Looking to the Future, Marin-style

My old high school had a sign that read “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” To me, this means that when times are difficult, strong people work harder to make things better.

These are tough times, indeed, and dedicated people all over Marin are “getting going,” taking on difficult matters some of us face now or will face in the not-too-distant future. Here I’ll describe three such efforts in Terra Linda, Larkspur Landing and Sausalito’s Cavallo Point.

In 1996, Shirley Fischer and several hundred Terra Linda neighbors set out to give their community a greater sense of place. “We needed more of a ‘there here,’” says Fischer, paraphrasing writer Gertrude Stein.

“The city of San Rafael, with its ‘Alive After Five’ campaign, had created a terrific vision for downtown along Fourth Street,” Fischer says. “We wanted to make the area around Northgate Mall, as it was called then, more of a vital town center.” The result was the Vision in Action Committee, or VIA, and the Vision Promenade Plan.

“Our promenade will be a landscaped bike and walking path starting at Scotty’s Market, looping around Northgate, and continuing clear to the Marin Civic Center,” says Fischer. Note the “will be” in her statement. That’s because only half a mile of the promenade has been completed. Nevertheless, on Saturday, May 1, starting at 11 a.m., Terra Linda is staging a “Celebrate the Promenade” parade down that first stretch to Oaks Plaza, the community gathering place Northgate worked into its recent $75 million renovation. En route, participants will get a taste of the decorative lighting and signage, and the landscaping that someday soon will line the Promenade from, in Fischer’s words, “Scotty’s to the Civic Center.”

Have you noticed the vacancies at Larkspur Landing? Many say the 35-year-old retail and restaurant center has lost its luster. Not for long, though, once “the tough get going” efforts of Santa Monica–based Jim Rosenfield begin unfolding. Rosenfield purchased the center for $65 million in January 2009 and says he intends to create “a place that brings together the great food grown in Marin, with local boutiques and services like a barber shop, bookstore, toy store and post office.”

Rosenfield renamed the center Marin Country Mart, and hopes to recreate the success in Larkspur that he’s had with the popular Brentwood Country Mart in Southern California. Here are just a few of the reviewers comments on the Brentwood center from Yelp.com: “I can’t help loving the place,” “wonderful bakeries and food stands,” “a place where families can hang out,” and “definitely a destination lunch locale.”

Rosenfield is a Cal grad, got married in Bolinas, has family in Mill Valley and a home in Ross. “I love Marin,” he says. “There’s not a better place on earth.” Rosenfield will not be building anything new in Larkspur. Instead, he’ll restore and revitalize existing structures and create an environment “where West Marin and the rest of Marin can come together to experience the best of Marin.” The permit process is already under way—expect to see major changes in about six months.

“I’m excited about the whole thing.” That’s what Institute at the Golden Gate Director Cleve Justis has to say about the “Turning the Tide, 2010,” an environmental summit April 14–16 at Cavallo Point in Sausalito. “We expect 450 environmentalists, entrepreneurs and activists from throughout the world,” says Justis. “The theme is to connect, collaborate, inspire and act.”

Presenters include Dr. Andrew Weil, Dr. Dean Ornish, Chez Panisse’s Alice Waters and Stanford history professor David Kennedy, as well as activist/actor Peter Coyote, Dr. Daphne Miller, author of The Jungle Effect, and Mark Buell, chair of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy. “We’ll be showcasing the world to Marin,” says Justis, “and the best of Marin to the world.”

Justis is especially excited about seeing Mai Iskander and her documentary Garbage Dreams, which is about a dump in Egypt where impoverished people remove items, refurbish them and sell them locally. “The project won a Goldman Environmental Prize,” says Justis. The film will screen at 7:30 p.m. on April 14; admission is $15. For more information on the conference, e-mail info@instituteatgoldengate.org

There you have it: three examples of people and organizations who are getting going during these tough times to make things better. That’s my point of view. What’s yours?

E-mail jwood@marinmagazine.com.