Update from Supervisor Kate Sears, District 3

County of Marin - Supervisor Sears


The Board of Supervisors will consider the status of the Priority Development Area (PDA) in Strawberry on February 25 at 1:30 pm. Various options will be on the table: (1) maintaining the existing location and configuration of the PDA; (2) removing Strawberry from the County PDA; or (3) modifying the boundaries of the Strawberry PDA to align with the commercial and mixed use areas along the Redwood Highway frontage road and the 101/Tiburon Blvd. interchange.


Before we make any decision, let’s consider the following.


ü Having the current PDA does not change the zoning (what and how much can be built) of any property or mandate building in exchange for transportation funding. What is currently allowed stays in place.


ü Removing the current PDA will not change the existing zoning and development potential of any property in Strawberry.


ü The Strawberry Community Plan for 40 years has envisioned a future with safer streets, sidewalks and bike paths.


ü Having a PDA provides increased access to transportation dollars to address existing needs.


ü Current local land use policies and programs support a vision of Strawberry that keeps faith with the community’s desire to maintain single family neighborhoods and local serving businesses in existing zoning in the frontage road commercial areas.


ü County building codes, density limits, height restrictions and design review by local residents who serve on the Strawberry Design Review Board would not allow a 5 to 6 story building like the one being built at the Wincup site in Corte Madera.


Who pays the price for perpetuating ongoing misunderstanding about what having or removing a PDA means? The Strawberry community does, now and for the future.


At our meeting of February 25 at 1:30 pm, we have a chance to voice deeply held and serious community concerns and share facts. Let’s define our current problems accurately and address them with better solutions that have a good chance of delivering much needed relief.


Strawberry’s community vision of 40 years ago for better, safer streets and sidewalks, as expressed in its visionary Community Plan, was prescient for its time and is more valid and needed than ever.


Strawberry is burdened by local congestion and the challenges that creates for bikes and pedestrians. Addressing traffic and circulation issues is important for Strawberry now and into the future.


This is the right time to bring the PDA discussion forward. Starting in January 2014 and ending in June 2015, ABAG and MTC are giving jurisdictions the opportunity to examine their local transportation needs and to adjust PDAs accordingly. This is the time to consider where we are and what would benefit us now and for future generations in Marin.


Let’s Get Together on the Facts for Strawberry


Priority Development Area (PDA): What it means for housing.


“Priority Development Area” – leave it to regional planners to pick three words that would cause so much confusion and consternation, and be such a misnomer for what a PDA really delivers. A badly named program has misdirected community energy away from solving our real problems – traffic and the difficulty of getting around our communities.


Marin has been vigilant about controlling “growth” since the 60’s and this careful stewardship has given us a proud legacy saving open space, agricultural land and bayland areas. The historic Marin Countywide Plan of 1970 made a compact for future land use: in exchange for protecting nearly 84% of our land and open space, we would place housing and commercial development along our primary transportation route, the 101 corridor, and in and around Marin’s 11 historic small towns that grew up around our rail lines. This made sense then and still does today.


For Marin, the “priority” in “Priority Development Area (PDA)” means that we do not build in our open space and agricultural lands but instead identify infill sites in our already-settled areas that could accommodate the very modest population growth we expect in the years ahead.


The current PDA designation does not change the existing zoning of any property. That means that whatever ability a property owner has to build on their property, they have the very same ability with the PDA designation, not more. Single-family residential stays single-family residential. Commercial and mixed use stays the same.


Similarly, if the current PDA were to be removed, that would not change the existing zoning and development potential.


Plan Bay Area specifically states: “Adoption of Plan Bay Area does not mandate any changes to local zoning, general plans, or project review. The region’s cities, towns, and counties will maintain control of all decisions to adopt plans and permit or deny development projects.”


This means that any new development proposal in Strawberry is still subject to review and scrutiny by residents, the Strawberry Design Review Board, the County Planning Commission, and the Board of Supervisors, regardless of whether that development proposal is within or outside of a PDA.


“Strawberry Wants What Novato Got.” Really? 


At the February 11th Board of Supervisors meeting, a Strawberry resident announced: “Strawberry wants what Novato got.” Novato convinced the State Housing and Community Development Agency to give it a 20-23 units per acre “default density” for lower income housing sites in its Housing Element. Because the city’s Housing Element did not include a sufficient number of sites for affordable housing, the City of Novato adopted a “by-right” policy that exempts future affordable housing development on specific sites from discretionary review by local planning review boards and from review under CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act).


That’s exactly what we don’t want!


The County does not want a by-right policy in unincorporated Marin and chose instead to pursue legislation to reduce its “default density” for affordable housing from 30 units to 20 units per acre. We’re hoping that legislation is approved by the State Legislature this Fall and is signed by the Governor.


Note, too, that in Strawberry only two acres of the Seminary property are affected by the 30 units per acre “default density” for affordable housing, and that density does not increase the total number of units the Seminary was already entitled to build under its 1984 Master Plan.


We hope to be able to remove the 30 units per acre density from those two acres on Seminary in the future. But the PDA designation did not create that density and will not take it away if there is no PDA.


Why Enhanced Access to Transportation Dollars Matters


It’s time to help Strawberry get funding to fix longstanding problems with streets and sidewalks. My office gets calls every week from residents asking for better ways to get around the community. These are the very same needs that were laid out in detail in the Strawberry Community Plan of 1973 and the Amendments of 1982.


The 1982 Amendments to the Strawberry Community Plan suggested that “emphasis be placed on public transit, bicycle and pedestrian facilities in order to encourage a reduced reliance on the private automobiles and thereby reduce congestion levels, improve air quality and save energy.” That advice rings true today.


Having a PDA provides increased access to transportation dollars (50% more available funding), which could be applied to bike/ped improvements, to address traffic and speeding on Belvedere Drive, to improve the Tiburon Boulevard/East Blithedale/101 interchange to ease traffic congestion and enhance bike and pedestrian access, and to address safety issues at Reed Blvd.


Many of our younger families want alternatives to always using their cars. Our roads and sidewalks have not kept up with increasing demand. Traffic and speeding plague our local streets. And our public transit system, while improving, does not yet meet our needs.


These are issues of current concern to Strawberry residents and being able to address them would yield benefits regardless of whether there is ever any future development in Strawberry. To accomplish any of these projects requires money, and there are not many funding sources available given cutbacks at the state and federal levels.


Strawberry, while perhaps uncomfortable and in some instances unwilling, stands a good chance of benefitting from holding onto its PDA designation at least along the heavily trafficked frontage road.




Strawberry is a strong, engaged community with well-educated residents committed to making sure that any project a property owner might propose is right for the community. Strawberry’s Community Plan of 40 years ago set a good path by envisioning safer streets and more walkable and more connected neighborhoods. There is work to be done to implement that vision and to update it where appropriate. Let’s find a path forward that includes solving our current problems and creating a positive vision for the future.