May 18--Concerned about a draft plan to concentrate future housing and business development near the proposed Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit station in Larkspur, more than 450 Marin residents gathered Saturday at Redwood High School to hear a critique of the project.
Loosely knit community groups Larkspur Fights Back and Marin Against Density hosted the event, which featured a presentation by former low-income housing developer and plan critic Bob Silvestri, of Mill Valley. He was in the company of countless fellow critics as many attendees wore red "Marin Against Density" shirts and signed a petition against the project.
After giving a short history of modern planning and affordable housing, Silvestri talked about Plan Bay Area -- a regional transportation and land use housing plan -- and then discussed the Larkspur SMART Station Area Plan. He said the plan's draft environmental impact report has misleading graphics that downplay the impacts of high-density development.
"This thing is so deficient under the California Environmental Quality Act. It's a badly written document," Silvestri said.
He said the plan will increase Larkspur's population by 17 percent, increase traffic by at least 28.5 percent and doesn't cite evidence as to why high-density development is good for the environment.
"The plan will increase greenhouse gases, air pollution and of course raises the cost of living and doing business," Silvestri said. "SMART is like the wine train. It goes from one suburban shopping center to another. Larkspur will never be a transit neighborhood."
Larkspur received $480,000 from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Association of Bay Area Governments in 2011 to create the plan, which is meant to increase transit ridership, increase affordable housing and jobs near transit, and decrease greenhouse gas emissions. Matching funds of $120,000 were provided by the city and partner agencies such as the Transportation Authority of Marin to create the plan.
It identifies seven possible sites for development in the station area, which encompasses about a half-mile radius around the proposed SMART station near Highway 101 and Marin Country Mart. Potential development includes 77,500 square feet of retail space, 60,000 square feet of hotel space, 39,500 square feet of office space and up to 920 dwelling units.
Larkspur City Councilman Kevin Haroff, who attended Saturday's meeting, said there's a public process the plan needs to go through before the City Council can vote on it. He said people should take it seriously and devote time to reading the actual planning documents.
"I'm personally confident the City Council will do the right thing at the end of the day, without prejudging what that right thing will be," Haroff said.
Silvestri said the transit-oriented, high-density plan doesn't fit Marin County. He said members of the public need to make sure the environmental impact report doesn't get certified by the city.
Larkspur resident Julie Leitzell, of Larkspur Fights Back, said it's up to residents to get involved and write letters to the City Council expressing concerns.
"I think most of our City Council members need support so they can push against this," Leitzell said.
Greenbrae resident Randy Mason said he's particularly concerned about traffic congestion as a result of the plan. He said the development would be out-of-character for Marin.
"If the Larkspur City Council approves this, then they're not representing the city," Mason said.
Larkspur released its draft plan and draft environmental impact report for the plan April 1. Comments on the draft report will be accepted until 5 p.m. June 2. Comments for its accompanying draft plan will be accepted beyond that date.
City officials will also hold a public hearing at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Hall Middle School, 200 Doherty Drive, to receive comments on the plan's draft environmental impact report. Comments made by the public about environmental issues will be responded to in the final environmental impact report, which won't be released for many months.
Haroff said he's well aware of the community's concerns, and believes Thursday is going to make for an interesting city meeting.
"I've been hearing a lot of what people have to say from a barrage of emails the city has received," Haroff said. "I'm hoping the focus of the public's participation on Thursday will be providing constructive comments on the environmental impact."
Contact Megan Hansen via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter at http://twitter.com/hansenmegan. Follow her blog at http://blogs.marinij.com/bureaucratsandbaking.
Copyright 2014 - The Marin Independent Journal, Novato, Calif.