Why Bolinas residents appealed the land trust's Overlook project


The informal community group Mesa United in Support of Solutions for Equitable Land-Use, or MUSSEL, appealed the Bolinas Community Land Trust’s proposed development on Overlook Drive for two reasons. 

The first was to seek collaborative meetings between the two parties in hopes of creating a steering committee—the formation of which might have negated the need to follow through with an appeal to the county planning commission. In three meetings, representatives of each party defined their group’s goals, but they did not reach an agreement to move forward together.

Secondly, planning law requires that a party concerned about any aspect of a development exhaust administrative remedies, such as availing oneself of the planning commission appeal process. 

Our appeal focused on the cumulative impact of the development to the surrounding area, addressing the combination of current, proposed and additional projects within a neighborhood comprising 7 percent of the 330-acre gridded mesa. For at least 35 years, the mesa has been identified in all operative planning documents, including the Bolinas Gridded Mesa Plan, as extremely sensitive and burdened with a history of adverse cumulative environmental impacts. 

Had the several cumulative impact issues not been raised, any effort to address them in the future could be hindered. Sixteen pages of the 21-page appeal contain maps and data that evaluate the proposed land trust developments on the mesa and clearly demonstrate the impacts to the area. 

At the hearing on Nov. 18, the Marin County Planning Commission denied our appeal. The intent of the appeal was not to stop the project, but to bring to everyone’s attention the need for more in-depth evaluation of the impacts of the development to the area. For example, a letter from the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin requested a one-time exemption for the Overlook development related to proximity to wetland habitat drainage. It stated, in part: 

“Without very specific, accurate, and clear findings in the Administrative Record and the Adopted Resolution, we are concerned this unique situation could set an adverse precedent for other types of development and could threaten West Marin’s irreplaceable coastal resources and few remaining wetlands.

“To clarify this oversight, the EAC requests the Planning Commission make this exception explicitly clear by inserting language into the permit and decision document that outlines that this departure from the Current [Local Coastal Program] is a one-time exception due to unique circumstances not to be applied as precedent setting for any other development applications.”

MUSSEL, in place of a full review under the California Environmental Quality Act, proposed the alternative of an informal study. This would consider, for instance, the impact to the Overlook Drive and Mesa Road intersection of the addition of the proposed 16 housing units. The anticipated increased traffic to an intersection where speeding is a common danger, especially on Overlook, would be considered one element of the study.

MUSSEL did not assume that the planning commission would overturn the findings of the deputy zoning administrator. Rather, we hoped that it would recognize the pertinent legal and planning decisions that apply to this case. We wished to voice our concerns and offer possible remedies such as consideration of the land trust’s participation in the transferred development rights program that could allow a density transfer from areas of coastal scrub habitat to other less ecologically sensitive sites.

While seeking solutions to the dire need for affordable housing, the community deserves a wider dialog than simply “Yes, we’re for it.” Our group seeks the balanced integration of housing into existing neighborhoods, adherence to Bolinas’s planning documents, and respect for the original objectives of the Bolinas Community Land Trust, including the preservation of valued coastal habitat.

Many Bolinas residents who strongly support the effort to develop affordable housing have expressed concerns and donated resources to MUSSEL to bring these considerations to the community and the county. At this time, our group has chosen to forego further appeal, in the earnest hope of working collaboratively with the land trust and the community at large to preserve the common values of all who live and work in Bolinas and its surrounding areas. Respecting, addressing and implementing those concerns would benefit all the community’s inhabitants, ensuring the enduring quality of life for current and future generations. 


Genie McNaughton, a Bolinas homeowner currently residing in San Francisco, is a former director of the Bolinas Community Public Utility District and a retired regional manager for the United States Environmental Protection Agency.