The Tiburon ZIP code in Marin County is one of the wealthiest in the world and there is a reason for that: It’s beautiful. The town is nestled into the Bay with sweeping views of San Francisco and other bayside enclaves as far as the eye can see.

It’s that proverbial “seeing eye” that holds much weight in Tiburon and Belvedere government. Not only are there contested swaths of open space that have had developers and preservationists locked in courts for decades, but the towns’ planning commissions keep a firm grasp on preserving each area’s aesthetics.

Enter Measure M, a move to preserve pristine open space in Tiburon.

Measure M, if passed, would acquire the “Martha Property” on the Tiburon Peninsula and is on November’s ballot for some residents of Tiburon and Belvedere. The hilly property sits at the heart of the peninsula and has views of Angel Island, Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, and a hazy San Francisco skyline in the far distance.

Measure M would authorize Marin County to issue $23 million in bonds to pay for the sale and then raise $18 million by creating a special tax district that would be $335 per year for property owners in Tiburon east of Trestle Glen Boulevard and Belvedere, increasing by 2 percent annually until the bonds are repaid. Most importantly to proponents of the measure, it would protect the site from development.

A map shows the location of the Martha Property on the Tiburon peninsula. Some voters in Marin County will consider Measure M, which would preserve the property as open space. (Image courtesy of Marin County via Bay City News)

A century of private ownership

The Tiburon Ridge property in question has been privately owned for more than 100 years and spans 110 acres that are home to native plants such as the Marin dwarf flax and animals such as the threatened California red-legged frog, some of which are not found anywhere outside the Tiburon peninsula. It shares a boundary with the 122-acre Old St. Hilary’s open space preserve above downtown Tiburon.

Opponents to the site’s development not only want to preserve its ecosystem, they want to ensure that the landscape remains in the public domain and isn’t turned into private property packed with mansions and accessible only to the wealthy.

Landowner Martha Company currently has legal entitlements to build 43 houses on the site, but has been stopped from developing there in court several times going back to the 1970s. Martha Co. attempted to sell the land for $110 million in 2018, then lowered the price to $95 million the following year, finally landing on $63 million this year with no takers.

Now, in a victory for preservationists, the owners have agreed to sell the property for $42 million to the nonprofit Trust for Public Land in order to protect it from development. The Trust would then sell it to Marin County for over half the cost, at $26 million. The rest of the money would come from past bond measures and tax revenue from Measure A, which was passed in June and funds parks and open spaces in the county.

The Marin County Open Space District would partner with the Trust for Public Land in a two-year plan to raise funds and finalize the purchase of the property. For the measure to pass, it needs a two-thirds majority.

Katy St. Clair got her start in journalism by working in the classifieds department at the East Bay Express during the height of alt weeklies, then sweet talked her way into becoming staff writer, submissions editor, and music editor. She has been a columnist in the East Bay Express, SF Weekly, and the San Francisco Examiner. Starting in 2015, she begrudgingly scaled the inverted pyramid at dailies such as the Vallejo Times-Herald, The Vacaville Reporter, and the Daily Republic. She has her own independent news site and blog that covers the delightfully dysfunctional town of Vallejo, California, where she also collaborates with the investigative team at Open Vallejo. A passionate advocate for people with developmental disabilities, she serves on both the Board of the Arc of Solano and the Arc of California. She lives in Vallejo.