Only in Marin

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No One Is Immune

Columnist: Bill Meagher
October, 2013 Issue

Bill Meagher
All articles by columnist

I was in Montana not long ago to bury my brother, a trek filled with too many tears and too much time with deep thoughts wandering about looking for a home. We raised a few glasses in his memory, telling tales of a man who touched many lives. His friends were gracious and wanted to know more about me. When I said I lived in Marin, a few rolled their eyes and asked if my arms had splinters from hugging trees.
While I defended my turf and pointed out that residents of Big Sky Country also seemed to hold Mom Nature in pretty high regard, it got me to thinking Marin has changed a bit. It was a thought I couldn’t shake, even as I rode a turbo-prop (that seemed to specialize in turbulence) from Missoula to Seattle.
Marin residents have always put the environment first, a decision that’s paid handsome dividends that are evident by looking to the hilltops absent sprawling housing developments, neighborhoods filled with trees and West Marin, which is still blessedly rural.
It’s also come at a cost. Housing is at a premium and thus largely expensive. Because there isn’t enough housing and because Marin’s economy has successfully added jobs, the commute is a time-consuming slog—which, in turn, damages the environment.
And while some business types have bristled at the reality that a green approach rules the day, smart companies have embraced the community for those values and, in some cases, tried to profit from it.
Still, the perception has always been that Marin isn’t very business friendly, and watching the county cave to a few noisy neighbors in bungling Lucasfilm’s Grady Ranch project only made that perception worse.
But, in recent months, even green projects and companies are finding the going tough. Just ask Jim Balestreri and his daughter, Lisa.
The 75-year-old has been trying since 2007 to build a solar farm on the Novato property of his business, Green Point Nursery. To be fair, getting it done was never a sure thing and, as the project moved through the glacial planning process, it changed, ultimately shrinking and becoming less obtrusive.
Finally, one acre of solar panels was approved by the planning commission. The $1.7 million project would generate 664 kilowatts of electricity, potentially the second largest solar power producer in Marin, behind the San Rafael Airport-based Marin Clean Energy 972-kilowatt project.
But neighbors and the Marin Audubon Society appealed the decision to the board of supervisors. Neighbors said the acre of panels would change the character of their neighborhood, and the society argued the project (adjacent to property the society owns) posed a danger to birds and impacted wetlands.
The project went to the supervisors, who upheld the appeal, scuttling it on a vote of 3-1, with Supervisor Steve Kinsey casting the sole vote in favor of the project.
None of the opponents said solar energy was a bad idea or that generating more green energy was something Marin didn’t need. No. It was more about the fact that this project was in the wrong place. “We support solar. It just needs to be in the right place. There are lots of good places,” Barbara Salzman, executive director of the Marin Audubon Society told the Pacific Sun in a fine article by my old compadre, Peter Seidman.
It sounds a bit like the old song, “Not in My Backyard.”

Meanwhile, in West Marin and San Francisco

In West Marin, Marin Sun Farms and David Evans have built a successful business around the concept of sustainable agriculture raising organic, grass-fed cattle, along with pigs, chickens, lambs and goats. The company operates two farms in Marin, has butcher shops in Oakland and at the San Francisco Ferry Building, and recently opened a new headquarters in San Francisco. The idea is to build the business into a $50 million sustainable organic operation in six years’ time.
Evans is a fourth-generation farmer and has a substantial protocol that calls for all animals to be pasture raised, free range and raised in the most humane setting possible. But the new facility was vandalized, with all the tires of the company’s four-truck fleet slashed and the locks on the building glued. This was posted online anonymously after the attack: “Around midnight on August 12, we held local animal abuser Dave Evans and Marin Sun Farms accountable for the lives they’ve destroyed. We took action on behalf of the thousands of pigs, cows, lambs, chickens and goats killed for profit by Marin Sun Farms. Hiding behind the language of sustainability can never hide the violence and terror of the blade and captive bolt gun. Animals are not biological machines designed to serve those with class and species privilege.” It was signed by the San Francisco Animal Liberationists.
I understand the viewpoint that killing animals is wrong. And I cop to the idea that I’m unwilling to hunt and kill my dinner—I prefer to pay someone else to do that for me. Moreover, I’m willing to pay more so that the animals are treated better. It’s an imperfect bargain, but it’s mine.
The vandalism misses the point that Marin Sun and Evans aren’t factory farming and, in the struggle to reform ranching and farming into a more humane industry, the company is doing things right. The anonymous nature of the vandalism is a little chickenshit as well.
Here’s my point: Marin has turned into a place of extreme views, loud voices and very little tolerance. The love of process has become the abuse of process in the name of hanging onto the status quo. In the end, change is a medicine that many won’t take. And nowhere are the symptoms more evident than in Marin.




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