Tag Archives: Canalways

I see San Rafael in 2020, and it works

Marin Independent Journal October 13, 2000

 Marin Voice, Dwayne Hunn

September 23rd Michael Doyle, who guided San Rafael’s successful Downtown Visioning process, his troupers and many City staffers decorated the Shield Room at Dominican College with visions of San Rafael’s past and future.  The only waste during the productive day were the stacks of uneaten lunches, reflecting dashed hopes that more citizens would fortify the City’s future while nourishing themselves.

Probably over 200 people attended. Some left after limited participation.  Most graded the City on its handling of 26 issues (housing, traffic, parks and rec, homelessness, etc.) since the last General Plan and then voted on which of those issues should claim the City’s future General Plan guided efforts.  At any given time, probably a hundred people participated in 6-7 small group workshops.  These groups outlined weaknesses and strengths in one of the City’s four districts and then “Visioned” what they wanted San Rafael to be in 2020.

Or group choose Area 4, (roughly from Dominican and east from 101 to the Richmond Bridge and often referred to as East San Rafael) as their area of concentration, as did several other groups.  Our group had some initial trouble waking to this “vision thing,” so I produced my sleepy-eyed version.  It went something like this:

“Canalways, the largest parcel in East San Rafael between Bay Point homes and Home Depot, would be a mixed-use, pedestrian oriented development.  Many of the garage door and storage businesses that dominate East San Rafael would have been redeveloped under an umbrella plan that made this area of East San Rafael into a pedestrian friendly, mixed-use community that had jobs, shops, affordable ownership housing, a new  school and recreational fields and parks.  The completed Shoreline Park would be alive with walkers, joggers and bikers using it to connect to the San Rafael Canal, which would have been reoriented from emphasizing a parking lot to featuring the Canal with a Venice shopping and strolling atmosphere. A walking and biking bridge would span the Canal and complete a relaxed and scenic connection from East San Rafael to downtown. Downtown San Rafael would have even more sidewalk tables and increased day and night activities on its more often closed-to-vehicles main streets, a la Farmers Market nights.  St Vincent’s Silveira would be a pedestrian oriented mixed-use community designed around the train connecting Sonoma, Marin and more.  Spurs from the train’s 101 mainline  would run east and west from downtown San Rafael and the 580 interchange to and over the Richmond Bridge.  Of course, the train (or some futurized transit mode) would also continue south to other communities.  Gridlock would have dissipated.”

Our group wanted to see a “connected community.”  Connected physically and in “community enhancing” ways.  They wanted more shady streets, more walking and modes of transportation than the ubiquitous car, less traffic and less parked cars.  Even though the City and its visioning for its General Plan has little authority over educational policy, our group wanted more parental involvement, better facilities and more efficient use of them.  There was a call for schools to integrate community service as part of students’ learning experience.  Those calls ranged from working with Marin’s mushrooming elderly population, to working with the poor, to physically participating in returning beauty to San Rafael High’s now degraded campus look.  The group also wanted the Marin Community Foundation playing a greater and more coherent role in addressing the gaps that limit this community from achieving a healthier vision.

Our group was probably reflective of the other groups’ concerns and overall vision. All the groups dwelled on the need for more affordable housing for the low and middle-income households and less traffic.  One envisioned personal GPS (Ground Positioning Systems) linked to on-demand transit as an answer to today’s transit shortcomings.  Most groups also wanted a more involved community in policy guiding events like this “Visioning Day.”  Maybe next summer those who stayed home recovering from their long commute and work woes will find a way to beam themselves to Dominican to munch on a free lunch and visions of the future.


…but, from where I sit, they’re part of the problem

Marin IJ April 11, 1999  by Dwayne Hunn

 In  February the IJ reported that Senator Boxer introduced legislation that would guarantee $2 billion of oil companies taxes be siphoned off to maintain public parks, expand urban parks and protect the country’s wildlife. It would be titled “Permanent Protection for America’s Resources 2000.”  Ann Thomas of Marin Baylands immediately saw the most pressing need for this money, “We would love to acquire Canalways.  It would be an absolute jewel for San Rafael to preserve that site.”

Because the nation’s people face  more pressing needs and spending  $2 billion differently could better help the environment, why not have a better title and spending program?   Although comfortable Marin does not typify national needs, even here it is easy to spend on more humane and environmental needs..

In the last 20+ years Marin has:

  • spent $32.3 million acquiring 13,107 acres of open space ($2,466 per acres)
  • allowed only about 12% of its land to be open to development, much of what little remains rings the freeway
  • consistently forced developers, thanks to myopic environmentalists, to downzone developments so that affordable units became fewer and harder to deliver
  • grown .08% per year over the past 29 years, with about half of that growth due to people born into or inheriting homes in the county
  • averaged a yearly growth of —-that modest increase is not the overpopulation causing Marin’s traffic congestion
  • pressed to become the oldest median age county in California
  • seen the median home cost rise to a Bunyonville number of $545,000
  • gagged its freeway with solo caring northward workers unable to live in Marin
  • leached more congestion pollutants into canals, farm fields, air and lungs due to its myopic land use policies

Where should conscientious leaders spend the $2 billion in oil  revenues?  In Marin, and elsewhere, take the oil money and put it where Californians need it more, into:

Þ     transit (so freeways won’t continue sucking quality time out of  people’s lives)

Þ     logical land use (quit talking about smart land use and start building smart communities for regular people) along transit corridors

Þ    delivering affordable workplace housing (state statistics show …..

Marin could have had several 100% + more affordable workplace housing units if myopic environmentalists  HADN’T CONTINUOUSLY opposed physically reviving the train. Worse than that, these so-called environmentalist have strategically tried to kill the train’s future by drastically downzoning and forcing designs on communities (Novato Oaks, Hamilton Air Force Base,  the areas surrounding the Civic Center, and now St. Vincent’s Silvera)  that could have produced mixed used communities that provided train ridership, jobs and ridership for the environmentally beneficial train. How environmentally healthy it could have been to have compactly built along Marin and Sonoma’s train tracks a string of  compact communities whose residents walk, work, live, shop and ride the train..

Since about 88%  of  Marin’s land is set aside in open space, agriculture or park land, perhaps it’s time $32.3 million of that $2 billion be shuttled into a Workplace Housing & Transit District  rather than into acquiring St. Vincent’s and Canalways.  Why not treat people as well as we have treated open space?  Let some smart, truly environmental politician, who is concerned about the quality of peoples lives,  call for using the expertise in the Open Space District to perform the same miracles for today’s crisis needs — workplace  housing and transit.

Let St. Vincent’s be a affordable town oriented to give ridership to the train.  Let Canalways be a mixed use project that provides workplace housing, perhaps a neighborhood school and a high tech campus for the Lucas company types who consistently leave this aging, too narrow minded  and pricey county.

Would Senator Boxer and  Congressman Miller re-title their legislation “Permanent Protection for America’s Resources and  Working People 2000”? Would Marin’s leadership support such?

Dwayne Hunn, a public educator, knows Senator Boxer’s fax number is 415-956-6701    and her email is senator@boxer.senate.gov.

Above is unedited version run by Marin IJ on April 11, 1999.

Additional notes not published:

Since its formation in the 1970’s the Open Space District obtained contributions from Proposition 70 money, Marin Community Foundation, Assessment Districts, CSA {County Services Agreements.

Open Space district collected $32,316,931 and acquired 13,107 acres…

This amounts to $2,466 per acres spent in acquisition.

1995 largest acquisition year = 2,426 acres

1996 = 206 acres

1/97 – 6/98 285 acres (18 months)

Acquisition money is approaching bottom of barrel.

Apathy never fixes anything

Marin Independent Journal

Dwayne Hunn, published June 1, 1994 (unedited version)

 In 1985 Marin’s most vibrant city, San Rafael, hired an acclaimed   city manager, to re-implement privatization changes  he had  successfully effected in Visalia’s local government.   Long-time Mayor Mulryan, however, didn’t see eye-to-eye on many  proposed changes so within a year City Manager Ted Gaebler was gone.

Today Gaebler is co-author of the book, Reinventing Government,  which Vice President Gore and other policy wonks  proclaim as  their road atlas to accelerate more value from each tax  dollar.

Representative government, however, isn’t easily reinvented.  Cutting 52,000  positions, changing the sector from  which  some programs are performed, etc., won’t happen fast, if at all.  Why?  Because our form of governance demands constant vigilance and participation.

To our Founding Fathers this vigilance was cherished.  In parishes, townships and cities they pleaded, demanded and reasoned for needed changes.  Today, relatively few of us do.

Yet without participation in the  governing  process,  the future  only  insures  echoed screams for  more  change,  without delivery.   The active among you have your own examples of  how mislaid the goals of local government becomes without  participation.  Here’s one from San Rafael.

Every 4-6 years San Rafael’s Canal must be dredged to insure its commercial and recreational use.  The Army Corps  assumes responsibility for the mouth and central portions, private owners for the sides.

The Army Corps doesn’t dredge, they “privatize” contracts to dredgers  who charge the federal government. Years ago  the  Feds quit  paying  for the dumping of the dredge spoils  and  continue cutting the dredging budget.

With environmentally and fiscally sound reasoning, the Feds have consistently sought that local  “agencies”   (San  Rafael)  provide  an “uplands” (local) disposal site. If the city doesn’t find  a local dump site, it “privatizes” costs  by adding  a  per cubic  yard  (cyd)  fee to the property owners assessed  bill  to cover the costs of dumping out of local environmental sight.

In the early 80’s most of the dredge spoils from San Rafael Canal and Bay harbors were dumped into a 140′ Bay hole just south of  Alcatraz.  By 1992 the hole had become a huge mound with its tip just 34′ below Mean Low Low Water level.  Fisherman, shippers and Bay environmentalists had long complained about this disposal method.

Recently  the bureaucracy responded with its Long Term  Management Study  which called for another disposal site  and  more “private  sector involvement in innovative  disposal  solutions.”  The result — a likely new disposal site called Alternative  Site 5, fifty long and costly miles outside the Golden Gate Bridge.

Several months ago a private property owner with 80+  acres of diked land near to San Rafael Canal agreed to an  ‘innovative’ request from a ‘private’ group, the San Rafael Dredge  Committee, to  use his  site to recycle dredge spoils.   Since  then  three dredging  contractors  have said they could suction  pump  dredge spoils to that upland site for between $2.50 – $4.50 per cyd.

Around 1988 the mouth as well as central and private sides of  the San Rafael Canal were dredged.  The Corps paid about  $12 per cyd. for clamshell dredging and  barge  disposal;  private property owners paid about $8.00 per cyd.

At  $4. per cyd private property owners could save  $192,000 based  on 1988’s cost; the Corps could save $700,000.  Does government need reinventing before this savings can accrue?  No.

Cities  across the nation have cost  saving  situations  that are unimplemented.  The same cities are filled with Americans griping for someone to fix their complaints about the “system”.  But the ‘system’ will not flow as smoothly as a stream until more people dive in.

With public participation San Rafael can enhance  wetlands, bioremidiate  hydrocarbon toxicized channel spoils, reuse  spoils for  parks  and preserve and create jobs.  In Gaebler’s “public entrepreneurship,” the saved money could make a bigger and better park  for  East  San Rafael, fund a Child Care  center,  or  just reduce needed revenues.

Win-win  public-private reinventions abound.  Whether there is enough vigilance and participation is the question.