The Development Dilemma

1. Marin is a wonderful place to live — it’s scenic, has great schools and is close to San Francisco. Often our kids want to settle here; many people hope to move here. For these reason’s Marin’s housing stock will grow, but by only a county-predicted 250 living units a year.

2. It’s best to plan for this growth. Generally it’s difficult to widen existing thoroughfares to reduce traffic congestion, e.g., Sir Francis Drake Boulevard in Ross Valley. Therefore, building in outlying areas isn’t good planning.

3. That said, growth should be concentrated near transportation facilities. That way new- comers — our kids and their children, their children’s teachers and people like Kim, my barber, who lives in Hercules and drives an hour to style hair in Corte Madera — might be able to live here and not clog freeways en route to work. Also, by design, existing neighborhoods will remain unaffected by development.

The above is the intent of the Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32) and the Sustainable Communities Act (SB 375), both passed by the Legislature within the past decade. And both are facing considerable opposition in the city of Larkspur and the unincorporated community of Strawberry in southern Marin (similar clashes also surfaced in San Rafael, Marinwood and Tam Valley).

In Larkspur, residents gathered at city hall to protest a general plan amendment in Larkspur Landing, an area that includes Marin Country Mart and the ferry terminal. The plan could add more than 175,000 square feet of retail, office and hotel space, along with up to 920 living units (at various prices). “The city wants to focus growth there,” says David Schonbrunn, president of TRANSDEF, a transit advocacy organization, “if it can reduce traffic flowing through Larkspur to the ferry. Also, more people living there could create an attractive village that supports local services.”

Those protesting this concept recently at city hall held up signs saying “Save Marin (again)” and “Welcome to Clogspur.”

In Strawberry, the reaction to possible development appears even more intense — while the issue seems relatively benign. At stake are 60 living units (yes, they’d be apartments and condominiums several stories high), on land zoned previously for such development. A Board of Supervisors–designated Priority Development Area runs half a mile inland from Strawberry’s mile-long border with Highway 101. Whether or not the units are constructed, this designated area stands to gain several hundred thousand dollars from state funds that are meant to provide transportation improvements to people living near transit corridors.

This money could be used for new sidewalks, streetlights, etc. “My office has been inundated with requests for traffic calming in Strawberry; I’m well aware of the situation,” says Supervisor Kate Sears, who represents Strawberry on Marin’s Board of Supervisors, “and my job is to play the financial cards as best I possibly can to benefit this community.”

Still, over the past six months, hundreds of determined residents have opposed the PDA designation by forming, gathering more than 500 signatures opposing the designation, holding well-attended community meetings, even joining the movement to impose term limits on county supervisors.

Currently — in both Larkspur and Strawberry — no one is proposing development. Obviously, the county doesn’t build things. And a developer’s application, if and when it happens, would trigger lengthy and very public processes involving environmental, safety and design considerations. Note that the Global Warming Solutions Act and the Sustainable Communities Act apply to all of California. And among the Bay Area’s nine counties, Marin has the lowest percentage of projected development — Santa Clara County’s growth is 26 times greater.

It would be good for everyone to take the proverbial deep breath and maybe reread the three opening paragraphs of this editorial. Quite possibly, what folks in Larkspur and Strawberry are so vigorously opposing could be in the best interest of their communities, as well as that of Marin, and California, and planet Earth. That’s my point of view. What’s yours?

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