Development Threatens Beauty Of Marin Headlands
Sausalito And County In Hanky Panky With Developer
By Elena Belsky
Did you think that the beautiful Marin Headlands and its view-shed, featured in hundreds of films, and enjoyed by tens of thousands of visitors each year, was safe from development?
The Wolfback Ridge Subdivision
Through a combination of errors, cowardice and lack of conviction, the City of Sausalito and the County of Marin have allowed a large, strategically placed, residential development on one of the most prominent and scenic ridgelines of the Marin Headlands.
"Wolfback Estates" is a ten-parcel, 8-acre subdivision, adjacent to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (four of the parcels are actually within the GGNRA's boundary), confirmed home to the Mission Blue Butterfly, an endangered species, and directly above the steep 1982 slide area of highway 101 and the Waldo Tunnel.
The GGNRA, the California Department of Transportation (CalTrans), and the US Department of Fish & Wildlife Service have all commented, citing major concerns with the lack of suitability for development of the sensitive ridge-top environment and steeply sloped area.
The subdivision was initially denied by Sausalito in 1990, due the potential for extreme damage to sensitive environmental habitat, practical issues such as slope stability, questionable septic system designs, and obvious aesthetic reasons.
The developers, Alan Patterson and Carolyn Wean, along with a team of lawyers, immediately availed themselves of a technical loophole in the Permit Streamlining Act (a loophole that has since been closed) to challenge the City's denial of the project in court. The City of Sausalito chose to settle out of court and allow the development to proceed, subject to proper permits and compliance with aspects of the Final EIR.
As a part of the settlement, Sausalito approved a subdivision map under convoluted circumstances: the City's lawyer, County Counsel and the County EHS created a backward arrangement in order to allow the septic systems and a subdivision map for the development. According to letters in the public files, the City of Sausalito figured out a way to slip through the approval, despite that it appears to conflict with the Settlement Agreement terms: "All required Health Department variances and permits for a septic system shall be issued prior to issuance of the final map." The actual septic permits and variances have yet to be issued, but the Final Map was recorded June 29, 1999.
For its part, the County violated its own regulations by granting the illegal use of a septic system for new parcels using remote leachlines (where house septic lines go to an off-site leachfield). The leachlines for the subdivision are also placed on parcels with a greater than 50 percent slope (very problematic for stability, saturation, and runoff), throughout groves of Eucalyptus trees, which are above a highly popular and well-used GGNRA ridgeline trail.
Unfortunately, the developer's brazen attitude continues, as he began improvements to hilltop properties last winter, grading and paving a road, and installing septic force mains underneath, without permits or their accompanying technical inspections. The illegal work was immediately reported by neighbors to the City of Sausalito and subsequently to the County of Marin Environmental Health Services (EHS), and District 3 supervisor, Annette Rose, each of whom, remarkably, have failed to take the developer to task and enforce the law in their respective jurisdictions.
Developers Patterson/Wean might also be in violation of their Settlement Agreement with the City of Sausalito, as it required issuance of proper permits, Environmental Management plans, a slope stability report, and as a default, "...if any provision of this Agreement is unclear, incomplete or at variance
with the FEIR, the FEIR shall be the overriding document and shall prevail."
According to Coastal Post sources, Mr. Patterson is currently being sued over a parcel in the subdivision, with claims against him including breech of contract and fraud. Real estate agents are being approached to represent the Wolfback Estates subdivision, although perhaps they are not yet aware of the litigation, illegalities of construction, and potential dangers and deficiencies of the subdivision, especially the septic system violations, that would require full disclosure.
The City of Sausalito has painted itself into a corner, as the lead agency on the project, by allowing the development to advance without permits and without enforcement or penalty. The County of Marin should now take responsibility for its past judgment in allowing a highly suspect septic system in a sensitive, and potentially unstable area, adjacent to a public trail and protected habitat. Responsibility and protection of our natural resources and public health and welfare are key concepts for agencies involved and/or impacted by the Wolfback Estates subdivision project.
For more information contact Friends of Wolfback Ridge at[email protected].
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