According to FOCUS, a partnership of the four agencies (MTC, ABAG, BCDC and BAAQMD) behind the concept:
“A PDA is a Priority Development Area. Priority Development Areas (PDAs) are locally-identified, infill development opportunity areas within existing communities. They are generally areas of at least 100 acres where there is local commitment to developing more housing along with amenities and services to meet the day-to-day needs of residents in a pedestrian-friendly environment served by transit. To be eligible to become a PDA, an area had to be within an existing community, near existing or planned fixed transit or served by comparable bus service, and planned for more housing.”
This suggests that Strawberry, through its elected representative, Supervisor Kate Sears, has volunteered itself to be a target for high density intensive development. In fact, Strawberry believes that by far the majority of residents oppose this designation, and that volunteering the area represents a significant departure from effective representation. It recognizes that there are substantial external, non-local pressures from outside Marin County that may cause PDA designation to appear desirable. The Strawberry Community Association is convinced that, in the case of Strawberry, the downsides of PDA status outweigh any tangible benefits and seeks to restore local control and representation.
What a PDA is and is Not
It is important to understand that a PDA by itself does not authorize building, planning or zoning. It is a funding designation whereby an area will receive additional transportation grant funding to support the increased development. However the inclusion of areas in Strawberry in the County Housing Element do allow the process of adding high density development to proceed further through the process. The further these plans get the harder they are to stop.
During the current grant cycle (FY2012/13 through FY2015/16), the Transportation Authority of Marin (TAM) can expect to receive about $10 million in “One Bay Area” grants from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC). About $3 million of that amount is set aside for TAM for “planning.” The remainder is to be allocated to specific transportation-related projects, some of which were proposed by the County or individual cities, and others of which are chosen by TAM directly. MTC requires that at least 50% of the total be directed to projects either in, or closely linked to, Priority Development Area (PDAs). In November 2012, TAM’s board of directors allocated about $9 million of these grant funds among 19 projects. One of these (chosen by TAM itself) is $175,000 for planning studies on bike and pedestrian improvements at the Tiburon Blvd./East Blithedale overpass across Highway 101. This amount will barely cover the costs of preliminary planning; they don’t come close to covering the cost of actually constructing the overpass improvements. The amount of grant funds that will be made available by MTC to TAM in the next four-year cycle (FY2016/17 thru 2019/20), or how TAM will choose to allocate them, is not known.
Obligations of a PDA
Mayor Gary Phillips, elected leader of Marin’s largest city, covers the obligations and responsibilities of PDAs very articulately in this video:
He states that PDAs do not address affordable housing. He voices significant concern of impact of the proposed development on local schools – and that this is the tipping point that led him to vote to rescind the Civic Center PDA. He states that the city will not lose significant funding by rescinding one of two of San Rafael’s PDAs.
Mayor Phillips states the PDA creates an expectation, it defies logic that substantial money will be put into an area without consequences. He conveys “it’s not good faith”. A developer can use acceptance of PDA designation and funds as leverage to succeed in obtaining permission to develop. Phillips’ considerations included the following:
- Schools are already at maximum capacity, PDAs are a negative factor on schools.
- Funding is more appropriate in already urbanized downtown areas such as downtown San Rafael.
- There are a lot of unknowns with PDAs. Better to wait until the implications of PDAs are more clearly known.
- There are strings attached to PDAs, but you can’t see them.