Upfront: In the dark

Hotline down in Stinson Beach and flood control on hold in Ross Valley

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This spring, people calling a lifeguard tower at a Marin beach received a message that informed them that the line was down.

by Peter Seidman

Stinson Beach hotline cut

For as long as many people on the east side of Mount Tam can remember, the summer and fall beach and ocean activity season has been marked by a familiar routine: Wait until around 9am (sometimes later) and place a call to the lifeguard tower at Stinson Beach.

A telephone hotline with a recorded message would tell eager beachgoers the weather and wave conditions, as well as offer predictions about whether the fog would clear or the wind would increase in the afternoon.

Earlier this spring, though, callers to the line, which usually was hot from around March or April to around November, received a message saying that the hotline was shut down. The reason given was that due to a low volume of calls, no more weather and wave reports would be recorded.

That may seem to be a trivial circumstance to people who view a ride over Mount Tam to the beach merely as an occasional jaunt. But to dedicated beachgoers, and especially to committed wave-riders who live on the east side of the mountain, the information garnered on the hotline could mean a drive that paid off with big rewards or prevented a wasted trip. The hotline also could save motorists more than time. As gas prices rose, the cost of a round-trip drive to the beach from eastern Marin also increased. That could result in a not insubstantial expense for beachgoers used to making the Stinson drive two or three or more times a week. And for wave-riders, the information on the hotline helped make a decision about what spot would be best for a day on the ocean.

It looks as though the reason for the low call volume is that the general public didn’t know about the hotline, hence the low volume of calls. Dedicated surfers and other beachgoers, of course, knew about it and relied on it.

Rather than shut the hotline, another alternative could have been—and still could be—to do some marketing and let people know about the telephone service, if call volume must remain a determining factor. Even if only a relative few wave-riders and beachgoers call the line, it’s still a valuable service, especially in the case of a beach closure after a shark sighting or lack of parking on a hot summer day.

The line, at 415/868-1922, is still live, although no message gets recorded. Eager wave-riders receive just rings with no one home. So it seems that the cost of maintaining a telephone line isn’t the determining factor behind letting the hotline go dark.

The staff time needed to record a daily message during the summer season is minimal. The lifeguards at Stinson are part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. A spokesperson said that she had no knowledge about the status of the hotline. Considering the small effort to record a message, perhaps the national park bureaucracy could consider helping to reinstate the hotline.

The loss of the Stinson Beach report isn’t the only example of a decline in the possibilities for wave-riders and beachgoers to get information that would help them decide whether a trip over the mountain is warranted.

Proof Lab, the surf and skate and outdoor shop at Tam Junction, used to have a recorded telephone surf report, but like the Stinson report, the Proof Lab report has gone dark. Live Water Surf Shop in Stinson Beach doesn’t have an eyes-on-the-water daily report either.

That leaves one remaining option, which is especially helpful for surfers. The 2 Mile Surf Shop in Bolinas still has a daily-recorded report. But it’s Bolinas-centric. Good for surfers. Not so good for beachgoers with a Stinson destination in mind. Conditions for surfers in Bolinas can be dramatically different than for beachgoers who want to lie out in the Stinson sand. Still, at least for now and until and unless the Stinson hotline goes live again, the 2 Mile report is the only game in town. The number for the 2 Mile report is 415/868-2412.Y

San Anselmo park remains focus of flood-control objections.

Dissention shows no signs of abating in the Ross Valley, where a proposal to use a neighborhood park as part of a major flood-control project remains a meaty bone of contention.

Even a report issued earlier this year that predicted dire consequences in the Ross Valley if residents fail to agree on flood-control measures didn’t persuade San Anselmo residents to find common cause.

Opponents of a plan to use Memorial Park in San Anselmo as a temporary detention basin to hold floodwater remain adamant, and say that transforming the park would destroy a recreational asset beloved by neighbors and other residents in the town. They also say that the project would reduce property values during construction, cause unacceptable traffic congestion and leave the town with a generic-looking park rather than a homegrown community asset. In addition, they claim that a Memorial Park detention basin would retain a relatively small amount of floodwater.

Proponents of the idea, however, say that using Memorial Park as a detention basin would result in a project that actually could improve the park. Dueling statistics and some harsh accusations have flown from both sides.

A consultant’s review of the efficacy of the detention basin plan failed to satisfy objectors. Memorial Park remained high in a ranking system to determine the effectiveness of the basins. But in an example of what has become a relatively common occurrence in the county, objectors turned to the political system to stymie elected officials. They crafted a measure for the November ballot that would, if San Anselmo voters pass it, prohibit the town from using Memorial Park as a detention basin. The Town Council weighed in with a competing ballot measure.

Whether a vote of the electorate, with a process susceptible to campaign rhetoric and persuasion tactics, is the best way to craft a major flood-control measure is an open question. (The process echoes the progression of the desalination proposal, which voters managed to stall through a ballot-measure mechanism.)

Proponents of taking the flood plan to a vote say that it’s right that the electorate should decide what to do with their park. Opponents, however, say that rather than supporting a democratic process, those who favor going for a vote really are aiming their political ammunition at blocking the use of the park and putting a spike in the flood-control project.

In addition to the tactical questions, which are legitimate debate points, the Memorial Park contretemps highlights a continuing feeling of distrust that a significant portion of the Marin electorate holds for elected officials. The question of whether direct democracy or representative democracy is the best medicine for the county’s political body also has become a familiar, if unspoken, part of the wider implications involved in this and many other narrow issues facing the county and its cities.

The Flood Control Zone 9 Advisory Board decided recently to delay a decision about whether to include Memorial Park as an element in what’s called a Programmatic Environmental Impact Report (PEIR).

The report will look at the detention sites that remain on the list to determine possible impacts. In addition to the detention basins, bridge improvements and replacements, creek widening and other methods of improving water flow will be part of the study, which is expected to take about 18 months.

That’s another 18 months before an environmental report can even be put on the table—if objectors don’t slow the process through additional political maneuvers. It’s already close to 10 years since Ross Valley voters approved a ballot measure to raise funds for a comprehensive flood-control project.

Neighbors have every right to view a beloved local park as integral to their lifestyle and the atmosphere of their neighborhood. But as scientists predict a possible El Nino winter, which could bring rains similar to those in 1982, will San Anselmo residents be able to find compromises in a “We’re-in-this-thing-together” mode? Or will it be another decade or more before effective flood control comes to the Ross Valley?

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