A “Smart-Growth” Revolt in California

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Lawrence J. McQuillan, the Independent InstituteOn June 18, the Lark­spur City Coun­cil vot­ed unan­i­mous­ly to kill a high-den­si­ty “smart-growth” devel­op­ment plan for this com­mu­ni­ty of 12,000 peo­ple 16 miles north of San Fran­cis­co.

The plan called for build­ing 39,500 square feet of office space, 60,000 square feet of hotel space, 77,500 square feet of retail space, and up to 920 res­i­den­tial units in a half-mile radius around a pro­posed Sono­ma-Marin Area Rail Tran­sit sta­tion in Lark­spur. The goal was to jam future res­i­dents into high-den­si­ty hous­ing and high-inten­si­ty com­mer­cial space near a future rail sta­tion to pur­port­ed­ly decrease green­house gas emis­sions. But local res­i­dents weren’t buy­ing it.

Larkspur

Accord­ing to the Marin Inde­pen­dent Jour­nal, about 325 peo­ple attend­ed the city coun­cil meet­ing, and all but a hand­ful of speak­ers opposed the Sta­tion Area Plan, as it’s called, and cheered the city coun­cil for an “his­toric” no vote.

The plan was cre­at­ed after Lark­spur received $480,000 in 2011 from the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Trans­porta­tion Com­mis­sion (MTC) and the Asso­ci­a­tion of Bay Area Gov­ern­ments (ABAG). The city of Lark­spur and oth­er agen­cies, such as the Trans­porta­tion Author­i­ty of Marin, also kicked in $120,000 to com­plete the plan—money wast­ed to devel­op a reject­ed plan.

Unsur­pris­ing­ly, the MTC and ABAG bankrolled the Lark­spur “stack-and-pack” blue­print. These two unelect­ed region­al-gov­ern­ment bod­ies also approved Plan Bay Area in 2013, a mas­ter plan for high-den­si­ty hous­ing, rail-inten­sive tran­sit, and restrict­ed land use in the nine-coun­ty San Fran­cis­co Bay Area through 2040. Lark­spur City Coun­cil­man Dan Hillmer has called Plan Bay Area “fun­da­men­tal­ly flawed.”

The res­i­dent out­cry and vote by the Lark­spur City Coun­cil point to the public’s unwill­ing­ness to pas­sive­ly accept Plan Bay Area and its vision of tomor­row, which unelect­ed region­al­ists want to impose on local com­mu­ni­ties.

Hope­ful­ly, this vote is the open­ing shot of wide­spread revolts in the Bay Area and through­out Cal­i­for­nia against sim­i­lar “smart-growth” plans. But expect the MTC, ABAG, and oth­er unelect­ed region­al­ists to retal­i­ate.

As report­ed by the Marin Inde­pen­dent Jour­nal, dur­ing the city coun­cil meet­ing, Lark­spur Coun­cil­woman Cather­ine Way asked if “Lark­spur could be at a dis­ad­van­tage when seek­ing future trans­porta­tion-project fund­ing because of the council’s deci­sion to stop the Sta­tion Area Plan.”

It is almost cer­tain that the MTC will retal­i­ate, with­hold­ing trans­porta­tion fund­ing for Lark­spur and oth­er com­mu­ni­ties that refuse to go along with Plan Bay Area. But pre­serv­ing local con­trol over com­mu­ni­ties is more impor­tant than accept­ing MTC bribes.