The Coastal Post - October, 1997

Arrogance Of Power Is Flourishing In San Geronimo

By Jim Scanlon

The School

Despite an intense controversy over the wisdom of using public funds to construct a sewage treatment facility in a complex transaction with a luxury housing development, the Lagunitas School District Trustees could not spare the time to actually read a draft resolution presented by Trustee Richard C. Sloan which, as he said, "Would re-examine all the assumptions...and put us back to square one". Sloan had been the only Trustee to vote against the sewage plan when it was approved by the three other trustees.

The Board started the meeting at 6:30 p.m., spending over two hours droning on about rules, process and communication. The Board did not get to the hot item of sewage until 9 p.m. when only 30-40 people were in attendance.

The meeting was held in a large room with tables around the periphery forming a large O with nothing but empty space in the middle. Because there are no lights illuminating the walkways, people arriving step from blackness into the meeting room and stand for a moment, dazzled, like deer in car headlights. Then they tiptoe along the walls looking for vacant chairs.

There is no special space for the public, no agenda, no one greets or acknowledges the presence of new arrivals. Little care is given to the needs and convenience of the public-small wonder so few show up.

The Board agreed to consider Sloan's resolution at its next meeting on October 6. Chairman Brian Dodd said that he would be meeting in private with Marin County Council and Trustee Steve Charrier to discuss the conflicting legal opinions on whether a Community Service Agency can be formed to operate the sewage treatment ponds in such a way as to limit the school district's payments.

Dodd elicited sharp questioning when he said that any alternative plan to dispose of sewage would also include the French Ranch Development. He said that the county had asked that they be included.

Jimmy Walton, the district's construction consultant, said the present supposedly-failing septic tank system is working, "but we don't understand why." He said the system had been neglected for many years, was overrun with blackberry brambles, and the pumps had failed because they had not been maintained. It is unusual for officials to admit that the failure of anything is a result of negligence.

The state has provided almost a half million dollars in emergency grants to replace the septic system and, if the joint sewage system proceeds, the grant money will pay for the construction of the shared wastewater pond system.

Dodd has been a trustee for many years and has also served as chairman of the San Geronimo Valley Planning Group, whose current chairman, Bill Noble, and past chairman, Richard Gray, have been outspoken, aggressive promoters of the joint sewage plan with the French Ranch Development. School records show that Dodd handled the protracted negotiations for the joint sewer system almost entirely alone.

The Supervisor

On Thursday, September 18, Dodd met in private with Supervisor Steve Kinsey and Patrick Faulkner, Acting Marin County Council, to discuss the formation of the proposed Community Service Agency which will operate the wastewater pond system next to the school on Sir Francis Drake Blvd. One really can't fault them from excluding the public, because there is a very real threat of lawsuits over this issue.

Kinsey's presence at this meeting seems wrong, considering he and his firm were directly involved in its formulation. As the leading member of a sub-committee of the Planning Group, he engaged in negotiations with the developer representing Honjo USA. According to District records, Kinsey was also a paid consultant for the school for campus-wide land use, and directly involved with repairing the septic system. The aggregate amount involved appears to be between $100,000 and $150,000. As a newly elected County Supervisor, he voted to approve the controversial project that he himself helped negotiate and implement with Dodd on behalf of his employer, the school district.

Taking the apparent blatant conflict of interest one step further, Kinsey is now involved in private negotiations with the County Council, the head of a department whose budget and organization he reviews. The previous County Council, Tom Hendricks, approved the concept of a Community Service Agency. The present County Council expressed reservations about the CSA. Will he come around?

Kinsey has requested that the Board of Supervisors name him the County's representative to the Marin Municipal Water District's Technical Advisory Committee on Lagunitas Creek's Management Plan. He is certain to be appointed to a committee with his interest in sewage ponds less than a hundred meters from the creek.

What is more troubling about Kinsey's involvement with the school is that he has had such a special arrangement over the years. He was not only a consultant on a variety of district projects, but also directly as a contractor actually performing repairs and providing material and sub-contractors-all involving substantial sums of money. Could the school have gotten a better deal? The vouchers are on file at the school, should anyone care to audit them.

Kinsey's apparent conflicts in referring contracts to his firm, Design-Build Alliance, surfaced during the elections last fall, but were not reported in the press except by the Coastal Post. He operated his business under his partner's license until April l, when the partnership was dissolved and Kinsey became the sole owner, using his own state contractor's license.

The Gannett Corporation's IJ did not endorse Kinsey for election because he appeared to have improperly implied he was a licensed architect in promotional material. He nevertheless went on to be elected, and presently the Gannett Daily has been critical of opponents of the school sewage plan, publishing letters attacking their behavior and 11th hour opposition. It still has not printed a request for correction by Trustee Richard Sloan sent August 29. (See Coastal Post letters, September.)

The Pulitzer Prize Winning Point Reyes Light, which usually does an excellent job of covering Valley issues, did not report Kinsey's apparent financial conflicts, and seems to be tilted towards the plans of Kinsey, the Planning Group, school district, and Honjo USA to locate a joint sewage treatment plant next to the school-and 100 meters from the creek which supplies water to Point Reyes Station.

Kinsey's supervisorial campaign split voters in the Valley, and after the election, his supporters at the Planning Group, Bill Noble and Richard Gray, staged a coup and purged those who did not support Kinsey. Gray took responsibility for organizing new members and registering them all at once on the last day. Gray, a landscape contractor, backed Kinsey's campaign with a personal loan. His business partner, Raison Cain, originally proposed a greenhouse sewage system to the school district which was not adopted, but evolved into the present plan.

According to his official filing, Kinsey received only minimal contributions from the French Ranch Development. His three biggest financial contributors were the Marin Builders Alliance (he was and still is, after all, a builder), the Board of Realtors, and the Giacomini Coastal Political Action Committee. His small contributors include many Marin notables, including Karen Urquart, Pam Lloyd, Kathleen Foote, Gloria Duncan, Polly Smith, and a long list of San Francisco attorneys. There was no indication of who, if any contributors were connected with Honjo USA Ltd. Most importantly, Steve not only received Gary Giacomini's money, but his blessing. Steve's opponent ran against Gary and almost won four years ago.

Insiders at Civic Center seem to genuinely like Kinsey and say he is very bright, alert, aware, and that he listens intently when addressed. So why does he hang onto his sewer pond scheme so intently? The developer does not really need it, although he acknowledged it increases the value of each unit tied to the sewer system and has the capacity for more homes. The school doesn't need it and a great number of people don't want it.

Planning group hypocrisy

The San Geronimo Valley Planning Group is a non-profit organization with quasi-official status in the Valley. Occasionally people get negotiations with the Planning Group confused with negotiations with the County. It is an amorphous organization which, ameba-like, has committees sprouting from it that then shrink and disappear.

There is no question that, over the years, its members have been highly successful at enlarging the open space domain in the hills surrounding the Valley and influencing development. There has also been criticism that the Planning Group enforces two sets of rules, one for insiders, the other for outsiders.

A case in point involves Brian Dodd, who, as Chairman of the Planning Group, was involved in negotiations which resulted in the transfer of a number of small parcels of land to the Planning Group in May of 1992, from the now-defunct Lagunitas Land Development as part of the deal with Skye Ranch Development. The transfer of the miscellaneous parcels was made to the Planning Group by quit claim, without warrantee, "with a promise [from the Planning Group] maintain or manage and otherwise conduct its order to promote and encourage the overall public interest."

In May of this year, the Planning Group announced (see Point Reyes Light May 15) that several undevelopable lots, consisting of orphaned paper roads, lanes, tank sites etc., would be sold. What was not announced was that Brian Dodd, the Chairman, had already consolidated two of the parcels into his property in a Corporation Grant Deed recorded on March 17, 1993, and signed by the vice chairman of the Group. The new map of Dodd's parcels now shows a private driveway where there was none before.

Another of the residue lots was sold by the Planning Group to a Woodacre couple on April 6, 1994. That deed was signed by Dodd. It is difficult to understand how the sale of these lots, years before the public announcement, promote the public interest.

Other property owners in the San Geronimo Valley are not so lucky. Those who live along other paper roads, which the Open Space District and the Planning Group determine to be access feeder roads to open space land, are subjected to the full coercive power of government-no protracted negotiation, no win-win solutions, just "Do as you are told, or else."

One property owner was ordered not to use a paper road that was mapped on his deed unless he got a permit every time he wanted to use it from the Open Space District, or " rangers and the Sheriff, if necessary, [will be told] to take all reasonable action to secure our property from unauthorized access."

A copy of this letter was sent to Brian Dodd of the Planning Group.

After three years of litigation, thousands of dollars in attorney's fees, and emotional stress, this particular property owner prevailed in court and received acknowledgment of a grant easement He could use his road.

But he didn't prevail for long. Four days later a new threatening letter was received from the County Council's Office: "This [a gate and parked cars on his road] constitutes a public nuisance. Please remove them within 10 days or we will take action to have them removed at your expense. Also do not harass persons [seeking] access to county property. If you continue to do so, we will seek an injunction against you and have the Sheriff take appropriate action."

Open Space officials received copies along with Steve Kinsey.

The owner claims he never denied access to any property owner or to any Valley resident, but resents being intimidated and having his and his neighbor's private road listed and published as open space access.

In Forest Knolls, there is a narrow lane behind Richard Gray's home which his neighbors have fenced off on both sides, preventing free access-and acces for fire and rescue vehicles for that matter-and this doesn't seem to disturb anyone. How many other similar situations there are is anyone's guess.

The Valley Planning Group is a powerful organization currently marching robotically in tight formation into a swamp, and it's dragging a school along with it. The individuals may escape, but it will not be so easy for the school, which will find itself in a bad marriage with unknown fiscal consequences, stuck with innocent children, unable to get a divorce.

It appears that the dual standard for insiders and outsiders has validity. Everyone is equal but some are more equal than others. Some are held to the rules, other not. If you don't like what is going on, if your feel violated, just keep your mouth shut, cover your nose, don't disturb anyone and let the Valley heal. After all, Big Brother always knows what is best and you may actually grow to love Big Brother.

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