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Council Backs Appeal of La Goma Project

Unanimous decision on controversial project near creek sends proposed 8,300-square-foot office building back to planning department for environmental review.

Marin developer and filmmaker Jonathan Parker’s attempts to develop his land at Miller Ave. and La Goma has been mired in controversy for more than six years over its impact on nearby Arroyo Corte Madera del Presidio Creek and the fish who inhabit it.

After a marathon Mill Valley City Council hearing Tuesday night, the project remains in limbo, as the council unanimously backed an appeal by Mill Valley Streamkeepers of the Planning Commission's approval of it and sent it back to the city’s planning department for more study of its environmental impacts.

“I cannot make a finding that this is not within an environmentally sensitive area,” Mayor Ken Wachtel said, referring to the night’s complex debate over whether the project was eligible to be “categorically exempt” from the regulations of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

In an ironic twist that Parker noted explicitly, the proposed construction of an 8,300-square-foot office building on a group of parcels on La Goma would serve as a significant upgrade from the blighted buildings that have existed there right on top of the creek for decades, long before Parker bought the property in 2005. 

But as part of a requirement by the U.S. Department of Fish and Game to restore the creek area, Parker is proposing to demolish the existing structures and restore the creekside. But the properties have been used over the years as an impound for the police department, a ceramics studio and an auto repair shop, and it’s quite possible that harmful substance exist under those buildings.

"We know there is lead in the soil," Wachtel said. "We have no idea if there is lead or any other contaminants under the buildings."

As a result of that unknown, that demolition work drew most of the criticism Tuesday night.

“We need greater clarity up front before a shovel goes into the ground on this,” said Councilmember Stephanie Moulton-Peters.

The discussion hinged on the lack of completion of an initial environmental study on a previous iteration of the project that included 17-unit mixed-use project. Parker withdrew that proposal in the face of staunch opposition from neighbors before the study was completed, halting a review of its possible environmental impacts.

The central issue up for debate was whether the project was categorically exempt from further CEQA review, or whether its proximity to an environmentally sensitive habitat required additional review.

“It’s a judgment call on your part,” City Attorney Greg Stepanicich told the council.

Several councilmembers said they could go either way on the issue, but all five ultimately agreed to back the appeal and require further study of the possible impacts of the demolition work.

“On one hand, the project really does nothing but good for the environment,” Vice Mayor Garry Lion said. “But on the other hand, I have a tough time thinking that this is not an environmentally sensitive area. We really don’t know about the contaminants under the structures. Without having done at least an initial study it’s tough to make that judgment call.”

Parker, whose 2009 film (Untitled) drew acclaim, noted his predicament of proposing to clean up a site that has long been an environmental eyesore but being unable to do so.

“I’m just not really clear on the goal of the appellants here,” Parker said. “This (project) is the only way the soil will be cleaned and the setback achieved. (If not), the lead and petroleum products remain right on the creek bank. This whole project is designed to enhance the beauty of this area.”

Laura Chariton September 08, 2011 at 03:40 PM
Thank you for the article. What it fails to state is that on the property, at the site of the proposed development, there are surveyed federally and state listed "threatened" steelhead trout whose numbers are down 95% since 1946. Furthermore, there is "critical habitat" on the project site that all Steelhead, (anadromous fish) that enter the Arroyo Corte Madera del Presidio creek system must migrate through. Any toxicity, sediment from development and run off, plus the already eroding banks can negatively impact the 5% remaining species. Mill Valley has lost is legacy Coho salmon, the last seen in 1991. We are grateful for the CEQA process as it gives us an opportunity to save the last remnants of species and a once rich and bio-diverse ecosystem and allows us to leave the steelhead legacy to future generations. We are grateful to the City council for understanding this. Laura Chariton Mill Valley StreamKeepers
Susan Ives September 08, 2011 at 04:47 PM
Better late than never, Mill Valley officials have awakened to the need to protect salmon habitat. There's much restoration to be done, but preventing further degradation of our creeks and streams is an important first step. Marin's Coho are still hanging on despite the county's weak vegetation and building ordinances, and poor enforcement of those regulations that do exist. Our City Council can make Mill Valley a example for the entire county, and beyond, by declaring a goal to bring back our salmon; dedicating some start-up funding for the effort; and inspiring Mill Valley schools, families, and businesses to become involved. Susan Ives
Mari September 10, 2012 at 04:09 PM
what are your thoughts on this bill? http://millvalley.patch.com/articles/huffman-touts-bills-to-boost-state-fish-game-bee55d21

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