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And the award for the "Worst Performance by a Planning Department" goes to...

For some time now I've been thinking that there should be an award for worst performance by a city planning department - our very own Marin Razzies for local government. The latest news around the County has pushed me to stop musing and go for it.

Well, sports fans, there's certainly no lack of competition this season. It's almost like everywhere you look there's another really dumb decision being made, or a lot of bad actors, or another bogus "public process" underway.

But first, I want to note that last year's Honorary Achievement Award must go to the City of Mill Valley Planning Department for their dark, Shakespearean-esque tale of subterfuge, palace intrigue, back room dealings, and power gone mad, with former Director of Planning, Mike Moore, in the lead role. The shear chutzpah it took to pull off this production was sure to make it the runaway winner.

Now on to this year's nominees.

One surefire front runner this year is the Novato Planning Department run by that long time player, Bob "Double Dipper" Brown. This is a planning department that never saw a proposal (read as "revenue producing") it didn't love.

Whether it's the dreadful new Laurel Ridge proposal, or the long-running "Gateway Bus Terminal" debacle, or the giveaway of public lands for private profits at Hamilton (a tour de force performance, putting a commercial sports complex in a public park, shamelessly decorated as being "for the children"), there's no doubt these guys are producing first class "Hall of Shame" stuff!

Then there's a perennial favorite, the Marin County Planning and Development Agency and their under-studies at the Marin County Planning Commission, with those always dramatic cameos by the Marin County Board of Supervisors.

Who could forget their combined madcap performance during the 2015 - 2023 Housing Element hearings or their inscrutable portrayals as the "deciders" in the Saga of the County Affordable Housing Combining District. But what really puts them in the running this year is their over-the-top performance in their modern rendition of the Keystone Cops Meet Abbot and Costello trying to decide what to do about the reduction of the State Default Density from 30 units per acre to 20 units per acre, for Marin County.

Who will ever forget the standout performance by Marin Planning Commission newcomer David Paoli, who in a pivotal scene, took to the microphone and delivered his now famous lines, when he declared, “I don’t understand what we’re doing! I don’t understand what the hell is going on.” Critics are comparing it to Brando's Streetcar Named Desire.

But in an unexpected upset, the award this year for "Worst Performance" must go to the Corte Madera Planning Department, who are kicking it 'old school' with their reprisal of Gettin' WinCupped. Arguably no planning department deserves this award more since, let's face it, it was their pioneering work in producing the most convoluted and inscrutable public processes possible that led to the creation of this award in the first place.

We don't know who will be accepting the award since no one director ever seems to complete a project there, and the revolving door of staff planners and consultants makes this critic's head spin. But there's no doubt that this madcap group is still in fine form with their latest handling of the Corte Madera Inn Rebuild project and its series of Environmental Impact Reports.

The story-line has its share of twists and turns, and like any good who-done-it we never know what's going to happen next or who the real villain is, but from what we've seen so far, the ending will be worth sticking around for.

We congratulate them on winning this prestigious award and want to thank the runners up for their efforts!

But now that that's over with, we do have some questions about the plot of the Corte Madera Inn story.

The Corte Madera Inn Redevelopment Proposal: Alternative 4

How is it that Corte Madera was able to get a developer to pay the fees for a Revised Environmental Impact Report, for an over-sized proposal (Alternative 4) that is more impactful than the last ones (traffic congestion, mass, height, etc.) and one that the developer has publicly stated they don't want to ever build?

Why would a town insist on spending so much time and money (not to mention putting the public through yet another series of hearings) on this proposal when they know that under the terms of their own building moratorium and rules about what constitutes a "complete" application, this proposal can't even be processed or built now?

The audience is justifiably confused. After all, if the owner says they don't want to build the revised project, why should anyone pay attention to it?

Well, I don't know, but I would suggest we all consider this.

If this new Alternative 4 gets through an EIR process, without challenges before August 31st, then the ability to bring future arguments about its significant impacts will, for the most part, be lost.

Sound familiar? By the time the general public knew what was going on at WinCup and what its impacts would be (not to mention what it would look like), they were surprised to learn it was too late to bring that up - the unfairness of which was not lost on the Marin County Grand Jury in their critique, The WinCup/Tam Ridge Residences: How Did It Come to Pass?

In addition, the Town is allowing the Corte Madera Inn rebuild proposal to be considered as planned development-type process (a "PD"), supposedly because it is located within a special Bay Overlay District. A PD planning process is when a developer submits a proposal that doesn't conform to existing zoning, with the request that the city give it special consideration (relaxed zoning and parking requirements, increased height and mass, etc.), without the need to seek variances.

However, a PD process typically doesn't apply to commercial projects. Instead, in the vast majority of cases, it is used for residential subdivisions or mixed use developments (like WinCup). And, generally, the purpose of an overlay district is to limit development impacts not to encourage development that exceeds zoning or increases impacts. Further, the relaxation of city standards for the Corte Madera Inn appears to have no relationship whatsoever to the Bay Overlay District, whose purpose is to protect the Bay and prevent flooding.

Any way you look at it, Corte Madera's approach to this project is highly unusual.

Still, regardless of why the developer or the Town is doing this, the public is now forced to spend time and money analyzing the Alternative 4 proposal and challenging it to ensure it's not approved. Because if it were approved, and the town's General Plan and zoning were to be amended to allow it, the developer could come back at any time in the future and "decide" that they want to build it and since the EIR process would be over, all they'd have to deal with was design review.

So ask yourself this. If the developer really doesn't want to build Alternative 4, who would want it to be approved?

Well, I'm just spit-balling here but it is interesting to me that the size, height, density and massing of the buildings proposed in Alternative 4 align perfectly with Marriott Corporation's standard templates for Residence Inn and Springhill Suites hotels.

Property rights and entitlements run with the land not with who owns the land. What if the current owners suddenly decide to sell the property after the EIR review process is completed? Where does that leave the residents of Corte Madera?

Like all the other development projects in other cities, noted above, at the end of the day isn't this really just all about money? The only reason anyone "needs" to rebuild the hotel to be 70 percent larger and twice as high as the existing one is they will make more money doing so.

Alright, I get it. Our economic system is based on profits. And people have property rights. I think that within reason a land owner should be able to develop their property to the fullest extent within the current zoning regulations. But no one is entitled to expect to be granted extra property rights, particularly when doing so would negatively impact everyone else in the community. Increased zoning rights need to be weighed against public benefits for the community. And in this case the public benefits are woefully inadequate.

If this is the method by which we give away property rights, why can't I be entitled to get duplex zoning for my single family residential lot, in order to "make it economically feasible" for me?" The answer to that is if I were allowed to get special treatment to do that, everyone in my neighborhood would want to do that (and could be entitled to do that), and the resultant congestion, traffic, parking, and infrastructure impacts of it would quickly destroy the character and livability of my neighborhood.

So what is the endgame of the kind of planning "logic" we're being asked to accept for the Corte Madera Inn rebuild?

The answer is, there is none. The result is endless over-development. Am I really supposed to feel bad for the Marriott Corporation? I'm sure they'll survive, somehow.

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention. There is an important awards ceremony coming up fairly soon.

It's call the election.

Click here to read the new comment letter submitted to the Town of Corte Madera by land use attorney, Edward Yates, on behalf of Community Venture Partners, Jennifer Larson, Peter Hensel, and Andre Pessis.

Click here to read a previous comment letter submitted by land use attorney, Edward Yates, on behalf of Friends of Corte Madera.