Building a better Marin

Marin Independent Journal    Friday, December 16, 1988

 By Dwayne Hunn, Co-Director of North Bay Transportation Association

TWO guys, an avid health nut and an ex-Vietnam helicopter pilot, return to Marin.

From the rough-and-tumble of life, they have learned to be pleasant gents and not pushy cowboys. In reputed red­neck Novato, they are refreshing fellows.

On their return, they venture about as far west as they can, buy 400 acres and propose to build 3,500 homes and 7,000 jobs at Hamilton Air Force Base.

They knew they had emptied their pockets. They didn’t know they had put their necks in a noose laid by self-appointed posses.

When the necktie party started, the noose wasn’t too tight. Coolly these two listened and responded to concerns from community activists, Marin and Sonoma officials as well as the typical Marin naysayer.

Sometimes they backed off, totally changing their plan to mollify Sonoma officials. Other times they stood eyeball-to-eyeball with the Department of Defense and wouldn’t flinch, forcing a toxic bowl to be cleaned.

Now, long before the rubber hits the road of 101, and while their feet are still on the ground and not dangling from a tree, other peoples’ boots are starting to step on theirs. “Too many rentals! Too much traffic! Too many households earning less than $35,000 a year — what a troublesome ghetto It’ll be. Too much biomedical research! Too few bird sanctuaries!” All this because two pleasant gents want to go back to the future.

Part of the reason the Old West was won was because we had men with steel nerves who found that steel rails were a more efficient means of sending trade, doing commerce and cutting through frontiers to build the future.

Every now and then, a city with shops. schools, businesses and homes grew up around the rails of the Old West. Then and for some time thereafter, America was known as a “can-do nation.”

Then America had no choice but to become melting pot of rich and poor, colored and clear to get a job done and build a future. Do Marin, Sonoma and Novato want to go back to the future?

America has become great from the strength it built during those bursts when it acted with vision. Hamilton should be looked on as part of a vision. Hamilton should not be just another de­velopment that the gang of naysayers attacks as though no answers exist for any problem that bedevils us.

You want to deal with the lack of affordable housing? Allow solid residential intensities to be built into projects that also set aside a lot of adjacent open space and that provide recreation and child-care facilities.

To fund city services? Use funds from the Hamilton Redevelopment Agency to fund essential city services as well as generate rental subsidy and affordable housing financing.

To deal with 101 gridlock? Build these intense residential projects along another transit way — like the Northwestern Pacific right of way.

To cut the single-occupant-vehicle commute? Build office and commercial space within this residential community and build 10 to 12 of these along the NWP right of way so that people are given both opportunity and reason to climb aboard a train, work at one rail stop and live arid love at another.

America is weak when it fails to turn problems into opportunities. Mean when it shuts its doors as an answer to problems. Hamilton is a microcosm of problems faced in the North Bay and America. If the Berg-Revoir Hamilton development results in  a small number of exclusive homes or an enlarged military barracks, Novato had voted for the America  of weakness and meanness.

The 21st century will not be controlled by nation, that generate the most law-’suits or commute the farthest to jobs and affordable housing. If American communities choose the weak-and-mean route, then America can expect Arabs to fuel our inflation as Japan buys our productive facilities and real estate.

Participatory democracy gives its participants precious gifts. Moderate-income households, renters, commuters, and those who ignore the intricacies of housing development should learn about and support projects like Berg-Revoir’s.

All of Marin and Sonoma’s projected population growth could be housed in 20 mixed-used projects built along the Northwestern Pacific rails. If we take that route we will be emulating the visionary periods of America when steel nerves turned problems into opportunities that built our nation’s strengths.

 

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