Supervisor Charles McGlashan
Marin’s “green supervisor” talks about the Countywide Plan, environmentalists and Marin in 2032
By Jim Wood
If there’s ever a Broadway musical titled “Getting into Politics and Why I Enjoy It,” Marin County Supervisor Charles McGlashan will probably be the playwright. The guy loves what he does. “This job is a joy,” he exudes after another ten-hour day. “It’s an absolute joy.”
How did McGlashan come to such a calling? Simply put, he worked his way into it. “In the late ’90s, I cofounded Natural Strategies, an 11-person environmental consulting firm in San Rafael,” he explains, “and Marin County was a client.” The situation prompted McGlashan to think, “How cool is this—a county involved with the notion of sustainability?”
Thus inspired, in 2001 he volunteered for Marin’s Economic Development Commission and was eventually appointed to fill a vacancy on the Marin Municipal Water District’s board in 2003. “That got me started,” he acknowledged in a recent interview. Then in 2004, in a hotly contested race, he was elected to the Marin County Board of Supervisors representing Mill Valley, Tiburon, Belvedere, Sausalito and the unincorporated communities of Marin City, Tamalpais Valley, and Strawberry.
At 46, McGlashan is the youngest of Marin’s five supervisors. Born in the South Bay city of Hillsborough, he was raised in Santa Barbara, graduated from Yale and received an MBA from Stanford (both with honors). After stints on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley, McGlashan moved to Tiburon in 1991 because it was “a place where I could go all weekend without getting in my car.” The supervisor and wife Carol, his political confidante and adviser, now live in Mill Valley. “Along the way, I’ve fortunately enjoyed considerable travel,” he adds, including weeks of community service in Tibet, a Rotary Fellowship in India and extended business trips to Brazil, Chile, Thailand and Finland and throughout Europe. “I love traveling,” he admits, “especially to Italy.”
Yet forays to foreign destinations doesn’t appear likely in McGlashan’s immediate future. In addition to being a full-time supervisor (annual salary: $94,000), the Marin mountain-biking enthusiast is currently vice chair of the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit Authority (SMART), as well as a board member of the Golden Gate Bridge Transportation District, the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, LAFCO and TAM, the Transportation Authority of Marin. In 2008, McGlashan is slated to be chairman of both SMART and Marin County’s Board of Supervisors. “Plus, I’ll be up for reelection,” he says with a smile belonging in a cosmetic dentistry ad. “Which means there won’t be much time for mountain-biking.”
For starters, here is a two-part question: What do you see as the greatest threat to Marin’s 25-year future? Then, putting on rose-colored glasses, describe the Marin you’d like to see 25 years from now. Between now and, say, 2025, Marin’s greatest threat is the continuing decline in our quality of life caused by the single-occupancy automobile. It’s in our way every time we turn around. If we want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and make countywide progress by building affordable housing, we’ve got to get cars off the road. It’s a huge job, but we need to out-Europe the Europeans with respect to transit. Widening freeways is a waste of money because they just fill up with more cars. Fast-moving freeways are a motivator for building more housing up north. It’s the least cost-effective use of money imaginable. It costs $40 million a mile to widen a freeway, $4 million a mile for trains, and $400,000 a mile for a bike path. Sure, more cars use a freeway, but locally more people would use a bike and walking path.
As for the Marin of 2032, I would be thrilled if we had trolleys running from downtown Mill Valley to Sausalito, another one going to Tiburon, one going down Ross Valley and one connecting Novato with San Rafael. Sure, it’s a repeat of the “owl-eye” trains of almost a century ago, only instead of electrification, it would be biodiesel or hydrogen powered. Let’s see, I’ll be 71 and my fantasy is I would call a up jitney to take me to a trolley on Miller Avenue, which would deliver me to the freeway where I’d take a high-speed bus to Marin’s Civic Center. I’d be at work without ever having to touch a car.
And that would be on a day when I chose not to ride my bike to work. My fantasy is, for the most part, a non-car future. As for Marin’s cultural, social and entertainment future, my dream is with Marin’s Civic Center’s Renaissance Partnership. Before 25 years, I hope to see a Civic Center campus with a freestanding first-class library; a top-caliber art gallery; possibly a history museum; and updated exhibition halls and facilities for an even more vibrant farmers’ market—all of it in sync with the original Frank Lloyd Wright vision.
As for Marin’s immediate future, update us on the following: Marin’s $25 million federal pilot grant for getting people out of their cars and onto bicycles and into walking? First the bad news: the $25 million is now $20 million due to federal restrictions and regulations. The good news is reopening the Cal Park train tunnel, between Larkspur Landing and San Rafael, will begin this fall. It’s a $24 million project, a portion of that money is coming from the federal grant and it should be open by late ’08 or early ’09. In addition, at Gate Six Road and Bridgeway in north Sausalito, state-of-the-art signaling will be completed within a year, enabling safe biking from Mill Valley to the Golden Gate Bridge. Then a $1 million Class 1 bike trail will soon be constructed over Puerto Suello Hill in north San Rafael. Reopening the Camino Alto tunnel, which the feds have labeled the jewel in our crown, has yet to be resolved but a good study of it, and the alternatives, will be worked on over the next three years. But by 2010, we’ll be able to safely bicycle from the Golden Gate to Novato—and back.
The Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit, or SMART? Hopefully, it will be on the November 2008 ballot. That depends on getting definite word from freight people regarding the extent of their operations in Northern California. SMART owns the tracks, but freight has an easement that would operate under SMART’s control. I advocate SMART because it would keep 30,000 tons of CO2 from entering the air annually, as well as remove 7,000 cars a day from the congested 101 Freeway.
The Countywide General Plan? The big issue here is extending the Baylands Corridor to include the St. Vincent’s/Silveira property—and I currently support that proposal. It would mean St. Vincent’s/Silveira, under fairness, could develop 221 homes—121 at market value, 100 affordable—and this would protect considerable upland habitat. I know they want at least 350 homes, but that isn’t going to fly. I recognize building 221 homes means building up several stories, but the building footprint exists behind a knoll; therefore it won’t be seen from the 101 Freeway. If, using senior housing, St. Vincent’s/Silveira could increase those numbers without increasing traffic counts, I am willing to listen; so the Countywide Plan should allow that substitution and the planning commission allows that already. I think we’re very close on this issue now.
Marin General Hospital? We face an enormous problem here. Business interests will continue to skim off the profitable lines, leaving low-income services dependent on a shaky organization. Meanwhile, the Health Care Services Board continues to fight. We’re monitoring this situation closely, but long term we need to invent a new way of subsidizing low-income care in California.
College of Marin? The COM board seems to have a wonderful plan with excellent green building components and backed by adequate funds. But they need to establish credibility with their capital plan. It’s been almost three years now and a clear vision forward is still needed. Of course, nothing in my shop moves very fast either.
Marin’s longtime environmentalists, the ones many label “preservationists? "They are an asset to the community, but they seem afraid of saying yes to anything. Back in the 1960s and ’70s, they were successful in saying no, and with good reason. Now, however, their repeated objections—an example being their mistruths regarding SMART—are causing Marin’s large ecological footprint to grow even bigger. I could use help from the environmental community, but so far, I’m not getting it. I hope the Sierra Club will continue its role as a moderating force.
Marin’s ecological footprint? I will admit, it’s large—it takes 27.4 acres of the earth’s usable and water to annually support each Marin resident—compared to 11 for France and for Italy. Half of it results from Marin’s dependence on the automobile, and 25 percent is from our energy sources. PG&E is working with us regarding the latter. Possibly, we could buy Marin’s 200 megawatts of energy from renewable sources such as wind and solar and save money in the process. It’s very exciting, but also complex, so we’re taking our time and studying it thoroughly.
The outlawing of plastic bags? In Marin, I think it will happen by late 2008. Hopefully, it won’t be necessary. Already Mollie Stone’s has given away 10,000 reusable canvas bags, replacing plastic bags that reportedly cost them $6 million every year; DeLano’s in Tam Valley has eliminated them and Good Earth Natural Foods in Fairfax is following suit. Business is getting in front of the green movement on this one; it’s very exciting. By the way, I recently criticized single-use plastic water bottles at a supervisors meeting, and within days I was told the practice would eventually stop as far as Marin County Civic Center is concerned. For me, that’s very exciting.
Final question: what did you mean by “out-Europe the Europeans”? In 2005, I spent two weeks studying in Delft, a small city in the Netherlands, along with other European cities. Next to gray sidewalks its residents have wide, red-colored concrete lanes for bikes, and beyond that are lanes for cars and buses. It all works so smoothly. I can honestly say that although their weather is much worse, their quality of life is superior to Marin’s. In addition, their ecological footprint is much lower. I think it’s because they aren’t as dependent on the single-occupancy automobile as we are. If a breakthrough like the Camino Alto tunnel could be made, Marin will be even more level than Delft, so a walking- and bicycle-friendly community is not beyond the realm of reality. I realize such a community now sounds difficult, but I’m willing to give it my all to make it a reality; that’s what I’m here to do.