San Rafael City Council Meeting Update - May 18th

Updated: May 21

Author: Kelley Kromhout

Date: 5/19/2020

The City met virtually to discuss several important topics, including: the City’s Annual Progress Report on housing; the fiscal impacts of COVID-19 on the City’s budget; Priority Development Areas for Plan Bay Area 2050; and Capital Improvement Projects for Fiscal Years 2020-2023.

Every year, local jurisdictions must submit their progress on fulfilling Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) numbers to the Governor’s Office of Planning & Research (OPR) and the State Department of Housing & Community Development (HCD). Although this report is usually provided informally to presiding councils and commissions, state laws recently passed have increased accountability measures for jurisdictions regarding transparency to their constituents. Over the course of the current housing cycle (which runs from 2015-2023), San Rafael’s 2019 Annual Progress Report (APR) shows that the City has built about a quarter of their required housing units across all levels of affordability: the City has permitted 242 units thus far out of the required 1007 units.

For the year of 2019 alone, San Rafael approved 289 housing units, attributable to the passage of projects at 703 Third Street adjacent to the Transit Center and Northgate Walk in Terra Linda, as well as many Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs). San Rafael City staff also mentioned in the report that 150 units have been approved by the City since January 2020, due to 350 Merrydale Road, 190 Mill Street, 999 Third Street (Whistlestop/EDEN Housing), & 104 Shaver Street. Finally, the APR showed that none of the units approved in 2019 utilized the streamlining offered by SB35 (presumably because of the requirement of paying workers prevailing wage in order to qualify for the process). The City’s staff report regarding the 2019 APR can be found here.

Next, the City touched on the fiscal impacts of COVID-19, most notably, the $12 million hit to San Rafael’s General Fund anticipated over the next 16 months. City staff acknowledged that the number of homeless individuals will likely increase due to financial woes. While mentioning this, they also brought up possibilities of increasing the Paramedic Tax (with voters’ approval) and evaluating the City’s “master fee schedule” as it compares to other Bay Area agencies. The financial effects of COVID-19 discussed by the Council reflect impacts that will be felt throughout the County: government processes will take longer to process, elective programs will be cut, and tax increases will be proposed. It’s clear that government agencies are scrambling to cut costs and find creative ways to generate more revenue in order to stick to their budgets (which are due in June, as the fiscal year begins in July). To see the presentation San Rafael City staff put together on the fiscal impacts of COVID-19, click here.

The City then discussed Priority Development Areas (PDAs), which are voluntary designations made by jurisdictions that outline areas for growth in jobs, housing, transit, etc. After designating a specified area as a PDA, a jurisdiction signs a Letter of Intent (LOI) that is sent to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) for review. Upon approval (which is slated for August or September of this year), the PDA is eligible for valuable state and federal dollars that help fund key projects: 90% of San Rafael’s Downtown Precise Plan was primarily funded by a One Bay Area Grant (OBAG) that provided the City with funding to analyze the downtown area and create a strategic plan to help strengthen the downtown core. The main issue of concern regarding PDAs is local control: would designating an area as a PDA allow high levels of government (like at the state level) to dictate design and density? The answer is no; PDAs that are approved are implemented into Plan Bay Area 2050, which is a strategic document to help the Bay Area address key concerns, like sea level rise, climate change, and access to transit.

According to Plan Bay Area’s FAQs on PDAs, Plan Bay Area (PBA) and any PDAs included in it have “no impact on a jurisdiction’s authority over its zoning, development review, or other land use discretion. Under state law, regional plans such as PBA cannot supersede local land use authority.” Two new PDAs were proposed: one in the Canal neighborhood and one in the Northgate area. Each proposed area had three different-sized outlines for the PDA. After much discussion and many public comments, the City Council decided to choose the medium-sized map for the Canal PDA (bounded by Woodland Avenue to the west of Highway 101 and the canal waterfront to the north) and the smallest map for the Northgate PDA (bounded by Highway 101 to the east, Manuel T. Freitas to the north, and where Las Gallinas and Northgate Drive meet).

Although councilmembers and members of the public alike mentioned the need for more time for public outreach, City staff reminded meeting attendees of looming deadlines regarding PDAs: LOIs must be submitted by May 31st, while agendized resolutions regarding PDAs must be adopted by June 30th. Even though the City was “under the gun,” so to speak, MTC staff confirmed to the City of San Rafael that the City will be able to make future adjustments to the PDA boundaries after Plan Bay Area is adopted. The staff report for PDAs can be found here, which contains maps mentioned as well as more information on the subject.

Finally, the City Council discussed the preliminary Capital Improvement Program (CIP) for Fiscal Years 2020-2023. Although the final approval of the CIP will take place next month, City staff presented the list of projects to the Council for feedback before that time. In order to help determine the ranking of importance of these projects, a new working group was formed, comprised of various City departments, who weighed each project according to: health & safety (35%); priority initiatives/City goals (20%); time-sensitive funds (25%); and maintenance or enhancement of functionality (20%).

In addition, a new contingency fund (accounting for approximately 15% of the budget for CIP) was created in order to provide funding for unforeseen expenses related to the CIP. Some of the major projects proposed for the CIP include: the Southern Heights Bridge replacement; road resurfacing at Smith Ranch Road & Lucas Valley Road; Phase II of the multi-use pathway along Francisco Blvd West; Francisco Blvd East sidewalk widening & road resurfacing; Third Street rehab from Lindaro Street to Miracle Mile; and remodeling two additional fire stations. A full list of projects currently considered for the Capital Improvement Program and their funding sources can be found here.


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