Big Issues

LET’S LOOK AT Marin’s biggest issues for 2016 and who will be deciding them. Too often residents blame one governmental entity for dropping the ball, when an entirely different entity was responsible for the fiasco. Example: many Marinites directed their displeasure with the 180-unit Tam Ridge Residences, or “WinCup project,” at the Marin County Board of Supervisors. That was wasted energy. The property in question lies within the incorporated Town of Corte Madera and its town council had the final say on that issue.

Marin County has 11 incorporated towns and cities and each is responsible for its own land planning. Land that isn’t within the boundaries of an incorporated town or city is referred to as unincorporated, and that’s when the County of Marin handles land planning.

Here’s an example of that: the Strawberry/ Golden Gate Seminary project promises to be a major 2016 issue because the developer wants 304 new homes and a bustling Branson School campus on 127 recently acquired acres. But Strawberry isn’t a city; it’s an unincorporated area, so the county’s community development agency will oversee land planning, and the county Board of Supervisors, no doubt with considerable input from nearby residents, will make the decision as to what can and cannot be built.

One project that has been built and will start running in late 2016 is the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit, or SMART. Measure Q, passed by both counties in 2008 to fund the commuter rail line, also promised a $42 million multiuse pathway adjacent to the tracks. However, according to SMART, only 10 miles, costing $30 million, have been completed. After months of discussion, it took threatening a lawsuit to bring the parties together. It now appears the pathway will be funded. The responsible party here is SMART’s 12-member board of directors.

Homelessness, traffic and affordable housing, a trio of intractable Marin issues, is sure to be bandied about in 2016. Regarding affordable housing, each of Marin’s 11 municipalities is responsible for a proportionate amount of market-rate and affordable housing within their city limits; the Board of Supervisors holds sway when it comes to the county’s 440 square miles of unincorporated land where 70,000 Marinites live. In late 2015, affordable housing projects were underway in the incorporated City of Novato and in the unincorporated community of Forest Knolls, in both cases with hefty financial help from the Marin Community Foundation.

Who will solve Marin’s traffic problems isn’t nearly so clear. Primarily that’s in the purview of the Transportation Authority of Marin (TAM), whose board has representation from each of Marin’s 11 cities plus all five county supervisors. But to widen a street or eliminate a traffic signal ultimately requires approval from whatever jurisdiction the street or signal is located within.

Finally we come to homelessness. Most, but not all, of Marin’s homeless population of around 1,300 are found in San Rafael during daylight hours. Therefore, the City of San Rafael works closely with the county’s Health and Human Services department to limit, if not reduce, homelessness in Marin. Here again, Marin Community Foundation, along with numerous nonprofits, also plays a key role in the overall effort.

But it’s likely the biggest issue in Marin in 2016 will be June’s Board of Supervisors election. Three seats will be in play and incumbents Katie Rice (District 2–Fairfax, San Anselmo, Ross Valley) and Kate Sears (District 3–Tiburon, Sausalito, Tam Valley) are running and facing opposition, while Steve Kinsey (District 5–Point Reyes Station, Bolinas, San Geronimo) will not be seeking re-election.

Hopefully, the above makes clear that when all goes right in Marin County, the Board of Supervisors is not to receive all the credit; likewise, if and when a project heads south, they are not to be held solely responsible. The success (or floundering) of Marin is, for the most part, a collaborative process involving many moving parts. That’s my point of view. What’s yours?

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of Marin Magazine and its staff.