Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Hard Choices for Local Government

If your community or region is going to prepare itself for CC impacts, it's going to need local politicians who are willing to educate themselves and advocate energetically in the face of more immediate issues. We're lucky to have a couple of staunch, environmentally informed local supervisors on our board of 5 members. Unfortunately 2 does not give them a majority vote.

The Marin Countywide Plan is being updated and one of the most contentious issues is the zoning of several hundred acres adjacent to an old but still operating rehabilitation center for boys, called the St. Vincent Home. Most of its property consists of a flat meadow between highway 101 and the San Francisco Bay - land that is vulnerable to sea level rise and that the county's Planning Commission had zoned as part of the the Bayfront Corridor where no development is to take place. That parcel of land is also one of the last remaining available areas where low-cost and senior housing could be built in the county.

If climate change looms as a serious threat in Marin's future, even more immediate is the dramatic demographic shift that will happen as we Boomers reach our senior years. Unless more senior housing is provided, many of us will be forced to relocate to other areas within the next 20 years. The over-65 demographic is by far the fastest growing one in Marin, and there has been a strong movement to reclaim the St. Vincent property from the Bayfront Corridor zoning.

Yesterday I attended the Board of Supervisors hearing where this zoning question was debated. Over 140 citizens made verbal comment, with environmentalists standing up for preserving the zoning and most of the seniors and low-cost housing advocates speaking for building out on the property. It was a wonderful demonstration of democracy in action. Too bad "our" side lost.

Yes, we do need to provide for the aging population, and yes, a levee could be built to protect the new development from a 1-meter rise in the level of the Bay. But these facilities will not help reduce Marin's huge ecological footprint by taking vehicles off the roads. The units will be isolated from any shopping areas or medical services and I'm sure more imaginative and convenient solutions could be found for locating the same facilities.

Most significant to me, though, were the fact that the County now acknowledges the threat of a 1-meter sea level rise and the quote by my local supervisor, Charles McGlashan, who told a reporter, "We are fighting, in my view, a race against potential extinction." Yes, those could very well be the stakes.

And as to the 1-meter sea level rise, I'm following up with McGlashan's aides to find out if that threat is being applied to the rest of the County's coastline. If it's recognized as a threat to a large, currently uninhabited wetland and meadow, it should certainly be considered as one in the many inhabited and developed coastal locations.

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