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April, 2003

Marin's Environmental Master Plan Unveiled
By Louis Nuyens

Marin County is currently engaging in a comprehensive update of its General Plan, also known as the Marin Countywide Plan, the guiding document for all County's regulations and policies.

To present a unified environmentalist vision for Marin and facilitate coordinated input on planning issues, four of Marin's venerated veteran environmental organizations have collaborated to refresh its own outline for Marin's future.

"Community Marin 2003 (CM2003), is the result of a year and a half of quiet toil by the Marin Chapter of the Audubon Society (MAS), the Marin group of the San Francisco Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club (SC), the Marin Conservation League (MCL), and the Environmental Forum of Marin (EFM). Together, the active membership of the four participating groups represent a complement of many of Marin's longest-standing and most erudite environmental activists and progressive thinkers.

Community Marin 2003 is not intended to be detailed enough to replace the Countywide Plan (CWP), rather it sets forth a clear vision of characteristics desirable for the County, establishes guiding principles, and makes a many specific recommendations.

CM2003 was constructed on a requirement of consensus by all of the groups; therefore all positions taken represent positions common to all. The groups are diverse enough in their perspectives that points agreed upon are likely to be a reliable indication of the position of most Marin environmentalists.

General Principles

Meeting the challenge of finding substantial agreement between many diverse participants, the collaboration makes strong, very focused, statements and recommendations in several key areas.

The environmental coalition strongly admonishes Marin governments for two decades of moving away from wise planning: "Preservation of Marin's open space, environmental quality and natural resources is critical to the County's economic health as well as to its quality of life. A healthy economy cannot be sustained in a deteriorating environment."

From CM2003's introduction, "Unfortunately, excessive commercial development in Marin has not only caused traffic congestion, but it has also degraded the environment and threatened community character. Current general plans project another 47% increase in commercial development over what existed in 1990 - far beyond what can be accommodated without unacceptable environmental damage and degradation of the quality of life. It is essential that the County, cities and towns agree to reduce the amount of commercial development allowed under their general plans and focus instead on creative re-use of existing areas, particularly in order to provide affordable housing."

The following goals are fundamental to the realization of Community Marin 2003's ultimate vision for Marin: protection of natural environment, resources and biodiversity; natural habitat restoration; healthy, diverse and equitable human community; discouragement of rapid, disruptive or inappropriate growth; preservation of the historic community-centered character of Marin; an emphasis on creation of housing affordable to the local workforce; safe, convenient, cost-effective public transportation system to existing communities.

CM2003 also outlines general principles for achievement of its goals: focus new development in infill locations, close to existing transit stops and services; reduction of new development allowed by current city and county plans; planning of future growth in accordance with environmental protection and enhancement standards; careful selection of best water supply sources and sewage handling; recognition that reducing development potential in one location does not mean that it should be squeezed in elsewhere; creation of incentives for attractive, safe affordable housing, directed toward Marin's local workforce; prioritization of preservation of the natural environment in all land use planning.

Highlights

One key concept in CM2003 is creation of a "Baylands\ Corridor" as a fourth zone to the existing Countywide Plan corridors: City-Centered (along Highway 101), Inland Rural, and Coastal Recreation. The Baylands Corridor would emphasize preservation and restoration of vital bayshore habitat.

In keeping with the Baylands Corridor goal, CM2003 recommends efforts to preserve and restore properties on the east side of Highway 101 north of San Rafael, such as the St. Vincent's/Silviera properties, where a large, controversial development is still within the realm of possibilities.

Many transit recommendations are made, including completion of the San Rafael Gap Closure Project; reduction of person trips through expanded ridesharing, telecommuting, and public transit and increased subsidies and incentives for their use; and service- and transit- centered planning that reduces the need for and number of vehicle trips.

While CM2003 does not take an explicit position on whether any lanes should be added through the "Novato Narrows" (Highway 101 between Novato and Petaluma), it does indicate that any added lane(s) should be HOV lanes for buses and carpools, and specifically recommends that any added lane(s) fall within the footprint of the existing roadway.

The report did not state a position on the proposals for a Sonoma-Marin commuter rail system that are being aggressively pushed, largely through ballot measures, by pro-growth forces. However, the goal of a well-preserved Baylands Corridor seems to clearly preclude recent rail service proposals, all of which would travel directly through those areas.

The report also makes specific recommendations for 17 specific properties, predominantly within unincorporated areas, provides a five-year Strategic Action Plan for environmental advocates, and includes a wealth of information about a great many of Marin's natural habitat types.

Marin has the blessing of a great many environmental issues; therefore, while covering many specific topics, CM2003 did not attempt to cover them all. For example, west Marin issues were left largely unaddressed although significant environmental issues and struggles exist there. However, CM2003 is contains a clear vision and enough specific examples that it principles can be extrapolated to many properties and issues not specifically mentioned.

Community Marin 2003 should be available by April 2003. Contact any of the four participating groups for more information.

 

 

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