Tag Archives: 101 corridor

Neighborhoods at St.Vincent’s-Silveira?

Mill Valley Herald  March 29–April 4, 1993

Meanderings  by Dwayne Hunn, 

Final interview series on Pedestrian Pockets.

 If you are interested in various Pedestrian Pocket designs, visit St. Vincent’s Design competition on display through April, sponsored to provide the city with development ideas on one of Marin’s most significant remaining pieces of land.

Eight years ago Peter Calthorpe’s business was struggling. He was struggling to get people to listen and build the old fashioned way—with neighborhoods embedded in Pedestrian Pockets (PP). Remember the neighborhoods—playing in the street, biking to a neighborhood park, returning a coke bottle to the Mom and Pop store—for pennies or a stick of licorice?

Sometimes the best quality of changing, growing, adapting is in returning us to where we began. In a shrinking world where ideas, change, competition and dollars fly ever faster, shortsightedness and political selfishness can damn a nation’s development if her most basic resource—land—is used wastefully.

Today Calthorpe continually appears in print and has appeared on network nightly news. His Sacramento Laguna West Development, about 1,000 acres for 10,000 residents with bungalows from $20,000 to custom homes at $400,000, is the nation’s largest Pedestrian Pocket. Nonetheless, not enough people understand the importance inherent in moving the political process that stymies this common sense land use approach which fosters economic security and a healthier life.

At least, however the idea of community centered development woven together by narrow streets, front porches, easily identifiable civic buildings and walkable thoroughfares has moved beyond idealized discussion into market reality. Even housing market analyst and owner of Market Perspectives, John Schleimer, reversed his critical PP market beliefs based on the results of his survey of 619 homeowners at Laguna West and three other “neo-traditional” neighborhoods in Florida, Washington D.C. and Memphis. Those homeowners were willing to pay a “premium” because they felt their homes would appreciate more than the traditional suburban neighborhood.

Here in Marin it remains to be seen whether the debate over the need for Pedestrian Pocket development reaches the level of sense. Marin’s environmental movement, long controlled by a handful of politically astute, so-called environmentalists, has been opposed to PPs. If some fresh thinkers, concerned about community, affordability and environmental sensitivity ever get into the inner sanctums of these organizations, an interesting debate over true environmental issues might ensue.

Are PPs working anywhere else?

They work all over Europe where the traditional towns are mixed use communities in which rail transportation provides a healthy alternative to auto use. In Canada there are regions that have directed growth into transit oriented communities. In Marin, prior to the Golden Gate Bridge construction, we had many fine models that grew around rail stops. These town centers, such as Mill Valley, are among the most desirable places to live because of their mixed-use qualities.

If you were a planner in charge of the remaining land in Sonoma and Marin, what would you have cities, counties and developers do?

Zone for mixed use growth along the North West Pacific rail corridor. In some cases, this would merely mean transferring development rights from one part of a site to another.

For example, take the St. Vincent site. Presently San Rafael has St. Vincent’s thousand acres zoned for low density housing spread over a large portion of that land, along with some commercial uses. This development could be clustered into a 100 acre of mixed-use adjacent to the rail line leaving the wetlands and beautiful rolling hills as open space. None of the development would be visible from the freeway. The community would gain valuable open space, transit ridership would be reinforced and the land owner would still be allowed a reasonable level of return for his property.

    Some environmentalists fear that PPs development and rail transit may impact the wetlands. What is your response?

The wetland areas are critical issues mainly in northern Marin and south Petaluma. Much of the rail corridor is to the north as will be much of the growth. Therefore a lot of the PP development should take place in areas away from the wetlands.

In Marin there are few viable sites for PPs. In these sites development in the wetlands should be avoided. Once again, clustered development would provide the means to preserve the open space permanently by exchanging the development rights in the pocket for permanent open space easements on the wetlands and other important open space areas.

What is needed to move the PP concept to the next stage?

Some model PPs that the environmental and financial community can look at and judge. We are now working on opportunities along the new rail line in San Jose and in Sacramento. If these are built they would generate the concept and test its results. These two cities with their existing light rail systems are in an advanced position to test the idea.

In Marin and Sonoma the next step must be for the 101 Corridor Committee to study a transit option which forces transit oriented land uses. If such a study proves the case, we would have the basis for moving ahead with financing for transit and land use studies in each county and municipality. But such a regional unifying study has to be a prerequisite.

Everyone wants transit?

Mill Valley Herald, June 29–July 5, 1992
By Dwayne Hunn

In April John Eells, Transportation Planner for Marin from 1985-1992, spoke at a Mill Valley Library public meeting on the difficulties of bringing a rail transit system to the North Bay. If you are a true environmentalist, tired of congested 101 or think a party train back and forth to Yosemite would be more fun than lashing chains to tires, his remarks may be informative.

“For years there was little or no involvement by Marin environmentalists in the 101 Corridor planning effort,”Eells said. After the plan for Transit Tax was completed, they came out against the Transit Tax….Marin is the only California county with a sales tax for trains that has ever lost!

“The Marin Conservation League may be the only environmental organization in the world against transit because they believe it is growth-induced…

“Sonoma’s elected officials only wanted to widen the freeway even though their public opinion surveys showed the public was 4 to 1 in favor of trains. The elected officials kept saying the public was wrong. The result was a compromise. Light rail in Marin and cheaper commuter diesel rail in Sonoma. Unfortunately one week after the light/rail commuter rail compromise was adopted by the 101 Corridor Action Committee, the elected officials in Sonoma abandoned the train all together…

“What happened in Marin?” an audience member fresh to Marin politics asked.

“The Marin Light Rail got tagged by the Marin environmentalists as the ‘Little train to nowhere.’ Yet the majority of the cars on the freeway between Novato and San Rafael are going to San Rafael. The environmentalists were very successful in creating a tremendous fear that the train would turn Marin into Hong Kong or Tokyo. The train would overwhelm all, negate all local land use plans, and destroy all common sense.

“What this tells us is that reality can be irrelevant. Perception is what counts. If by being hysterical, you can dominate the campaign by fear— you can win.”

“What kind of grassroots work was done for the train?”

“Not enough. The business community and transit advocates were outgunned. The environmentalists, or Nimbys, depending on your perspective, know how to run a campaign. The anti-train slogans stuck. Surveys showed that voters clearly remembered their slogans.

“What many define as environmental — like slowing global warming or preventing the ozone hole from spreading — is of little concern to Marin’s environmental movement. Marin’s environmentalists are focused primarily on stopping local growth.”

“Could workshops to educate the community on the need for transit work?”

“I am not optimistic about this, because the Marin Sierra Club, Audubon Society and Conservation League can deliver the votes against transit solutions, painting them as growth inducing.”

“So how do we get environmentally beneficial rail in the North Bay?”

“Unfortunately, Marin may be a preview of California’s future. Marin’s growth hysteria will probably spread to other parts of the state. Developers and proponents of rail plans must be prepared to handle growth, so it is not detrimental to those who are already here. The battle has become a conflict between the haves and the have-nots. Growth per se is not causing the deterioration in the quality of life as much as the inability of the infrastructure to keep up…

“The 50’s and 60 s were the heyday of infrastructure development. We built the world’s finest highway system. Now it is crumbling all at the same time. A full 95% of the gas taxes Californians are paying is being used for highway maintenance, and the system is still falling apart… Our highway system is broke. It would take 1,000 years of today’s revenues to build what we have today.

“Some talk about using Federal money to extend BART to the North Bay. Unfortunately, the entire federal rail budget would not be enough to get BART from San Francisco to Sausalito.”

“What has the Marin experience taught you?”

“Local politics is more difficult than I expected. To reach a political consensus is tremendously difficult. In school you can develop ‘overlays to locate constraints and analyze the overlays to determine where you can build. But in real life there are tremendous controversies and nebulous solutions.

“I’ve been in the public sector for 15 years, and its ability to deliver has declined dramatically. I want to make something beneficial happen in my lifetime.. If that means working with private visionaries, that’s what I’ll do.”