Land trust lays out vision as golf greens go brown

05/23/2019

Irrigation ceased at the San Geronimo Golf Course last week, and the property’s owner, the Trust for Public Land, announced the launch of a community engagement campaign to hear residents’ hopes for the 157-acre property—which the nonprofit does not plan to own in the long term. 

“What we have heard from the community loud and clear is that they have not had a voice in this process,” Guillermo Rodriguez, the trust’s state director, said to the Light after a press conference held in the Marin Headlands last Friday. 

The listening campaign will inform whichever entity ultimately takes over the land; still, Mr. Rodriguez presented a vision for the property on Friday, and was joined at the podium by supporters from local conservation groups, consultants and several valley residents. 

Like Marin County, which sought to partner with the trust to convert the course to open space, the nonprofit plans to manage the land as a public park. Mr. Rodriguez described enhancing public access for recreation, education and community gathering. Specifically, he outlined creating a multi-use and community facility on the property, restoration work in Lagunitas Creek to benefit the coho salmon run, and a comprehensive fire safety program that would include relocating the Marin County Fire Department headquarters to the site.

The speakers who expressed their support for the trust on Friday included representatives from the San Geronimo Valley Planning Group, the Marin Audubon Society, the Marin Conservation League and the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin, along with a water rights specialist for Trout Unlimited and a private-sector San Francisco planner. 

Brian McCarthy, a retired Ross Valley fire battalion chief, seconded the trust’s hope to partner with Marin County Fire to move the headquarters from Woodacre—an idea originally part of the department’s 2010 vision plan that outlined the need for the station to be in a more central location on the Sir Francis Drake Boulevard corridor. 

Reached after the meeting, Marin County Fire Chief Jason Weber commended the trust, which he said “is interested in going above and beyond what is required of them legally.” Already, the fire department has consulted with the trust—which it commonly does for both private and public landowners—and made recommendations for upkeep, considering the water is now shut off. 

The trust has agreed to keep the grass mowed, help adjacent homeowners remove vegetation within 100 feet of their homes and provide two landing pads for emergency helicopters. 

Supporting the trust’s stated hope to focus restoration efforts on Lagunitas Creek, Matt Clifford, a water rights specialist for Trout Unlimited, said, “Lagunitas Creek is home to the Bay Area’s strongest remaining run of coho salmon—which were historically the premier native fish of Marin County but are now one of California’s most critically endangered species.” 

He continued, “This property, which has some of the best potential habitat in the watershed, offers us a chance to write the next chapter of that effort—an opportunity to implement restoration on a regionally significant scale.”  

His statements were echoed by the other conservationists who spoke Friday. 

As far as the listening campaign, the trust has launched a website, ReimagineSanGeronimo.com, to keep residents informed of upcoming events that will begin this summer and include tours, visioning workshops and pop-up events.  

In the meantime, Brendan Moriarty, the trust’s senior project manager, said residents are allowed to walk and bike on the property. “The Trust for Public Land welcomes members of the public to enjoy the existing trails on the property,” he said. “We hope this inspires people’s creativity and that they bring their ideas into the community engagement process.”

The property has caused significant grief over the past two years. The county announced its intention to raise money to purchase it from the previous owners in 2017 in collaboration with the trust, which fronted the money, but a group that sought to preserve the course upended those plans with a lawsuit. 

A decision handed down by a Marin County Superior Court judge last November found that the county violated the California Environmental Quality Act by committing funds to change the use before conducting an environmental analysis, which includes gathering public input. It was too cost-prohibitive for the county to do that; it had already lost opportunities for grant monies during the pending litigation. 

Mr. Rodriquez said the trust will not move forward with any restoration plans before commencing a CEQA process, though there are too many uncertainties at this point to know if that analysis will happen. “This is a process,” he conceded. “The fate of the property is unknown.” 

Next March, voters will consider a measure brought by the San Geronimo Advocates that, if passed, would require that golf continue as the primary use of the property no matter who owns it. 

A settlement reached last month between the trust and the advocates—which filed an appeal and a cross-appeal respectively on the court decision that prevented the county from purchasing the property—stipulated a dialogue between the two parties. Per the terms of the April agreement, the trust shelled out $308,000 to cover the advocates’ legal fees.