The Coastal Post - July 1999

There's A Toxic Title Hanging Over Hamilton

By Stephen Simac

Hamilton air base in Novato is being turned into a suburban housing development, even though the title to the land itself is in dispute.

The 927 acres which make up the retired air base were originally given to the federal government in 1929 by citizens of Marin. Citizen boosters hoped to convince the War Department to choose Marin for one of three planned bomber airbases on the West Coast.

A group of businessmen incorporated as Marvelous Marin, Inc. and came up with the cash to buy a former cucumber farm. Marin county supervisors passed a 4. 4 cents sales tax for the purchase, but never came up with one penny for the property nor did they ever explain what happened to those tax monies.

Marvelous Marin bought the land and gave it to the county to offer to the Army as a carrot to build their bomber airbase here. The stipulation agreed on was that when the Feds ceased to use the property it would be returned to the county of Marin.

In 1975 the Feds offered it back to Marin for the $1 they had paid for it but Supervisor Robert Roumiguiere and the commission refused it as a "white elephant." When a woman in LA read about their refusal,she sent in $1, and had to be paid $80,000 by the government to quit her claim for the pale pachyderm.

The Feds remembered that because in 1993 when the base was declared surplus property for real, the General Services Administration didn't return it to the county for a dollar.

Marin supervisors didn't claim their land and it ended up with Novato, which, surprise, chose to develop the toxic waste site for housing.

In spite of the fact that a joint military committee recommended that in order to avoid lawsuits, former airbases only be used for airports, recreation or industrial use because of their extensive contamination, families will be living on the land, children playing in the dirt.

It's not the first or last time government officials didn't honor their agreements, but Alexander Coutts, a Marin resident is suing the United States Government to hold them to their word. Like Don Quixote tilting at windmills, or in this case bomber planes, he's got a point. He provided

documents to the Coastal Post and federal judges to prove his case from which this story of Hamilton is based on.

He's been fighting the battle for 24 years he writes in his court brief, and received only ridicule from the Department of Defense, Bay Area politicians, media and members of Congress.

He wants $10 million for that, plus another $10 million each for the government lying to the public since 1974 about Hamilton and for harassing a senior citizen, himself. He says he's hoping to attract a lawyer with the scent of money, kinda like blood in the water to sharks.

Trying to stop the suburban dreams of Novato for Hamilton air base is like trying to stop the Buck Center for Aging, also in Novato after they annexed both sites. Novato's motto is buildout and they will come and is drafted for projects that Marin county supervisors would like to approve but can't get away with.

Even though most Marin citizens didn't want either project, Bay Area money makers and shakers pushed them through, traffic gridlock and land use regulations and agreements be damned.

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