The Coastal Post - September 2000

Ft. Baker Faces Big, Bad Changes

By Carol Sterritt

A big change will soon descend upon the Marin Headlands. Ft. Baker, that "Historic Gem in The Golden Gate National Park", is about to be reinvented. Plans considered by the Golden Gate National Park Service (NPS) indicate that the area will heavily reconstructed. The 46 historic buildings will be refurbished; a parking lot containing space for 700 cars will be created. Most notably, a conference center featuring 350 rooms will be built.

Naturally, with Marin being Marin, this proposal is seen by some as cause for alarm. Perhaps nowhere in Marin is the concern as great as in the City of Sausalito. Just as "beauty is in the eye of the beholder", so too is growth perception in the eye of the beholder. In all the legal and technical documents detailing the new, improved Ft. Baker, the National Park Service (NPS) views its changes as tasteful and unimposing. However the City of Sausalito has the exact opposite point of view. To quote from a letter from the NPS, "there remains a difference in professional opinion regarding certain aspects of the methodology used to assess traffic impacts, specifically seasonal variation in traffic conditions and assumptions used for trip distribution patterns." Translation: "experts have fanciful ways of explaining away any logical fears a Sausalito resident may hold."

I live in Sausalito, and I have noticed few Sausalito residents have such phrases as "trip distribution patterns", "strict mitigation measures," or "queuing analysis" floating around in our vocabulary. But on a tourist-y day, many who live or work in this city have been known to exclaim, "Gosh, are the streets ever crowded!" On days when an event is held north of the City, (such as the Marin County Fair), pulling off from a side street onto the main (and only) thoroughfare is nearly impossible. During even a normal summer weekend, there are more cars traveling through the City than roadway to support them. I know this, not because I am a traffic expert, but because as a resident I must walk everywhere, as my walking speed rivals that of the cars in traffic.

Thus it was not surprising to learn that last winter, city officials communicated their belief that as many as 3,000 additional car trips an hour would be likely after Ft. Baker's redesign. To this, the NPS replied that city officials were mistaken that the redesign would cause only an extra 3,000 car trips a day. I assume the cars' occupants would be allowed to walk their way into Ft. Baker, that is, if they could find parking along the route. But since they won't be able to, I guess they will simply gridlock along.

Now as critical as I have fashioned the above paragraphs, I do find myself salivating over the beauty of the proposed redesign. The conference and retreat center will allow the public to appreciate natural and historic resources. Its location inside the parade ground and also inside the non-historic residential area will feature "compatibly designed new construction to provide room for meetings, dining and accommodations" The center will be financed and managed by one or more private operators selected through a competitive bid process managed by the NPS. Also, there are plans afoot to restore Horseshoe Bay's beach and to encourage native plant vegetation landscaping along the waterfront. The historic boat shop will serve as a waterfront center for community meeting and program space, and supporting food and beverage service. The Coast Guard will remain at this site; so will the Bay Area Discovery Museum with new exhibit and classroom space.

It sounds so nice; the question remains, how would a Sausalito resident ever get there? If I listen to my city officials, they seem to agree with me that we won't. If I listen to the National Park Service in its reply to The City, I am assured that the net effect on Sausalito traffic will only be some four percent and "after mitigation," that the effect will be even smaller. I almost expect to read that genetic engineers will simply genetically modify the size of the cars and their occupants. Then maybe most of the traffic can simply coast along inside the double yellow lines separating the two lanes of traffic, one from another, on Alexander Drive. All the while, these cars and their occupants must be quite careful to not disturb the Mission Blue Butterfly, a federally protected, endangered butterfly that calls the Marin headlands its home.

As for bicyclists, well, the entire plan will cost our government hundreds of millions of dollars. So it should be a given that the rough road bicyclists venture whenever they experience Bridgeway winding down into curvy Alexander will at last be smoothed out, right? Wrong. Apparently, bike paths or other concessions to two-wheeled traffic are not important enough for folks at the national level to consider. Never mind that many serious bike accidents occur along that route each month. The National Park Service will leave that headache up to an entity called the Alexander Avenue Traffic Consortium. Which I've heard has roughly the amount of money needed to buy a dozen lattes at any of Sausalito's little coffee shops.

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