On January 12th, the Board of Supervisors voted to continue the Bently Holdings hearing for the fourth time to March 15, 2016 because Bently Holdings still has not produced an accurate and adequate traffic analysis.
As you may recall, Bently Holdings owns #1 and #2 Belvedere Place, which is the office complex above In N Out Burger in Strawberry.
Bently Holdings and Marin General Hospital have been scheming to convert about half of the general office space in these buildings to medical office use, which is currently prohibited by our Master Plan, Precise Development Plan, and a deed restriction.
Conversion to medical office use would generate an additional 1,200 vehicle trips per day on our already heavily congested roadways and intersections.
Despite our community’s objections to this proposal because of additional traffic generation, the Board of Supervisors is determined to approve it. Our own Supervisor Sears is not supporting us. She made the motion to continue the hearing instead of denying the application, and, following her lead, the voting was unanimous.
Bently Holdings has repeatedly stated that it will not spend any more money on traffic studies.
As a result, Marin General Hospital, which is a tax-payer supported public entity that covets leasing any space converted to medical office use, stepped in and spent a limit of $20,000 for a peer review of Bently Holdings’ discredited traffic study in hopes of finding some validity to it.
That expenditure was a complete waste of tax-payer funds because the peer review confirmed what Caltrans, the City of Mill Valley, and the residents of Strawberry already had determined, namely, that the traffic study was flawed because it did not employ best management practices.
Marin General Hospital has not been forthcoming in its dealings with us, and it has relentlessly pressed for approval of medical office use. It has placed its business interest in expanding operations into southern Marin above our community’s interests.
Following the peer review, the Board of Supervisors required Bently Holdings and Marin General Hospital to fund additional traffic studies and a peer review of those additional studies.
Given that Bently Holdings will not spend any more money on traffic studies and Marin General Hospital already has spent its limited budget for traffic studies, one would expect the Board of Supervisors to deny the application, but that’s not the way things work in Marin County.
In the latest corruption of process, Marin County Department of Public Works (DPW) has allocated $20,000 of precious tax-payer funds for a study to determine how much medical office use the Board of Supervisors may allow. DPW is spending our tax dollars on work that Bently Holdings and Marin General should be paying for
This turn of events is outrageous because it amounts to a gift of public funds. DPW does not extend this benefit to every other applicant.
The Bently Holdings application is an important and proximate matter for Strawberry, but our community is not engaged.
Ulrike Steinbach, with her baby daughter in tow, and I were the only speakers for Strawberry at the Board of Supervisors hearing. Attorney Riley Hurd spoke on behalf of Bently Holdings, and Attorney Len Rifkind spoke on behalf of Marin General.
If we don’t organize ourselves better and speak out as a community more strongly, then the Board of Supervisors will approve this application, and traffic congestion will increase, and our way of life will be impacted negatively.
Let’s stand up to power-politics.
A copy of my remarks during Open Time for Public Expression at the January 12, 2016 Board of Supervisors hearing follows:
January 12, 2015 BOS Hearing about Bently Holdings
Good Afternoon. Bruce Corcoran from Strawberry.
I presented evidence to Staff that the occupancy rate of the Belvedere Place office complex has been 50% or less for months. Staff was unaware.
If Bently Holdings wants to fool your unsuspecting Board into believing that existing levels of service barely meet County’s minimum standards, then what better way than to keep its buildings vacant?
ITE best practice states that a building should be at least 85% occupied and appear to be economically healthy for accurate trip generation results. The office complex fails on both counts. By keeping half of the buildings vacant, Bently Holdings is foregoing about $225,000 per month in rents. Why? What is the quid pro quo?
Establishing an accurate baseline is the most critical aspect of any traffic study because everything else that proceeds from it is hypothetical. The baseline for this project is suspect due to the high vacancy rate.
Before your Board continues this hearing for a fourth time, we must insist, Supervisor Sears, that you find out before you vote who is going to pay for the additional traffic studies and peer review of those studies that Traffic Works recommended and Caltrans requires.
If neither Bently Holdings nor Marin General has additional funds, then there is no point to continue the hearing.
The general public has a right to know who is funding this project.
The Staff Report says that DPW, on its own, has hired Traffic Works to determine how much medical office use can be accommodated without significantly impacting local intersections. This is outrageous.
We vehemently oppose the expenditure of precious public funds for work that should be paid for by Bently Holdings and Marin General.
How can Traffic Works maintain its unbiased objectivity if it is the Peer Reviewer of the W-Trans Traffic Study, but simultaneously is being paid by DPW to develop a plan for Bently Holdings and Marin General that residents of Strawberry may oppose? Does anyone else see a potential conflict here?
And if medical office use has now become a County project, then why should Marin General be the only beneficiary? Why shouldn’t Kaiser or Sutter Health or independent practitioners have an equal opportunity to rent space?
Marin General makes the self-serving argument that it can’t find Class A space for the new doctors it is trying to recruit. That’s nonsense, because there is plenty of Class A space along Highway 101.
For example, I visited Marin Commons last week and was immediately confronted by a sign that said 70,000 square feet of Class A office space for lease.
Wouldn’t it be great if two governmental entities could work out a mutually beneficial deal? The County would get sorely needed rental income, and Marin General would get less expensive Class A space for its doctors at an attractive location midway between the two most populous cities in the county. Now that is a project that actually might reduce traffic congestion.
When we return to this Board for the Seminary project, we will remind you that if you max out our roadways and intersections with currently prohibited medical office use, then there will be no room for the traffic expected from the Seminary application.
Again, we urge you to deny the Bently Holdings application today because after 5 hearings you still have no foundation to approve it.