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May, 2007



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SKEPTIC'S JOURNAL "Footprints in West Marin"
By Jeanette Pontacq

The issue of illegal immigration has become a poisoned political pill in this country, this county and right here in West Marin on the coast of northern California. Unfortunately, this issue is not just theoretical, but is composed of millions of real people on all possible sides, all with diverse opinions. I do not weigh in on this divisive issue lightly. I live in a small town, a small town with a growing identity crisis.
Last month in this newspaper, there was more than one article on the issue of why so many are entering the country/county/WestMarin illegally, but I thought the article by Karen Nakamura (accessible at was the best in addressing the basics, especially over the last several years. There has been much written in both the left press and the centrist press on the problems of NAFTA and mutual corruption in Mexico and the USA.

Instead of once more analyzing the reasons for the influx of mostly illegal immigrants over the years, let's take a look at the on-the-ground results of that same influx for West Marin. In other words, let's open up a realistic and respectful conversation on how West Marin is being changed and becoming communities in the plural rather than the oft-stated "community."

To that end, please expect a regular column or series of articles on the issue in the Coastal Post from this month forward. Hopefully, those in the various communities who will be approached for an honest and forthcoming analysis and commentary will offer real answers/opinions, not just platitudes or what they feel they "should" say. Let's put fear of honesty and openness on this issue where it belongs - in the garbage. Your comments count and should be heard!

Who we are to date...

We are a mixed bag. Much more mixed than the average Anglo in West Marin would suspect. To start with, there is the issue of labels, such as Anglo or Latino. The two main communities are now designated as either Gringos or Anglos. Within the Latino community, there are further designations to differentiate how long someone has been in the U.S. and where they came from. Labels have been thus applied to us all.

The truth is that there are now at least two full communities existent in West Marin, separate but not equal. One speaks Spanish and one speaks English. They co-exist in unholy silence most of the time, and one usually works for the other. Anglos and Latinos mutually have created their own underclass, visible and invisible at the same time! So here we are in beautiful, liberal West Marin, on the edge of the continent, and we have two communities passing likes ships in the night, with one ship growing in size much faster than the other.

So we shall leave this issue here, unresolved and volatile, which is what it is in reality. West Marin (i.e. how we see ourselves) cannot accept two communities unequal, not communicating, and stay the West Marin we think we are. So, the conversation and analysis will continue next month.......

Whither West Marin Commons

The concept of a "Commons" is popular these days. In recent months, there have been several tentative meetings to form a group under that rubric, to take action on perceived "community needs" in Point Reyes Station. While I support the general concept, any such group needs to realize that there is a long and interesting history to the place and the issues they suddenly feel a need to address. A good education would be to go to the Point Reyes Village Association meetings and interview those who have been working on town issues for longer than I care to remember. The PRVA has been anointed by the County as the village voice on land issues, so why re-invent the wheel? Why not just add new voices and work together? I say that as one who has not been a fan of the PRVA and would love to see new blood and a new direction based on a detailed understand of our past.

In the meantime, however, a sub-group of this "Commons" has already formed and taken action in the name of "the community," but without asking the rest of us. Supposedly chaired by Donna Larkin of Inverness Park, an avid biker who owns the Abalone Inn there, the group seems to be working to reinstate the idea of multi-use trails to accommodate bikers et al within the Tomales Bay Wetlands, along with a bridge, with access along C Street in Point Reyes Station. This is being done even though locals voted in the majority for the most extensive remaking of the wetlands, precluding the multi-use trails and bridge. Further, Superintendent Neubacher had previously publicly promised to not have C Street become a trailhead in any way, per the requests of residents. But, Marin Open Space, under pressure from such groups, went ahead and recently cut a trailhead opening through the blackberry bushes on the corner of C Street and 3nd Streets in PRS, something town locals are not at all happy with.

What is wrong with this picture? 1) An advisory vote was already taken and, supposedly, Option D won by quite a bit. Another vote, desired by some (supposedly because they 'didn't have time to fully understand it'), should not be imposed on either the Park Service or local residents. 2) A loosely-formed group, such as the Commons, needs to have more control over what is done in its name, and also become more aware of the long history of others having worked on the same matters they are just now seeing as issues.

West Marin has a long, long history of activism. There are few issues here without important pasts that need to be known about before someone new takes it upon himself or herself to change them. It is disrespectful to just come into someone else's garden and pull weeks or plant something new. It is important to ask first. And to know the history of the garden and its long-time gardeners.

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