Coastal Post Online

July 2001


Shakespeare And Steelheads
By Louis Nuyens

An unprecedented collaboration of prominent Marin environmental groups has resulted in last-minute complications for this summer's Shakespeare at Stinson season.

The groups have united-collectively known as the Steelhead Coalition-with a single, finely focused aim: to seek enforcement of stream setbacks crucial to preservation of endangered species habitat.

In mid-May, citing "Incremental construction within the SCA [Streamside Conservation Area] zone and destruction of the riparian vegetationÉ" the Steelhead Coalition filed an appeal with the Marin Board of Supervisors "because of the [Marin County Planning] Commission's refusal to enforce the mandatory provisions of Title 22 of the Marin County Code, section 22.56.130.G.3. (Adopted March, 1983) which prohibit development within 100' of the bank of Easkoot Creek (a USGS blueline perennial stream, habitat of the Steelhead Trout, a threatened species) for parcels which are not entirely within the stream buffer."

In addition to County Use and Building Permits, the Planning Commission (more properly, the Planning Division of the Marin County Community Development Agency) approved a Coastal Permit for Shakespeare at Stinson, under the authority vested in it by the California Coastal Commission, required for development in the 100 foot Streamside Conservation Area (SCA).

While the Stinson Beach County Water District (SBCWD) has jurisdiction over any Stinson Beach project involving water use, water hookups, and septic systems, the County is in charge of the construction of buildings, and the two entities must coordinate efforts.

Jeffrey Trotter, Producing Director of Shakespeare at Stinson, has evidently submitted plans to the County that are substantially different from those submitted to the SBCWD. In some cases, neither set of plans accurately represents the work done at the site. As a result of the Steelhead Coalition appeal, the County has only recently opened the door to compare notes with the SBCWD.

For example, for the last seven years, the SBCWD has repeatedly made it clear that it could not approve any permanent structure that encroaches on the SCA as that is against their Water District Codes. Yet, after obtaining permits from the SBCWD for a few temporary portable toilets, with no permanent structures in the SCA, Shakespeare at Stinson submitted a different plan to the County to gain the permits for permanent toileting facilities and other structures, in the SCA, that are the subject of the Steelhead Coalition appeal. At an early June SBCWD meeting, Trotter introduced yet another set of plans, saying that SBCWD had the "wrong" ones; SBCWD members responded that the new Shakespeare at Stinson plans were unfamiliar to them, and were certainly not the plans that had received approvals from the SBCWD.

At the same 23 April 2001 hearing in which the disputed County permits were granted, SBCWD General Manager Richard A. Dinges put before the County Planning Commission a letter in which Dinges pointed out the inconsistencies between the various Shakespeare at Stinson plans, characterizing them as a "moving target." Dinges sought to prevent the County approvals, which would clearly conflict with the regulations of the SBCWD. The County Community Development Agency and Planning Commission chose not to pay heed to Dinges's remarks.

The County approved a five-year use permit for Shakespeare at Stinson, including permanent toilet facilities, the legalization of two storage buildings (totaling 900 sq. ft.) within 25 feet of the edge of the creek bank, a fence that is actually on the creek bank..

To a large degree, the 23 April 2001 permits were retroactive approvals of illegal construction already in existence on the site, and follow a chain of questionable decisions by the County. In 1995, using a 'Negative Declaration' rather than a complete environmental review, the County approved a five year use permit, including temporary structures in the SCA, two 12x24 storage sheds, 5 portable toilets, and a box office and office within 60' of the creek bank. None of the approved structures were constructed by the time the permit lapsed, in 1997. At a time not documented in County records, and without a current permit of any kind, Shakespeare at Stinson built a 16'x58' permanent storage/dressing building, on piers, with no foundation, 25' from creek, and the fence that runs into the creek.

According to the Steelhead Coalition appeal, without notice or hearing, on 15 March 2000, County Planning unilaterally approved construction of permanent bathrooms, and in or about February 2001, Shakespeare at Stinson commenced construction of two permanent toilets approximately 25' from the creek bank. County approval of these permanent toileting facilities ran directly against the longstanding position (based on Code) of the SBCWD; without SBCWD approval, use of the unapproved toilet facilities is, in fact, illegal. Initially, Shakespeare at Stinson proposed to use the permanent bathrooms only for Shakespeare at Stinson actors, but subsequently sought to have it used by patrons, as well.

Shakespeare at Stinson illegally operated the permanent toilets for 2-3 weeks before the SBCWD shut down those facilities and put a lock on them.

Beyond SCA considerations, there are public health concerns. The new Shakespeare at Stinson toilet facility taps into a pre-existing septic system used by businesses on the same property. The leach field of the septic system runs under the paved parking area for the businesses and under the grassy area on which the Shakespeare at Stinson audience sits. It should be emphasized that, at present, septic system use is only by the other businesses. However, overuse of the septic system might, possibly lead to surfacing of effluent in the Shakespeare at Stinson audience seating area.

In addition to County Planning's alleged disregard for provisions protecting the habitat of endangered species, the issue is complicated by the many versions of Shakespeare at Stinson plans.

Simultaneous to submitting its appeal, the Steelhead Coalition send a 'tough but fair' letter to Trotter, acknowledging the thespian group as a "valuable community cultural resource," and saying, "Our intention in apprising you of our appeal is to help enable Shakespeare at Stinson to make the wisest possible use of its resources."

Shakespeare at Stinson is clearly a unique and valuable cultural resource. However, its desire for expansion seems marked by the type of ambition attributed to Shakespeare's Julius Caesar and confused deception reminiscent of the bard's farces. At its current site, consideration for the habitat of endangered species and public health will require that its scale and luxuries remain modest.

The Steelhead Coalition appellants include representative leadership from the following groups: Tomales Bay Association; Environmental Action Committee of West Marin (EAC); Sierra Club - Marin Group; Salmon Protection and Watershed Network (SPAWN); Tomales BayKeeper, a project of WaterKeepers Northern California; Bolinas Lagoon Watershed Team; Stinson Beach Village Association. The Coalition group credits its strength of unity to the narrow focus of its mission. The Steelhead Coalition is making it clear that, while the Shakespeare at Stinson case is the first on their plate, they are taking the long view. Although the convoluted aspect of the Shakespeare at Stinson case may be unusual, the approvals of SCA construction would set precedent for at least four projects waiting in the wings, and many more in the future.

With regard to the appeal of the County permits for Shakespeare at Stinson, if the County fails to withdraw its approvals, the next step for the Steelhead Coalition would be to go to Coastal Commission who can reverse County approvals on SCA matters.

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