The Coastal Post - October, 1995

Will Marin City USA Result In Ethnic Cleansing?


Marin City has lost its flea market, their largest source of community income, the flea market that put Marin City on the map for most other residents of Marin and San Francisco.

The Marin City Flea Market integrated the mostly black population of Marin City with the mostly white population of Marin County in a free-wheeling and dealing harmony. Its "Final, Final, Final" eviction notice was September 24th. The financial base of Marin City was told to move it, relocate, just leave, with nowhere to go.

A Flea Market is definitely a Not-In-My-Back-Yard thing, but it fit perfectly into Marin City's redevelopment area parking lot. Even though it generated $700,000 yearly income and most of the budget for the Marin City Community Services District, the CSD had been unable to find any other location willing to host it, not even Olema.

The Flea Market is gone, the Enterprise Center which was supposed to give job and small business training has been forced out of business, along with a restaurant beside the Golden Gate Transit bus shelter.

Hayden's Market, the only community business left, has being ordered to "move out by 12:01 am. on the 20th of October, and take your building with you," Nita Hayden, owner of the only store in town, says.

Hayden's Market, in business for 34 years, lies smack in the middle of a planned road which will lead up to a planned housing development. She's got nowhere to go, and has been offered no relocation assistance or money. Just an order to vacate the land with 30 days notice last August 1st. Extended to October 20th.

She's fighting the eviction, but her lawyer is not even Marcia Clark, while the Martin Group, the developing corporation which made their plans over her store, has a team of lawyers like O.J.'s. "They have lawyers for everything, even one for black people, but he's no Johnny Cocharn," she says.

Total possession, total exclusion—

We talked while customers came and went, buying bread, milk, liquor or lottery tickets. All were greeted by name. Some discussed credit given or retrieved by Nita, a strong, black woman running a community store, selling what the people want, the only store in walking distance for elderly Marin City residents, and despite grandiose plans for a shopping mall, the last store open for years to come.

Understand, there is not enough money secured right now to build or even start the prettily-drawn and planned mall in Southern Marin. Until the property, formerly occupied by the Flea Market, Enterprise Center, and food stand and still occupied by Hayden's Market, is "in total possession," no banks will authorize loans on the proposal.

Any strip shopping center or mall will have to have anchor tenants, and the chain store supermarkets and drug stores will not sign leases unless they have an exclusive liquor license, and even an exclusive bakery monopoly. "I couldn't even sell donuts," Hayden exclaimed.

These are just proposals. Banks are not chomping at the bit to build shopping malls. Even exclusive housing developments are being looked at very carefully, with location a major consideration.

Master plan, master race—

Of course it's true that the Marin City Basin is prime real estate, ahem, except, ahem, for certain melanin accumulation anomalies for the 98% white county. This is the way it's been done in other gentrified areas, formerly occupied by low or moderate income housing. Start with a gated community, sell the low-cost rental stock to the residents at favorable rates, then buy them out one by one, or just abate them. Turn them into condos or tear them down.

The Martin Group, a hard-charging development corporation which remade Emeryville into a thriving, artist co-op and light industry community in the East Bay, came to Marin in the '90s. J. David Martin, the group's CEO has been described as "a tenacious developer who builds, sells and movers on."

Everyone slows down in Marin. The group has become bogged down in the toxic sludge of Hamilton Air Force Base and the geologically unstable fill of the Marin City bowl area, a flood plain for watershed drainage into Richardson Bay.

Flea Market pate, community omelet—

Meanwhile the Flea Market, the goose that laid golden eggs, hundreds of thousands in yearly funding for the Community Servce District (CSD) is lost, leaving a deficit which will close down the Manzanita Recreation Center and the Senior Center of Marin City, unless some unknown source makes it up.

The disaster of closing down all of Marin City's existing businesses and services, has generated a wave of opposition in the community. A late wave, but one rising towards a fiery CSD meeting the night I visited Marin City.

Tupac, Simac and the homeboyz

I must admit I had never ventured into the heart of Marin City, the upland of low-income towers. It's a friendly town to strangers, unlike my home town. Young men were waving to me as I drove past the rows of orangey-pink towers.

I met with Royce McLemore, a community activist. Along with other residents, she feels that the Marin City USA project has been railroaded through by the Marin City Redevelopment Corporation, in partnership with the Martin Group.

We met at her workplace, Women Helping All People, a bustling little center in a bottom floor room, where children were being tutored, and elderly were being fed while I was there. The muffins smelled good.

The low-cost apartments looked habitable, although they all faced each other instead of the million dollar view. I wondered what they rented for and how long a single, white male would be on the waiting list for low-cost housing.

There were elderly, women and children of all skin shades living in them. Most men were African-American. They were all either friendly or ignored me when I was walking with Royce to Hayden's store.

She was passing out leaflets for the meeting that night, greeting everyone by name, introducing me to some. I'm the press—we can be like a natural disaster. Like a Tupac Shakur with a pen.

The flyers accused the Community Services District directors, the "Home Boyz," of voting for "a land steal" because of their conflict of interest, with two of the CSD directors sitting on the board of the Community Development Corporation and two others being current or former employees of the CDC. That's four out of five directors.

The flyers also stated:

• that the Marin Community Foundation—the Buck Fund—has given the CDC $14 million over the last 10 years for creating resident businesses, homeownership and a skilled labor force. Money which went to pay salaries for the staff including $80,000 for the CDC's executive director Al Fleming, and

• that the CSD directors have allowed the Flea Market to be closed with all its revenues funding their continued existence being lost, and taken no action even to sue the Redevelopment Agency for relocation benefits provided for by state relocation law because of this conflict of interest.

The flyers call for their resignation, which seems anti-climactic, if the District closes because of almost total loss of revenue. At best the district would have less than one-third of its budget covered.

Meanwhile, "those mean-spirited carpetbaggers" have a 99-year lease. Exactly what will be built there is a long ways from a certainty, but it does have a new 101 exit and entrance.

That's a nice gift from the state to the proposed development. "New developments on the site may be prohibitively expensive if the developer is required to alleviate all traffic impacts attributable to the development" as was pointed out in a 1981 report the Tamalpais School District prepared before it sold the 32-acre property to the CDC in 1985. The land was deeded for a high school when Marin county took possession of Marin City in the fifties.

Marin City redeveloped to death

The once-thriving community was redeveloped in the '60s down to nearly bare ground. Hayden's store was the only business left, until the Flea Market rose like a funding phoenix from the parking lot dirt.

The Flea Market was always treated like a red-headed step-child turning tricks on Sunday. Almost none of the profits she brought home were put into a facelift, shade trees, paving or drainage. There was almost no overhead, but steady streams of buyers and sellers converged every weekend on the bare ground in some Mud and Dust worshipping ritual. It's hard to believe that a mall will generate that kind of loyalty. Definitely more overhead.

The county really doesn't want Marin City, but Sausalito may want to annex it. The Headlands developments built in the '80s, the townhouses and homes in the highlands of Marin City, already advertise themselves as in Sausalito.

If Marin City is lost, homogenized into middle class, environment bumper stickered, Volvo driving, European extraction residents, it won't be surprising. It will be part of a consistent trend.

Marin is losing the distinctive qualities of its many small towns, each with their unique and misunderstood character. I know, I live in a town with a bad reputation, a town that tears down its road sign, that is definitely against the Flea Market relocating to the Mesa, a town like all small towns in Marin, facing the same crushing economic factors as Marin City.

The same could be said about Bolinas as was said about Marin City in a 1984 United Way report. "Low to moderate income residents are being systematically squeezed out of their community by a combination of conscious benign neglect, international development and housing policies and socio-economic practices which make it financially impossible for them to remain in their houses."

Marin City


The Coastal Post predicted the current state of affairs in the Marin City community with a series of hard-hitting, investigative reporting pieces by Misha Myers. She has since moved onto other realms (San Francisco, Western Addition), but excerpts from her series are reprinted again to say "we told you so."

December 1, 1992—

With the opening of the Enterprise Center, the first phase in the Marin City USA project, some residents are hopeful that a 30-year-old dream is becoming a reality. Others believe that dream has been held out like a carrot by the economic interests of opportunists.

The $100 million project is scheduled to begin in the spring of '93. It will include 340 housing units and 190,000 square feet of retail space. A temporary structure called the Enterprise Center, an incubator program, has been opened on the future construction site and present home of the Marin City Flea Market. (Editor's note: Both the incubator and the goose that laid the golden eggs—the Flea Market—have been killed to make way for the proposed mall. )

Reverend Leon Samuels of Gospel Fellowship Church has lived in the community for 50 years and seen the loss of its business to the promises of redevelopment. "Redevelopment tore them down promising to build them back. I haven't seen any of it materialize yet and it's been a long wait."

Karen Ashby, a Marin City activist, said, "They are stealing this land from people who should be developing it themselves. Black front people are brought in. Twenty-five million dollars has been designated for this area for low-income people. CDC created an umbrella to receive that money. These people have gotten some kickbacks. Everybody at CDC drives a new car."

January 1, 1993—

Benjamin Stewart, the Development Manager of the Marin City Community Development Corporation, was once the Executive Director of the Western Addition Redevelopment. Stewart said, "In 1962, Marin City was a thriving community. When it became a redevelopment area many of these businesses left. The community has been waiting a long time for this."

"Look at the Western Addition, it is no longer black. Those people were moved out with a lot of promises," Karen Ashby said.

Buck Bagot of the San Francisco Redevelopment Commission said, "The Western Addition wasn't the most egregious example of "Negro Removal," but it is still an example of it happening. The questions to ask about redevelopment is, what does it do? Whose interest does it serve? And who pays for it? In the Western Addition, it displaced a large section of the community and served primarily white corporate interests paid for largely by redevelopment funds. It poured gasoline on the raging fires of gentrification. The core of the black community was destroyed and changed forever. It may have been done with the best of intentions, but it was done without input of the community." Paulette Hooey, a former resident of the Western Addition said, "In any area that they choose to make a redevelopment area, services are cut, crime is allowed to arise. This is done purposely so when redevelopment is proposed, anything looks good."

March 1, 1993—

Nita Hayden, of Hayden's Market, said the Marin County Redevelopment Agency has not discussed any relocation plan with her. "My mother, who is now 72, owns the business and the building, but not the land that now belongs to Community Development Corporation."

Bill Murphy of the Department of Housing and Community Development said, "The agency causing the displacement of residential or commercial uses has certain obligations of relocation assistance, advice and some cash benefits."

Marin County Redevelopment Agency and the CDC both shucked responsibility for relocation of the business, pointing to the other as the responsible party.

The planned shopping center "will have to be 80-90% leased to get financing," said Enise Pinkston, County Redevelopmnent Coordinator.

The planned housing includes 40% "affordable housing," but, "If the definitions for low-income are based on median income countywide, what is affordable ends up astronomical in Marin City." Charles Byrd of Marin City Tenants Council said, "The challenge of this project is how do you make the public housing residents across the street feel they are a part of it. Public housing residents will be adversely affected by the proposed relocation plans of the recreation site and the community garden."

CDC has spent $12 million on the project for land, consultants, and EIR costs. Al Fleming, executive director of the CDC, said they will need to borrow $72 million more for total construction costs. They have received a grant for $286,000 to cover administrative costs and salaries for CDC's six-person staff. "By our projections, we will begin seeing profits from the project by 1997, but they will be modest."