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May 30th marked the first and last debate where County Supervisors, Steve Kinsey of Marin and Marc Luce of Napa, touted as Plan Bay Area experts, failed to defend Plan Bay Area's ability to reduce Green House Gases and increase the supply of Affordable Housing throughout the Bay Area.

     While Luce was primarily worried that No Plan equaled another law suit against Napa that would result in the state mandating areas to be developed, Kinsey took personally the fact that constituents that filled the room did not agree with his view that Plan Bay Area had the answers Marin needed to keep needy families from living anywhere near open space or agricultural land and instead designated growth to occur along the freeway where it wouldn't interfere with nature.

 


     Kinsey did not appear to realize how bigoted this notion of new growth in Marin occuring in Planned Development Areas (PDA's) appears, when you consider how long and hard he has fought to keep new families from enjoying the same liberties that his family has had in the past. What is it that makes Kinsey think that all the existing open space needs to be bought up by the government to prevent single family homes from being developed?  Is it really that toxic to Marin to have all families, even those of poorer immigrants, able to choose to live closer to nature?  Can Kinsey possibly think that every new Marin County resident wants to live nearer the freeway and suffer the hardship of poor air quality and noise? 

     What is even more odd is that Kinsey appears to think of himself as some sort of champion of the poor as he took a cheap shot at Rubin who pointed out the folly of putting immigrants into what becomes second class housing based on its design and location.  The audience would not be fooled by this slight of word, and had clearly been reading about the recent riots in Sweden that were based in segregation of immigrants to high density public housing, without education or jobs to provide a chance at a better life. If all Kinsey has to offer his constituents is more parks to visit rather than land to call a real home he may well be facing a recall like the one issued against Susan Adams.

     An onlooker would think that after months of information meetings, planning sessions and Pro Plan Bay Area presentations both Supervisor's Kinsey and Luce would be well prepared to discuss the positive contributions that Plan Bay Area would make toward Green House Gas (GHG) reduction and the creation of a wide range of Affordable Housing opportunities in the nine Bay Area counties per SB375.

     Instead opponents pointed out and both supervisors acknowledged, that Plan Bay Area will in fact make housing less affordable to those most needy.  In its worst incarnation it will increase the price of single family homes because they are what people moving to the suburbs most want.  It will also eliminate  much of the existing affordable housing in so called "blighted areas" to build new multifamily units in which neighbor's will be stacked and packed to meet the goal of putting as many people into as small a space as possible to be nearer public transportation that is even more unlikely to be used.

     Randall O'Toole, Cato Institute Senior Fellow with a focus on urban growth, public land and transportation issues joined Thomas Rubin, Reason Foundation Author and mass transit consultant in an articulate, informative presentation on the false assumptions behind Plan Bay Area and the top down regional planning model used by ABAG and MTC to meet the goals driven by AB32 and SB375.

     O'Toole and Rubin both concluded that Green House Gas reduction was already on target to meet or exceed SB375 goals as a result of federal laws that made cars and light trucks less polluting. They each were able to show that if Plan Bay Area was implemented the cost would far exceed the benefits associated with the Plan because it would only reduce GHG's by less than 1%.  In many ways the actual new construction and the demolition of existing single family homes would create more GHG's than it saved. 

     Each time O'Toole or Rubin would present facts that challenged the notions behind Plan Bay Area, Kinsey would complain that he was not changing any minds tonight and reminded the audience that his girlfriend of thirty years,  felt he was "good enough" and so Plan Bay Area should be treated with the same logic. If this is the best that Kinsey can do in a true debate about regional planning then his constituents should be concerned that a man with so little knowledge, has so very much control.

     Luce, unlike Kinsey, seemed to recognize some shortcomings associated with Plan Bay Area but continued to focus on the law suits that affected Napa and the need to be in compliance with the regional agencies or risk losing even more control. His arguments were not so much in favor of the so called benefits of the plan as much as fear of the consequences of No Plan or being out of compliance all together. He seemed frustrated but unlike Kinsey repeatedly tried to explain how important the current level of control is compared to what it had been like in the past.

     A cursory internet review showed a 2004 law suit by Public Advocates Inc. and California Rural Legal Assistance, against the city of Napa with a stipulated judgement where Napa had to pay their opponents legal fees, make provisions for low income housing for farm workers, identify and rezone for affordable housing, allocate trust funds for affordable housing, and make changes to their general plan.  The court also ordered a moratorium on all new development until this case was resolved and there is a second case pending appeal by Latinos Unidos.

     It is no wonder that Luce is running scared given the fact that the numbers associated with the housing that was part of the law suit later turned out to be incorrect.  Luce said that it didn't matter that ABAG had messed up the RHNA as the court only cared about compliance with the laws.

     Luce and Kinsey appeared focused on the idea that no housing should be developed on agricultural land or open space, regardless of the design, the desire or the demand. This theme appears central to many politicians who seem to value land purchased by the government to prevent people from living closer to nature.  Why is it that two county supervisors both somehow see it as reasonable to prevent families now moving to the region from having the same opportunties to live in a single family home as the existing families that live here. If Marin were to allow more development of market rate single family homes then prices would drop. 

     The very fact that Plan Bay Area further limits the development of single family homes is one reason why it will make it even harder for lower income families to find places to purchase or rent. This is why so many people that work in Marin live as far north as Windsor and east in Vallejo and in other regions where they can own a home on some land and fullfill what has been for decades the American Dream.

     The debate continued with the audience showing a clear preference for the statements made by O'Toole and Rubin.  Both speakers were passionate about their perspective on regional planning.  O'Toole's clearly believes that the more government takes a top down approach to regional planning the less viable the plan will be economically and in design. O'Toole kept pointing out the obvious which is that just because the government says you should want to live along the freeway doesn't make the freeway a place that you would want to live.

     Rubin was even more forceful, if that is possible, he stated unequivocally that Plan Bay Area is based on faulty assumptions that are so far off that the only reasonable solution is to throw it out completely, start over from scratch and insist on using actual data that supports a method that is based in reality. Kinsey made the point that the plan would be revisited every four years.  O'Toole made the point that once government funds a project there are special interests that benefit and that will make certain that the plan continues regardless of the four year rule.

     One issue that was not discussed in depth is the method by which financing will be created to enable Plan Bay Area.  A Vehicle Mileage Tax (VMT)  is in the works both on a state and a federal level. This would make up for lost revenue currently associated with the gas tax. It is listed in the five options discussed by the county in the Draft EIR for Plan Bay Area.  Luce in his discussion of financing of affordable housing, insisted that the entire plan is market driven by developers willing to make the investment. In Novato that has not been the case.  Foundations, non profits, County Supervisors, and other agencies continue to provide financing for local projects that then have non profit status so that no property taxes are paid to support the drain on local services. 

     Instead of having this be the last Marin debate on Plan Bay Area, it would be far more helpful to use the information gained tonight as a starting point to begin a real discussion of the costs and risks associated with Plan Bay Area's faulty assumptions.  It would also help to have experts on land, housing and transportation issues provide information for the pro Plan Bay Area argument rather than politicians who clearly know very little about what regional planning truly entails.  The dramatic difference between the presentations by O'Toole and Rubin, made Kinsey and Luce seem unqualified, uninformed and ill equipped by comparison.

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