Since starting this blog in 2011, the debate around urban issues has exploded, and not in a good way. Once the Santa Rosa Tea Party crashed our Plan Bay Area meetings and lit a fire under anti-development activists – liberal, libertarian, and conservative alike, many of whom recoil at being associated with the Tea Party – we’ve gone from name-calling to dirty politics to anger and back again. Not since the fight over whether to preserve West Marin has the tenor of debate been so high and the emotions so strong.
While our debate ramped up, the housing crisis in San Francisco continued to spill over the Bridge and into our tree-lined streets. Rents have skyrocketed and the last vestiges of Marin’s blue-collar hippie past are finally starting to be pushed out entirely.
Traffic’s bad, and it will only get worse as richer people replace Marin’s not-so-rich. Sprawl beyond Marin’s borders will only continue as the county becomes even more of a commuter destination.
The well-organized progressive lobby has only existed in name. It has the institutions but not the activists. It has lacked the votes to see through plans that had been in the making for years or to keep plans passed with full community support just a few years ago.
Some groups advocate for bikes, others advocate for affordable housing, still others open space, and yet more transit. Thanks in part to a lack of cooperation, these groups’ messages have been smothered beneath the constant refrain of No.
Not that the voices of No have a majority – far from it. The most recent survey on the subject found Marin to be strongly in support of transit-oriented development and more in favor of affordable housing than opposed, as long as it fits with Marin’s character.
It’s high time for a new coalition, then, to give this silent majority voice and bring together those diverse groups who do support a progressive vision of Marin County.
Last week, the Coalition for a Livable Marin (CALM), an organization with precisely that goal in mind, announced its formation. I'm privileged serve this group on its steering committee as one voice among many. Our mission is “to create and maintain the vibrant, inclusive, and sustainable communities that, in combination with our magnificent open space, make Marin such a great place.”
We believe that the guiding light for Marin’s human habitat lies in its traditional town centers, warm and welcoming places built around transit, bikes, and people on foot. These places are at the heart of Marin’s culture and community, and our mission and actions flow out of our commitment to those places.
From the press release:
CALM’s starting coalition includes Friends of SMART, League of Women Voters of Marin County, Marin County Bicycle Coalition, Sustainable Corte Madera, Sustainable San Rafael, and TRANSDEF. This list is growing as the coalition welcomes others who are just as passionate about Marin’s traditional town centers.
I’d also like to add The Greater Marin to that list.
When I started starting this blog, my aim was to find the ways Marin has done it right and figure out how to apply those lessons to Washington, DC. As it turns out, I’ve spent nearly all my time trying to show how Marin can learn its own lessons and rebutting the critics who said such lessons were not applicable to our suburban character. It turns out I was not alone in my admiration for Marin’s traditions. Again from the press release:
CALM is interested in building on the strong base of support for biking, transit, and affordable housing. It points to surveys that show nearly 60% of Marinites support building transit-oriented housing, and that a strong plurality of people support multi-family housing in the county (40 percent vs. 31 percent). Marin residents are also frequent users of public transit, with 1 in 4 of Marin’s commuters to San Francisco taking Golden Gate Transit.
I’m excited to serve alongside some of Marin’s most experienced and knowledgeable activists on the CALM steering committee and alongside you as a volunteer. The path ahead is rough - I have every confidence that this coalition will come under fire for a host of reasons - but the county that invented the mountain bike has never shied from rough paths before and neither will we.