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Friends of West Tam Valley comments on the Alta Way Extension development proposal - PART I

The following is PART I of a comment letter by Friends of West Tam Valley sent to Brian Crawford, Director of Community Development, and Raul Rojas, Director of Public Works, Marin County, and copied to the Marin County Board of Directors. It describes and discusses the concerns of the community and provides background information on the development project currently known as the “Alta Way Extension” (Project ID: GP-16-003), located in Tam Valley.

Click these text links for a complete copy of the letter and its Appendix A.

Dear Director Crawford and Director Rojas:

Friends of West Tam Valley (“FWTV”) respectfully requests a meeting with you both, to discuss the Alta Way Grading Permit Application first submitted by Alta Way Partners, LLC, on February 25, 2016, to the Department of Public Works (“DPW”), and twice revised, on May 1, 2019, and again on June 28, 2019. The current application under review is known to the Community Development Agency (“CDA”) as the “Alta Way Extension Project” (hereinafter “the Project.”).

It is critical at this time that both CDA and DPW thoroughly evaluate and address the significant concerns that have been raised for more than two years by FWTV and various County agencies and staff, regarding the proposed development project, which are summarized in this letter and in previous communications between FWTV and Supervisor Sears, the Marin County Board of Supervisors, the Department of Public Works, the Marin County Community Development Agency Planning Division (“CDA,”), and the Tam Area Design Review Board (“TDRB”) (See APPENDIX A, attached).

We feel that, to date, both the CDA and DPW staff have been remiss in their duty to process this development application fairly and comprehensively, and have failed, so far, to address the numerous, serious concerns FWTV has been presenting for more than two years.

The concerns of FWTV include:

The proposed Project site has one-way egress via Highway 1, a traffic chokepoint in Tam Valley, accessed by two (2) asphalt bridges of unknown structural integrity.The existing Alta Way road that connects the two bridges is a public roadway easement.

The proposed Project will have no secondary egress for emergency evacuation for first responders and emergency vehicles. This would potentially impact the lives and safety of all the households in the area, in addition to those proposed homes to be added.


Numerous, significant factors that must be considered in any reasonable evaluation of the proposed Project.

TDRB comments and actions

In April of 2016, the Tam Design Review Board referred to this Project’s application as a “Trojan Horse” meant to obscure the full extent of the potential for future development. TDRB expressed this and other environmental and safety concerns in their letter to Director Crawford, on April 21, 2016, and called the application a “piece-meal development approach.”[10] Their comments remain relevant today.

Among other things, in that letter, TDRB states,

“TDRB is concerned that this Design Review request is a Trojan Horse for a future sub-division along the present paper streets.

TDRB recommends that county planning request a Master Sub-Division Plan, with all the required planning requirements - EIR, Stream ordinance review, Road size & grading impacts, Fire hydrants, Tree removal impacts, Utility improvements – elec., water- gas – storm water, sewer, home site grading impacts, Road plan showing the paper streets connecting to existing surrounding roads and the traffic impact, etc. [Emphasis added]

A piece-meal development approach will have cumulative impacts to the surrounding community, people that live on the present Alta Way, and the 14 streets bounded by this development will be impacted for years. TDRB questions if major development of this size is appropriate for the area.” [Emphasis added]

FWTV has raised these and other concerns exhaustively in its correspondence with County officials since 2016 and in particular in a letter to Director Rojas, March 10, 2016,[11] May 22, 2016 with a copy to Director Crawford,[12] and at the Board of Supervisors public meeting on March 7, 2017,[13] and at a meeting with Supervisor Sears, Berenice Davidson, Principal Civil Engineer and County staff on June 22, 2018 and letters to County agencies on May 31, 2019[14] and June 25, 2019[15]. FWTV’s concerns have, to date, been largely ignored by County agencies.[16]

TDRB recently held another public hearing on June 19, 2019, which included agenda item “Review of letter to County officials calling for design review of Alta Way Extension, as required by Development Code.” After the hearing, FWTV met with the applicant, Mitch Brown and provided FWTV’s contact information and informed him that FWTV would be open to discussing his project.

To date, we have not heard from the applicant. FWTV is open to a dialog with community participation about the Project. We understand that a similar dynamic occurred between neighbors and the applicant for the Weissman (Dipsea Ranch) project which resulted in a mutually agreeable resolution. Also, prior to that meeting, FWTV sent TDRB an extensively researched comment letter with supporting documentation and attachments, describing relevant issues regarding new CEQA guidelines and other issues, noted herein.

After its deliberations at that meeting, on June 30, 2019, TDRB sent a letter to Jason Wong[17], Land Development, and copied County officials including Supervisor’s Sears and Rodini, calling upon the CDA to forward the Project application to TDRB for Design Review and in which TDRB referred to the Project as a “piecemeal application.” For reasons that the County has never explained, the Project had been previously excluded from Design Review after the applicants let their original application for a single dwelling expire;

In that letter, Andrea Montalbano, Chair writes,

“We call your attention to Development Code Article IV 22.42.010 F which requires design review for the development of paper streets. The Tamalpais Area Community Plan of 1992 in Section III D 1 a LU 7.2 (pg. III-47)[18] clearly requires design review for development or improvement of parcels on paper streets. According to our review, the exemptions for design review outlined in Section 22.42.025 do not apply to this project.”

Chairwoman Montalbano continues,

“The developers clearly intend to develop parcels on a paper street or streets. Any approval of a roadway on this paper street would most likely, and we feel clearly and deliberately, circumvent this design review requirement. We feel strongly that the wording of the article cited which requires design review "for the development of paper streets" was clearly intended to prevent this possibility. [Emphasis added]

“The letter from Tammy Taylor dated May 15, 2019, fails to call attention to this critical situation. It does, however, reflect indirectly some of the confusion that is being created by this piecemeal application in that it states that the "grading permit cannot be conditioned to include the mergers." We certainly agree with this but caution that this rather mild way of stating the issue might leave the door open for further action on the part of the developer to circumvent a more thorough evaluation.

“As the project has been ruled incomplete you now have the opportunity to change the trajectory of this application.” [Emphasis added]

On June 25, 2019, FWTV sent a letter to TDRB, signed by 102 neighbors impacted by the proposed Project, commending TDRB’s action to call upon the CDA to comply with design and review.[19] As TDRB’s behest, the Project will now be subject to Design Review, tentatively scheduled for September 4, 2019.

FWTV comments

Since the inception of this Project, FWTV has repeatedly requested that the CDA require a new, legitimately certifiable subdivision map be created by the applicant, which conforms to current County Subdivision codes and regulations, to replace the antiquated and non-compliant map.

In a memorandum by land use attorney Edward Yates[20], which was attached to a letter from FWTV to Supervisor Sears on September 12, 2016 with a copy to Director Crawford,[21] Mr. Yates provided an overview of the defects in the County’s processing of the Project application at that time. His comments continue to be relevant today.

Mr. Yates wrote,

“1) DPW and Community Development Agency appear to not be coordinating on applications that require coordination and input from both departments. Further, neither appears to have asked for input from County Counsel or the County Surveyors Service as is normally done with antiquated maps and where uncertainties exist regarding legal status of lots.

“2) DPW and the Community Development Agency do not appear – so far - to have complied with County zoning and subdivision ordinances, the SMA, and the County’s Paper Street Ordinance. Further, it is highly probable that the County would have to engage in CEQA compliance given the unusual circumstances and reasonably foreseeable nature of development in the area.”

Consequently, FWTV has repeatedly requested that the CDA require the applicant to submit a new “Subdivision Master Plan,” indicating potential future development in addition to the applicant’s currently proposed development, and that this new Master Plan to be subjected to a full EIR, as indicated by the Initial Study determination of April 25, 2018.

Again, this request echoes the condition noted by TDRB in their letter to Director Crawford and the Marin Board of Supervisors, on April 21, 2016,[22] which is quoted above.

Support the efforts of FWTV - Donate to the West Tam Valley Preservation Fund HERE

Click HERE to read PART II

[1] See 1919-00 00 1919_Garden Valley Park Parcel Map

[2] 19-08 02 19_Marin County Municipal Code 22.82.0271 - Paper Streets

[3] 19-08 02 19_Marin County Municipal Code 23.08.026 - Paper Streets

[4] See 18-04 25 18_CDA--Initial Study-Alta Way Extension

[5] See 11-00 00 11_SMFD--WUI Parcel Number identification list

[6] See 19-08 03 19_CA State Responsibility Area- Cal Fire - SRA Map

[7] See 19-08 04 19_Marin County CALFire VHFHSZ fhszl_map21

[8] See 19-11 00 19_CEQA Guidelines

[9] 19-11 00 19_CEQA-Appendix G rev. 2019

[10] See 16-04 21 16_TDRB-Brian Crawford-CDA--TDRB concerns Alta Way-Ref: Brown Design Review, Project ID-P1151, 576 ( 42 ) Alta Way, Mill Valley APO #049-041-42

[11] See 16-03 10 16_FWTV-Kate Sears-Marin County-Multiple--Brown Design Review (P#1151), West Tam Valley residential construction project

[12] See 16-05 22 16_FWTV-A.Guidice CDA--Re: Brown Design Review (#P1151)

[13] See 17-03 06 17_FWTW-Marin BOS--Initial Study for the proposed Alta Way Extension Project

[14] See 19-05 31 19_FWTV-R.Reid--CEQA questions regarding Alta Way Extension Project

[15] See 19-06 25 19_FWTV-TDRB--Comment on TDRB Meeting - Alta Way Design Review

[16] See 18-07 10 18_FWTV-K.Sears-Marin County-CDA--Follow up comments on June 22, 2018 County meeting

[17] See 19-06 30 19_TDRB-J.Wong-CDA-Multiple--Alta Way Extension Project ID GP16-003 w attachments

[18] See 92-09 21 92_Tamalpais Area Community Plan-Objective-LU.7 pg.III.47

[19] See 19-06 25 19_FWTV-TDRB--Comment on TDRB Meeting - Alta Way Design Review

[20] See 16-09 08 16_E.Yates-FWTV--Garden Valley Park Proposed Development

[21] See 16-09 12 16_ FWTV-Kate Sears--Proposed Development of Upper Alta Way with Yates letter attached

[22] See 16-04 21 16_TDRB-Brian Crawford-CDA--TDRB concerns Alta Way Ref: Brown Design Review, Project ID-P1151, 576 ( 42 ) Alta Way, Mill Valley APO #049-041-42