September 14, 2016
TO: Marin County Planning Commission
RE: Public Hearing for the Marin County LCP Amendments
Recently I read “Down a Narrow Road” by anthropologist Jay Dautcher, PhD. In the book he talked about government actions to gain influence over communities in order to serve their own interests, especially in those communities where there are strong personal and community identities and where residents are very connected to their land.
Quoting Dautcher: “Personal and collective attachments to place are critical basis of identity in general, since claims to political entitlement are often understood and advanced through them. If a state can undermine the cognitive and material bases supporting this feeling of belonging, the ability of groups to advance political claims to political entitlement is weakened.”
It is also interesting that one of the techniques Dautcher cited that governments use to break a people’s connections to place are to convert sacred, important community sites to tourist destinations.
As I have been focused on the Local Coastal Program (LCP) and its influence on our community, I started seeing what is happening through Dautcher’s view. Our coastal towns are not just a place for commercial services. Main Street is the social nexus for the community, and on typical trip to the post office and shops, we will encounter and talk with many friends and visitors, sharing directly in the rich life of a small, rural town. In Point Reyes Station on Friday through Monday however, visitors greatly outnumber residents. Locals avoid coming to town because of the physical displacement and loss of normal town intimacy and sociability. Meanwhile, tourism is promoted in West Marin without managing its impacts. This is breaking our connections to place cognitively as well as physically. I am concerned that this disruption will erode the vitality of our town, leaving a physical setting that is without the spirit and care that locals provide and visitors seek.
While I do feel that the County and Coastal Commission are not consciously undermining the future our coastal communities, their policies and programs are likely to have the same impact. It is important that we look carefully at the language in the LCP, as the policies and programs in the LCP are critical and take precedent over our Community Plans.
I find that the language in the LCP that talks about preserving the character of our communities is comforting, as community character is inclusive with distinguishing physical, social, economic and quality of life aspects. Specific character for each community is not defined however, and is left for the communities to address. Which may be all right, however there is one place that gives an overall statement of what constitutes character in the mind of the LCP. This is located on Community Specific Policies, Background (LCP page 81)
“The Marin County Coastal Zone is home to distinctive towns and villages that have a strong sense of place (see Map 16 – Community Areas). The character of these communities depends in large part on their physical setting, the nature of land uses within them, and their visual appearance.”
There is no acknowledgment of the role of local populations, their values, quality of life, and their personal connections and contributions that have created and continue to nourish the character of these communities. In effect, to maintain character, the LCP implies that local community populations are without value, ignoring the fact that the local populations, not the County or the Coastal Commission, created and continue to protect life in these communities. I often think about our town as a coral reef, built on layers of local living tissue. Destroy the living coral, and you lose the reef.
To protect the character of each coastal village, I believe the LCP needs to broaden its overall character definition and create one that embodies and protects the true cultural and social nature of coastal community character. Attached is my wording for community character as an illustrative starting point for County planners:
“The Marin County Coastal Zone is home to distinctive towns and villages that have a strong sense of place (see Map 16 – Community Areas). The character and appearance of these communities has been shaped and nurtured by residents and property owners for over a century, and is enhanced by the physical setting and the nature of land uses within them.”
I believe the LCP needs to broaden its overall definition of character and create one that embodies and protects the social and cultural character of our coastal communities. We would appreciate your support of this goal.
Point Reyes Station Village Association Design Review Chair