Marin Columnist says ‘No Density Needed Here’

Marin IJ Columnist Argues that SF Should Build High Rises Around Transit Nodes Before Marin Adds Density

The Marin County Line. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
The Marin County Line. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Marin Independent Journal’s Dick Spotswood made it clear in his column today that he doesn’t support Senate Bill 35 by Senator Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, because it could bring denser housing to Marin’s towns and cities.

From his column:

S.B. 35 uses an entirely different geographical term to define communities subject to fast-track, by-right rules fostering high-density housing. Instead of applying the rules to “urban” communities, Wiener’s criteria is that if even a village is an “urban cluster,” then rules encouraging big-time development without pesky environmental review are applied.

He goes on to write that:

High-rise condos and apartments belong in job centers like San Francisco with comprehensive public transit networks. To see a model city providing high-density housing, much transit and high quality of life, visit Vancouver, British Columbia.

A stop on Vancouver's Skytrain transit system with housing towers clustered around the stations. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
A stop on Vancouver’s Skytrain system with housing towers clustered near the stations. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

So what does Scott Wiener have to say about Spotswood’s interpretation? “First of all, the article is misleading because it implies that S.B. 35 changes the zoning in Marin County,” he wrote in an email to Streetsblog. “To be clear, S.B. 35 does not impact zoning. S.B. 35 creates a streamlined approval process for housing projects that are *within zoning* in cities that are not creating their share of housing. So the basic attack leveling hypocrisy against me regarding zoning is ill-founded and ill-informed.”

Tom Radulovich, Executive Director of Livable City, in an email to Streetsblog, also took exception to the column, especially Spotswood’s apparent belief that “urban” automatically equals “high rise.”

“Vancouver’s high-rise neighborhoods are one model of an urban neighborhood, but not the only one,” he wrote. “‘Urban’ places might include high rises, but in many places, and throughout most of history, urban places have been low-rise or mid-rise. Central Paris, SF’s Mission and Chinatown, or New York’s West Village are urban neighborhoods, even though most buildings are not high rise.”

Radulovich also wrote that Spotswood “seems to be arguing that it’s somehow unfair for his precious county to be expected to build so much as a townhouse or duplex until after San Francisco is uniformly covered in high-rise towers. In other words, Marin can’t be expected to do anything until San Francisco gets absolutely everything ‘right’.”

San Francisco’s transit and housing advocates conceded one of Spotswood’s points: that San Francisco needs to do much better at building housing along transit infrastructure. Spotswood specifically calls out St. Francis Circle, served by the M-Ocean View and K-Ingleside trains, the Taraval corridor, and a few others.

Lots of transit at St. Francis Circle, but no density. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

He also could have mentioned West Portal, with its height restrictions and single-family zoning. Even Wiener conceded the point. “When it comes to addressing zoning disparities in our cities, there is a conversation to be had there. When I was a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, I significantly upzoned the Upper Market corridor in my district, which runs along the Market Street subway line. And there are talks happening in San Francisco about changing zoning in areas that are transit hubs. This is good and I’m happy to be a part of those conversations that are being led locally.”

“Many parts of the city still have absurd zoning rules, like the two-story limit on West Portal Avenue, that we ought to revisit. West Portal has been a transit-oriented commercial district for nearly a century, and is served by several streetcar and bus lines. It has several handsome pre-WWII residential or mixed-use buildings of three to five stories which couldn’t be built under today’s zoning rules,” said Radulovich.

Still, advocates found Spotswood’s column incongruous, given the conspicuous lack of density around Marin’s transit hubs.

“San Francisco should not be alone in having a frank discussion about zoning,” said Wiener. “I’m happy to see Mr. Spotswood’s vociferous support for upzoning in transit-rich areas. I assume that means that he will be pushing to significantly upzone the areas around the Larkspur Ferry Landing and all the new stations of the SMART train as it begins operations. If he needs my help to push for those zoning increases, I’m happy to help him do so.”

The Larkspur Ferry Terminal. Photo: Golden Gate Bridge District
The Larkspur Ferry Terminal. No Vancouver-style housing towers here. Photo: Golden Gate Bridge District
  • uniblab_2.0

    why is this a shock? people in Marin have a lot more money than transit advocates and they will defend to the death their apartheid state in Marin. The only thing rich people understand is taking money and things away from them and hurting them financially. Until you get that you can cluck your tongues all you like but you will never win by appealing to reason or decency.

  • Baruch

    Apartheid state?

    Radulovich refers to Marin as a “precious county”.

    As Wiener correctly notes, zoning in Marin is a matter for Marin County and its voters. Not for people who live in other counties seeking to export their problems.

    Marin is one of the most desirable places to live on the planet, so perhaps some envy is to be expected. But this much?

  • disqus_JxA7Fvme5A

    Unilab couldn’t be more wrong. Marin is already overcrowded and expensive (and certainly is no “apartheid” state) and more housing means even more traffic without the proper transportation infrastructure. Doesn’t matter if it’s around a transportation hub. Weekend traffic is an absolute nightmare. Think those people will use the ferry and the buses? Hell no!

  • thielges

    Where is that weekend traffic going? Certainly not to the proposed increased housing in Marin. If weekend traffic bothers you then you should be more concerned about increased housing in SF, San Mateo Co., etc. which generates that weekend traffic.

  • Sean

    “zoning in Marin is a matter for Marin County and its voters. Not for people who live in other counties seeking to export their problems” What an absurd isolationist statement. Marin is reliant on SF for the vast majority of it’s high paying jobs. Spotswood already wants to export Marin’s housing needs to SF, asking for upzones.

  • Baruch

    What you are really arguing for there is for the Bay Area to merge its nine counties into one political jurisdiction, for the purpose of this kind of decision-making. There may be some merit to that idea but, in general, Americans prefer decisions to be made at a local level.

    If those Marin residents mostly work in SF, as you claim, then surely it is SF that has exported its housing problem by not providing enough housing for its workers, forcing them to live elsewhere and further out.

    And for that matter the East Bay has done the best job of all, housing hundreds of thousands of workers who work in SF or the peninsula.

    SF likes to bitch about Marin and the South Bay not building enough housing but the real culprit is SF – about half a million SF workers live in other counties. Those other counties are bailing us out.

  • James McCormick

    I agree with Wiener on this but the article photo is misleading. That area immediately north of the bridge is all National Park land that most of us, I suspect, would want to remain undeveloped. And of course, it doesn’t even belong to Marin.

  • Sean

    SF is only 49 square miles, and it is a whole lot more built up than the North Bay. The housing crunch is even worse there now that it is a bedroom community for the South Bay. I am not advocating for the dissolution of counties at all, but Plan Bay Area, a regional working group, allocated 1% growth for Marin. That is paltry compared to every other county but Nimbys still cried foul. Get over yourselves.

  • disqdude

    Have you been to Marin County? I have worked there for years. The people are rich, entitled, thinly veiled racists. They have segregated the poor and “colored” folk to Marin City and the Canal. The hate they spew towards these two communities is monumental. Marin County is the wealthiest county in the state, and it shows whenever they do things like exempt themselves from the state’s housing standards.

  • Corvus Corax

    Perhaps you should know that you are talking to the dreaded RichLL in a new sockpuppet identity.

    So everyone can keep track of the Great Troll, here is a list of his sockpuppets, at least the ones I have found out so far:

    Ringo= TonyRio
    bobfuss= Morgan
    Todd= Timpson = Harris
    AlTate= Baruch
    RichLL= Top Hat

  • crazyvag

    The Larkspur Ferry is particular sore spot because the SMART train station had to be placed sufficiently far to ensure that law mandating higher density near transit hubs doesn’t kick in. They could’ve ran SMART on elevated track to stop above the parking lot, but instead residents get a 10 minute walk. Consider how expensive it would be to make SMART 10 mins faster vs just building a closer station.

  • GoBlueInSF

    Dick Spotswood, aka SFGate’s Beth Spotswood’s dad. Didn’t realize he was such a reactionary Neanderthal.

  • GoBlueInSF

    Seriously? That is just…insane. I’ve long despite Marin’s “we are holier than though, but really completely racist & classist” B.S., but that is just…wow.

  • Stephen Nestel

    The myth of Vancouver “middle class affordable” homes and the fallacy of “demand shifting” purported by housing advocates. Dense cities like Hong Kong and Vancouver have some of the priciest real estate in the world. http://www.planningreport.com/2017/08/14/learning-vancouver-housing-affordability-myth-supply-side-densification

  • Stephen Nestel

    Completely false. Marin is “suburban” just like its more urbanized neighbor Sonoma County. Marin is exempt from anything and has built more affordable housing per resident than any other Bay Area county.

  • Baruch

    Do you know for a fact that was the reason for its location, rather than just an effect of it? There is a large shopping mall just North of there, and perhaps it was considered that is a location where many people would like the station to be, not to mention the retailers of course.

    And there is a pedestrian bridge across the highway there so safety should not be an issue.

  • Baruch

    A report in the Economist a couple of years ago, on global housing costs, showed that there is a near perfect correlation between high housing costs and the strictness of zoning and land use laws.

    Which leads to the paradoxical conclusion that the more governments try and micromanage land use and development, the less affordable housing is.

    Reagan captured this more intuitively when he opined that government is not the solution – it’s the problem.

  • Wanderer

    Fine. No more development in Marin. And no more roadbuilding funding. And no more road maintenance funding. And no more open space funding. And no more sewer funding. Etc. If the elitists in Marin want to demand their splendid isolation, they should accept all aspects of it.

  • Corvus Corax

    This from the very embodiment of all that disqdude posted!

  • Stephen Nestel

    Marin facts: Marin County population is by far the smallest of the nine bay area counties and far removed from the job centers of SF and Silicon Valley. The “1% growth” statistic is meaningless. In the last decade, Marin actually lost population due to demographic factors. Ruining Marin with high density housing may make SF and Silicon Valley feel powerful but it won’t solve traffic or environmental problems. It will make them worse. The solution is to move businesses to the North Bay.

  • Sean

    How is a few 3 or 4 story townhouses going to ruin Marin? Most of the SMART stations are already zoned for it anyway. Businesses are already moving to the North Bay. Sonoma County and Richmond is providing your workforce.

  • Stephen Nestel

    No problem with housing that fits within our suburban footprint. It is the high density projects that put the pressure on communities. Developers have been putting in these types of projects. County’s don’t build projects.

  • Sean

    Do you see the irony in worrying about the size of footprints while advocating against density?

  • Stephen Nestel

    not at all. I think you may be confused. Marin is suburb with single family and low density apartment projects. There is little opposition with projects that fit in the community. Perhaps I should have used suburban densities instead of the vague term “footprint”.

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