WHEN IT COMES to growth, Marin has some of the toughest planning restrictions you will find anywhere.
One of the goals has been to avoid the suburban sprawl that has plagued the Bay Area and California.
More than 30 years ago, the county took strong steps to preserve the rolling ranchlands of West Marin. Those landmark planning rules have helped protect and sustain local agriculture.
There is no question that those rules have worked—in Marin.
But Marin is not an island, especially when it comes to the intertwined issues of housing and jobs. Those growth restrictions also have helped fuel growth—often textbook examples of suburban sprawl—in neighboring counties. One result was that Marin, one of the slowest growing counties in California, has experienced some of the worst freeway traffic in the Bay Area in recent years.
The new lanes that opened on Highway 101 have eased that congestion, but we essentially have run out of room—and money—for more lanes in the heart of the county.
Conservation groups such as the Greenbelt Alliance support “in-fill” development in Marin around transit hubs, primarily the planned stops for the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit passenger train.
It makes sense to design residential and commercial growth around these hubs. That’s what the Greenbelt Alliance concluded in a new report, “Grow Smart Bay Area,” which advocates a conservation model for accommodating future growth in Bay Area cities and counties.
The report makes a good case for infill projects.
By focusing that growth in areas served by transit, cities and counties can help reduce our dependence on cars and reduce car trips—our primary generator of greenhouse gases.
That’s what the Millworks project in Old Town and the proposed “green” redevelopment of the Fireman’s Fund campus in Novato are all about. They address the need for housing by taking advantage of in-fill sites close to transit and jobs.
Larkspur Landing has been a model for such growth, creating housing and jobs a short walk from the ferry terminal.
A new state law reflects the same strategy. It aims to reduce greenhouse gases by encouraging growth around jobs and transit and creating planning incentives to make that happen.
Growth is inevitable. The key is to direct it to locations where it makes sense and create designs that make sense.
The support of local environmentalists will be needed for such “smart” growth to succeed on a scale that makes a difference. We no longer can afford environmental philosophies that essentially are based on pushing growth into surrounding counties to service the jobs created here.
This major shift in local and regional planning is going to take more than political lip service to happen.
It is going to take housing and environmental activists willing to join forces to support well-placed and well-designed housing and commercial projects.