–Is the Mill Valley community ready for a disaster like that which struck Sonoma and Napa counties in 2017?
–Can we create conditions that will allow more of our first responders, teachers and workers to live in the community they serve?
–What are we doing to continue to address traffic congestion?
These and many other important topics arose at the City of Mill Valley’s annual Community Meeting on April 3, an opportunity for residents to get their questions answered directly and share their own thoughts on the most pressing issues of the day. The conversation was driven by local residents from start to finish, kicking off with an hour of direct one-on-one, subject-specific interaction between residents and City leaders at stations throughout the Community Center’s Cascade Room.
The meeting then shifted to Q&A, kicked off by a compliment from 75-year resident Frances Kelly, who thanked the City for her “lovely sidewalk” on Hilarita Ave. “Over the years, I have taken great pride in keeping Mill Valley clean and beautiful. I just love this town. I've lived here soon to be 75 years. I came as a bride and I still have the same telephone number,” she said, drawing amazed laughter from the audience.
Former Mill Valley Mayor Bob Burton lauded the City’s efforts on the first phase of its nearly $20 million Wastewater Treatment Plant Rehab Project, part of the Sewerage Agency of Southern Marin’s 30-year roadmap to deal with aging infrastructure, new legal requirements, and odor control.
Mayor Stephanie Moulton-Peters and City Manager Jim McCann began the event by welcoming attendees. “I want to acknowledge the kind and caring community we have here in Mill Valley,” Moulton-Peters said. “I hadn’t gotten in the door tonight more than three minutes and people walked up to me to discuss things that concerned them. This is a wonderful community we live in. We are doers - we notice things and we want to improve our town. That’s what your City Council and City staff are here to do for you.”
Moulton-Peters ticked off a few of the Council’s biggest priorities, particularly disaster preparedness and fire prevention, a topic that became even more imperative in the wake of the tragic fires in Sonoma and Napa counties in 2017. She also mentioned housing affordability, traffic, and the Council’s upcoming two-year budget process, which lays the foundation for the City’s biggest priorities.
“Our work is never done,” Moulton-Peters said. “It’s like painting the Golden Gate Bridge – once you finish, you start all over again at the other end.”
McCann then kicked off the Q&A by listing some key City accomplishments over the past year:
“I’m very proud of our Miller Project,” McCann said of the now-completed, $18 million, 18-month massive overhaul of approximately two miles of one of Mill Valley’s two main arteries. “It required so much patience from the community. And our Public Works Director Andrew Poster brought it home on time and under budget,” McCann added, to huge applause. “And our project was just named ‘Overall Winner’ for the 2018 Outstanding Local Streets and Roads Project Awards Program, a statewide honor from the Save California Streets Coalition.”
McCann noted that traffic has been the issue du jour for the past couple of years. “Congestion continues to be an issue,” he said. “But we have made some significant improvements – you might have noticed reduced travel time in and out of town” of 7 percent on weekdays and 30 percent on weekends.” He shared efforts to put a dent in traffic, such as the the targeted, two-year yellow school bus pilot program; continued traffic signal coordination and studying long-term improvements at the East Blithedale/101 interchange and other hot spots.
Capital Improvement Projects, “occupy a significant part of our efforts,” McCann said, from fixing potholes and slurry sealing our streets to spending $300,000 to upgrade facilities at the 18-year-old Mill Valley Community Center, along with major steps forward on the historic Steps, Lanes & Paths network. There are also a pair of new public bathrooms on the horizon, with one going into the City-owned Depot Bookstore & Cafe building and another being installed in Sycamore Park.
The City’s recent efforts on affordable housing have included passing an inclusionary housing ordinance that significantly steps up its requirements on new multi-unit development projects such that 25 percent of units within those projects be affordable. In September 2017, the Council unanimously backed an affordable housing ordinance that includes a 1 percent City fee that will be applied to all new housing projects and remodels costing $100,000 or more, starting on Nov. 1, 2018. Second-unit projects are exempt.
City officials say the fee would generate approximately $375,000 annually. That revenue would go into a new affordable housing trust fund, and the Council continues to eye possible uses of that revenue. Options include acquiring properties, building multi-unit projects, renovating existing developments or finding ways to subsidize rental rates for workforce housing, among others.
Councilmember Jessica Sloan stated that 91 percent of Mill Valley’s workforce does not live in town. “This isn’t just a huge burden on them having to be on the road so much of the day,” she said. “It tears at the fabric of our community not being able to have the people who work here live here as well.”
Councilmember John McCauley noted that protecting existing apartment stock is a major priority. “We have 6,700 front doors in Mill Valley, and more than 2,000 of them are apartments,” he said. “We’re concerned that that would change, and one of the things we really want to do is protect what we’ve got, possibly by creating a penalty associated within removing apartment units from our stock.” The City is also looking at other measures, including deed restricting second units in exchange for an exemption on total square footage.
Another topic of interest and concern was Mill Valley’s disaster preparedness in the wake of the North Bay fires. Fire Chief Tom Welch noted that his department is hosting a series of neighborhood meetings designed to both inform and allow for neighbors to engage with one another.
“Neighbors have to be willing to help neighbors in any disaster,” Welch said. “You don’t have to like your neighbors, but you have to know them and be ready to help them, and that includes knowing evacuation routes from your home.” Welch said his department has landed on some major initiatives in the wake of the North Bay fires. These include building in ignition-resistant features into your home, reducing fire fuels like bamboo, acacia, cypress and juniper trees, access improvements, education and notification.
The evening spurred many productive discussions on many other topics, from new safety measures to make Miller Avenue safer for pedestrians, efforts to install more public electric car charging stations in town, and a proposed path connecting the Scott Highlands neighborhood to Boyle Park via the Mill Valley Golf Course. A community member suggested that the Council pass a resolution that calls for some degree of gun control, others asked about the possibility of recycling cans on the Depot Plaza. Community members shared the efforts of local organizations like Clean Mill Valley to reduce litter in town and Council and City staff discussed communication challenges and opportunities with social media, and the rich offerings through Mill Valley Library and Mill Valley Recreation.
Overall, the Annual Community Meeting provided helpful information and updates and provided an opportunity of community members to share their thoughts, questions an concerns.
A meeting video will be available for viewing soon.
For more info on the City Council’s Priority Projects and status reports, click here.