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MARIN COUNTY'S NEWS MONTHLY - FREE PRESS
(415)868-1600 - (415)868-0502(fax) - P.O. Box 31, Bolinas, CA, 94924

December, 2005

 


How do you spell SUSTAINABILITY?
By Jeanette Pontacq

The recent visit to West Marin by a couple of charming British royals provided confirmation (if one was really needed) that our corner of the county believes in sustainability and organic growing. Since the BBC, CBS, MSNBC and even FOX have now said so, it surely must be so.
A joke going around asks how many West Marin residents could be "sustained" by breakfast via local organic growers, and for how many days. The punch line seems to vary, but the gist is that the figure would be smaller than Bolinas, and 30 minutes. Lunch and dinner are not mentioned. Jokes aside, our local organic growers are hard working, wonderful people, but truth demands that the following be stated: the level of real food sustainability for all of West Marin is pretty low, and seasonal. Sustainability, by any definition, in terms of electricity, propane, garbage pick-ups, water, housing, septic, transportation, health and other public necessities, is even lower. We are definitely not an island, neither in time nor in real time.
What IS sustainability? The word has become a cultural icon here, too often unquestioned and undefined. Kind of like a religion. A subjective concept? For a number of people in West Marin the word is part of an attempt to create a West Marin Sustainability District.
I support the concept of a West Marin Sustainability District in theory, but want input for all residents before anything is "imposed" on them, even in the name of elusive "sustainability." The basic idea, I hear, is to put together an umbrella organization that would create an infrastructure for a broadly sustainable future in West Marin. What's not to like? But the actual definition of what such a Sustainability District would be is not agreed to, just like the word itself. Keep that in mind as you read onÉ.
Let us remember that unincorporated Bolinas already has the Bolinas Public Utility District (BPUD). As an unincorporated community, Bolinas does not have a formal town council. Because BPUD exists, with residents able to vote on the directors, citizens are able to voice their concerns on any issue at BPUD meetings. BPUD also acts as the closest thing to a municipal government that Bolinas has in interacting with the county bureaucrats. Would the proposed Sustainability District superimpose itself on top of BPUD, adding another layer of bureaucracy?
BPUD was/is also the entity that was initially turned to by advocates of a pesticide-free West Marin in face of the new and controversial Sonoma-Marin Mosquito Control District. Without BPUD taking up the issue, it probably would have been side-lined. BPUD has standing with the county because its directors truly represent the people of Bolinas via the ballot box. That means something.
IPUD, the Inverness Public Utility District normally has its directors voted upon as well, although this year they were appointed by county Supervisors due to the fact that there were no residents wanting to run against the incumbents. Again, the county, the state or the feds can take the word of the Inverness District that they truly represent the residents on specific issues, because they are voted in.
The same cannot be said of poor Point Reyes Station. The people of Point Reyes Station have no ability to vote for anything via an independent ballot box, because they have no political entity that represents them, one and all, on any level. To say that the Point Reyes Station Village Society represents everyone is neither true nor realisticÉ it represents its few membersÉ it is just the un-voted-for default group the county clings to in desperation when issues come up.
PRS residents are at the mercy of the county, state and feds (and other special interests) every time a loud voice presents its proposal for change or whatever. After all, how did the now-hard-to-fill EAH "affordable" project get a foothold in town? Well, it wasn't from the majority of residents - it was from a few naive/financially unsophisticated locals and folks as far away as Petaluma, Mill Valley and Inverness voting to install said development overlooking the town. But that's old news, even if hard to swallow knowing what PRS residents now know and see.
So, let's go back to the idea of a West Marin Sustainability District. Would it be on top of the already-existent BPUD and IPUD? For poor PRS, would it be another unvoted-upon entity telling us what to do? I propose that before any such overall West Marin District (of anything) takes shape, that each individual community in West Marin take a look at itself and decide how it collectively wants to make decisions and not have decisions thrust upon it, including Point Reyes Station most of all.
Since the word "sustainability" is personal - it would be a good idea to get a general and agreed-upon definition going in West Marin first, before any Sustainability District is set forth. A big thing activists forget to do is to ASK RESIDENTS first. I, for one, want a vote, a voice, before any more loud voices speak for me, even on issues I might normally agree with. What do YOU think?
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