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April, 2006

Pork Barrel Politics In West Marin
By Jeanette Pontacq

The "public meeting" offered by the Park Service to West Marin residents on Thursday, March 16th highlighted the downward trajectory of respect by the Park for Point Reyes Station. The meeting itself was hard won by many, many residents sending in written complaints and concerns regarding the proposed Park Service-Giacomini Trust land swap. It was scheduled at 5 p.m. to cut down on working people attending. Such meetings are usually at 7 p.m. to allow everyone to come.
The Park Service did NOT want to have this meeting, but was reluctantly forced to do so via the avalanche of letters from local residents concerned about the ultimate results of the proposed land swap on their lives AND on the viability of the town of Point Reyes Station AND the to-date 4.5 million dollar wetlands conversion at the head of Tomales Bay.

I attended the meeting on a rainy afternoon to witness what took place. The first thing I noticed was that Don Neubacher, Lorraine Parsons, Greg Gress (Park Service-Oakland) et al have absolutely NO understanding of the depth of angst and horror of this "deal" for those of us in Point Reyes Station. The only thing that is important to these bureaucrats is to get the wetlands restoration rolling NOW. By whatever means.

If that means sacrificing both Point Reyes Station in massive high-end build-out AND sacrificing the integrity/view of the wetlands off the town AND sending Big Bucks to Bush, then so be it! As Neubacher said repeatedly when questioned on the unfair treatment of the town and the financial windfall for Bush, "it is not a perfect world."

Not surprisingly, those few at the meeting who unquestioningly supported the unequal land swap so that "their" wetlands restoration would "happen on schedule," were essentially the same people who aggressively pushed the now-understood-to-be-a-fiasco EAH project on the town. Same scenario as when EAH was foisted on us by those outside the town. Its dj vu, all over again!

Bottom line is that Don N. sees there will be no money per the Bush Administration's curtailment of support for the NPS, soooo the only recourse to keep the wetland restoration on its present schedule is to trade the land they already bought along C Street in the town of Point Reyes Station, with our 4.5 million of tax dollars, back to the Giacomini Trust in exchange for two no-market-value, under-water properties off Inverness NOW. Totally unequal, totally Christmas in July for the Giacomini Trust on the backs of the rest of us, but who cares? Park bureaucracy will not have to wait even a minute more for the restoration to begin! Waiting, by the way, only a year or two, can change the whole dynamic and reality of this issue. All this is being done in a rush only "to keep the restoration on the pre-determined schedule."

"Rushing into this land swap" also gives little time for locals to really figure out what this means for them as a community. Little time to "save the town" via a full Giacomini buy-out. Don N has "generously" given 60 days to two local residents with full-time jobs to "find the money" for the Park Service. Although there is no guarantee the Giacomini Trust will even agree to take the money! Don N & Co just seem to really, really want to take the easy way out and trade back the land to the Giacomini Trust NOW. I should say, however, that it IS in keeping with the sordid history of land swaps via the Park Service and the BLM over the last 50 years. Scandalous is too soft a word to describe that pork barrel and personal back-scratching described in the Congressional Record.

The logical entrepreneurial reaction to the problem of the Park Service wanting/needing the two underwater parcels on Inverness side (allowed to be retained by the Giacominis although always needed by the Park Service from Day One) IS THIS: take the land swap off the table while the Park Service busts ass to get money to buy both the underwater parcels cheap and the left over Giacomini parcels off C Street for a bit more. The actual monies involved here, on an HONEST assessment, are not great. Point Reyes Station is being sold off for not too many pieces of silver! Although lots of money is changing hands with the swap as it is!

In closing, let me ask you all to visualize the end result of such a give-away to the Giacomini Trust. C Street in Point Reyes Station is the only public high ground overlooking the wetlands, acting as a buffer between houses and wetland. No public access high-ground to the coming wetlands will remain if this deal goes through. Yes, from private Inverness residents uphill, but nothing in Point Reyes Station for the public. Nothing. Instead of wetlands, high-end houses, with trees and fences. Nothing. Gordon Bennett can look down on it from Inverness Ridge, but the rest of us will not be able to look out at it. Know that. Lots of houses on rezoned lands will be in our way.

This land swap is a scandalous pork barrel, destroying the wetlands' buffer area. Envision Stinson Beach's SEADRIFT built out into the wetlands, as Seadrift was built out into the lagoon. Gosh, didn't that turn out great for everyone else?

Unless the town stands up and stops this scandalous give-away of public funds, Point Reyes Station will once again (like with EAH) be screwed. Same old, same old.

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