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June, 2006


By Jeanette Pontacq

When I moved here, I met Anne West of Inverness, then the Sierra Club representative in West Marin. She taught me about Sacred Cows around Tomales Bay. The very first lesson I learned was regarding the ranching community of West Marin.
Sacred Cows, by definition, are immune to public discussion. New arrivals in West Marin have little idea of the struggles and history that preceded them. Unfortunately, too many of them just accept the Sacred Cows as part of the being of the area and don't ask questions, afraid to raise their heads above the herd.

Any issue or person or concept that cannot stand a reality-based public discussion on its merits, however, is a candidate for being a Sacred Cow. IN WEST MARIN, there are a number of Sacred Cows, but this column will mention only one: RANCHING. (Others, such as Organics and Affordable Housing, will be addressed later.) As a long-time advocate of the small, family farm in the face of corporate and big-money take-overs, I am troubled by the short-sightedness of local, West Marin ranchers in supporting the Meuse-Salah couple's attempt in the San Geronimo Valley to negate the public trail that always ran across their newly-bought 39.5 estate by playing the "AG-card."

The reason that Meuse/Salah enjoy the support of ranchers of West Marin is that the couple says they will plant a couple acres of vines. So they are suddenly sacrosanct and allowed to negate long-held community trail access? Meuse and Salah (husband and wife) are yuppies from Kentfield with money, out to buy their piece of West Marin. Their idea of ranching or farming is a small vineyard attached to their large estate. They probably don't have a clue about what people like Peter Martinelli or Dave Evens or other small producers have gone through to support sustainability and local production in the face of great odds.

Even the Marin Supervisors could not bring themselves to allow Meuse/Salah to negate a historic public trail across the land they bought recently. The supes have divorced the OK for their multi-million dollar estate from the AG-card, leaving the possibility of using "eminent domain" to force Meuse/Salah to keep the public trail access open! These people knew about this trail crossing the land they bought from the get-go. This is not a case of a public trail attempting to cross a known ag land, but of a known public trail being co-opted in the "guise of West Marin Agriculture." I believe Steve Kinsey said something like that at the last hearing, bless his heart.

West Marin AG needs to get over supporting every charming, well-dressed rich person who shows up and says they will "do" some boutique AG to get approval of their building permits. As a matter of fact, the rest of us out here in West Marin need to get over the myth that ranchers are all (every one of them) terrific stewards of the land and in ranching for the pure love of sustainability of the watershed. Some are and some are not and we need to know the difference.

The proposed Rich Giacomini-Park Service LAND SWAP is a good example of how silly that all is. The Rich Giacomini Ranch off Point Reyes Station was recently caught and photographed allowing the dumping of toxic fill into the to-be wetlands. According to several locals who pay attention to the issues, it seems this was not an isolated incident. Unfortunately, where Sacred Cows are concerned, real consequences (such as fines and mitigation) are rarely assessed, due to the lack of will of most in public service to ruffle the feathers of any entity holding such bovine status.

The myth that the Giacomini Ranch in PRS was forced to sell the wetlands to the Park Service for "a paltry" $4.5 million is another result of Sacred Cowism! An untruth, as it was voluntary-for the bucks - and possibly overpriced at that. The original lists of lands the government wanted to buy did not list the wetlands. Waldo Giacomini (father to Rich and Robert etc.,) petitioned the Park Service over and over to be included in any list for potential recipients of a buy-out! Waldo was smart; he knew that the Park Service, with public dollars, would pay much more than any market-assessed price via private sale.

Yes, there ARE super ranchers who are real stewards of the landÉlike the late Boyd Stewart, the late Wil Lafranchi in Nicasio, Sally and Mike Gale in the Chileno Valley, Dave Evens near the Point, or Erickson near the Sonoma border. They are not alone. These haloed heroes of AG in West Marin deserve our respect and appreciation.

Others, like Mr. Meuse and Ms. Salah, who just seem to want to borrow those halos to ease permitting for their estate, while negating traditional public rights, do a disservice to all of West Marin Agriculture. It sets the ranching community against the basic rights of the rest of us, possibly changing the present dynamic of strong support from the public here and over the hill. The Mease-Salah issue is also bad for ranching in West Marin because it opens the specter of "eminent domain" as a valid and vital tool of government to make this issue come out to the benefit of the public now.

The Giacomini Trust bid to build out Point Reyes Station ON TOP OF the wetlands restoration, while continuing to bring in toxics to fill berms, destroy bird habitat, and set the stage for yearly residential floods, needs to be looked at with a microscope, even back to the 1940s, to see how this particular Sacred Cow has managed the land over the last decades-as a clue to how this bovine might handle development now. Wouldn't that make for interesting reading?

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