A new petition – still small – is trying to inject some sense into the Strawberry priority development area (PDA) debate. It’s about time. The core contention of the petition is simple: the PDA is not about housing, it’s about transportation funding. To cut out the transportation funding just eliminates transportation funding, leaving any housing plans intact.
The success of Marinwood activists has been the removal of the PDA but intact housing plans. The success of North San Rafael activists was the removal of the PDA but an intact station area plan. What did they accomplish? Political victories that do nothing to advance their stated goal of downsizing housing plans.
What’s a PDA again?
As I’ve written before, a PDA, or priority development area, is a funding mechanism for a part of the region. It’s entirely voluntary and entirely without strings attached. Half of Marin’s transportation dollars must go to a PDA.
At the moment, the regional funds dedicated to PDAs are for planning, so shovels can’t go in the ground, but that just means we can start the process of building real improvements to the county’s transportation infrastructure.
What is the PDA not?
Critics, including frequent commentor on this blog Richard Hall, will point to the application process, which requires an area to have plans for more housing before it can become a PDA, to say that a PDA by definition is a housing plan.
But that’s like saying a credit card, by requiring a certain income level on the application, is income. Of course that’s ridiculous. You had your income before the card. In the same way, any housing zone or plan must be before and, therefore, separate from the PDA.
That’s why anti-housing activists have seen such failure in their stated aim of stopping housing plans.
Conflict roils Strawberry
There are two housing plans that are causing discord in Strawberry: the Seminary housing plan and the county’s housing element. Of these, the Seminary housing plan is what qualified Strawberry to become a PDA first place.
The arguments against housing are diverse but familiar – it would destroy the character of the area, add to traffic congestion and school crowding, cause crime and bring in the wrong kind of people.
Added to the mix are long-running concerns over the existing traffic. The roads in Strawberry are unsafe for anyone who isn’t in a car, especially Belvedere Drive and Tiburon Boulevard. If there are more people, the thinking goes, the problems will get even worse.
Simply put, every one of these arguments is not germane to the discussion of a PDA. Even if housing did do all these things – and, if they did, Strawberry’s high rate of rental housing would surely correlate it to having the worst crime in the county – housing plans are separate from the PDA.
Indeed, remaining within the PDA would provide money to start fixing the problems Strawberry has. Starting grants totaling $210,000 would pay for a comprehensive study of bike and pedestrian infrastructure needs in the area as well as designs for a new Tiburon Boulevard interchange.
There are serious gaps in the walking and biking infrastructure throughout Strawberry, and some of it has been the target of quite a bit of ire from local families.
Redwood Highway, Seminary Drive, Belvedere Drive and Reed Boulevard all have no consistent bike or pedestrian infrastructure. Belvedere Drive especially is a fast and dangerous road. Some segments lack sidewalks and all of it is bereft of bike lanes.
Considering that it is the principal route for kids walking from the park to the shopping center, it is an accident waiting to happen. Calming the road with more and better sidewalks and shallower turns has been on the agenda of the neighborhood for years. The PDA is the best chance to make that happen.
Tiburon Boulevard: why it matters to the rest of Marin
The interchange is the biggest project in the area. Caltrans wants to install metering lights at most interchanges up and down the 101 corridor to smooth traffic flow, especially during the evening commute. Tiburon is the start of the nightly Greenbrae corridor mess as service workers leave jobs on the peninsula and head home to Contra Costa.
With a PDA, the Tiburon interchange will be eligible for regional funding, ensuring the project will finally go forward. It would also give leverage to local needs, such as a safe bike path and sidewalk across the bridge and bus pads that don’t require riders to walk across a freeway off ramp. Caltrans has historically been quite hostile to these concerns, so any advantage in negotiating with them could go a long way.
Improving the Tiburon interchange is a project of countywide importance, as it’s key to breaking the Greenbrae Corridor jam. As well, improving that bridge would allow students to finally bike or walk to school in safety, helping ease school traffic through lower Mill Valley. Remember that traffic flow tends to drop off rapidly beyond a certain point; a drop in car travel of even a few percentage points can have enormous impact.
Time to stop fighting shadows
Citizen Marin and the (newly formed) Strawberry Community Association have done Strawberry a grave disservice by spreading myths and fear about their local PDA. Their petition is full of the patently absurd, arguing that the PDA would be a tax giveaway to developers and threaten endangered species.
It’s a glimmer of hope in this never-ending, fearful, angry debate that some people have stood up to say enough. Perhaps you’d like to sign up and join them.