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October, 2007



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Skeptic's Journal
by Jeanette Marie Pontacq

Being Ugly
Recent house guests of mine from the Pyrenees in France each had the same initial reaction, shock and dismay, to a local 'ugly' in West Marin and beyond: the utility poles all over the place, laden with wires carrying electricity, telephone, cable and whatever. Take a look at page 10 for an idea of what I am talking about.
We spent time in the Noe Valley district of San Francisco, probably the most charming of the City's 'quartiers' at the moment. Our apartment was in a gorgeous, remodeled Victorian up a hill on 28th Street. The first morning, we stepped out on the front steps to savor the view over the City and came face to face with the Big Ugly, a pole laden with a mind-boggling sum of wires.

Back in West Marin, there were a plethora of similar examples everywhere. All along Tomales Bay and Bolinas Lagoon, wires hang and sag in various positions of dangerous repose. Such ubiquitous poles even march mournfully across the center of the someday-to-be-without-cows Tomales Bay Wetland. I would guess that most of us don't even notice them anymore.

Gosh, it sure would be more efficient and reasonable to have those wires underground, protected from the weather. Easier to work on too, for PG&E;, AT&T;, etc. Note: the Phone Company of 20 years ago agreed to and created underground conduits all along B Street in Point Reyes Station, never used. Those ugly poles and wires could probably still be put in the already-existent underground channels. Why has this not been done, as a start for the whole town?

Our visual world would be so much nicer, don't you think? Yes, I understand that would take some doing, but easier than finally becoming civilized enough to have universal health care. It's a matter of demanding a quality of life desired and of acting to really make it happen rather than just accepting 'the status quo.'

Americans are fond of thinking they are better off than others, and West Marinites are especially fond of doing so. Most of Europe, however, has both universal health care and mostly underground lines for electricity and phones. Personally, I think we have all become way too accepting of the status quo of how things are around here (here and the whole country). Private angst and dissatisfaction don't count. Only loudly demanding and re-demanding that things change counts. Let's practice saying NO! (Or, in the case of the utility poles going underground, YES!) How about some serious noise out there, folks, on a number of important issues?

Trees Drinking Water? A Creek Freed?

The old Cypress trees along C Street in Point Reyes Station are definitely looking old and ratty lately. They were planted decades ago, by order of the County, to try to mitigate the sights and smells of the Giacomini Dairy for locals. The trees were supposed to be planted on the west side of the fence, on Giacomini ranch property, but the ranch instead planted them on the County side, to avoid having to take up its own space for the trees, which now makes said trees the property and problem of the County of Marin (i.e. OUR problem).

Since they were planted, the trees' roots have been drinking the water of the creek that flows underground (at the moment) along C Street. The reason the trees have not grown much larger is because they need to be trimmed to somewhat protect the electrical wires (see above section of my column) hanging within.

The creek itself is a continuance of small water channels that come around the Mesa Bluff, heading for Lagunitas Creek. Before the ranch itself became a reality on the Wetland back in the mid-twentieth century, the creek (and the Wetland itself, of course) were close to their natural state, before the white man arrived. It is a dream of many to do all possible to make the entire Wetland live again, as Nature intended/intends. A first step the County can take (helped by its members, us) is to work together to take down those ill-placed Cypress tress, now that they are no longer needed. I am sure the creek will appreciate it, as will the Wetland herself.

I would suggest that the National Park people are not the only people who can have a direct hand in making our Tomales Bay Wetland really live again right off C Street. Each of us, along with the County of Marin, can do its part, hands-on, in an important way, independent of the Park Service plans.

Taking down the trees before the coming rainy season is an important first step we can all get behind. But more can be done by each of us. At the beginning of 2007, the San Francisco Estuary Institute submitted a much-researched report on San Francisco Bay that showed the strong need to protect and prize the Uplands of the Bay. Reading the report then, I was struck by its obvious importance for Tomales Bay and its Wetland as well. At the time, the Coastal Post printed information on the report on Page 1:

"Ecological Connections between Baylands and Uplands: Examples from Marin County," San Francisco Estuary Institute's (SFEI) report to the Marin Audubon Society, Marin Conservation League, Marin Baylands Advocates and Sierra Club, was published in January 2007. These organizations commissioned SFEI to study the importance of maintaining adjacent Bay uplands to prove stronger environmental protection policies are needed in the upcoming revision of the Countywide Plan.

The report emphasizes the ecological connectivity among the Bay's marshes, oak woodlands, grasslands, creeks and seasonal wetlands next to and upland from the shoreline and provides scientific support to protect remaining undeveloped lands along the Bay from Gallinas Creek north to the Sonoma border.

The SFEI team of eight senior scientists selected focal species to represent the many ways uplands and baylands are ecologically connected. Focal species were chosen based on their habitat need, feeding behavior, diet and pattern of dispersal and migration...."

Unfortunately, the Park Service itself has entered into an environmentally counter-productive land swap with the Giacomini Trust, ultimately giving a contiguous series of parcels along C Street (directly on the prized Uplands) to the Giacomini Trust (for serious market-rate development) in trade for almost-worthless (market-wise) parcels on the Inverness side. The political machinations that have led us to such an unfortunate place for the Uplands of the Wetland can be put aside for now. Spilled milk is always untasty. It is time for citizens and those truly interested in restoring the full health of the Wetland to take the issue in hand, personally, and act on its behalf.

Rather than allow development for profit on the Uplands along C Street in Point Reyes Station, how about an Uplands Restoration Project for Point Reyes Station (already suggested by a local environmental group): bringing back the creek along C Street, allowing the extension of the waterways under the Mesa Bluff and offering suggestions on how the Uplands along the natural and historic beginning of the Wetland along C Street can be brought back to life. West Marinites are rarely without ideas. Let's hear them.

As a start, we all need to understand that Point Reyes Station itself exists on a gravel bench on an alluvial plain and is part of the ecology of the Wetland itself. Take a close look at the placement of downtown, on a flat area leading directly into the important Uplands of the Wetland at C Street. Note the historic flooding of the town's old drainage systems in winter. All that needs to be taken into consideration and understood if we are to be serious about acting to protect our own corner of the Wetland, the Uplands that start on C Street.

Think about it, please, friends and neighbors. Here is an opportunity for hands-on, real impact on taking the Uplands of Tomales Bay Wetland back and protecting it right here on the edge of town. Kind of exciting, isn't it?

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