SCA Letter to TAM for 1/23/14 Board Meeting

January 4, 2014

Dianne Steinhauser, PE
Executive Director
Transportation Authority of Marin
781 Lincoln Avenue, Suite 160
San Rafael, CA  94901


Subject:           Strawberry Priority Development Area
Board Meeting on January 23, 2014

Dear Ms. Steinhauser:

The Strawberry Community Association is a recently-formed, not-for-profit California corporation. It was created by Strawberry residents to protect what we believe is the vision of the majority of our neighbors: a residential community with a mix of housing types; a thriving neighborhood school; an array of publicly owned and operated recreational opportunities (such as our community pool, tennis courts, indoor gymnasium and playing fields); and a highly regarded theological seminary.  This vision is codified in the Strawberry Community Plan, adopted by the neighborhood and ratified by the Board of Supervisors.

Two recent decisions by the Board of Supervisors threaten that vision.  First, the Board has refused to allow its 2007 decision creating a large “priority development area” (PDA) to be revisited – or even discussed – now that its implications for planning and development are becoming known.  Second, the Fall 2013 update to the County’s Housing Element allows a 30 unit per acre density on two (as yet unidentified) acres of the Seminary, with an affordable housing overlay that disregards, and apparently supersedes, the Strawberry Community Plan.

It is our understanding that the Transportation Authority of Marin (TAM) was not responsible for either of those decisions.  However, at two recent Board of Supervisors meetings Supervisor Kate Sears and Supervisor Judy Arnold stated that the TAM board on January 23 will discuss priority development areas and re-designating grant money from jurisdictions that dropped out of the program, and that the matter of the Strawberry PDA would be discussed there.

The Strawberry community has a keen interest in this topic.  Last year many of us discovered that much of Strawberry had, with little public fanfare, been included in the County’s 101 corridor PDA back in 2007.  We also learned that areas classified as PDAs were expected to absorb substantial shares of the growth in both jobs and housing forecast to occur over the next 30 years.  Finally, we learned that of the $10M in One Bay Area Grants (OBAG) funds made available to TAM by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) in Cycle 2 (FY 2012-13 thru FY 2015-16), Tam had allocated $175,000 for a preliminary design study of improvements to the Tiburon Blvd. overpass across Highway 101. This amount is sufficient to fund only a portion of the planning study, and doesn’t begin to cover the cost of actual construction.  So, while it’s possible that the TAM meeting may result in changing the funding for Strawberry, and you might think the Strawberry residents would support the idea of reallocating these OBAG funds in the hope of increasing our share as one of the few remaining PDAs, we have two concerns.

First, a significant percentage of Strawberry itself has actively requested to be removed from the County PDA.  Over 700 Strawberry residents have signed a petition making that request of Supervisor Sears, and hundreds of residents showed up at a community meeting to support that request.  As mentioned above, Supervisor Sears has so far persuaded her colleagues to keep the topic off the Board’s agenda, despite Strawberry residents and supporters appearing before the Board at over 10 consecutive meetings to ask for re-consideration.  But we intend to continue to press our case, including at the TAM January 23 meeting, which is where we’ve been directed. (Please see attached article)   Residents of Strawberry would like to be clear to Supervisor Sears, the Board of Supervisors, and TAM that we are not volunteering for this “voluntary” program, we are not seeking additional funds if they are tied to a PDA designation, and our intent is that Strawberry not be a focal point of development in Marin going forward.

The second concern is that we believe regional grant funds should not be used as a disciplinary tool or in a vindictive way.  Under your leadership, TAM implemented a process to evaluate a large number of projects against a uniform set of criteria.  Ultimately, this led to the 19 projects TAM funded in Cycle 2.  Many of these were in, or linked to, PDAs.  But several were not.  All were evaluated on their merits.  For example, there is widespread recognition that the traffic along Highway 1 at Tam Junction is dreadful.  That reality is not going to improve by withholding the $175,000 allocated to a study of that problem and shifting it somewhere else.

Similarly, when we do persuade the Supervisors to revisit Strawberry’s status as a PDA, improvements for safe bicycle access across the Highway 101 overpass remains a worthwhile project.  We don’t see why funds aimed at creating a safe route to Mill Valley Middle School across a major freeway should be trimmed back just because Strawberry residents oppose a novel land use designation with uncertain consequences applied to their neighborhood.

(It would be helpful if TAM staff could provide more information about the Highway 101 overpass project than is contained in the materials currently available.  Specifically, what are the goals of the planning effort?  Does it include auto passage as well as bike and pedestrian improvements?  What is the projected share of planning budget assigned to each?  When will an estimate of construction costs and a rough construction schedule be available?)

Finally, it is important that we all share a basic understanding:

1. There is no legal necessity to take previously committed funds away from projects that TAM considered meritorious simply because the area in which the projects are located are no longer designated as PDA’s.  Deducting the value of the projects in the North Civic Center ($650,000) and Tam/Almonte ($175,000) from the total “OBAG Funds in PDA” ,and following MTC’s directive on the 50/50 allocation of $2,341,000 OBAG Planning Funds, shows that as of now TAM has programmed 61.5% of OBAG grant funds to PDA-linked projects. This is well above the MTC requirement of 50%.

2. If Strawberry were to be similarly removed from the County PDA, that percentage would drop only slightly, to 59.8%. We are grateful to members of TAM’s staff for providing assistance in these calculations, which are shown on the attached page, and which, as we understand them, show that deleting Strawberry will not compromise TAM’s compliance with the MTC requirement.

We would appreciate if you would see that this letter and its attachments are included in the agenda packet, which we understand will be distributed to all TAM board members on January 9.

Strawberry Community Association

Robert Martyn, President                                   Julie Brown, Secretary