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Not enough time for public input about the Northgate PDA

I’ve written the San Rafael City Council in response to Shirley Fisher's June 1st Marin Voice piece “Priority Development Status is Overdue for North San Rafael.” Here is the essence of what I wrote.

Activist Shirley Fisher is spreading questionable information about the pending Priority Development Area (PDA) designation around Northgate mall, by suggesting that this would only be a "funding mechanism facilitating planning," in her one-sided article advocating the PDA approval. But there has not been enough time before the Council acts on this decision, to affirm if her claims are true or ascertain if PDA definitions will change (yet again) in the future.

When the Council deliberated on SMART Quiet Zones, there were 6 public meetings over the course of 5 months. This was a less significant issue, with Quiet Zone supporters being limited to those affected - people living near the train tracks bothered by the noise. The Terra Linda PDA designation, however, affects the entire North San Rafael community.

How many people weighed in - attended meetings or wrote letters - during the Quiet Zone process, and by comparison how many people have had the opportunity to weigh in on the PDA? With only a fraction of the residents weighing in on the PDA that should be ringing alarm bells that insufficient outreach and engagement has occurred and this matter should be shelved.

I received a mailer from the city on June 2nd. It referenced meetings for input occurring the very next day and the day after - not enough for people to rearrange their calendars. For many, the mailer may have arrived too late. 24 - 48 hours’ notice is not sufficient public notice.

I reached out to the Marin IJ, to post a response to Ms. Fisher’s article, but was told the following:

“We are working through a high volume of submissions right now. In fact, I have more than 50 under consideration today. Lately, I am getting an average of nearly four submissions per day. There are only six slots per week. Your column will be considered for publication by the editorial board ASAP. If approved, the process may still take longer than three weeks.”

This is evidence that not enough time has been set aside for proper democratic process - outreach, engagement, fact-checking, and public opinion forming.

In the meantime, at this very moment Senate Bills such as SB-995, SB-1085, and AB-1279 are progressing through the state legislature that inflate and distort local control of planning, such as further inflating density bonuses, streamlining CEQA, and reducing community engagement.

There is strong evidence definitions and intentions are actively being changed at the state level.

In spite of the statewide lockdown, I’ve seen no effort by the City to run surveys to ascertain the true sentiments of the community on growth around Northgate, but instead, the City continues to promote a process dominated by an appointed committee – an approach historically creating a playing field with an advantage to pro-growth advocates.

We know how that movie ends, it's not balanced outreach. It fails to garner input of those happy with the current status quo of slow, low-density growth.