Mari Tamburo, a New Jersey native who grew up in HUD housing and now lives in Homestead Valley, is perhaps the least traditional candidate in the District 4 race. She is a singer and songwriter who has a band, Livin’ Like Kings, with her husband, Arnie. She has worked odd jobs between gigs, including selling cars and working at a video warehouse. But about six years ago, a project to build a sidewalk in her neighborhood, which she vehemently opposed, pulled her into the political process. She failed to stop the sidewalk project, which was spearheaded by a group, Safe Routes to Schools, long run by one of her opponents, Wendi
During a lengthy and at times freewheeling discussion with the Light, Ms. Tamburo said that open communication and green infrastructure are key issues for her.
Point Reyes Light: Tell me about yourself.
Mari Tamburo: For most of my life I’ve been a singer. I’ve been a cocktail waitress. I’ve had many jobs. I worked for a large manufacturing company, which is very corporate. Didn’t really like that much. [I used to be in a band called] Greg’s Eggs; we used to rehearse out in Olema, on this ranch, and the cows would come in as I would sing. There was this one particular cow: whenever I was there, she would come close to the barn. Greg told me that didn’t happen when they were just playing with the instruments… I really found a fondness for West Marin. I think it’s just so beautiful.
I’m trying to figure out what I could tell you that could give even a slight hint of the skills that I have the makes me think I could do this job. Some of my friends are like, “Are you crazy?” First of all, why would you even want to do this? What I realize when I look back over my life is I’m always trying to help people.
Homestead feels a lot like West Marin. We had a semi-rural environment before that thing [the sidewalk] was foisted on us. The four-block sidewalk. It sticks out like a sore thumb. For many years, I’ve been fascinated with what they described as green infrastructure. I didn’t even realize what it was. Roof gardens fascinated me. I didn’t even know what storm-water runoff was when this whole thing came about.
Light: Tell me about the sidewalk project that you advocated against.
Tamburo: This thing was well-intentioned. It started in 2000 or 2001. Marin Horizon [a private school in Homestead] was contacted to be a part of Safe Routes to Schools. There was a spark of an idea: “Hey, let’s restore this walking path.” This was after the school expansion, which we fought. To get the permit they had to agree to a strict traffic plan.
That traffic plan was working. But several years later, the money got approved and they were like, “Great, we can build the sidewalk.” But we didn’t need it anymore. All these old feelings came back, but people didn’t want to fight it; they were tired. My intention was to say, “Hey, I know about this community-built process.” Eighty hours a week, I was researching all kinds of things, like transportation infrastructure. I met people in the community-built movement. They do things like… placemaking. It’s not top-down. I was blogging like a maniac. There was misrepresentation of danger to pedestrians in the application. They were not in danger. Since [the sidewalk was built] we’ve had five accidents on the street. No one got hurt, just property damage.
Light: And you believe that’s because of the sidewalk?
Tamburo: They paved the road, so people go a little faster. But also the dynamic of the street usage has changed; they “fixed” the street. They flattened it a little bit. The only flat place to walk before was right in the middle of the street. So we all got used to that pattern of use.
I found out that other communities had way more workshops with Safe Route to Schools. It still feels very wrong. I can’t walk down the street with one of my neighbors complaining to me about the sidewalk and how it’s changed things. I wish I didn’t have to talk about this, but it’s staring me in the face every day.
Light: It seems like that experience is really informing why you’re running. It seems like a cornerstone of your run is about communication.
Tamburo: Yes. That’s why I jumped in with my communication skills. I went to school for communications because I wanted to have creative control over my music videos. I’m kind of a D.I.Y. person.
Light: Why don’t you talk about your music and media work?
Tamburo: I have like 15 different things. I have my Vehicle for Change [Web] page, which mostly has to do with random transportation things… I started it because I wanted to start a nonprofit arm to [my music] studio where I’d do recordings to raise money for nonprofits, a social enterprise structure. My husband really couldn’t grasp that. That’s why I got involved with the social enterprise world and I founded the San Francisco chapter of the Social Enterprise Alliance. It’s an earned income model structure to help nonprofits become more self-sustaining.
I’d love us to see us get serious about arts programs in schools. They offer housing for artists in San Rafael. I’d love to see something like that in West Marin.
Light: I’ve asked all the candidates about the ranch lawsuit. What’s your perspective?
Tamburo: I would love to see ranching stay in West Marin. I understand why the lawsuit was filed, because you can’t just have things open-ended. I believe they don’t have a management plan set.
Light: The seashore has been working on a ranch management plan and said they were going to release a draft environmental assessment. Then the lawsuit came out, saying you shouldn’t do a ranch management plan without first doing your General Management Plan, because it’s 36 years old. But general plans can take years. And leading up to this, the park was saying it couldn’t give ranchers longer leases without a ranch plan. Ranchers want to diversify and get longer leases to help them get financing. So that’s a nutshell.
Tamburo: What I sense is apprehension on the part of the ranchers because of what happened with the oyster company.
Light: Do you have any additional thoughts?
Tamburo: We have to see where the lawsuit goes, but I would like to see ranching stay. I would like to see collaboration amongst environmental groups that are concerned. I think it’s a part of West Marin’s history and culture. I don’t want to see ranching go away, but we do need to protect waterways, and biodiversity is important. That’s in everyone’s best interest.
Light: Another issue we’ve reported on is the Local Coastal Program. Ranchers have advocated for getting intergenerational housing, which would let them have up to three homes on ranches in the coastal zone, whereas now they’re only allowed one. What do you think about that?
Tamburo: I’ve talked to several people about this and a number that was there was 1.5 million square feet of additional development. [Reporter’s note: in 2014, California Coastal Commission staff disputed the way the Sierra Club calculated this number.] That’s a concern. That seems like a lot. I really don’t want to see more development. We’ve already got a traffic problem. I do understand people want to have their family carry on the ranch tradition. I’ve got to look into that one more, and of course talk to people to see how they feel. And [look at] what’s legal and what’s fair. None of this is really black and white.
Light: Let's move on to housing generally. The county has had multiple workshops on affordable housing. Do we need to develop more housing or just preserve what we have?
Tamburo: Here’s what I propose. We have folks that come and flip properties; they max out the square footage and sell it for a huge profit. I would like to see members of the community who are concerned pool resources and and buy distressed properties before a flipper does. Then we can keep them in the community, like a community housing trust. We have the Homestead Valley Land Trust, where we have a lot of open space.
This is all a part of the place-making culture that started in Portland. I would like to see people get more proactive. If the county could do it, that would be even better, but I’m not sure if that’s overstepping, because usually these are programs started at the community level. Grassroots activism at its best.
Light: So you feel like this should be dealt with on a grassroots level?
Tamburo: I’m not a fan of top-down mandates. That’s where we got Scotch broom. “Hey, this is great to prevent soil erosion.” Now it’s choked out all the native plants. In the case of Scotch broom, maybe we should be making baskets out of the stuff so that people can have a job. Making brooms out of it. We need creative people. We need fewer people who have been doing government and more everyday people getting involved. That’s why I also advocate for term limits for supervisor. Twenty years? That’s ridiculous. Also I have ideas about public funding; candidates should have a certain amount allotted and that’s it. The filing fees alone; for some people it’s not a lot of money, but [it is] to someone who’s worked in various blue-collar and white-collar jobs in between music gigs.
Light: It’s a crowded race.
Tamburo: There are so many great people running. If I were supervisor, I would try to hire all these people to stay in their communities. Brian, he’s good at planning. I’d put him in planning. Wendy, I’d say, “Hey, let’s forget about the mess you made here and let’s move forward. Let’s not put down any more impervious surface that will put our local creeks at risk.” Dugan, he seems big on the whole pension thing. Let’s let him do his thing there. Then we’ve got Tomas. Well, sure, okay. The candidate pool is as diverse as this district. I never in my wildest dreams thought I would run for public office. But the whole sidewalk thing made me realize that I have something that is of value that I can give to the community. Part of it is bringing the knowledge of community-built processes to planning.
Light: Vacation rentals are a particular issue in West Marin. Some have asked the county to regulate. What do you think?
Tamburo: I don’t know what we can do legally. There have been suggestions of levying some sort of fee on second or third homes. Airbnb itself is going through growing pains regulation-wise, because other places are cracking down. Tiburon is saying you just can’t do it. Two weeks and that’s it. [Reporter’s note: last fall, Tiburon banned short-term vacation rentals by prohibiting rentals for less than 31 days.] Again, this goes back to communities being proactive. I’d like to get out [to West Marin] and talk to some people. Maybe I can hit some open mics in the area.
Light: What other issues are important to you?
Tamburo: I want to increase green infrastructure. I would like to see a zero runoff initiative for any new development so that we don’t pollute our waterways anymore. Water is life to me.
Light: Where do you stand on pesticides on county land? Sometimes the county uses them on road medians because they don’t want to stop traffic [while working].
Tamburo: Let me tell you about road medians: We should get rid of them and turn them into rain gardens. People are going to think I’m crazy, but that’s okay. I want to get rid of all the curbs. The curb is a tripping hazard. There are new technologies available. We really need to stop laying down impervious pavement. I’m all about low-impact development. I don’t know how I got into this stuff; it just came naturally because it looks so cool.
Light: Some people in West Marin feel strongly that they want to elect someone who lives in West Marin.
Tamburo: I would say that it’s more than location that give someone an ability to relate to another person’s situation. Because of life experiences, and I can feel the pain... And I think we need someone from Homestead Valley this time around. For like 40 years we’ve had someone from West Marin. That’s a long time. That’s a long time. It’s time for some change. Creative, positive change.