Sustainable Mill Valley

Survey Response by Ken Wachtel

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The Issues

1. Affordable Housing

Affordable Housing means different things to different people. ABAG quotas aside, how do you define affordable housing and what do you think our obligation as a community is to provide affordable housing? What are your ideas to implement affordable housing?

1. I am keenly aware of the need for more affordable housing in Mill Valley. It is not only just the right thing for our community and for those who need this housing, but affordable housing is a key plank in my platform for Environmental Repair in Mill Valley. Please read more on these issues at

For the past several years I have served as a member of the Mill Valley Affordable Housing Committee. I have worked with the community to find creative ways to facilitate and implement more affordable housing. I have spoken with community groups and neighborhood associations encouraging support for affordable housing. I have participated in educational presentations of affordable housing during Memorial Day festivities.

Affordable housing is crucial for those who work in Mill Valley, like our teachers, service workers and local businesses. Affordable housing is also a key to reducing the environmental impact of green house gasses resulting from the transportation burden of these workers traveling to their jobs from outside Mill Valley.

2. As a member of the Mill Valley City Council I will reach out and work with the community, Staff, the Planning Commission, members of the City Council, the County and other interested and knowledgeable parties on a policy to increase the number of affordable housing units in and near Mill Valley

The City should consider investing in and supporting of low and moderate income housing to the extent financially and legally possible. This was done by Mill Valley with the very successful Pickelweed project several years ago. The City could have considered making this type of investment in Old Mill Commons which was designed to provide 10 units of affordable housing. In the proper circumstances the City should consider other means of supporting such projects. In doing so the City would be making a great investment in its own future. The City should also consider the possibility of vouchers and a housing trust.

On the planning side, I would consider amending the zoning ordinances to provide an incentive to single family home builders to create dedicated affordable housing units by offering a larger Floor Area Ratio (square footage allowance) credit for those who include second units held as affordable housing. We can also consider vouchers and a housing trust. There should be consideration of affordable housing in all planning decisions. This is a difficult issue in Mill Valley but I am determined to work with the community to achieve a workable solution.

2. Local Business

Much concern has been expressed about Mill Valley losing its locally based business character. Do you share this concern and how would you address it?

My heart is broken over the loss of so many local serving businesses such as Jenny Low’s, Capricorn, Village Music, Greenwood, and Lyla’s Chocolates this year. The business community is the engine that makes our city viable. Downtown Mill Valley is the heart of our City. I spend many wonderful hours in the downtown area watching our community come and go, play, study, teach their children and go about their lives. Mill Valley is home to a large and varied business community: including lumber yards, hardware stores, clothing stores, restaurants, grocery stores, shoe repair shops, car repair facilities, dance studios, cinema and live theatre venues, antique stores as well as video rental stores. We must work with these businesses to facilitate their success.

While I do not believe in rent or price controls, I will work with the City Council to foster success among our local serving businesses. Whether this can be implemented by a gentler conditional use permit process or other methods, needs to be studied. I do know that we should take a more active role in their success. Our local businesses and commercial landowners should also be encouraged to have a greater involvement in policy discussions and decisions so we can be sure this is a City in which they can continue to do business. Business regulations (such as hours of operation) should be flexible and creative to meet the needs of the businesses and the community. I would be in favor of a business task force to create a firm, effective and trusting relationship between local businesses, property owners and the City. We should promote our local businesses as well as the vast cultural richness available here. The bottom line is, however, that we all need to shop in our local stores so they can prosper. It is the right thing to do.

Several years ago, the City was working with a Downtown Business Alliance to form a Business Improvement District. The goals were good but the implementation was not. If our businesses are interested in this project the City Council should work to see its success.

3. Traffic Congestion and Safety

Local and regional transportation account for over half of Marin’s greenhouse gas contribution and much concern has been expressed over traffic congestion and safety both locally and regionally. What solutions are you considering for our local traffic problems, including pedestrian and bicycle pathways, Safe Routes to Schools, shuttles, etc.? What would you do to make sure that Mill Valley has a presence in regional transit planning?

One of the most important challenges facing the new City Council is traffic and the inadequacy of parking in Mill Valley. Traffic congestion is not only an environmental tragedy but it seriously degrades our quality of life. Rather than reducing the parking requirement, the City should strive for adequate parking in all projects. The combination of traffic congestion and inadequate parking will doom any new commercial endeavor and further degrade our environment. Our failure to take steps to reduce traffic and parking problems is the surest route to a dismal future for Mill Valley.

The solution must start with the individual. Each of us is obligated to do what we can to reduce traffic. This includes carpooling, bike riding, walking and using public transit whenever practical.

As a City Council member, I would lead by education, demonstration and example. I would work to put Mill Valley at the forefront of Environmental Repair. I would promote the following opportunities:
  1. Mill Valley's continued participation in ICLEI's Cities for Climate Protection program. Mill Valley, with the County, has already completed the first step of this program by establishing our GHG baseline inventory. The next steps are to affirm a GHG reduction target, develop a GHG reduction plan, implement the plan, and monitor and report results. I will join my colleagues on the City Council to follow through with this program in a timely and effective manner;
  2. Work with the City to transition its motor vehicle inventory, where possible, to hybrid and less polluting vehicles. We should install solar panels and other green environmental tools where feasible;
  3. Restoration and then full maintenance of Mill Valley's extensive network of Steps, Lanes and Paths to foster a more walkable City and to promote ease of walking from the canyons to downtown (This is also an important life saving fire safety evacuation issue);
  4. More bike lanes and walking paths throughout the City. I want bike paths in Mill Valley that are more than just white paint;
  5. Partner with the School District and the County to reinstate school shuttles to address the substantial traffic problems in the mornings and afternoons when parents are dropping off and picking up their children. These shuttles can become an important means of transportation in and around Mill Valley for non-students at other times; and
  6. Support, organize, publicize and fund the Safe Routes to School program so students can walk and bike to school.
4. Water Supply and Conservation

MMWD foresees future supply reductions and increases in demand that may require building an expensive and energy intensive desalination plant or pipeline. What is our local responsibility to address our own water use and our community’s contribution to increasing demand? What do you think the City’s leadership role should be with respect to water conservation?

The City of Mill Valley, as well as its residents, have a tremendous responsibility to reduce our demand for and use of water and the energy necessary to provide it. Again, the City Council needs to lead by education, demonstration and example.

Primary responsibility for water conservation is with the individual. In our home, we have native drought resistant landscaping. We have no sprinklers or irrigation of any kind. We have water flow restrictors on all showers and low-flow toilets. Our water usage always ranks in the lowest percentile.

Due to climate disruption, we need to do as much as possible to reduce the demand for water. Treating and pumping water is very energy intensive. It is imperative that we reduce our energy and water use. Because the largest use, by far, for water is landscaping, we can and should strongly promote the use of native and other low water use and fire-safe plants for landscaping not only on City property, but, as we do in our home, on private property throughout the City.

Education is the key and the City is in an excellent position to communicate crucial water conservation information and procedures to our community. The City should set the example. We can collaborate with the Marin Municipal Water District (MMWD) on educational workshops, and tours of low water landscapes. Planning guidelines should reflect the importance of native drought resistant landscaping and should set as a presumption that such landscaping should be used. The City can recognize leaders in water conservation with visible awards to homeowners who install low water use landscaping. We should also work collaboratively with MMWD on programs and incentives to reduce in-home water use.

5. Ecological Footprint

The ecological footprint of Marin is higher than the U.S. average, and is unsustainable. Do you think we as a community have a responsibility to reduce our ecological footprint? If you believe this is important, what steps have you taken to reduce your own?

The survival of humans, and all other species is at risk if we do not immediately take steps to dramatically reduce our ecological and carbon footprint. My term for this is “Environmental Repair" and I am dedicated to the concept. We need to use best practices to repair the damage we and others have caused. So yes, Mill Valley, its residents and all other communities must do everything we can to live more lightly on the planet. Things I have done to reduce my own footprint include:
  1. Keep my tires fully inflated to ensure optimum gas mileage
  2. Our children carpool to school and sports activities.
  3. Walk and bike whenever I can instead of using a car
  4. Commissioned an energy audit of my home, and am installing energy efficiency features including compact fluorescent lamps and insulation.
  5. Insulate my water heater
  6. We have reduced our air travel
  7. Purchase only 100% recycled paper, and am encouraging my workplace to do the same
  8. We often bring our own re-usable bags to the grocery store
  9. My children carry a re-usable water bottle when they play sports so they never have to use those dreadful single use plastic water bottles that are often left as unsightly litter on fields.
  10. Buy local and organic food whenever possible
  11. Have consciously reduced my consumption and purchases
  12. Have reduced my consumption of meat
  13. Telecommute once a week to save fuel
  14. Pay my bills on-line and so avoid the paper and transport of mailing bills
I will work with City Staff, members of the Commissions and my fellow City council members to set an example for the community by emphasizing environmental responsibility in our ordinances, actions and communications.

6. Cities for Climate Protection Campaign

The Mill Valley City Council has passed the Climate Protection Campaign resolution committing the City to determine a baseline and set targets to reduce our community’s greenhouse gases. Will you support setting targets and how will you implement them?

I will actively promote Mill Valley's continued participation in ICLEI's Cities for Climate Protection (CCP) program. Mill Valley, through a collaborative effort with the County, has already completed the first step of this program by establishing our GHG baseline inventory. The next steps are to affirm a GHG reduction target, develop a GHG reduction plan, implement the plan, and monitor and report results. I will join my colleagues on the City Council to ensure that these steps are followed through in a timely and effective manner, without delay. Grants from larger regional agencies are also becoming available for climate protection work and I will work to secure these grants.

7. Community Choice Aggregation (CCA)

CCA is the state law that allows municipalities to competitively procure power on behalf of ratepayers. Initial studies for Marin have shown that we may be able to substantially increase the use of renewable power (e.g., wind, geothermal and solar) while remaining at or below PG & E rates, promote local renewable generation and provider greater price certainty and stability to ratepayers. Under a CCA, homes and businesses would have a choice to buy power from the CCA or PG&E and PG&E would still maintain the power lines and billing. Mill Valley along with the other cities and the County of Marin is in the process off investigating the creation of a CCA. What is your commitment to promoting the increased use of renewable energy and to continuing Mill Valley’s participation in this investigation?

I am committed to dramatically increasing the use of renewable energy, as fast as possible. I know how important this is to the future of our civilization. The County has been taking the lead in investigating the feasibility of CCA. If the business plan the County commissioned confirms the initial CCA feasibility study, and if the County leaders affirm that we can increase the use of renewables at competitive rates then I would wholeheartedly support CCA. My limited understanding of CCA suggests that it is a highly complex topic. I will need to work to learn more so I can be effective in pursuing the opportunities of renewable energy.

To find out more about this candidate
Send contributions to:
Ken Wachtel For Mill Valley City Council
20 Sunnyside, #A282
Mill Valley, CA 94941

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Last updated: 10/06/07