Let’s briefly, and in no particular order, review the main civic issues for Marin in 2009—then preview what lies ahead in 2010.
SMART: Over a year ago, voters approved a 20-year quarter-cent sales tax increase to build a 70-mile commuter rail line from Larkspur to northern Sonoma County. In ’09, however, tax revenues and bond sales were both down. “The economy has taken its toll,” says spokesperson Chris Coursey. Nevertheless, heavy-rail, clean-running diesel-propelled cars have been selected; design and engineering work progresses; and the tunnel between Larkspur and San Rafael has been re-bored (to open mid-’10 as a bike and hike path). Ideally, SMART construction will start in 2011 and finish in 2014.
Marin General Hospital: On July 1, 2010, MGH becomes a stand-alone, privately run hospital—no longer an affiliate of Sutter Health. Considering that since 2007 Sutter has extracted $100 million from MGH, it’s evident a well-run local hospital can succeed. Moreover, current administrator Lee Domanico has the experience to make it happen. Yet challenges remain: the transition process means borrowing millions and, within five years, seismic retrofitting will require new structures costing up to $400 million. Much of that will come from a bond issue requiring two-thirds voter approval. Getting it could be tough.
San Quentin’s Death Row: Construction of a $400 million building for 700 convicted murderers is now mired in legal uncertainty. Marin legislators Mark Leno and Jared Huffman introduced a budget proviso stating bonds couldn’t be sold until it is clearly determined that the state could “double-bunk” convicts, a scenario Huffman and Leno maintain is inevitable—and federal courts say is unconstitutional. “I think we’ve prevented Governor Schwarzenegger from jamming this project through,” says Huffman.
Closure of State Parks: “Thanks to a $390,000 grant from the National Park Service, and by closing some restrooms weekdays and eliminating several interpretive programs, Marin’s state parks will remain (mostly) open in 2010,” says Danita Rodriguez, Marin District superintendent of California State Parks. The lineup: Mount Tam SP, Samuel P. Taylor SP, Tomales Bay SP and Angel Island SP, open daily; Olompali SP and China Camp SP campsite will suffer severe reductions and only be open weekends.
Marin Clean Energy: The effort to offer a more renewable, Marin-controlled energy alternative to PG&E is reaching liftoff. The county plus eight Marin cities (not Larkspur, Corte Madera nor Novato) are about to sign contracts with Shell Energy North America, their selected supplier. Once contracts are signed, individual users can choose among these options: (1) “Deep Green,” meaning all renewable sources, purportedly at rates 10 percent higher than PG&E’s; (2) “Light Green,” 25 percent renewable, at rates purportedly slightly below PG&E’s; or (3) “Opt Out,” which means remaining with PG&E. The county Grand Jury has recommended MCE “pull the plug,” saying it’s too risky.
Desalination Plant: To augment the county’s tenuous water supply, Marin Municipal Water District’s board has approved a $105 million plant, capable of daily converting 5 million gallons of bay water into freshwater, at the foot of the Richmond Bridge. The project’s EIR has been certified and hearings on construction, design and operations remain. MMWD District Manager Paul Helliker says, “Engineering and permitting will take most of 2010, with construction possibly starting mid 2011.”
Homelessness: Marin’s homeless are estimated at 1,700; some sleep in camps, others in cars, many “on the street.” Homeward Bound, the county’s leading provider of shelter, has 400 beds a night for those sober and seeking work. For the substance-abusing or mentally challenged, there are less than 100 “emergency” beds. This winter, however, backed by $165,000 from the county and the Marin Community Foundation, another 50 prescreened individuals will be bused nightly from St. Vincent de Paul’s San Rafael dining room to one of 12 participating Marin churches and synagogues.
Complete and compact as this review may seem, left out were such vital matters such as Ross Valley flood control (stalled by a lawsuit); saving the 142 Throckmorton Theatre (fundraising for this gem is under way); dairy farming in West Marin (is it becoming an endangered species?); College of Marin (is the $260 million finally being spent?); and finding money for the soon-to-be-financially-beleaguered Marin schools (see Issues, page 24). Marin County issues will receive increased coverage in Marin Magazine in 2010. As always, reader input is welcome. That’s my point of view. What’s yours?