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The Skeptic's Journal
How Do You Define Environmentalism In West Marin?
By Jeanette Pontacq

Continuing my last column, entitled "A Reality Check for West Marin," let's take a closer look at WHO WE ARE IN WEST MARIN. Who we are, of course, is not necessarily who we think we are. It is common myth that most of us are "right-thinking environmentalists, progressive sorts, who practice the First Amendment, love diversity, etc..."

In the case of "right-thinking environmentalists," the scorecard is decent, although too often shallow, and sometimes even embarrassing. The issue to discuss is what we, as individuals living in West Marin, can environmentally give ourselves credit for around here, besides just being a "card-carrying" member of a local "environmental" group. Do we really know what the group has done for West Marin that makes a difference? Not piggy-backing on the work of other organizations and taking credit, but really grassroots, on its own? Or are we satisfied with "sound and fury, signifying nothing" as long as it sends a return envelope?

My own opinion is that West Marin is rich in individuals who stand up, sometimes alone, to fight for what they think is right against seemingly great odds. There are quite a few cojones out there, both male and female. The latest is Katarina Sanderzell-Smith of Point Reyes Station, a mom with a 7-month old baby, who has stood up to be counted against giving control over what pesticides can be sprayed without notice in West Marin to a non-West Marin political entity already under fire from other areas for using too many toxics. You go, girl!

We need to acknowledge TBA and SPAWN for stepping up to the plate one more time to get the County of Marin to adhere to its own environmental rules and laws. I know that TBA, with Ken Fox at the helm, has been working tirelessly for years, on case after case, with little local notice, to get a definitive judgment to force the County to comply with its own regulations. He has taken quite a few unpleasant "hits" for his activism, but, like the Ever Ready Bunny, he keeps on going. Certainly glad he did this time out.

My heartfelt thanks to both organizations... TBA and SPAWN - both of which could use some nice donations to cover the legal costs of having finally won. That is a hint, folks!

Because of TBA and SPAWN, the State Court of Appeals for the First District in San Francisco has finally opined that Marin County and our Supervisors violated state law (again) when they jumped over the rules of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to politically approve a luxury 4,000 sq.-ft home on sensitive habitat smack dab on the edge of the best run for coho salmon in the San Geronimo Valley. This is a very important ruling, with wide application and impact on protecting our watershed. Without the aggressive action by SPAWN and TBA, our supervisors and county agencies could have continued to run roughshod over attempts to rehabilitate our waterways.

The truth is that West Marin, as an unincorporated entity, is part of the Board of Supervisors' Private Fiefdom. Kind of like in the Middle Ages. They can dispense jobs, appointments and other nice things. It is only by either individuals or groups standing up and refusing to accept the medieval decrees that we can counter the most egregious political moves by the county. And, of course, they are not all egregious. But when they are, with no local representation, we would always have to comply unless someone or some organization stands up and says NO. The process is quite cumbersome and requires a certain percentage of activists at hand to make it work.

Here are a few hard truths to start 2005: 1) Activists get burned out and stop standing up after a while. 2) Too many environmental groups become fossilized and internalized into protecting the rice-bowl of their staff. 3) The public, with other things to do, too often cannot really judge the efficacy (Vs money paid) of what such groups are doing. AGAIN, pats on the back to TBA and SPAWN for bucking the trend.

So where are YOUR environmental dollars going? Do they really make a difference? Are they cosmetic or real? Are you helping West Marin backpedal on the raging river of over-development, spin, and political rice-bowls, or are you too bored or pre-occupied to bother? An interesting question to ask yourself as we enter 2005. Happy New Year.

PS: A deep Thank You to every one of you, whether I agreed with you or not, who has stood up, taken a stand and followed through. You are rare birds. And thank you to the Coastal Post's Don Deane for subsidizing free speech, year after year. THANK YOU ALL.


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