County of Marin - Press Releases - Watershed Court Ruling

For Immediate Release
March 07, 2014

Split Decision on San Geronimo Valley Court Ruling

County and challenger SPAWN differed on development in watershed

San Rafael, CA – The California Court of Appeal has reversed both aspects of a 2012 Marin County Superior Court judgment in a case between the County of Marin and the Salmon Protection and Watershed Network (SPAWN) in the nonprofit group’s challenge over a 2007 environmental impact report (EIR).

On March 5, the 1st Appellate District Court of Appeal in San Francisco ruled in favor of the County in its appeal of an injunction against the approval of most development in the San Geronimo Valley until a stream conservation ordinance is adopted by the County. The court found that the injunction had been improperly issued because there was no factual basis upon which to grant it. 

The Court of Appeal also invalidated the EIR with respect to the analysis of “cumulative impacts” of development within the San Geronimo Valley. 

The County adopted the EIR when it approved the 2007 update to the Marin Countywide Plan and took measures to protect fish. However, SPAWN challenged the issue of sensitive habitat in the rural San Geronimo Valley sub-watershed of the Lagunitas watershed.  Marin County Superior Court upheld the validity of the EIR in September 2012 but issued an injunction against the approval of most development in the San Geronimo Valley until a stream conservation ordinance was adopted by the County; an interim ordinance was approved by the Board of Supervisors in October 2013.

In November 2012, SPAWN appealed the Superior Court judgment as to the EIR, and the County appealed the judgment as to the injunction.

The First Appellate District court said the EIR did not contain a “… meaningful analysis of the likely cumulative impacts of a widespread buildout …” under the Countywide Plan. 

District 4 Supervisor Steve Kinsey, who represents the San Geronimo Valley, expressed trust in the work of the Marin County Community Development Agency, which oversees the stream conservation campaign.

“I’m confident that further analysis of development impacts that the court ruling requires would show that our watershed program is sound,” Kinsey said. “We can protect the salmon without unfairly penalizing existing homeowners, and the court’s permission to continue processing permits in the San Geronimo Valley reinforces that.”

The subdivisions that comprise the San Geronimo Valley were approved in the early 1900s, and most developable parcels had already been developed by the 2007 Countywide Plan update. In court, the County argued that the EIR did not constitute any new approval of development in that area. In addition, attempting to ascertain how much development might occur on the remaining parcels would require a parcel-specific level of review not normally required for general plans and would require speculation as to development potential. Many of the remaining parcels are not large enough to support even a standard sewage disposal system.

The County adopted its first Countywide Plan in 1973 and has made four updates. Following this week’s ruling, the 2007 Countywide Plan remains in effect in all areas of Marin except the San Geronimo Valley, where the preexisting 1994 update of the Countywide Plan is in effect.


David Zaltsman
Deputy County Counsel
Office of the County Counsel

Marin County Civic Center
3501 Civic Center Drive
San Rafael, CA 94903
(415) 473-6127
Email: David Zaltsman