Corte Madera Votes to Leave ABAG

Freedom is the battle cry as Corte Madera votes to dump the controversial Bay Area government group in hopes of regaining local control. Now, the town's leaders hope the rest of Marin will follow their example.

The battle lines have been drawn around the Town of Corte Madera.

Corte Madera's leaders found the grass roots support they were looking for Tuesday night and many Marin residents found the leadership they had been seeking.

Residents of Corte Madera, Greenbrae, Mill Valley, San Anselmo and San Rafael cheered at the end of the three-hour meeting after Corte Madera's Town Council voted 4-1 to bolt from the Association of Bay Area Governments.

"These are unelected people who have a personal vision of what's good for everybody else. They have no check, no balance. They force themselves on us… Let's do this," Councilman Michael Lappert said in a fiery speech. "Sometimes you just have to fight. It's not always about consensus. Sometimes you just have to draw the line."

Corte Madera is the first community in Marin County to formally decide to leave ABAG, but residents all over the county are hoping other cities will soon follow.

"I want to applaud the fact that you're having this conversation. There's many of us who have been wondering who's going to start talking about what's happening with ABAG for that feeling of the loss of local control," said Mill Valley's Susan Kirsch. "As many of us look at what ABAG is bringing forward, there is that gushing sound of freedom for local communities going out of our hands."

Corte Madera's had enough, it seems.

"The upside if we do this: What if it works? What if something happens? Well, we get back local control. That would be pretty great. I'd certainly be all for that. We'd get to control the way we want to build and create our communities," Corte Madera Mayor Bob Ravasio said. "Let's do it."

The original concept of ABAG was that local governments would be a more powerful lobbying force in one large group rather than individually. Lappert said that idea has gone insanely wrong. Corte Madera pays a reported $5,500 a year to ABAG in dues, with the expectation that the town would in turn receive funding for housing, transportation and other projects through ABAG.

ABAG has called on its members to increase housing in response to projected job growth. ABAG's planners have claimed that by building more housing near to jobs and transportation hubs, towns can cut down on greenhouse gases.

Local leaders are skeptical of ABAG's projections, however. They've asked for an explanation of how ABAG achieved its numbers but, according to some leaders, ABAG would not reveal its formula.

Another problem, ABAG's own scenarios don't show a significant decrease in greenhouse gases with its preferred housing proposals.

"I'd like to see ABAG defend its existence," Lappert said.

Corte Madera is home to two of Marin County's major shopping centers: The Village and The Town Center. It also boasts a number of auto dealers, including Mini of Marin which opens at its new Paradise Drive location Wednesday, March 7. Residents still place a high value on Corte Madera's small-town charm featured by the Town Band's performances at the Pavilion, just a short walk from Neil Cummins Elementary School and some of the town's oldest residential areas.

Locals are afraid that ABAG is changing Corte Madera forever … and not necessarily for better.

Corte Madera resident Peter Hensell graded ABAG "'A' for annoyance… It's not just taking away local control, it's taking away individual rights. ABAG has the potential to change communities and change neighborhoods."

The proposal to build a mixed-use development with 180 residential units on the former WinCup site angered some residents. That plan is going forward, driven in part by housing mandates from ABAG.

"I'm not sure that's where the problem begins, but it brings it into sharper focus," Ravasio said of the WinCup development. "A lot of people in town don't want that development. It never was our idea. We're doing that in response to an allocation from ABAG to increase housing. ... What really kicked things off was when we reviewed the Sustainable Community feedback and saw the huge housing growth projected for Corte Madera and the job growth for Corte Madera and we don't know where those numbers are coming from. ... ABAG is calling for job growth in Corte Madera that exceeds anything we've seen in the past 20 years."

Councilwoman Carla Condon said she couldn't find any evidence that Corte Madera had actually received any significant funding from ABAG. So, Corte Madera's leaders figured they really don't have much to lose by divorcing themselves of ABAG.

"This is a really emotional issue, but if we approach it rationally what's the downside to doing this and pulling out? Well, we're not going to get any grants from ABAG. Well, we haven't gotten any grants from ABAG, so not a lot of loss there. Potentially, we do lose our seat at the table and that is a concern to me. The point is, frankly, I'm not sure that we have one now. That's what I keep coming back to," Ravasio said.

Condon brought up the idea of gathering the other local municipalities to form a Marin County Council of Governments that could act as a similar force as ABAG, but with better local representation.

The only dissenting vote came from Councilwoman Alexandra Cock, but she didn't entirely disagree with the decision. Cock had hoped to develop an exit strategy before picking a fight with ABAG.

"I've been vehemently opposed to One Bay Area ever since they came out with the concept. I'm totally opposed to homogenization of our whole area. I see it happening in our whole country and I do not like it and I do not agree with it. At the same time I want what we do to be effective and I'm not sure whether voting in favor of withdrawing from ABAG is really an effective step," Cock said. "I think the idea of creating our own Marin Council of Governments is a great idea. Rather than voting to do this now as, what I consider to be sort of a reactionary move, I think we should lobby all the other cities and the county and see if we can get them all on board with forming our own COG."

City council members in Larkspur, Fairfax, Mill Valley and other areas have recently and increasingly raised their voices in showing their displeasure with ABAG. They have, more quietly, discussed leaving the group.

"I moved here 21 years ago from Chicago and I moved here because o this place, because 82 percent of the land is park land or it's zoned for agriculture. I moved here because of the beaches, because of the mountains, because of the character of the small towns. I do not want to see that change, dictated to us by some organization in Sacramento, or Vallejo, or wherever ABAG is," Ravasio said. "So, for me, I would vote for this and let the chips fall where they may. We need to start the conversation. The way to get the support from other towns is to see someone step out, see someone do something, see someone be a leader in this thing and see if we can start to generate support that way."

San Anselmo resident Nancy O'Connell recalled attending a One Bay Area workshop hosted by ABAG in San Francisco: "There were people who were concerned this is going to kill the Bay Area. There's a group of grass roots citizenry that wants local control and does not want this huge overlay of ABAG to come down and smash their communities. … I'm encouraged to take this back to the San Anselmo Council and to Fairfax. The Ross Valley needs help to stay the Ross Valley."

JB March 07, 2012 at 09:51 PM
Nicely done Corte Madera, I hope someday Novato will follow suit.
Eleanor Sluis March 07, 2012 at 11:08 PM
I hope that all the cities in Marin will make a similar decision. We are a rural, suburban, agricultural, park like area, a tourist destination. Novato needs green, commercial enterprises. It has built most of the affordable housing in Marin and cannot afford the added costs of building 700-1600 new 4-6 storied buildings with 60-100 units per one and one 1/2 acre sites in Novato. State mandates mean building 10 buildings like Mill Works or 6-15 buildings (like Eden 61 units on Diablo and Center) on Redwood Blvd. and Novato Blvd. The problem appears to be the Federal Government’s requiring transportation funds to be connected with building housing and to use our tax dollars to subsidize both transportation and building. The state formed 17 metropolitan areas to comply with the Federal Clean Air and transportation laws. It created ABAG and MTC, which are the nine bay area’s representatives to get federal and state funding/ subsidies for transportation and the building of housing. It does this by sending the state its projections of jobs and housing. The state mandates the numbers of housing to build. Many of us object to these mandates. I applaud Corte Madera for its interest in reclaiming local control.
Craig Belfor March 08, 2012 at 04:17 AM
SEE? It can be done. Towns can determine their own future. There will be subsidies lost, but just send me the bill. I'll pay whatever it takes to keep the bums out. Once again, if you have a job, i will help you, but if you're just a bum, you don't deserve to live as well as me in my town. Hate me if you want, but I'm not afraid to say it.
Alejandro Moreno S. March 08, 2012 at 04:24 AM
Let's bail on ABAG, they're bogus, and don't have Marin's best interests at heart. Ulterior agendas from mysterious power grabbers do not a community make.
Craig Belfor March 08, 2012 at 05:04 AM
Let's get out of ABAG, SMART, Section 8, and all those programs that are thinly designed plots to fill our town with bums. The other towns did it. Now it's our turn to join Ross, Corte Madera, Belvedere and all of the others who saw through the developer's schemes.
Jerome J Ghigliotti Jr March 08, 2012 at 12:53 PM
Why should Novato get out of ABAG? Look at what ABAG has done: cut green house gases by moving Richmond Bridge felons into untaxed, high denisty, daily police call, low income housing in Novato. Thank you sir, may I have some more? And the 4 city council developers personally benefit.
Ed March 08, 2012 at 02:45 PM
ABAG is not about what is good for local communities. Good job Corte Madera!! Time for Novato to do the same!!
Craig Belfor March 08, 2012 at 04:32 PM
We need a referendum petition that 1. Will get enough signatures 2. Will not be ignored by the city council (Remember-Jerome got the needed signatures to put to vote the enforcement of E Verify, the federal law that requires proper ID verification for employment) only to be told that the city council was afraid that the vote "could go the wrong way" The majority of the city council is composed of people with ties to developers and builders, the very people who will build anything for profit, and in this down economy, would love to use the guise of affordable housing to get government money for huge projects, and then hire illegal, undocumented workers to build them. Of course, you say, why would they want to do this in their own town? MONEY The other cities have councils that do not profit from development. That's why their unofficial motto is "You want to live here? Go to school, get a marketable degree, get a job, and buy your way in." Now that toll takers make more than brain surgeons, going past third grade may not be a good investment, but a command of English, front teeth, and a job will do for Novato. The bar is lowered here, but we still have a bar, much to the chagrin of the council.
John Wyek March 08, 2012 at 04:33 PM
Kudos to Corte Madera. I just hope that Novato may now find the guts to follow suit. I said it at the town council meetings- only Novatoans should decide what is best for Novato. I do not accept being dictated to by people who do not live here themselves, and only benefit from their decisions without sharing in any adverse consequences.
Greg Yates March 08, 2012 at 06:02 PM
Hear, Hear pay attention Novato. It's time for bad ideas to end and fresh ideas to emerge.
Hugh Trenkamp March 09, 2012 at 03:25 AM
Novato needs to follow Corte Madera. How do we get the ball rolling? Hugh
SHROYER FOR SUPERVISOR 2014 March 09, 2012 at 03:56 AM
"These are unelected people who have a personal vision of what's good for everybody else. They have no check, no balance. They force themselves on us… Let's do this," Councilman Michael Lappert said in a fiery speech. "Sometimes you just have to fight. It's not always about consensus. Sometimes you just have to draw the line." Well stated Mr. Lappert! Hugh Trenkamp: Email Novato City Council at novatocouncil@cityofnovato.org and ask them to be leaders like Corte Madera and leave ABAG!
Craig Belfor March 09, 2012 at 04:29 AM
First- we elect a city council that reflects our views on the future of our town. We had our chance, but most of the people in this town did not vote, so we deserve the same fate as Bell, Ca where the council looted the town dry. Our only recourse is to show up at the meetings and hope our voice counts to the developers on the council (it won't) or get signatures on a referendum to force a vote(the council will disallow it, like last time), or try OCCUPY NOVATO to get recognition for the plight of the common taxpaying, law abiding citizen who doesn't have enough money left over after work to support another family who doesn't work (ABAG and the affordable housing NAZIS will fight it) We're stuck. Democracy is not a spectator sport. Involvement is required, and we didn't show up at the polls, so we're doomed, the council will sell us out to the developers. Buy guns, flack jackets, and burglar alarms. The war has started. OR We do what the other safe cities have done. Divide Novato into smaller towns. This will lower the density requirements, create more councils, and give more control to the neighborhoods. Ross, Greenbrae, Tiburon, Belvedere, Kentfield, Fairfax, Forest Knowls, Woodacre, San Anselmo, and San Geronimo all fly under the radar and don't have to build wino warehouses like we do. They merged their police and fire departments, or laid it on the county. Novato- Ignacio- Hamilton. 3 councils, combined fire/police, no bums.
Jerome J Ghigliotti Jr March 09, 2012 at 05:41 AM
Everyone commenting on the return of community values and a responsive council is correct. Now, tell me, how do we elect someone to the city council? Toni Shroyer and Leslie Swarze ran a fantastic campaign on an important platform. I tried as hard as I could. But Novato voters are still asleep. 1,000 voters read the Patch and stay informed. Tell your neighbors and friends to get informed. Read the Patch.
Bob Silvestri March 09, 2012 at 03:05 PM
-- Ravasio said. "...let the chips fall where they may. We need to start the conversation. The way to get the support from other towns is to see someone step out, see someone do something, see someone be a leader in this thing and see if we can start to generate support that way." -- Ravasio is 1000% correct. This is the only way anything ever gets done, the only way change ever happens. I cannot express how much I admire the courage and leadership of vision that the Corte Madera Town Council has demonstrated. It's a breath of fresh air. The truth is we don't want "One" bay area. We want to maintain the character and variety of nuanced and idiosyncratic communities that make Marin unique. Thank you Corte Madera!
Cindy March 09, 2012 at 05:51 PM
Chris March 09, 2012 at 07:17 PM
Way to go, Corte Madera! The elected officials in Novato need to grow a spine. It's time for us to jump on this. Now is the time to leave ABAG.
Ken Delfino March 12, 2013 at 07:10 PM
Ventress Dugan March 12, 2013 at 08:06 PM
I am so proud of the leaders in Corta Madera.....let's go Novato....let's stand up for our beautiful city.


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