Martin Griffin

Planning Ahead

Recorded: June 28, 2012

Imagine a different view from San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge -- one with a major freeway bisecting the Marin Headlands. Marty Griffin was not about to let that happen. Dr. Griffin tells his story about how he surreptitiously thwarted a plan to develop the pristine lands of the Marin Headlands.

Dr. Martin Griffin has always loved Marin and Sonoma Counties in Northern California. Indeed, the Bay Area coastal landscape we know today reflects his affection and perseverance. Marty Griffin not only had a long career as a physician but his many accomplishments in land conservation have inspired successive generations to follow in his footsteps. We have him to thank for the Audubon Canyon Ranch and a natural Marin coastline unspoiled by a multi-lane freeway that once was considered a sure thing.

While Dr. Griffin was actively seeing patients, he served as president of the Marin Chapter of the Audubon Society. In that capacity, he waged a major battle to stop a behemoth marina project that later became the Richardson Bay Biological Reserve.

Marty Griffin: I had seen the Bolinas Lagoon when I was at college. I had majored in zoology and botany, which is a crazy thing to major in when you want to go to medical school. But we went on a hike out there one day, [unintelligible] class and hiked up through the poison oak and looked down on this incredible sight of two hundred and forty nests of Great American Egrets and Snowy Egrets and Black Crown Night Herons, but Bolinas Lagoon at that time was under siege by developers and the county was the worst offender. The whole Bolinas Ridge was subdivided, to be subdivided at 15 acre, 20 acre and 5 acre, 2 acre parcels. The Harbor District had been formed out there legally and by elects and I got a phone call from a fellow who had helped me out at Bolinas and who I knew, he phoned me late one night and he said “the Bolinas Harbor District met last night at Smiley’s Saloon and I overheard them say that they were going to file a lawsuit against Mrs. Ann Kent and get the rest of Kent Island.” And that that would be the center piece for their big plans they had for something like 1200 boat slips and office buildings and parking lots all on Kent Island. The Army Corp of Engineers was involved in this too; they had plans for big dredging and opening up the opening like Tomales Bay. So he said “you better get busy.” And so I met with Mrs. Ann Kent and two of her children the next day and I said “I’m here to make you an offer for Kent Island,” to buy the rest of it, we owned 8 acres or 9 acres that Alice Kent gave us but we need the whole shebang in order to stop this big development plan so they agreed. Then I called Huey, he said “the only way you can probably win this battle is to give the island to the county as a county park and get them to accept it immediately before they file their lis pendens [lawsuit pending].” And he said the county has superior rating over the Harbor District, I mean what they want, they’ll get. I ran from the title company and to the offices of Mr. Katenhoofer [Sp?] who was the supervisor for that area and was a friend of mine, but he was a big developer, big developer and I didn’t think he would go for what I proposed. I said “we’d like you to accept a gift of Kent Island on behalf of the Board of Supervisors and we’ll pay for it, it’ll be paid for. One way or another we’ll get the money to pay for it.” He said “don’t talk to anybody. Don’t tell anybody what we’re doing.”

Marty Griffin: So Tuesday came around and Huey presented the deed, it hadn’t been paid for yet to the county and they accepted it. The supervisor, he [unintelligible] them all and got my enemies on his side and so it was a unanimous vote to accept Kent Island and that killed the whole Harbor District. And oh, the newspaper was so angry with me, they, they thought it was fraud. The county had already come out with a master plan for the whole [unintelligible] basin very much like the Bolinas master plan but it called for 125,000 people on the east shore of the Tomalas Bay. So I was horrified by this new master plan, the [unintelligible] master plan that the supervisors had put out. And they put it out in a hurry, I think mostly because we’d gotten Bolinas Basin away from them.

Marty Griffin: I knew that the key to saving West Marin was to stop freeways and they still had another freeway up their sleeve from San Rafael, over the hills to Fairfax and to Olema and then up the coast. My strategy was just to quietly buy anything we could in the path of progress and I saw that the key parcel on the whole east side of Tomalas Bay was Clifford Conley’s 10-acre parcel that you call Cypress Grove that stuck out into the bay. And I’d never met the man but I was inspired one night to call him and I said “Mr. Conley, this is Dr. Griffin and I bought Canyon Ranch and we’d like to make you an offer to buy your Cyprus Grove.” There was not a word, a deep silence and he says, finally said “Dr. Griffin, you know what time it is?” And I, you know I’d been to a medical meeting and I looked at my watch and it was after 12 and he said “I was sound asleep and I’m standing here now starker in the windiest, coldest part of California and if you’ll just let me get back to bed, I’ll give you Cyprus Grove.” So we got this key parcel and it became our headquarters on Tomalas Bay, same deal as Mrs. Kent’s parcel, helped save Bolinas Bay since. And it was Clifford Conley’s 10-acres on Tomalas Bay that really helped save Tomalas Bay.

Marty Griffin: I saw millions of men coming through the Bay Area on their way to the Pacific to fight and coming back and a lot of my friends got killed. And I really think that the environmental movement was inspired by our love for the United States and so many of the people who fought to save Marin were returning veterans. We’re no better than the environment we live in and our health depends on a healthy environment. Of the whole, I think the whole environmental health of our citizens is extremely important.