Marin County is a very nice place in which to live and one of the nicest towns in Marin County is Corte Madera. Once upon a time, back in the 1960s and 1970s, before real estate went crazy, it was where the elite of Marin’s blue-collar workers owned houses. You wouldn’t find the grease monkey there, but you might find the guy who owned the gas station at which the grease monkey worked. Now, of course, a 2 bedroom 1 bathroom can set you back upwards of $600,000, while the nicer, bigger homes run close to about $1.5 million. It’s ridiculous.
What’s even more ridiculous as far as I’m concerned is that state judges and the state legislature have told us that it’s unfair that we live this way and, instead, that we have to increase our density to match more closely San Francisco’s density. San Francisco is a little under 7 square miles large and has a density of almost 18,000 people per square mile. Of course, this urbanization plan is part of a general Democrat plan to destroy suburbs, which have a nasty habit of leaning conservative.
Ironically, it turns out that all the good liberals who populate Corte Madera, and who vote into office every crackpot Leftist, are NIMBYs at heart. While they’ll applaud urbanization in theory, they really hate it in fact.
Nobody was paying much attention when the Association of Bay Area Governments (“ABAG”), to which Corte Madera once belonged, through a gross error, insisted that Corte Madera provide more than 200 low-income housing units. Nor were they paying much attention when those low-income housing units went up near my home, because there’s still fairly good traffic flow where we live — not to mention the fact that the units are closer to a commercial district than they are to an existing residential district.
When people started paying attention was when the site of a former WinCup factory suddenly started being developed. Sure, we’d had notices of hearings and such but you know how it is . . . people just kind of ignore those.
It turned out that we had ignored this one at our peril. On a street that is routinely heavily congested, a developer has built up an incredibly ugly apartment complex with more than 180 units. During the endless construction, traffic has been moving at a slow crawl for hours on a street that is the only access to places such as the Department of Motor Vehicles or Book Passage, which is Marin’s most beloved independent book seller. It’s also one of only two main access roads to the local high school and the police station.
Although miserable about it, there’s not much townspeople can do about the WinCup site. It’s a done deal. But now there’s a new fight heating up.
On the same street as the WinCup building site is a movie theater. It’s not just any movie theater. Century Theatres is a stand-alone theater (as opposed to a multiplex) with an absolutely fantastic sound system that George Lucas himself had installed when he released The Phantom Menace. It’s also one of the few places, other than hanging around malls and parks, to which local teens can go. While Corte Madera, Larkspur, and Greenbrae used to have easily accessible roller skating and ice skating rinks, as well as other youth oriented activities, they don’t now.
The theater’s owner is planning on selling and a developer wants to buy and build thirty-one more houses on the property. As a general principle, I am all for being able to sell ones property . . . but I’m also in favor of a community being able to have a say in its own planning.
Thanks to ABAG rules and judge-made law, though, that autonomy is gone. Ideally, if a majority of a town’s citizens want more housing, that’s their prerogative. If they want less, that should be their prerogative too. For example, here in Corte Madera, we’ve all paid a ridiculous fortune to buy into a certain type of community, subject to well-established zoning rules. (Meaning that someone who owns commercial property can reasonably understand that he can only sell it to another commercial property buyer.) To convert a business site into a heavily populated residential site to satisfy a leftist desire to clump people together because clumped people vote Democrat (more Democrat even than Marin already does) is irksome.
I have a special objection to all this building and it’s one that goes to the very heart of a community’s viability. Marin last put in a reservoir in the very early 1960s. Since that time, more than 100,000 people have crowded into Marin, with ABAG’s and the court’s urbanization mandates promising many more thousands of people. This attempt to pack people in, so that we’re an ugly version of San Francisco, ignores the reality of northern California, which is that, like clock-work, we have major droughts every thirty or so years. You can’t keep cramming more and more people into a place with an already finite water supply, knowing that there will inevitably be another drought coming down the pike.
Anyway, yesterday was the Town Council meeting to discuss the proposed dwellings for the theater site. Some people wanted to keep the theater. Others were amenable to another business moving into the site. All were hostile to cramming even more people and cars into a narrow corridor that cannot handle the existing number of people and cars, and into a drought-stricken community that can barely handle existing demands on water resources. The Town Council agreed with the citizens, but admitted that the judicial and state mandates left its hands somewhat tied — and this is true even though Corte Madera has parted ways with ABAG, making it the only Marin town to do so.)
What ended up happening is that the Town Council agreed to impose a 45 day moratorium on any new development in that specific area, with a hearing to determine whether to extend the moratorium to 2 years. Under the moratorium, the town can study again what the impact of new residential units will be on the affected area. As one member of the public intelligently commented, studies and real life are two different things, so it’s useful to see just how badly (or not badly) things such as traffic flow really are with the WinCup building in place.
You can read more about the Town Council meeting. I just thought I’d lead in with my two cents.