Nov. 14—Sausalito residents poured into the City Council chambers this week to show their support, or disdain, for the ferry landing redesign.
The occasion was an appeal hearing Monday night to affirm, modify or reverse the Planning Commission's recommendation on the plans approved Sept. 13. For over almost three and a half hours, residents listened to presentations from city staffers and the appellants, and to public comments.
The City Council voted unanimously to modify the commission's plan to be more in line with the appellants' suggestions.
Forty-two residents filed the appeal in late September. The appellants included eight former council members and two architects from the original design group, according to a staff report.
The appellants argued that the plan originally submitted to the City Council last year was the safer option for bicyclists, pedestrians and vehicle traffic because it reduces congestion and expands the plaza area more.
Sausalito ferry plaza overhaul challenged by residents
"There's all sort of conflict and confusion in the Planning Commission's plan," appellant Peter Van Meter said. "This is the gateway to Sausalito, this is what makes a difference in our town."
Kevin McGowan, public works director and city engineer, led the city's presentation. He said a plan presented to the council in March 2022 split the line of pedestrians and cyclists waiting for the ferry in different directions. The council advised the designers to present it to the planning commissioners, who were concerned about the line of cyclists in front of the Sausalito Yacht Club, access to Gabrielson Park and parking losses.
The plan was edited to have both pedestrians and cyclists line up in the same direction, with a divider and signage. Other changes included closing Tracy Way to support bicycle parking and queuing; adding a sidewalk on the east side; and limiting the loss of parking spots to 14. The Planning Commission approved this plan in a 3-2 vote.
McGowan said the key differences between the plans were congestion and parking. In the original plan, there was less congestion but slightly more impact on parking. The approved plan has more congestion but 2% less parking.
Also, under the approved plan, all the trees would be cut down between the parking lot and Gabrielson Park.
"People in the park are going to look out to asphalt," Van Meter said.
Several council members asked about funding. The $2.4 million project is funded by a Federal Transit Administration grant administered by the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District. McGowan noted in his presentation that the city has had to ask for an extension twice, and that any more delay in the project is risky.
McGowan said the budget and cost analysis were done around seven years ago, and the cost of construction in particular has increased severely. The original plan came in $550,000 over budget, while the Planning Commission's approved plan was $110,000 over. The city has already spent $360,000 on design plans, according to McGowan.
He said both plans — the original and the approved plan — fit the state grant requirements as well as city parking ordinances.
Many residents backed the appeal, saying the appellants' modified plan made the most sense for the future of the city.
"I'm in support of the ferry landing appeal," resident Mary Foust said. "The Sausalito waterfront, as we stated, is our most important asset and has suffered difference to automobile, special interests and piecemeal planning."
"The Sausalito waterfront is one of our premier assets," resident Carolyn Revelle wrote in a letter to council members. "We should take advantage of the FTA grant to move forward with designing a place for visitors and residents to enjoy — a place to sit in the shade and enjoy the city view, to stroll while eating an ice cream cone without dodging bicycles, a place that gives priority to people not cars."
"This is an opportunity to be visionary," resident Mary Griffin said. "And we've waited so many years to do it."
Some residents took issue with the process that led to the approved plan, citing the extent of the changes made by the Planning Commission and confusion regarding the plan.
"The process that got us here has been really bungled," resident Sandra Bushmaker said.
"I don't think the Planning Commission should be redesigning projects," resident Steven Woodside said.
While there was some debate about a ferry queue in front of the Sausalito Yacht Club, the appellants and board members offered to work together to come up with a solution. Still, some residents worried about the safety of the proposal.
"Why would anybody support a measure where people and bikes are waiting across a driveway for cars entering a parking lot," resident Deidre Kernan wrote. "That is just an accident waiting to happen."
Jeff Scharosch, a Sausalito restaurateur, said he came to the meeting opposed to the appeal. Parking, he said, is always a sticking point. However, after listening to both presentations, he decided that neither design made sense. He decided the council should revisit the design plans to come up with something better.
"A lot of the things weren't really vetted out properly in either plan," Scharosch said. "I think we just need to go back to the drawing board. I'm looking at both plans on the screens and thinking, these aren't working, we can do better."
Michael Rex, an appellant who is an architect, said the meeting and positive public response was inspiring to him.
"The public came out in force to support vision and sound planning to improve our town," Rex said. "That's a wonderful occurrence. Instead of fighting, there was a strong support for something beautiful, and that gets me excited."
The plan will be returned to SWA Design for continued work at the cost of $10,000. A revised plan based on community comments and the appeal will be presented to the City Council on at its Dec. 19 meeting.
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