Saturday, July 13, 2013

Silvestri: High Drama and the Dark Side of PDAs in Marin County

See Article: High Drama and the Dark Side of PDAs in Marin County

Controversy about Priority Development Areas (PDAs) in Marin has been in the news. After more than a year of growing public protest, focused mostly on two communities: Marinwood and Manzanita / Tam Valley / Almonte, the Board of Supervisors (BOS) reversed their long standing position and voted this week to remove the PDA designations from those areas.

This leaves three other unincorporated areas as designated PDAs: the Strawberry Village area, the Gateway Shopping Center community in Marin City and the California Park area of San Rafael (other than the fact that in 2007 the BOS designated the entire 101 corridor a PDA, subject to the zoning and planning of the incorporated cities it encompasses).

The only other specific PDA designations remaining in Marin are in the city of San Rafael: downtown at the bus depot and at the Civic Center.

PDAs are land use zoning designations that the Board of Supervisors assigned to these areas in 2007 in the interest of promoting higher density growth and as part of an application for federal and state transportation funds that were designed to encourage that kind of development (the ABAG/MTC “FOCUS” program).

Recently, those designated areas became a part of Plan Bay Area, the regional planning initiative created by the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), in response to the passage of SB375 in 2008. But, again, the PDAs were not something imposed on Marin by higher authorities or Plan Bay Area. They were willingly volunteered by our BOS in the hopes of getting grants.

San Rafael was also responsible for creating its two PDAs. Of late, the San Rafael Planning Commission has vigorously opposed growing community objections to moving forward with developing their PDAs to the fullest extent possible (hundreds of units of 3 to 5 story high, high density, multifamily and mixed use development), regardless of the outsized impacts on infrastructure capacity, schools, or traffic congestion.

What appears to be behind this “stonewalling” is a fear that the $500,000 in study grant money they’ve already taken from MTC (and spent on their planning) would have to be given back if their PDAs were removed.

However, Steve Heminger, the executive director of MTC, has already stated publicly that this would not be the case. So the City of San Rafael’s resistance to being reasonable remains a mystery.

Removing PDAs in Marin

Meanwhile, with regard to unincorporated parts of Marin, for more than a year the BOS took the position that the PDA designations were an essential part of the overall planning process and Plan Bay Area, and that it would be so difficult and potentially costly to attempt remove or revise them, that it could not even be considered. We’ve been told that potential penalties and huge amounts of “transportation dollars” would be at stake if we even considered removing PDAs, even though no one could say with any certainty how much (if any) funding was really at risk.

Endless hearings and debates, both in BOS chambers and in the press, have argued this issue back and forth. The community was put through thousands of man hours of work, organizing, petitioning, researching, writing public comment letters, and attending meetings, all in an attempt to correct what they felt were poor planning decisions and a flawed planning process.

But moreover, the community’s biggest and most legitimate ongoing complaint has been that important planning decisions like these were and continue to be made without any correspondingly broad-based notice to the thousands of tax paying residents throughout the county who would be affected by them. After all, we all get a written notice in the mail when a neighbor a block away wants to do a bathroom addition but for something of this magnitude people got no notice at all.

This failure by local government and elected officials to improve their methods of notifying their constituents and communicating and listening to their concerns about major planning and financial decisions seems to have become epidemic in Marin County government affairs.

A global problem in all this is that the BOS and even most of our City Councils and local agencies need to understand that in our 21st century, 24/7, real time, interactive world, a half inch high “public notice” published in the Marin IJ or worse, one of the Marin Scope papers, does not constitute adequate public notice or solicitation of public input for decisions of this importance.

The "Obstacles" To Removing PDAs

In any case, the impression created by the BOS and County Planning Staff has been that removal of PDAs would be a big deal and at the least require a great deal of negotiation with and “approval” by the “powers that be” at ABAG and MTC and possibly even with Housing and Community Development (HCD) in Sacramento.

This perception continues to be reinforced by the general tone of Brian Crawford’s July 9th “report” to the BOS on the question of whether or not the BOS can remove PDAs in Marin (attached).

However, in his six page report, Mr. Crawford finally comes out and states that “yes” he believes the BOS can remove the PDAs “subject to confirmation from ABAG.” We're led to believe we should all be relieved to learn this.

The problem is that all this has just been political theater.

Pulling Back The Curtain

Attached is a letter from ABAG to the BOS explaining that removal and revision of PDA designations is and always has been completely at their discretion. In particular please note the paragraph on the bottom of page 2 which states that "The County Board of Supervisors can, at any time, modify or eliminate all or part of the Potential Highway 101 PDA."

The truth is there never were any obstacles to removing or revising PDAs in Marin, and no agency has ever had any authority to dictate anything to us, about it.

The BOS could have removed PDAs at any time and can continue to remove PDAs at any time in the future, even after Plan Bay Area is adopted, if that happens. And there is only the "potential" loss of transportation dollars in the future but there is no guarantee than any money is actually at stake.

The bottom line is that the public has been put through intense agony and endless hours of work for nothing. My question is why.

Any one of our supervisors could have simply picked up the phone and called ABAG or MTC’s legal counsel in the past two years (as I did) and gotten that same answer. Or since most of them have actually served on ABAG’s committees in one form or another, they could have just asked.

If they had done so, they would have also learned that it is not “subject to confirmation” by ABAG, as Mr. Crawford maintains, because ABAG cannot deny removal or changes to PDAs. ABAG only asks that they be informed so they can adjust their own maps and internal documents.

The “confirmation” is simply confirmation of receipt of the changes. It’s not an approval process.

What Exactly Are The Supervisors Supervising?

This whole thing is somewhat mind-boggling. What the heck have our “supervisors” been doing all this time? Aren’t they even capable of making a phone call to ABAG on their own? Why have they put the community through so much time, stress and expense when they could have said at the outset that this was within our powers and a community decision that needs to be decided, locally?

It’s no secret that I’m a big critic of ABAG and MTC and Plan Bay Area. But truth be known, they are not culpable here.

Since their decision to remove two PDAs, the Supervisors are attempting to posture their actions as “leadership” decisions and evidence of how hard they are working for us. But they have no place to hide in all this. I guess they can either claim gross ignorance or admit total incompetence for putting the community through so much grief.

Either way, what exactly are we paying them to do, again?

The Devil Made Me Do It

The BOS will argue that Plan Bay Area didn’t exist in 2007, when they created the PDAs, so they didn’t know this controversy would arise. But that makes no difference because the goals of the PDAs are unchanged since that time: to promote high density development focused in very specific communities. Plan Bay Area is just another funding sources for this over-sized transportation oriented development.

The BOS will also naively argue that promoting property entitlements for higher density development, as PDAs so, does not mean the properties will actually be developed and there is still a local planning process to protect public interests. This is nonsense.

Property entitlements are generally considered the most important indicator of what will be developed and where. Entitlements directly impact land values (i.e. more allowable density increases the property’s selling price) and directly impacts what kind of development will be built there (i.e. the highest and best use for the developer).

For Susan Adams to continue to claim that PDA designations do not equate to actual development is equally nonsensical. If she’s right, then all of us who have spent most of our lives developing or investing in real estate assets have been dead wrong. It’s been one of our most important leading indicators about development (i.e. profit) potential.

Further, to continue to claim that a "rigorous" process and review will face any project proposal for property within a PDA designation again smacks of either unfathomable ignorance, questionable competence or flat out deception.

Susan Adams should know by now that SB375 allows private developers, who have an interest in a property (i.e. an option to purchase), to "assume" the zoning they need for "qualifying" project proposals (49 percent affordable), then sue the county for that zoning if it's not automatically granted. And in a reversal of centuries old real estate law, rather than the developer having to argue why his project should be approved under local regulations, the burden of proof (and legal cost) is now placed upon the county (the taxpayers) to make the case for why it shouldn't.

Similarly, under SB226, CEQA is waived entirely for qualifying "infill" projects near public transportation (Marinwood, Tam/Almonte, Marin City, Manzanita). Add to that the potential financial incentives (OBAG grants) and the highly politicized RHNA quota and Housing Element approval processes, and SB375's automatic CEQA "streamlining," and a great deal of county control over its own zoning is already long gone.

Entitlements Are The First Step Toward Development

There is no doubt that a PDA designation or even being designated as an “opportunity site” on a Housing Element site list bolsters a developer’s claim to having the “right” to develop a property. If anyone needs proof of this, they need look no further than Mill Valley, where a developer is currently threatening to sue the city for his “right” to develop a high density project on a site placed on an approved Housing Element list a decade ago, even though that property is not presently zoned for multifamily development.

Still, the larger problem remains about inadequate public notice and participation in these kinds of planning decisions - decisions that can potentially change the character and quality of life in Marin, and even impact the solvency of some of our public services institutions, for decades to come.

Methods of communicating and interacting with residents and integrating community feedback into BOS decision making processes needs to change and change quickly.

But there’s more to this story.

The Dark Side of "Smart Growth"

Now that the BOS has removed half the designated PDAs in Marin, they have unintentionally placed an even greater development burden on those few remaining PDA areas: Strawberry, Marin City, etc. And in one instance those who are most in need, some of our most economically disadvantaged residents, may now be in greater risk of being displaced.

Golden Gate Village is a 292 unit, low income housing project in Marin City. Hundreds of its occupants, who are mostly black and longtime Marin residents, are increasingly fearful that their PDA designation will create increased pressure to demolish their homes and replace them with new high density, “mixed income” development that none of the existing residents will be able to afford to live in.

Their fears may not be entirely unfounded.

Golden Gate Village has been falling steadily in its HUD maintenance inspection report ratings for almost a decade. It is now among the worse rated projects in the state of California with an average maintenance inspection rating of 59.35 percent compared to the state average of 82.74 percent (HUD FindTheData).

A full investigation of this project’s plight is more than can be covered in this article, but suffice it to say the pressure to “improve” their property by replacing it with a more profitable project (i.e. tax credit financed “Smart Growth”) rather than upgrading it, has increased.

This pressure to build only new housing is exacerbated by the fact that there are almost no available sources of funding assistance to renovate existing affordable housing, and ABAG’s Regional Housing Needs Assessment quota system doesn’t count renovation of units as “qualifying” units.

This is the dark side of Plan Bay Area and PDAs that’s never discussed.

Having gone the first step, it seems the BOS now has only one choice if they care about social equity and social justice and community based planning. And that is to remove all the designated PDAs in Marin County.

They can do it with the stroke of a pen. They only need to act. 

Rally for Freedom from Surveillance.

Friday, July 12, 2013

What Citizen Marin and Occupy Wallstreet have in Common.

Citizen Marin and Occupy Wall Street have similar frustration with the deficiencies in the public process and crony capitalism.  We feel betrayed by the politicians/ bureaucrats  who are allowing money interests to control the democratic process.

We are fighting a 25 year plan called "One Bay Area" which promises to dominate every aspect of our lives through central planning .  They want to create "urban containment" through rezoning land around freeways and railroad tracks to intensify living spaces so they may preserve land outside of "the urban zone".  Suburbs will be displaced by "densification"  or upzoning to allow apartment building to exist in single family neighborhoods and to create incentives for multifamily dwellings.

We want to "Keep Marin, Marin" and reject attempts of central planners to create "Disneylandia" in our liveable, walkable Marin neighborhoods.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Dave Coury, Affordable Housing Lobbyist tells Board of Supervisors "This is War"

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Dave Coury, housing lobbyist is hard to miss.  He is tall man with a loud voice. You'll find him at every housing meeting representing various clients in the housing advocate community.  I was shocked when earlier this year he asked the Planning Board to simply rezone ALL property within 1/2 mile of the 101 highway to 30 units per acre, previously known as the 101 Corridor Priority Development Area.  Due process, property rights, democratic principles seem to mean nothing to this man.  Make no mistake. What  housing advocates want is the right to build tax exempt affordable housing apartments next to your home along the 101 corridor and have surrounding taxpayers pay for the cost. It is a socialist solution they call "social equity".

But how "equitable" is it to have property owners who often earn LESS than those in so called affordable housing pay for the expenses of their wealthier neighbors?  According to a recent census map, the neighborhoods immediately surrounding Marinwood Village have an average income in the $60k-$80k range but the so called "low income tenants" that inhabit Marinwood Village will earn on average more.

Dave declares "War" on suburban Marin and is especially targeting Marinwood-Lucas Valley where we are effectively fighting back.  He denies that we have 70% of all affordable housing for unincorporated Marin. He denies that our schools will be impacted.  He denies that tax-exempt housing is a "tax scam".

FACT: 546 of 775 housing units are concentrated in Marinwood - this is 70%. Our Dixie Schools are at capacity. 546 units if built will bring 983 students into our schools.  This will cost local taxpayers millions in new school construction, teachers, administrators and supplies.  This will immediately make Dixie School District severely underfunded.  Tax-exempt properties pay minimal parcel taxes since they are taxed at the same rate per parcel as a single family home and the receive a 55 year taxbreak worth   tens of millions of dollars.  These tax breaks are sold to wealthy corporations at a discount.  The end result is the RICH are the primary beneficiaries of "affordable housing".  Middle class communities pay all of the cost.

Housing advocates lobbying efforts are indirectly supported through grants from private and public funding.

Mr Coury was representing Marin Common Ground this day.  I could not find a website for Marin Common Ground but found a website for New York based Common Ground  which is a homeless housing charity with 500 million in assets.  Mr. Coury's facebook shows that he is from Chappequa, NY which is the home of the Clintons and the first HUD  "analysis of impediments" settlement. Is there a connection?     Marin is the second major district under this HUD ruling.

Dave's opening and closing statements suggests that "We are at War" and ties the Officer involved shooting in Marin City with affordable housing. From the start, the housing advocates have tried to introduce race into their arguments to silence critics of affordable housing.  Now they are using fear and intimidation.  It is my sincere hope that we can find solutions to our affordable housing needs that works for our whole community that honors our democratic traditions.

see Susan Adams promotes Marinwood for HUD housing

Monday, July 8, 2013

The 7/08/13 Meeting when the Planning commission recommended Marinwood-Lucas Valley gets 78% of all affordable housing

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This is the full meeting of the Marin County Planning commissioners decided that Marinwood-Lucas Valley should have 78% of alll affordable housing for unincorporated Marin.  Only one property was removed from the housing element in Inverness, the community where Planning Chairperson Wade B. Holland makes his home.
Wade B. Holland

After months of excellent comments from the public questions regarding the impacts on schools, tax funding, land use, environmental controls,  in the end the commissioners ignored all of the public comments and recommend the Housing Element approval by the Board of Supervisors.

See the Marin IJ story here

Please see below for the vote tally on all the resolutions that the Planning Commission voted on regarding the Marin County Housing Element (July 8.2013):

Remove the Chevron Site from the Available Land Inventory: 2 Aye; 4 Nay
Remove the Armstrong Site from the Available Land Inventory: 2 Aye; 4 Nay
Remove Grady Ranch from the Available Land Inventory: Nays prevailed
Recommend certification of the Supplemental Environmental Impact Report: 3 Aye; 2 Nay; 1 Abstain
Recommend approval of the Housing Element: 6 Aye
Approve the Countywide Plan Amendments: 5 Aye; 1 Nay (Dickenson)
Approve the Development Code Amendments: 6 Aye
Approve the Affordable Housing Overlay Zone: 5 Aye; 1 Nay (Dickenson)

The only change made to the Housing Element was that they removed the Grady Ranch site from the Affordable Housing Overlay Zone but still kept the site in the Affordable Housing Opportunity Site Available Land Inventory.

An Open Letter to Susan Adams

June 27, 2013
Thank you for hosting the meeting last night at the Marinwood Community Center. We've been asking for an open forum in the community for months (and should have started years ago had we known what was being planned) and I'm relieved to hear it's finally happened. Small coffees are fine if you want to have them for your own brainstorming or problem solving, but they are not public or open and do not substitute as community meetings (as is required by SB628. BTW next time a public meeting is being planned please assume we will need a larger venue and more than an hour to speak on these issues, which is all you gave us).

One of the first things I learned in Business School and as a manager is the importance of buy-in right at the outset of major change that is being proposed.
There are industries that have been created around the concept of 'change management' and the most crucial element is gaining buy-in at the outset. It doesn't sound to me as if that has ever happened for the housing issue. You may indeed have been speaking to people over the last few years about what was happeninng with Plan Bay Area, ABAG etc but I would guess you chose to have these discussions with people that agreed with you, or others that had a vested interest in this going forward. The fact that the Association of Realtors were not aware of this is alarming.

It is clear that the majority of your constituents have not bought into any of your plans around housing (and if you disagree - put it to the vote - you told me yourself there is plenty of $ in the county budget). The problem that I see is that this does not seem to bother you. You have given lip service that you are listening but your actions and rhetoric do not in any way show that you are fighting to represent the majority of your consituents.

It is disingenious for you to maintain that you were not aware of certain PDA maps for Marinwood, and for you to keep on saying "this is potential; just because someone has the right to build doesn't mean they will". That assumes we are either stupid or naive. As soon as the economy shows some muscle, and rezoning happens to 30 units/acre, the development will happen.

It is disingenious of you to say that Lucas pulled out of Grady because he was fed up with fighting with the Lucas Valley Estate folks when you know full well that it was beause of environmental issues he had not addressed and was not willing to amend.

It is disingenious for you to maintain that we could have all known about this issue for years had we taken the time to sift through the county website. That is not our job! We work to pay property taxes to pay your team so that they can represent our best interests. If Marinwood community center somehow can tell me when soccer camps are starting by posting signs on Lucas Valley Rd I'm sure your big budget can find a way to communicate effectively to the community about issues that will forever affect the schools, property values, traffic, the environment etc.

It is abhorrent that you have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions, on consultants for this issue - which the majorty of us do not agree with

The frustration and anger you witnessed last night is not so much towards the plans (which are clearly made by ivory tower public servant bureaucrats being seduced by developers and dreams of lofty transportation grants) as it is towards your unwillingness to change your conversation and begin to mirror the majority of your audience. You have decided that this is what YOU want and nothing is going to change your mind. I, for one, do not believe you have any intention of fighting for the majority of us.

Consequently, given the lack of confidence, and to save this county the time and energy to recall you (which will happen), I would like to ask you to resign. If any of us in the private sector tried to pull any of this stuff off, we would have been fired a long while ago.

Isabelle Finney