There is one thing most West Marin residents can agree on: Fire and earthquakes are the greatest and most immediate threats to life and property in our county. But most people have no idea that the Marin County Fire Department headquarters, home to Marin’s largest fire department, is outdated, too small and poorly located.
By failing to give our firefighters an adequate facility, we are dangerously limiting their capacity to respond to serious emergencies.
The headquarters location in Woodacre means that emergency vehicles must cross five intersections before entering Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, adding critical minutes to response times. And, as is described in the Marin County Fire Facilities Plan, the fire department has grown substantially since this 1.5-acre facility was established in the 1940s. Its capacity has increased over the decades to support the needs of Marin’s population, provide modern services and meet mandated safety standards.
Because the property is too small to allow for an expansion of buildings, the facility lacks adequate housing for on-duty firefighters. Its aging vehicle garage and maintenance buildings are inadequate for modern ambulances or contemporary fire engines, which are taller and heavier. Also lacking are sufficient training facilities or storage for emergency supplies, safety equipment, search and rescue gear and equipment for hazardous materials response.
The aged headquarters also houses the department’s emergency command center and dispatch, an operation that requires essential technology. The county fire department has done its best to meet both rising state standards for buildings and safety and technology requirements, but the buildings are simply too old and too small. The fire facilities plan states that providing a modern, appropriately sized headquarters is the department’s highest priority.
For over 30 years, the county has sought a larger, centrally located parcel of land, but a lack of suitable properties has stymied those efforts. The first real opportunity came with the county’s proposed acquisition of the San Geronimo Golf Course, a small portion of which could provide a perfect location for a new headquarters directly on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. Engines and paramedics could rapidly deploy to West Marin, the Ross Valley and beyond. Enough land would be available to support all the needed facilities, without disrupting or precluding golf or other uses on the 157 acres.
Now this unique chance to address one of Marin’s greatest needs is about to slip away—a terrible loss for the entire county.
The proposed acquisition of the course has been mired in debate over the future of golf, the cost of the property and more. Now, with the judge’s ruling that the county did not adequately comply with the California Environmental Quality Act, it appears the county will likely not pursue the acquisition. The county has a written agreement to purchase the land from the Trust for Public Land, but has scheduled a hearing on Nov. 13 to consider terminating that agreement. The county has already acted to end a second agreement, with Touchstone Golf, and golf operations will end Dec. 31.
The trust has said it will not hold the property for the long term, but will likely seek a buyer. The chance for a new headquarters and station will be lost—an outcome that would be very bad news for all of us.
It is essential that the Marin County Board of Supervisors not let this rare opportunity slip away. We encourage all concerned residents to join us in urging the board to work with the Trust for Public Land to hold on to a portion of the property sufficient to support a new headquarters.
Given California’s new paradigm of super fires and our high risk of earthquakes, let’s make sure West Marin is adequately prepared by providing our emergency responders with the essential facilities they need to do their job.
Brian McCarthy is a retired Ross Valley battalion chief and a longtime volunteer with community disaster preparedness groups. He lives in Forest Knolls. Liza Crosse, a Woodacre resident, served as an aide to Marin County Supervisor Steve Kinsey for 20 years.