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    Zeno Swijtink's Avatar
    Zeno Swijtink

    Salmon trump Spirit Rock

    Salmon trump Spirit Rock
    Jacoba Charles

    Salmon advocates faced off with spiritual leaders and homeowners on Tuesday, when Marin County Board of Supervisors approved a moratorium on some developments in the San Geronimo Valley watershed.

    The two-year freeze applies to new permits within Stream Conservation Areas (SCAs) along three-and-a-half miles of Lagunitas Creek, and is part of a settlement negotiation between the county and the Salmon Protection and Watershed Network (SPAWN).

    A series of impassioned statements prior to the vote referred to the plan both as “an exercise in courage” and “draconian.”

    Four properties, including Spirit Rock Meditation Center, were specifically targeted in the moratorium which otherwise would not have applied to them since their permits were submitted prior to the January 1 cutoff date.

    “I’ve spent my family’s life savings trying to get this project approved,” said Steve Maloney of San Geronimo, whose parcel was one of the four singled out in the moratorium. “If you carry forward with this, I ask that you and SPAWN buy my property and reimburse me.”

    Maloney had designed a 1,440-foot modular home to be constructed offsite, with native plant landscaping and a permeable asphalt driveway to minimize site disturbance.
    During the moratorium, which was first announced late last week, the county will develop a Salmonid Habitat Enhancement Plan for the area. “Only projects within the demilitarized zone – excuse me, the Streamside Conservation Areas – are affected,” said Alex Hinds, the Marin County Community Development Agency Director.

    “It’s a good idea to do the science and come up with understandable guidelines so people wont have to hire a battery of experts to build a bathroom,” said Supervisor Steve Kinsey.
    “This agreement not only protects coho, but also the children that play in our creeks,” said Todd Steiner, director of SPAWN. “We’re ready to roll up our sleeves and make this model a success.”

    Residents were distressed by the speed at which the vote occurred, as well as by the lack of communication or collaboration in the process.

    “The key objection that I have is the lack of notice; perhaps there’s not a legal demand but I propose that you have a moral obligation,” said Richard O’Toole of Lagunitas, whose property has been in his family since 1905. “This two-year moratorium has the effect of taking or diminishing the value of property without any notification of the individual owners.”

    Other speakers repeatedly expressed the same concern, which the county addressed – after the fact. “The lack of communication and collaboration was an outcome of the settlement negotiations,” said Hinds. “We’re past that now, and we’ll be seeking collaboration.”

    Representatives of Spirit Rock, the largest property affected, worried that the actions of the last week could have the opposite effect. They have been working to modernize their approved master plan from 1988 so that it will reflect increased environmental protections by moving proposed buildings farther away from streams; increasing solar power; and eliminating proposed new roads, water, sewer and drainage systems.
    “We’d rather not go ahead with our approved plan, but at the same time we’re facing an uncertain future,” said Evan Kavanaugh, executive director of Spirit Rock. “We can’t plan for a future in which we don’t know what the rules will be.”

    During his statement, he asked the members of the audience who came in support of Spirit Rock to stand, and a wall of people rose. Of the speakers, over half had come to oppose Spirit Rock’s inclusion in the moratorium. Most of the remainder came to support the moratorium.

    “I like Spirit Rock, but they were part of the problem,” said Jean Berensmeier, holding up a posterboard made by San Geronimo schoolchildren for the board to see. “I’m sure they’ll do the right thing, but they deserve no exemption.”

    “Moratoria are never easy,” said Supervisor Charles McGlashan, president of the board. “We are facing a planet that is in absolute crisis, and sometimes it’s the best actors that get caught up after everybody else has bulldozed the place.”
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