Point Reyes Station just experienced a lesson in democracy. At the recent June meeting of the Point Reyes Station Village Association (PRSVA), close to 40 long-time residents showed up to become members. Since the VA historically has had a very small membership, with an even smaller group able to vote, adding 40 at one time was a shock to the powers that be.
The new members, when asked, said that they had come because they wanted their voices heard on how the town is to grow now and in the future. Many wanted to discuss how the town can plan for controlling future growth to assure quality of life for all.
Most interviewed said that they were shocked and angered by the blatant unfairness and disenfranchisement of townspeople exhibited by the recent "vote" for the EAH housing development adjacent to the little downtown. Since I have been a vocal supporter of restricting decisions on land use issues within Point Reyes Station to residents and businesspeople of Point Reyes Station, it was a pleasant surprise to hear more voices publicly question the validity of the EAH process and "vote."
That "vote," new members said, was invalid because it solicited votes from four zip codes, surrounding ranch workers and even from former residents as far away as Petaluma, Novato and Mill Valley. The people of Point Reyes Station, they said, were outvoted and consensus for the project was manufactured. Many supported, as do I, affordable housing built without Big Development and placed throughout West Marin, rather than ghettoized in one little town.
Several of the formerly small voting membership were outraged that "these people" had the audacity to show up at "their" Village Association and demand to be heard. A number immediately envisioned a conspiracy to "take over" the Village Association and looked high and low for someone to blame. Although the reality is that the new members are obviously simply an expression of the anger in the town over the EAH "vote," and a real grassroots up swelling of concern about their town and their future, some old members were unable to accept this expression of democracy and continued to see a conspiracy.
The new members were told, twice, at the meeting that they would have the right to vote at the next meeting in July. As this article went to print, however, the outgoing President of the Village Association, Anne Vitale of Inverness Park, let it be known that new members from the June meeting would NOT be able to vote in July... on a technicality. It seems the bylaws state that one must be a member for 30 days (rather than one month), and the time between scheduled meetings is only 28 days this time. It will be interesting to see how this date oddity will be used to silence the new members in July, while development advocates scour the town for more new members who reflect their viewpoint and can then vote in August.
No matter how many or of what viewpoint any new members may be, my own hope is that they can all see the larger picture of development in West Marin in the coming decade and work to provide our little town with a way to control growth and density while protecting quality of life for all.
It is a point of interest that the local newspaper, the Point Reyes Light, a rabid fan of the EAH development, pointedly did not report or comment on the Village Association phenomenon the following week. Privately livid and loud that anyone might have a forum to speak out in questioning the project, the newspaper's silence is quite telling.
The new membership of the PRSVA, which will grow more, is a signal that the townspeople want to take responsibility for their own future growth and quality of life. With more residents participating in a VA that proactively represents them, there is finally a possibility of the town developing a widely shared vision for its future. The Point Reyes Station Community Plan, recently updated in draft form, is a basis on which residents could build their vision for future growth.
This is a good thing, because the proposed EAH 50-unit housing project (including 26 affordable rentals) is a red flag and an arrow pointing to more development. No matter what one's opinion of this particular development, we all need to pay attention to what will surely come in its wake. Because of its scenic beauty and high quality of life, Point Reyes Station has the potential of becoming a magnet for people looking to escape the congestion, banality and faster tempo of life in the suburbs and cities. It is estimated that the next decade Bay Area counties will see close to a 40% growth pattern. Those people will have to live someplace and many will have the financial resources and lifestyles to choose West Marin.
That fact, coupled with the new ability of developers using high-tech community septic systems in West Marin, makes the possibility of high-density, infill and fast growth something to seriously worry about. Although all eyes are now focused on the Giacomini property that EAH has purchased for its planned development, other properties within Point Reyes Station are at risk of Big Development. One such large property, off Highway One, wraps around Tomasini Creek and is owned by Giacominis. With the family selling off land, it is not a stretch to see this large piece up for sale soon. With population pressures mounting and a compliant, pro-development Board of Supervisors, we need to pay attention and make plans.
Every town and village in West Marin needs to come to grips with how they want to grow. We all must ensure that growth and economic development don't come at the expense of our unique identity, quality of life, economic diversity and fiscal well-being. The challenge is to retain a high quality of life in the face of mounting pressures for growth, infill density and change. Without well-designed and widely supported strategies to preserve town character and lifestyle, we all risk undermining the very assets responsible for our wanting to live here.
A shared vision needs to address the full range of local concerns, not just one. Schools, quality of life, housing, economic opportunities and development, protection of farming and ranching, environmental integrity and overall sustainability should all be taken into consideration in any vision. People may differ on how to achieve the community's vision, but without such a blueprint nothing will happen.
Residents of Point Reyes Station share more common ground than they may realize. What has been lacking in finding that common ground to date is the unhealthy strategy divisiveness and disempowerment of anyone even questioning the "rightness" of the EAH housing development. That conversation needs to be opened up to the Point Reyes Station community, with all people outside the planning area muted. Further, the conversation needs to talk not just about EAH's project, but plan for the future development en route.
The association has been reactive to date, rather than proactive , uncommitted rather than committed to hear what the full spectrum of residents had to say. On the EAH issue, for example, the Village Association rarely spoke about concerns above a whisper. It is now of great importance that the organization grow and become a real voice for the integrity of the whole town, not just a few.
All of us in Point Reyes Station, by taking democratic responsibility for our future growth, can set an example for those in other communities throughout West Marin. Hopefully, all communities in West Marin will see that their future growth, together, equals the future of West Marin itself.