Marin County’s “Stream Conservation Area Ordinance”, approved by the Board of Supervisors on Oct. 29 (see Dec. Yodeler, page 5), is no longer in effect.
The ordinance included a “poison pill”: “this ordinance shall not be further enforced or applied should litigation against the County of Marin challenging the validity of any part of this ordinance or its environmental review be filed in a court of law.” Anyone, including a disgruntled property owner, could have killed it. In fact, it was the Salmon Protection and Watershed Network (SPAWN), joined by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), who filed such a lawsuit on Nov. 18, challenging the gross inadequacies of the ordinance.
In 2011 SPAWN had sued the county for not implementing a Stream Conservation Area ordinance within the timeframe specified in the 2007 Countywide Plan. In September 2012 Marin County Superior Court Judge M. Lynn Duryee imposed a building moratorium on the San Geronimo Valley until the county passed such an ordinance. In light of the new lawsuit, this Jan. 14 Duryee will hold a court hearing to determine if the moratorium should resume, and whether it should be expanded to all of Marin.
To meet the requirements of the Countywide Plan and the Endangered Species and Clean Water Acts, the ordinance should include basic protections for our endangered coho salmon and threatened steelhead trout, including “no net loss” of habitat. Instead the ordinance is riddled with exemptions and exceptions that allow increased development next to streams.
The low water levels of this season’s drought have brought low salmon returns for spawning, and we fear they will lead to a worrisomely small cohort of offspring.
This could put our already endangered coho further into the extinction vortex described by fish experts such as Peter Moyle and the National Marine Fisheries Service.
So, seven years after passage of a Countywide Plan that was supposed to protect our streams and their wildlife, after numerous scientific recommendations and studies, Marin County still lacks a Stream Conservation Area Ordinance. In 2009 the county hired a law firm to draft an ordinance, but it was discarded and ignored. The county has spent millions of dollars, but given no relief to the salmon.
Some have suggested scrapping the whole effort: instead of passing an ordinance with the protections mandated by the Countywide Plan, they would have the county modify the Plan to match the flimsy protections of the ordinance. Such a reversal would cost another several hundred thousand dollars and take two years, and our streams would pay the price.
Other counties around the country have effective stream and riparian ordinances. Santa Cruz has had its ordinance for more than 33 years. Why not Marin?
Laura Chariton, Marin Group Executive Committee