DICK SPOTSWOOD: Larkspur's wise to jump off ABAG's bandwagon
The Larkspur Station Area Plan is dead. Thanks to unanimous action by Larkspur's City Council, the regional agency-financed effort to create a second downtown Larkspur died on the vine.
The council's wise decision presents an opportunity, not just for Larkspur, but for all of Marin to demonstrate the correct way to facilitate truly affordable housing and diversity without urbanization.
The aborted SMART Station Area Plan's rationale was always bogus. It had nothing to do with facilitating mobility at the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit's soon-to-be-built southern terminal.
Even the plan's environmental report acknowledged that the Sonoma-Marin commuter train's small projected ridership would have almost no impact on traffic and circulation at Larkspur Landing.
SMART was simply a weak excuse to satisfy regional planners' dream to urbanize what to them are the loathed single-family-home communities that make up much of Marin.
The plan had little to do with serious efforts to create affordable or even workforce housing.
It would do nothing to promote the Marin Board of Supervisors' endorsed effort by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to ethnically and racially diversify suburban America.
The plan's housing component was projected to be mostly market-rate. Like Corte Madera's much criticized 180-unit apartment behemoth on the old WinCup site, only a handful of projected units would have been "affordable." Claims that affordable housing was the driving force behind the Station Area Plan were just spin designed to attract support from the gullible.
Nor did it have much to do with the environment.
The available evidence indicates that the plan's proposed high-density housing and retail development would generate only a relatively few additional transit trips but would generate more auto traffic on already-clogged Sir Francis Drake Boulevard.
The scheme's projected benefits — especially for Larkspur residents — were so marginal that the City Council wasted little time scuttling the $600,000 effort.
Development and construction interests surely would have benefited. While that's fine and well, it pales in comparison with the economic and environmental burdens that would have been borne by Central Marin residents and Richmond-San Rafael Bridge commuters.
What it was designed to do was promote the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and Association of Bay Area Governments' vision of "transit-centered" development.
It's a tempting notion that high-density housing built along transit lines would entice new residents to use environmentally beneficial transit instead of pollution-belching autos.
Only if it were so.
While the concept makes sense in dense cities like New York, San Francisco or Boston, there's scant evidence that the hoped-for result has occurred to a meaningful degree in any suburban American community.
Now Larkspur and Marin's other communities need to show that legitimate goals, including the creation of affordable housing, diversity and sustainability, can be accomplished without urbanizing Marin's small towns.
In the next few months I'll be looking at practical ways to achieve these objectives without the high-density blockbuster methods favored by the regional alphabet agencies and a few Marin politicians.
I'll include ideas from futurists eager to showcase their innovative ideas for a "new suburbanism." These concepts will protect Marin's small-town lifestyle while creating an even more inclusive community.