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The hijacking of the Miller Avenue Streetscape Plan - Part III

People are sometimes uncomfortable when elected officials are criticized, personally. They say, stick to the issues. But, what if the behavior of those individuals is the issue?

In Marin, we are quick to lambaste Donald Trump for his out-sized ego, his arrogant dismissal of our justice system and his willful disregard for longstanding democratic principles and traditions. Don’t get me wrong, Trump deserves every bit of the thrashing he’s getting. But if someone uses that same shameless behavior in the pursuit of a politically correct cause in Marin, too many people conveniently look the other way. This type of disrespect for our democratic process is every bit as corrosive to our faith in government.

If you believe that the ends always justify the means and democratic principles don’t matter when it’s for a cause you support, then you and I live in different worlds and you can stop reading right here.

Finally, this series is not about bikes vs. cars nor is it anti-biking. It is about the integrity and transparency of our political process.

As I’ve said, wanting safe, continuous bike lanes on Miller Avenue has been the unanimously shared goal since the Streetscape process began. I personally own a bike and ride it as often as I can, but at my age biking is purely recreational and no longer a viable means of transportation.

Public Records Act documents

When you do a PRA, you are lucky to end up getting even 20 percent of the actual documents that existed around the issue you’re inquiring about. Some are lost or deleted as a matter of routine. Many more are deleted the minute your PRA request is received by the agency and individuals. And some recipients simply ignore the request, figuring you’ll never know, either way.

This happened when CVP filed a Brown Act challenge against Marin County. During discovery in Marin Superior Court, the County claimed no documents existed, not even the letter CVP had sent in, which was referred to by Supervisors Rice and Arnold at the hearing in question (on video tape), which was the whole basis for filing the suit in the first place. I think the word for this is chutzpah.

This proved true for Mill Valley, too, particularly when it came to personal emails, texts and other such correspondence. In this day and age, one would think a request for copies of email and text correspondence would result in a huge pile of documents. How many emails and texts do you get every day?

Some of the emails we received referred to other emails that we didn’t get. Some were parts of threads that were incomplete. We received only one copy of one text from anyone at the City, on the entire subject of the Streetscape Plan. It this day of incessant texting, it’s pretty hard to believe we got everything we asked for.

Jim Wickham produced the emails he'd received from residents. John McCauley produced the same plus several longer, conversational email threads he’d had with members of the public and staff. Sashi McEntee also produced emails she'd received from the public and some supportive email conversations she'd had with MCBC members.

Mayor Jessica Sloan, who is an attorney, failed to comply and produced no emails at all, which is surprising for someone who sends emails and texts, even while she’s presiding at a City Council meeting. One can only conclude that she either lied to the City Manager when she was asked to produce documents or she destroyed them all. How do I know this? I know this because she had emailed and texted me and a number of my colleagues in the weeks leading up to the hearings.

Where are those emails?

We received the most copies of emails written by Stephanie Moulton Peters, but many only because they ended up being included in long threads or forwarded by others.

“Grassroots” support

In early June of 2017, the City Council received a stream of emails imploring them to permanently restrict the Parkway section of Miller Avenue to one traffic lane in each direction. As I’ve discussed, the City had installed temporary one lane striping to accommodate construction parking, many months before.

Why this sudden interest? The “one lane” solution idea had not been discussed since the Taskforce and Advisory Committee decisions, nor was it an item on the agenda of the upcoming June 5, 2017 City Council hearing. This sudden “grassroots” support seemed to come out of the blue.

Or did it?

What if I were to tell you that almost nothing you were told by the City or the council members supporting it at the hearings about how and why the “one lane” proposal came to be, was accurate?

I’ll let you decide.

The majority rules?

As noted in Part I, the Streetscape Taskforce, Design Advisory Committee and the Streetscape Advisory Committee had exhaustively reviewed, debated and voted on the one lane vs. two lane concepts for the Parkway section of Miller Avenue. And, in each instance, the two lane concept was approved by the majority. However, throughout this process there was one person who consistently opposed the two lane solution.

Now, it is certainly everyone’s right to be a dissenting vote and to hold a differing point of view. Generally, that is what we want, because it invigorates our public process. It’s another thing altogether, however, to not accept the outcomes of our democratic process, which is fundamentally dependent upon accepting the principle that the majority rules. It’s yet another thing again to take action covertly, rather than just coming out and arguing for your position.

Going back as far as 2008, Stephanie Moulton Peters was not content to be just a dissenting vote. Former Taskforce, DAC and Advisory Committee members have independently confirmed that in each instance, before votes were taken, Moulton Peters had made it clear that she would never accept the outcome of the vote under any circumstances, unless it supported her personal objectives, which included the one lane plan.

The trail of breadcrumbs begins

As I said, when you do a PRA request you are lucky to get 20 percent of the emails, memos, notes and texts that actually existed, so the documents you do get have to be viewed as the tip of the iceberg.

So, what did the documents we received tell us?

On March 14, 2017 Andrew Poster, the Public Works Director for the City of Mill Valley, sent the following email to our Fire Chief and our Police Chief. The letter was copied to Danielle Staude, the Acting Planning Director, and Jim McCann, the City Manager.

Hi Guys, I'm looking for some feedback from you on the referenced topic [“Keep Miller in the Parkway 1 lane?”]

Over the past several months, we've received a number of positive comments about the current one lane configuration in each direction with folks wanting to keep it in place. They cite travel speed reductions, (unconfirmed), bike safety, ease of pulling into/out of their driveways, noise reduction and in general less chaos as reasons to keep it one lane. To this point I have not received a single complaint about the single lanes and was pretty ambivalent about whether it should be returned to 2 lanes or not, but figured we'd be keeping it as 2 lanes as that is what the community specified per the approved Master Plan.

Keep in mind that Poster’s email was sent during the worst part of the construction, when Mill Valley residents were getting daily email blasts telling them to avoid Miller Avenue.

He goes on to explain

We do not have any time or budget to complete a quantitative analysis, but anecdotally, the configuration seems to work well [Emphasis added]. The roadway is not wide enough to continue to allow parking along the curb as we have not yet installed the bike buffer. The current parking was intended to be temporary and available only during the construction.

If we were to keep it as one lane, the theory would be that a future project may be able to widen the sidewalks and provide an improved pedestrian experience. The 3 or 4 folks that asked me about it at our pop up tent last Thursday night were not concerned at all that they would not have curb parking, as they believe the median and their driveways/parking lots have plenty of parking.[Emphasis added].

Please let me know if you or anyone from your team has any emergency access, safety, CEQA, etc. concerns or preferences, which will help decide if this is a task we want to take on.

Thanks,

Andrew D. Poster, PE, TE - Public Works Director

City of Mill Valley

The few inquiries he received seem logical since those making comments were from residents who lived on Miller and were directly impacted.

What is interesting to note is his admission that the City did not have “time or budget to complete a quantitative analysis.” This corroborates CVP’s claim that the City violated CEQA, because this is precisely what CEQA requires: quantitative analysis. It is also interesting that he did not receive any comments about needing more parking, which contradicts the statements made by the City Council majority that this was important to the community and businesses. What is also interesting about Poster’s email is that he’s proposing a new planning and public policy initiative (to widen the sidewalks in the future)[1] and he doesn’t acknowledge that the approved Streetscape Plan already included widening of the sidewalks in the Parkway.

However, Poster has no authority to propose reconsideration of the one lane solution, on his own. These ideas would have to be coming from someone above him. His actions are completely outside the framework of the Streetscape design and public approval process. We have to wonder where the impetus was coming from.

The responses to Poster’s email were minimal, with only our Police Chief asking a few questions. Based on the record we were given, which is supposed to be complete, there was no further follow up by Poster.

By mid-April word of Poster’s new ideas had somehow made their way to representatives of the Marin County Bicycle Coalition (the “MCBC”), who began to ask the City about the possibility of a “one lane” solution. The question arises, who alerted the MCBC?

Speculation is put to rest?

On April 27, 2017, Linn Walsh, the Assistant to city manager Jim McCann, sent out a detailed response to those MCBC inquiries.

Thank you for contacting the City with your request for the City to maintain the temporary single lane configuration In the Parkway (Millwood Street to Willow Street).

Recently, the Project Team and the Council Advisory Group, consisting of Public Works Director Andrew Poster and Senior Planner Danielle Staude, Vice Mayor Stephanie Moulton-Peters, Councilmember John McCauley, and former Mayor and Miller Avenue Streetscape Task Force member Ken Wachtel, discussed the latest requests to configure the roadway to one lane. They determined that the community has expressed its desire on the issue through the various community meetings in the years past, and that new requests should not supersede the final adopted plan. [Emphasis added]

The Parkway will be converted back to the two-lane configuration after paving the roadway this summer.

I apologize that this likely is not a satisfying response for you, but perhaps an explanation of the level of community input and consensus building over the past 10 years may help you understand the Council Advisory Group's decision.

The Miller Avenue Streetscape Plan was developed over a 10 year period and is based on the input and guidance of community members serving on a series of citizen advisory committees as well as through input received at many public meetings and community workshops. The community supported and recommended design was then brought to the City Council several times for their review and consideration, with final adoption taking place in 2011.[which approved 2 lanes in each direction]

During the community meetings, the Parkway lane configuration was discussed in detail, with representatives from the local neighborhood areas, the community at large, business representatives and traffic engineer consultants. Committee members considered many factors and found that there was considerable concern about traffic impacts to the community if Miller Avenue was reduced to one lane in this area.

Neighborhood representatives were concerned that cut-through traffic into their neighborhoods would increase if the lane number was reduced. They cited the impact of cut-through traffic on their neighborhoods, making their streets more dangerous from speeding cars on narrow residential streets. At these meetings, it was determined that the preferred arrangement for the Parkway was the two-lane configuration, and this is what was recommended to the Council [and adopted by the Council] in the final plan.

This is the most cogent and accurate summary of the issue the City has ever produced. It states, without question that what’s done is done and it accurately describes not just the process, but the agreements that were reached with the community, which we all believed we could rely upon.

I had personally gotten a copy of this email forwarded to me at the time, and I relied on it.

Something afoot behind the scenes

On May 5, 2017, after the letter by Linn Walsh, Stephanie Moulton Peters wrote a curious email to a member of the Bicycle Coalition.

I wanted you to know that I was not particularly happy with the decision that the Miller Ave subcommittee made re: the one lane configuration in the Parkway. I wanted to survey the community to see if folks liked it the way it is now, but I was out voted by John McCauley and Ken Wachtel; John because he doesn't want another row in town after the SLP [Steps Lanes and Paths] law suit, Ken because he also believed that it would cause a row and that we should do what we promised in the Street Scape Plan.

I feel like you do, that it's working and we should query the community about keeping it as is. I've spoken to a couple of other folks who feel the way you and I do. I have wondered about trying to organize 15-20 people to come to the podium at a CC meeting in public open time to request the city survey the community about maintaining the current one-lane configuration and provide their comments about the benefits of leaving it this way.

This email is revealing, first because it corroborates the testimony of our sources who served on the Taskforce, the DAC and the Advisory Committee, who indicated what Moulton Peters had told them before each vote. Second, because it reveals that Moulton Peters had been working on this for a while and her intention is clearly to instigate support for an issue that had yet to become a public one, but that will help her achieve her long-held goals.

It’s one thing for an elected representative to hold to a position on any issue, publicly, which is how it was presented to the public at the August 14th decision-making hearing. But, it is another thing entirely, to go behind the back of the community and even other City Council members in order to undermine agreed upon decisions, and to surreptitiously agitate dissent.

Two weeks later, the scant email record showed that this agitating had progressed significantly.

On May 23, 2017, Stephanie Moulton Peters wrote to yet another bicycle activist, as follows:

I wanted to get back in touch with news that you may have already and ask for your help. MCBC [Marin County Bicycle Coalition] is organizing MV community members to speak to the City Council in favor of maintaining the one lane configuration on Miller Ave in the Parkway area on Monday night June 5 during public open time at the start of the meeting at 6:30.

I'm guessing you have been… contacted by Bjorn of MCBC [Bjorn Griepenburg] who is coordinating the outreach efforts to the community. If you would be willing to speak in favor of keeping the one lane and know of others who might also speak, it would be great to have your help with this.

Note that Bjorn Griepenburg is the Policy and Planning Director of MCBC. He lives in Petaluma.

Moulton Peters went on to say

There is great concern that the Sycamore area may protest maintaining this one lane configuration [Emphasis added] because, going into the construction project, there was a belief that this would cause a diversion of traffic through the neighborhoods. I haven't heard a thing from the neighborhood about this and am quietly reaching out to a few folks I know to ask if this has been an issue and if not, to please come to the podium on June 5. If you happen to know anyone living in the Sycamore that would be sympathetic to maintaining the one lane, feel free to contact them too.

That's the news!

Around this time, Moulton Peters also sent this same email text to other MCBC members. What is clear from this email and others we received is that Moulton Peters was not just agitating, but also working to fabricate the appearance of “community” support from anyone who was willing to get up and do so, regardless of whether they were Mill Valley residents or not.

It seems Moulton Peters was intentionally orchestrating a situation where it would appear that this support for the one lane plan was spontaneously and overwhelmingly coming from the community, rather than from her, so she could then point to it as a reason the take up that banner in the name of the “community.”

In total, these emails show that in the many months since the Advisory Committee met and voted to maintain the four traffic lanes as promised to the community, Moulton Peters had been in conversation with the Marin County Bicycle Coalition and others about overturning that decision.

Later documents would reveal the full nature of that conversation.

The “One Lane” Plan goes public

On June 5, 2017, the City Council received a slew of letters, regarding the Parkway section of Miller Avenue. Their wording was similar or sometimes identical to the “script” suggested by Moulton Peters. One such letter read as follows:

Dear Mill Valley City Council:

I would like to ask your consideration to change the proposed lane striping in the Parkway section of Miller Avenue (Willow to Millwood) from 2 vehicle travel lanes in each direction to one travel lane in each direction.

Again, this item was not on that June 5th agenda nor was it on the June 19 agenda, nor was the general public aware that this issue was in play. This stream of letters and emails was facilitated by Jim McCann and Danielle Staude who wrote positive responses, acting as if they’d not heard of this idea before, and thanking them for their “input.”

Was this really true that neither of them had heard about this “community” support, before? The record shows their pretense of naïveté was a canard.

Subsequently, in response to the “public’s” suggestion, on June 16th, Mill Valley Planning staff quickly created and sent out the survey of neighborhood leaders that was noted in Part II. It is telling that the results of that survey, in which the majority of leaders were against the one lane plan, was not provided to CVP by the City in response to our PRA request.

Nevertheless, the proposal to keep the Parkway one lane in each direction was now a public issue.

Lingering questions

The renewed momentum to reconsider the City Council’s decision on the Parkway traffic and lane configurations raised some questions. It appears that Danielle Staude, the Acting Planning Director may have been the one to raise it, probably to City Manager Jim McCann.

Was the reopening of this issue proper or even allowed under the terms of the previous council’s approvals? The overall answer is yes, any City Council can at any time raise any issue for reconsideration, so long as it’s done properly.

As I’ve explained in Parts I & II of this series, CVP believes the public process the City followed in considering the Pilot Project was not proper nor was it compliant with CEQA, irrespective of the details of the decision they made. However, the documents show that Moulton Peters wasted no time lobbying for going forward with the one lane plan, regardless.

In a June 20th email to Danielle Staude, Moulton Peters argued that the City Council had discretion to change the Streetscape Plan any way they wanted at any time.

The SSTF [Streetscape Task Force] rightly saw the pros and cons of one lane and made a conservative decision to keep the two lane configuration, while allowing for the possibility that the CC [City Council] could decide otherwise in the future. Ken's motion reflects all this. The motion provided for the CC to make an adjustment in the future based on more information (and funding), which we now have.

Not only does this logic disregard all the new information since the 2011 final Streetscape Plan decision (a new General Plan, Mobility Element, etc.), but it contains one glaring flaw. The Taskforce’s perhaps poorly worded recommendations were made in the context of presenting the City Council with options in order to make its final decision to adopt the Plan. It was not offering options forever. Those options were superseded by the City Council’s final decision and adoption of the approved Streetscape Plan.

In any case, on June 21st, Moulton Peters continued her argument in another email to Danielle Staude, emphasizing that

My take is that while there was a vote to maintain two lanes, most all the comments made by DAG members express desire for safety and for a standard bike lane width.

Apparently won over, in response, Danielle wrote

Ok, just be careful as there are the additional votes that occurred during the DAC (2011) that set the parameters of the 1-lane and I could see Bob S. [Silvestri] possibly making that argument. [Emphasis added]

I’m not sure if I should take this as a compliment or be upset. So, I’ll ask you. Do you think that elected officials and city staff should target certain individuals and collude to have arguments prepared against their positions?

Meanwhile, MCBC members continued to work with Moulton Peters.

Collaboration with MCBC

On June 29th, an email to Moulton Peters from a bicycle coalition member read

Hi Stephanie:

I got your voicemail - thanks. Some of it was breaking up, but I think you said you would support the single lane design. Let me know if there is anything else I can do on this. Should I talk to any of the other council members?

On July 6th, Moulton Peters writes an email to Bjorn Griepenburg, the Policy and Planning Director of MCBC as follows:

I wanted to let you know that the date for the city council discussion of one vs two lanes in the Parkway area of Miller has been changed to July 24th, rather than July 17. If you are able to reach out to the same local folks you communicated with last month and urge them to attend and provide comments that would be helpful.

She goes on to “sell” the decision.

The proposal we'll be discussing is whether to maintain the original plan for two lanes or to do a pilot test of the road in a one lane configuration for something like 6-12 months to see how this works once construction has been completed. Given what we know about the safety benefits and what we think we know about the adequacy of one lane to handle the traffic In the area, I think the pilot test is a good incremental step to take and believe it will provide the community some comfort that one lane is an appropriate permanent solution.[Emphasis added]

This is the first time we have a clear record of Moulton Peters showing her hand, publicly. The goal is to make the one lane solution the permanent solution. The Pilot Project then is not actually a test of an idea, but rather it’s a way to sell the idea to an unsuspecting public.

This speaks directly to the comment about traffic that CVP made in its letter of August 6, 2017. In that letter we stated the following:

Anyone with planning experience knows that traffic congestion is a highly fluid phenomenon. Traffic flow is constantly seeking efficiency and equilibrium. If we only allow one traffic lane in the Parkway, after Miller Avenue is completed, traffic flow will adjust accordingly, seeking equilibrium between Miller Avenue, Blithedale Avenue and cut-through in the Triangle. It will do this regardless of the overall volume of traffic at any given time of the day or year. That is how traffic works: traffic flows are constantly adapting to maximum time efficiency for drivers.

For this reason, if Miller Avenue is opened with only one lane in the Parkway, as overall traffic inevitably continues to get worse everywhere, over time, a year or two from now the Council will simply shrug and say, “Well that’s how it is. Traffic is bad,” because we’ll have no objective baseline data to compare it to.

Without establishing any baseline statistics for traffic on the completed Miller Avenue Streetscape Plan as designed to judge from, there will be no way to gauge the increased impacts of traffic congestion on Miller Avenue, Blithedale Avenue or the increase in cut-through traffic in the Triangle neighborhoods caused by reducing capacity to one lane.

Moulton Peters is smart enough to understand that this all works to her advantage.

Staff covers their bases

A few days before the July hearing, Jim McCann reached out to our Police Chief and Fire Chief with the same question Andrew poster had asked back in March.

Hi Tom and Angel,

There have been a number of folks who have raised concerns about the effects that a single lane on Miller from Millwood to Willow would have on emergency services. Please let me know your thoughts with respect to "normal" activities (responding to a call through the corridor or on the single lane area) and in the case of a larger emergency requiring large scale evacuation.

Also, please plan on attending the meeting Monday to respond to questions which will likely come up on the topic. Please bring other staff who you think might be helpful in responding as well.

thanks.

Jim McCann - City Manager

In an email copied to Tom Welch, Andrew Poster and Danielle Staude, Police Chief Angel Bernal, replied

Jim,

I cannot speak for the FD, but the patrol staff has not had a problem with responding to calls during the temporary single lane configuration during construction.

Thanks, Angel

This response conveniently side-steps that fact that there had not been a “larger emergency requiring large scale evacuation” during the Miller Avenue construction, while the Parkway was striped for one lane.

The response from Fire Chief, Tom Welch was one sentence.

No concerns are coming to mind, I'll share with my team.

More concerning, if the record we received is complete, these simple email exchanges constitute the entirety of the due diligence that the City undertook to ascertain if the Pilot Project would have an impact on emergency preparedness.

After the July 17th hearing, the city’s newsletter, Mill Valley Connect, would disingenuously report this as follows:

Two concerns raised by community members interested in changing the street back to a two-lane configuration were addressed: Emergency egress and traffic. In response to these concerns, Fire Chief Tom Welch and Police Chief Angel Bernal both stated that the Parkway area has adequate space for emergency evacuations, and if needed, they could use both sides (inbound and outbound) to create an evacuation route out of the City.

It is telling that the issue is now being presented to the public as “to turn the street back to a two-lane configuration,” rather than to change the Streetscape design to a one lane configuration.

Local lobbying continues

Meanwhile, Moulton Peters has turned her attention to local residents she has enlisted to push for the Pilot Project, and continues to promote her revisionist history of events. In an email exchange with a well-known community activist, on July 14th, a few days before the first hearing, she notes

After quite a bit of discussion… the [Streetscape Taskforce] vote was in favor of the two lane option; however, many who voted for two lanes, did so reluctantly out of concern for traffic backups that might occur. We just didn't know at that time what would result. We know more now than we did then.

Think about it. This statement is based solely on there being no traffic problem in the Miller Avenue Parkway, in the dead of summer, during construction, when the city is sending out notices almost daily advising residents to avoid driving on Miller. In Moulton Peters view of things, this apparently substitutes for the need for a traffic study to assess impacts.

The recipient writes back

Bob Silvestri single handedly agitated this negative response.

Moulton Peters responds that she agrees.

At this point it’s getting hard to not take all this personally. But, for the record, the petitions opposing the Pilot Project were not my idea. I was only guilty of agreeing with them.

In any case, two days later an MCBC supporter writes

I'm seeing a petition going around to ensure we keep the class 1 bike lane on upper Miller: Is this really at risk of going away? What an incredible shame that would be after all the hard work you have been doing on this. [Emphasis added] What can we do to help?

Instead of correcting him and telling him that both the 2 lanes and 1 lane solutions have perfectly safe bike lanes, which are in fact Class II not Class I[2], Moulton Peters responds by saying…

You are right- it would be a shame to have this opportunity go away. What you and others you might reach out to can do is either come to the city council meeting to comment in favor of doing a 6-12 month pilot test of the one Jane configuration or send an email of support.

You could include a comment about your work with your neighborhood to calm traffic and make it safer for kids and everyone.

What is equally telling in this exchange is that he is referring to “all the hard work you have been doing on this.” This email is before the first public hearing on the Pilot Project. This then corroborates what we’ve surmised, that Moulton Peters has been working toward this end in collaboration with MCBC for a long time, long before the public or even her fellow city council members knew anything about it.

I’ll ask the same question I asked at the August hearing. Is this legal? Is this ethical? In my estimation what Moulton Peters is doing is most definitely dishonest, particularly since it is all being done under the pretense that this is all coming from the community rather than being guided by her.

Since Sloan ignored our PRA request and McEntee sent so few documents, we have no way to really assess to what extent they might have collaborated in this effort. However, their harmonious performances and statements at the hearing make it hard to believe there were not discussions between them prior to the hearing.

This then was the set up to the August 14, 2017 decision making hearing.

In the wee hours

At 12:36 am, in the early hours of July 18th, after the July 17th City Council meeting, Moulton Peters sent the following email to Bjorn Griepenburg, the Policy and Planning Director of the Marin County Bicycle Coalition.

Great job tonight and all the recent days leading up to the successful vote at the Mill Valley City Council meeting to approve the one year pilot test for one lane in the Parkway on Miller Ave. I am grateful to you and Jim for your willingness to help us, your strategic thinking on the petition and your ability to engage local folks to encourage write letters, sign the petition, and come to the council meeting tonight. It made a difference! I look forward to sharing the new buffered bike lanes in the Parkway with you both very soon.

This email is interesting for its candid admission about what had occurred. She thanks MCBC for “your willingness to help us, your strategic thinking on the petition.” One wonders, who is "us?"

It says “the petition” rather than "your petition," which implies that the petition did not solely originate with MCBC, as Moulton Peters and Jim McCann had characterized it at the hearing. Rather, it implies that Moulton Peters herself was part of the group that co-wrote the so-called MCBC “community” petition in support of the Pilot Project that MCBC presented as its own.

Later that day, Bjorn Griepenburg responds.

Hi Stephanie,

You're very welcome! It was a pleasure working with you and all of the wonderful advocates in Mill Valley to help deliver this result. We are incredibly grateful to have your leadership and wisdom on the Mill Valley City Council and TAM Board of Commissioners.

We look forward to celebrating the buffered bike, lanes and Almonte improvements in the coming months! There are so many projects to be excited about in Mill Valley--much of that is owed to you.

Best, Bjorn

Soon after Moulton Peters had thanked MCBC, again in the wee hours of the morning of the 18th, she sent the following email to city manager Jim McCann, Director of Public Works Andrew Poster and Acting Planning Director Danielle Staude. It was entitled, “Thank You.”

Hi Jim, Andrew and Danielle,

Thank for all your efforts, great work, and the presentations tonight that produced the successful Council vote for a one year pilot test of the one lane configuration in the Parkway. This was not an easy lift in the short time we had to make the decision, but we did it, we did it well, and it was the right thing to do!

With Sincere Appreciation, Stephanie

The next morning Jim McCann replied to Moulton Peters

Thank you for this nice note. Teamwork! You did a terrific job of guiding this last night. We will work on the follow-up item for the August meeting.

Onward!

-Jim Mccann - City Manager

City of Mill Valley, CA

Onward

The record shows that Moulton Peters was also intimately involved in directing the progress of the second “community” petition supporting the Pilot Project. This exchange between Moulton Peters and a Bicycle Coalition supporter, the day after the July 17th hearing, is interesting.

He writes

As for the petitions, it's all in how many people you can rally quickly -- I had 3 days, they had 7 -- and it's all exponential as people forward it on, etc.

Moulton Peters replies:

Thanks for taking the time to send them and for your petition and current count of signatures. We are still hearing that the "other side" had at least 500 signatures. I don't know at this point if it's worth spending any time to analyze who signed what, who lives in MV (all of MV). I think we just go forward and stay vigilant through the final council vote on Mon. Aug 7

Here we have an elected Mill Valley official working with someone who does not vote in Mill Valley, encouraging that person to not care about who signs the petitions or whether they are Mill Valley residents or not.

I’m sorry, but I thought our council members were elected to represent the interests of those of us who live in Mill Valley. I guess I’m just old fashioned.

Later than same day, Moulton Peters follows with another email to the same individual (obviously, in response to an email we did not receive).

Interesting about Sharon Rushton because we really made an effort to work with her about the situation at Almonte and Miller. I was going to reach out to her to ask for her help getting the word out for the modification that another local neighborhood was asking for.

Admittedly, her neighborhood wanted to keep two lanes and the Parkwood neighborhood wanted to keep just one. Nonetheless, I'm disappointed that she would not help circulate your petition. She is not really a neighborhood leader, but very much an advocate for her own point of view. [Emphasis added]

As far as your petition goes, I can keep you apprised of the blowback we get in the next few days and we can decide if reviving the petition before August 7 would be helpful. We've already gotten one nasty gram from someone In the Boyle Park area where there seem to be a pocket of homeowners who are sick of the traffic on E Blithedale and seem to think that one lane on the Parkway will negatively affect their commutes more. While it's true that our streets are all connected, I honestly don't think what happens on the Parkway section of Miller has much effect on EB.

Stephanie Moulton-Peters

If anyone still doubts that Moulton Peters was the promoter of the two “community” petitions supporting the Pilot Project, this email puts that to rest. In commenting on this, it’s hard to know where to begin.

Sharon Rushton, who lives in Tam Valley, has been one of the most dedicated advocates for her community for more than 15 years. She has spent countless hours doing some of the best research and analysis one could find anywhere on a wide variety of subjects important to the health and welfare of her neighbors. She is far more knowledgeable and articulate than Moulton Peters could hope to be.

Moulton Peter’s disparaging of Sharon is cruel, but her characterization of her as being “very much an advocate for her own point of view” is as ironic as it gets.

Similarly, Moulton Peters labeling public opinions as “blowback” and “nasty gram” is an insult to the entire community. This is the reward we get for the “public engagement” she’s always professing to care so much about? More and more, in reviewing the record, one has to wonder if Moulton Peters represents anyone but herself. It seems like it's just about winning, whatever the cost.

Eye on the prize

At the July 17, 2017 hearing the public and other City Council members were misled to believe that there was significant, grassroots support in Mill Valley for the Pilot Project proposal. It also appears that city manager McCann and Acting Planning Director Staude were now on Moulton Peter’s team. With this success under their belt the focus now turned to the final August hearing and vote.

The day after the 17th hearing Moulton Peters began to work with staff on how to “spin” the minutes, craft public announcements in Mill Valley Connect and on other social media, and generally develop agreed upon talking points to use moving forward.

We have no record that any other City Council member did anything similar.

On July 18th, Moulton Peters wrote the following to Danielle Staude

Well, we could have predicted that there would be some blow-back from our 3-2 decision in favor of the one lane pilot last night. I'd suggest we work together to craft a statement that provides:

* Benefits list would include: minimal impacts on travel times, increased neighborhood safety for walkers and bikes, and parking and loading zones for businesses employees and commuters.

The city’s newsletter, Mill Valley Connect, followed this script in its announcements and explanations about the public process. What is so remarkable about this is that the entire list of talking points has been made up out of whole cloth. As we pointed out in Part I, the City had not done any credible analysis of any of these issues.

The tell

Following the July 17th hearing, there was a flurry of congratulatory emails between Moulton Peters and her collaborators. However, one in particular is quite revealing.

On July 26th, a Pilot Project supporter wrote

Hi Stephanie, thank you for your leadership in championing this cause last week. I understand that there are still some members of the community that are trying to reverse this. Is there any chance that you, Jessica, or Sashi could change your vote prior to formally approving the resolution on Aug 7th? Does everyone need to come back again to repeat their public comments? [Emphasis added].

In other words, this person is asking Moulton Peters if there is any risk the other two committed voting council members, Sloan and McEntee, are in danger of changing their minds.

Why is he asking her? It would be a blatant violation of the Brown Act for Moulton Peters to have any knowledge of that. Yet, this individual, who the record shows had been having phone conversations and ongoing emails back and forth with her since March of 2017, asks this as a matter of course.

Perhaps, this explains the unusual unanimity of the City Council members who voted for the Pilot Project. It implies that seriatim meetings have been taking place between Moulton Peters, Sloan and McEntee. Otherwise, how would Moulton Peters know if those votes are in jeopardy? This may also explain why Sloan either destroyed all her email records or declined to produce any.

We found no response in the record, to this person’s question to Moulton Peters. However, in other communications with this same individual, she often suggests that he call her to resolve these kinds of questions.

Closing thoughts

To what extent Moulton Peters, Sloan, McEntee, and city staff did or did not collaborate to intentionally manipulate public perception toward a predetermined end, we will never really know. But, we do know some things. We know that Vice Mayor Stephanie Moulton Peters and others knowingly promoted falsehoods to the public and intentionally distorted significant facts and circumstances critical to the council’s vote on the fate of the Pilot Project.

We also know that at least one of our council members has not been acting in good faith, which is the bare minimum that we ask of our elected representatives.

For Stephanie, the Pilot Project is just a slight of hand. All her pontificating about how the Pilot Project will allow the City time to gather data and analyze impacts is just talk. It’s clear that Moulton Peters has no intention whatsoever of honoring those promises.

All of this makes me wonder what other documents might have existed that we did not get to see.

I guess, we were lucky to get the ones we did, particularly by Moulton Peters. A more troubling possibility, however, is that Moulton Peters does not care whether we got those documents or not, because she sees nothing wrong with anything she did or is doing. Perhaps she truly believes that the ends always justify her means.

But, let’s keep one thing in mind. It’s not up to her to decide that. It is up to you and all of us. Ask yourself this: are these the kind of people we want representing us?

The final countdown

As the days counted down to the final hearing on the Pilot Project, it appears that spirits were high within the close knit collaboration that Moulton Peters had orchestrated and nurtured for almost a half a year. As noted in Part I, the August 14th decision making hearing went off without a hitch.

One last piece of correspondence we received from the city in response to our PRA request, was an email from an MCBC member, addressed to the Mill Valley City Council. It was a comment letter in support of the Pilot Project, in anticipation of the August 14th hearing.

Dear Mayor, Vice-Mayor and City Council Members:

I am writing to thank you for your continued commitment to delivering the best possible outcome for the "parkway" portion of Miller Avenue. The Marin County Bicycle Coalition Is convinced that your willingness to consider new information, and engage thoughtful discussion, is delivering a project that will benefit all roadway users.

We were delighted by the outcome of the July 17 Council meeting, especially for those who live, work, walk, and bike along the parkway corridor. As Planning and Policy Director Bjorn Griepenburg noted in his comments to the Council, MCBC assisted community members in rallying support for the one-lane configuration. We were especially happy to see safety given the priority it deserves in your deliberations.

MCBC realizes that you have faced pushback against your decision, in the form or another petition. This petition concerns us for two reasons: 1) it preys on fears of traffic congestion and cut-through traffic impacts, both of which have been addressed by staff (and will be further addressed through the pilot); and 2) it attempts to ignite anger over alterations to the Streetscape Plan, despite the plan's purpose as guiding and outcome-driven, rather than static and unchangeable.

MCBC applauds your willingness to make adjustments, where necessary, to prioritize safety for people walking and biking, just as you did for the Miller/Almonte intersection.

We would welcome any questions you might have about our position on the Miller Avenue parkway. We look forward to continuing to work with you toward our shared objectives of a safe, efficient and attractive transportation corridor that serves all roadway users.

A masterful bit of elucidation of the talking points that Moulton Peters, McCann, Staude and others had so carefully crafted in their months of preparation leading up to this moment.

MCBC's efforts, in this case led by individuals who do not live in Mill Valley, or in some cases even in Marin County, along with Moulton Peters had now become the official city’s de facto “expert” in all things related to planning, traffic, public safety, emergency preparedness and more.

Who knew it could be so easy? One wonders why we even bothered with the whole 17 year Miller Avenue Streetscape process in the first place.

I guess I’m only surprised that Moulton Peters did not announce, after the victorious August 14th vote, that the turnout of support to inaugurate this decision had been the largest crowd in history.


Read PART I HERE

Read PART II HERE


[1] Poster fails to note that the approved Streetscape Plan already called for the widening of the sidewalks in the Parkway.

[2] A Class I bicycle lane requires that it be a completely separated roadway and cannot have parking or travel lanes impacting it. (U.S. Department of Transportation).