A riddle for our can-do niche


How precious our community is. Our hearts are filled with the beauty of the land, yet it’s this beauty that now makes our home a destination spot advertised in The New York Times. Elders will naturally leave, but some are being forced to leave before their time. And of course the young and bohemian are also struggling to remain. People with enough moolah can come in, tear down trees and build without considering their neighbors, destroying the view or a contiguous stand of mutually beneficial shrubs. They leap before they look, ignorant of custom. 

In the face of fools rushing in, can we think of the mitigating force of artists, musicians, kids and all who give life and breath to our community with every act of beauty, imagination and generosity? We are caring beings who hanker for peace and goodwill in our niche.

Tim Weed and Debbie Daley are looking for digs, as is Elizabeth Whitney. So are David Hastings and Sara Morris—unsung heroes, loved and respected pillars of the Spanish-speaking community, which they have served with devotion, intelligence and skill for 30 years. How many scholarships, Sara? How many English classes, David? 

David was the co-founder of West Marin Community Services, and served as its first executive director. Later he came back and served a second term. Community Services is the Community Resource Center, the Thrift Store, the food pantry and the emergency assistance program. The resource center provides emergency food distribution, emergency housing assistance, emergency energy assistance, emergency grants and loans, housing referrals, blood drives, Thanksgiving dinner, the holiday gift program, etcetera.

Sara and David spent most of their lives devoted to the wellbeing and betterment of the Mexican community—farm laborers, housekeepers, gardeners and their glorious children with who knows what dreams for fulfilling and productive lives. And here’s the ironic, if not the best, part: once these newly empowered kids retire, they can become weeding fools, beads-of-sweat gardeners like their granddads, who wanted for them a life of leisure to pursue questions of the mind.

Sara and David never acted for reward or recognition, but in the humble spirit of service: work for its own reward. These fine productive members of our community have intrinsic value, too. We need their life work to model a “live and let live” ethos. Only that will do. It works. It is not the thread count of the linens, not the understandable yet self-serving choice to precipitously raise tenants’ rent. 

Isn’t there a win-win? We have a great mediation team that could help. I’d like to see us claim and hold onto the reins, having a say in the disposition of things, the ground rules of fair play. Isn’t it best to steer a course wisely and prudently so we continue to be a hands-on, can-do bunch of people of all ages who love the land at the juncture of the civil and the wild and are learning to live more and more simply, indigenously and harmoniously as the days go by?

A riddle: How do we remain luxuriously independent, with free enterprise, and also agree to boundaries, limits, regulations, guarantees—the social responsibilities that can’t be legislated? We need a world with a moral center, where we do our best to take care of one another, pulling our own oxygen masks down first, but also considering our fellow passengers. We have this world. How do we keep it?

Of course landlords have legitimate reasons for taking a rental property off the market—family to shelter and so forth. But we can resist the temptation to pursue profit at the unfair expense of others. We can do as CLAM is doing, helping formerly underserved people buy their own homes, leveling the playing field. 

The bottom line must take into account impacts on human welfare, everyone’s access to a fair share, though yes, some pigs will probably still be more equal. Nevertheless, improving quality of life is a great motivator, if the game isn’t rigged and the values skewed. Our world may be upside-down, but it is easily remedied. How so? Play fair and square, take turns, let the common good trump vested interests.

Must the road lead to Sausalitoville? The influx of tourist income is undoubtedly desirable if, like bamboo, it doesn’t get out of hand. When is enough too much? Do we have the wisdom to know the difference? We could do nothing and let things sort themselves out, always an appealing option, but the stakes are too high not to at least ask if we can benefit by intervention. How can we continue to function as a community? 

After so many quantifiable changes, there will be a qualitative one. Who do we want in our world? Do we gauge by thread count of linen, or is making art and music important to us? Is helping our community in a profound and magnanimous way going to be rewarded by expulsion? 

Our friends and neighbors need homes to live in. How are we going to help, not abandon, them? What about the dream of community that their work and ours generated? Is it important enough to work to keep?


Carla Steinberg is an Inverness resident and a retired teacher, writer and photographer whose words and images have chronicled the life in West Marin since 1971. Her letters and columns have appeared in the Light since 1976.