Durable Growth, Government

Taking the next step – Opportunities to make a difference during the week of June 5

Residential density near Kew Gardens in London

Residential density near Kew Gardens in London

This is my third week of providing a calendar of opportunities to become more involved in urbanist advocacy.  I’m still fiddling with the content and format, but have received supportive feedback, so will be continuing with the concept.

This is also an interesting week to write about advocacy.  I have examples and am observation to share.

On Wednesday, I attended the Board meeting of Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit, the folks who are returning commuter rail to the North Bay later this year.  The agenda included Board consideration of a fare structure for the train.  I attended with several other members of Friends of SMART, most of whom shared my concern that the fares under consideration by the Board were too high.

I had a number of specific reasons for my fare concerns, starting with the fact that the system is incomplete, missing extensions north and south, the second station in Petaluma, transit-oriented development throughout the system, and parking facilities, bike and car, at many stations.  I feared that the fares initially considered didn’t adequately reflect the unfinished state.

Also, I was concerned by talk among Board members about the need to “recoup” the costs of building the system.  Consumers don’t make spending decisions based on what the product costs to make; they make decisions based on the value they receive versus other choices, such as driving.  Being blind to how consumer decisions are made seemed a risk.

Lastly, I believed that the future success of SMART can’t rest solely on enticing current commuters out of their cars, but instead on nurturing the next generation of commuters to live transit-oriented lives, with fewer household cars and daily reliance on trains and buses.  To foster that generation required a fare that would encourage them to experiment with the new train until it became integrated into their lives.  And until the non-railroad improvements, such as transit-oriented development, were in place.

It was the last point on which I chose to focus in my comments.  Other public speakers chose different perspectives, but all expressed concern about the fares.

As best, we had partial success.  The Board approved a fare structure lower than we had feared, but higher than we had hoped.  However, several of the points that I’d made found their way into the Board discussion, including comments by one director who ended up voting against the adopted fare structure.  I’ve had many less successful advocacy efforts.

On Thursday, I was on the other side of the dais.  As the chair of the Petaluma Transit Advisory Committee, I’d been advised that a number of residents from a Petaluma neighborhood would attend our committee meeting to express displeasure with a proposed bus route.  They didn’t show up.  Instead, several seniors who were thrilled about the bus route provided supportive testimony and engaged in a helpful discussion on how to do effective community outreach with a limited budget and staff.

Both experiences reinforced a long-time observation.  Not every advocacy battle can be won.  But if you keep showing up, undeterred by past failures, you’ll find a moment in time when ground is suddenly gained.  The needle of public opinion on deep-seated cultural standards, such as our land-use forms, doesn’t spin easily, but it will move in fits and spurts if we keep our shoulders to it.

Please make use of this observation, perhaps starting with one of the opportunities below.

Upcoming Meetings

MTC/ABAG, Saturday, June 4, 8:30am, Corte Madera Community Center, 498 Tamalpais Drive, Corte Madera – This is one of a series of meetings seeking input for the Bay Area 2040 plan on transportation funding strategies.  (Reminder: These are the meetings that were largely shut down by Agenda 21 disruptions during the last planning effort in 2012.  I was at the Sonoma County meeting back then and ruminated at length on the disturbances, here, here, and here.  I still agree with much of what I wrote four years ago.)   I’ll attend this meeting and am willing to carpool from Petaluma if anyone wishes.

Petaluma City Council, Monday, June 6, 7:00pm, 11 English Street, Petaluma – Until yesterday afternoon, the agenda included a vote on whether to proceed with a grant application for Petaluma Boulevard South.  The scope of work would have “right-sized” the roadway, likely similar to the changes made several years ago to the downtown segment of Petaluma Boulevard.  The changes would have made the street friendlier to pedestrians and bicyclists.

It would have been a great project, one that Petaluma Urban Chat recently designated as one of the top five urbanist opportunities in Petaluma.

However, the item was removed from the agenda late yesterday, without explanation or a date to which the item would be deferred.

I suggest that proponents of right-sizing of Petaluma Boulevard South attend the Council meeting regardless and express their desire for the improvement during the Public Comment section.  (I’d do myself, but will be away at an urbanist conference.)

Petaluma Urban Chat, Wednesday, June 8, 7:00pm, Aqus Café, 2nd and H Streets, Petaluma –Urban Chat will discuss the Bay Area 2040 plan and the role of regional planning.  One goal will be encouraging folks to attend the Sonoma County outreach meeting on June 13.  Those who attended the June 4 Marin County outreach meeting will report on their impressions.  (Note: I normally facilitate Urban Chat but, in my absence, Bjorn Griepenburg will facilitate.)

MTC/ABAG, Monday, June 13, 6:00pm, Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, 50 Mark West Springs Road, Santa Rosa –This will be the Sonoma County outreach meeting for input to the Bay Area 2040 plan.

Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit Board, Wednesday, June 15, 1:30pm, 5401 Old Redwood Highway, Petaluma – The agenda isn’t yet posted, but it was noted during the last meeting that a further discussion of Clipper, the only source of payment to be accepted on SMART, would be held, including the mechanics of using a Clipper card, the limitations of the current iteration of Clipper, and the possibilities of the coming Clipper 2.0.

Rail~Volution, October 10-12, Hyatt Regency, San Francisco – The leading conference on the use of rail for community building is coming to San Francisco this fall.  I’m tentatively planning on attending.

Other Involvement Opportunities

City of Petaluma – The City is seeking volunteers for openings on City Commissions and Committees.  In many years, some bodies, notably the Planning Commission and Pedestrian/Bicycle Advisory Committee, attract more applicants than openings, but other bodies struggle to maintain full complements.  Citizens willing to take an active role on these commissions and committees can be surprisingly capable of making community changes.  The application deadline is Thursday, June 9, so now is the time to make the commitment.

Lots of opportunities to get involved.  Please grab at least one and hopefully more.

My plan is to write an involvement post every week.  However, I’ll be at the urbanist conference next week, so my next involvement post will follow my return.

The conference will be in Detroit.  My next post will be a personal perspective on the past failures and future hopes of Detroit.

As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated.  Please comment below or email me.  And thanks for reading. – Dave Alden (davealden53@comcast.net)

Written by Dave Alden

Dave Alden

Dave Alden is a Registered Civil Engineer. A University of California graduate, he has worked on energy and land-use projects in California, Oregon, and Washington. He was also the president of a minor league baseball team for two seasons. He lives on the west side of Petaluma with his wife and two dogs. The blog that he writes can be found at http://northbaydesignkit.blogspot.com.

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