Marty Griffin

Photo by Tim Porter

While many know how Dr. L. Martin Griffin’s wilderness preservation efforts played a vital role in preserving our county, the development scenarios may have been forgotten. To imagine two hundred miles of freeways, housing developments on Bolinas Lagoon and Tomales Bay that would more than double the population and require a dam on the Russian and Eel Rivers, a nuclear plant in Bodega Bay seems even more ludicrous as time goes by. 

 While Griffin and his small band of conservationists didn’t win every battle, they slowly and effectively won the important ones. Using the American Egret as their banner, the group purchased over forty parcels for the Aububon Canyon Ranch, which saved West Marin from development and preserved the wilderness gateways to the Point Reyes National Seashore.

Griffin recognized the value of preserving land for the next (and the next) generation at an early age—in the 1940s, when the Boy Scouts sold 50-acres in the East Bay hills to help pay organizational salaries. That experience taught him a real estate lesson he carried into adulthood. “I always insist that (any) property deed has a revert clause. In case it is sold for any reason, it reverts back to the county Open Space District. Times change, ideas change, but the land is there forever.”

Born in 1920, Griffin has had a range of experience and achievements few could hope to match: educator, MMWD director, conservationist and winery owner (Hop Kiln), a long career as a Marin physician and a director of public health and author of the book Saving the Marin-Sonoma Coast. “It’s been a busy life,” he acknowledges with a smile.

What makes you happy in Marin? The knowledge that our hard-won Countywide Master Plan (“Can the Last Place Last?”) has made Marin a model for the nation. We are one of the slowest-growing and best-planned counties in California, with three-fourths of the county as permanent open space and preserved farmlands. Nearly all of our coast, bays, estuaries, creeks, ridgelines and critical watersheds are preserved.

What gets on your nerves? The unawareness of newcomers and young people as to why Marin has protected open space. They seem to take it for granted and are not aware that it was to prevent Los Angelization of Marin’s landscapes. It takes continuous vigilance by everyone to prevent the degradation and privatization of our protected natural treasures.

Who influenced you the most? My parents, Frances and Loyal, introduced my brother, Bob and me to the wonders of nature. We camped; (we) fished for steelhead on the great rivers before they were dammed.

What’s been the most fulfilling moment in your work? When I received the UC School of Public Health Hero Award in 1998 for work as chair of the (state hospitals’) Task Force on Hepatitis B and later AIDS. We eliminated hepatitis B as a threat in the 11 state hospitals.

What is a Marin stereotype that fits? Marin is a county of unmatched environmental activism. Its politically savvy citizen planners are trained by the Environmental Forum of Marin, the Marin Conservation League, Audubon Canyon Ranch, the Sierra Club and a host of other groups.

What do you like about yourself? Recognition that intelligent, ecological land use planning is the basis for human health and prosperity in any California county.

How do you want to be remembered? As a good husband, father, physician, viticulturist and defender of paradise.

Categories: People, Q&A