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May, 2007



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Moo Town News:
Smoke and Mirrors
by Judy Borello

Last month, I reminded you to "look the Marin Planning Commission in the eye while they kick you in the teeth," referring to the fact that the Planning Commission regularly withholds deliberation and votes until the bitter end of each hearing. It seems as though they are trying to outwait the many West Marin locals who attend the meetings and who have serious objections to the presently-drawn County Wide Plan. After following the official process, geared more to imposing rules on us, rather than respecting our opinions as landowners, I can see that the process is flawed and will create a flawed Plan for our futures.
First of all, the public notice is inadequate. Each Monday's hearing begins with new language added to the Plan, never before seen by the public or, often, the commissioners. This new language, written by Planning staff, is often quite important to us all and our futures as residents of Marin. None the less, even without a full review and digestion of public objections and reasonings, the Planning Commissioners show up on Mondays and end up voting in an atmosphere of confrontation.

Even more importantly, the public doesn't have access to a staff report until the Friday evening before the next Monday's hearing. Obviously, one has to have the means and know how to access the information within the county website and respond to it before the Monday meeting. It seems unlikely, under the present process, that the commissioners are able to read, digest and discuss the responses from the public before entering the meeting room on Mondays.

This situation is particularly ironic because the County has told the public that they are encouraged to submit written comments 10 days prior to the hearing dates. How does one do that when new language is often added only days before, sometimes only hours before?

To add to the problem of inadequate notice is the utter exhaustion and confusion exhibited by the Commissioners toward the end of the hearing. It is obnoxiously obvious that some decisions are made simply to get it over with and allow the commissioners to go home. As an example, in the final moments of a recent 7-8 hour hearing on contentious issues, commissioners were heard to express such comments as "I can't think straight anymore," and "We had better be careful with what we are doing," or "I'm so tired, can't we please just adjourn." A symptom of the flaw in this process is that Commissioner Julin has been seen to take power snoozes, then leave the chamber prior to voting in order to continue his nap at home.

Another critical problem with the process is how Chairman Wade Holland postpones discussion on the most contentious issues until the very end of the hearing, when none of the Commissioners are in the best frame of mind to address the complexity of the pros and cons. The public participants, mostly working folk having taken time away from their work to have their voices heard, sit and sit and wait and wait for the process to be open to their input. In point of fact, Chairman Holland was quoted in the March 21 Marin IJ newspaper as saying that he voted against an issue because he didn't think at that time of the evening that we should be making that kind of decision.

Since Chairman Holland acknowledges the dilemma of pushing a decision or a vote on his overwrought fellow commissioners, why does he continually do it? Our lives as West Marin landowners, business people, residents and ranchers are in their hands and it is unacceptable to make these important decisions under duress and insufficient understanding of those issues, just to get them done and go home.

The revised County Wide Plan has been available for public review since August of 2005, but new language and regulations are cropping up at the speed of light, and they are not being subjected to due process!

A big disappointment to the ranching community was that the Commission paid us all lip service at the March 12th hearing, during which the commissioners acknowledged the seasoned, reasoned and logically valid input from the ranchers. Commissioners even called the position paper of the Marin County Land Bureau "the best letter the Commission ever received." Yet, during the remainder of that hearing, and throughout the next three weeks of hearings, the Commission routinely disregarded the comments and concerns of the agricultural community, instead voting to retain onerous policies and regulations contrary to the interest of continuing ag in Marin and reasonable property rights.

Another discouraging and abhorrent aspect was the derogatory banter and laughter of the commissioners, belittling our concerns. At one point, the commissioners suggested that one of our dairymen stick his grandparents in the madhouse instead of providing a house for them, as they aged, on his ranch. This was said at the end of the meeting, when most people had given up and left, but I heard it. When Chairman Wade Holland made that callous statement, the rest of the commissioners laughed and snickered. I find all that unacceptable from people appointed to listen to all sides of an issue respectfully, not to treat the rest of us like beggars and serfs.

I find it unacceptable that the County is showing no appreciation at all of ranchers' property rights, instead imposing onerous regulations to devalue our lands. This has nothing to do with political affiliations, Democrat, Republican or Independent. It has to do with a mind set that allows these politically appointed commissioners to apply unworkable and unfair urban myths of rural ranch lands to the real and daily hard work of ranching in Marin. When Commissioner Greenberg kept bringing up the issue of how could "the government maintain control "over peoples' businesses" (i.e ranches) when the landowners' plans or family situation changes or when the property ownership changes hands within the family, I saw red at how callous his insistence was to single out ranchers in an unincorporated area to install regulations that would never ever fly among urban landowners in East Marin, who have more political clout.

During this County Wide Plan update, the commissioners have been casting "straw votes," to see "which was the wind blows." Of course those straw votes are only among themselves! To quote O.Henry, "it shows which way the hot air blows!"

As I have stated before, my neighbor to the right built a 4,000 sq foot home near Martinelli pastureland about three years ago, and now there are story poles seen from my home off Highway One in Point Reyes Station for an enlargement of a smaller home to at least that number of sq feet, most probably more. My neighbors' parcels are around 2-3 acres, but they can not only build 4,000 sq feet homes, but can add second units on the property. AT THE SAME TIME, nearby ranchers must now be careful to not have homes of such size because their "allowed" out buildings (needed on a ranch) over all on 1,000 acre ranches would then be disallowed.

This is absolutely discriminatory and prejudiced against the ranchers who have kept open space on the majority of West Marin! I cannot believe the County would have the audacity to even try this manoever to "stick it" to ranchers. I'll bet that Alex Hind or Wade Holland , who lives in Inverness, would scream and screech like banshees if their property values took a big dive.

P.S. I don't begrudge my neighbor his larger home, but I want to show the absurdity of th County not allowing the same size house on ranchlands of much more acreage.

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