Novato Mayor and ABAG Executive Board Member Pat Eklund was the only Marin representative July 18 to abstain from voting for the approved Plan Bay Area at Oakland’s Marriot Hotel.
PBA is a proposed long-term regional plan meant to accommodate population growth over the next few decades while meeting state mandates for cutting air pollution and improving access to public transportation.
Resounding boos filled the ballroom Thursday evening as attendees walked through aisles toting signs reading “MTC don’t speak for me” and “Let us Vote!”
Oakland-based public transit advocacy group TransForm, also came out in full force, carrying yellow signs reading “Equity, Environment and Jobs” during a four-hour open forum, where about 200 Bay Area residents spoke.
“Out of all the nine counties, Marin is most engaged,” Eklund said, citing that more than 171 of the 400 written comments submitted Thursday night came from Marin residents.
ABAG and MTC are made up of 21 Bay Area county supervisors, mayors and other local leaders. Marin supervisors Steve Kinsey and Katie Rice voted in favor of PBA.
Eklund was voted to ABAG’s executive board to represent Marin’s cities in 2012. Of the 11 cities, Novato, Sausalito and Mill Valley’s councils voted in favor of PBA.
Eklund said she and Novato’s council voted in favor because, in doing so, Novato’s high density housing allocation dramatically decreased.
“Silicon Valley is really driving the economy of the San Francisco Bay Area,” she said. “It’s where the majority of growth is anticipated. When we voted for Plan Bay Area, our housing allocation went down to 417 for 2014-2022. That is a third of the previous allocation.”
Still, Eklund is representative of all 11 cities, and because the Corte Madera Council voted no and the remaining eight cities held no position on PBA, she opted to abstain from voting Thursday night.
Eklund also received a revised final Environment Impact Report just six days before the final joint meeting.
“We didn’t have enough time to work with our community members, stakeholders and 11 municipalities to resolve the issues,” she said. “The final EIR was seven volumes. Even on July 18, we were getting changes that we hadn’t even discussed.”
Citizen Marin: Not without a fight
Citizens Marin, the only Marin coalition against PBA, chartered a 48-passenger bus to the meeting, which accommodated hundreds of attendees with two speaker podiums facing the board.
Twenty-eight-year Mill Valley resident Susan Kirsch faced the ABAG and MTC board with a flock of PBA opponents at her side.
Kirsch, co-founder of Citizens Marin, demanded a right to vote and adamantly voiced her opposition to a plan, which she says “has been wrong from the beginning.”
“Our primary goal will be to inform, educate and support the leadership of local community groups through monthly meetings,” Kirsch said of the group’s future plans after the “disappointing” vote. “We’ll continue to offer occasional public programs and services like we’ve done in the past.”
The group is concerned the plan will bring overcrowded housing developments and will bypass local control over development. According to PBA, data suggests that over the next 30 years the region will attract another two million people.
“Citizen Marin will continue to weave connections with the 101 cities and nine counties, and with other groups who are equally, or even more severely, impacted by the draconian measures of [PBA],” Kirsch said.
Let us vote
Many opponents argued that because ABAG and MTC members were not voted to their positions by the public, they weren’t representative of their communities.
“We don’t want unelected groups making decisions and taking away the freedoms that make this country great,” said Marian Huffmaker.
A Bay Area man spoke of “a growing distrust of government” and a “sense of powerlessness,” while the San Francisco Charter of the Citizens Alliance for Property Rights President Mimi Steel pointed out the “illusion of public input” which she claimed had been ignored from the get-go.
“This is a disgrace,” Steel said. “What happened to freedom in the United States of America? It’s certainly not on display here.”
The silent majority
PBA supporters pushed for the opportunity to live in the cities in which they worked, an easy commute to work and the opportunity to raise families in a healthy environment.
Youth also spoke on behalf of low-income students who can’t afford bus passes to school, as well as two representatives of the American Lung Association and Marin resident John Reynolds who lives in the Canal neighborhood of San Rafael.
“We need a variety of people of color in the wider Marin area,” he said. “We’re all enriched when we do so.”
What is Plan Bay Area?
“I didn’t know anything about Plan Bay Area until two months ago and I’m a fairly informed person,“ Ken Smith said. His point resonated with the majority of the plan’s opponents.
Residents expressed fear that many are unaware of what PBA means, who runs the show and why the people feel left out.
Eklund argued that ABAG and MTC did a horrible job at reaching out to the public and elected officials but MTC spokesman John Goodwin said the federal government requires ABAG and MTC to update the plan every four years to keep up with shifting demographics and new data.
“There are no easy solutions in this plan but . . .this plan creates a way for the residents of the Bay Area to discuss our future openly,” said ABAG Executive Director Ezra Rapport.
Many attendees said the mandatory open forum was just a “venting session” and that the board “already made up their mind.”
As the hours passed, some board members faced the crowd attentively, while others mingled and Oakland Mayor Jean Quan took a short nap.
Some speakers also voiced concerns that the plan gave the government undue authority to dictate where and how communities are allowed to develop housing.
“It’s clearly a social engineering experiment,” Fairfax resident Kevin Krick said.
“Do you know how many people know about this plan?” Marin resident Nancy Okada asked. “Not many. But people do care. When I tell them about it, they’re outraged and they ask who gave ABAG and MTC such power!”
“There are many obstacles before the plan moves forward, with funding being a big one,” Kirsch said.
A handful of speakers asked the board about water and sewage options for the proposed increase in population by 2040.
Frank Eggers, president of the Ross Valley Sanitary District, asked the board if they were prepared to provide grants to fix Ross’ deteriorating infrastructure.
“It’s a failing system,” he said.
Marin Water Coalition member Kerry Stoebner asked where future water would come from.
According to the MTC, the plan is a “work in progress“that continues earlier efforts to “grow in a financially and environmentally responsible way.”
But Eklund argued that there are still a variety of unanswered questions.
“Where do we get money for schools, police, fire, public safety, water, sewer?,” she said. “There’s not enough money and [PBA] wants us to grow?”
PBA is responsible for blueprinting the region’s nine counties to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent by the year 2040, as required under state Senate Bill 375.
Some speakers praised the plan as it was originally presented, expressing hope that it will provide a wider variety of alternatives to congested Bay Area roadways, but others said the plan “doesn’t do enough to reduce greenhouse emissions.”
Kirsch believes the task should be left to the people.
“We would greatly reduce our carbon footprint by buying locally, reducing airline flights, encouraging carpools, improve freeways,” Kirsch said. “Support and celebrate reuse and recycling. Introduce more shuttles and reliance on smaller buses.”
“If this passes it’s taking away our property rights,” said a Berkeley woman. “It’s putting mom and pop shops out of business. Even as a hippie lefty, I’m not buying it.”
The plan sets to provide housing for residents of all income levels near transportation hubs, according to MTC and ABAG officials.
Dozens of people said they would support the plan as long as it included amendments to increase funding for affordable housing and public transit options – amendments that were adopted later in the meeting.
Novato Community Alliance member Trish Boorstein argued that “a truly sustainable plan would refurbish currently existing affordable housing.”
The next step
Thursday night’s vote came at the end of a three-year planning process involving the MTC, ABAG, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, the Bay Conservation and Development Commission and local communities and agencies.
Contact Nicole Baptista at firstname.lastname@example.org.