County rejects appeal of SPAWN work

06/10/2020

Supervisors dismissed an appeal last week by a San Anselmo golfer who argued that the county’s recent issuance of a permit for creek restoration on the former San Geronimo Golf Course property was illegal. As a result, Turtle Island Restoration Network, the mother organization for the Salmon Protection and Watershed Network, can proceed with a multi-million-dollar project funded by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and NOAA Fisheries to preserve habitat for endangered fish. 

“I think this is a groundhog day for me,” Supervisor Dennis Rodoni said last Tuesday. “The issues that have been brought forward today have been addressed in the community, both in the ballot box and in our courts, previously.”

Supervisors unanimously decided to deny the appeal, which raised a host of familiar issues surrounding the use of the 157-acre property, none of which were deemed substantive by either staffers from the Department of Public Works or county counsel. 

Philip Snell, an attorney who filed the appeal last month, was a member of the now-disbanded group that fought to preserve the course for golf, the San Geronimo Advocates. The group has been unsuccessful: The county let go of the hope to own the property after the advocates sued in 2017, but a third party, the Trust for Public Land, has carried forward the county’s intention to convert it into open space. In March, Marin voters rejected a measure the advocates helped put on the ballot in hopes of gathering more public support for golf. 

For Mr. Snell, SPAWN’s proposal opened a new can of worms, however. He argued that the creek permit violated both the countywide and San Geronimo community plans by ignoring the stated use of the property for golf. By extension, he said the permit violated Marin County Code. 

Staffers from the Community Development Agency addressed these issues in a memorandum. “Mr. Snell generally asserts that because the San Geronimo Valley Community Plan has a sentence that states ‘The golf course use should be retained with no major expansion of the facilities,’ permits unrelated to a golf use violate the Countywide Plan and related community plans,” they wrote. “While the above-referenced community plan statement values golf use in the San Geronimo Valley, the agency and your board have to consider many other values reflected in the plans in making consistency determinations and have broad discretion in doing so. Contrary to Mr. Snell’s assertion, the text from the San Geronimo Valley Community Plan does not mandate a golf use on the property.” 

The restoration has been in the works for years, before the Lee family sold the property to the trust. Its primary goal is to remove a series of metal and concrete structures—leftover infrastructure from the former Roy’s Dam—in San Geronimo Creek. In 1999, NOAA Fisheries designed the structures, which were meant to help fish get through the dam, but they proved problematic: the pools became traps for young fish, according to SPAWN. 

Now, the group will create a new channel gradient with engineered streambed materials to aid fish passage and increase hydraulic connectivity. The project will also replace a falling pedestrian bridge; create floodplain habitat through grading; and revegetate disturbed areas with native seeds, plants and trees. The creek permit—and a tree removal permit the county issued earlier this spring—were the last approvals needed. 

Berenice Davidson, the principal civil engineer for public works, wrote in her staff report to supervisors, “The appellant has not presented any substantial evidence or new information that would invalidate or change the public works’ decision to approve the project.” She continued, “It is important to note that a project of this scope and extent could have been executed if the land was still an active golf course.”

According to Mr. Snell, the restoration project would hinder golf, should anyone try to play there again. “What [Ms. Davidson] said is incorrect,” he told the Light. “The construction outline goes well into the fairway, all the way down, wiping out the sixth green, the seventh green, and the green nursery adjacent to the eighth fairway.”

Mr. Snell said he couldn’t afford even the fees associated with his appeal, and that he would not therefore take the next step of filing a lawsuit.