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Agriculture Annoys, Disappearing Toys and Train Noise

Author: Bill Meagher
November, 2019 Issue

Recent events in West Marin demonstrate the challenging arc that agriculture has in the last bastion of the old county.

The food fight between purists who believe that agriculture has no place in the Point Reyes National Seashore and those who back ranchers and dairy farmers who have made a living in the park since be- fore its founding is at max volume as the National Parks Service considered its General Management Plan Amendment.

The NPS asked the public for its input on the future use of the land in its Draft Environmental Impact Statement, a document central to the GMPA.

While such stalwarts as Straus Family Creamery, Cowgirl Creamery and Marin Sun Farms have shone a light on West Marin as a place where artisan food and the environment live in harmony, in a larger sense agriculture continues to struggle, as the opposition to the ranching in the Seashore points up.

One of the drawbacks to magazine journalism is what is known in the trade as lede time. As this is being written in mid-September, the fate of agriculture in the Seashore is not yet known, though it may be decided before this issue lands on your coffee table.

But the subject is too important to be shuffled away because of the tyranny of deadlines.

Agriculture is under attack in our country as farmers and ranchers battle climate change, shrinking markets, falling prices, and increasing import competition as well as uncertain immigration policies. Family farms also face the difficulty of a dynamic where younger members of the family no longer embrace agriculture as a desired lifestyle.

Marin ag also has to deal with the real pressure of a location close to San Francisco and rising property values, where farmers and ranchers may be tempted to sell off the land to buyers who simply want a quieter life and will take the land out of production.

West Marin, and its agricultural roots represent the last piece of what Marin once was. At one time, the county produced 25 percent of the milk in California. Those days are long gone, but chasing agriculture from the park is not the answer.  

Hobby store calls it quits
For the last 25 years, a store adjacent to Highway 101 at the Ignacio turnoff was the go-to spot for hobbyists, but now they will need to find another store as Dollhouses, Trains and More has closed its doors.

The specialty retailer, owned by Linda Becker, was known for its elaborate displays and stocking hard-to- find items. But Becker has sold the building and after a sale that sliced prices by 40 percent, she made her exit.

Train enthusiasts would come from all over the Bay Area and further for equipment. Though Becker has spent some time considering retirement and putting the building up for sale, in the end she faced the same challenge currently pushing retailers out on a national scale such as increased online sales and pressure on margins.

And like other Marin businesses, there was the difficulty in maintaining a sales staff in light of the Marin employment market. According to California’s Employment Development Department, Marin’s unemployment rate in August (the most recent data available) is 2.4%, the third lowest in the state.

Your Marin moment
Having a lawyer in Marin is a time-honored tradition going back long before the first settlers in these parts set up a BMW dealership on the shores of San Pablo Bay.

And a group of San Rafael residents are making use of legal representation as they sue the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit in federal court over the noise generated in the testing of the transit provider’s Larkspur extension. SMART has been testing the rail section, running trains between 7pm and 7am. The test trains sound their horns as required by federal transportation law. The section of rail from downtown San Rafael to Larkspur can’t be opened until the testing, mandated by Federal Railroad Administration, is completed. The $55 million extension is slated to open later this year. 

The residents of the Bret Harte neighborhood say the blaring horns make it difficult to sleep, waking them at all hours and making it tough to get the necessary rack time to wake refreshed and ready for the challenging day ahead. The litigants asked the court for an injunction precluding the use of the horns, which sound at 96 decibels. The train horn level is comparable to the noise emitted by a power mower. 
In short, the residents feel like they are being railroaded.

Bill Meagher is a contributing editor at NorthBay biz magazine and a senior editor at The Deal, a digital financial news outlet. He wishes you the happiest of Turkey Days, a holiday founded on the principle of what a fine idea it is to eat way too much, while arguing politics with people who will never change their minds. Pass the stuffing.




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