Lawson's Landing takes down historic pier after a complaint to county

07/01/2020

A complaint about a historic pier at Lawson’s Landing prompted the longtime owners last month to tear down the structure, built in 1937. The 220-foot eucalyptus pier was one of the only piers open to the public in the area, serving as a launch for commercial and recreational fishing boats and a popular crab fishing spot. The county red-tagged the structure in January 2019, saying the guard rails and footings were failing, and closed access until the situation was remedied. “There’s no part of a eucalyptus tree that’s up to code,” said Willy Vogler, a co-owner of the nearly 1,000-acre property that’s been in his family for four generations. “The pilings weren’t pressure-treated, but eucalyptus that we’d cut down. Every 10 to 12 years, we’d replace about a third of them.” Mr. Vogler said maintenance on the pier had lagged over the past decade while he and his partner and cousin, Mike Lawson, turned their focus elsewhere. The family has been attempting to make good with the California Coastal Commission, which asked them to develop a master plan. Much of Lawson’s Landing, which has long provided R.V. and tent camping, day parking, boating facilities and more, falls within what is now characterized as an environmentally sensitive habitat area, or ESHA. In 2011, the coastal commission required that the campground phase out some 200 residential trailers as it sought to both protect sensitive habitat and provide low-cost access to the coastline—two mandates of the Coastal Act. But the permit came with the expectation that the campground’s owners would return with a proposed amendment that would hammer out a few remaining details. These included plans for a new wastewater system and a guest center that would help the campground meet the commission’s goals for public access through new storage facilities, an emergency service center and a second campground store. The owners have made several proposals that were rejected by the commission, and they plan to bring a new one to the commission this month. Mr. Vogler said the cost of compliance has been high. Bringing the pier up to code, which would have involved a full overhaul and permitting by both the county and the commission, could have cost an additional $2 million. The campground has been hit hard during the pandemic, but was able to reopen this week under Marin’s new guidance.