Starting in 2007, Mill Valley undertook a public process that eventually produced the Miller Avenue Streetscape Plan in 2016. All totaled that process included over one million dollars in consultant’s time, hundreds of hours of workshops, hearings, public input, and four different volunteer task forces, all of which resulted in a plan that was unanimously approved by the City Council.
However in the 11th hour, City Council member Stephanie Moulton Peters in collusion with a group of bicycle activists, fabricated a “public petition” and hijacked the approved planning process, which led to the adoption of an alternative plan – a plan that has put all residents of Mill Valley at significant risk.
As a result, in the summer of 2017, the Mill Valley City Council voted to decrease traffic capacity in the Parkway section of Miller Avenue (from Millwood St. to Willow St.) by 50 percent, reducing traffic lanes on the city’s main evacuation route from two lanes in and out of town to only one lane in each direction.
This was marketed as a “one year pilot project,” ostensibly to improve bicycle safety even though the Miller Avenue Streetscape plan already included equally safe bicycle lane designs.
This last minute decision to reduce road width meant that the Parkway section was now out of compliance with FEMA’s widely accepted emergency evacuation safety standards. Community leaders went to great lengths to protest this decision, arguing that in the event of an inevitable canyon fire, thousands of lives would be put at risk.
But the fix was in. Three of the Council Members -- Moulton-Peters, Sloan and McEntee -- had made up their minds long before hearing public testimony. The “Pilot Project” passed three to two: The facts, FEMA Guidelines, the requirements for assessment under CEQA, and the safety of our residents be damned.
A long list of respected community leaders made an effort to stop it, and my organization filed a series of comment letters in opposition to the plan, which were published on the Marin Post.
In August of 2017, when the City Council voted to approve the Pilot Project plan, they promised the public that after a one year period they would revisit the decision and would comply with all federal and state laws, prior to any “final approval.”
It is now the middle of November 2018, one year and four months after that promise, and the City Council seems to be hoping the community will just forget about it so they can leave their “pilot project” in place permanently. No further hearings have been scheduled.
This comes as no surprise to anyone who has been following this issue, since the proposal was conceived through public deception and false statements and it has always been apparent that the City had no intention of keeping its word about any future review.
However, the Paradise Fire has now shown us just what kind of horrors can result from planning proposals driven by personal agendas, without regard for overall public safety.
It has now been reported that a similar planning decision took place in the Town of Paradise (though it appears to have been done without the political corruption we saw in Mill Valley), and the results could not be more tragic.
With devastating consequences, the Paradise Town Council voted to reduce one of two major evacuation routes from 4 lanes to 2 lanes, just as Mill Valley has done.
For the full story, read 2015 Paradise downtown street project reducing 4 lanes to 2, may have created dangerous evacuation bottleneck during #CampFire by Anthony Watts.
Watts tells the story of how
“town officials may have lulled themselves into a false sense of safety, so much so, that they created a deadly bottleneck on the major southbound escape road… impeding the evacuation.”
He goes on to talk about
“the horror of the exodus from the town of Paradise, CA during the November 8th, 2018 #CampFire, with many people reporting gridlock like conditions that caused them to abandon vehicles and run on foot from the fire.”
Community Venture Partners recently put the City of Mill Valley on notice that they are in breach of their covenant and timeline to revisit the Mill Avenue Pilot Project decision in no more than one year from the 2017 approval. Our notice was acknowledged, but we have yet to receive a substantive response.
CVP also put the City on official notice that they may now be in legal jeopardy for violating CEQA.
As Anthony Watts concludes,
“You don’t have to be a certified civil engineer to know that if you reduce 4 lanes to 2 lanes, you are going to cause traffic congestion, and in the event of a fire evacuation, that’s going to create an additional dangerous bottleneck that will impede the evacuation.”
Mill Valley now has a new Planning Director, Patrick Kelly, and in fairness, none of the decisions about Miller Avenue happened on his watch. I trust that he is well-intentioned and hope that he will get back to us shortly on this matter.
However, the City Council and our City Manager are complicit and at this point have left the City liable for any future harm that might come of their careless stewardship of our town.
Bob Silvestri is the founder and president of Community Venture Partners, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit community organization funded only by individuals in Marin and the San Francisco Bay Area.