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The Sausalito General Plan Coda: Eternal Vigilance

On February 9th, the City of Sausalito's adopted its General Plan Update (“GP”) and certified its Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR). At the City Council hearing, the unresolved issues that required the Council to discuss included 1) the Planning Commission’s recommendation to remove the study of a housing overlay in the Marinship, and 2) the P.C.’s recommendation to use the terminology "existing permitted uses" to describe existing office buildings/uses per the Marinship Specific Plan, instead of either conforming uses or non-conforming uses. [1]

As noted in my previous article, Common sense sails into the sunset at the Sausalito General Plan adoption hearing, the City Council rejected both of the Planning Commission’s proposals, and chose instead to include the Marinship in future studies of housing overlays and to use different terminology to describe existing office buildings/uses in the Marinship, calling them "permitted legal conforming uses". Other than that, the final adopted version of the General Plan Update and FEIR were essentially unchanged from the final drafts distributed to the public.

Though many residents disagree with the council members who voted 3-2 to ignore the P.C.’s proposals, those decisions did not significantly change the GP or FEIR. What remains is to be confirmed is that the text that they voted on, shown in the video, ends up being the same in the final, published GP policy sections noted.

This sets the stage for the next step in the public process, revising the Zoning Ordinance and the Housing Element to implement the policies of the new General Plan and bring the ordinances into horizontal and vertical consistency. We’re told this will commence sometime this year. All of the community comments submitted to date and the City's responses to those comments, as noted in my last article, are now of record and will bear on that future process.

New Projects in the Marinship

While the City is working its way through the upcoming revisions to the Zoning Ordinance and the new Housing Element, there will continue to be new projects and development proposals submitted, which interested parties would be advised to follow, carefully.

For example, there is currently a proposal to develop the last remaining vacant land in Liberty Ship: 70-74 Liberty Ship Way. We are told that the developers, who own most of the property at the end of Liberty Ship, intend to lease their new buildings only to uses that conform to the restrictions found in the Marinship Specific Plan. According to that document, the permitted uses on that parcel (“Zone 1, Parcel 2b, shown on the attached chart) are restricted to industrial, maritime, manufacturing, arts and artisans, maritime services, boating, and boat storage, and locally serving food services, with houseboats, and liveaboards as a conditional use, and limited ancillary office uses. The site is also located in 2 zones noted in the Sausalito Zoning Ordinance: Industrial Zoning and Waterfront Zoning.

That said, there is a general concern about future lessees because the City has historically failed to adequately enforce the Marinship Specific Plan. The concern is that with the high costs of development these days, developers can end up building a project that prices out the very users that they intend to serve. There's no doubt that new space with high ceilings and adequate power in a prime location in the Marinship will be in high demand. And if demand drives up rents, some worry that a developer may come back to the city at a later date and ask for a waiver to rent to uses that are not permitted--claiming that to have no choice, financially.[2]

Still, it would be unfair to accuse any developer of this possibility, in advance, so one has to give the developer's good intentions the benefit of the doubt and there's no reason to expect otherwise at this time. And assuming future revisions to the zoning ordinance do not change the land use designations for the Liberty Ship Way site, it would great if this project became a hub for innovative maritime industries and the arts and artisan community. But things change, so community vigilance is always advisable.

Recent rumblings at the Sausalito City Council

As noted in a recent Marin IJ article, just when everyone thought the path forward was clearly defined--discussions about revising the Sausalito Zoning Ordinance and the Housing Element will be coming up later this year--the City Council recently met to amend the Zoning Ordinance, with respect to development agreements between the City and private developers.

Although there is nothing illicit about doing this, it is concerning that staff and Councilmember Cleveland-Knowles proposed eliminating language that required development agreements to adhere to General Plan policies and programs, and odd for this to come up now, without a specific project under consideration. In other words, revisions to the Zoning Ordinance are coming soon, so what’s the rush?

Development agreements are creatures of state law and cities are empowered to enter into them with developers. Specifying clear procedures generally helps transparency. However, what is somewhat interesting is that the state law provision governing development agreements states, in relevant part:

Per 65865.

(a) Any city, county, or city and county, may enter into a development agreement with any person having a legal or equitable interest in real property for the development of the property as provided in this article.


(c) Every city, county, or city and county, shall, upon request of an applicant, by resolution or ordinance, establish procedures and requirements for the consideration of development agreements upon application by, or on behalf of, the property owner or other person having a legal or equitable interest in the property. [Emphasis added]

So again, since changes to development agreement procedures are, typically, only undertaken if requested by a developer submitting a project, it makes you wonder who might have “requested” them to change them now? Otherwise, wouldn’t it be more logical for the City to just wait to do this as an integral part of the upcoming zoning ordinance revisions?

As I said, eternal vigilance.

[1] To view the relevant discussions, see:

Discussions about Policy LU 2.15 start at 4:26:15 and voting on changes and resolutions start at 4:46:44. The discussion, edits, and vote on changing the wording of LU 2.15 at 4:50:37, which shows a screen share of wording starting at 4:51:14.

[2] Successful real estate development is based on accurately calculating the market rents one can achieve long before pencil is put to paper to draw up plans.

Bob Silvestri is a Marin County resident and 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. Please consider DONATING TO CVP to enable us to continue to work on behalf of Marin residents.