Robert Praetzel

David vs. Goliath

Recorded: February 16, 2012

In the 1960s, attorney Robert Praetzel donated more than 1,000 hours of his time on the legal case that defeated the proposed Marincello development in Marin County, California. This development would have changed the face of the landscape north of the Golden Gate Bridge, potentially housing over 30,000 people. Today millions of people now enjoy this landscape as the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

In the mid-1960’s, only one ridge away from the Golden Gate Bridge, a major environmental battle was fought over 2,000 acres. When Gulf Oil backed a land development proposal to build a city of 30,000 people in the undeveloped Marin Headlands, local attorney Robert Praetzel went to battle. As one of three dedicated local lawyers (Praetzel, Martin Rosen and Douglas Ferguson), Mr. Praetzel worked tirelessly, scrutinizing every legal move and finally winning in court. Before they could claim victory, Robert had donated more than 1,000 hours of his time working on this case. Today Marincello is included as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and is enjoyed by millions of visitors each year.

Robert Praetzel: If this had been a city, it would be like putting a city of 30,000 people in the middle of Yosemite or in the middle of one of the other big parks. As an environmentalist, I thought, boy, this is just not a good thing. The first lawsuit was a referendum, which–they turn in certain signatures and if you turn in a certain amount of signatures, it goes to a vote of the people. The assistant county clerk went over these signatures and claimed that there were 100 duplicates, that some people didn’t dot their “i’s, virtually, or didn’t put in their middle initial. They threw out about 600 or 700, or 800 signatures; so we lost that case.

Robert Praetzel:   That left us with the other case, which was on the zoning. They passed first to have the whole property zoned as a planned community; so that passed OK.  They then wanted to get it rezoned. What they did then, they stared rezoning it, and they rezoned it a lot of times. They started in with a city of 30,000. There were…I forget how many–thirty or forty 20-story high rise buildings, or something like that, all kinds of huge development, industrial–a mile-long mall. They did all this all without any notices at all, no notices at all. We said they had to give proper notice every time so that people could come in and object. That is when Huey got into the picture and ended up acquiring the property.

Robert Praetzel:   At that time Marin County was very – they wanted a lot of development. I think if we lost the case they would have steamrolled…they wanted to develop West Marin, and they wanted to do a lot of other developments. The property involved was 2,200 acres, west of Waldo Grade and it went into Gerbode Valley, and it extended all the way…almost to the ocean. If they put the city in there there’d be other developments going on.

Robert Praetzel:   You look down and you see a lot of scenes, of views over the Golden Gate Bridge looking up into the hills there. You can imagine that with the high rises, it wouldn’t be the same. The other big thing was the traffic. All of this would have been really bad for Marin County. I grew up here and I didn’t want to see anything like this happen.

Robert Praetzel:  I can encourage people, that if you see something wrong, don’t just sit there and not do anything – do something about it and you will be surprised what you can accomplish.