Archive for March, 2009

Against my better judgment I showed up for Friday’s “Community Conversation” concerning the Point Reyes National Seashore’s intention to close Drakes Bay Oyster Company. Since retiring three years ago, I’ve continued to write about public issues in West Marin, but I haven’t taken part in many political events. Having achieved Nirvana, I’d rather not disturb it.


But Friday evening, I was one of 125 or so West Marin residents who filled the Inverness Yacht Club for a heavily structured discussion of the park.

Sounding like marriage counselors, a team of moderators started the meeting by telling us we were there to express our feelings, not to present facts.

To avoid bad feelings, we couldn’t criticize anybody by name (e.g. National Seashore Supt. Don Neubacher) but could only refer to his organization (e.g. “the park”). In fact, the moderators later called me out for naming names when I said President Obama is an improvement over President Bush.

The members of a “community” need to “communicate,” the moderators said more than once. No speaker should hog the microphone, they added, but were themselves slow to relinquish it. After more than half an hour of a two-hour meeting had been spent on these introductory comments with no letup in sight, I began eying the door next to me only to discover it merely went to a fire escape. On the other hand, the moderators’ efforts to ensure parlor-like decorum did pay off. I can recall more acrimony during a public discussion of museum hours.

Phyllis Faber told the group that Supt. Neubacher was away but had said that even if he were in town, he wouldn’t attend.

Faber added that Neubacher also said the park’s associate superintendent was likewise out of town but would have attended were she here. (Faber is co-founder of MALT, a fellow of the California Native Plant Society, and an author of a botanical guide, so her account is probably reliable.)


At the Drakes Bay Oyster Company site (seen here), oysters are sold and canned. A Park Service use permit, which expires in 2012, is strictly for these onshore facilities and not for oyster growing in the estero itself, which has been designated “potential wilderness.” Neubacher supporters have claimed that extending the onshore facilities’ use permit would be a threat to wilderness nationwide because of the precedent it would set. Others claim that makes neither legal nor logical sense.

Gordon Bennett, a member of the Marin Group of the San Francisco Bay Chapter of the national Sierra Club, has been carrying Neubacher’s water (not always with the support of his group) ever since the park superintendent three years ago first proposed shutting down the oyster company come 2012. On the eve of Friday’s meeting, Bennett sent an email to those sympathetic to Neubacher, warning them off by claiming the meeting was a “set-up” which had been “organized by proponents” of the oyster company.

It’s hard to tell whether the email had any effect. Some members of the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin, which supports Neubacher’s position, were on hand, including its president and a former board member. A couple of people, including forester Tom Gaman of Inverness, said the park should get rid of the oyster company to create wilderness.

Most of those who spoke, however, like most West Marin residents one hears on the street, supported the company. Several people, such as innkeeper Frank Borodic of Olema, said the oyster company is well run and good for the environment.

After two hours, however, only a couple of proposals got  virtually unanimous support from the audience: 1) have additional oyster-company critics at future Community Conversations in order to create more of a dialogue; 2) get Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey to introduce legislation resurrecting the Citizens Advisory Commission to the GGNRA and Point Reyes National Seashore.

Because the two parks were established to serve the Bay Area’s mostly urban population, Congress in 1972 decided that Bay Area local governments should nominate candidates for a Citizens Advisory Commission, which would then be appointed by the US Secretary of the Interior.

Since they were appointed by a member of the president’s cabinet, the commissioners’ decisions, while only advisory, carried weight with the park administration. A superintendent could not ignore them without risking his job, former Supt. John Sansing once told me.


Supt. Neubacher and his staff have tried to discredit Drakes Bay Oyster Company by telling county and federal officials that seals are frightened away by the growing and harvesting of oysters. Apparently not having heard about this, the 18 harbor seals seen here are sunning themselves on oyster racks in neighboring Tomales Bay.

The advisory commission had needed Congressional reauthorization every few years, and for almost three decades, Congress approved it. However, in 2002, its term expired, and with Republicans in charge of Congress and the White House, the commission was allowed to die.

“This time [then-Interior Secretary] Gale Norton and the Park Service said, ‘It’s been a very good commission for 29 years, but we don’t need it anymore,’” former Commissioner Amy Meyer told me in 2007. National Seashore spokesman John Dell’Osso in 2004 had already told me the park administration did not want the commission revived because it sometimes interfered with what the Park Service felt should be done.

The Neubacher administration has also argued that local residents don’t speak for all Americans. It’s a specious argument since most park visitors are from the nine-county Bay Area and are far more familiar with the park — and with anything going wrong in it — than are people in other parts of the country, who seldom, if ever, see the National Seashore.

100_1815Closely following Friday’s discussion are oyster company owners Kevin and Nancy Lunny.

Meyer noted the commission had acted as an “interface” between the public and the park, and its absence has been felt. In the past four years, there has been widespread public dissatisfaction with the National Seashore over: 1) a 2004 ranger-pepper-spray scandal; 2) the inhumane slaughter of non-indigenous deer a year ago; 3) the present oyster-company dispute. Without the advisory commission to provide the public with a forum for resolving these issues, they have become so contentious that Supt. Neubacher is seldom seen around town anymore.

Congresswoman Woolsey four years ago introduced legislation to resurrect the commission, and it was attached to a House bill (which was being pushed by now-Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others) to acquire land in San Mateo County for the GGNRA. The bill passed in 2005, but when it did, the rider resurrecting the commission was gone.

Meyer said she and other people went to Congresswomen Pelosi and Woolsey, asking that they temporarily drop the advisory-commission legislation. The fear, Meyer said, was that the Bush Administration would pack the advisory commission with people who shared his ideology.

On Friday night, I suggested that since we now have the Obama administration, the time is ripe to resurrect the commission. A number of other speakers, including Liza Crosse, aide to Marin County Supervior Steve Kinsey, agreed. And when a show of hands was taken later, almost everyone supported the idea, regardless of where they stood on the oyster-company issue.

Seen from a low-flying airplane, the northwestern 40 percent of Marin County is a bit different from what one sees driving on public roads, as I was reminded this week.


Sally Gale with her husband Mike raise grass-fed beef in Chileno Valley, and for Christmas 2007, she gave him a gift certificate for one-hour plane ride. Mike (above) finally had a chance to take the flight this week, and he invited me along.

At 2 p.m. Tuesday, Mike and I showed up in the Aeroventure office at the Petaluma Airport where pilot Tom Dezendorf loaded us into a Cessna that was tied down out front. As Mike and I would later learn, Tom, who mostly works as a flight instructor these days, previously was an Emmy-winning production manager for NBC.

As befits a flight instructor, Tom’s takeoff was as smooth as his camerawork, and if I hadn’t been looking out the window I’d have thought we were still on the runway.


Once we were airborne, Tom headed out to Chileno Valley so we could shoot some photos of Mike’s and Sally’s ranch. Their stately ranch house, which has long been in Sally’s family, had fallen into such disrepair it was uninhabitable before they spent four years (1994-98) restoring it.

From Chileno Valley, Tom at my request headed out to Drakes Estero, crossing Tomales Bay en route. I wanted to photograph this tribal region of the Point Reyes National Seashore where there are continual skirmishes between a Taliban warlord, Olema bin Laden, and the Drakes Bay people.

Bin Laden has been trying to end century-old oyster growing at the estero by imposing a pitiless environmental sharia on the region. His many cruelties by now have raised concern among neighboring peoples, as well as a number of county, state, and federal officials.

New readers unfamiliar with the injustices that prompt this digression into satire can find them in previous postings about Drakes Bay Oyster Company. (N.B. I’m speaking only for myself here and not for Mike.)


As we approached the estero, stockponds like steps descended hillsides in front of us almost to the shoreline.

Northwest Marin contains scores of stockponds the public never sees because they’re hidden in remote canyons or — surprisingly enough — near the tops of ridges. As we flew over some of the higher ones, I wondered what their sources of water are.

On the other hand, Petaluma residents are more likely to have swimming pools hidden out of public view, as we could see while flying to and from the airport. I guess the difference says something about what goes on where.


On our way back to Petaluma, we flew over Point Reyes Station to shoot a few photos. There were no swimming pools to be seen.

That’s the Coast Guard housing complex at the upper left. Just below it are the houses EAH sold at market rates, and below them are rows of trees around a corner of the playing field at West Marin School. To the right of the trees is the EAH affordable housing project.

The Dance Palace is the blue building at lower right. Above it (with a brown roof) is the Arthur Disterheft Public Safety Building, which houses the county fire station and sheriff’s substation. Winding through the upper right of the photo is Papermill/Lagunitas Creek. In the center of it all is Point Reyes Station’s commercial district, which mostly lines the town’s main street, a three-block-long jog in Highway 1.

The term Northwest Marin is sometimes used to describe the Tomales, Dillon Beach, Fallon area, and once in a great while, it is used to refer to all of West Marin (including the San Geronimo Valley) from Olema north. describes Northwest Marin (see its map below) as consisting of 322 square miles with a population as of July 2007 of 9,366. The median household income in Northwest Marin a year and a half ago was $62,106 compared with $59,948 for California as a whole, estimated.

But that small difference doesn’t begin to compensate for the horrifically high cost of living here. On a cost-of-living scale that considers 100 to be average for communities nationwide, Northwest Marin scores a frightening 191.7, which not surprisingly calls “very high.”

Among Northwest Marin residents 25 and older, 93.1 percent have high school degrees, 46.7 percent have college degrees, and 18.5 percent have graduate or professional degrees.

picture-1The “most common industries for males” working in West Marin, says, are: “construction, 17 percent; professional, scientific, and technical services, 10 percent; agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, 10 percent; educational services, 8 percent; accommodation and food services, 7 percent; health care, 5 percent; arts, entertainment, and recreation, 5 percent.”

Listed as the “most common industries for females” are: “educational services, 12 percent; health care, 11 percent; professional, scientific, and technical services, 9 percent; accommodation and food services, 7 percent; arts, entertainment, and recreation, 7 percent; religious, grantmaking, civic, professional, and similar organizations, 6 percent; public administration, 5 percent.”

The average household size in Northwest Marin is 2.4 people, lower than the statewide average of 2.9, and far fewer households in Northwest Marin consist of families (46.2 percent) than is typical statewide (68.9 percent).

Some 7.8 percent of households here are made up of unmarried partners compared with 5.9 percent statewide. An additional 0.9 percent of Northwest Marin households describe themselves as lesbian and 0.7 percent describe themselves as gay men, reports.

In 2007, the estimated median price of a home in Northwest Marin was $838,246 compared to $532,300 statewide. I wonder how much prices have dropped since then — probably not enough to help the 10.6 percent of residents with incomes below the poverty level.

Nothwithstanding how hard it is on the one in 10 Northwest Marin residents with incomes that low, statewide the percentage of people with incomes below the poverty level was 40 percent higher in July 2007 — before the recession hit.

100_1656The Miwok Indian cemetery at Reynolds (where Tony’s Seafood is located; the restaurant’s white buildings can be seen in the background) — From 1875 to 1930, Reynolds was a whistlestop on the narrow-gauge railroad, and numerous Miwoks lived nearby. A  few of their descendants still do. The cemetery belongs to the Miwok Rancheria in Graton, Sonoma County.

100_1653Today, of course, is the first day of Spring, and wildflowers have begun blooming around the plastic flowers that decorate each cross.

Now that it’s Spring, “the time has come,” as the walrus said, “to speak of many things,” and I’m going to speak my piece about a couple of West Marin news stories that I’d like to see get more coverage. Both have interesting ramifications.

The first occurred last week when an IRS agent shot himself in the leg while at a practice range in Tomales. Other than brief Sheriff’s Calls in The West Marin Citizen and Point Reyes Light, the incident wasn’t covered in the weekly press.

The Marin Independent Journal gave the story greater play, noting that the gun was a .40-caliber Glock and that the target range is open to the public Thursdays through Mondays for $10 per person. The IJ even went so far as to report the 19-acre range at Alexander and Tomales-Petaluma roads has a county use permit through 2016.


A Miwok inscription near the entrance to the cemetery.

But the real story of the shooting, which no paper has covered, is the handgun itself. Why? Glocks don’t have external-switch safeties. If you squeeze the trigger, they fire.

This might be an appropriate weapon for a liquor store owner who presumably doesn’t have time to release a safety when bad guys burst through his door their guns a’blazing; however, I would think that criminal investigators — even those working for the IRS — probably have a smidgen more advance warning when there may be a need to start shooting people.

I first heard about the problem with single-action Glocks from new-media consultant Dave LaFontaine of Los Angeles, who previously was an investigator for a law firm with law-enforcement clients. As it turns out, there’s been quite  a debate in recent years over whether law enforcement officers and others can safely carry Glocks. The rules for law enforcement apparently vary from state to state.

Critics complain that if you holster or unholster a Glock pistol with your finger on the trigger, you may well shoot yourself in the thigh, as numerous people have done. In fact, it has happened to enough people that a DEA agent has even been caught on video accidentally shooting himself. Now there’s a lead for the press to follow up on.


Gravemarkers in the Miwok cemetery are mostly Catholic crosses, but there are also military plaques and this bicultural memorial.

Here’s another story for the West Marin press. As was noted in my last posting, Mark Allen of Inverness Park was lead cameraman for a segment of 60 Minutes that would air Sunday evening. The segment profiled Alice Waters of Chez Panisse, who is leading a “slow-food” movement. It turned out that Mark had a cameo appearance in the segment, with the Berkeley chef hand-feeding him Mexican food at a farmers’ market.

The Bay Area, perhaps to no one’s surprise, is also home to a “slow-sex” movement, The New York Times reported last Friday. At the forefront of this movement, The Times says, is One Taste Urban Retreat Center, which it describes as “a coed live-in commune dedicated to the female orgasm….

100_1663“The heart of the group’s activity, listed cryptically on its Web site’s calendar as ‘morning practice,’ is closed to all but the residents. At 7 a.m. each day,” The Times reports, “about a dozen women, naked from the waist down, lie with eyes closed in a velvet-curtained room, while clothed men huddle over them, stroking them in a ritual known as orgasmic meditation — “OMing,” for short.

“The couples, who may or may not be romantically involved, call one another ‘research partners.'”

Heading the South of Market commune, which is now four and a half years old, is a former art gallery owner named Nicole Daedone. While obviously intrigued by her, The Times quotes a former resident as saying Ms. Daedone exerts too much control over residents’ personal lives, and she herself acknowledges, “There’s a high potential for this to be a cult.”

However, Ms. Daedone adds, partly to keep that from happening she’s moved out of the commune and in with her boyfriend, Reese Jones. The Times describes him as a “venture capitalist/geek,” a “braniac who sold a computer-software company he founded, Netopia, to Motorola for $208 million.”

Why should the West Marin press pay attention to all this? Because The Times also reported that “Mr. Jones… makes financial resources available to One Taste, including helping to buy a retreat in Stinson Beach.” Who, what, when, where? Of course the weekly press should cover this One Tastefully.


Father Jack O’Neill (center), pastor of Sacred Heart Parish, flanked by Marin County Fire Capt. Todd Overshiner and Mike Krillelea of San Rafael, jokes with guests at today’s barbecue.

100_17051A warning sign of Spring: Hundreds of people showed up at the Dance Palace this afternoon for Sacred Heart Church’s annual St. Patrick’s Day Barbecue.


West Marin Irish Music Players, who practice from 7 to 9 p.m. Mondays at West Marin School, entertained guests.

100_1702_2A volunteer bartender at the St. Patrick’s Day Barbecue, Mark Allen (left) of Inverness Park, takes an order for an Irish coffee.

Mark was the lead cameraman for a 60 Minutes segment — scheduled to be aired at 7 p.m. this evening — on “slow-food” advocate Alice Waters of Chez Panisse.


Some 446 chicken dinners were served inside the Dance Palace while outside the community center, Drakes Bay Oyster Company barbecued 1,000 oysters as part of the fundraiser. In the foreground shucking oysters are company owner Kevin Lunny (right) and John Aucoin of Inverness Park.


Anastacio Gonzalez of Point Reyes Station, head of technical maintenance at West Marin School, provided his special barbecue sauce for the oysters. Here he checks to see whether he’ll need to make more when he goes home.

Almost 30 years ago, Anastacio devised the recipe while barbecuing oysters at the old Nicks Cove restaurant. He then took it to the former Barnaby’s restaurant in Inverness (now Thepmonggon Thai restaurant), and later to Tony’s Seafood. By now, barbecuing with sauce inspired by his recipe is a standard way of preparing oysters in the Tomales Bay area.


Today’s rain held off until just after the barbecue finished, which was good because both the chickens and oysters were barbecued outdoors and because many guests chose to eat them picnic style on the Dance Palace’s front lawn. With Spring only five days off, ranchers are hoping to squeeze the last bit of moisture out of winter. When the current series of rainstorms began, my neighbor Jay Haas shot this photo of a stockpond overflowing on the Giacomini family’s land next to ours.

white-robin-8Another warning sign of Spring: The gloomy days of winter are supposed to be over “when the red, red robin comes bob, bob, bobin’ along.” But at Jay’s home this year, the first robin of Spring is not “red, red” but partially albino. (Photo by Jay Haas)

“For some reason, albinism and partial albinism have been recorded in robins more than any other wild bird species,” the website American Robin reports.

“One study found that 8.22 percent of all albino wild birds found in North America were robins. But only about one robin in 30,000 is an albino or partial albino. Most records of robins with albinism are only partial albinos, which of course live longer than total albinos.”

As American Robin explains, totally albino birds have no pigment in their irises and retinas to protect their eyes from sunlight, and many eventually go blind.


When the lot beside Tomales Town Hall came up for sale a while back, the Town Hall board took advantage of the opportunity to acquire yard space that came with an ancient shade tree. Having now paid off well over $100,000 of the note and needing only $20,000 more, the Town Hall on Saturday held a fundraising pig roast, barbecue, and silent action.


Two bands played, one in the yard and one in the hall. Performing here is the band Blue Holstein with (from left) Charlie Morgan on guitar, Vic Marcotte on drums,  Don Armstrong on guitar (seen here as lead singer on a Bob Dylan reprise), and Cheshire Mahoney on sax. A former West Marin resident, Cheshire now lives in Ashland.


The roasted pig, which was carved next to Highway 1 outside the Town Hall, was a hit with townspeople, and the line waiting to get in on the feast ran the length of the hall and out the front door.


Meanwhile a couple of blocks away, cartoonist Kathryn LeMieux was holding a moving sale. The sale will resume from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. this Sunday, March 8, at 31 Carrie St.

Why is she moving? In his day job, her husband Don Armstrong of Blue Holstein is now superintendent of Fort Bragg Unified School District, having previously been a teacher in Bolinas and later a superintendent in Petaluma. Kathryn told me the couple is tired of maintaining two homes and having to live apart much of the time, so they’re going to live in Westport (north of Fort Bragg) and rent out their home in Tomales until he retires.

For 11 years during the time I owned The Point Reyes Light, Kathryn drew the comic strip Feral West for the newspaper, and she now draws it for The West Marin Citizen. The move will bring an end to the strip, she said.

Kathryn is also one of six women who 10 years ago started the cartoon Six Chix, which is syndicated by King Features and appears locally in The Marin Independent Journal. Each cartoonist draws one strip a week and takes turns drawing the Sunday cartoon. Kathryn told me her last Six Chix strip will be published Friday.

Frustrated by the “hard work” of producing on deadline while her earnings from newspapers shrink because of changes in the industry, Kathryn said she will give up cartooning to concentrate on her oil painting.

I happened to run into Point Reyes Station naturalist Jules Evans at Kathryn’s moving sale, and he was fascinated by some of the non-artwork she was also selling. “Where else can you buy a possum skull?” he asked me.

Along with an original Feral West cartoon from 2004, I myself picked up a 1960 issue of The Baywood Press, as The Light was called until September 1966. A Page 1 story in the issue reported that sheriff’s deputies were looking for an arsonist who used a blanket soaked with kerosine to set fire to the house immediately north of West Marin School. Assistant fire chief Louis Bloom estimated that $250 worth of damage was done to the home, which belonged to Robert Worthington and his family. They were on a two-week trip to the Central Valley when the fire broke out around midnight.

Another Page 1 story reported that dogs from homes along Highway 1 had killed seven sheep belonging to now-deceased Elmer Martinelli, father Point Reyes Station’s Patricia, Stan, and Leroy Martinelli.


Nor were Kathryn’s sale and the Town Hall pig roast the only fun around Tomales. On the Tomales-Petaluma Road, a succession of motorists kept stopping to photograph Veanna Silva’s camel grazing with a couple of cows. Two-humped Bactrian camels are native to the Gobi Desert of Mongolia and China.


Also intriguing motorists along the Tomales-Petaluma Road is this sign outside the former Aurora School (built in 1873), which is now the home of Jerry and Leslie Swallow. What the sign really signifies, townspeople told me, is that the Swallows’ driveway has a blind turnout onto the the road — and that the Swallows have a sense of humor.

Here are a few other intriguing facets of Tomales, as reported by The town as of July 2007 had 210 residents whose median age was 46.1 years old. The estimated median household income was $61,107 compared with $59,948 statewide.

Some 94.3 percent of townspeople are non-Hispanic white, 2.4 percent are Hispanic, 1 percent are Japanese, and 1 percent are American Indian. The average household size is 2.4 people compared with 2.9 statewide. Some 56.2 percent of these are “family households” compared with 68.9 percent statewide.

As of a year and a half ago, 11 percent of the households consisted of unmarried partners compared with 5.9 percent statewide. Another 1.4 percent of Tomales’ households reported being lesbian, and 1.4 percent reported being gay men. calls the cost of living in Tomales “very high.” On the national cost-of-living index, 100 represents the US average, and Tomales comes in at a whopping 168.6.

But here’s what I find to be the most surprising statistics reported by Back in 2007 before the recession hit, the proportion of Tomales residents with incomes below the poverty level (14.3 percent) was virtually the same as the state average (14.2 percent) while the proportion of residents with incomes below 50 percent of the poverty level (9.5 percent) was far worse than the state as a whole (6.3 percent).

That one in seven townspeople have incomes below the poverty level is all the more surprising given that Tomales is one of the better educated towns anywhere. Nine out of 10 residents 25 and older have completed high school, and 43.3 percent have completed college. More than one in five residents (21 percent) hold graduate or professional degrees.

The only thing I can think of that might explain this disparity between high education and low income could be the ascetic lifestyles of the 30 or so people living at the Blue Mountain Meditation Center off the Tomales-Petaluma Road.

But it’s incongruities such as this that make Tomales so interesting: from a pig roast to finance real estate for the Town Hall, to a camel and a “blind driver” along the Tomales-Petaluma Road, to possum, deer, and horse skulls plus artwork, antiques, and artifacts for sale in a cartoonist’s studio. It’s a great town, and — by the way — it’s going to miss you while you’re gone, Don and Kathryn.

“Climate is what you expect,” novelist Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988) wrote. “Weather is what you get.”

And we sure got a lot of it yesterday. Following a wet night, Point Reyes Station by noon was sunny. By early afternoon, however, the day had turned cloudy. The full storm hit in mid-afternoon: lightning flashes and thunder in the welkin, hail and then a downpour here below.

The contrast between West Marin’s rainstorms and the three-year drought elsewhere in California was on both our minds when John Korty, Point Reyes Station’s Academy Award-winning director, and I ran into each other in the Palace Market last evening. Paradoxically, we found ourselves exchanging pleasantries about how nice the past two weeks of bad weather have been.

Marin Municipal Water District this morning reported that 3.2 inches of rain had fallen since Monday and that the amount of water in its seven reservoirs combined has reached 94 percent of normal for this time of year. All but Kent Lake (the largest reservoir) and the Soulajule Reservoir (the third largest) are full.

MMWD spokeswoman Libby Pichel told me the district is currently considering a permanent change in its system that would allow water from Nicasio Reservoir, which is relatively shallow and overflows earlier, to be pumped into Kent Lake.

West Marin has suffered through three droughts in the past 80 years. A couple of them lasted six years, 1929 through 1934 and 1987 through 1992. A two-year drought (barely over 20 inches of rain each year) kept West Marin parched in 1976 and 1977.


During a break in the weather two days ago, I watched a young doe head across my field in order to graze next to a neighbor’s cat, which was keeping an eye on a gopher hole. The pet cat remained unperturbed while the curious deer circled around it only a few feet away.


Raccoons too seem to enjoy many of the things we humans own. If I’m cooking and leave the door open to air out the kitchen, the raccoons that frequent my birdbath will pass by on the deck but refrain from entering my cabin — usually.

However, as the Gospel according to Matthew notes, “The dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” I don’t own a dog, but Monday I noted that a raccoon will eat of the bread which falls from the kitchen counter.