Saturday, November 10, 2012

How Urban Planning Works (Criticism of Urban Planning)

Urban Planning Exhibition in the People's Republic of China
excerpt from "How Urban Planning Works"

Criticisms of Urban Planning

Some early opponents of urban planning blamed its practitioners for focusing only on aesthetics with no regard for human welfare. But today, such criticisms are largely unfounded because urban planners take a much more holistic approach to community development. They look far beyond aesthetics to consider the environmental, economic and social health issues that affect a community as it grows and changes.

Unfortunately, as the complexity of urban planning has increased, so have the length of time and costs required to complete the process. The time-intensive nature and high costs of planning are two of the biggest criticisms. If the planning process takes too long, the solutions it proposes may be obsolete before they're fully implemented -- a serious concern in emerging cities where change occurs more rapidly.

Some people object to the fact that urban planning gives the government too much power over individuals. And still others say urban planners put too much emphasis on the future of cities and towns and not enough on present problems. This discontent with urban planning pushes the field forward and forces it to evolve.

One of the most influential critiques of modern urban planning came in 1961 by Jane Jacobs. Her book, "Death and Life of Great American Cities," blasted 20th century urban planning and proposed radically new principles for rebuilding cities:
  • Cities as ecosystems: Jacobs compared cities to living things that change over time as they interact with their environment. If the city is the organism, then the sidewalks, parks, streets and neighborhoods are the various systems, each with a different function but tightly and seamlessly integrated. By viewing cities in this way, planners can better understand their structure and make more efficacious recommendations.
  • Mixed-use development: Jacobs saw diversity as an absolute requirement for healthy, vibrant urban communities. Diversity didn't just refer to populations. Jacobs also felt that buildings should vary in age, condition, use and rentals. In such an environment, people of different ages and backgrounds use different parts of the city at different times of the day, making the city vital and healthy around the clock, not just during business hours.
  • Bottom-up community planning: Jacobs felt that planners didn't rely enough on local expertise. How could an outsider, she argued, know the real-life needs of a neighborhood better than the people who actually lived there? In the Jacobian planning model, residents are highly involved in the entire development process.
  • The case for higher density: While conventional wisdom suggested that densely populated neighborhoods led to crime and squalor, Jacobs called for even more density. She believed that diverse and highly concentrated populations of people, including residents, promote visible city life and help to combat the homogeneity that ultimately leads to dullness.
  • Local economies: Jacobs developed a model of local economic development based on revitalizing old businesses, promoting small businesses and supporting entrepreneurs, as opposed to replacing smaller, less-profitable businesses with large, stable corporations. In fact, her approach to economic development is just another way a city can maintain diversity. Having a variety of businesses forms the base for diversity in a specific district and has a cross-effect on the diversity of other localities by providing affluent residents and patrons needed for mutual support.
Although controversial, Jane Jacobs' ideas shook the industry and heavily influenced a new generation of planners and architects. Her theories and principles will, no doubt, continue to affect the design of cities for years to come.
So what's in the years to come?

Friday, November 9, 2012

Contest: Win the Marinwood-Lucas Valley Future!

Win Marinwood-Lucas Valley's Future!

On Tuesday,  November 13th at 1:30PM, The Board of Supervisors will vote on the following exceptions to the Marin Master Plan to allow low income housing developers avoid conventional sound planning procedures. 

Win the gratitude of your neighbors if you can decipher the legal consequences for these exceptions.  Double prize if you write an article informing us in plain language what this all means.

The contest is open to all participants, including planners, housing advocates, environmentalists and concerned citizens.  Unfortunately, some of  our leaders are declining to participate in the discussion :)

Here it is:

Exhibit “A”

All changes are highlighted and shown in strike-out and underline format

1. Policy CD-1.3 Reduce Potential Impacts

(p. 3-12)

Modify Policy CD-1.3 as follows to clarify that affordable housing to very low or low income

residents are not required to be calculated at the lowest end of the density range. This

standard is clearer than existing language, which simply says: “multi family parcels

identified in certified Housing Elements.”

Policy CD-1.3 Reduce Potential Impacts

. Calculate potential residential densities

and commercial floor area ratio (FAR) at the lowest end of the applicable range on

sites with sensitive habitat, or on sites within the Ridge and Upland Greenbelt, or

the Baylands Corridor, or on sites properties lacking public water or sewer systems

except for multi-family parcels identified in certified Housing Elements. Densities

higher than the lowest end of the applicable density range may be considered on a

case-by-case basis for new housing units affordable to very low and low income

households, as long as the development complies with the California Environmental

Quality Act (CEQA) and all other applicable policies in the Countywide Plan

including, but not limited to, those governing environmental protection.

2. Program CD-1.c Reduce Potential Impacts

(p. 3-13)

Modify Program CD-1.c to be consistent with modifications made to Policy CD-1.3 and to

existing Programs CD-5.e and CD-6.a, which refer to housing affordable to very low or low

income residents.


Reduce Potential Impacts.
Amend the Development

Code to calculate potential residential density and commercial floor area ratio (FAR)

at the lowest end of the applicable range on sites with sensitive habitat, or on sites

within the Ridge and Upland Greenbelt, or the Baylands Corridor, or on sites

properties lacking public water or sewer systems. except for multi-family parcels

identified in certified Housing Elements. Densities higher than the lowest end of the

applicable density range may be considered on a case-by-case basis for new

housing units affordable to very low and low income households, as long as the

development complies with CEQA and all other applicable policies in the

Countywide Plan including, but not limited to, those governing environmental


3. Program CD-5.e Limit Density for Areas Without Water and Sewer Connections

(p. 3-


Modify Program CD-5.e to be consistent with Policy CD-1.3 and Program CD-1.c as



Limit Density for Areas Without Water and or Sewer


Calculate density at the lowest end of the Countywide Plan

designation density range for subdivisions new development proposed in areas

without public water and/or sewer service. Densities for housing units, affordable to


very low and low income residents, that are capable of providing adequate water

and/or sewer services may be considered on a case-by-case basis. Densities

higher than the lowest end of the applicable density range may be considered for

new housing units affordable to very low and low income households, as long as

the development complies with CEQA and all other applicable policies in the

Countywide Plan including, but not limited to, those governing environmental


For the Full Staff Report see: Exceptions for Low Income Developers

from Marin County BOS:

The Marin County Board of Supervisors will hold a public hearing to consider adopting an amendment to the Marin Countywide Plan (CWP). The amendment is a technical correction to certain CWP policies to clarify when densities higher than the lowest end of the applicable CWP density range may be considered for affordable housing.  This item was continued from prior hearings on September 11, 2012, October 2, 2012, and October 23, 2012.

The hearing is at 1:30 at the Board Chambers at the Marin Civic Center, Room 330, San Rafael, CA 94903.


Two local indoor food markets that appeal to Foodies and Tourists

Rockridge Market Hall offers many local food shops under one roof.
Rockridge Market Hall

The San Francisco Ferry Building Marketplace is hugely successful with tourists and locals alike.

Ferry Building Marketplace

Why not a Farm to Table Market in Marinwood?  We have the local customers.  We have thirteen million tourists coming to Marin each year.  Eight million travel on the 101 and other roads to reach Sonoma and Napa. 

Clearly there is a great opportunity for a successful market in Marinwood Plaza if properly designed, promoted and made visible to passing traffic. It is time to shed old ideas that Marinwood can't be a success. 

Marinwood Plaza is our best hope for the future of our community.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

ALERT: Meeting to give Loop holes for Low Income Housing Developers on Tuesday

Marin Board of Supervisors are creating special loopholes for High Density Housing in Marinwood-Lucas Valley on Tuesday, November 13th at 1:30 PM in the Civic Center.

Here we go again.  Another bite from our rights for responsible development in Marinwood-Lucas Valley.  The Board of Supervisors is considering many changes to the development code and amendments to the Master Plan to allow high density housing in our neighborhoods.

Here is the link to the county staff document:Staff Report for changes to the Marin Master Plan

It is pretty technical but when you sift through it, the supervisors are creating "special incentives" for developers.  This will allow developers great latitude in building housing above the legitimate community objections over traffic, design, and even good environmental practice in Marinwood-Lucas Valley. 

Please attend if you can.  If not please write the supervisors to have your objections set into the public record. It is important that the Supervisors understand that the community does not support special favoritism for low income developers.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Wake Up and Smell the Coffee Marinwood-Lucas Valley

Wake Up Marinwood-Lucas Valley. The 2012 Housing Element threatens much development in our Community
If you are reading this blog,  you are aware that huge changes may be coming to Marinwood-Lucas Valley and in particular, the Marinwood Priority Development Area. 

The 2012 Housing Element threatens much development in our community. If all of the units are built to plan, it will mean a 25% growth to our community of 6000.  The developments pay minimal fees and have a fifty year tax abatement. While some additional housing may be acceptable for some,  key issues what this growth will cost our community remain.

A January 2012 audit of the 2010-2011 Marinwood CSD budget showed over $700,000 deficit (with a total budget over $4 MM).  This was only the second time in Marinwood CSD's fifty year history that our budgets have not balanced. (For the curious, the 2010- 2011 audit is available).  The Dixie school district has been severely impacted with budget cuts and classrooms are at capacity.  According to Bridge Housing, potential developer of Marinwood Plaza, each unit adds 1.8 children per apartment unit.  This means that the Marinwood Plaza development could add 150 students (5 classrooms) to the Dixie School district.

25% growth in population means 25% more classrooms, 25% police and fire calls, 25% more traffic and pollution. 

Is this the future for Marinwood-Lucas Valley that you want?  

Talk with your neighbors about the pending changes.  Let them know that if they live east of Las Gallinas, they are in the Marinwood Priority Development Area and huge changes in zoning and development may be upon us. The 2012 housing element only tracks low/moderate income housing growth.  Market rate apartments and houses may also be forced upon us.  The planners want high density housing along the 101 cooridor. 

Only the Marin County Board of Supervisors can prevent this development.

Wake up and smell the coffee.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Baptist and Bootleggers- When Political Opposites Attract

Developers stand to make millions in the urbanization of Marinwood-Lucas Valley by converting our low density neighborhoods into high density apartments, condos and single family homes. The question is how do YOU benefit from this urbanization?

 Some "environmentalists" have joined developers in Urbanizing Marin.  How strange that 40 years after saving marin from overdevelopment,  phony environmentalists are leading the charge for development.  It is a political alliance known as "Baptists and Bootleggers" from the days of Prohibition.

Don't believe the fluff that you'll be saving the planet. Increasing people means increasing pollution and traffic, crowded schools, more urban problems. Our peaceful Lucas Valley will be sold to the highest bidder for profits. Zoning changes mean private developers will be welcome too.

If your home and neighborhood is worth saving, find out more. Tell your neighbors. Stop "Marinwood City" from becoming a reality.


 Bootleggers and Baptists

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Bootleggers and Baptists is a political model in which opposite issue positions lead to the same vote. Specifically, the criminal bootlegger favors prohibition because decreased supply generally equals a higher profit margin for the criminal bootlegger. The preacher favors prohibition, citing religious reasons. Both the criminal bootlegger and the preacher vote in support of prohibition. The politician capitalizes on this, receiving financial contributions from the bootlegger while citing the preacher's morals in campaign speeches.


[edit] The story

[1][2][3] One version deals with regulations on the sale of alcoholic beverages (blue laws), which was first proposed by Bruce Yandle in a 1983 Regulation Magazine article.[4] The story can easily be applied to other regulations.[5] One version begins with preachers in a rural county demanding the government ban the sale of alcohol on Sundays. "Alcohol", they say, "is a vile drink and efforts should be made to restrict its spread through society, especially on the Lord's Day." The Baptists' electorate votes the county dry.
But the demand for alcohol does not disappear with the supply. People still want to drink on Sundays and so the bootleggers step up and illegally sell alcohol. And because the supply is restricted because far fewer people are selling liquor, one day a week the bootlegger gains monopoly power and the lucrative market that goes with it.
The Baptists, in their turn, point to the widespread use of alcohol on Sunday as evidence that laws need to be tightened further, and propose to ban sale of alcohol on Saturday as well. This causes a spiral of tougher and tougher laws that are harder to enforce, while the bootlegger gains further power.
Willie Morris's memoir North Toward Home contains an example of this phenomenon

Developers stand to make millions in the urbanization of Marinwood-Lucas Valley by converting our low density neighborhoods into high density apartments, condos and single family homes.  The question is how do YOU benefit from this urbanization?


Don't  believe the fluff that you'll be saving the planet.  Increasing people means increasing pollution and traffic,  crowded schools, more urban problems.  Our peaceful Lucas Valley will be sold to the highest bidder for profits.  Zoning changes mean private developers will be welcome too. 


If your home and neighborhood is worth saving,  find out more.  Tell your neighbors. Stop "Marinwood City" from becoming a reality.


Land-Use Controllers Never Quit (Becoming Like Marin)

 Editors note: This article was written shortly after SB375 was passed.  Much of the predictions have come true.
Steven Greenhut

Land-Use Controllers Never Quit

“Any excuse will serve a tyrant”
In a sensible world the folks who had predicted doom and gloom because of dramatic increases in the price of gasoline would be revising their scenarios now that gas prices have fallen.
My article in November’s Freeman extensively quoted environ-metal/New Urbanist writer James Howard Kunstler gleefully pointing to soaring oil prices—the result, he argued, of “unsustainable” policies that promote urban sprawl. Those prices will signal the end, he added, of America’s “Happy Motoring utopia.” (I’d love some logical explanation of the word “sustainable,” but I digress.)
Then in the short period between my writing the article and its arrival in your mailbox, local gas prices fell from about $4.50 a gallon, with predictions by analysts of ever-escalating prices, shortages, and gas lines, to about 2 bucks a gallon, with predictions of prices going even lower. As I write this, there are no gas lines and local stations can barely give the stuff away at around $1.59. Who knows where prices are as you read this, but the fluctuations suggest that some economic factor is at work that probably can’t be explained by Kunstler’s “unsustainability” hysteria.
Yet his analysis hasn’t changed. Writing in late November for the Whiskey and Gunpowder blog, Kunstler offers the same solutions without directly addressing the change in his oil-pricing forecasts, but this time he keys off the latest crisis du jour—the subprime housing problem and potential collapse of the U.S. auto industry: “All the activities based on getting something-for-nothing are dead or dying now, in particular buying houses and cars on credit and so it should not be a surprise that the two major victims are the housing and car industries. Notice, by the way, that these are the two major ingredients of an economy based on building suburban sprawl. That’s over, too.”
I quote Kunstler because he says forthrightly what most of those in the Smart Growth, New Urbanist, and environmental movements refuse to say directly. These folks want a radical transformation of the economic system in a statist direction (Kunstler argues that “a much larger proportion of the U.S. population will have to be employed in growing the food we eat”), complete government control over land-use decisions, and policies that coerce Americans out of their cars and into mass-transit systems, especially rail lines. Here’s where the Aesop quote above comes in handy: No matter what the economic circumstances—high gas prices or low, housing boom or bust—Kunstler and his ilk declare that the situation is proof that Americans must radically change the way they live.
None of this would be worth taking seriously except that recently the California legislature passed and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a law that attempts to establish a planning regime based on the notions outlined above. Although gas prices and the housing situation were part of the debate for SB 375, the real rationale for its passage was—drum roll please—the so-called crisis of global warming. The bill radically changes land-use law in California, yet it was passed on a mostly partisan basis with little public discourse or notice. Granted, Californians are used to having their property rights assaulted for a variety of reasons, but this measure was big even for this state. Few newspapers extensively covered the debate over the bill, and those that did generally supported it. Few Californians have ever heard of it. I’ve talked with legislators—including a couple of supporters—who are unfamiliar with its contents, even though its advocates and detractors agree that it is one of the most significant laws to come out of Sacramento in a decade.
“This legislation constitutes the most sweeping revision of land-use policies since Gov. Ronald Reagan signed the California Environmental Quality Act,” said Schwarzenegger. Its author, Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg, said the bill “will be used as the national framework for fighting sprawl and transforming inevitable growth to smart growth.” Although the pro-Smart Growth California Planning and Development Report complained that the bill is too based on incentives rather than regulation, it declared: “It’s more powerful than advertised because it contains potentially revolutionary changes in California’s arcane processes of regional planning for transportation and housing—largely by mandating the creation of ‘sustainable’ regional growth plans. And those changes could become more important . . . when the California Air Resources Board is expected to double the greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets that local governments must meet through land-use planning.”
Other supporters compare its passage to that of the California Coastal Act (creating the authoritarian California Coastal Commission, which has untrammeled power to dictate land-use decisions near the coast) and to Proposition 13 (limiting property taxes) in terms of significance. They appear to be right.

It All Started with Global Warming

In 2006 Schwarzenegger signed into law AB 32, designed to steeply reduce California’s so-called greenhouse gas emissions. AB 32 gave state officials widespread authority to regulate business to halt these emissions, but it largely left untouched emissions from cars and trucks. That’s where SB 375 comes in. Vehicle emissions are to be reduced partly through land-use plans designed to cut miles traveled.
It was an amazingly slippery slope that took California from the dubious theory of manmade global warming—and the even more dubious idea that the California legislature, which can’t even come close to balancing its budget, can save the entire earth from temperature change—to draconian regulations that could outlaw (or at least severely punish local governments that allow) the creation of new suburban-style subdivisions in this largely suburban and quickly growing state.
And despite the governor’s prattle about “market mechanisms,” there is nothing market-oriented about unelected regulators telling local officials that they must stop private developers from building what they term suburban sprawl or else lose transportation funds.
As with any political fad, it’s hard to separate the shysters from the true believers. Many developers love Smart Growth because it provides a politically correct means to lobby for something they always want—approvals to build highly lucrative, higher-density housing projects. In many communities it’s tough for developers to gain approval to build high rises, condominiums, and houses on tiny lots. It’s not always easy to market these projects either, as long as there are readily available single-family alternatives. The current suburban zoning restrictions often forbid higher densities, and NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) activists often oppose plans to add density to their neighborhoods.
Now, with global warming the “in” thing, developers can claim to be helping the environment. They can talk about how their projects conform to California’s ever-tightening land-use restrictions. As a side note, I advocate dramatic reduction in land-use regulations of all kinds so that neither high-density nor low-density developments are mandated. The market should determine these matters, not regulators. It’s true that what critics call sprawl has to a large degree been mandated by government, but the solution is to stop mandating, not to mandate urban-style developments that will supposedly help deal with global warming. Yet the latter is all the rage in the world of government planning.
Smart Growth blogger Paul Shigley, writing about a conference held by the California chapter of the American Planning Association last year, noted: “Clearly, land use planners have gotten the green religion. Every session—heck, every conversation in the hallway—seems to touch on global warming.
It’s the old Baptist and Bootlegger scenario, like during Prohibition when the Baptist foes of liquor teamed up with bootleggers, who wanted to keep Prohibition going to stifle the legal competition. Here we see the true green religionists working with developers to assure that all California communities must promote high-density developments, transit-oriented projects, and other highly subsidized government-backed programs.
Some developers aren’t all that keen on the new types of buildings that will be mandated, but they have accepted the “deal” that SB 375 will streamline the environmental review process. As conservative political observer Stephen Frank of the California Political News and Views explained, “They are in for a shock. The environmentalists will use other laws to end the streamlining, like AB 32 and federal regulations.”

A Heated Argument

It’s strange that there is little discussion over whether forced urbanization will actually reduce global warming. Libertarian blogger and activist Wayne Lusvardi of Pasadena argues on Frank’s website that “Concentrating housing development in already highly dense urban areas will only worsen the urban heat island effect and thus increase ‘global warming.’ The obvious solution from the greenhouse effect resulting from pollution is dispersion, not concentration.” The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency explains: “Heat islands can affect communities by increasing summertime peak energy demand, air conditioning costs, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, heat-related illness and mortality, and water quality.”
It’s a reasonable point to at least consider before undertaking government policies that cram more people into urban areas. Another related point raised by Lusvardi: “The environmental intent of SB 375 is to reduce auto commuter trips, air pollution and gasoline consumption. However, the legislation will unintentionally result in more reliance on imported water supplies from the Sacramento Delta, Mono Lake and the Colorado River for thirsty cities along California’s coastline instead of diverting development to inland areas which have more ‘sustainable’ groundwater supplies.”
Clearly, these are questions that need to be analyzed scientifically, but I have more than a small suspicion that those who promote urbanization will do so no matter what it does for the climate. The answer for them is always the same: more urbanization. Don’t worry about the exact question.
The result of SB 375 will be that an “unaccountable tribunal can set any greenhouse-gas target for the 17 regional transportation agencies that it wants,” wrote Auburn City Councilman Kevin Hanley in a September 29 Sacramento Bee column. “If this unaccountable tribunal decides that the ‘sustainable communities strategy’ doesn’t cut the mustard, then the SACOG (Sacramento Area Council of Governments) will have to submit an ‘alternative planning strategy’ showing how the greenhouse-gas targets will be achieved in the region through alternative development patterns, infrastructure or additional transportation measures or policies. They want to change where we live and how we get to work.”

Becoming like Marin

For a real-world idea of what these anti-global-warming crusaders have in mind, take a look at Marin County, the wealthy suburban county just north of San Francisco. Government officials in Marin have been doing for years what Attorney General Jerry Brown and other environmentalists want the rest of us in California to do. As Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Weintraub explains, “Brown, in fact, cites Marin as a model for how every local government should be complying with the California Environmental Quality Act, which requires cities and counties to identify potential environmental impacts from proposed developments and take reasonable measures to mitigate them.”


Marin County has overall low density but that’s only because most of the land is off limits to development. Most people live in a few fairly dense communities along the main freeway, and Smart Growthers—in Marin and elsewhere—seek to force all new growth into the existing urban footprint.

One person’s reasonableness is another’s insanity. In an Orange County Register column in August 2007, I looked at how Marin deals with development matters. For instance, 84 percent of the county’s land is set aside by the local, state, or federal government as permanent open space. The developers I know who have tried to build anything on the remaining 16 percent explain that local and county restrictions make it nearly impossible to do so. It’s even worse to build there than in the rest of this highly restrictive state.
“California has more than 36 million residents and is expected by some projections to have 60 million by 2050,” I wrote at the time. “If other counties embrace Marin’s overall approach toward development, the newcomers will have nowhere to live. . . . Smug state officials might believe that Marin County is successfully battling global warming and urban sprawl, but these no-growth policies simply are pushing sprawl and all the global-warming-inducing development toward the outer reaches of the Bay Area.”
With SB 375, state officials have the tools to stop the growth in those outer reaches. It’s not hard to figure out what happens next. Although this is now state law, there still are a few years before its full implementation, which means there’s still time for the legislature to turn this radical antisprawl law into something less destructive of property rights and the American Dream.
 But this being California, don’t count on anything rational taking place in the legislature.