Golf course: Do we know what we’re getting into?


Do our county supervisors know what they are buying with our tax dollars? In the rush to buy the San Geronimo Golf Course for $8.85 million from the Trust for Public Land, neither the county nor the trust have disclosed a physical inspection or any research of the property’s condition. Has either obtained soil samples, groundwater tests or a geo-technical analysis? Marin should protect the public from potential environmental hazards and expenses, including for the cleanup of hazardous waste and the protection of Native American artifacts.

The San Geronimo Valley Stewards notified the trust and county officials about a number of concerns. A large underground garbage pit, excavated in the 1960s, contains farm implements, paint cans, cans of oil, tires, metal bed springs and other items from the old ranch. For decades after the garbage was buried, no vegetation grew over the pit. 

Cinnabar (mercuric sulfide) deposits were excavated near the Back 9 and used to construct earthworks on the golf course in the 1960s. Cinnabar is the source of mercury, which is toxic to humans, plants and animals. 

Gold mining occurred near the Back 9 in the 1870s. Separating gold from other minerals results in arsenopyrite waste left in the soil or released into creeks. Chromite and mariposite were excavated at the Thornton mine in the 1870s and the 1960s, when Nicasio Valley Road was re-graded (see 

The golf course planted many Pinus sabiniana trees, also known as ghost pines or California foothill pines. They burn intensely and transmit fire rapidly. They should be removed immediately. 

The California State Water Resources Control Board Geo-Tracker describes an underground contaminant leak that has never been remediated (see 

Finally, the golf course shelters artifacts of early Native Americans, possibly Miwok encampments. Local residents have found spear points, arrowheads, bowls, grinding stones and rock carvings. An archeological investigation is required to determine the locations and extent of any buried artifacts.

Did the Trust for Public Land’s appraisal consider these physical conditions when it valued the property at $8.8 million? We don’t know, because county authorities refuse requests to release the appraisal.

What toxics or hazards may have been reported in the trust’s Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment? Because the assessment has not been disclosed, it is not clear what environmental hazards the trust or county may be responsible for. A review under the California Environmental Quality Act must be required because of the unusual circumstances of this property—physical conditions, historical mining and development, piecemeal changes in land use described by the county and the trust and proposed creek restoration projects. 

When Marin signed the purchase and sale agreement, it became obligated to accept title and pay the trust $8.85 million, although escrow closing may be delayed until 2019.  

The county should act to protect the public. It should require the trust to pay for outside expert inspections of stream water quality, groundwater pollution, soil contaminants and hazardous mineral deposits. The county should publicly disclose the inspections.

The county should require the trust to protect the Miwok encampment sites from desecration, and the trust should indemnify the county for future claims and losses due to the environmental hazards of soil, minerals and groundwater.

The county should hold back a reserve from the $8.85 million purchase price to reimburse future cleanup costs incurred by the county or any government agency that grants public funds for the purchase. Finally, the county should impose restrictions on SPAWN and other agencies that plan creek restoration or other projects to safeguard against the release of toxics or potentially hazardous materials and to protect Native American artifacts.

When the county takes title to the property, it will be our mess, and our tax dollars will pay for it.


Peggy Sheneman, a Woodacre resident, and James Barnes, also from Woodacre, are members of San Geronimo Valley Stewards, a nonprofit with over 500 volunteers and donors that educates residents about creekside habitat.