In the span of nine days in 2023, a buried perennial creek in Sausalito went from being twice forgotten to having a fighting chance to be reborn into the community.
Of the six creeks in the City that have been buried, Willow Creek is the one creek that could be restored from its headwaters to the Bay. Voters passed Measure P in 2020, authorizing a general obligation bond of $41 Million for school reconstruction by the Sausalito Marin City School District (SMCSD) on its Nevada and Phillips campuses. The Measure P Fact Sheet on the SMCSD website states that the bond funds would be used to daylight the underground creek on the Nevada campus for outdoor science and learning opportunities. SMCSD and Friends of Willow Creek worked together in 2022 on a grant application from U.S. EPA for $3 Million to support creek daylighting. But the SMCSD schematic plan for the Nevada campus, adopted by the SMCSD trustees on December 15, 2022, had no daylighted creek shown, only a re-burial of the creek in a new underground pipe. Things looked pretty bleak for the creek.
When the SMCSD superintendent went to the Sausalito City Council meeting on February 7 to update the City on planned construction in Summer 2023, things began to change. The vice mayor asked why the creek wasn’t shown when Measure P indicated that the creek would be restored. The vice mayor provided a defense of creek daylighting on a school campus that was comprehensive, persuasive and inspirational. He and another city councilmember contacted Friends of Willow Creek to learn more about opportunities and constraints and then requested Friends make a presentation to the City Council, which the City titled “The Promise and Potential of Daylighting Willow Creek”. Thus began the Week of the Creek.
On February 28, 2023, the Marin Independent Journal published a second article about the debate between environmental organizations and SMCSD on creek daylighting. The article highlighted the language in the Measure P Fact Sheet that promises creek daylighting and quoted a recent letter Sierra Club Marin wrote to SMCSD. The Sierra Club derided SMCSD for planning what could be an infeasible re-routing of the creek around the proposed plans, postponed to a second phase that is unfunded. Seven of eight online commenters on the article were creek advocates from throughout Marin County, supporting creek daylighting in the first phase of construction, for its environmental and educational benefits.
That same day, Friends of Willow Creek gave a 10-minute presentation to the City Council, retitled “Moment of Truth for a Once Forgotten Creek”. The presentation provided history of the creek, potential for restoration through the City, and the timeline of interaction with SMCSD on planning the campus renovation, expressing concern that the creek work was being postponed until after the school is constructed. The Marin Resource Conservation District provided supportive, follow-up comments, mentioning that they are currently working on another school in Marin County that includes Miller Creek through their campus. The city councilmembers discussed bringing a resolution to the council the following week supporting creek daylighting.
On March 5, 2023, the Marin Independent Journal published a third article about the City Council’s proposed resolution to be adopted on the consent calendar on March 7. On March 7, the superintendent and board president met with Friends of Willow Creek, and proposed a study session with the City and the Friends’ creek consultants that would be a whole site plan, including the school, the creek, and proposed workforce housing. The Friends welcomed that idea, as they had requested it at the December 15, 2022 SMCSD meeting.
Later that evening on March 7, the SMCSD superintendent and president attended the City Council meeting in person and the proposed resolution was taken off the consent calendar. They requested that the council postpone adopting the resolution until after they conducted a study session between SMCSD and City Council, inviting Friends of Willow Creek and its consultants along with the SMCSD architects and engineers. The City Council noted that the resolution contained no divisive language, only statements of fact and aspiration, and that it was a request to SMCSD to daylight Willow Creek on the Nevada campus, consistent with what the Measure P Fact Sheet told the voters. The City was supportive of the study session idea, because SMCSD had not yet reached out to the City about plans for workforce housing on their property. The City Council unanimously adopted the “Resolution of the Sausalito City Council Requesting the Board of Sausalito Marin City School District to Include Daylighting of Willow Creek at Nevada Street Campus”.
On March 9, 2023, the U.S. EPA notified SMCSD and Friends of Willow Creek that they would award the $3 Million grant for creek daylighting. The grant application included the rendering of the Phase 1A creek daylighting plan from 2018, which is about half cut-off by the current SMCSD schematic plan.
On March 9, 2023, former Willow Creek Academy board member and a senior school architect emailed the City Council and the SMCSD board and superintendent that the current schematic plan is counter to the years of planning that have been conducted on the Nevada campus and that creek daylighting was always considered to be essential and not “nice to have”. She recommended the study session idea and indicated she would “participate with enthusiasm.”
On March 9, 2023, Friends of Willow Creek attended the SMCSD school board meeting in person and delivered comments during the 3-minute public comment section of the meeting. Friends of Willow Creek thanked SMCSD for applying for the U.S. EPA grant that had been awarded that day, and discussed the history of several grant applications that began in 2012 and have culminated in this significant award. The Friends also encouraged the study session with the City Council and Friends of Willow Creek, and encouraged the full board of SMCSD to participate. The Friends of Willow Creek reminded the SMCSD that while they are stewards of the children of Sausalito and Marin City, for which their dedicated service is appreciated, they are also stewards of the largest parcel in the City of Sausalito, the 13-acre Nevada campus and its watershed and water resources, an equally important responsibility.
Thanks to efforts of many people, the SMCSD has been strongly reminded that their campus development must consider more than the myopic vision of school-only. Thanks to the Week of the Creek, there is renewed hope that the buried perennial creek may someday flow above ground on the school campus, bringing life, learning and joy for generations to come.