Teri Shore, GREENBELT ALLIANCE
On February 1 at a public hearing in Santa Rosa, a standing room only crowd of about 100 neighbors, advocates, and elected officials came together to speak out in favor of a safe at-grade crossing over the SMART tracks at Jennings Avenue for walkers and bicyclists. No one spoke against the City of Santa Rosa’s application to build the at-grade crossing.
The hearing held at Helen Lehman School was convened by an administrative law judge for the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), which claims that a super-sized bridge over the railway is the only solution. A final decision won’t be made until later this year, perhaps too late to build the crossing before the SMART commuter service starts running in December.
The CPUC recently blocked off the historic railroad crossing at Jennings, forcing people to walk or bike an extra half mile each way along busy thoroughfares such as Guerneville Road, where “you can reach out and touch cars going by” according to Janet Barocco, a 16-year resident of Jennings Avenue.
Before it was blocked off, as many as 91 people and 25 bicyclists a day typically crossed the tracks here, according to the City of Santa Rosa. Now they must walk another 15 to 30 minutes or get into cars. The CPUC claims that some 170 elementary students who go to school nearby might cross the tracks at Jennings if the at-grade crossing is permitted.
Read more at: Santa Rosa SMART Jennings Avenue Railway Crossing
Derek Moore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The planned rail link to a Marin County ferry terminal, envisioned as a key part of a new SMART passenger rail service set to debut in 2016, appears to have secured the funding it needs to advance.
Congress is expected to approve a $1.1 trillion federal spending bill as early as Friday morning that includes $20 million for the rail link from downtown San Rafael to the Larkspur ferry terminal.Officials with the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit authority had been working with regional partners for three years to acquire the federal funding, which adds to $20 million already secured for the Larkspur project through local toll money.
“The extension from San Rafael to Larkspur is going to happen. That’s a big deal for the system,” said Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael.
Connecting rail passengers to regional transportation hubs is a critical component of the SMART project, which initially is set to debut in late 2016 along a 42-mile segment from near the Sonoma County Airport to downtown San Rafael.
Read more at: Congress on track to approve SMART funding for | The Press Democrat
OP-ED: Daniel Borenstein, CONTRA COSTA TIMES
Now the hard work begins.
Leaders of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission on Wednesday temporarily halted their ham-handed bid for a hostile takeover of the Association of Bay Area Governments. Instead, the two regional planning agencies have promised to work cooperatively toward a needed and long-overdue merger.
There’s much at stake. The Bay Area must better align housing, jobs and public transit. We spend too much time stuck in traffic. It will only get worse if we fail to build densely near transit centers and continue to approve sprawl along highway corridors already filled to capacity.
Unfortunately, for decades we’ve had two regional planning agencies — one for transportation, the other for housing — that have been engaged in passive-aggressive and sometimes open warfare.
Read more at: Daniel Borenstein: Much at stake for Bay Area in regional planning merger talks – ContraCostaTimes.com
For more on the MTC/ABAG power struggle: “A pricey palace, huge losses in risky investments, a busted bridge – and now the agency responsible wants more power.”
Zelda Bronstein, MARIN POST
Last week the power struggle between the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Association of Bay Area Governments intensified, as the Sierra Club and the Six Wins for Equity Network entered the fray. Meanwhile, the agencies’ joint ad hoc committee resumed its secret deliberations on consolidating the planning functions of the two agencies.
Routinely ignored by the media, MTC and ABAG operate in obscurity at their MetroCenter headquarters in Oakland. That’s unfortunate, given their huge impact on where Bay Area residents live and work (or not), and how we get around. MTC oversees the region’s transportation planning; ABAG manages its planning for land use and housing. Together they prepared the region’s first, state-mandated Sustainable Communities Strategy, Plan Bay Area 2040, approved in July 2013. Under the aegis of that “blueprint,” as they call it, the two groups expect to hand out $292 billion in public funds.
Their current dispute involves money. Finance-wise, the two partners are highly unequal. MTC has an annual budget of more than $900 million; ABAG’s budget is $23.6 million. More to the point, ABAG depends on MTC for crucial funding. The first public sign of trouble appeared in late June, when MTC voted to fund ABAG’s planning and research staff for only six months ($1.9 million) instead of the customary full fiscal year.
The timing of the MTC vote was not coincidental. At the end of December the two agencies are scheduled to move into their plush new headquarters in San Francisco. If major administrative changes are in the offing, MTC officials want to make them before the relocation.
But what’s really at stake is not efficiency; it’s who will call the shots, and in what direction they will aim. In particular, will social justice count in Plan Bay Area 2.0?
Read more at: The Marin Post
Clark Mason, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A controversial apartment project proposed in downtown Windsor has a new name, and a new design that calls for the removal of almost 50 fewer oak trees than before.
The old “Bell Village” moniker has been dropped, replaced by “Vintage Oaks on the Town Green,” but the changes are more than just a renaming and appear to have gone a long way toward appeasing critics.
In the face of strong opposition from some residents and feedback from the Town Council, the developers went back to the drawing board and came up with a plan that expands open space, preserves more trees and adds a variety of housing.
“We think we have a better project because of this,” said Peter Stanley, a Santa Rosa architect and principal in ArchiLOGIX, the company hired to help design and develop the apartment project. “We have a significantly different site plan than we did before.”
Prodded by Town Council members who wanted to see more than just three-story townhomes, the project still calls for a total of 387 units, but would be split almost evenly between townhomes and “stacked flat” apartments, with most of the apartments served by elevators to better accommodate seniors and disabled persons.
The changes are getting generally favorable reviews from critics of Bell Village, with some caveats.“I was encouraged they redesigned it to save more trees. I felt our message has gotten through to them. I have to say I’m happy about that,” said Eric Wee, a Windsor resident who spearheaded a petition drive that was signed by more than 1,000 people urging the Town Council to reject Bell Village.
He noted that the revised plans call for cutting 47 fewer trees than before, but said he still wants to walk the site — the former Windsorland mobile home and trailer park — to see which trees are proposed for removal and which will be saved.
And Wee remains concerned that the apartment project has too many units, considering that combined with another proposed development — Windsor Mill — they would add almost 800 rental dwellings to downtown Windsor, increasing traffic and potentially altering the character of a town defined mostly by owner-occupied, single family homes.
The developers and their supporters counter that Vintage Oaks is exactly the type of higher density housing specified in Windsor’s general plan, on an infill site close to a train depot, within walking distance of parks, schools, shopping and restaurants.
Read more at: Developer to spare more oak trees in Windsor | The Press Democrat
Derek Moore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Imagine arriving after work at a commuter rail station in Rohnert Park and walking to your condominium through Seed Farm Square. You stop at an outdoor market for something to eat, or at a pub for a pint of beer.
Such is the vision put forth this week by a Southern California developer, whose revised plans for Rohnert Park’s central core, including the site of the vacant former State Farm campus, are receiving a much warmer reception from city leaders.
“I’d say, ‘Well done. Thanks,’ ” Councilman Jake Mackenzie told representatives of SunCal during Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
The Irvine-based developer’s original plans for the 30-acre State Farm site were criticized by city leaders last year for emphasizing single-family housing and not including enough retail and commercial use to attract visitors.
In response, the developer unveiled an updated plan for what it refers to as “Rohnert Crossing,” including 400 higher-density housing units, such as condominiums, and a 40,000-square-foot retail village of mixed commercial use anchored by a restaurant or pub to lure people downtown.
The plan also calls for a transit hub, dubbed Seed Farm Square by SunCal, built around the station that will be used by the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit commuter train.
Read more at: Developer presents new vision for Rohnert Park’s urban | The Press Democrat
Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Santa Rosa has signed off on the design of a 72-unit apartment complex near the future SMART rail station downtown, the first transit-oriented development to move forward under new zoning rules encouraging higher density housing in the area.
After years of talking about the need to build transit-oriented housing downtown, Santa Rosa may finally be close to getting some.
A developer won approval Thursday for a 72-unit apartment complex called Pullman Lofts just a few blocks north of the future Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit station in Railroad Square.
The project proposes to wedge a three-story complex on the long, narrow 2-acre site of a former lumberyard between the rail line and Wilson Street.
That kind of higher-density housing near a transportation hub is precisely the kind of project the city has tried to encourage for years, but the economy and other factors have made it tough for developers to deliver.
“The marketplace is now catching up with the Downtown Station Area plan of eight years ago,” said Bill Rose, the city’s supervising planner.
The project is the brainchild of Phoenix Development president Loren Brueggemann, who for years built urban redevelopment projects in Minneapolis but since 2010 has lived in Santa Rosa.
He said he is excited about turning a vacant eyesore into vibrant housing that will appeal to young, urban-oriented people who want to live near transit, restaurants, bars and shopping.
Read more at: 72-unit apartment complex near Santa Rosa’s Railroad Square | The Press Democrat