Saturday, April 18, 2015

Citizen Marin meets the Marin County ABAG representatives on April 9, 2015

The county representatives for ABAG met with Citizen Marin members to discuss Plan Bay Area II.

Steve Kinsey, Supervisor and  Marin's ONLY representative for the MTC did not appear.   In fact, he has refused to engage the public in any open forum regarding the forty year plan for your life known as "Plan Bay Area II".

Public Forums will be held around the Bay Area in April and May 2015

Here Comes SMART!

Does anyone think this ISN'T going to affect the Wetlands?  

Where are the environmentalists Now?

Friday, April 17, 2015

Grady Ranch is still a bad idea

Grady Ranch is still a bad idea

Stop Sign
Stop Sign by thecrazyfilmgirl, on Flickr
Last Thursday, the IJ published an editorial defending the Grady Ranch affordable housing project from critics. If we don’t know what the project will look like, asks the editorial board, how can we criticize? Perhaps it will include a bike lane and sidewalks all the way to 101. Perhaps there will be a place for Marin Transit to run a shuttle, never mind the cost. And perhaps there will be a small grocery store so residents will be able to do at least one errand without getting in the car.
While it’s true that we don’t know how the project will look, the arguments in defense of the project don’t address the fundamental flaw of “affordable” sprawl: the burden of car-dependence on residents, and the burden of maintenance on the County.
Grady Ranch isn’t “a rare opportunity to help meet Marin’s need for affordable housing.” To the contrary, it would doom hundreds of low-income people to an expensive existence of car-dependance. The whole point of creating a walkable, bikeable mix of jobs and housing, which the IJ dismisses so easily, is to free people from the burden of car ownership. A car should be an option for those who want it, not a necessity for those who can’t afford it. Why we would want to give our poor another burden they cannot carry is beyond me.
If car ownership will be residents’ burden, services and infrastructure will be the County’s. MCF, as a nonprofit, doesn’t pay any taxes on any of its land or developments, meaning new residents won’t have to pay. And, even if supervisors could foist the cost of extending services and infrastructure onto developers, that still leaves ongoing costs. Infrastructure needs maintenance and services have payrolls. Will Lucas, or MCF, or “possible grant providers” be willing to pay that expense for the next 50 years? Somehow, I don’t think even George Lucas would be that generous.
These problems and the others I raised before need to be addressed in the first draft of the plan, not later. We cannot give MCF and Lucas “the opportunity to come up with a detailed plan before going on the attack.” Supervisors, citizens, and the two Grady Ranch partners must answer these problems now.
Besides, even if Grady Ranch is an irredeemable project, that doesn’t mean the end result can’t be less terrible. Given how bad the project is just on its face, we need to start to shape it before they’ve put time into a detailed plan. If the county pushes forward, this may be the only chance we’ll get.

Marin Voice: More creativity needed to address local housing goals

Larkspur’s City Council recently approved a draft housing element for its citywide general plan.
The draft was approved by a vote of 4-1. I was the only council member who dissented, and I think it is important to explain the reasons why.
Like most, I support the goal of improving opportunities for affordable housing throughout Marin County. I worry that the lack of affordable options limits the ability of some — especially the growing number of seniors in Marin — to share the benefits of living in this unique community.
But I also am concerned about how the need for affordable housing can be used, sometimes cynically, to serve the private interests of private land developers and property owners.
In casting my vote on Larkspur’s draft housing plan, I focused on three issues: the role state agency officials in Sacramento play in directing local land use decisions; the importance of meaningful public input on the environmental consequences of those decisions; and the need for flexibility in meeting our housing goals.
On the role of Sacramento, there is a common perception that no housing plan can even be considered unless it conforms to the narrow expectations of staff employees at the state Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD).
That is not true.
Under the state government code, HCD guidelines are only “advisory” to local agencies in developing draft housing plans. Even if HCD disapproves a plan, the statute allows local government to adopt it anyway, so long as it makes a finding to explain why the plan meets the requirements of state law.
On the importance of public input, some argue that draft housing plans have no significant environmental impacts, so long as they do not change pre-existing zoning determinations — that way, local governments can avoid the public review and comment process that ordinarily is required under the California Environmental Quality Act. This approach ignores the fact that current conditions may be different from those existing at the time earlier zoning decisions were made.
Formal consideration of public views is essential to ensuring that current conditions and potential future consequences are fully addressed.Finally, on the need for flexibility, it is a mistake to assume that our housing needs can only be met through the development of large parcels that conveniently are adjacent to transportation corridors like Highway 101 or the looming SMART rail project.
In a low-growth county like Marin, there are other options, such as encouraging junior second units as an adjunct to the existing housing stock. Affordable junior second units can be particularly attractive to seniors needing less living space than growing families might want.
The promotion of junior second units is sometimes dismissed by planning consultants as not credible, since it doesn’t have a sustained track record showing past success in meeting regional housing goals.
Yet that kind of record will never be developed without a strong commitment to giving this strategy a priority over more traditional approaches.
There is no reason why local government officials cannot do more to foster creative strategies that meet the county’s affordable housing needs. Our constituents remind us repeatedly that they do not want new high-density development cluttering Marin County’s unique landscape.
By adopting innovative approaches to planning, we can meet our community’s expectations in all respects — and be proud of what we have accomplished in the process.
Kevin Haroff is a Larkspur City Council member. He also is the managing partner of Marten Law PLLC in San Francisco.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Gary Giacomini's April Fools Day Speech before the Board of Supervisors April 1, 2014

Get Microsoft Silverlight
 On April 1, 2014, former Supervisor, Gary Giacomini (George Lucas's Lawyer) spoke in a nearly empty Board of Supervisor's meeting to humiliate the people of Marin who question the urbanization of East Marin.  Rarely have I heard a politician attack the citizens in this manner.   We are not a nation of "divine rulers" and we will not stand silent in the face of injustice. 

For anyone who doesn't want to actually watch the nauseating video:

"Morning supervisors, I’m Gary Giacomini and I, as you know, I sat in you seat for some 24 years, and I want to say that I have never seen such a mean-spirited electorate out there, what appears to be, and I wanted to say that it's like a combination of the flat-earth society, the know nothing party and the pitchfork gang and they’re assaulting you on all kinds of fronts.

But I I've got some good news - its not, it doesn't have traction. It feels like it does to you because when they come at you, you have a target on your back and they’re relentless and they're loud in there, that actually, they’re a classic mob and they get away with it because they have enormous tenacity and they don't care about facts at all.

But I wanted to share with you that a lot of people think you’re doing a lot of damn good things and I've been involved recently with some polls, county wide polls, that should give you solace - and that is only 12 to 13% of the people in Marin buy into this bullshit and buy into the pitchfork mentality of the enemies you have. So I want to say this, it feels like it's the world, I know what it's like, I remember, right? I never experienced the mean spiritedness of that gang, and they are a gang, that’s all they are and I tell you that there’s good times to come because they have no traction. They speak loud and they carry a big stick, but they’re really shallow, shallow people.

By the way I want to say something that, you do all kinds of great things, the county does, and I saw a lot of it today in the room, it’s too bad people don't, don't sit here that's another thing about your enemies they don't, they ask questions but they don't care what the answers are because they have a vicious agenda which is anti, anti-government, tea party-ist kind of mentality. But you do go out and do all kinds of good things and I want to tell you one that I thought, I'm gonna tell you, compliment you so much about.
""what I would have wanted to do is bring in a bunch of D6 [bulldozers],
knock down some trees and fix the road ' -Former Supervisor Giocomini

I tried for 24 years I was here to do something about the horrible condition of Sir Francis Drake Boulevard through Sam Taylor Park and you have done a miracle.  I’m driving out there and I thought I got to tell these supervisors you've done a miracle. It's a stunning… what I would have wanted to do is bring in a bunch of D6 [bulldozers], knock down some trees and fix the road, and that didn't go so well. You did it beautifully, I think you had to touch one or two trees, and they were dead anyway, and it's a glorious road, it's beautiful and you pulled it off and my congratulations and that's not easy and especially my thanks to you Supervisor Kinsey I sort of grinned that you could do that.

But I only had 24 years, but anyway I wanted to give you solace. It is not that bad and I hear in all the travels that I have, that people are mad at the people that are mad at you, and that's what I want to share with you. And the people that are mad at the people that are mad at you are much, many more.And the goodwill of Marin will return. It’s really here, it’s just it doesn't feel like it because this pitchfork gang is front page, but you will prevail. Thanks for all you do."


I sent this letter in response to the Marin IJ. I don't think they dare publish it:


Giocomini Who?

"During the April 1, 2014 Board of Supervisor's meeting, former Supervisor Gary Giacomini , addressed the Supervisors in a 4 minute monologue lambasting the public who are concerned about the urbanization of Marin, as a bullying, mob, pitchfork carrying, Tea Party group.  It is quite revealing that not a peep was heard from the nearly empty room while his bilious attack echoed throughout the chamber.  One would think that Susan Adams and Judy Arnold fresh from the campaign trail might have had the courage to stand up for the people of their district but nothing but a chuckle came from the entire board.   The people of Marin owe a debt of gratitude to those who saved Marin.  Thanks Gary, we'll take it from here."

[APRIL 2015 Postscript:  Gary Giacomini is the lawyer representing George Lucas for a new Grady Ranch Proposal.  He is on the offense, attacking the "millionaire NIMBYs". Some media outlets are naively publishing this garbage. The fact is that development will pay almost no taxes or infrastructure costs. The middle class neighbors will be forced to build new infrastructure, repair roads, lay sewer and water,  build new schools, hire more police and pay much higher taxes.  The June 2014 election that Mr. Giaocomini so confidently predicted a victory was a rout. Incumbent Supervisor Adams lost in a landslide to a newcomer.  Judy Arnold, another incumbent supervisor, narrowly won re-election by 200 votes.]

Grady Ranch Is All Wrong

Grady Ranch Is All Wrong

A great place for some infill development. Photo by Skywalker Properties.
A great place for some infill development. Photo by Skywalker Properties.
George Lucas’s great foray into affordable housing is wrong for Marin, wrong for affordable housing, and wrong for the people that would live there. The Grady Ranch development plan needs to be scrapped.
After the collapse of LucasFilm’s Grady Ranch studio proposal, then-owner George Lucas promised to build affordable housing on the site instead. Many observers, including me, saw it as payback to the Lucas Valley anti-development crowd that killed the studio project, but few thought George was serious.
Yet Lucas and his partners at the Marin Community Foundation are charging ahead with 200-300 units of affordable housing anyway. While it does present an opportunity to build affordable homes, the site couldn’t be worse.
Grady Ranch is located out on Lucas Valley Road, far from any downtown, commercial center, or regular transit line. It’s right at the edge of the North San Rafael sprawl line – a car-oriented area even where it’s already built up.
Lucas Valley Road itself is essentially a limited-access rural highway, with cars speeding along at 50 miles per hour. There’s no development on the south side, and the north side only has entrances to the neighborhoods. No buildings actually front the road. Yet, it’s the only access to the Highway 101 transit trunk line, to nearly any commercial or shopping areas, or between neighborhoods.
Development here would be bad by any measure. Car-centric sprawl fills our roads with more traffic, generates more demand for parking, and forces residents to play Russian roulette every time they want to get milk. It takes retail activity away from our town centers, weakening the unique Marin character embodied in downtowns.
The infrastructure, too, is inefficient. Grady Ranch would need to be covered by police service, fire service, sewage, water, electricity, and some modicum of transit, but those costs are based on geography, not population. Serving a square mile with 300 homes is a lot more expensive per home than a square mile with 1,000.
Yet the fact that this will be affordable housing makes the project even more egregious. Driving is expensive, with depreciation, gas, maintenance, insurance, and parking costs all eating up scads of money. On a population level, you can add in the cost of pollution, as well as injuries and deaths in crashes. A home in Grady Ranch would be affordable, but the cost of actually living there would be quite high.
The nonprofit aspect of the project would mean no taxes could be raised to cover its infrastructure and services. Building affordable housing in a mixed area means they’re covered by preexisting services. Though usage is more intense, there is typically enough spare capacity to take on more residents. Building something beyond current development means new infrastructure and services need to be built specifically for that project but without any existing residents to pay for it. It would be a massive and ongoing drain on county coffers.
This is the worst possible place for affordable housing. Grady Ranch, if it’s not going to be a film studio, needs to remain as open space. An affordable housing project out at the exurban edge of Marin cannot be affordable because car-centric development is fundamentally unaffordable.
I respect the efforts of George Lucas and Marin Community Foundation to find a place for the low-income to live, but Grady Ranch is not it. Lucas and MCF need to look at urban infill sites and focus on building up in those areas that are transit-accessible and walkable, places that are actually affordable. Replicating the discredited drive-‘til-you-qualify dynamic in Marin is not the answer; it’s just recreating the problem.

KCBS story on Grady Ranch and "St. George"

See the KCBS story HERE.   The news media are all gushy over St. George's "gift".  What they don't realize that the middle class communities of Marinwood, Lucas Valley and Terra Linda will be stuck paying for all of the infrastructure upgrades to roads, bus lines, public safety and schools.   Low income housing can escape environmental safeguards and infrastructure costs that market rate developers must pay. His generosity will be paid by us over and over again in higher taxes.

Why does he want to put housing on a site that will DOUBLE the development cost because of the landscape?  He could build TWICE the housing at lower cost elsewhere in Marin. Better yet, he could provide more integration if small sites were spread throughout the county.  Why massive big box developments that isolate communities? Clearly there is more than meets the eye.

Once Upon a Time in Marinwood-Lucas Valley

Once upon a time,  when we valued the simple things...

Setting the Record Straight. The LucasFilm Project was pulled because of Water Regulations not neighbors.

See this 2012 story in the Marin IJ 

We Will Save Marin Again!

Marin Voice: Large Grady housing plan 'wishful thinking'

I RIDE my bicycle past the Grady Ranch a couple of times a week. It is a beautiful piece of property bordering Lucas Valley Road, with the upper reaches of Miller Creek and two tributary creeks, as well as steep, highly visible hills and ridges.
Recently, on my ride past the property, I was troubled by the plan put forth by the Marin Community Foundation and county planners to develop 240 housing units on the property.
Past housing approvals for this property allowed less than half this number under less stringent environmental rules. Allowing 240 houses on the property under today's rules seems idealistic at best.
In the interest of full disclosure, my wife and I live near the property, in Lucas Valley Estates, and I supported the 1996 Lucasfilm Ltd. digital studio master plan and, with some reservations, the recent revised film studio plan that was withdrawn by Mr. Lucas.
I make my living as a land- use attorney representing property owners seeking permits to develop property and formerly worked as a land use planner in the Marin County Planning Department.
In 1983, when a 114-unit housing project was approved for the Grady Ranch by the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors, I was one of the county planners assigned to review and analyze the application.
Developing 240 housing units of any kind on the property seems like wishful thinking.
The Countywide Plan prohibits development within 100 feet of a creek and designates some of the property as a Ridge and Upland Greenbelt, which prohibits development on visible ridges and hillsides.
The zoning for the Grady Ranch permits one housing unit for every 2.64 acres of land, which does not allow 240 units on the property.
County policies to promote low-income housing would theoretically allow an increase in the number of houses as long as all requirements of the Countywide Plan are met.
Given the environmental constraints associated with the property, including the small amount of flat land, the existence of landslides, and the need to maintain a 100-foot setback from three creeks, it is hard to imagine such an increase in density complying with the Countywide Plan, or the myriad of other state and local regulations applicable to the property.
As Lucasfilm well knows, there are other regulatory agencies (Regional Water Quality and Fish and Game) that will highly scrutinize any development proposal adjacent to these creeks.
Grady Ranch does not seem like a good candidate for high-density, low-income housing. The property is about four miles from the Highway 101 corridor; too far to easily provide the necessary transit and related services to develop and maintain high-density housing for low-income persons.
Because of its remote location, and the need to extend public services such as sewer, water, and power, it will also be very costly to develop — much more than property closer to essential urban services. With landslide repair and creek restoration costs added in, the development of low-income housing seems improbable without large subsidies.
As I recall there were good environmental and policy reasons the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors approved only 114 units on the property in 1983.
Land-use rules and policies have not relaxed since that time. If anything they are more stringent.
Let's hope the coming debate on the county's Housing Element includes a careful look at the Grady Ranch and the appropriate amount of housing — whether market-rate or low-income.
I believe that when all the facts are in, 240 units will be far too many.
Neil Sorensen is a San Rafael land-use attorney. He is a former Marin County planner and served as a trustee on the Dixie School District board.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

George Lucas proposes 224 units at Grady Ranch

George Lucas proposes 224 units at Grady Ranch

The Grady Ranch property is shown in an aerial view looking west over Lucas Valley. Filmmaker George Lucas plans to build rental housing there that accommodates seniors and local workers. IJ photo — Alan Dep

By Nels Johnson, Marin Independent Journal

POSTED: 04/14/15, 6:06 PM PDT | UPDATED: 16 HRS AGO

Filmmaker George Lucas has proposed a 224-unit affordable housing complex at Grady Ranch.

Representatives of the “Star Wars” billionaire’s Skywalker Properties, calling plans for rental housing that accommodates seniors and local workers a “magnificent gift” to Marin County, said Lucas intends to pay for the entire project himself, without federal, state or other grant aid.

“The unique thing about this is George is financing it 100 percent,” said Gary Giacomini, former county supervisor and an attorney for Skywalker. The situation will leave Lucas in charge, and not grantmakers, while eliminating red tape associated with subsidized housing, Giacomini noted, saying units can be set aside specifically for teachers, local workers or anyone else who meets income guidelines.

Reaction to the latest plan for Grady Ranch was mixed, with Supervisor Damon Connolly citing worries about “the cumulative impact on the entire area” of a cascade of development proposals that can “literally and figuratively change the landscape in Marinwood and Lucas Valley.”

But Supervisors Judy Arnold and Steve Kinsey sounded optimistic notes, with Kinsey calling it a “wonderful opportunity.” Arnold noted that affordable housing is in short supply in Marin and “in this case we have the opportunity to be more creative.”

A plan that will be submitted to the county Community Development Agency this week calls for 120 two- and three-bedroom workforce residences in one four-story cluster and two two-story clusters on the site, and 104 one- and two-bedroom residences for seniors in a four-story cluster, as well as four parking garages. None would be visible from Lucas Valley Road.

The proposal includes a community center and pool, terraced gardens, an orchard and a “micro farm” or community garden, and a barn. It limits development to a 52-acre tract of the 1,039-acre ranch, 800 acres of which already have been dedicated as open space. Zoning allows as many as 324 dwellings on the site.

The architect for the project is Robert W. Hayes of Sausalito, a designer who won acclaim for his Toussin Senior Apartments affordable complex at 10 Toussin Ave. in Kentfield. The project is being coordinated and managed by PEP Housing of Petaluma, which developed Toussin as well as affordable housing complexes at 13 sites in Petaluma, among other projects.


Mary Stompe of Novato, executive director of PEP Housing for the past decade, said regulatory controls will be filed with the county ensuring affordability of the residences, with targets set so that workforce housing applicants earn less than 80 percent of median income, and senior renters falling somewhere between 30 to 60 percent of the median.

Aside from meeting income level requirements, renters must clear “an extensive background check” that includes a review of criminal and other records, as well as interviews with former landlords, Stompe said, adding her organization maintains a tight grip on tenants.

“We all are very proud to be part of this,” Giacomini said. “This will provide 224 families with places to live, and you’ll drive by and not be able to see anything.”

“It’s a huge public gift and I am confident the public will embrace it,” Stompe added. “We’re providing homes for teachers and others in the county.”

“The standard naysayers will be hanging around, but an awfully lot of people will support it,” Giacomini added. “We will have a healthy public process but it will not be one-sided,” he said. “There will be in-depth scrutiny.”

If all goes well, the development could break ground in 2018 and be completed the next year, Giacomini said.

Thomas Peters, CEO of the Marin Community Foundation, called Lucas’ plan an “extraordinary offer” that underscores the filmmaker’s commitment to the housing needs of the vibrant workforce that drives the region’s vitality.


The latest chapter in the Grady Ranch saga unfolded two years after the foundation bailed out of a plan to join Lucas in developing affordable housing at Grady Ranch. Peters said at the time that after extensive study, the “considerable cost” of a $120 million to $150 million affordable complex of from 200 to 240 “beautiful and environmentally sensitive” dwellings was too daunting despite “the generous land offer by Mr. Lucas.”

When the foundation departed, Angelo Garcia, president of Lucas Real Estate Holdings, pledged to “start immediately to engage in discussions” with developers identified during the foundation study. These included PEP Housing. “George Lucas feels that affordable housing is necessary so that people who are important in this community such as teachers, home health care workers and nurses don’t have to live outside Marin,” Garcia said then.

Brian Crawford, head of the county’s Community Development Agency, noted the site and adjacent areas are targeted for residential development by county land use regulations.

A Lucas studio project was approved by the county in 1996, but when the filmmaker finally decided to proceed four years ago, he consolidated buildings and required new permits. A lawyer for neighbors opposed to the plan threatened to sue and disclosed that state regulatory agencies had concerns about a $70 million creek and watershed improvement planned by Lucas. The filmmaker, then in talks to sell his Lucasfilm enterprise to Disney, walked away, saying he could not afford more delay, and backed development of affordable homes.

Stompe noted the Skywalker Properties housing plan for Grady Ranch does not include a watershed improvement element.

Connolly worries about Grady Ranch ‘cumulative impact’

Connolly worries about Grady Ranch ‘cumulative impact’

By Nels Johnson, Marin Independent Journal


Supervisor Damon Connolly, propelled into office last June by voters upset about development plans, doesn’t think a residential complex at Grady Ranch is going to be a big hit in the neighborhood.

“During my campaign, and through my first months in office, I have heard loud and clear from the residents in Lucas Valley and Marinwood about their concerns over the number of potential developments in their communities,” Connolly said about George Lucas’ plan for 224 homes at Grady Ranch. “I share their concerns.”

Connolly added his job is to make sure that any proposal is “viewed in the context of the cumulative impact on the entire area, and not just in isolation.”

The freshman supervisor said that after only a few months on the job, “We are already grappling with potential development at Marinwood Plaza, now Grady Ranch, and the Oakview property, where a developer is now looking to build 132 senior housing units pursuant to a master plan that was approved 10 years ago.” In addition, “talk of St. Vincent’s and its allocation of 221 units in the 2007 Countywide Plan is never far from the minds of enterprising developers.”

“In totality these proposals have the potential to literally and figuratively change the landscape in Lucas Valley and Marinwood,” he said.

Other reaction to the development plan varied.

“Mr. Lucas’s sensitivity to the landscape and commitment to sustainability will no doubt be reflected in the proposal,” said Supervisor Katie Rice. “Obviously we have a crying need for senior housing and workforce housing, (and) the key is designing something that not only fills these important needs but is also a good fit for the site and surrounding community.”
“I look forward to seeing the plan,” Supervisor Judy Arnold said. “We know there is a need for workforce and senior housing in Marin and in this case we have the opportunity to be more creative.”

“Even the dedicated housing advocates said it is a bad site for affordable housing,” observed Nona Dennis, vice president of the Marin Conservation League. “Many reasons.”

“Deja vu all over?” wondered Stephen Nestel, founder of Save Marinwood. “The sensitive habitat and the slide conditions remain at the site,” he noted. “Why can’t these developments be located in appropriate locations like Rotary Village? Why must Lucas Valley host all the development? Should Steve Kinsey’s district have its fair share?”
“I commend Mr. Lucas on his continued commitment to the housing needs of the many individuals and families in our community who contribute to our community’s vitality,” said Marin Community Foundation CEO Thomas Peters. “That he is willing to step forward with this extraordinary offer is certainly a clear testament to his conviction.”

Janice Cunningham, president of the Lucas Valley Homeowners Association, had no comment on the Grady Ranch proposal.

“We have no idea” what is being proposed, the homeowners association chief said. “I can’t comment at this time.”