San Rafael, CA – Rules about property development and environmental conservation within one rural Marin County area soon will have updated ordinances to serve as a model.
There are 1,485 households in the San Geronimo Valley that will be affected by two ordinances approved July 19 by the Marin County Board of Supervisors. One ordinance amends the Marin County Code for the updated Stream Conservation Area (SCA) ordinance that has been years in the making, and the other rezones all lots within the valley to a new combining district. The SCA ordinance objective is to protect streams as an essential environmental resource.
Elements of the new rules factor in the results of legal settlement between the County and the Salmon Protection and Watershed Network (SPAWN), a leading advocate for the protection of marine wildlife based in Olema. The settlement was announced in May. Both ordinances become effective August 18.
The San Geronimo Valley, comprised of four unincorporated villages, is surrounded by wooded open space areas just west of densely populated parts of central and eastern Marin. Lagunitas Creek in the San Geronimo Watershed supports one of the largest populations of wild federally listed endangered coho salmon, steelhead trout, and chinook salmon in Northern California. Coho were once plentiful in the natural waters that drain into Tomales Bay and the Pacific Ocean, but recent spawning counts were well below the federal recovery target needed to bring the salmon out of its endangered status.
As per the settlement with SPAWN, the SCA ordinance creates a new minimum 35-foot “no touch zone” along all streams, limits residential additions to a footprint of 300 square feet, and clarifies exemptions that allow removal of some vegetation. The final ordinances create standards for development within the buffer and provide consistent permit review procedures and requirements. The language details are summarized in the staff report from July 19; more documentation is on the meeting agenda.
On June 13, the Marin County Planning Commission unanimously recommended the ordinances to the Supervisors, noting that the moves recommended by the Marin County Community Development Agency (CDA) would assure development in San Geronimo Valley is consistent with the 2007 Countywide Plan and environmental impact reports while factoring in feedback from affected residents. Latest revisions center on vegetation removal rules, planning fees, and a voluntary point-of-sale inspection program. CDA staff released an initial draft of the ordinance in September 2021 and collected feedback before making revisions.
The ordinance includes various supporting resource materials to provide guidance to homeowners and contractors. It expands the existing site plan review provisions to encompass development activities proposed within SCAs in the San Geronimo Valley. The ordinances cover rules about the removal of fire-prone trees, including language that clarifies allowances for building additions, and a requirement for staff to provide public biannual reports to the Supervisors that include facts and figures about building applications within the SCA.All the SCA work is part of the ongoing staff update of the 2007 Countywide Plan, a long-range, comprehensive, land use blueprint for the unincorporated areas of the county. CDA staff is leading the County’s effort to study, educate, and protect stream and streamside conditions.