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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.

M. Calwald August 08, 2012 at 07:33 PM
Good article Pam and thank you. I like Bob Ratto's unveiling above. The middle class is going away as we have to pay for everything (the poor don't pay taxes and the rich don't) so we will soon be so poor that we will not have to pay for this tax either.
Mick Orton August 08, 2012 at 08:19 PM
I am sick of unelected unaccountable bureaucracies looking for ways to take my hard earned money. This is outrageous. Once again, radicals are trying to find a way to force us into the cities and use mass transit. It's un-American and will not work. Like so many government programs the money will end up down another rat hole to pay for another bureaucrat's bloated salary, benefits and retirement package... while the rest of us go broke. We can end this if we call stand together and fight!
Tom James August 08, 2012 at 09:16 PM
Not only do I object to the power these unelected bureaucrats have, but what frosts be is the salaries they make. I made a decent salary but I worked seventy hours a week, seven days a week and provided jobs for over one hundred and thirty people. These highly paid bureaucrats have no accountability.
Roger August 09, 2012 at 12:20 AM
Pam, is Mimi correct that Novato Council has a 9/18/12 deadline to comment on ABAG's recent revised affordable housing allocation for our city? My memory is that ABAG gave Novato a smaller allocation this time (likely due to the vocal Novato opposing voters getting headlines). Is my memory correct? If the Council puts this topic on its agenda for the next meeting, will you be there to testify? I really appreciate seeing you on TV taking a stand for us who like the way Novato is now...not urban.
DRS August 09, 2012 at 05:23 AM
Roger, we need more people to get involved. Pam etc. has done a wonderful job, yet there is power in numbers. Bureaucrats are burying us in paperwork and it is hard to keep up with it all, but Pam etc. have done a good job but could use your help too. Our government is counting on apathy and slipping things by us. How about starting with writing a letter to the editor in the IJ or Novato Advance or a Blog on Patch? I have read some of your comments and you appear to have a good head on your shoulders. This tax is out of control. Big Brother is out of control. This insanity must stop and we must vote for better people than what we have now.
Pam Drew August 10, 2012 at 12:24 AM
Thank you for your interest. For the record, I believe global warming is happening and I believe judicious government intervention can be reasonable, if genuine collaboration with the people is undertaken. The key words are judicious and reasonable. I simply do not believe a massive new building stimulus to plaster the nine Bay Area counties with high density apartments will reduce greenhouse gases. The OneBayArea recipe attracts a great many more people and more industry here than would have located here otherwise, so it increases congestion AND greenhouse gases. Older metropolitan statistical areas do not ordinarily exhibit the growth rate which is being predicted. Greenwash produced by politicians is not concern for the planet. Propaganda produced by non-profit and for-profit corporations is simply propaganda. Citizens should not be battered by their own governments.
Eleanor Sluis August 10, 2012 at 12:57 AM
Keep calm and carry on, Pam. Thanks for your insights. Novato needs at least 7000 voters to change the way the city does business in the next election. Pensions, maintenance, buildings, and types of businesses are important issues for the candidates next year. Mission Lodge and its impacts, Redwood Blvd., property and sales taxes and changes to low-density, low-income housing are other important issues, as well as the One-Bay Area’s vehicle miles driven taxes. The city council could use support in addressing these issues with setting priorities for the Measure F tax, as well as solutions that include the minority opinions. In England, that would be the backbenchers offering advice and getting supporters for their programs. Winston Churchill and other leaders did this, can Novato?
Tina McMillan August 10, 2012 at 03:13 AM
Our regional agencies, under the auspices of SB37, believe that building low income housing along transportation corridors and monitoring motorists with a vehicle mileage tax that provides almost $6 billion dollars a year in revenue, is the bay area solution to global warming. One step would be to ask for legislation revisiting the means of achieving the goals set in SB375 so that we focus on reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and increasing the ability of cars to travel long distances on cleaner fuels. We already have the technology to do both these things. Why then, do the regional agencies choose to take a complex, fiscally punitive and job destroying route instead? Right now everything we are discussing begins and ends with SB375. The catch phrases are good planning, sustainable communities, infill development, underutilized land, employment centers, high density, mixed use, and viable and livable communities. Unfortunately everything about these new plans will degrade the quality of life in the bay area because not a single strategy focuses on creating and maintaining jobs. Much like the subprime mortgage crash, if we don't create jobs first, housing is a moot point and if we are only creating housing for the poor, then who will pay the tax increases created by the regional agencies to fund the development?
Roger August 10, 2012 at 03:21 AM
DRS, I have testified at Council meetings before on affordable housing. One has to have thick skin though when speaking up on that hot topic because activists tend to paint to all opponents with a broad brush with emotional name-calling, such as racists or NIMBY or old white people. The IJ in the past hasn't painted Novato in a nice light when it comes to our debate on affordable housing mandates. But you have a point...that is no reason to be silent if one really cares about keeping Novato non-urban.
Tina McMillan August 10, 2012 at 03:22 AM
continued Fundamentally the five regional agencies want more money in order to implement their idea of bay area appropriate future land use, housing and transportation planning. In their vision, rural and suburban areas will transition to open space and all new housing will be developed in close proximity to public transportation. They will not be able to justify forcing only poor families to live along the freeway while their wealthier counterparts live in homes surrounded by hills and trees. Eventually all new development will be along transportation corridors. The choice to live in a rural or suburban environment will be seen as "unsustainable" and/or "elitist". The vision of the regional agencies will control all new development based on the premise of control over global warming. One solution is to dismantle the regional agencies or, at the very least, tether the damage being done in the name of global warming, by rewriting legislation associated with SB375.
rpd August 10, 2012 at 06:07 AM
roger, you are correct. the activists will slander you if you challenge their agenda. that is part of their dirty tricks. they intimidate and start the name calling etc. they take classes on it and the same tactics are used nationwide. if you have a different view you are automatically "intolerant", "hate the poor" etc etc . they are the ones that are intolerant. i am in love with pam drew because she has the brains and the balls to speak up and fight for novato. i will help her so she doesn't have to fight alone. anyone want to join me? pam can you tell us more about nca and how we can get involved to push back against onebayarea?
Trish Boorstein August 10, 2012 at 07:18 PM
Count me in!! I don't care if I have to get up and rap a song to deliver the message! Council and Staff need to hear at the podium or get letters from as many different Novato residents as possible. I belong to NCA and drive around with two magnets on both car doors with a bumper sticker in the back, just to try to let people know that we exist and connect them to our website.
Mimi Steel August 11, 2012 at 12:35 AM
Roger, I have an email from one of the planners at ABAG who confirmed that the comments were technically due on September 18 but probably would not be considered unless they were in by September 10. I have details of the numbers and suggestions for how citizens can fight back (many city councils/mayors do not have the guts to stand up) You can go here to check out the details: http://www.bayarealiberty.com/libertyblog/?page_id=524
Pam Drew August 11, 2012 at 03:43 PM
Dear rpd and all, Your enthusiasm is contagious. Infect your whole neighborhood with the urge to participate in local decisions. If you want to join NCA, find us on the web at www.nca4bh.org. Do not, however join online because we currently have a glitch which is not accepting people's membership forms. Instead, once you know what we are about, send your contact information to novatoalliance@gmail.com or mail it to Novato Community Alliance, P.O. Box 385, Novato, CA 94948. We'll send you a membership form. Even though PlanBayArea (campaign name for OneBayArea's plan being debated) now recognizes a considerable and growing doubt among the people about OBA's legitimacy, you are better off to contact your council members and your local media early and often about those doubts. Contacting OBA is like dropping a stone in the ocean.
Roger August 11, 2012 at 04:18 PM
For 2014 - 22, ABAG wants Novato to build 111 very-low-income units and 65 low-income units. Pam, what key points are in NCA's comment letter to the Council? If the Council puts their draft reply to ABAG on their meeting agenda, I will only have a few minutes to speak, so my message points and justification will have to be very concise. Does NCA suggest alternative numbers? I supsect San Rafael will again try to shift half their allotment onto Novato as in the last cycle.
Mimi Steel August 11, 2012 at 04:44 PM
Roger My opinion is that all cities should challenge to whole premise of RHNA {regional housing needs allocation}. What right does the State have to dictate these number4s { they give thee allocation to ABAG which then distributes them}. As long as we accept the premise then the cities that scream the loudest dump their alloocation on others. If your city council is not helpful, I think Pam,s group should send a citizens petition to ABAG and go around the city council. Many of these elected officials are tone deaf
Tina McMillan August 11, 2012 at 04:48 PM
San Rafael can try but will likely be rejected because they took money from MTC in exchange for declaring two sites for Priority Development Areas (PDA's). Our numbers were recently lowered when the city council challenged ABAG which is why we only have 411 units going in for the new cycle. See recent letter from council to ABAG. http://www.abag.ca.gov/planning/housingneeds/pdfs/comments/7-2-12_RHNA%20Comments_Novato.pdf Does anyone know if the new senior apartments going in where the Lodge sits at Diablo and Redwood, include low income as part of our RHNA?
Roger August 11, 2012 at 05:14 PM
Kevin made a good point today about Marin transit: "Marin lost 9% of all jobs between 2000 and 2009. Marin's population growth is nearly zero. I think 'building for the next wave of Marin residents' is just a way to continue building in Marin. Jobs are not coming to Marin in large numbers. The SFD lots are gone. You think there will be more government jobs in Marin? Not with the pension mess we are in." I think ABAG just wants to transplant distant commuters closer to SF, like young professionals living in condos at ends of DC's metro lines.
Lloyd August 11, 2012 at 05:42 PM
The RHNA numbers do more then dictate low income housing. Their moderate and above moderate number dictates are really market rate housing in many areas like Novato. They are attempting to force us to build high density market-rate housing which is a developers wet dream. The issues of jobs and local social & safety services don't enter their equation. Simply put they want to socialize the population in cattle car housing. The importation of new residents w/o systemic support proves they are attempting to push real economic and social issues literally down the imagined to be tracks. We should resist the entire process. Real Affordable Housing for working class and seniors should be locally planned and maybe then actually built. Sacramento, ABAG/MTC, HCD and all its acronyms and vassals are a failed broken system that hasn't worked to date and never will. It only serves to divide the population so we aren't really keeping our eye on the real problems that need solutions. It is a toxic smoke screen.
Mimi Steel August 11, 2012 at 09:59 PM
What is happening through the RHNA is this Regional Equity Movement who's second objective is to force high density low income housing in to suburbs that undermines the quality of life in the suburbs. Power is going to REGIONAL GOVERNMENTS (ABAG-MTC). Regional Government is NOT self government. I recommend everyone check out Stanley Kurtz's new book: Spreading the Wealth: How Obama is Robbing the Suburbs to Pay for the Cities You can listen to an interview with Kurtz here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mIh1nv3mEdA
Tired August 11, 2012 at 10:37 PM
Y'all are working yourselves into a frenzy for no reason. Our numbers are extremely low compared to historical population growth, and I'd much rather have homes to accommodate our natural pop growth in center of town then peppering Mount Burdell or continuing suburban sprawl. No one is kicking you out of your homes in the burbs, just offering condos for your adult kids (or your aging parents) so they can afford to stay in Novato.
Mimi Steel August 11, 2012 at 11:01 PM
If the market dictates that those condos should be built, that's fine. But the deal is that these projects are all subsidized by the taxpayers. They must include a certain percentage of "affordable units"(another subsidy), and they are exempted or fast tracked from CEQA (environmental requirements). So what is really going on here? It sounds nice that adult kids can afford to stay in Novato...so why does ABAG have to dictate those numbers? Because they most probably would not be built if it were up to the market and profitable for the builder. As to sprawl, I'd rather have sprawl than stack & pack. Sorry you don't want Mount Burdell peppered with housing but if it not your property it is NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS
Lloyd August 11, 2012 at 11:29 PM
Tired if only that were true. It isn't the numbers in this allocation that are the problem. I'm not saying I agree one way or the other in that regard. My problem is the process ABAG, MTC and HCD use to cede control from local government in favor of developers. If you haven't noticed the only time real AH is actually built is with the cooperation, local planning, and needed resources by that community to make a project workable. This system of allocation is a complete sham. Developers do not integrate low income into their developments. They look to find senior housing or fee out of actual building or donate a less desirable piece of land to intentionally avoid placing any AH in their project.The result is a failure to provide for the real needs. My children or yours won't find any affordable housing in Novato. This is an ingoing failure. We would do a lot better designing our own housing element to help those young working families in our community and actually have a stake in seeing the project actually built using our towns needs, values and compassion.
Tina McMillan August 11, 2012 at 11:29 PM
There is no way to guarantee that units designated for affordable housing will be offered to family members or even Novato residents. It is not about being kicked out of one's home but about allowing local planning to designate housing needs. Right now our schools can not afford to operate in part because our property taxes don't cover the cost without additional funds from the state. Homewardbound purchased property near Hamilton to build extremely low income transitional family housing. This property wont pay property taxes because it is owned by a nonprofit but it will house children that will go to the local school. "Homeward Bound of Marin has purchased a site in southern Novato where it plans to build 12 to 14 two-bedroom homes that it will rent to low-income, formerly homeless Marin families with children." Though they will prioritize homeless families working in Novato they will still not cover the cost of educating students. Hamilton is already impacted in that it serves a large population of ELL and ED students and is in its second year of Program Improvement. Novato is providing a significantly higher percentage of affordable housing than its southern Marin counterparts at a greater cost due to lower property taxes. How long can Novato do this with a structural budget deficit in the millions without having to cut services? http://www.marinij.com/novato/ci_20911953/homeward-bound-buys-land-novato-build-housing-homeless
SHROYER FOR SUPERVISOR 2014 August 12, 2012 at 12:20 AM
Both Kinsey and Arnold have stated they are against VMT. We also need to know what the other three supervisors stance is. Hopefully Kinsey and Arnold will be very vocal against this issue and be advocates for the people.
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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