On any normal waning afternoon on the main street of Larkspur, California, a charmer of small town snuggled under Mt. Tamalpais, people would be strolling past shops, stopping in to cafés for an early dinner, or gathering with friends at an outside bistro to enjoy a glass of wine and chat about their perfect world. A week ago, as the sun began to set on this idyllic town, at least a hundred people marched down the main street. They were demonstrating against the last stop for the new SMART train, designed to run from Sonoma to Martin county, with the last stop being Larkspur. As the current general plan reads, a large portion of land known as Larkspur Landing, now a picturesque mixture of shops and condos, is to be co-opted to develop 77,500 square feet of retail, 39,500 square feet of office space, and 920 dwelling units.
The townsfolk went ballistic. Most dressed in red shirts displaying a logo depicting their disapproval, marching and chanting, “Just say no!” and “No more Wincup!” Wincup was another development that got passed in the dark of committee rooms. It emerged as a monstrosity, pressing against the roadway and providing for little to no sidewalks.
Children residing in the new development will be bused to a school several miles away. Parking (only one parking space allocated per unit) will turn into a gigantic nightmare.
On a mission to protect their community of Larkspur from allowing any more high-density construction – negatively impacting the already gridlocked traffic, putting a strain on bulging schools, and creating even more over-crowded hospitals – the people joined up with another four hundred at a nearby elementary school gym. Amid the glow of shine of polyurethane floors, they came face to face with town fathers and mothers and the planning commission.
The meeting went on for hours as people from all over the county stood to speak. Like many other communities in California and across the nation, they were taking on the high-density, pack-and-stack crowd's green agenda.
There is more to this outrage than just more traffic and the degradation of schools and hospitals. It comes as well from years of the government pushing into our lives.
In the last five years, national politicians have allowed a government takeover the likes of which we've never seen before. No matter how hard we push back by attending town hall meetings, calling politicians’ staffs in Washington to verbalize our concern, marching, and sending mail, we are, for the most part, ignored. Scandal after scandal fuels the need for major cover-ups, and we are wearing out.
Washington is that force of nature that prevents us from truly being heard. There has been some success, especially in 2010, but of late, in the overall scheme, the people who occupy the Hill are untouchable, and we are rendered helpless.
But in our own backyard, we have a voice. Our politicians are accessible. We can e-mail them, and they e-mail back. The issues are such that we can wrap our arms around them and either push them forward or squeeze the life out of them and make them go away.
In the school gym, five hundred people – conservatives, liberals, Republicans, Democrats, libertarians – all gathered to make their concerns known. An ebullient charge crackled in the room. For the most part, the speakers were well-prepared and knowledgeable of the nuances embedded in the General Plan and Environmental Impact report. The crowd was giddy to have been heard, loud and clear.
The outcome will not be known for months, and probably not until after several more marches and large meetings. But everyone is fine with that. Here at home, citizens are not powerless. They are a potent force. At the end of the day, as the sun sets on our towns large and small, they relish the knowledge that they are effective, and that their vision counts.
Elizabeth Appell is a novelist, playwright, and filmmaker.