Bay Area Governments Watch Corte Madera Cut Its Ties To ABAG

The Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) has a lot of say -- some say too much say -- over local land use issues. At least one Bay Area town has had enough. Will others follow?


Local officials criticized for what some residents regard as the heavy-handed imposition of high-density transit and low-cost housing requirements in their areas have pointed to two key Bay Area agencies as driving those requirements.

The Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) hold the pursestrings of a multi-billion dollar federal treasure chest, local officials say, and threaten to withhold millions in grants and incentives to cities and towns who defy their initiatives -- and who are in desperate need of the money.

Opponents denounce the agencies practices as Big Government Gone Bad. Planners trying to find a way to reduce carbon emissions and provide homes for the 2 million new Californians expected to take root in the Bay Area by 2035 say they are just trying to find a way to accomodate the new arrivals and reduce our reliance on our cars and fossil fuels.

Now, it seems, at least one Bay Area town council has voted to defy ABAG, and appears to be seeking creation of a "council of governments" that will give them the local control they seek.

"These are unelected people who have this personal vision of what is good for everybody else," Corte Madera Town Councilman Michael Lappert told the Marin Independent Journal after his council voted 4-1 in favor of leaving ABAG Tuesday night. "They have no check, no balance."

Tuesday's action seems to be the most dramatic rejection of ABAG and a plan dubbed "One Bay Area" to date. The plan, slated for review and possible approval next year, pushes for state-mandated construction of multi-story "transit villages" straddling rapid transit lines, and parcels out pre-calculated numbers of affordable housing units in Lamorinda and about 100 other area cities and towns.

Objections to One Bay Area requirements began to surface in Lamorinda as local councils were drawing up their downtown plans in 2010. Citizens were critical of the ABAG requirements at the time, saying they pushed for urban-style "stack and pack," multi-story housing at transit hubs -- like Orinda and Lafayette -- and set unreasonable standards for affordable housing in areas removed from those hubs -- like Moraga.

At the time, local officials cited ABAG's withholding of incentives and other monies as their reason for accepting of the guidelines, although citizens argued in favor of defying ABAG and leaving even then.

Since then, arguments against One Bay Area have gathered steam, with anti-Big Government Tea Party factions joining realtors and developers and others opposed to having ABAG design the future look and feel of Bay Area land use.

A series of workshops designed to elicit feedback from citizens and featuring One Bay Area propenents have been loudly challenged, leaving ABAG and MTC officials dismayed and frustrated by the process.

"We want to get a sense of whether the public wants this region to continue growing in a way it has for several decades, or whether the public is ready for a change," Lisa Klein, a senior transportation planner for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, said.

But now, it appears, at least one local town council has grown weary of the process altogether, and voted to disassociate themselves from it. It will be interesting to see if Corte Madera's move prompts other defections, and who the next town will be to cut their tie to ABAG -- and One Bay Area -- as a result.

Shon Sherwood March 09, 2012 at 07:37 PM
There is no such thing as too high a price for freedom. It is, by it's very nature, expensive.
CJ March 09, 2012 at 07:47 PM
KFrances- Thank you for that link. Oscar Braun will get my vote. The Petition is printing now and will be circulated. I hope to get fill it several times. Most people around here have no idea what is going on.
Traci Reilly March 09, 2012 at 09:41 PM
I applaud their decision. I hope more cities have to courage to do the same thing. We can't have local control, if we allow an unelected group of people to dictate how our much cities must grow and where.
Janet Maiorana March 10, 2012 at 01:13 AM
My husband & I attended the MTC/ABAG Planning Committee meeting today 3/9/12. About 20 people spoke eloquently against Plan Bay Area. I can't recall any speaking for it (not like another meeting where the Social Equity Group was bused in). Groups like Park & Rec., Greenbelt Alliance were asking for percentages of the billions forthcoming from the Feds. During break the MTC Chair made a point to thank me for my participation. We had a long conversation, and he basically agreed with me but said Sac. will not budge - we have to get new people in Sac., etc. Got into unfunded liabilities, & he said our reps in Sac. would not budge due to fear of the unions. A reporter from Berkeley did a long interview with me. Am curious to see if I am edited. No holes were barred and MTC & ABAG know how we feel but it will be up to City Councils to opt out of ABAG like Corte Madera. That could be the rub.
Larry Pines March 10, 2012 at 01:40 AM
Janet you are our local hero. Thank you so so much for being a model citizen with all this; becoming informed and working to make a difference. Sometimes, as here, when there's a vacuum in true leadership (especially with our local City Managers, Councils -- even the ivy league guys-- and media) it's hard to feel like you're making a difference. But you are. And we thank you for it and salute you. They say it rots from the head down. We both agree that we need some real changes in Sacto, but with the place run by all the same leftist Democrats, and the voters sending them back repeatedly with the only thing changing is their higher pay, there is little hope. We have an election coming up in 8 months. Wow, that soon. California is Obama's Dream State. Highest unemployment, highest taxes (with Brown proposing to ride the 1% OWS wave calling for even higher taxes, saying the "rich need to pay their fair share" ignoring that the top 1% already pay 50% of all CA taxes!), highest energy/cost of living, worst schools, lushest social programs, business taking flight daily, Greens running the show; illegal immigrants getting unlimited HC services, schooling, even discount or free at U.C's/States. Most radical left social fabric. Political correctness to the highest art form. If the nation wants to know what 4 more years of Obama will look like, come to California. If I could afford to move out of California, I would. Thanks for making a difference locally.
Janet Maiorana March 11, 2012 at 04:47 AM
Thanks Larry. We work very hard but I feel like Pancho & his partner. So many windmills. Told MTC/ABAG we were at the meeting representing our families who were working at 9:00 AM to pay taxes for the socialistic redistribution of wealth Bay Area Plan. They have decided to arrange a meeting at 6:30 PM so taxpayers with skin in the game can attend. I have asked Orinda City Council to inform the citizens what is going on. Have asked them to ban together with other councils to fight the One Bay Area Plan. No action has ever been taken. However, now that Corta Madera, Palo Alto & Saratoga Councils have shown courage there may be hope we can right the ship. Amen to your analysis of CA. Just wish it were not so accurate.
Lissa Sorensen March 11, 2012 at 04:28 PM
What's the "Socialist" agenda? Health care for people who can't afford it? Getting people out of their cars and onto mass transit to curtail pollution? Curbing suburban sprawl?
Jason Schmidt March 11, 2012 at 05:08 PM
It is unfortunate, Lissa, that large sweeping terms like Socialism get tossed about as they can cloud a discussion. However, I don't remember health care being part of this thread. The socialism concept might have arisen because One Bay Area is so reminiscent of the old disastrous Soviet Union Central Planning, which completely screwed up all distribution of resources and led to those long lines in front of empty grocery stores you might recall if you are old enough. Similarly, OBA is taking some noble ideas -- better land use and reduced fossil fuels -- and using top-down, one-size-fits-all planning that ignores such things as market forces and personal preferences, which many of us can see will be very expensive failures. Simply put, if you like apartment living, walking to everything, eschewing a yard and an automobile, you usually want to live in a city. The cities are set up beautifully for this kind of lifestyle, and there are easily accessible arts, shopping, restaurants that are possible because of the high population density. But living in an apartment might not be nearly as attractive for some, especially when you have a family, and you want space for your kids to play in the back yard and appreciate a different style of life. Then the suburbs might be more your cup of tea. But OBA wants to force suburbs to become more like cities, and build high-density housing. The problem is, apt dwellers don't want to live in the burbs, and vice versa.
Jason Schmidt March 11, 2012 at 05:20 PM
(space limited in last text) Thus, you will build transit villages that no one will want to live in. I don't think most people's life dream is to live in a small apartment on top of a train station, in a small town where everyone else lives in houses, and there is very little for you to do compared to the cities. Anyone who wants to live in apartments wants those other things that come with city living, so they will choose the cities. Meanwhile, the construction of the unwanted eyesore transit villages will cause economic and other problems for the suburbs around them. Supply and demand are being ignored with OBA, and these laws always work. Central planning can't change them. Smarter growth would be to encourage transit-oriented development in the midst of areas that are already more conducive for this lifestyle, such as depressed areas of cities. But trying to urbanize already mature, fully grown suburban towns? It just makes no sense.
Larry Pines March 11, 2012 at 05:47 PM
America means freedom; freedom means choice and local control vs. control from an all-powerful centralized paternalistic government. ABAG, MTC, and the left represent that control, and want to (1) impose their vision of density and "social justice" on every city and town; (2) obliterate unique characteristics and socioeconomic distinctions between towns - even neighborhoods. Density is not your friend. Compare the quality of life and the level of humanity between ranch living in Wyoming and uber-high density in Mumbai. Successful models for living involve some "intimacy" and "community". When your neighbor in rural Montana has a crisis, you're there for her; in Mumbai you step over her body (or 3) in the street. I grew up in NYC (not all bad for young people like my kids now), but hardly easy or ideal for raising kids. We rode the elevators in high rise buildings on Halloween and could fill shopping bags with repeated runs up and down floors, as few knew any of their neighbors or cared to. That may work for you, and I say "fine". Anonymity is a value for you or others I respect. However, I CHOSE Lafayette for it's low density, open vistas, and loved the fact that 80-90 homeowners in my neighborhood knew each other and their kids too. This model of living is literally under attack. So is the right of town planners and council members to be responsive to the desires of their unique residents. Sacto demands sameness, density, wrapped in "Green" paper.
Chris Nicholson March 11, 2012 at 05:55 PM
It is refreshing to read so many thoughtful arguments against this collectivist extortion. Freedom feels good.
Janet Maiorana March 11, 2012 at 10:28 PM
Lissa, who could be against everyone having health care, clean air & water, open space, good houses, public transportation, etc.? The OBA plan is to use high toll road and auto taxes to force us out of cars. Average citizens will not be able to afford a car and must use public transit. Gettings cars off the road will help green house gases. How much freedom do we want to give up? Are we happy having the mayor of Union City make decisions for us? Taxpayer cost to build each subsidized unit will be around $400,000. OBA is re- distribution of wealth. Does that define socialism? MTC/ABAG are making plans for 7 or 8 million people based on their FLAWED INTERPRETATION of information given to ONLY 2,500 people. At meetings I attended people with skin in the game were opposed but you would never know that from MTC/ABAG. No one was given any information about the cost or the human factor. At the last MTC/ABAG meeting I asked Commissioners to put their plan on the ballot as an Advisory vote with a voter pamplhet containing honest pro & con information so we can know and vote on what is in store for us. Lissa, if we all work and are successful in getting their plan on the ballot, we can have a say in our future. Who could disagree with democratic action?
KFrances March 12, 2012 at 05:09 PM
Thank you Janet, Larry, Chris. This is so important. What is disturbing about this process is the blackmail of our city councils, the lies and predetermined outcomes of 'surveys' and 'visioning' meetings. Using money we don't have. Forcing all people through heavy regulations, fees and laws to do what we the people never voted on. (unfortunately CA did let SB375 and AB32 stand and this is where we must overturn)This does not sound like America. Our local schools can't handle high rise buildings. They are broke beyond broke. It's not up to a select group of people to determine what's 'right' for the rest of us. We are in America.
Eastofthehills March 12, 2012 at 05:17 PM
I will fight bitterly to keep any more affordable from taking root in lamorinda. If any of you care about your property values I suggest you do the same. Antioch was actually a very nice town until they put in "affordable" housing.
Janet Maiorana March 13, 2012 at 01:49 AM
A minor point - contractor who spoke at the MTC/ABAG meeting said the term 'affordable housing' should be changed to 'subsidized housing'. How can 35 or so people on MTC/ABAG hold 7 or 8 million people hostage? It seems 7 million people should be able to organize and devise a plan to stop the Commissioners who are on a fast track to implement their ideas by 2013. We feel we have no influence in Sacramento. It seems the most appropriate approach is through our city councils. Corta Madera, Saratoga and Palo Alto councils had the courage to just say NO. If our councils will not help, there will have to be another way to get information to the public. My thought is the ballot box but how do you get MTC/ABAG to approve a ballot measure? How do you get this massive plan in a format that will educate the electorate as to what will be our cost especially when we have never been given any costs?. We should know how much will be siphoned from our community to other projects? Does anyone have any ideas?
RKC March 13, 2012 at 04:29 PM
yea, but you can't go on like this forever. Our population is growing, and our open space is dwindling, along with our natural resources. There needs to be some compromise. Also, cutting GHG emissions from vehicles is imperative if we are going to curb climate change.
RKC March 13, 2012 at 04:36 PM
If there were no laws we would have anarchy. Is that what you want for a civilized society? Environmental regulations are hugely important, if we didn't have them we would be as polluted as Mexico and have as little natural resources as Europe. My vision of America is a beautiful landscape with untouched native plants and animals, and less urban sprawl. Keep the suburbs that are already there, but stop the urban sprawl of ugly track houses. The land isn't limitless, and CA population is growing exponentially. There has to be a compromise, and everyone needs to face these realities no matter if they like it or not. We do want a nice place for our grand kids' kids to live.
Larry Pines March 13, 2012 at 04:55 PM
RKC (whoever you are; anonymity is convenient), (1) ABAG's mission is based on unproven junk science. California has the most stringent over-the-top enviro regs in the U.S., and it's caused a huge exodus of businesses and productive citizens. There is no proof that AGW is linked to cars or human activity. Period. The IPCC U.N.-driven report has been discredited. ABAG & MTC follow the same fraudulent "One World"/Agenda 21 propaganda (2) ABAG & MTC are radicals appointed by radicals, and not elected. Voters play no part in any of this; (3) ABAG & MTC are pre-occupied with "Social Justice" constructs, merely a code for redistribution of wealth. I'm in Development. You can't build apartment Condo's under ABAG unless the market-rate units are marked up hugely in price to subsidize the bargain "low-income" units. ABAG is imposing it's will against a growing hostile citizenry to require that each and every town and community ALL be forced to build highrise high density housing, with low income (luxury) units paid for by taxpayers plus other buyers who will overpay for their housing. California already forces re-distributive sale of services/products in (1) education, (2) energy, (3) water (through inverted rated structure) (4) telecommunications (8 Million + "low income" in U.S. now getting completely free Android data cell phones/plan paid for by all ratepayers), (5) public housing; (6) food; (7) health care. What's next? Forced subsidy of luxury condos?
Eastofthehills March 13, 2012 at 05:13 PM
How much money does the MTC/ABAG hold for lamorinda. If we aren't getting much from them as it is I would tell them to pound dirt like corte madera.
Jason Schmidt March 13, 2012 at 05:23 PM
I can't speak for the other towns, but my understanding of Orinda is that ABAG/MTC can withhold about $300K in transportation funding annually. Not a huge amount, it really only breaks down to about $17 per city resident, but it is enough to fix a few blocks of roadway each year. However, the Orinda City Council seem to be big fans of ABAG/MTC -- not to mention that Orinda Councilperson Amy Worth is Vice-Chair of the MTC.
Janet Maiorana March 13, 2012 at 05:27 PM
Orinda gets about $350,000, and I see no city interest in losing that piece of cheese set on the mouse trap.
Janet Maiorana March 13, 2012 at 05:30 PM
What are the chances of Orinda opting out? 1. The city already pays dues to ICLEI. 2. Our council member Amy Worth is on MTC board.
Shon Sherwood March 13, 2012 at 06:17 PM
Pass a bill in each town that requires any orders passed down from MTC/ABAG to be put to a vote with every other ballot measure in the general town election. Let the people decide if they'd rather take the money or ignore the request and lose the money.
Larry Pines March 13, 2012 at 06:33 PM
Please pardon what might be perceived as a hostile remark, but all these "put it to a local (repeated) vote" suggestions are dripping with naiveté. First, they assume that our (or the great majority of) City Councils and Staff have any interest whatsoever in risking input from voters that could put in play their revenue sources. Staff have built-in conflicts of interests, such as busy work and more jobs for their Planners, etc. ABAG has created entire new industries and job positions, such as full-time "Transportation" and "DSP" planners. Allowing local voters to voice their say in the socio-economic and architectural fabric/composition/profile of their town would directly undercut their staffing, pay; and Councils' power. Moreover, the people staffing our Cities/towns are big government types. They all feast at the trough of taxpayer dollars. They will never make waves, or take steps toward full disclosure, let alone ceding power and control (or accountability) to voters. It's anathema to them and everything they stand for. The deck has been carefully stacked by Sacto to drain away local tax/toll dollars and put them under control of elite appointed ABAG/MTC apparatchiks. It's pay to play, and play to be paid. The only solution is to cut the cancer out from the top, in Sacto. This won't be easy. Calling for serial local elections is a pipe dream conveniently overlooking the $ tens of thousands of cost of each election to the cities/towns.
Claire Voyance March 13, 2012 at 11:26 PM
I applaud the leaders of the Town of Corte Madera for acting in the best interest of their constituents. The sheep (i.e. "leaders") in other municipalities need to learn to do the same.
Janet Maiorana March 15, 2012 at 01:44 AM
Just hope 7 million people do not roll over and play dead. What would our forefathers have done?
Janet Maiorana March 16, 2012 at 06:59 PM
In the best tradition of the American Revolution and our Founding Fathers, the Citizens Alliance For Property Rights (CAPR) was launched. You can attend a March 22 meeting in Livermore to find out what is next in combating MTC/ABAG. Kudos to Pleasanton and Livermore. Each city has launched a Property Rights Task Force, and will give updates on their actions at the meeting. Leave a comment if you would like particulars on the meeting.
GailRVW March 16, 2012 at 09:19 PM
Rather than building seperate transit villages and cancentrate all in one or two neighboorhoods in our limited "downtowns", perhaps our local communities could allocate their $400,000 per unit "cost allocations" [or some portion thereof] to subsidize local homeowners to use it to add the seperate second "in-law" size rental units [already on the books] to their own properties all over our communities. With that kind of funding, I am sure many property owners would look seriously to doing this - especially if it were encouraged at the planning level. Or better yet make at least part of it a loan that they pay back over time from the "rent" they do recieve and then the city would have a refilling/revolving pool of money to keep it up into the future as we need to add our share of more units over the coming years. Just a little alternative thought.
Janet Maiorana March 17, 2012 at 03:26 AM
To read more on CAPR: www.proprights.org/sfbay
Regular Guy April 26, 2012 at 09:21 PM
I don't think Sacramento will change its tune based on voter reaction to undemocratic schemes. Rather, change will result from inexorable financial pressure. As the budget vise tightens, Legislators will attempt to preserve funding for programs voters value. That definitely does not include the unelected and undemocratic ABAG and MTC. These and similar quasi-governments will be cut and merged to the point of irrelevance, sooner rather than later. Towns that sold themselves out for free money from ABAG and MTC will be left with new costs but without the money. Refusing the promise of ABAG and MTC money, a promise which I believe will be broken by 2020, is the wiser decision whether you base it on principle or on fiscal balance.


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