San Rafael bicycling enthusiasts on Monday celebrated the opening of a new bike path that civic leaders hope will allow cyclists and pedestrians to move through downtown more easily. Called the Puerto Suello Hill Path to Transit Center Connector, the path was built with $1.6 million in grant money including $1.1 million from the Federal Highway Administration’s Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program. “I think it’s going to be a great connector for the community and downtown and the SMART when it begins running next year,” San Rafael Mayor Gary Phillips said during Monday’s ceremony. “It’s also going to be one more link in the north-south greenway from Novato to the Golden Gate Bridge; it’s one more piece to that eventuality,” Phillips added.
A Novato fireman is serving an important role in fighting the ongoing fires raging across Northern California. One of hundreds of firefighters from the Marin County area battling the fires, Novato Fire Captain Barrett Smith is serving as field observer for both the Rocky and Jerusalem fires. Smith is charged with directing firefighters, charting the fires’ paths and coordinating GPS data, among other duties. Smith has been fighting the Rocky fire since July 30th, but is expected to return home next Monday.
The Rocky and Jerusalem fires are two of 18 fires currently burning across California, most affecting the northern part of the state. The are currently more than 10,000 firefighters working to contain the blazes, including many from nearby states. The Rocky Fire has burned nearly 70,000 acres so far, but is also nearing 90 percent containment, according to the latest estimates.
Over 100 firefighters have been deployed from Marin County to help fight the massive wildfires attacking much of the state. In addition to 47 county firefighters, another 56 have been deployed from localized crews including members of the Corte Madera, Kentfield, Larkspur, Marinwood, Mill Valley, Ross Valley and San Rafael fire departments. Many of these firefighters are battling blazes in Lake, Mendocino, Napa, Shasta and Trinity counties, bringing the total of firefighters to almost 10,000. The largest fire currently is the Rocky Fire near Clear Lake, which has destroyed over two dozen homes and is threatening thousands more. So far, more than 12,000 Californians have been evacuated.
Marin County officials declared a drought emergency on Monday in an attempt to qualify for grants and other funding if and when they become available. Similar declarations were made in each of the past few years as the area continues to suffer through local and statewide drought conditions. While heavy February rain brought up levels at many area ponds and reservoirs, the drought has dried pastures and foraging land across the state, forcing ranchers to rely on out-of-state sources for feed. Currently, there is no federal aid aimed at helping farmers get through the drought, but this week’s declaration makes area farmers eligible should Congress approve any drought relief measures. Without the declaration, farmers would not have access to any aid. Ironically, Monday’s emergency announcement came on the same day as a report on agricultural production in Marin County. According to that report, total production topped $100 million in 2014, up nearly 20 percent from the year prior. The majority of the increase resulted from a surge in production of organic dairy products, which typically cost more than non-organic products.
Federal officials have issued a warning for boaters cruising the sea off Marin’s coast in response to an unusually large number of whales near the shore. “We are alerting small boaters and large vessel operators to be on the alert for endangered whales, and to maintain minimum distances,” read a statement from the superintendent of the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, Maria Brown. Brown noted that a survey team documented 115 endangered whales in the area around the Farallon Islands earlier this month. Officials are asking the skippers of large vessels to slow to 10 knots in shipping lanes approaching San Francisco, and are asking smaller ships to stay 300 feet away from the whales.
The 2015 edition of the Marin County Fair set revenue records, but fell short of attendance records. According to Fair organizers, this year’s event drew 105,000, with 79,000 of those full price admissions. The Fair drew 130,000 back in 1988 with a presentation of the “Magic of Lucasfilm”, but admission was only $6 back then. Organizers believe that blaring heat discouraged some fair-goers on Wednesday and Thursday. Revenue nonetheless set records in a number of categories, including the gate. Paid admissions for the 2015 Marin County Fair rose $30,000 compared to a year ago to reach $1.4 million. Parking revenue was up $35,000, and revenue from corporate sponsors shot up more than 300 percent to $132,000. Additional revenue was brought in by new programs, including selling reserved seats for headlining musical acts, which brought in just over $33,000. Organizers faced challenges this year when the reggae act Tribal Seeds and folk singer Judy Collins both canceled just one day before they were slated to perform, but replacements were found.
The National Association of Realtors reported Monday that pending home sales in the US rose 0.9 percent in May, as gains in the Northeast and West offset declines in the Midwest and South. Compared to a year earlier, the NAR’s pending home sales index rose a staggering 10.4 percent. The index also reached a new post-recession high, climbing to a reading of 112.6, its highest reading since April 2006. A calculation of the number of contracts signed to purchase homes, the measure of pending sales is considered a solid indicator of what sales will do in the coming months, as closings typically trail contrcat signings by a month or two.
NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun was buoyed by Monday’s report, indicating that sales are now on track for their best year since the Great Recession. “The steady pace of solid job creation seen now for over a year has given the housing market a boost this spring,” Yun noted in a statement. “It’s very encouraging to now see a broad-based recovery with all four major regions showing solid gains from a year ago and new-home sales also coming alive.” The report continues a trend in recent housing reports that appear to show the market is finally nearing a state of health not seen since before the downturn. Just last week, in fact, a Commerce Dept. report showed that new home sales rose 2.2 percent in May to reach another post-recession high.
California home sales slumped 3.5 percent in May, according to a report issued earlier this week by PropertyRadar Inc. A total of 36,912 homes and condominiums sold last month, according to the report, compared to 38,249 properties sold in April. The report notes that sales slipped for both distressed and non-distressed homes, marking the first decline in traditional home sales in May since 2005. While sales were down from April, they were slightly higher on a year-over-year basis, climbing 2.3 percent since May 2014. In the nine-county Bay Area, sales slipped 3.5 percent from last May.
The median price for homes sold in California in May was $396,750, a bit lower than April’s statewide median of $404,000. Of the state’s 26 largest counties, 21 experienced rising prices on a monthly basis, led by an 11.3 percent increase in Santa Barbara County and a 6.3 percent uptick in Marin. Last month’s California median price was 0.4 percent higher than the median seen in May 2014 as fewer counties saw double-digit increases seen in recent months. Of the state’s 26 biggest counties, only four saw double-digit price gains year-over-year, including a 20 percent surge in San Francisco.
The California Supreme Court on Monday upheld the right of city and county governments to pass legislation compelling developers to include a certain number of affordable housing units in every new home development. The ruling was a response to a legal challenge of an ordinance that has yet to take effect in San Jose, though more than 170 local government agencies have similar legislation in effect, including Marin County and San Francisco. Builders had argued that this type of legislation amounts to government confiscation of property, claiming that affordable housing rules are only valid in cases where a development leads to a shortage of affordable housing. The court rejected the claim, saying that affordable housing rules are every bit as legal as rules governing housing size or density in a given community.
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo lauded Monday’s ruling, saying it has “ vindicated San Jose’s bold decision to become the largest city in the nation with an inclusionary housing policy, and it couldn’t have come at a time of greater need.” Attorneys representing the California Building Industry Association, meanwhile, said the ruling will hurt efforts to ease housing shortages because the penalties for insufficient affordable units will deter developers from breaking ground on some developments. The builder group’s lawyers are currently wighing their options, including an eventual appeal to the US Supreme Court.
Marin County’s population growth surged in the last few years as the national and California economies’ improvement has allowed more people to afford Marin’s high cost of living. According to a report from the California Department of Finance, the total population of the county rose 0.2 percent in 2011, 0.3 percent in 2012 and 0.4 percent in 2013. That rate nearly doubled to 0.9 percent in 2014 before dropping slightly to 0.7 percent in 2015. Marin County school officials note that a rise in school enrollment has accompanied the population growth as retirees sell their homes and more families move in. As a result, county-wide enrollment has surged 15 percent over the last decade, according to a spokesman for Marin County education.
Of the individual cities that make up Marin County, Larkspur saw the biggest population jump from last year at 1.5 percent. Sausalito was close, with a 1.2 percent increase in population. Among Bay Area counties, Marin’s 0.7 percent growth was the smallest, followed by Sonoma’s 0.8 percent spurt and Napa’s 0.9 percent uptick. San Francisco led the Bay Area in population growth at 1.3 percent, though Alameda and Contra Costa Counties saw an identical rise. That 1.3 percent increase tied those three communities at second in the state behind San Joaquin County, where the population jumped 1.5 percent. Of the 482 cities across the state, 421 saw population growth, while 50 saw declines and 11 saw no change. The total population of California jumped 358,000 to 38.7 million for an increase of 0.9 percent.