Stream conservation rules first on the list for update of countywide plan

02/12/2020

As Marin embarks on a tune-up of its countywide plan—a mammoth planning document that guides policies and programs—the number-one priority is a new stream conservation ordinance for the San Geronimo Valley. “We are glad that they are taking this on as soon as possible, and our hope is that they pass a science-based, common sense stream protection ordinance that gives critically endangered coho salmon a fighting chance at survival and recovery,” said Todd Steiner, the executive director of SPAWN's umbrella organization Turtle Island Restoration Network. SPAWN and the Center for Biological Diversity sued the county last October, arguing Marin was unlawfully delaying the development of the ordinance, which was the primary mitigation measure identified in an environmental impact report the county finalized last September. That report assessed the cumulative impact of development on salmonid species in the valley and was the result of a lawsuit brought by SPAWN a decade ago. The E.I.R. laid out the bare bones of what the county hopes the ordinance will accomplish, including expanding the types of development that require a discretionary permit and site assessment, and implementing new best management practices. The ordinance will build upon one the county abandoned in 2013 amid the legal disputes. Mr. Steiner said that although his group participated in one settlement discussion since the latest action, “no agreement is on the horizon.” But, he said, the suit will be resolved once an ordinance is approved to the groups’ satisfaction. Marin developed its first countywide plan in 1973, updating it in 1982, 1994 and 2007. That last update represented a major expansion; while the 1994 plan had 327 programs, the 2007 update had 791 and a broad aim of emphasizing equity, the economy and environmental issues. Last Tuesday, supervisors approved a new schedule and budget to bring the 2007 plan up to date, allowing staff from the Community Development Agency to start work on a modest scope of amendments. The county hopes to complete the update in four years. The first phase of the update, slated for completion early next year, will develop the stream conservation ordinance in the valley with a $128,500 budget. Much of the necessary legwork was completed in the E.I.R., though staff outlined the need for improved mapping and imagery of stream channels and topography. The effort will also include robust public education and outreach. “Support is also anticipated from staff in the county’s landowner assistance and education program, which is administered by the Marin Resources Conservation District, and outside technical expertise in the areas of fluvial geomorphology, stream ecology and hydrology, and restoration,” county staff wrote. They added that, given the complexity of issues, an impartial, objective facilitator will also be hired. Already, several valley residents spoke on Tuesday to the board, expressing concern over the impact on homeowners. The second phase of the update will begin when the first completes and will wrap up by the end of 2023. It includes expanding the ordinance and tailoring it to the remaining areas of unincorporated Marin, as was discussed when the E.I.R. was finalized. During this phase, the county will also examine housing policy, specifically as it pertains to housing densities and conformance with state law, and align the plan with new laws pertaining to fire and flood hazards. The plan must also align with Senate Bill 379, which requires local planning documents to include measures to adapt to climate change; the resultant changes will incorporate the county’s work analyzing the impacts of global warming on Marin’s coast and ideas about how to respond.