The Coastal Post - August, 1998

A Tale of Two Roads: Planning Group Tyranny By Jim Scanlon

Since 1993, the San Geronimo Valley Planning Group, a non profit organization staffed by unpaid volunteers, has assumed quasi official status through its close association with county government and gradually gained power through influence. Like all volunteer organizations, the Planning Group is loosely organized, does not appear to have rigid guidelines, control or supervision. All organizations have a natural life cycle and are subject to senescence and renewal. All are vulnerable to being dominated by small cliques with special interests. From its inception in the 1970s the Planning group has had a reputation of a group of busy bodies interfering in other people's business and with being used by locals to their own advantage, having one standard for outsiders and another for themselves-at least those locals who were on good standing with the clique in charge. The role the Planning Group played in the acquisition of open space along the ridge lines of the San Geronimo Valley, is perhaps its greatest achievement. But the acceptance of miscellaneous undeveloped "paper" roads, parcels, ditches, water tank sites and bits and pieces of land from the Lagunitas Land Development Company for the sum of $2.00, "to be used in the public interest" is proving very troublesome . The role of Steve Kinsey, Brian Dodd, Richard Gray and Bill Noble as influential members of the Planning Group in promoting the French Ranch Development/Lagunitas School joint sewer system is well known. The Developer has gotten permission for a denser development, which means more money for investors, while the school has gotten trapped into an agreement with elusive benefits and increased costs, ($100,000--$200.000 or more) waiting for permit approval for its developer partner. About all the school now gains is leach fields under a luxury housing development which may prove difficult to deal with 10 or 20 years from now. Kinsey's continued, single minded, relentless promotion of this project as a Supervisor seems questionable but certainly not uncommon in late 20th Century politics. What is disturbing and objectionable is the contradictory, inconsistent positions influential members of the Planning Group, including Kinsey, have taken with regard to two roads, Sinaloa in Forest Knolls and Spring Road in Lagunitas, and two tiny lots named on county maps as "parks", both in Woodacre. Over the past two years Jerry and Susan Knight of Forest Knolls have been threatened by Marin County Counsel, the Open Space District and the Marin County Sheriff in a relentless attempt to take Sinaloa Road, allegedly to get control of access to the Gary Giacomini Open Space District. The Knights never denied anyone access along their road, which according to their deed is theirs and has never been dedicated to public use. The Planning Group has worked behind the scenes and served as the impetus for this activity. Even after spending thousands of dollars in legal fees and prevailing twice in contests with the county, the Knights still face threats of county litigation, although things have calmed down since their home was broken into by a Sheriff's Deputy allegedly investigating a burglary and allegedly suspecting there might be someone ill or dying inside. A lawsuit is pending. Brian Dodd, while Chairman of the Planning Group purchased two "paper roads" next to his property which were held in trust by the Planning Group and absorbed them into his personal property according to county records. The transaction selling the parcels to the Chairman of the Group was signed by the Vice Chairman of the Planning Group and the sale was, apparently, not known by the general membership. It is difficult to see how this sale served the public interest. In addition, during the years of county harassment of the Knights, Dodd was sent copies of letters threatening the Knights concerning Sinaloa Road And as a School District Trustee, Dodd was the leading advocate in advancing the Planning Group agenda which resulted in school's costly joint sewage system with the French Ranch Development. The case of Spring Road is strangely the reverse of Sinaloa. Here, a road used by residents for decades is suddenly blocked off by a prominent, wealthy resident who owns property through which the mapped portion of Spring Road passes. Since the Planning Group holds title to the disputed portion of this road, one would think it had a duty to inform the community of that fact, to mediate, or even join in litigating the right of neighbors to use a road they had always used. The Group tacitly approved expropriating a private road not blocked off to ensure public access and approved the a private landowner barring the public from a road owned by the Group. In February, a gate went up on Spring Road and now bulldozers are finishing a culvert in the adjoining creek. Neighbors complained they were never told about the plan. Chairman, Bill Noble allegedly told the Haas family, which blocked the road for a private driveway, they could build a private driveway. Supervisor Kinsey has rebuffed residents seeking to continue access along Spring road and refused to request any commitment of county resources to investigate any implied public access. What is additionally curious about this is that Noble, on his own initiative as Chairman, authorized paying the Group's attorney up to $1,000 for a legal opinion on Sinaloa and Spring Roads but when he got it he apparently ignored the information. The Planning Group attorney's opinion clearly seems to state that there is implied public access on Spring Road. Residents of Lagunitas opposed to the privatization of Spring Road report that the official county map of the disputed portion of Spring Road is missing from county archives at Civic Center. If it is, the matter should be investigated by the police. The two small "parks" in Woodacre also illustrate the inconsistent way the Planning Group has handled the property in its stewardship, and the harm that secrecy causes to the public process. Four years ago Planning Group Chairman Dodd signed a deed transferring a sizable odd lot marked on the county map as a "park" to a Woodacre couple who lived next to it. Nothing really seems wrong here. It seems like a sensible thing to do. But no one in the community knew anything about it! Just as no one knew anything about Dodd's purchase of the two parcels adjoining his property. Now, a small business in downtown Woodacre which adjoins another orphaned lots, is trying to gain control because the owners fear someone else might get it and put something in they don't want. These are community spirited people who have donated time, money and material to public projects. They would apparently be good stewards of such a lot. But now we have a law suit. The Planing Group, which sold one mini park is unwilling to sell another. The present Chairman of the Planning Group, Frank Binney, a noted horseman, and a polite, open person wants to hire an independent title investigator on the Spring Road dispute, but money is a problem. He did not want to take a position on the Group's ownership of Spring Road. "That's a sticky point," he said. "We are taking a wait and see position". The Coastal Post looked into what seemed a suspicious "Covenant" signed recently by Supervisor John Kress on a land swap between two neighbors on East Sylvestris and the Planning Group. This actually seems like sensible transactions-helping two neighbors amicably trade small parts of their property with the County going along. But why the secrecy? Why not let Valley residents know what the Planning Group has and what it is doing? Last year, after Supervisor Kinsey's election, his supporters, Bill Noble and Richard Gray engineered a ruthless take over of the organization and purged members who did not support Kinsey from positions of influence. What was most sickening was that after the purge, the Group issued a call for "a healing". Brian Dodd's voting to renew the contract between the Lagunitas School and the French Ranch Development, with only a few days remaining in his term as Trustee, is another example of naked application of power to advance the agenda of a minority of the Planning Group. It seems that the inconsistent way the Group has administered the property granted to it for two dollars, and its failure to inform the public of these transactions points to an abuse of it's non profit status which should be looked into by the appropriate State agency. Marin County officials are two deeply enmeshed in the problem to be objective

Coastal Post Home Page