Coastal Post Online


April 2002

West Marin's Dirty Little Secrets

By Jeanette Pontacq

The first secret is that there is no West Marin community. The very term implies a basically homogeneous population, with similar needs, beliefs and interests. Advocates of one thing or another like to say the "community" supports their agenda, just as our national leaders constantly invoke the "American people" as supporting them. Those who do not support that agenda are thus easily branded as outside the "community" and not worthy of being heard, just as dissenters nationally are branded as "unpatriotic."

The truth is that West Marin is composed of quite a number of communities, often with many overlapping layers between them. The different communities that make up "everyone who lives in West Marin," are beautifully diverse. There are communities of older residents who were born here and have extensive family ties, of ranchers, horse people, hippies grown older, commuting yuppies, middle-class suburban households, baby boomer expatriates, workmen and women, Latinos, trust fund babies, alimony "hussies," dedicated hermits and so on...

Each of these communities within the small towns, along with their shifting and multiple ties to other communities, has a different group dynamic and personality. The second secret is that they are not equal, and often act as "ships passing in the night." Some communities have loud voices, while the voices of others are muted. Those with louder voices and cultural confidence(even if potentially less numerically) thus define the non-existent "West Marin community" and their agenda predominates. Those with differing opinion or thought often have to hide those opinions in order to "get along." In Point Reyes Station, for example, the local newspaper constantly "spins" the news to correspond to the "community" agenda it adheres to, with the muted communities often scratching their heads over the rewrites of reality.

The third secret is that the predominating agenda does not want the voices of the non-vocal communities heard, although there is often much conceptual ado about "inclusiveness." Because most of West Marin is unincorporated, residents have no local representation other than via one county supervisor. The loudest voice or voices in each little town rules and dismisses dissenters as "others." This works to the advantage of the supervisor and those who support that person because it also allows the supervisor to play to only the loudest voices in each small town.

West Marin villages do not have the protection of the secret ballot for their diverse communities on local issues. Communities which culturally or historically are neither aggressive nor meeting oriented are not heard at all on most contentious issues. Every issue seems to engender a Darwinian struggle, with further community divisiveness as the result. Too often, muted communities have no redress unless they want to put themselves in harms way of reprisals or harassment within the small town structure. One resident, who had fought on an issue for over five years, enduring insults, harassment and threats to his business, has frankly told me that he will never again get involved. Another, who has lived in Point Reyes Station for forty years and contributed a lot to the town's well being, is seriously thinking of leaving, only because he no longer feels a part of "the community" in that town. This is not uncommon.

A solution to these dirty little realities can only come from all communities realizing that they each have a right to have a part in their town's future. And that each community's' voice should count and be heard with respect, without their having to enter a hostile public battle zone. How we get to that place is the question I would like to put on the table. Do we need a ballot structure on issues? West Marin will have many a problematic issue come up in the near and far future. Do you want those issues addressed and decided by only a few or by everyone together in a non-confrontational and fair manner? All suggestions are welcome. We are only beginning the conversation.


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