The Light endorses Wendi Kallins for District 4 supervisor

05/19/2016

The intense and competitive race for District 4 supervisor is as important to our readers as any office or measure on the 2016 ballot. Our county representative must see the depth of the crisis facing West Marin—and understand how each of its pieces is interdependent with the others—if we are to change course. This is what I see happening. 

Our villages are swiftly losing housing for low and middle-income people and succumbing to a class-based population shift. This demographic exchange will soon affect each aspect of life: businesses, nonprofits, village associations and emergency-response organizations will starve for local volunteers and workers while schools shrink and churches fold. Our supervisor must be willing to take radical steps to preserve and expand housing stock. 

Meanwhile, well-funded environmentalists with superb legal representation are launching an attack on a big slice of our agricultural community. Some candidates have shrugged off the seashore lawsuit. I hope it winds up as a non-threat, but I fear it could lead, at best, to operations hobbled by elk protections and tighter herd limits and, at worst, to the wiping out of a working landscape. We need a representative who will fiercely defend agriculture on Point Reyes through diversification and rules that strike a balance between natural resources and sustainable food production. Our supervisor should pester state and federal representatives until the permanent protection of agriculture in the seashore is written into law.

There are other challenges. Congestion resulting from booming visitation to the coast afflicts locals and poses a threat to public safety; our supervisor needs to skillfully tackle our immediate traffic and parking problems before more vigilante action crops up. Sea-level rise presents ominous changes that our leaders will need to address through a difficult balance of conflicting interests as homes, roads and businesses are compromised. Substandard housing for farm-workers and Latinos countywide remains a thorn in the side of an otherwise affluent Marin, as do homelessness and inadequate representation for Latinos in general. Our supervisor needs to advocate for our struggling underserved constituents. 

In the diverse and impressive cast of characters in the race, one person stands out. Wendi Kallins, a 36-year resident of the San Geronimo Valley and a woman who possesses both grit and poise, grasps the issues facing West Marin. She puts it this way: “In West Marin, we have the breakdown of community on a number of fronts. The cost of housing, second homes, and short-term rentals are all shrinking the ability of longtime residents to continue to live here. This results in the school populations shrinking, as well as the pool of volunteer and paid nonprofit and service workers. The California Coastal Commission’s insistence on tourist-serving businesses in downtowns ignores the needs of the local community for housing. The lawsuit against ranching in the park could result in the demise of agriculture. Taken together, we are experiencing the unraveling of the fabric of West Marin, which could become nothing more than a tourist attraction, a faux community with no substance, no sense of place.”

Wendi gets it. Why? It must have helped that, in the first leg of the race, she organized roundtable discussions with community leaders in Bolinas and Point Reyes Station. From these she took away an impressive sketch of current affairs. She learned about travails at Tomales Elementary School, where Latino families in particular say they are harmed by the absence of a fulltime principal, and at Bolinas-Stinson School, where an exodus of parents and dwindling housing have led to tiny classes that parents say lack diversity and dynamism. While some candidates do not appear to even read local news, Wendi is impressively informed.

But that’s just one piece of good leadership. How one gets informed also makes a difference. Some candidates seem to be getting their information primarily through social media, from people in political offices or from fringe advocacy groups. Wendi will listen to the people, just as she did when she brought a fair and balanced sample to her roundtable discussions. 

How candidates order the information they get also differentiates them. Wendi stands out as a systemic thinker. Rather than seeing our challenges as isolated problems, she sees a whole system—in this case, one in decline. And as a progressive, she talks a lot about sustainability. It’s a tired word, perhaps, but it sounds fresh when she says it. 

Wendi is also impressive on the Latino front. Through Safe Routes to Schools, she worked with mothers in the Canal district to encourage green transportation; David Escobar, one of Steve Kinsey’s two aides and a bilingual and bicultural advocate for Marin’s Latinos, said she got those women their own bikes. Dave will stay on as Wendi’s aide if she is elected. (He said he would stay with any other candidate who maintained Steve’s values, particularly around racial equity, diversity, inclusion, engaged public service and the environment). Dave is the only person of color to serve as an aide to a Marin supervisor; it would be a shame if his influence ended with Steve.  

“In Marin, we take care of agriculture,” Wendi told me. “We take care of the environment. It’s time to take care of the people.” As the humanist in the race, she will strike a balance between environment, agriculture and people better than the other top candidates—Dominic Grossi, whose experience is too narrowly rooted in agriculture; Dennis Rodoni, whose reluctance to regulate vacation rentals signals a meaningful disconnect and whose strident position against Drakes Bay Oyster Company further ties him to a minority; and Brian Staley, who, like Dennis, has adopted some of the troubling rhetoric of zealous environmental groups. 

Wendi’s take on protecting the coast’s natural resources is tempered by her understanding that people are also part of nature. “We are grateful to have the parks here; the protection of the wild and scenic beauty is precisely what makes Marin special,” she said. “But before there was a park, there was a thriving agricultural community that has survived to this day. And that also makes Marin special. The people who live here are equally deserving of protection. They are the stewards of both the land and of these vibrant communities we call home.” 

Please join me in voting for Wendi on June 7.