The focus of the annual Mill Valley Community Meeting is always interaction between community members and Councilmembers and City staff, but that interaction – and the ability of residents to dictate the course of it – took center stage at the latest edition of the event on May 30.
Mayor Jessica Sloan set the tone at the outset. She followed up 90 minutes of direct one-on-one, subject-specific interaction between residents and City leaders at stations throughout the Community Center’s Cascade Room with the declaration, “This is all about us hearing from you.”
Before diving into a robust Q&A session, Sloan briefly walked the dozens of attendees gathered through the City’s four biggest issues priorities currently: traffic, Steps, Lanes and Paths, the Miller Avenue Streetscape Project and Affordable Housing.
“Traffic remains a huge issue here in town,” Sloan said, pointing to a recent survey that received 650 responses on the subject. “Based on the recommendations of the Traffic Task Force, we’ve taken a number of steps on this issue over the past years, and the Council and City staff continue to take this very seriously.”
Those steps include coordinating with the Mill Valley School District, County of Marin, Marin County Transit District to continue funding for the second year of the targeted, two-year yellow school bus pilot program; continued traffic signal coordination; installing lane delineators; preventing U-Turns where they lead to back-ups; and studying long-term improvements at the East Blithedale/101 interchange and other hot spots.
Sloan reported that late 2016 studies found that due to actions like the school bus program, staggered bell times and traffic signal improvements, weekday conditions have gotten better, with significant improvements along both travel corridors during weekends.
“We know that this is a huge issue and we’ve got more to do, we’ve got more ideas to try and we agree with you that this needs to be fixed,” she added.
Sloan said the City had put important protections in place for the City’s Steps, Lanes, and Paths network and made progress on the 9-point action plan approved by the City Council in January. Council passed a resolution in March that established an official SLP inventory and map, as well as strengthened enforcement against SLP encroachments.
The $18 million, 18-month massive overhaul of approximately two miles of one of Mill Valley’s two main arteries and far and away the biggest road improvement project the City of Mill Valley has undertaken in decades, is in its 12th month. “We are all looking forward to a Miller Avenue that is safer, more efficient, and enjoyable street for all users: pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, transit users, businesses, shoppers and visitors,” Sloan said, pointing to a number of accomplishments to date, the majority of which have happened underground. Those include utility upgrades, new curbs, gutters and sidewalks, drainage improvements, new parking regulations, sewer repair and street realignment.
Sloan thanked the community for its patience, particularly during the upcoming summertime paving of the road this summer, then restriping (including buffered bike lanes), installation of flashing pedestrian crossings, landscaping and rain gardens, lighting and street furniture.
“Pretty soon you’ll be able to see the progress as you drive or walk or bike down Miller Avenue,” Sloan said.
“We have an affordable housing crisis here in town,” Sloan said bluntly. “Most of the people who work here can’t afford to live here.”
At the beginning of 2017, the City Council adopted a Priority Project to develop an action plan to promote workforce housing and a strategy to protect the existing housing stock. Earlier this month, the City Council received a presentation on an affordable housing impact fee and next steps to address affordable housing, including workforce housing. The Council directed planning staff to: change existing regulations to require that any development of four or more units include at least 25 percent affordable housing; charge affordable housing impact fees of $10-20 per square foot built; and host a workforce housing workshop.
From there, Sloan directed anyone with a question or comment to approach the microphone or to submit a comment card. The dialogue that followed varied widely, with multiple residents urging the Council to support Senate Bill 54, the "sanctuary state" bill that bars state and local law enforcement agencies from using their resources, including money, facility, property, equipment or personnel, to help with immigration enforcement. They would be prohibited from asking about immigration status, giving federal immigration authorities access to interview a person in custody or assisting them in immigration enforcement.
Police Chief Angel Bernal noted that MVPD does not include immigration status in any of its interactions with suspects, victims or witnesses. Sloan explained at length the Council’s recent adoption of a multi-pronged resolution emphasizing the City's commitment to respect, tolerance and community building.
“We don’t want any of our residents living in fear,” she said. “We value having a diverse community here in Mill Valley, and we’re coming at this from a community impact standpoint.” Councilmember Sashi McEntee is leading a task force on the issue that is going out in community and includes people who have been directly impacted by intolerance.
“We passed a resolution wanting to make our town more respectful, and all of our department heads are putting their heads together to make us a more tolerance community,” Sloan added. ”It’s important to all of us on the Council that whatever we do actually has some teeth.”
Through the course of an hour, the community, Council and City staff engaged on an array of issues, including sea level rise and flooding, MCE Marin Clean Energy, tree topping regulations and the City’s new tree ordinance, possible fire hazards, the City’s annual Street & Sewer Rehabilitation program, questions about a view ordinance, the need to include more of a military presence in the annual Memorial Day Parade and the new Von der Werth mixed use development project that is about to begin construction.