On Tuesday, April 11th, the San Rafael Planning Commission will meet and likely approve the most consequential project in the last 50 years. Its presentation before our city’s neutered Design Review Board, earlier this month, was met with shrugs and “The Devil made me do it” excuses for approving it. The proposed 7-story, 162-unit building that covers an entire city block at 1515 4th Street is nothing less than a monument to a hive-mind, municipal government cowardice and a lack of sensitivity that is staggering.
More incredibly, due to an avalanche of state housing laws, most prominently SB 35, a law that allows certain kinds of high-density housing projects to be exempt from environmental design review, if this project is approved by the Planning Commission, it will be built without ever coming before our locally elected officials on the City Council or our Mayor. In this case, control of design and entitlements is in the hands of a private, for-profit developer: Monahan - Pacific.
The San Rafael Downtown Precise Plan and “West End Bookending”
The San Rafael Downtown Precise Plan is anything but precise. But in this instance, it is culpable because it invited this type of development by allowing the Planning Commission broad discretion (and insulating the council from getting their hands dirty). As such, the genesis of this project is based on the city’s decision to provide “streamlining treatment” for parcels in the West End and specifically to encourage high-density development on the west side of town – “West End Bookending:” a plan that was concocted by appointees and consultants hired by the Mayor and city council members – many of whom got their start as volunteers in various boards and commissions.
In San Rafael, it appears that commissioners - many of whom are simply careerists building a resume - are vetted, ideologically. So, is it likely they will they vote to allow the worst project ever proposed in the history of San Rafael?
Some say, we get the government we deserve but this monstrosity at the highest crest of 4th street is the legacy of City Hall's urbanist junta that will change everything. While you’ve been sleeping, what gets developed and where it gets developed no longer involves what you, the taxpayer, think about it. The city didn't even require the developer to consider any kind of community benefits or amenities like a parklet or community outdoor space.
The project was facilitated by Barry Miller, the General Plan Consulting Project Manager and now an employee of the City, during the cover of Covid, using questionable pre-Covid housing data and taking advantage of scant public participation at meetings. And Miller refused to tape or Zoom these meetings despite the technology’s widespread adoption.
In answer to one of my questions he noted,
"At the corner of 4th and E, the highest top floor plate and eave (in other words, the ceiling of the top floor) would be 45 feet under the proposed code. Another 5 feet is allowed for a pitched roof, bringing the total to 50 feet for a building with a pitched roof. The maximum density bonus height is 20 feet, so those numbers would be 65 feet and 70 feet for a project awarded the full bonus. According to the Municipal Code, mechanical equipment and other "rooftop appurtenances" are not included in the height limit but must be screened and may require an environmental and design review permit.”
A done deal?
I contacted the developer’s front person and was told in no uncertain terms there is nothing that can stop the project’s approval. No more to see or say, period. Union construction lobbies, the California Association of Realtors, and Sustainable San Rafael and other self-interested “thought leaders” support it without question.
And this is only the beginning. So, say goodbye to your neighborhood’s scale and character, your privacy, sunlight, peace and quiet, views, parking, and all the other reasons you chose to live in the West End.
We need to show up and stand up and make our voices heard. And we need an autopsy of the city government and a nonpartisan, rigorous analysis of how the fallacious growth projections that drive the state housing needs mandates can be countered and debunked.
Please attend the meeting at 7 pm April 11, wear black it's a “Wake for the West End.” Meet at the corner of 4th and E Street at 6:30 pm.
The hearing on the 11th is artfully scheduled during “ski week” for most Marin County schools.
Per the City’s website;
A public meeting before the San Rafael Planning Commission is planned for April 11, 2023 at 7 p.m. the review the project. You can attend the meeting in person in the Council Chambers at City Hall or you can participate virtually from Zoom.
The meeting agenda and packet materials will be available by April 7, 2023 at the following website: https://www.cityofsanrafael.org/planning-commission-meetings/
Architectural Plans – 2/22/2023
Local Traffic Analysis – 2/3/2023