Frustrated with having little control or say in housing requirements imposed by the Association of Bay Area Governments, Corte Madera’s Town Council voted 4-1 late on March 6 to remove the town from ABAG.

The withdrawal will be effective July 1, 2013.

It’s a move that even town officials admit is more of a political statement than a strategic step — ABAG will continue to distribute housing allocations to Corte Madera and the town must still meet those numbers.

“I feel withdrawing form ABAG will draw the attention of other cities in Marin County,” said Councilwoman Carla Condon.

Condon said she’d like to have all the cities in Marin form a separate sub-region — or a new council of government (COG) — that receives housing requirements directly from the state, bypassing ABAG.

ABAG roles

Corte Madera pays an annual $2,349 membership fee to be in ABAG.

The joint powers agency formed in 1961 is composed of 101 cities and towns within nine counties: Alameda, Contra Coasta, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano and Sonoma.

A staff report prepared by Corte Madera Town Attorney Jeffrey Walter said it was unclear if withdrawing from the organization would mean the town couldn’t receive grants via ABAG. The report says the town has never received grants or financial assistance from ABAG that it didn’t pay for.

According to Walter’s report, ABAG provides supportive services to members, including planning and outreach. It can make grants to local municipalities for such projects and acts as a clearinghouse for federal grant applications. It also works with the California Transportation Commission and the State Air Resources Board to coordinate transportation and land use planning to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Membership in ABAG is voluntary, and the last city to withdraw from ABAG was Pleasant Hill in the 1980s, although the town ultimately rejoined.

Fairfax withdrew from ABAG seven years after it first joined in 1964, but rejoined the organization in 1973.

More recently, the Pinole City Council unanimously decided to end its ABAG membership in July 2011, but it rescinded its withdrawal two months later. The council had argued small cities didn’t have much influence with ABAG, even though Pinole had received several grants from ABAG for public projects.

“If Corte Madera were to withdraw from ABAG, Corte Madera might not have the opportunity to provide ABAG with input about how its housing allocations should be measured at this early stage in the process,” the town staff report said.

“We do lose a seat at the table, but we don’t have one now,” said Corte Madera Mayor Bob Ravasio. “I’m not one for making political statements, but in this case, let’s do it. I think we are starting the momentum.”

In a prepared statement, Mark Luce, ABAG president and Napa County supervisor, said the organization is disappointed the Corte Madera council voted to withdraw. “We understand their frustrations and the challenges associated with state housing mandates. We believe that the collaboration that exists through ABAG is the most constructive approach to addressing these issues … We hope to discuss this further with Corte Madera and persuade them of the value of our continued collaboration.”

Public compliments council

Many of the 10 or so Marin residents who spoke during public comment were from outside Corte Madera and spoke warmly in support of the council.

Councilman Michael Lappert said he was in favor of getting ABAG to “unjustify its existence.”

Mill Valleyan Susan Kirsch applauded the council’s withdrawing from ABAG. “I’m pleased you have the courage to bring this forward.”

“Local control is what it’s all about,” said San Rafael’s Ray Lorber.

Vice Mayor Diane Furst said ABAG has taken a “180 turn” since it was formed. “We need to ban together against ABAG. I love the idea of a Marin COG, but I think it’s a long shot.”

Lappert criticized ABAG for being made up of “unelected people’ with “no checks” and “no balances.”

Councilwoman Alexandra Cock said that while “it’s evident to everyone on the council I have no problem making a statement,” she wanted whatever the council decided “to be effective.”

She called for Corte Madera to create a subcommittee to lobby other Marin cities to pursue the COG idea. “I don’t like backpedaling.”

The council directed staff to plan the next steps it would take for rallying other Marin towns.

Marin leaders have mixed reactions

Two Novato council members, Councilwoman Madeline Kellner and Mayor Denise Athas, said they would need more information on the situation before they could comment on Corte Madera’s move.

“We would need to get more background on this before we would take any action in this regard, including the pros and cons of creating our own council of governments here in Marin,” Kellner wrote in an e-mail to Marinscope Newspapers.

Sausalito Councilwoman Linda Pfeifer said she had been pushing to get the issue on the Sausalito agenda so residents could learn the pros and cons. “It’s no secret I’ve been disappointed in ABAG’s methodology for calculating affordable-housing allocations; the expectations are unrealistic for a small town like Sausalito.”

Sausalito Mayor Mike Kelly said that while he understood the frustrations with ABAG, he’d rather see Sausalito work “through the system and not outside of it. I think the consequences of not being represented in ABAG could be severe. We need to have say in how those numbers are divided.”

Contact Jessica Mullins at jmullins@marinscope.com.

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