IMPORTANT COUNTY MEETING – Monday, July 28, 5pm, Civic Center

The first hearing for the new 2015-2022 Housing Element is happening THIS MONDAY with the County Planning Commission at the Civic Center.  We need Strawberry residents to show up and represent Strawberry – if you’re comfortable speaking publicly, please take your 2 minutes in front of the Planning Commission and raise one or more of the key concerns below. If you’re not comfortable speaking publicly, your attendance alone will help send the message that we’re concerned and watching.

Why does Strawberry care?
Despite the reduction in Regional Housing needs in unincorporated Marin from almost 800 units to under 185 units, the allocation at the Golden Gate Seminary site remains at 40 units, virtually unchanged from the last Housing Element assessment except to designate them all as Low Income.

Key Concerns

* Rather than evenly reducing requirements based on the reduced housing needs assessment, the County has simply kept certain previously proposed location allocations virtually intact

* Despite the reduced numbers from the last Housing Element, the Seminary property continues to have unreduced low income housing totals planned for it, indicating an uneven allocation relative to the rest of the county.  In fact, two of the highest allocations include Marinwood Plaza (where residents have protested the planned development) and Strawberry (where residents have protested the PDA designation), two locations that have created difficulty for the Planning Department and County

* The Seminary property had previously been included with 25 Market Rate units and 20 Lower Income units; how is it now designated for 40 Lower Income units

* Last time the Seminary property was included because the County portrayed that the application to develop was still active, despite rejection by the Board of Supervisors and the almost immediate formal withdrawal of the application by the Seminary.  This time there is even less rationale:
- there is no active application
- the buyers have publicly indicated within the last 2 weeks that there is no plan or proposal on the table
- the Strawberry Community Plan and Seminary Master Plan are not consistent with development of any additional housing other than for students and faculty; given the Seminary’s sale of the property, how can it be likely that they will develop additional student and faculty housing?
- there is, in fact, no real reason at this time to believe the Seminary to be more likely to be developed in the near future than anywhere else

* The Seminary property scored highest in the county in criteria for development based on equally weighted concepts such as:
- local jobs (?)
- likelihood to develop (see above)
- economies of scale and zoning (is this code for high density?)
- lack of wetlands nearby (Strawberry is surrounded by wetlands)
- no health risks (despite proximity to freeway)

* This proposal includes TWICE the number of required units; during the last Housing Element it was argued that more were needed in order to be sure there are enough in the event a location is eliminated from the list; we reject having units allocated and approved on that basis.  The county has time to verify locations that work and allocate them correctly.  In fact, if they are proposing these locations because they have already been approved, why not allocate 22 units at each of the 3 locations, or 10-15 units each at other previously approved locations?

* The county has previously included 20 “Second Units” per year in their calculations; 8 years at 20 units would almost fulfill our requirements by itself, and would be in keeping with the general flavor of Marin.  This cycle, the calculation includes only 5 Second Units per year.  A September 7, 2012 letter from HCD approving the final draft of the previous Housing Element explicitly indicates that the allowance for 20 Second Units per year was appropriate.   How has that been reduced by 75% in these last 2 years?

* Are the 200 units of affordable housing for agriculture workers included in the previous Housing Element already completed?  If not, why are they not included in the list?  This is a key initiative of the Marin Workforce Housing Trust – how can this not be more likely to be built out than other locations in the county?

* The County Development Code requires that residential subdivisions and most residential and mixed use development projects include a 20% set-aside for affordable units.  Does the fact that none of the locations for moderate or above moderate development also include these affordable allocations mean that the county acknowledges that market rate developments will always buy their way out of building required affordable housing, that the entire program is not really intended to create affordable housing?

* Goal 2 of the Housing element is to Meet Housing Needs Through a Variety of Housing Choices – Respond to the broad range of housing needs in Marin County by supporting a mix of housing types, densities, prices, and designs. How are these Lower Income Units at density in three locations a variety of housing densities and choices?

* A more disingenuous representation of their public outreach process is hard to imagine. The feedback was generally that the assumptions were flawed, that the “choose from our pre-approved menu” process was not worthy of engagement (or of the County), and that with such a reduced target the County should be further exploring (not diminishing) individual unit and second unit opportunities to meet the allocation.

Background

* The “Housing Element” is the housing component of the Countywide Plan, which is intended to ensure to the state that the County has identified adequate locations with potential for growth at both market-rate and low-income levels.

* While designation in the “Housing Element” itself does not change zoning or ensure properties are developed, it is both an encouragement from the County that an area has met certain criteria for development, and a doorway to potential streamlining of CEQA and other evaluation steps before development (See SB375).

* Every 8 years ABAG (Association of Bay Area Governments), which is comprised of representatives from Marin and other Bay Area municipalities, meet to allocate housing needs for the next 8 years in a Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA), based on growth projections

* The assessment for all of unincorporated Marin from 2007-2014 was over 750 units (which included 45 units in the Seminary property); the new assessment (which supersedes the previous one) for 2015-2022 is for 185 units across all income levels:
Screen Shot 2014-07-23 at 9.47.32 AM

* The current proposal for the new Housing Element includes these locations and units:
Screen Shot 2014-07-23 at 9.48.35 AM

To read the full report, go to http://www.marincounty.org/depts/cd/divisions/planning/housing/~/media/Files/Departments/CD/Planning/Housing/Housing%20Element/20140728_StaffReport_Att.pdf

Strawberry Survey about the Seminary Property

People who missed the April 27 meeting about Strawberry’s future development and the Seminary property proposal have been asking about the meeting and where they can find the survey handed out there.

It’s hard to condense the presentation into a blog post.  The key points about the scope of the proposal on the table from the people who have the Seminary property under contract (but not closed on the sale) are in the survey document, which you can find below

But these are really the key points of the meeting:
* there are county-approved plans in place that guide development of all of Strawberry (the Strawberry Community Plans of 1973 and 1982) and specifically what can be developed on the Seminary property (the Seminary Master Plan of 1984).
* development plans that vary from those documents require updating those plans, which requires community involvement and review
* we believe that the current proposal does not comply with either the Strawberry Community Plan or the Seminary Master Plan
* we want to be able to tell the prospective buyers (and the County) the specific areas of concern the Strawberry community has about the general scope of the plan before getting into details, as well as what Strawberry residents would like to see happen with the Seminary property in the event of a sale.

More details are available in the survey here: Seminary Property Survey

Larkspur SAP, and a Tuesday night at the Lark Theater

Join us at a viewing of “Rebels with a Cause” at the Lark Theater in Larkspur at 7pm tonight and contribute to the fight against excessive development in Marin.

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While we’re looking at the events going on in Strawberry, there are significant events happening throughout Marin – most notably the Larkspur Station Area Plan.

With the advent of the SMART train to Larkspur, the Larkspur City Council accepted a grant from MTC to evaluate options of what to do with the area around the new Larkspur Station (essentially Larkspur Landing, including the Ferry Building area, the mall and several properties in the area, including properties of the Ross Valley Sanitary District).

The most aggressive proposal is to build over 900 new units of housing (5 TIMES the WinCup building housing) at one of the worst intersections in the Bay Area, which regularly backs up traffic to Strawberry and often back to the Golden Gate Bridge.

(This traffic is why the county is planning to put metering lights at 101 onramps from the Golden Gate Bridge up to Larkspur.)

Bizarrely, this plan is put forward in the name of reducing greenhouse gases and traffic, though the plan itself acknowledges that it will increase both.  There’s no reason for this much building – the Larkspur Housing Element doesn’t call for it, even the required housing for all of unincorporated Marin is only 183 units – other than that developers and regional agencies want to develop Marin.

The Larkspur City Council who started this debacle – this is NOT the work of the County Supervisors – needs to hear from the whole county that this plan is ludicrous and that they need to build ZERO units at the 101/Sir Francis Drake intersection.  This will affect all of us in Marin county.

Visit www.larkspurfightsback.com for more information, or come see a great movie tonight (Tuesday) about the legacy of saving Marin from excessive development and preserving this beautiful place we call home.

Thanks for your support!

Strawberry Community Plan / Seminary Master Plan

There will be a lot of conversation in the next few months about these documents.

The Strawberry Community Plan and Seminary Master Plan are the guiding documents for the Strawberry community.  They were created by the community, with help from the county Planning Department, and officially adopted by the county as the governing master plans for the area.

We’ve made these documents available here, along with a little background.

The prospective buyers who currently have the Seminary under contract (but not yet purchased) have developed proposals for the 125+ acre seminary land, including a new day school (currently in discussion with Branson) rather than the on-campus residential school we’ve had in the Seminary  for the last 55 years, and 300 general market apartments rather than the student / faculty housing that was approved in the 1984 Seminary Master Plan.

A key point in the approval of any plan proposed by the buyers of the Seminary will be, does their proposal comply with these governing documents?  If not, what is the community’s opinion on the proposal?

It is critical that everyone in Strawberry gain a basic understanding of these documents to have an informed opinion on the upcoming proposals.

Please come to the community meeting at the Rec Center next Sunday, 4/27 at 7pm to hear about the new proposals and get a synopsis of the most important points of these governing plans.

Strawberry’s future – Join us 4/27/14 at the Rec Center

Congratulations to the Strawberry community for making itself heard and successfully resolving the PDA question at the board of Supervisors meeting.  Thanks to Supervisor Sears and the Board for hearing our request.

What now?  Two critical related items are showing up very quickly:

1) We’ve all seen the news about the deal to sell the Seminary property to a family trust from Ross.  There is the potential for this to be either very positive or very negative, but it could have a transformative effect on Strawberry in very real ways within 2 years.  Despite the nuance in the papers, this process isn’t over, it’s just starting.  Supervisor Sears suggested that their reps contact us to reach out to the community, a role we’re happy to take.  As this unfolds, it’s important that everyone participate in raising our concerns and communicating our wishes to the proposed buyers and their developers as they think about land use.

2) Supervisor Sears asked her fellow Supervisors to remove Strawberry’s PDA designation in order to give us room to vision what we want Strawberry to be.  We think it’s time to review and reaffirm the 1973 and 1982 Community Plans, and update them to reflect what’s been done and what needs to be done to maintain that high level vision of Strawberry as the town we all love today.

To get the community’s thoughts on these issues, we’re hosting an event at the Strawberry Rec Center 4/27, where we’ll:

* distill the key points of the Strawberry Community Plan for those who aren’t familiar with it
* distill the key points of the Seminary Master Plan for those who aren’t familiar with it
* share research and information we’ve found regarding the Strawberry infrastructure (traffic, schools, water, etc.)
* share what we’ve learned about the plans to develop the Seminary property from the proposed buyers based on our meetings with them
* find out what YOU think about the new plans and where they match or miss against our Plans so the developers can hear community issues

Look for more information here on the website in the next couple of weeks, or subscribe to our blog to stay up to date.  Please mark your calendar!

Sunday 2/23 4-8pm PDA Open House – Strawberry Rec Center

If you…

* still have questions about the PDA
* are looking for something to say
* have more to say than can fit into 2 minutes and want to share a perspective for someone else to read
* need a ride
* want to donate to SCA
* need to know where to go on Tuesday

…then please drop by the Strawberry Rec Center (downstairs) between 4-8pm today (Sunday).  Volunteers will be on hand to help make sure that anyone wishing to speak Tuesday on the PDA feels confident in doing so.

Be sure to check out the PDA information here as well (also in the “PDA Overview” menu above).

Above all, be sure to show up at the Board of Supervisors meeting this Tuesday at 1:30 at the BOS chambers on the 3rd floor of the Marin Civic Center!

 

URGENT: PDA Meeting 2/25 with the Board of Supervisors

On February 25, at 1:30 pm in the Board of Supervisors chambers on the 3rd floor of the Civic Center, the Supervisors will be considering the Priority Development Area designation for Strawberry.

This is a critical meeting, where the PDA can be
- approved and move forward, inviting aggressive high density development
- rescinded, like other PDAs in TamAlmonte, Marinwood, San Rafael and elsewhere
- modified and approved

This meeting is the culmination of the efforts of many to keep Strawberry from becoming a focal point for high density housing, with an invitation and incentives to developers to begin changing the nature of our community.

We STRONGLY urge every Strawberry resident who can attend to do whatever is necessary to be there.  It will be important that the Supervisors see that the community is strongly opposed to this novel and uncertain designation that carries so much risk with it. Look here to get more information about the PDA.

If you can’t be there, please write a letter to the board and let us know on the contacts page, we’ll find someone to read it..

If you can be there but don’t know what to say, consider one of the following, or look here, or contact us and we’ll find letters from people who can’t be there (including several former members of the Strawberry Design Review Board) that you can read aloud.

The Voice of Strawberry
The not-so-innocuous PDA
No PDA – AT ALL – in Strawberry
What the Strawberry Community Plan REALLY Says
The PDA is about High Density Housing, not Affordable Housing

Look for more 2-minute points you can make here in the coming week.  If you would like to write a 2-minute pitch to share with others, please contact us on the “Contact” page.

If there’s ONE event this year you need to be at to have an effect on the outcome of this debate, this is the one!  We’ll see you there!

Strawberry Editorial and Meeting Reminder

Please be sure to read this informed opinion from a Strawberry resident that appeared on January 20th in Marin Independent Journal:  Marin Voice: Strawberry Housing — A Flawed Process.

Don’t forget the the Transportation Authority of Marin (TAM) board meeting this Thursday, January 23 at 7:00 p.m. in the Board of Supervisors chambers on the 3rd floor of the Marin Civic Center. We need your participation at this important meeting.

What you might say to the TAM Board at 7pm January 23 in the Civic Center

Most importantly, feel free to say what you think.  Everyone in Strawberry should say what they believe.  The following is our perspective, which you are welcome to share.

First, why are we at the Transportation Authority of Marin (TAM) Board? 

After 12 straight weeks of requests by Bruce Corcoran for the Board of Supervisors to hear the Strawberry PDA issue, then-BOS President of Judy Arnold and current-BOS Kate Sears announced in October that TAM was the appropriate forum for the discussion, because it had to do with financial allocations.

It’s been later clarified that, since so many other  PDAs have been removed, Sears and Arnold would like to reconsider the allocations, which currently include $251,000 for Strawberry – maybe enough for a “study.”

But here’s the thing – none of the other Planned PDA areas were heard by TAM.  None.  Not the county, not San Rafael, none.   So, the allocations didn’t affect their inclusion (or not) in the PDA.

And on a higher level, why should they?  Really, is that how we want to decide our inclusion as a targeted area for development for the next 25 years?  On how much money – $251,000 or even $500,000 – they will give us in the 2014 budget?  Is that how we’ll be bought?  For the promise of better sidewalks so Supervisor Sears can walk our kids to school (even though some of our residents send their kids to Old Mill and Edna Maguire, since Strawberry is too full)?  Is that the only way we’ll get better sidewalks, to sign up to a designation almost no one else in the county does?

So if, like us, you don’t want to sell out Strawberry for 251 pieces of silver, there are a couple of arguments you can make.

If, like me, you’re not a land-use lawyer, a city planner, an architect, a design review board member, you can build your comments around these simple points

1) There is no question that inclusion in the PDA is 100% voluntary.  It’s written in Plan Bay Area, it’s been said and written in a Marin IJ Op-Ed by the Director of the Association of Bay Area Governments (which runs Plan Bay Area), it’s been said by Supervisor Sears.

2) It is, as Supervisor Sears has said, a “statement of intent” – and that intent is to develop high-density, transit-oriented housing.  That’s what Plan Bay Area is all about.  It is an intent to develop Strawberry with high-density housing, and to develop Strawberry with additional transit to support it.  Looking around the county, that would make us like, say, the San Rafael Transit Center, or maybe Larkspur Landing (now being considered for over 900 new high density units).  Those aren’t even PDAs – what will they build here, if we accept this “statement of intent?”

3) There are only 4 PDAs left in Marin County – Marin City, Strawberry, Greenbrae and a square mile of San Rafael.  As has been stated, 40% of new development in Marin is intended for PDAs (or maybe in the long term, the 80% target in Plan Bay Area), do we really want to bear the brunt of almost half the development in Marin for the next 25 years?

4) The PDA is a relatively new concept.  State legislature under Darrel Steinberg has been passing more and more aggressive development laws on behalf of developers, including SB743, SB 365 and the impending SB1.  We don’t know – long term – what being in a PDA will mean.  How many more of these laws will get passed?  Even if they get stopped, how do we know they won’t then be applied just to PDAs?  After all, PDAs are areas that are intended for the lion’s share of development.  As San Rafael City Councilwoman Kate Colin said when rejecting the Civic Center PDA, “there isn’t an obligation, but there is an expectation.”

The Supervisors say that there’s a “blizzard of fear.”  That this PDA designation doesn’t actually do anything.  But here’s what it does – it takes away any ground we have to say for the next 25 years “stop developing, you are destroying our community!”  Of course we fear that!  Supervisor Steve Kinsey said just this week “the course of Marin development has been set for 40 years.”  Do we want them – in 2028 – to look back and say “Hey, the future of Strawberry has been set since 2013.”

So, why would we – voluntarily – sign up to have the fabric of our community destroyed, to become the housing and transit center for Marin, one of only 3 areas with this novel land-use designation of unknown long-term consequences?   Is there an amount of money that is worth it?  We think no.

If you have more advanced knowledge, like our former design review board members, or our local attorneys, and want to get into a policy-based debate with the Marin Planning Board, there are any number of policy-based objections.  For a start, read Chuck Ballinger’s Marin IJ Op-Ed here.

But I’m not.  I’m just a business guy, who is looking at the arguments made by the county, and they don’t hold water.

So on January 23rd, we want to tell TAM, “Keep your $251,000 of PDA money, we’re not signing up.”

We want to tell the leaders of Marin County (most of whom are on the TAM board – mayors, city council members, supervisors), “Kate Sears is here asking you for money for Strawberry.  We, Strawberry, are saying she doesn’t represent us.”

And we want to tell the Board of Supervisors at that meeting, “When you do in fact listen to us and put Strawberry on the BOS agenda in February (or whenever you finally acknowledge your constituents), we want out.”

Strawberry Community Meeting – 1/12/14

Over 100 people joined us at the Strawberry Rec Center Sunday night for an update on the Priority Development Area activity, and to hear Bob Silvestri discuss the flaws inherent in Plan Bay Area.

For more from Bob, go here.

At the meeting, we asked members of the community to do 5 things:

1) Sign up to this blog, to get the latest developments

2) Please come to the board meeting of the Transportation Authority of Marin (TAM) at 7pm on January 23, in the Board of Supervisors chambers on the 3rd floor of the Civic Center, and tell them that we don’t want to be in a PDA.  The topic doesn’t belong at the TAM meeting, which the TAM board acknowledged at their last meeting, but the Board of Supervisors (who should be considering the issue) has told us that it does, so that PDA money can be reallocated.  So we’re going there to say, “we don’t care how much money you allocate, we don’t want to be in the PDA!”  The price of being the focal point of development in Marin for the next 25 years isn’t worth the extra $350,000 they may allocate to us.  In fact, the more money they focus on us, the worse it may be!

3) Take one of the one-page “Please remove us from the PDA” petitions we printed out and get 5 of your neighbors to sign it.  We’re not asking people to pound the pavement (though if you want to, that would be great too), we’re just asking everyone to get 5 new signatures. Our target is to get over 1000 signatures, even 1500, and we’re currently at over 750,  We want the Supervisors to know that as many people as possible are opposed to this new PDA designation and the unknown consequences it may have.

4) Donate what you can on the right-hand side of our website.  You can read more about us here.  What do we do with your donation?  We try to marshall and communicate with the community (you may have seen our ad in the Marin Independent Journal, you’re reading a website that we built, and it costs every time we have a community meeting).  We can contribute to the lawsuits against Plan Bay Area (where PDAs come from), and the recently passed Housing Element.  We can hire consultants to help us more effectively affect the county.  We can contribute to candidates running for District 3 positions (in Sausalito, Tiburon or Mill Valley) or Supervisor positions (like Arnold’s and Adams’ seats this year) who aggressively take positions against development.  We have a lot to accomplish, and everything that’s not volunteered costs us money, as does influence in the county.

5) Donate your time.  There are many things we need to do – gather signatures, help update our website, research the MV School District capacity and plans, research the Marin Municipal Water District capacity and plans, show up at the Board of Supervisors meeting or other meetings through the county.  We have volunteers doing a variety of things.   If you can think of something you can contribute, or if you have time but don’t know what to do, contact us.

We also shared important communications from our group, including Sunday’s IJ ad; an Op-Ed piece from volunteer Chuck Ballinger, former member of the Strawberry Design Review Board; a letter to the TAM board drafted by volunteer Ray McDevitt; and Bruce Corcoran’s latest missive to the Board of Supervisors asking for consideration.  These will be posted on the website here.

We’l update more specifically about the PDA, the TAM meeting, and what you can say in upcoming posts.

Thanks for reading, and thanks for joining with us.