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The topic of affordable housing brings strong feelings out whenever it is discussed. Affordable housing may not, however, be the biggest idea with the most far-reaching consequences. The Association of Bay Area Governments requires that, for the most part, higher density zoning must take place when the housing element including the affordable housing sites is certified. What housing gets built and whether the housing gets built is secondary. If sufficient sites zoned for multifamily housing are not available then zoning for it must take place. The ABAG allocations are really about forced up-zoning when you look below the surface. Many city planners think up-zoning leads to compact development which will stop climate change, although the costs of rebuilding our cities and the emissions engendered are staggering.

Different folks have different views of this up-zoning. Some developers like it because it presents them with opportunities to build. Some owners like it because they want to sell to take advantage of the higher prices up-zoned land will bring. Some owners who don't want their neighborhoods to be disturbed don't like it.

People who believe in what is dubiously named Smart Growth think up-zoning is taming urban sprawl and that people living crowded together will naturally take mass transit if given the chance and that this will lower carbon emissions. If you make the driving and parking difficult and expensive enough and create a network of buses and trains, they believe people will walk and use transit. The subtext is that suburban environments must become urbanized.

These overviews tell you a little about the various groups--governmental, nonprofit and others---who are driving the mandated zoning, housing allocations, and incentivized transit oriented development (TOD), otherwise called high density housing close to trains and buses.

The Basics

What is the meaning of Smart Growth

The meaning of Smart Growth depends on who is defining it. Smart Growth is what planners and housing advocates refer to, sung as a litany. Smart Growth is supposedly the cure for urban sprawl, a means of providing housing for the poor, and the way for clear our skies of greenhouse gases. It extolls urban living as superior to suburban living and mass transit to driving an automobile. In the Bay Area this means favoring high density housing on arterials and near major transportation centers or corridors. The Greenbelt Alliance speakers sometimes describe single family residences on large lots as outdated, unaffordable, and environmentally unfriendly.

The Smart Growth set of theories has been settling in and consolidating at all levels of government since around 2000 with the major results only now being strongly felt in Novato in the second round of housing allocations by Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG). Novato built a tremendous number of affordable housing units in the first round in the one time only repurposing of Hamilton Air Force Base and then was hit with a demand for more housing production of almost the same scale.

To understand what has hit us, you need to be able to identify the agencies at each level of government.The common thread at every level of government can be identified. The EPA finances a great deal of information dissemination which in wartime would have probably been called propaganda. In this day and age we call it PR. What is shocking is that sources which would have been considered biased 20 years ago are now invited to negotiate and to participate with scant requirement that their positions be identified as special interests. According to the President's Plan for Sustainable Communities of 10-20 years ago which is now Obama's Partnership for Sustainable Communities (and much more comprehensive) they are now 'stakeholders'.The middle class has practically been relegated to a category of inchoate recalcitrants who must be re-educated by the many urban planners and other enthusiasts of Smart Growth. Separating theory from fact and enthusiasm from end results has become very much harder in 2011 than in 1999. Resisting the pressure to turn our town into a refuge for large dense apartment buildings to satisfy the state of California's thirst for metropolitan expansion will take a lot of effort.



Use the diagram/matrix to inform your reading, if you decide to undertake the journey toward making sense of the challenges facing our town (click on the graphic at right)




Metropolitan Transportation Commission ("MTC")

MTA logo

"Created by the state Legislature in 1970 (California Government Code 66500 et. seq.). The MTC is the transportation planning, coordinating and financing agency for the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area.” 2And as the Bay Area has grown, MTC”s responsibilities have increased. Now “MTC is three agencies in one with a shared mission: to keep the Bay Area moving”. Any new transportation project in the San Francisco Bay Area must be included in Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC’s) long-range Regional Transportation Plan(RTP) to qualify

for state and/or federal funds. The regional transportation plan (RTP) is a 25-year plan that is updated every four years to guide Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) investments. “MTC promotes Bay Area priorities to the state and federal governments”. “

The nine-counties consist of Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano, and Sonoma. “The Commission’s work is guided by a 19-member policy board, 16 voting members and three nonvoting members. “Of the 16 voting members, 14 commissioners are appointed directly by local elected officials. In each of the five most populous counties Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara two commissioners are appointed; one by the county’s council of mayors and council members (in San Francisco, by the mayor) and one by the county board of supervisors. In each of the less populous counties, Marin, Napa, Solano and Sonoma the county council of mayors nominates up to three candidates to the board of supervisors, which selects one commissioner.” The other two members represent regional agencies – the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC). “Finally, three nonvoting members have been appointed to represent federal and state transportation agencies and the federal housing department. “ They represent the state’s Business Transportation and Housing Agency, Federal Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, and the U.S. Dept. of Transportation. Most of the commissioners are local elected officials. All commissioners serve four year terms and can be reappointed. The chair and vice chair are elected by voting members of MTC, and serve a two year terms.

“MTC functions as both regional transportation planning agency (a state designation) and, for federal purposes, as the region’s Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO, a federal designation). It is responsible for regularly updating” the Regional Transportation Plan, (RTP), a comprehensive blueprint for the development of mass transit, highway, airport, seaport, railroad, bicycle and pedestrian facilities. MTC also screens requests from local agencies for state/federal grants for transportation projects to determine their compatibility with the plan.” Transportation 2035 was adopted in April 2009. This plan charts a new course for MTC, particularly with regard to reducing greenhouse gas and financing future transportation improvements. MTC plays a major role in building regional consensus on where and
when to expand the Bay Area transit network. “In 2001 MTC laid out the next phase of major regional public transit investments in Resolution 3434. This agreement, which was reaffirmed and refined in 2006, features additional rail investment, significant expansion of bus rapid transit and ferry service,” and also (TOD) Transit-Oriented Development. (meaning intensive housing and commercial development around transit stations.)

“Over the years, state and federal laws have given MTC an increasingly important role in financing Bay Area transportation improvements. To help set priorities for the hundreds of millions of dollars flowing each year to the Bay Area from flexible federal funding programs, MTC convened the Bay Area Partnership, which is made up of some three dozen transportation and environmental agencies with a stake in the region’s future. Using these federal dollars, MTC has established several innovative grant programs that are changing the Bay Area landscape. MTC’s transportation for livable communities (TLC) provides planning and capital grants for small-scale transportation projects that enhance community vitality and promote walking, bicycling and public transit use. MTC Low Income Flexible Transportation
Program (LIFT) funds new or expanded services for getting low-income residents to and from work, school and other essential destinations.”

MTC devotes considerable energy to advocacy efforts in both Sacramento and Washington, D.C. to ensure an adequate flow of funding for the maintenance and expansion of the Bay Area’s transportation network.

With respect to Marin County, MTC oversees the Transportation Authority of Marin (TAM) and SMART (Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit).

Related Link(s):

MTC Resolution 3434: Transit Oriented Development ("TOD") Policy for Regional Transit Expansion Projects


SMART Train - Overview

smart train2

Assembly Bill #2224:

1 "This bill would create the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) District within the Counties of Sonoma and Marin. The bill would establish a 12 member board of directors to govern the district.”

2 So on January 1, 2003 Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) district was established with engineering, implementing and planning SMART. The passenger train will run from Cloverdale to a Ferry Terminal (Larkspur) that connects to San Francisco.

3 The 12 member Board consisting of elected officials: two county supervisors each form Sonoma and Marin counties, three appointed City Council members from each country two representatives from the Golden Gate Bridge District.

4 From Cloverdale to Larkspur there will be 14 stations along the corridor (9 in Sonoma, 5 in Marin)“designed to accommodate available feeder bus service, shuttle services and in selected suburban locations, park and ride facilities Station with the downtown areas of the three largest cities in the North Bay – anta Rosa, Petaluma and San Rafael – are being designed with no park and ride facilities, only bus and feeder services.”

44 “Estimated 14 roundtrip trains per day, operating at 30-minute intervals in the morning and evening peak commuting hours during the week. Bicycles will be allowed on board the trains, and weekend service also will be provided.

2008 Measure Q:

45 “¼ Percent sales tax over a 20 years (4/1/2009-3/31/2029)would fund a commuter rail system with a parallel bicycle/pedestrian pathway.” It passed Sonoma, Marin counties with a combined 70% voter approval. Measure Q expanded AB2224 requirement to include a $91 million bicycle/pedestrian pathway connecting Cloverdale to Larkspur rail stations. 5 And also required SMART Board to establish a Citizens Oversight Committee (COC) to provide input and review of initial Strategic Plan, and update. 



As of today, the SMART train ridership projections account for less than 1% of the trips between Sonoma and Marin.

The MTC model used in the 2005 Travel Demand Forecasting Report estimated that 4,756 riders are projected to use daily rail service in 2025 between Cloverdale and Larkspur. The heaviest use of the train service will be during the 3-hour morning and evening periods. Most heavily utilized station will be Windsor, Santa Rosa at Jennings Ave, Downtown Santa Rosa.

The concentration of riders is clearly not inter-county. The projected ridership numbers simply do not support the popular image of a significant shift from using Highway 101 for travel between Sonoma and Marin. The bulk of current ridership estimate will utilize SMART to travel between Petaluma and Windsor, a distance of 26 miles.

“A decline in sales tax revenues and increased expenses result in shortfall of $155 million.”

“SMART retirement benefits are generous and could become unsustainable over time.”

6 “MTC Resolution 3434 Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) Policy for Regional Transit Expansion Projects.”

1 www.sonomamarintrain.org SMART website, about us, Assembly Bill 2224.
2 www.sonomamarintrain.org SMART website, about us.
3 www.sonomamarintrain.org SMART website, who we are.
4 www.sonomamarintrain.org SMART website, what is SMART

5 Marin County Civil Grand Jury 6/25/10 Smart

6 www.mtc.ca.gov/planning/smart_growth/tod_policy (MTC Resolution 3434)

Project type Commuter Rail, housing threshold (houses) 2,200. For example, a four station commuter rail extension would be required to meet a corridor-level threshold of 8,800 housing units.” (Ex: Novato will has 2 so 4,400)

Related Link(s):

SMART Train Community Workshops Presentation
2009-2010 Civil Grand Jury Report "SMART: Steep Grade Ahead"
County of Marin Response to the Civil Grand Jury 20090-2010


Novato City Government

Novato has a strong city manager form of government. Our town is facing a major decision on whether to fight to maintain the broad leafy streets and visible ridgelines of our neighborhoods or to succumb to the onslaught of high density multi-family development. Novato is in the middle of rewriting her general plan under pressure to conform to multiple housing mandates imposed by the state, and regional government housing allocations plus the pressures of regional transportation needs around the SMART commuter train, currently experiencing major shortfalls. Furthermore issues of air quality demand that Novato take measures to reduce vehicle miles traveled and pollution from construction, quarrying, wood fires, and lawn and agricultural products.

Novato Exposed

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