Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Marin is Evil

From the Independent Journal:

Larkspur has real reason to fear rail-ferry link

By Dick Spotswood

One issue bedeviling the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit District is the poor connection between the proposed commuter line's south end and the Larkspur Ferry Terminal.

Plans for the Sonoma-to-Marin passenger train would locate its southern-most station next to the Marin Airporter parking lot behind Larkspur Landing's theater. That site requires either a brisk walk or a shuttle bus to cover the quarter mile from the end of track across busy Sir Francis Drake Boulevard to the ferry.

While workable, the connection is less than ideal. This mediocre connectivity isn't a result of SMART's bad planning. The rail agency is well aware that a seamless train-ferry link would be ideal for trans-bay commuters. Rather, the gap is solely because of Larkspur, which continues to refuse SMART permission to cross Sir Francis Drake Boulevard to access Golden Gate Ferry's terminal.

Larkspur's negative stance is due in good part to the philosophical opposition to SMART by veteran council members Ron Arlas and Joan Lundstrom, who firmly oppose the idea of North Bay rail transit. Yet Larkspur's professional staff also cites legitimate fears that a SMART-ferry connection would trigger onerous housing requirements by the Association of Bay Area Governments. That's enough to unite the city's five-member council to disallow a proper intermodal connection.

One provision of ABAG's famously complex "Regional Housing Needs Allocation Methodology" is designed to maximize residential development, both affordable and market rate, adjacent to multi-modal transit terminals. ABAG does so by assigning jurisdictions with these transit facilities a "double weighting." In Larkspur's case, if the rail-ferry connection were built, the regional agency requires the city to plan for 600 additional housing units, rather than 382 units if the connection isn't built.

In theory, it makes sense to encourage housing near transit facilities so that working residents are less dependent on single- passenger autos. Unfortunately, as implemented by ABAG, it's another instance of the ever-present law of unintended consequences.

Larkspur, faced with unattainable housing mandates, followed its parochial best interest by denying needed permission for the joint rail-ferry station. Stopping the train short of the ferry does two things. First, it puts the kibosh on the multi-modal facility that may trigger ABAG's mandates. Second, the quarter-mile rail-ferry connection might be just enough of an obstacle to kill SMART at the polls.

That's hardly the result ABAG envisioned. Given ABAG's inflexible cookie-cutter planning requirements, what else could Larkspur do? The city already has a fine record on affordable housing. It simply doesn't have the space without grievously altering its character to authorize additional homes to satisfy an abstract planning notion that doesn't fit this small town.

How much better if ABAG admitted that occasionally its best-laid plans cause unacceptable consequences. The regional agency needs to promptly modify procedures to allow flexibility to suspend their rules to meet real world facts on the ground. Then Larkspur should reciprocate by giving the OK to a joint rail-ferry station that benefits the entire North Bay.

Here's a somewhat more radical suggestion: local government, especially in hoity-toidy places like Marin (and quote a lot of San Mateo county, to be sure!) have places such a high value on ambiance, and shown such total disregard to the housing and transportation needs of the community at large, that they have lost the moral authority to do their own planning. So take it away from them.

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