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The Fence to Nowhere

with 8 comments

I’ve been scratching my head on this one, thinking it belongs on Anderson Cooper’s RidicuList.

A few months ago a neighborhood group called Friends of Kite Hill put up a modest sign protesting the construction of a housing project at a busy intersection in Mill Valley, California. The group believes “the project would result in unacceptable adverse impacts on public safety and traffic congestion—daily gridlock—at what is already the City’s most congested and subpar-rated intersection. . . .”

Friends of Kite Hill, Brithedale Terrace

The little sign that started it all.

As you might expect, the developer objects, claiming that his building plans are environmentally friendly and intended to “create a small community of housing for persons of ordinary means who will appreciate the opportunity to live in Mill Valley.” Fair enough. Letters to the local newspaper, appeals to the planning commission, etc. All fairly routine and boring except to the parties involved.

But here’s where things start to get slightly wacky. The developer has build a short fence on his property going nowhere, but blocking the community group’s signs. Now it could be that the property owner intends to fence the entire 1.2 acre lot, and just happened to start in front of the signs, but this seems unlikely.

The Fence to Nowhere

The Fence to Nowhere.

Adolescent? Ridiculous?

So how did the neighborhood group respond? Of course, by raising its protest messages above the fence! The next move in this tit-for-tat affair is up to the developer.

Friends of Kite Hill, The Fence to Nowhere

The Friends of Kite Hill respond to the Fence to Nowhere.

The scrappy neighborhood group seems to have the upper hand at the moment, because the city attorney has decided that the protest signs are covered by rules governing free speech, while the developer’s fence is governed by the lowly rules of fence construction. Fencing in Marin County can’t be higher than seven feet.

But what if the fence had a ‘free speech” message painted on it? And what if a fence to nowhere isn’t really a fence? I can’t wait for the next round.

Friends of Kite Hill

A view of Kite Hill.


Written by Ron Greene

August 11, 2012 at 12:56 pm

8 Responses

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  1. Very funny, and heartening, somehow. J

    Sent from my iPad

    Judith Pruess-Mellow

    August 11, 2012 at 1:36 pm

    • We’ll see where this thing goes. There are some very serious issues involved, even though the fence thing is silly.

      Ron Greene

      August 12, 2012 at 10:56 am

  2. Thank you for another short blog article that describes a complex political issue in such a straightforward manner!

    This neighborhood battle is not a new event here in Marin. Throughout my four decades here I have seen constant land development conflicts. From my observations I have arrived at three perspectives:

    1- Our population continues to grow while our average household economy continues to drop. This means the demand for affordable housing is ever increasing. I need not cite such a well known and discussed topic.
    2- As cherished as our open space areas are to us, I cannot see how more homes may be built without either developing housing on natural land or demoloshing existing housing to create more (smaller) units on lots currently taken by larger homes. Both have been occuring of course, through much resistance by existing residents who desire to preserve the lifestyles they are used to leading, often with an overblown sense of personal entitlement at the expense of the community’s growth needs.
    3- Developers will not stop to respect our neighborhood wishes and will do whatever it takes to profit from construction. This dynamic has often led to expensive housing being built even after promises to create affordable housing as per community regulation.

    I am torn politically every time I witness these development battles. On one hand I love our open spaces and hope to preserve them. On the other, I understand more housing is necessary, especially low income units to provide for a legitimately struggling population segment. In the end, even if I cannot take a solid stance in either the neighbors’ nor developers’ camps, I can stand strong with one perspective: our community’s change is going to continue as the world changes around us; any idea that we are isolated from that change or can hold it at bay is fantasy at best and expensive at worst.


    August 11, 2012 at 6:41 pm

    • Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughtful response. The issues are not easy to resolve, and not even easy to define. What exactly is “affordable housing” when it comes to Marin County? Ordinary middle-class young people without some sort of outside financial support (e.g. parents) are often priced out of what would be tear-downs in other communities.

      Ron Greene

      August 12, 2012 at 11:05 am

  3. This is not an affordable housing project. 20 townhouses on such a small piece of land is overdevelopment – up to 5 units would make sense. The proposed project would shoot up the equivalent of 80 feet high from tbe sidewalk due to slope. This looks nothing like the current Neighborhood. It is at the already worse intersection in Mill Valley. The community is rising up against the project for valid reasons.


    August 12, 2012 at 1:51 pm

    • I agree the community has a valid perspective. Their actions – as viewed from this lense here – seem to me to be destined for failure. I’m sure there are other actions in the works which tackle the conflict in a more practical and mature manner. I can see however, that waging a signage war effectively undermines their own credibility.

      What’s the phrase: “don’t stoop to the opponant’s level”?


      August 12, 2012 at 4:00 pm

      • In the signage war, I suspect Friends of Kite Hill have the advantage. Blocking someone’s right to free expression is never a good idea, especially in a liberal county.

        Ron Greene

        August 12, 2012 at 5:58 pm

    • As I’ve said before, I’m not sure there is any such thing as affordable housing in Marin. Everything is expensive. Or am I missing something?

      Five units would make better sense for the community, but that might not pencil out for the builder.

      Ron Greene

      August 12, 2012 at 5:53 pm

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