Believe it or not, Marin used to be a pro-growth county, willing and eager to be suburbanized. In 1957, then-governor Edmund “Pat” Brown – Jerry’s father – promised to build two hundred miles of freeway in West Marin to connect the coast with the Richmond Bridge and Golden Gate Bridge.
Can you imagine? Rural Highway 1 was to become a four-lane freeway, with one spur slicing over Mount Tam and another down the coast through Stinson Beach into Mill Valley. Eight new cities were planned along the coast, including ‘Marincello’ on the Marin Headlands, with a projected population of 25,000; Stinson Beach, projected population 50,000; and Point Reyes Peninsula, projected population 150,000. Bolinas Lagoon was to be dredged and developed into a marina, all those shallow muddy tidal flats gone forever.
All told, West Marin’s population was to have soared by over 300,000 – the rolling hills and open spaces gone beneath subdivisions, the entire coast mutilated by hideous Southern California-style sprawl. Get this: PG&E even went so far as to start building the world’s largest nuclear reactor in Bodega Bay, smack dab on the San Andreas Fault. (Fortunately they hadn’t bothered to get the necessary permits from the Atomic Energy Commission, which forced them to halt construction. Today you can still see the giant pit that PG&E dug 40 years ago on Bodega Head.)
So what happened? Enter the Audubon Society. Several small chapters, under the leadership of Dr. L. Martin Griffin, began buying up strategic plots of land along Bolinas Lagoon, right in the way of the projected freeway. The first parcel they purchased is now the Audubon Canyon Ranch. In 1962, President John F. Kennedy designated Point Reyes a national seashore, despite vehement objections by prominent locals. But over the years the local Audubon Society grew, joining forces with other chapters, eventually causing a sea change in public opinion.
Today, as you wend your way up Highway 1, look for backward-kneed great blue herons feeding in the muddy flats of Bolinas Lagoon, just as they always have. Drop by the adjacent Audubon Canyon Ranch to see giant snowy egrets nesting in the trees, then pop into the barn to check out the exhibits on how this tiny organization, against all odds, saved the coast.
To learn more, hunt down a copy of Saving the Marin-Sonoma Coast, by Dr. L. Martin Griffin, West Marin’s unsung hero.