The Coastal Post - September 1999

Is Steve Kinsey A Menace to Marin?
Whistles Are Blowing At Civic Center

By Jim Scanlon

In the early 1990s Steve Kinsey worked for the Lagunitas School District, and over a seven year period he was paid between $140,000 and $200,000 for various services. During the period of his employment as a consultant he also was paid as a contractor for work done for the school and his firm Design/Build Alliance also performed work for the school. This seems close to, if not over, the ethical/unethical line. Many people thought he was volunteering his services. Just before his election to Supervisor he admitted to misrepresenting himself as an architect with his employer, but nothing came of it.

His firm was in the running for, but missed out on the big $2.5 million bond issue to upgrade Lagunitas School. Kinsey did the planning and organization which resulted in the so called, "win-win" joint sewage system which was to help the neighboring French Ranch Development and save the School District land and money. So far the joint system has not produced any benefits to the School, has placed it in financial jeopardy even though the state picked up most of the cost overruns. There appears to be no end to what this system will eventually cost the school

As a County Supervisor his preference for the French Ranch Development has put him, again, close to, if not over, the ethical/unethical line.

He has now been accused of intimidating county regulators in favor of his friends. Grievances have been filed and, if the hearsay information so far revealed is born out, it will show his having a corrupting and demoralizing influence on county government.

Marin County, particularly West Marin, has been so complacent to the threat of runaway development since the late 80s, that it is oblivious to the a new threat brought about since Kinsey's assertion to power. Contractor-Developer Steve Kinsey with the tacit approval of his fellow supervisors, has managed to bring about a revolutionary change in land use regulations involving developments with large volume septic systems, all behind closed doors and without public participation. It would seem that the Brown Act, has been also violated.

Kinsey overcame the initial objections of Patrick Faulkner, County Counsel, and objections by Ed Stewart, Director of Environmental Health Services, to sponsoring the French Ranch Development/School sewage system, and has voted on the project that he planned as a private citizen, an obvious conflict of interest.

Ed Stewart, has now filed a grievance with the county under a "whistle blower's provision," which he feels offers some protection from retaliation, which he feels he needs. He is complaining that a key septic system investigator in his department was transferred without cause and without his being involved and implied that Kinsey was behind the move. In an August 5 article in the Point Reyes Light he is quoted stating that Kinsey "wants to do things out of his office..." and that "there have been numerous instances in which his department was intimidated from above".

Two inspectors in his department have also filed formal grievances over being transferred. David Masagno, who has handled the inspection of septic systems, was transferred by the newly appointed head of the Community Development Agency Alex Hinds without consulting Masagno's supervisor, Stewart. The charge has been made (and denied of course) that the change came about from above by Supervisors Kinsey and Kress and possibly a third.

Previously, State regulations required that community sewage systems be under the control of some "legal entity" such as a Community Service District. This makes it next to impossible for a developer to form such a district while building a development, so few of them exist. Kinsey's coup was to get the County to act as "legal entity" for the French Ranch/Lagunitas School sand filter waste water system, thus establishing a precedent and satisfying lax state regulators. The County's assuming responsibility for the sewage system actually resulted in the suspension of county regulations.

Construction of large volume septic systems, which are shared by many home owners in a development, is truly revolutionary, and already several large projects are "in the pipeline." This allows greater housing density on smaller parcels of land which could not handle traditional, tried and true septic systems on each owner's lot. There may be potential drawbacks if full disclosure is made that the home buyer to buying into a "Community Service District" that doesn't yet exist and will require dues and could incur additional financial liability. It is not clear if county taxpayers will have to foot the bills for problems with a system that defaults. This thing is just flying through Civic Center without any public discussion.

Stewart told the Coastal Post that, "The state doesn't want anything to do with large flow septic systems. We [Environmental Health staff] think such systems are very political and state of the art [i.e. new and unproven]." He said his department was told "We understand you don't want to do it [ inspect large flow systems] but you are going to do it." He said his department "does not have the resources to handle these systems and that it is an abuse of power and a danger to the public."

Kinsey's forceful advocacy of his French Ranch/Lagunitas School joint sewage plan has created a precedent. Others have now followed. This has been accomplished, contrary to existing county regulations, behind closed doors, without any open discussion by the Board of Supervisors before the public.

Kinsey made no secret that he especially favors alternative open sewage ponds such as used by the city of Richmond, across the bay; industrial wineries, and the Bolinas Public Utilities District. The problem with these kinds of systems is that they are politically unacceptable in Marin because of esthetics-they stink and are ugly-and long term costs are staggering. He switched to supporting another large volume experimental system that he and his supporters bitterly opposed at first-Recirculating Sand Filters

The problem with these systems is that they are new, untested, and prone to breaking down. They all seem to fail. Their effects on ground water are known to produce serious nitrate pollution which is particularly harmful to young children-something that residents of Point Reyes Station, Inverness and Inverness Park should be alert to as their drinking water comes from Lagunitas Creek. No long term studies have been done on them, no Environmental Impact Reports, and no studies on their cumulative impact, especially in sensitive areas like Lagunitas Creek.

Dual sand and filter systems were built for the French Ranch Development and the Lagunitas school with joint trenching. The school's system is now in use but failed catastrophically after only a few days of operation in February. It is still in use even though it is not fully completed and despite a "Cease and Desist Order" By Masagno of the County's Environmental Health Department. County rules require that a septic system be completed and inspected before a use permit is issued, but somehow the school's system is allowed to operate unfinished even after a failure.

According to knowledgeable sources, Norman Hantzsche, of Questa Engineering, the engineer who built the sand filter system that failed, is writing new guidelines to be used by whoever Environmental Health is forced to assign to inspect these systems. This is the man who build the defective system for the school. and, presumably, will build others in the future. His arrogant letter to Environmental Health defying the "Cease and Desist Order was reported in the April edition of the Coastal Post.

If this is so, it is a scandal and a shame and it presents a clear conflict of interest on Hantzsche's part. At the very least it represents malfeasance on the part of whoever it was that gave him the assignment. It also represents an unmitigated insult to the Environmental Health Inspector doing his job. It seems to be a case of a "fox not only in charge of the hen house," but "a fox designing the hen house itself."

Stewart also charged that Kinsey reached down to his level to "ask him to do things he wasn't permitted to do" and that "Kinsey was hovering around and even sitting in his [Masagno's] cubicle."

"The school's septic system has failed" he said, and "hasn't been overseen. It goes on and on! French Ranch concerns us greatly. We are afraid of what will happen when it is built and that system is turned on. There has been too much back room politics"

"We were told by Hinds, 'What are you complaining about? This is only rearranging he deck chairs on the Titanic.' This implies that there will be a total reorganization of county government-a true revolution in our government about which one might ask, "To whose benefit?"

Stewart said he was concerned about the large volumes of sewage which will be treated in similar systems by the proposed Grande Building Project, the Senior Citizen's project and the Ecumenical Housing Project in Point Reyes Station. "Millions of gallons of sewage! It will have a tremendous effect on the ground water and eventually Tomales Bay," he said.

There is also a huge project planned for Lawson's Landing with calls for a 50,000 gallons-a-day of sewage multiple recirculating sand filter system. Given a system with a high failure rate, things look bad for the Tomales Bay shellfish industry.

The grievances filed by the three employees against Hinds will be heard informally by Mark Riesenfeld, the former Director of the Planning Department and now the County Administrator. If the issues are not resolved, the they will go to the County's Personnel Commission for a formal hearing open to the public. Demonstrations At French Ranch

Meanwhile public demonstrations by an ad hoc group of local citizens took place August 15, 19 and 22 in front of the entrance to the French Ranch. During the first demonstration, French Ranch developer Bruce Burman lost his usual public composure and angrily confronted the demonstrators threatening to sue them for interfering with his business. (It was open house day, and it was rumored that Burman is heavily in debt and needs to sell homes as he goes along, to finance the completion of the project). He then called the sheriff's deputies and was reported to have been seen arguing with the two officers that responded.

The deputies then told the demonstrators that it was their right to do what they were doing as long as they did not block the driveway-which they were not doing. He said he told Mr. Burman he could not make any arrests as things were. The officer added that he was there to protect the demonstrators if anyone bothered them.

As one visitor to the "Open House" was driving out, a demonstrator asked him, "How do you like them?" [the new houses]. "Cost too much," he replied.

The Dead Fox

In a strange sidelight to the demonstration, a mother fox was found dead on French Ranch property by the demonstrators who went to look at it in its den where it had been observed with its puppies. The puppies were gone and rat poison and an empty container was found lying about.

The incident was reported to the Humane Society and strangely the Gannett Independent Journal printed an account on the front page of its daily IJ. The Gannett Daily reported that the Humane Society was investigating the death of the fox, statements by one of the demonstrators placed responsibility on the development, and a statement that Burman was "sickened" by the death of the fox. His statement seemed to imply that the demonstrators might have had something to do with the dead fox.

It turned out that the Humane Society did not investigate anything but cremated the dead animal without, apparently preserving any samples

It is really strange what is going on in Marin these days!

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