Reading the Signs

No county money for Bolinas' Surfer's Overlook repair

Houses and roads are falling into the Pacific Ocean up and down the coast, from the Muir Beach slide on Highway 1 earlier this year, to the stunning collapse of numerous Gleason Beach properties on the Sonoma County coast over the past decade. This whole “oceans rising” thing has a real cost—who’s gonna pay?

The problem was on raw display during a standing-room-only meeting at the Bolinas fire station this past Saturday to talk about the fate of the so-called Surfer’s Overlook on Terrace Avenue.

The meeting featured a telling bit of hilarity during an exchange between Marin County Supervisor Steve Kinsey and Robert Plotkin, an East Coast native who is also the former—and highly controversial—publisher of the Point Reyes Light.

Here’s the story. Engineers have determined that Surfer’s Overlook, a popular spot from which to view the wave action, is going to fall into those waves within a year or two. The town needs to come up with $500,000 for an immediate fix to the road—and there’s another $6 million needed in an as-yet-unscheduled Phase II fix that would shore up the bluffs along Terrace.

As of Saturday, Bolinas organizers had raised about $200,000 for Phase I. Marin County pledged to kick in $50,000 as part of its commitment to pay 10 percent of the total Phase I cost, Kinsey told the group. The county is also picking up the tab for whatever permits are needed to expedite the job, which will be done by county public works employees.

Otherwise, Kinsey said, Bolinas is on its own to raise the money to fix its road. He cited a previous earth-slide at the top of Terrace that had taken a big piece of the road with it. That event closed the street in 2012. It was fixed with $1.2 million in county money.

That’s not happening again. Kinsey explained that the county’s legal obligation insofar as Surfer’s Overlook isn’t the same as it was after the 2012 event. The legal question turns on whether residents can access their homes using the county-maintained road. If the answer is yes, then the county doesn’t have to pay for the repairs.

A question-and-answer period ensued, at which point Plotkin said he completely disagreed with Kinsey on the question of the broader value of the Surfer’s Overlook and who should pay for its repair. He urged the county, the state—everyone—to pick up a piece of the tab, given that Surfer’s Overlook is a coastal jewel to be enjoyed by any and all residents of the state or nation at large, including New York transplants.

Kinsey shot back that if Bolinas wanted to go that route, it should register Surfer’s Overlook as a place of historical interest— and tell the world to come on down!

The knowing crowd of locals let out a collective chuckle at Kinsey’s brushback to Plotkin, since Bolinas doesn’t even tolerate state signs that would tell you how to find the town.