Robert Dobrin’s Marin IJ Voice’s Article

San Rafael Planning Needs a Fix
by Robert Dobrin

THE PROCESS for land-use planning in San Rafael is dysfunctional. The symptoms are contentious Planning Commission meetings and a growing distrust of government.

Neighborhoods from Peacock Gap to Terra Linda and Santa Venetia feel they have little advocacy in city government and have to simultaneously battle well-heeled developers and an entrenched bureaucracy to preserve the environment.

San Rafael’s planning process has tilted so far in favor of developers, residents have to make Herculean efforts to be heard. Planning Commission meetings routinely go on for hours. One group of residents resorted to a march on a City Council meeting to present evidence of coziness with developers and protest developer bully tactics.

Apparently, environmentalists got somebody’s attention at City Hall because San Rafael finally came to the obvious conclusion that an environmental impact report is needed to evaluate the impact of placing an 86,000-square-foot sports palace adjacent to an airport runway in the middle of the endangered clapper rail’s habitat. This EIR is a welcome step, but it won’t do much good unless the city undertakes the study with the correct motivations.

Community Development Director Bob Brown stated in this newspaper that the ultimate goal of doing this EIR is to avoid lawsuits and that the report probably would not contain much new information. Doing an EIR to avoid litigation and with foregone conclusions is not at all the point. Protecting the environment and making sound land-use decisions should be the immediate and ultimate goal. That’s certainly what our Legislature had in mind when they passed the California Environmental Quality Act. Thus far, the only lawsuit is the one that airport developer Joe Shekou has filed against two outspoken critics of his project. I happen to be one of the defendants in that suit.

This misdirected approach to planning is not limited to the proposed airport facility. Citizens concerned about the high density housing proposed for the Loch Lomond waterfront have been battling on behalf of their neighborhood for years. The Loch Lomond EIR audaciously suggests that adding more than 80 units of new housing and eliminating a neighborhood market forcing people to shop further from home won’t mean more traffic. Residents of Gerstle Park complain of poor code enforcement by city officials. The future of the San Rafael Rock Quarry is a concern for all of Marin. It’s no stretch to say that San Rafael’s land-use decisions are the most contentious in all Marin.

San Rafael residents say they are underrepresented in land-use decisions because of bias in the planning department. The fact that so many residents believe the Community Development Department is less than objective should be a wakeup call. Elected city officials need to be far more involved with how developers interact with neighbors so there is real environmental sensitivity and dialog. In the case of the airport soccer complex, the apparent point of meeting with the community was so the developer could say it did.

Mayor Al Boro and the San Rafael City Council need to diligently oversee their planning process and salvage what works and fix what’s broken.

The city has just appointed a permanent city manager. The new city manager’s first job must be to rehabilitate the city’s relationship with it’s citizens. That will require real advocacy of neighborhood concerns. An equally important step would be for the City Council to take public comment on the current planning process. San Rafael needs to solicit and act on the advice of its citizens. It’s a corruption of democracy to make citizens yell to be heard.

Robert Dobrin is chairman of the Friends of Gallinas Creek and Wetlands. He lives in Santa Venetia. ( From Tues July 18 Marin IJ)

Save The Bay Letter to San Rafael Planning

350 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, Suite 900
Oakland, CA 94612-2016
t. 510.452.9261
f. 510.452.9266
February 28, 2006

Mr. Raffi Boloyan Project Planner The City of San
Rafael Planning Commission
1400 Fifth Ave San Rafael, CA 94901
Comments on the Initial Study/Mitigated Negative Declaration for the
San Rafael Airport Recreational Facility, San Rafael, CA

Dear Mr.Boloyan,

Save The Bay is a membership organization representing 10,000 families throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Our mission is to protect and restore the San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary, and we have worked for over 40 years to prevent massive Bay fill, inappropriate shoreline development and promote the restoration of lost and damaged Bay wetlands. San Francisco Bay has lost a staggering 95 percent of its original wetland habitat, threatening a once-lush ecosystem. This severe loss of historic wetlands has caused fish and wildlife populations to plummet and undermined water quality.

Save The Bay is committed to keeping the Bay healthy and vibrant for future generations. For this reason, we are strong and persistent advocates of wetland restoration and enhancement throughout the Bay, helping endangered species that depend on wetlands for survival. Environmental History of Proposed Development Site The site of the proposed private indoor and outdoor recreational facility is former tidal wetlands at the mouth of Gallinas Creek, home to the largest local population of endangered California clapper rails in San Francisco Bay. In the early 1900’s, there were more than 2,000 acres of tidal marsh along Gallinas Creek and other sites on the Marin shoreline. By the 1960s, less than 100 acres of tidal marsh remained. The tidal wetlands that now exist along Gallinas Creek have been reduced to remnant fringe marsh along levees, and larger sections of seasonal and tidal wetlands south of McInnis Park, at Santa Venetia Marsh and at the mouth of Gallinas Creek adjacent to China Camp State Park. The Marin County Open Space District (MCOSD) is restoring high marsh transition zone habitat at Santa Venetia Marsh adjacent to Gallinas Creek, just south of the proposed project area. Save The Bay is partnering with MCOSD to involve student and community volunteers in planting 10,000 native plants in winter 2006-07 at this site.

Save The Bay’s Watershed Education Programs on Gallinas Creek:Canoes In Sloughs and Community-based Restoration Since 1996, Save The Bay’s Watershed Education Program has educated students, teachers, and Bay Area residents about the ecology of the San Francisco Bay and Delta. The mission of the Watershed Education Program is to empower local residents to preserve, protect and restore the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta. By educating students, teachers and community members about the ecology of the Bay and the major issues affecting the health of aquatic habitats and wetlands, our programs have increased awareness of the connections between human actions and the health of the Bay. Canoes In Sloughs, on-the-water field trips for 6th-12th graders have been offered along Gallinas Creek since 1997.

Gallinas Creek is a perfect site for Save The Bay to host teacher workshops and adult and family weekend outings. We have also collaborated with other local educational and non-profit groups to increase awareness about Gallinas Creek and wetlands, including the Marin Community Foundation and the Environmental Education Council of Marin. Our Community-based Restoration Program started a partnership in Fall 2005 with the Marin County Open Space District, to build awareness and public participation in their restoration project to plant 10,000 native plants to restore high marsh transition zone habitat along the levee trails at Santa Venetia Marsh on Gallinas Creek. The goal of the project is to enhance habitat and create a natural barrier along the trail to keep people and dogs from entering sensitive marsh habitat and impacting endangered species including the California clapper rail and the salt marsh harvest mouse. We focus on native plant species propagation to restore creek and the site and propagated by Circuit Riders Nursery. Volunteers will plant these seedlings to re-vegetate and restore the upland marsh. This project site provides open space, education, and recreational opportunities for Marin and Bay Area residents, in addition to protecting habitat for wildlife. Restoration at this site helps to stabilize creek, wetland, and Bay shoreline, improving habitat for fisheries, invertebrates, birds, and other wildlife in San Francisco Bay. To date, we have involved over 4,000 Marin residents in these education programs, including more than 3,000 students and teachers, and 1,000 adults and families along Gallinas Creek. Initial Study/ Mitigated Negative Declaration Comments Overview The proposed project is on a 16.6-acre site on Smith Ranch Road that is surrounded on three sides by Gallinas Creek and seasonal and tidal wetlands, managed by the Marin County Open Space District and other agencies. Gallinas Creek one of the largest remaining tidal marshes on the Marin County shoreline and is an inlet of the larger San Francisco Bay. The San Francisco Bay Trail runs throughout the park and along the wetland shores, and the Las Gallinas Seasonal Wetlands are adjacent to an already existing recreational area and facilitate sat McInnis Park.

Save The Bay does not agree with the Initial Study’s finding that the proposed development would not pose significant environmental impacts. We respectfully request that the City of San Rafael conduct a full environmental review analysis to study the inevitable impacts that this large development project will have on the Bay and its shoreline. Potential Impacts of the 85,700 Square Foot Development, 2 Outdoor Fields, and 2 Parking Lots Following are potential
significant environmental impacts that should be studied in a full environmental impact analysis. Significant adverse effect on recreational experience by park and trail users McInnis Park, China Camp State Park, the San Francisco Bay Trail, Gallinas Creek and Santa Venetia Marsh all are part of the park and open space adjacent to the proposed development site. This site also includes significant wetland habitat that is part of the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network. Local residents, Bay Area residents and visitors from around the world come to this refuge along the San Francisco Bay shoreline to walk, bike, picnic, and bird watch. A segment of the San Francisco Bay Trail that runs through the park gives access to the Bay shoreline and wetland margins and is a popular destination for birdwatchers. The area is home to the largest remaining population of endangered California clapper rails in San Francisco Bay and is a congregation point for the large numbers of migrating birds following the Pacific Flyway.

The effect of a massive 12-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week recreation and sports complex adjacent to this park and wetland habitat will be significant since it will be sited within 150-400′ of the sensitive Gallinas Creek, seasonal wetlands, and tidal wetlands. The peaceful refuge ambiance, removed from traffic, noise and activities of the Smith Ranch Road businesses, will be altered dramatically by increased volumes of traffic and other activities associated with the 12-hour operations of an indoor and outdoor recreational complex. Unanticipated impacts to the regional park from increased use of the site 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, might include dumping and trash problems, illegal and nuisance activities, requiring increased enforcement within the area. Significant visual and noise impacts for park users The site of the proposed recreational complex includes historic wetlands that were filled for development, and it
is now managed as annual grassland. Critical and sensitive fringe marsh habitat and large complexes of wetlands exist within 150 feet of the site. A multi-storied sports complex, with adjacent parking lots, will have a significant visual effect on park, creek, and trail users. Such a large structure located between the north and south forks of Gallinas Creek will loom over the wetland, significantly altering both natural habitat and the ambiance and sense of refuge that now provides a superior recreational experience for park and trail users. Noise impacts will also be significant, and it is difficult to see how noise impacts can be mitigated for such a large 12-hour-a-day, 365-days-per-year operation.

Significant impacts to San Francisco Bay Trail users A segment of the San Francisco Bay Trail runs along the adjacent banks on the opposite side of Gallinas Creek from the proposed development site, skirting the inland edge of Santa Venetia Marsh and seasonal wetlands and both banks of Gallinas Creek. The close proximity of the trail and wetlands to the proposed development will result in significant impacts to the experience of trail users, including visual impacts, noise impacts and activities related to 12-hour-a- day operation of the complex. Significant lighting and noise impacts for wildlife Gallinas Creek and the adjacent seasonal and tidal wetland are habitat for a rich complex of wetland-dependent wildlife, including the federally endangered California clapper rail and salt marsh harvest mouse, and a host of waterfowl and shorebird species. Recent reports and bird counts show this to be the largest
local population of California clapper rails in all of San Francisco Bay.

Besides the endangered clapper rails, many shorebird species depend on the wetlands here for their survival, including the American avocet, marbled godwit, long-billed curlew, snowy egret, western sandpiper, and great blue heron. Migrating ducks use the open water areas of the wetland in abundance during their annual migrations. Large buildings cast shadows and can be dangerous obstacles for birds, causing injury and death. 12-hour lighting disturbs nesting and roosting birds and mammals and provides opportunities for bird predators such as raccoons and feral domestic cats to track and kill bird prey. Feral cats are a significant predator of wild birds, particularly in urban areas where their populations are large and unmanaged. Noise impacts wildlife and the effect of a new development will result in cumulative noise impacts, exacerbating existing noise levels from surrounding urban activities. The ability to hear potential threats and predator activities is crucial to the survival of the wildlife inhabitants.

As noise from nearby human activities increases, wildlife will be increasingly unable to protect themselves and their offspring. Researchers have found that loud human noises may interfere with bird communication—vocalizations for the purpose of courtship, marking territory, and alerting to danger (see Bureau of Land Management 1979 study by M.C. Bondello and B.H. Brattstrom). Significant impact to water quality from urban runoff Runoff from roads, parking lots, buildings and other surfaces, such as lawns and landscaping, is the largest source of pollutants in San Francisco
Bay. These pollutants contain toxic elements harmful to the Bay ecosystem, including its wetlands. Pollution from motor vehicles and roads is one of the greatest threats to the Bay. Cars shed grease, oil, vehicle exhaust, copper, and tire and brake residue onto paved roads and parking lots. During rains and storms, these contaminants are washed into the region’s creeks and streams, where they eventually flow into the Bay, significantly deteriorating water quality and destroying the wetlands the Bay depends on to filter out pollutants.
(see Restoring Polluted Waterways of the San Francisco Bay Area at http://www.openspacecouncil.org/).

The construction of a 85,700 square foot building and paved parking spaces for 300 cars, as proposed, will greatly increase runoff capacity at this site. Such a large increase in building surface area, traffic, and the presence of several hundred vehicles on a daily basis will significantly increase the amount of runoff to adjacent Gallinas Creek wetlands and to San Francisco Bay. Impacts to federally endangered species inhabiting adjacent shoreline and wetlands Significant impacts to endangered species that depend on Gallinas Creek and its surrounding habitats can be expected with the construction of the proposed development. These impacts may be the result of construction activities as well as the ongoing activities associated with urban development, increased human activity, increased traffic and associated noise, lighting and surface runoff.

The following endangered wildlife species reside or regularly visit Gallinas Creek and Santa Venetia Marsh California Clapper Rail (Rallus longirostris obsoletus): in spite of its scientific name, the secretive rail is not obsolete, merely difficult to spot in its native habitat. 85% of the rails’ habitat in San Francisco Bay has been destroyed by fill and urban development. Gallinas Creek is home to the largest surviving population of clapper rails in the Bay.
Total counts for San Francisco Bay range up to 1500 individual birds. Salt Marsh Harvest Mouse (Rithrodontomys raviventris): this is the smallest mammal that lives in tidal marsh habitats, and is an important food source for raptors and other native species in the wetland ecosystem. Gallinas Creek is home to this federally endangered species that depends on pickleweed and salt grass habitat. California Least Tern (Sterna antillarum browni): The terns forage in the open water wetlands of Gallinas Creek and vicinity. The Bay Area least tern colonies are considered to be critical populations and vital to the statewide species recovery effort. (See Baylands Ecosystem Species and Community Profiles, Goals Project 2000.) Significant impacts to air quality Air quality will be significantly affected by construction activities and increased vehicle traffic, as well as potential pollution from operations that could include odors, smoke, and other airborne pollutants from restaurant operations and parking facilities at the site. The construction process itself carries multiple impacts. The environmental review should include mitigation efforts to construction activities outlined in the Initial Study. Significant cumulative impacts to Gallinas Creek and wetland ecosystem The effect of various impacts to the Gallinas Creek ecosystem from the development of recreational complex adjacent to the wetlands will be cumulative and significant. The wetland ecosystem is already stressed from decades of urban development, Bay and wetland fill projects and the effects of nearby urban activities. Recent restoration efforts by the Marin Open Space District, Marin Audubon Society and others have been beneficial in enhancing and increasing wildlife habitat for species. However, these restoration gains are likely to be negated by the construction of a large recreational complex in such close proximity to the creek and wetlands. We disagree with the initial study finding that the north and south forks of Gallinas Creek does not contain suitable habitat (the correct habitat size and plant type) for sensitive species such as the California clapper rail. While the wetland vegetation along the creek banks here is limited to “fringe marsh” that ranges between 2-10 feet in width, we have observed that even this amount of habitat provides critical space in urbanized wetland areas. The vegetation species present along these banks includes marsh gumplant (Grindelia stricta angustifolia), which has been documented within one mile of the proposed project area, at wetlands near Bucks Launching on the south side of the mouth of Gallinas Creek (Peter Baye, personal communication).

Save The Bay agrees with the City of San Rafael Architectural Review Board’s recommendation against planting additional eucalyptus trees to shield the project area. Instead, we advocate for the planting of fast-growing native trees and shrubs that would provide habitat value. We respectfully submit these comments for your consideration
and encourage you to contact us with any questions you may have.

Sincerely, David Lewis Executive Director Save The Bay

Tad Whitaker
Marin Independent Journal
150 Alameda Del Prado
Novato, CA 94948-5458
Feb.6, 2006

Dear Tad,

Thank you for your efforts in reporting the application for the sports facility at the San Rafael Airport. The public, and decision makers in the County, depend on the Marin IJ for accurate information to make informed decisions. In that spirit, I point out the February 3 article contained several factual errors. A phone call to Raffi
Boloyan and a review of the San Rafael Airport Recreational Facility Initial Study/Mitigated Negative Declaration will confirm that there were errors in the article and provide the attendant facts:

1. In paragraph five, the article reports that “the Planning Commission on February 28th could approve the project.” In fact, the Planning Commission can not approve the application on February 28th, or any other day. The Planning commission with take public comments on the 28th and might recommend the adoption of the NegDec, or more likely, ask for additional studies. The Planning Commission, like the Design Review Board, acts solely in an advisory capacity. Further, this application requires a change in zoning, which can only be accomplished by a majority vote of the City Council or a referendum by the San Rafael electorate.

2. In paragraph 7, the article reports that the sports facility would be “adjacent” to the San Rafael airport. In fact, the facility would be at the San Rafael airport. If anything, it is adjacent to the runway. The single lane bridge that would provide access to the facility is on an adjacent parcel also owned by Shekou, but the facility would be built entirely on the Airport.

3. In the final paragraph, the quote by Robert Herbst that “zoning rules have always allowed the project” is false. In fact, the current zoning of the airport is Planned Development –Wetland Overlay which only allows for low density recreation such as bird watching, scientific study and fishing per the San Rafael Municipal code. The NegDec’s description of the project on Page 2 confirms that “the applicant has applied for the following planning entitlements: A Rezoning from Planned Development—Wetland Overlay (PDI764-WO) District to a revised Planned Development District with appropriate development standards to allow for the indoor and outdoor recreation facility on a portion of the San Rafael Airport property. “

4. The sound wall at Captains Cove mentioned in the inset map is not part of the project. The applicant does not even own that property and therefore can not build the wall without consent from Captains Cove which has barely been discussed, let alone been consented to.

I respectfully request clarifications be published in the Marin Independent Journal per standard practices of journalism for the following reasons:

Items 1 and 2 are factual errors easily confirmed with a phone call to the San Rafael Community Development Department. Items 3 and 4 mayor may not be deliberate attempts to mislead the public by Bob Herbst but their publication does deceive readers and should be corrected.

Bob Herbst is the applicant for this project and has signed all the application documents and the NegDec. If Mr. Herbst did not know a change in zoning was required to permit this facility when he made his statement on February 3, he certainly should have. The facts about the zoning change were in your hands prior to your interview with Mr. Herbst: 1) I had pointed out the requirement for the zoning change in the written statement I gave to to you during our interview on February 2 at my home and 2) the required zoning change is the first item described in the project description in the NegDec. Minimally, I believe that Herbst’s quote should have been challenged in the article with facts and/or rebutted with my statement about the zoning changes.

Thank you in advance for your prompt attention to this matters. I look forward to speaking with you again soon.

Robert Dobrin
The Friends of Gallinas Creek and Wetlands

Risky Proximity

I want to add another perspective on the proposed soccer/sports complex at San Rafael Airport.

The element of risk in placing such large numbers of people, especially large numbers of children in such close proximity to a runway that serves 100 or more aircraft should be addressed. The sports complex parking lot is only 125 feet from the runway, and separated from it only by a five-foot fence. The outdoor fields are also as close as 125 feet from the runway, while the 35-foot tall, 85,000-square-foot building is to be 300 feet from it.

There have already been at least six flight-related accidents at this airport, from 1983 to 2004 (or one every 3.66 years).

I support additional all-weather soccer fields on this site, but this project is an accident waiting to happen.

Edward Oklan, San Rafael (1/24/06) Marin IJ

Soccer Complex Plans Hit Snag

Tad Whitaker

Opposition is mounting against a proposed indoor soccer complex in San Rafael as the city prepares to release a key initial environmental study.

Supervisor Susan Adams, Marin Audubon Society President Barbara Salzman and others have stepped forward with concerns about the $6 million, 86,000-square-foot indoor soccer, baseball and gymnastics complex that would be located at McInnis Park.

During a tour of the surrounding area Thursday, local residents said past problems with the airport owned by the developer point toward the potential for future problems with a soccer facility.
“It brings up the issue of enforcement,” said Mary Feller of the group Friends of Gallinas Creek and Wetlands.
Project applicant Bob Herbst of San Rafael Airport LLC disputes issues raised by opponents. He said there are plenty of similar buildings in that area, the airport is in compliance with the city and the proposed development is well within the guidelines of permitted uses, even though opponents claim a deal in 1983 prevents dense projects in the area.

“It’s completely inaccurate,” he said. “To claim it wasn’t allowed to be developed is false.”
The environmental study of the proposed project will be released Jan. 13 for a 30-comment period before the Planning Commission discusses the project Feb. 14.

San Rafael Senior Planner Raffi Boloyan supported Herbst by saying he scoured records going back more than 20 years and found that a private or public recreation development such as the soccer facility is allowed for the area.
“The city’s opinion is that it is consistent with the uses,” he said.

As proposed, the project calls for two soccer fields, a baseball and gymnastics training compound, a mezzanine with a kitchen, a cafe or pub, locker rooms and offices. The building would be 35 feet tall and surrounded by the north and south forks of Gallinas Creek near the McInnis Park golf course, batting cages, skatepark and other recreational facilities.

There would also be two outdoor sports fields and two parking lots with close to 300 spaces.
The project was approved 3-2 by the Design Review Board at a contentious meeting attended by close to 300 people, including many residents of Contempo Marin, Santa Venetia and surrounding areas who are opposed to it.
Developers were ordered to add more trees and native species, pave an area for overflow parking, change the color scheme and build a larger bridge to the site, among other things. But despite those changes, opposition remains strong.

Salzman said she has taken many phone calls against the project but is waiting for the Planning Commission meeting before taking a formal position. However, she said development of any size is a threat to the marsh and wildlife such as the endangered clapper rail.

“It’s important that that area remain natural,” she said.
Adams said there is ample need for the facility, but placing it next to an airport is a questionable idea when there are better places available such as vacant hangers at Hamilton Field. She also has a problem with selling alcohol at a sports venue where children will be the main users.
“It doesn’t seem right,” she said.

Adams said putting a massive development there would also obstruct views and clash with plans to obtain federal funding to restore the surrounding wetlands.

“It’s not at all similar to any other building in the surrounding area,” Adams said. “That massing is incredible.”
Herbst took issue with Adams’ comments by pointing out that the area is already home to a movie theater, senior citizen center and several multistory office buildings that are actually taller than what is proposed. He also pointed out that the airport already has 230,000 square feet of buildings, many of which are more than 30 feet tall and only a few feet apart.

“It’s not out of scale for our property or the area,” he said.
During a tour of the site Thursday, Feller and Robert Dobrin, also of the group Friends of Gallinas Creek and Wetlands, said previous problems with the airport show the developer doesn’t follow through with promises. They cite illegal infilling of the wetlands, a lack of landscaping promised between the airport buildings and Contempo Marin, and a recently paved entrance to the airport that was supposed to be taken care of years ago.

“There was just dirt here up until a month ago,” Dobrin said.
Herbst countered by saying the paving was part of a three-year renovation that is about to be finished, and it takes years for trees to grow tall enough to block views.

However, during a tour Thursday, there are long stretches of airport property that lack trees, leaving many mobile homes with unobstructed views of airport buildings that are only a hundred feet or so away.
Herbst said that even though story poles for the soccer building are mounted in a way to suggest several groves of eucalyptus trees will be cut down, the footprint for the building was recently shifted 10 feet so the trees can be saved. He said trees will be a big part of shielding the building from neighbors.

“Wherever there are gaps out there, we’ll be filling in with trees,” he said.
But Feller said nothing changes her feeling that the area should be left alone. Even though the surrounding land is full of recreational developments, she said adding another project, especially one of this size, will just contribute to sprawl.

“When is enough enough?” she asked.

Re-printed from Marin IJ (Jan 06)

Not Worth The Price

I have lived in this “hidden jewel,” aka Santa Venetia, since 1989. Welcoming us to the area back then were our new neighbors, Mrs. Miller and the Mechettis.

Some of my favorite moments were spent with them, eagerly learning the history of what would be our new home and neighborhood near the Las Gallinas Creek. They told us wonderful stories of “how it used to be,” a creek once teaming with a wide variety of wildlife. Mr. Mechetti told us about fishing off his dock and barbequeing his catch of the day that night for dinner.

Mrs. Miller described the deafening sound of the clapper rail in the evenings made it hard to hear yourself think. As they spoke about how good/different it used to be 30 to 35 years ago, I could not help but think how glad I was to be from a new generation. A generation who knows better. A generation who has learned how to protect our environment and, so far, has consideration for our wildlife.

I’ve watched with glee, teachers holding classes with their students while paddling up and down the creek in canoes, teaching and showing them how our environment is precious. I’ve witnessed families of the great blue heron thrive. I’ve seen white egrets, snowy egrets, river otters, Canadian geese, white pelicans, brown pelicans, butterflies, frogs, deer, geese, raccoons, rabbits, hawks and owls. And for the first time, an elephant seal moved in for a short time! All the while, I’m thinking about my beloved neighbors. With each new sighting, I feel the urge to call them and say, “See! See! All those good things are coming back.”

Leave it to the city of San Rafael to make a liar out of me.
The city Planning Department is considering plans for a huge mega-sports complex right smack in the middle of our “big” comeback.

Located near the San Rafael/Smith Ranch Airport and adjacent to its runway, this proposed 85,000-square-foot metal shed and playing fields would accommodate up to 540 users per day, not counting spectators, family and friends. They plan on operating seven days a week with league games running until midnight. Between cheering crowds, blowing whistles and increased foot and auto traffic, the damage to the non-human residents will be irreversible, irreparable and irreplaceable.

I know we need soccer fields. I grew up on a softball field and have played in many different leagues around Marin County. I realize the importance and the lack of these facilities in the area. But is it worth the price? I think not.
OK, don’t take my word for it. At the very least, take a few minutes and see for yourself. Take a walk from McInnis Park, out past the golf course, along the north fork of Las Gallinas Creek. You’ll find a lone wooden bench. It’s the kind of place you whisper when speaking. Just sit for a minute and take it all in. It’s indescribable.

Almost directly in front of you, you can see the story poles and flag lines depicting the magnitude of the proposed building. Now imagine this as a black hole or void in the landscape, sharing the views of the Civic Center to Mount Tamalpais.. Then, decide if it’s still “worth the price.”

Please don’t let that happen. My only request is that you take a short walk and decide for yourself.

Mary Hanley, Santa Venetia (1/11/06) Marin IJ

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