Over the course of a wide-ranging, substantive, data-centric and interactive hour, the pair dove into an array of subjects, from traffic and fire prevention to workforce housing and infrastructure improvements.
“We have a great partnership with the Chamber and we gets lots of things done and we always have lots to do and we’re very grateful for this partnership,” Moulton-Peters said at the outset of the event after some meet-and-greet time over coffee and pastries.
“The state of the city is .... busy,” Mayor Stephanie Moulton-Peters, recalling hearing construction trucks driving past her Blithedale Canyon home at the wee hours of the morning in the mid-2000s, and how quiet it got a few years later when the recession and real estate collapse hit. “It’s just like that busy period around here all over again, but more. But 10 years ago, people were adding bedrooms and bathrooms onto their homes. Now they’re tearing those houses down and building new ones.”
Moulton-Peters repeated Mill Valley Fire Dept. Battalion Chief Michael St. John’s oft-used phrase that “in Southern Marin, it just churns.”
“I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished,” she added. “I also know that no matter what we accomplish, there’s always more we can do and more we need to accomplish.”
Here are the major topics Moulton-Peters and McCann highlighted:
This is our top priority, for obvious reasons, Moulton-Peters said, noting the then-active Irving Fire in and around Samuel P.Taylor State Park at the time. “It strikes terror in all of us. When you are mayor, you don’t want a conflagration to happen in on your watch. We have too much vegetation and very windy roads.”
She then explained the city’s proposed ordinance to vastly reduce cypress, juniper, acacia, bamboo and other vegetation and landscaping allowed within three feet of homes within the city’s wildland-urban interface. Homeowners would need to make those changes by mid-2019.
“This was a politically very difficult thing to do before now – we all love our trees and secluded hamlets – until last October when the northern California fires changed everything,” Moulton-Peters said. “We’re just going to see our neighbors more – that’s the bottom line. We’re moving from defensible space to survivable space.”
City officials have said that Mill Valley fire department leaders, many of whom have deployed to those major fires up north last year and since then, have found that those homes with vegetation clearance around them survive better, as the vegetation immediately around a home catches fire when ember showers occur, quickly cracking windows and allowing the fire to enter the home.
“I never managed to get many of my plants in, so now I’m ahead,” she quipped.
Moulton-Peters emphasized the need for every resident and business owner to know at leats two evacuation routes, including one on foot. “And we are going to evacuate people much sooner than we would have before,” she added.
City officials noted that there are an array of seamless notification systems to find out about fires and major incidents via text, including Alert Marin and Nixle.
“The good news is that our city has long had a strong effort on vegetation management,” Moulton-Peters said, and Fire Chief Tom Welch recently returned from a training event in Washington, D.C., with a sense that “our practices are ahead of most departments in the country, and we’ll be ramping up in the next 3-5 years.”
With the Miller Avenue Streetscape Project in the rear-view mirror, Moulton-Peters noted that the City continues to focus on macro-level traffic issues facing the city, many of which have micro-level solutions. She noted the three major ways to address traffic:
- Reduce the number of cars on the road. “It’s the cheapest, easiest way to do it,” she said, pointing to the positive impact of the Yellow School Bus program.
- Signal improvements. “We’ve made some changes to how traffic flows through our intersections, as on Shoreline Hwy. in Tam Junction, and we have more to make,” many of which require the cooperation of Caltrans for the lights around the Hwy. 101 overpass.
- Increasing the capacity of roads. “But the answer here is the signals are the issue, not the roads,” Moulton-Peters said. “And the bottom line is that there’s no silver bullet, but there is silver buckshot.”
The imbalance between the percentage of people who work in Mill Valley but cannot afford to live here remains one of the most important issue in town.
“We are really working on this one,” Moulton-Peters said, pointing to the City's September 2017 passage of an affordable housing ordinance that, among other things, requires all multi-unit development to make at least 25 percent of the units below market-rate housing.
Moulton Peters noted the community’s attention on the 500 Miller Avenue project, and on a related noted said noted that “I am looking personally toward a renaissance on Miller Avenue.”
Odds & Ends
McCann noted that City just hired new Planning Director Patrick Kelly, who “has a tremendous amount of familiarity with current planning and building policies” as well as “demonstrated in customer service.”
Moulton-Peters also pointed to a number of priority initiatives, including her longtime focus on Safe Routes to Schools, the city’s ongoing work on its network of Steps, Lanes and Paths, the Mill Valley Aware task force that seeks to stem the use of drugs and alcohol by local teens and the Age Friendly Mill Valley initiative for Seniors.
She also pointed to a series of upcoming initiatives, including Mill Valley Golf Course improvements and possible pathways through it for neighbors, an upcoming master plan on flooding, the upcoming paving of the public parking lot behind Piazza D’Angelo in 2019, the recently completed repaving of the Community Center lot, an upcoming study of a possible redesign of Throckmorton Avenue downtown and a future study of design options for East Blithedale Avenue.
“We’ve got our pedal to the metal on road repair right now ,” Moulton-Peters said.
McCann noted that the city plans to revisit its sewer rates again in 2019 and will be sure to include restaurant and business owners in that discussion, and that the City expects Depot Bookstore & Cafe owner Paul Lazzareschi to begin his 3-4 month renovation of the building, including a public bathroom in partnership with the city, in January.