Valley residents fear effects of stream setbacks


Over 50 San Geronimo Valley residents attended a public meeting on Tuesday hosted by the San Geronimo Valley Stewards to discuss the county’s new draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Report, voicing concerns over how the proposed mitigation efforts could burden their homes. 

“It seems like there are built-in biases against the humans that live here,” Niz Brown, a Woodacre resident, said. 

Released earlier this month, the report is a supplement to the 2007 Countywide Plan’s environmental impact review and hones in on build-out scenarios proposed by that plan. Specifically, it studies the potential cumulative impacts that building in the valley would have on streams and their inhabitants, including coho salmon and steelhead trout.

The supplemental report found evidence that development was cumulatively disturbing the reproductive capacity of trout and salmon, but also concluded that no effects were significant enough that they couldn’t be reduced to less-than-significant levels through mitigation measures. 

The report designated development setbacks for stream conservation areas: the greater of either 50 feet landward from the outer edge of woody riparian vegetation associated with the stream, or 100 feet landward from the top of the streambank. These setbacks would make it difficult for property owners to make modest improvements, such as installing a hot tub or a new garden bed, by requiring further permits and a site assessment by a qualified biologist—things that can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Andrew Davis, an architect living in Forest Knolls, expressed discontent with the development setbacks, which he said would affect nearly everyone. “How do you get 50 feet away from anything in the valley? It’s close to impossible,” he said. “The viability of living out here could decline.”

The Salmon Protection and Watershed Network has sued the county repeatedly over the last decade over regulations meant to protect coho salmon and steelhead trout in San Geronimo Valley streams, winning an injunction against development in the valley in 2012. (A San Francisco appeals court lifted the injunction in 2014.)

Ann Saramon of San Geronimo said she’s been caught in a bind in her attempts to make home improvements. She asked what the county planned to do if it was sued once the final supplemental report was completed. 

“There’s an 80 percent chance the environmental group will probably sue again,” she said. “We have to move forward.”

Tom Lai, assistant director of the county’s Community Development Agency, was at Tuesday’s meeting to try to answer questions from residents. 

Fred Grange was concerned about the restrictions within stream conservation areas. What would happen if a building already constructed within these areas were to burn down; would the homeowner be able to be rebuild it? 

Mr. Lai said he couldn’t guarantee anything before the report was ultimately passed, but said the county was not prone to unnecessary interference.

“Our philosophy is that if it’s legally there, we want to allow you to rebuild it,” he said. 


A public hearing on the supplemental draft environmental impact report starts at 1 p.m. Monday, May 22 at the Civic Center, hosted by the Marin County Planning Commission. A 45-day public comment period began on May 1. Following the comment period, the Community Development Agency will prepare a final S.E.I.R. to submit to the Board of Supervisors for certification.