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Op-Ed: Advocating Gradual Change and Slower Growth

Regional plans for long-term growth are just too radical, writes Pam Drew. We might just be able to preserve some of our way of life while embracing earth-friendly policies at the same time.

This cartoon, "Corral Them with a Vehicle Miles Traveled Tax," captures the power structure of the OneBayArea combo: the Metropolitan Transportation Commission working with the Association of Bay Area Governments. While MTC/ABAG organizes the herd, the Three E's — environment, economy and equity — supply the muscle. The cartoon adds additional description to the Three E's and highlights the inclusion of the Vehicle Miles Traveled Tax Study in July 19's EIR Alternatives vote.

If you have been following the process, you may want to stop right here and begin finding a way to be counted as an existing resident in favor of gradual change, slower growth, and moderate transportation and housing policy. You are a member of the fourth E.

You might find the Vehicle Miles Traveled Tax study shocking with the mention of a tax as high as 10 cents a mile. Enroll, register or sign up for any local effort to count those who are not part of the Three E's.

You might want to signal city councils that a voting population of existing residents will vote out sitting officials because of their collusion or passive co-operation with MTC/ABAG's unjust, slanted bias toward radical change and the Three E's. Existing residents might just be able to preserve some of their way of life while embracing earth-friendly policies at the same time. Existing residents are seeking equity as well.

If you haven't been following the process, read on.

The PlanBayArea strategy, in my opinion, is to involve these three identified special interests at each stage of the unveiling of the plan and to invite them to add more suggestions at each juncture. The recent Vehicle Miles Traveled Tax study approved in Alternate 5 at the recent MTC/ABAG Joint Meeting of July 19 is one example of this strategy.

This meeting was billed as dealing with the EIR for PlanBayArea and the Vehicle Miles Travel Tax study was hardly mentioned at the meeting.  The VMT tax study was subsumed by Alternative 5 in the Final EIR Alternatives. The VMT tax study was introduced in a presentation on July 13, at a committee meeting, six days before it was approved as an innocent part of Alternative 5 by the Special Joint Meeting of MTC/ABAG. The public comment period was sidestepped in this manner essentially by stealth.

In January after the PlanBayArea workshops, I thought PlanBayArea was chosen and would simply be refined. That was purportedly the time of one significant marker in the process. The choosing of the EIR Alternatives July 19 was another. 

Now I understand my idea to be well wide of the mark.

PlanBayArea is designed to be a moving target to its opponents. Only people on the inside can follow the plethora of committees and the initiatives that they introduce.  PlanBayArea is designed to absorb more and more of the aims and strategies of the chosen special organized groups as the planning process continues. The alternatives can be combined and recombined in endless configurations at will by the votes of the executive boards. No plan is distinctly determined at any stage except that the envelope is pushed a little further in the special interest agenda of the Three E's. 

Existing residents are systematically excluded from the power structure of PlanBayArea. There are special organized groups — the Bay Area Economic Council, the Northern California Chapter of the American Planning Association (norcalapa), the large community funds such as Marin Community Foundation, S.F. Foundation and Silicon Valley Community Fund, TransForm, Public Advocates, Greenbelt Alliance and Urban Institute, which are all listened to. Existing residents are allowed to speak and to write as if they were communicating with MTC and ABAG, but their communications are not listened to.

Existing residents are unlikely to support gut-wrenching change transferring large government sector assets and power from those invested in the present to those betting on a particular lifestyle in the future.  To systematically emasculate, discredit and to disenfranchise existing residents makes sense if the struggle to impose radical change is framed as a war of sorts.

The network of those wanting rapid, major change encompassing nothing less than the abolishment of any advantage held by single family residence zoning is firmly ensconced both in the San Francisco Bay Area and in the Expanded Los Angeles Metropolitan Area, not to mention other large metropolitan areas.  One of the existing residents' long-term options appears to be either a statewide initiative or a massive lawsuit about lack of due process and improper representation of the populace by regional bodies like MTC/ABAG. This requires huge amounts of money.

Another more immediate strategy is to enroll or to register or sign up for any local effort to count those in favor of gradual change, slower growth, and moderate transportation and housing policy. The fourth E must be reckoned with.

Here is a summary of Alternative 5 with the VMT tax study from PlanBayArea Spotlight:

"5. The Environment, Equity and Jobs alternative – This alternative was developed by input from the equity and environmental community. It seeks to maximize affordable housing in opportunity areas in both urban and suburban areas through incentives and housing subsidies. The suburban growth is supported by increased transit service to historically disadvantaged communities through studying a Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) tax and higher bridge tolls."  

Below is page 15 from the MTC Planning Committee/ABAG Administrative Committee, which introduced it July 13.

Roger August 12, 2012 at 05:41 AM
Mimi, condos on Burdell are fine with me too if they pass through CEQA. You said all projects should go through CEQA, didn't you? But the SMART station on the north side of town will allow those dense condos to be built on scarce business-zoned land with no CEQA review. Is that none of the neighbors' business .....really?
Mimi Steel August 12, 2012 at 07:25 AM
Let me clarify my comment. A project should stand on its own merits economically. That means it should meet all requirements. Including CEQA and be profitable without taxpayer subidies. If it meets those criteria I don't have a problem with it. I was reacting to a comment that implies something should not be built because it caused "sprawl". The problem with CEQA and many other requirements is that is is waived for pet projects and enforced in other instances. The EIR scoping document for Plan Bay Area specifically waives CEQA if a project is stack & pack. So is this really about the environment?
Roger August 13, 2012 at 03:13 AM
Lloyd, are you thinking of running for Council in the future? I would vote for you. I have seen you speak at some AH events in the past, and I feel you would do great at the candidate debates. You would have to get the Chamber of Commerce's backing though to have a chance.
Lloyd August 13, 2012 at 04:12 AM
Roger thanks for the vote of confidence. At this time it isn't on my horizon. I realize we need much more citizen participation to make real progress. The Council, whether you agree or not on their decisions is a volunteer group. I know several members and I can tell you the time they devote to the City far exceeds what most people believe. It is a full time job and I have to continue to work to support my family like most of us. It would be gr8 if we had ad hoc groups like the housing element group that had continuous input and a real effect on major decisions. Novato needs a full time council and they should be paid for a full time job. Of course in this economic climate probably not in the cards in the near future. Until then we need the community at large to step up and be heard and counted. I thank you for your concern and sensible input. Regards...
Pam Drew August 13, 2012 at 09:42 PM
With regard to comments about this latest RHNA cycle when writing or speaking to the City Council, I would thank Pat Ekland for her continuing excellent oversight with regard to the methodology chosen and the numbers arrived at for this RHNA cycle. The results have been a huge improvement over the last cycle. The rest of the Council and staff, thankfully, are no longer totally rubber stamps for MTC/ABAG. Jeanne MacLeamy seems to be finding her way through the MTC/ABAG thicket. Madeline Kellner seems to be still operating in the touchy-feely PR realm of whether Novato is 'neighborly' enough rather than the hard financial calculations required to enable Novato to sustain and serve its present population plus a gradually growing new population, given our municipal budget difficulties. I'm not sure where Eric Lucan and Denise Athas will make their marks but, at the very least, they are paying attention. They may be susceptible to the influence of the Supervisors reaching down into Novato seeking to mold the town in a way which suits the career politicians' view of what Marin should look like. Novato needs to be given credit for its past excess contributions of low income housing which was classified as moderate housing since the former category had already been filled but that can be pointed out as a need for redress on an ongoing basis, not just in this comment period.

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