The beautifully designed San Geronimo Golf Course has been at the center of the valley for 50 years. The San Geronimo Valley Community Plan states that the course “represents an important visual and recreational resource in the valley. Future uses should be limited to those which support the primary use as a golf course.”
This plan, agreed upon by valley planners and ratified by the Board of Supervisors in 1997, is part of the Marin Countywide Plan, the constitution governing our county.
Yet on March 30, 2017, the Board of Supervisors, Marin County Parks and the Trust for Public Land went behind closed doors to change the land’s use. In emails among county officials, Max Korten, the parks director, said, “It would be great if we could reach out to the owner before they have selected a broker… It may make some sense to have the contact come from the Trust for Public Land.”
That April, the trust ordered an appraisal and obtained an estimate from the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy for $7 to $10 million to “re-wild” the land. The trust made an offer to Robert Lee, then the course’s owner.
Six months later, in October, the county issued a notice of intent and characterized the plan as a done deal. Citizen input appeared to be a mere formality. Many appeared before supervisors to express dismay that up to 45 people would lose their jobs and that this source of joy and recreation for up to 125 people a day would be missed by thousands, including senior and teen golf groups.
With this plan, the community would lose the ability to rent the clubhouse for social events, weddings and memorial services. Nonprofits would lose the chance to raise money for good causes with golf tournaments. The county would lose property tax revenue; the owner of the golf course paid $1.6 million in property taxes over the past seven years.
We were told that the course was losing money. This was false, and Mr. Lee threatened to seek his attorney’s services if Supervisor Dennis Rodoni continued to claim that this was the reason he was selling. Mr. Lee was concerned about misleading the public: he had made a profit every year for seven years.
We were told the course was detrimental to coho salmon. Yet scientists with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife have found it is water-system dams and ocean predators that are limiting the recovery of the species. Spending more than $20 million to restore the watershed has not had the intended impact on the spawning salmon population: only 1 percent of the coho that left the watershed returned this year, despite sufficient rainfall.
We were told the course was not good for the environment. In fact, the operator maintained the fairways and greens in conformance with the Marin County Integrated Pest Management Commission’s protocols, and the pesticide applications did not violate Marin’s non-toxicity protocols.
Placing Measure D on the ballot was our means to communicate to the Board of Supervisors the extent to which Marin residents want to preserve this precious asset. With 300 circulators, all devoted volunteers, we easily obtained 12,425 signatures and qualified the initiative for the ballot.
The county devised its plan in a deceptive way that did not allow for public input. Putting aside feelings about the fate of the land, we all must stand up for a righteous public process. To not do so breaks our human bonds and erodes the sense of community in the San Geronimo Valley and beyond.
Measure D encourages transparency and prevents government overreach. Without this measure, it would take just three supervisors to allow the Trust for Public Land to develop the property.
The ballot measure states that if the county wishes to ignore the community plan and change the land’s use, then the changes need to first be approved by voters. Since the plan to purchase the course was devised to use funds paid into by all Marin taxpayers, it makes sense for all taxpayers to have a vote.
Measure D is a result of citizens feeling betrayed by their elected officials. Please do not support the way this has been done. Vote yes on D for democracy.
Niz Brown, a Woodacre resident, is a real estate agent and the co-chair of the Save San Geronimo campaign.