Good-bye 2008—Hello 2009

Last year, nearly 70 percent of Marin and Sonoma voters chose to tax themselves to build SMART, a 70-mile commuter rail line connecting Larkspur and Cloverdale that has an accompanying bike and hiking trail. “We’re already restoring the Cal Park tunnel between Larkspur and San Rafael,” says Dave Bernardi of Marin’s Public Works Department. “It’ll be finished by December of ’09.” This will open a welcome (and expensive—$11.3 million) two-mile biking and walking trail between Larkspur and San Rafael; trains come later.

Engineering for SMART will take 18 months to complete. Meanwhile, a decision must be made: Will it be heavy (as in freight trains) or light rail (as in Europe)? Regardless, each car will have its own diesel engine and will carry, on average, 100 passengers. Other decisions: Will trains accommodate bicycles? Have bathrooms? Will food be available? What about an afternoon glass of wine? Public input is invited; monthly meetings will be held. Go to sonomamarintrain.org for information. Says SMART’s Chris Coursey, “Construction cost total $540 million and will provide hundreds of job opportunities.” His parting words: “Trains will be running by 2014.”

Another major Marin accomplishment, one already completed, is the $64 million Health and Wellness Campus in San Rafael. “It’s providing first-class service in a first-class environment,” says Larry Meredith, director of Health and Human Services for the county. Services provided include pre- and post-natal care, child dentistry (adult dentistry is coming) and immunization and reproductive services.

“It’s compassionate, efficient and quality health care for children, adults and seniors living in Marin who are uninsured or underinsured and in need,” says Meredith. Services are provided to those who qualify at “a cost they can afford,” he says. Amazingly, if the campus has a drawback, it’s underutilization. “We only opened in November,” says Meredith. “We’re walking before we have to run.”

The Health and Wellness Campus is inspirational and truly green, “environmentally, it was built to the gold standard,” Meredith says. Half a dozen buildings formerly occupied by George Lucas’s Industrial Light & Magic have been transformed, via art, architecture and landscaping, into an environment that would do a blue-chip high-tech start-up proud. Clean lines; light and airy spaces; colorful and concise signage; functional and stylish furniture—the campus merits a visit by anyone wanting to know what the county does for its less fortunate. The Health and Wellness Campus is located at Kerner and Bellam boulevards, close to Circuit City. More info online co.marin.ca.us/campus

Other 2008 Marin accomplishments likely to continue into 2009: More than 150 units of affordable housing have been or will be added to the county’s inventory, including 79 apartments at the attractive San Clemente Drive complex in Corte Madera; 50 at the Fireside, which opens next April in Tam Valley; and 24 in Drake’s Way, now under construction near Larkspur Landing. The November election also seated Sharon Jackson and Dr. Hank Simmonds on the Healthcare District board, meaning Marin General Hospital now has a fighting chance of survival. Likewise, if Bolinas wants to get off life support (not a sure assumption), it’s best that talk about dredging the Bolinas Lagoon becomes action, at least so fishing and crab boats can gain access.

The three-year-old expansion of Highway 101  will at last bring relief to county commuters, says Dianne Steinhauser, executive director of the Transportation Authority of Marin: “Commuter lanes will open in January—which will substantially reduce congestion,” she says. And if you regularly drive to West Marin (which I do), you’ll want the five-mile axle-cracking stretch of Sir Francis Drake Boulevard as it winds through Samuel P. Taylor State Park to be slightly straightened and repaved. Yes, it may cost a few redwoods, but that roadbed was laid in the 1920s, cars are wider now, and bicyclists are entitled to a safe shoulder. Back in central Marin, on Francisco Boulevard East, the old John Irish Chrysler/Jeep dealership will become the new location for Tom Prices’s Infiniti dealership, and down by the Golden Gate at Cavallo Point, the 142-room lodge, restaurant and spa that opened in 2008 at Fort Baker, business appears extremely positive.

In summary, Marin’s 2009 outlook is surprisingly strong—thanks in part to the accomplishments of 2008. That’s my point of view. What’s yours?

E-mail jwood@marinmagazine.com.