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City of Mill Valley

The City of Mill Valley must honor its commitment to an open public process

On November 17th, I posted a piece on Mill Valley's cavalier disregard for the potential danger they have placed the City's residents in by reducing the traffic capacity on our City's main evacuation arterial, Miller Avenue, from two lanes each way to one lane each way. This was followed by comments by John Palmer, a long time resident of Mill Valley who has dedicated decades working with the City on a wide variety of issues. John reminded the City Council of their responsibilities to protect the general health and welfare of the entire community.

The primary issue at hand is the danger and liabilities created by the one lane "Pilot Project" on Miller Avenue's Parkway section, particularly in light of the horrific tragedies in the recent Paradise fire. As first reported here on the Marin Post, and later reported by a number of major news outlets, including the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times, a similar narrowing of the town's major evacuation route in Paradise, appears to have contributed to the increase in deaths during the firestorm.

John Palmer took it upon himself to make precise measurements of the travel lane widths of this reconfigured section of Miller Avenue and found it to be deficient to allow emergency vehicles to pass unobstructed during a major evacuation, and to be below the minimum Federal FEMA Evacuation Guidelines (a width of 20 feet, unobstructed).

However, the more disturbing aspect of this story is how the City was caught flat-footed apparently trying to sweep this all under the rug, and failing to hold public hearings one year from the July 2017 date, when the so-called pilot project commenced. In fact, when Community Venture Partners brought up the subject of public hearings being required to make a final decision on the successes and failures of the one lane proposal, City officials acted as if they had no recollection of the entire process that had been promised. Apparently, they had no plans to even have it on the calendar in 2018 or at any time in the future.

We can only suppose they were hoping everyone would just forget about it.

To help everyone get on the same page, Community Venture Partners reminded the City that in their public announcement of March of 2018, they wrote,

Staff will report findings of the study to City Council in Fall 2018 along with next steps for making a final determination on the lane configuration.

With the end of Fall just weeks away, there has been no study and there is no evidence that the Staff has been working on those findings, at all.

With regard to the City's promise to revisit the project and to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act, the City's response was even more vague, as if to suggest that they can't quite remember what was said at the Council hearings (Note: Mill Valley's meeting minutes are notoriously lacking and tend to omit what is unpopular to discuss). Even members of the public seem to be confused.

To that point and to help refresh everyone's memory, let me offer a quote by the Mill Valley City Attorney's Office.

In July of 2017, CVP's legal counsel, Edward Yates, corresponded on our behalf, with the office of the City Attorney of Mill Valley, challenging the City's false claims of CEQA exemptions and failure to abide by the law's requirements. In response, on August 24, 2017, Assistant City Attorney, Inder Khalsa, wrote the following to Edward Yates, memorializing their unequivocal agreement to a future process and the regulatory requirements under CEQA:

Prior to a Council decision on whether to make the one-lane configuration permanent, the City plans to conduct a full environmental review of the configuration, taking into account all data and feedback obtained during the Pilot Program. Based on what we know at this time, we anticipate that an addendum or supplemental Mitigated Negative Declaration will be prepared for the determination on the permanent number of lanes in the Parkway. However, the final CEQA documentation will depend upon all the evidence gathered during the Pilot Program and subsequent public hearing. The City will not use an exemption for the final lane configuration determination. [Emphasis added.]

So now that we are all clear about the City's responsibilities to affirm that the Pilot Project is in fact only a "pilot" project, and that a further public process and further assessment and CEQA process is required before any decision can be made on its permanence, it is fair to say that the ball is now in the City's court.

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.