Has Marin reached a plateau? After the activism of the 1960s and ’70s, when the county was divided into open space, agricultural and city-centered corridors, and after development in the ’80s and ’90s according to those dictates, we seem to have slipped into cruise control.
Are we too comfortable, satisfied with all the beauty surrounding us? Have we lost our sense of community amid the rush of daily life? Are we in need of a new direction? In search of answers, I talked with three longtime residents who’ve experienced Marin’s transitions firsthand.
Reverend Doug Huneke of Westminister Presbyterian Church in Tiburon has lived in Marin for 26 years. He’s served with the Marin Interfaith Council, Homeward Bound and the Marine Mammal Center. Huneke is concerned about the growing conflict between environmental groups and affordable housing and transportation advocates. “It’s a ‘not-in-my-backyard’ mentality that’s angry and
in-your-face, where lawyers are involved,” says Huneke.
Huneke believes a stronger Marin County sense of community would help resolve these conflicts. “More and more we’re identified by the small town where we live while concern for Marin County as a whole seems lost,” he says. It wasn’t always this way. “In the mid-1980s, I was on the first Marin Community Foundation board and a group of us went from town to town just listening to what people’s issues were and what the county meant to them. We went everywhere and always to packed auditoriums. We got an earful, but Marin really felt like a ‘community.’”
“This isn’t a criticism of the Marin Community Foundation,” Huneke says, “but that needs to happen again.” He envisions a series of “listening posts” at which foundation directors, nonprofit leaders and county officials “would hear folks talk about their passions for their community…and for all of Marin County.”
Catherine Munson of Lucas Valley, who’s lived in Marin for 55 years and sits on the boards of the Buck Institute for Age Research, the Marin Symphony and the Marin History Museum, believes the county’s revival rests in the renewal of its most public symbol—the Marin County Civic Center. “Marin, as a county, lacks a cohesive concept of who we are,” Munson says. “We must become more regionally alive.”
She would like to see fulfillment of the Renaissance Project, a plan to complete architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s vision for the Civic Center by adding new facilities and enhancing existing ones.
“The only way it will happen,” Munson says, “is with one $200 million bond issue.” The 88-acre Civic Center, she says, is already an accessible public space with trees, parks, a lagoon and auditoriums that the Renaissance Project would make into even more of a community attraction. “I believe public recreation enhances the quality of life of a community,” says Munson. “We all need gathering places; what are we waiting for?”
Ross resident Phil Paisely, a Marinite since 1968, has already started the project he believes the county needs. “We’ve got to restore the tradition that made us unique in the first place,” he says. And to him that means open space. Paisley recently founded Marin Open Space Trust (MOST), a nonprofit dedicated to acquiring and maintaining local open space. The goal: “identify specific projects, both in the county and within cities, and then through public-private partnerships raise $10 million to $15 million a year to ensure that they happen.”
Paisley, chairman of Marin’s Parks and Open Space Commission and an admirer of the successful Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST), knows how to raise money and get things done. “MOST will appeal to wealthy individuals and foundations, and our directors are ‘doers’ not ‘talkers,’” he says. “We’re ready to go.”
Whether it is Doug Huneke’s “listening posts,” the renaissance of the Civic Center as advocated by Catherine Munson, or Phil Paisley’s Marin Open Space Trust—or all of them together—something must happen to once again unite Marin County. It’s time to get off our current plateau. That’s my point of view.