thanks.
Bob Ratto March 07, 2012 at 02:54 AM
Edwin I just got back from Manteca, and have to be in Fremont in the morning, otherwise I would fill out the papers for you.
Roger March 07, 2012 at 04:05 AM
Edwin: You would get my vote for County Supervisor for west Marin. I didn't know you lived on the west side of Novato. Good luck. That is taking real action ...beyond chatter on this blog. Mr. Highway should be impressed.
Vera March 07, 2012 at 02:19 PM
Corte Madera council votes to leave ABAG http://www.marinij.com/larkspurcortemadera/ci_20119597/corte-madera-council-votes-leave-abag .."want to go a step further and create a new Marin council of governments that would be independent of ABAG."
Bob Silvestri March 19, 2012 at 02:00 AM
This is a must read: Dick Spotswood: Standing up for local control http://www.marinij.com/opinion/ci_20193106/dick-spotswood-standing-up-local-control Send to a friend
Sam McCoy March 24, 2012 at 06:05 AM
Hooray for the Corte Madera Residents! They have a City Council that knows what is going on with ABAG, is educated and is fighting hard for their town and their community! Great leadership! Great people! Those 4 Council members are our heros! Well done! Bravo! How many other councils will stand up for their cities and towns? Mill Valley 's City Council didn't
David Edmondson March 24, 2012 at 04:34 PM
Now now, Sam. Corte Madera doesn't think it's going to grow at all in the next 30 years and won't abide by using its many parking lots to house anything but cars. Let's not try to ruin such a wonderful town by trying to move there. Just drive through and shop at the mall that looks like a European village and thank God you don't have to live somewhere that looks like that.
Bob Silvestri June 07, 2012 at 03:12 PM
Here is a link to Part I of a new 4 part series that will appearing every Thursday throughout June on the Patch: http://millvalley.patch.com/blog_posts/the-best-laid-plans-part-i-a-brief-history-of-planning The goal of this series is to provide a context for the ongoing debates about ABAG, planning and affordable housing in Marin. As the Plan Bay Area initiative moves forward, this conversation is more important than ever.
Bob Silvestri June 14, 2012 at 03:07 PM
The Best Laid Plans: Part II: 21st Century Planning http://millvalley.patch.com/blog_posts/the-best-laid-plans-part-ii-21st-century-planning
Bob Silvestri June 21, 2012 at 06:20 PM
The Best Laid Plans: Part III - Affordable Housing http://millvalley.patch.com/blog_posts/the-best-laid-plans-part-iii-affordable-housing

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