County supervisors are set to adopt a two-year building moratorium along streams in the San Geronimo Valley while they draft new plans and policies to ensure protection of endangered coho salmon, supervisor Steve Kinsey announced this week.
The announcement represents a huge victory for the Salmon Protection and Watershed Network (SPAWN), which lobbied aggressively for such measures when supervisors adopted a new countywide plan last fall. The new planning effort — dubbed a “partnership” between the county and SPAWN — comes in response to a lawsuit threatened by the valley-based environmental organization.
Supervisor Kinsey and SPAWN founder Todd Steiner unveiled their agreement at a press conference Wednesday morning on White’s Hill, near the headwaters of the San Geronimo Valley watershed.
“Moratoriums are a difficult thing for anyone to accept,” Kinsey said. “But we understand it as an important step to ensure we don’t allow anything further to go in the wrong direction, while we determine what the right direction is.”
Supervisor Kinsey and Steiner both said they hope the agreement will mark a turning point in their historically contentious relationship, which included past litigation over Valley development. And they both also acknowledged that difficult work still remains ahead.
“I can assure you that the members of SPAWN are ready to roll up our sleeves and work as hard as possible to make this partnership a success,” Steiner said.
Supervisors are scheduled to vote on the moratorium at their meeting on Tuesday, and will also commit some $300,000 toward the development of the new salmonid habitat enhancement plan.
Kinsey said the plan will build on existing science and local studies — with the active participation of SPAWN, technical experts, and property owner representatives — to put forth new county policies, programs and actions that would improve the survival chances of salmon and steelhead trout in Valley streams and tributaries.
Some possible measures include preserving key parcels that have not yet been developed, and also determining ways to address all the unpermitted construction that has taken place near valley streams.
“The San Geronimo Valley has a history of being home to thousands of fish,” Kinsey said. “Well, it has an equal number of unpermitted structures.” Steiner noted that Valley residents deserve a lot of credit for why the Lagunitas watershed is home to one of the largest remaining coho salmon populations along the central California coast. But there are still improvements to be made, he added, especially with continuing development pressures.
“We need to plan for the future to avoid the mistakes of the past,” Steiner said. “And we have to repair the mistakes of the past too.”
Under the terms of the agreement, the building moratorium will apply to any unapproved new construction inside streamside conservation areas within the San Geronimo Valley, and will last a maximum of two years. The county has included some accommodations for already developed properties – allowing emergency or disaster repairs, and construction up to 500 square feet of additional space, so long as no net increase in the building footprint occurs.
The entire effort also took on a new sense of urgency in recent weeks, with biological surveys showing that West Marin had some of the lowest spawning numbers on record. Statewide, chinook and coho salmon numbers dropped precipitously this year. And in the small tributaries of the San Geronimo Valley, coho counts declined some 95 percent from three years ago.
During the countywide plan hearings last fall, SPAWN and other West Marin environmental groups argued that the county document violated state environmental laws by failing to adequately protect the endangered salmon. At one hearing, SPAWN officials presented the board with supportive signatures from more than 2,000 county residents and over 100 scientists — including leading salmon experts.