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Update on proposed stable closures by the Feds
Steph, this is longish but I think it's important to riders everywhere.
With your permission, this is an update on some very busy political
A Hopeful Progress Report to concerned equestrians: last May 22, I
posted a distress message to the effect that the federal authorities had
announced plans to close two stables on Golden Gate Nat. Recreational
Area lands (San Francisco area) and to concentrate operations at a third,
also on GGNRA lands. This decision had been reached without benefit of
input from the many resident equestrians and riding clubs and without the
benefit of reliable studies to support their claims of environmental
impact. Their "economic studies" for closure have yet to be disclosed.
On May 19, over 200 concerned horselovers attended a meeting of public
agency heads--county, state, utility, and federal. While giving
compliments to deserving agencies, those present roasted the feds, not
only for their closure plan, but for a creeping and increasing practice
of unaccountability and non-responsiveness on their part. It was a
public relations disaster for them for the federal agents there.
We could not have foreseen what happened next. The "horse issue,"
as it came to be called, unleashed a torrent of anti-federal sentiment in
West Marin (where the federal land holdings are). Concerns over
lease-holder evictions, termination of grazing, fire fuel buildup on
ungrazed slopes, razing of historic buildings, destruction of
low-income (ranch worker) housing, and general destruction of the
diversity of what makes up rural life, sprang into being. Key
committees have been formed; meetings held; County supervisors are
involved; aides to our US Senators and Representative have been
notified; a petition for a moratorium on all changes has over a thousand
signatures. It's a stampede!
This is a hopeful, if wary, report of what has happened since May 19.
The feds, recognizing the need for damage control, have pulled back.
The General Superintendent of the GGNRA, Brian O'Neill, has announced a
withdrawal of all plans to close the stables and a "willingness to meet
anywhere, any time, with anyone, to discuss the issues." They have
indicated that "co-operatives with public programs" could indeed take the
place of "concessionaires" for the stables. The so-called
"environmental issues" are being double-checked. The Marin Horse
Council has formed an Equestrian Advocacy Committee (EAC) of ten (w/3
alternates), including an experienced attorney. We've had several
meetings with Mr. O'Neill and his assistant Len McKenzie. The GGNRA
Advisory Commission is on notice that our goal is the continued operation
of the stables (as specified in its own 1980 General Management Plan!)
while working for a "win-win" situation for horsepeople and the federal
government within REASONABLE and JUSTIFIABLE environmental and economic
parameters. The EAC has stated that, while our focus is on the horse
issue, we support and share the concerns that other West Marin citizens
with the feds. We'd like the meetings of the Commission's
sub-committees to be open and publicized, with solicited participation of
interested citizens, ACCORDING TO THEIR OWN (ignored!) BY-LAWS. Did I
mention 'creeping unaccountability' !! We're running with the ball at
this point, coolly and cooperatively, but in dead earnest.
We are far from complacent. The feds could be proffering cooperation
as part of damage control, only to say at some point downline, "Sorry,
we've decided to go with our original plan." We are working hard to
establish credentials and practices that will make such an action
untenable. A LOT has to do with the quality of water runoff below the
stables, federally mandated by the Clean Water Act. Everyone should be
on alert, it can visit YOU. We have been told that there must be more
"public programs" to justify these sort-of-private stables being on
public lands. Well, that's not so hard a condition of compliance! Even
a few busloads of school children, a few times a year, will qualify. We
are working on "equivalent values" for these public programs. The
"economics" of the federal position, however, is still not known.
I want to give credit to the feds for recognizing their sensible
options when they saw the stampede headed their way. They withdrew the
proposals when it was obvious that they couldn't justify the closures.
They have reiterated their recognition of horseback riding as a desirable
way to use this recreational area, according to its mandate. They are
agreeable to holding meetings, and accepting research.
Parting line: NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF THE PEOPLE! I feel
that for many reasons equestrians are especially vulnerable to
restrictive legislation (justified or not) and we must make political
activism a higher priority in our lives. But on the other hand, we
recognize that we have an obligation to maintain our integrity and
honesty, and we have pledged to do that. The stables have changed some
structures, paddock locations, and operating procedures. Borrowing from
the 21st century, we have email and fax machines and communication is
Let me know if anyone has questions or comments on the above. More
reports to come. Thanks for your support. Signed, Connie Berto,
AERC Trails Chair
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