Saturday, June 28, 2014

Marin County High Density & Bicycle Coalition

Marin County High Density & Bicycle Coalition

Marin County High Density & Bicycle Coalition
Marin County Bicycle Coalition members are being surprised to find their organization volunteering their neighborhoods for high density housing. Are they being used as pawns in the high density housing wars?

The Marin Cyclist’s Dilemma

While I’ve been outspoken regarding the need for bikers to follow traffic laws, I remain a  big fan of bikes – cycling all around my home county of Somerset as a child on my Raleigh Arena racing bike. Now as I raise our 2 children to embrace bikes I face a dilemma:
- we want to join an organization that teaches our kids bicycle road safety
- we do not support high density housing
However the one organization here in Marin claiming to perform the first item – the Marin County Bicycle Coalition – has become one of the most ardent supporters of urbanizing Marin with high density housing.

Throwing Terra Linda Under the High Density Bus

Letter from MCBC to the City of San Rafael advocating support for the Civic Center PDA and Station Area Plan
I live in Civic Center / Terra Linda. Residents of 10+ Terra Linda neighborhoods fought long and hard for over a year to rescind the Civic Center Priority Development Area (PDA) and turn back a wildly ambitious high density zoning plan called the “Civic Center Station Area Plan” to something reasonable with a modicum of new affordable housing units and retain the area’s low rise, suburban character . The community eventually succeeded –  but only despite groups such as Marin County Bicycle Coalition (MCBC) pushing for the PDA to be approved.
Here is what the Marin County Bicycle Coalition had to say about the Civic Center Priority Development Area:
The Marin County Bicycle Coalition (MCBC) would like to express our support for City Council approval of the Final Civic Center SMART Station Area Plan…MCBC urges the City Council to accept the SAP as presented.
It would have seemed reasonable and acceptable to me if MCBC had focused specifically on the bike lane parts of the Station Area Plan, instead of supporting a plan that would nearly have doubled the number of housing units in our area.

Strawberry in Mill Valley Gets the MCBC Treatment

An MCBC resident and Strawberry resident questions MCBC’s position
Strawberry in Mill Valley faced a similar challenge – while it did not suffer from a SMART “Station Area Plan” (which is always primarily about building high density housing, the name seems to omit this primary aspect), Strawberry was also designated a Priority Development Area (PDA) targeted for high density housing.
During the Board of Supervisors meeting that reviewed this PDA status an MCBC spokesperson clearly conveyed their organizations unreserved support for the PDA designation.
The video, linked to on the right, shows a MCBC member and Strawberry resident stating how he was never consulted and would not have supported MCBC’s position that targeted his neighborhood for development. Talk about cognitive dissonance!

Larkspur Gets the MCBC Treatment

Most recently the city of Larkspur has been the target of high density – with both a PDA designation as well as a SMART “Station Area Plan” proposing 920 high density housing units, a hotel and over 100,000 sq ft of retail and commercial space.
The letter sent by MCBC to the Larkspur City Council
The letter sent by MCBC to the Larkspur City Council. Click to view a larger image.
Resident opposition to the Larkspur plan could not have been greater. In a meeting in mid May over 700 residents packed a council review meeting of the plan – perhaps 30 or fewer attendees supported the plan, almost none spoke to support the massive high density proposed. Based on the sea of red shirts worn by plan opponents  ~95% opposed the plan.
Even members of the special interest group CALM could read the writing on the wall and instead of pushing for the entire plan with the high density housing to be accepted focused on salvaging improved circulation and bike paths.
But MCBC again was unperturbed – submitting a letter back on February 15th, 2013 to the City of Larkspur clearly supporting the Larkspur Station Area Plan stating:
MCBC has been active in advocacy for 15 years in Marin County. The [Station Area Plan] SAP encourages higher-density residential and transit oriented development, new retail and additional employment. This higher-density development in combination with public transit and key transportation facilities in the area necessitates the need for safe and interconnected active transportation facilities that will successfully provide for, as well as encourage, an increase in biking, walking and use of public transit within and through the Station Area.


MCBC does not appear to be clearly advising its members of the positions it has been taking. If one reviews MCBC’s mission it would be a leap of logic to conclude that this organization was an ardent supporter of high density development and rapid urbanization in Marin. This is the closest that it comes to declaring this position to new and existing members:
  • reduced road congestion and greenhouse gas emissions [but the high density housing surely has the reverse effect?]
  • influencing transportation policy and legislation
  • representing cyclists at public meetings
MCBC members are being taken by surprise as they find themselves speaking as individuals against this organization made up of thousands of members to which they belong.
As an organization MCBC should either reconsider its advocacy of high density development, or if it wants to continue with this advocacy then surely it should seek approval from its members? It should do this in the realization of the series of events that have served to demonstrate the immense opposition in Marin to high density:
  • The striking down of Strawberry and Civic Center PDAs
  • The immense opposition to the Larkspur Station Area Plan
  • The election of Damon Connolly who opposed high density housing
Any potential member such as myself, or existing member might question their support of an organization that so strongly pushes for high density in Marin.
Can someone please point me to the local bicycle advocacy group that can make the roads safer, help my kids to ride knowing the rules of the road, but that does not commit me to financially supporting a position which I deeply oppose – that of bringing more high density housing to Marin?
[Important note: The author continues to support affordable, low density housing in locations that are appropriate. He was pleased when an additional reasonable number of affordable units were planned in his neighborhood in Terra Linda that were low rise]

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