Smart growth urged along SMART rail line in Marin

Mark Prado

SAN FRANCISCO — Growth in Marin over the next 25 years should be funneled into areas along the planned Sonoma-Marin Rail Transit corridor to curb sprawl and cut greenhouse gases, according a plan released Wednesday by the Greenbelt Alliance.

The report by the land conservation and urban-planning organization titled “Grow Smart Bay Area” is an initiative to get Bay Area cities and counties to plan for the expected additional 2 million people and 1.7 million jobs that will come to the region by 2035.

“Traditionally Marin has been anti-development and environmentalists have been anti-growth,” said Whitney Merchant, a Greenbelt Alliance field director who lives in San Anselmo. “But now environmentalists and the sustainable community realize we can’t be sustainable until we start to build more and better housing that allow for more biking and walking and access to transportation.”

The report cites downtown Novato and San Rafael, where growth can occur in existing lots that are now empty or unused, so called “in-fill” housing, along the SMART rail corridor.

The report looks at the entire Bay Area, and estimates that 5 percent of the new homes and 6 percent of new jobs coming to the region will end up in Marin and Sonoma over the next 25 years.

“We think with the SMART train coming in there is an opportunity to increase those percentages,” said Carey Knecht, the report’s author. “We hope as cities plan for the reality of the train being there they can build even more homes and for all incomes across the spectrum.”

The SMART train won voter approval in November and service could begin in 2014. The southern terminus is in Larkspur near the ferry terminal and there are stops in Novato and San Rafael.

“There is going to be development one way or the other,” said John Schlag, president of Sustainable Novato. “But you have to put it into places that reduce the impact of greenhouse gases and create a more livable community. It’s not just the train, but the bike and pedestrian path along the rail that will have a great impact on global warming.”

Last August, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law SB 375, which aims to cut greenhouse gases by discouraging sprawl and dependence on car travel. The land-use law will set the tone for how the state grows in the coming decades, and the Bay Area is beginning to wrestle with the challenge.

The report details areas of downtown Novato that could be transformed.

“Adding homes along Grant Avenue and Redwood Boulevard will provide nearby customers for local businesses, and could support additional stores in the area,” according to the study. “Creating homes that are affordable to local workers would also help reduce long commutes and enable people to live in the community they serve.”

“I am thrilled by this report,” said Phyllis Faber, longtime Marin environmentalist. “I think it’s terribly exciting and very necessary. There is a lot of in-fill opportunity in Marin.”

Larkspur is also primed for “smart” growth. In addition to the train it already has a ferry terminal and commute boat service that is becoming more popular. The report argues the more transit available, the fewer car trips that will be needed.

“There is no way to reverse climate change without going after how we get around,” Merchant said. “The most effective way to do that is to let people who live in Marin work in Marin. That means more workforce housing in the county. People such as nurses, who take care of our community, can’t afford live in it. There is a way to put in more housing while maintaining the character of these towns.”

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