Novato Mayor Michael Di Giorgio Adamant About Ferry Service for Port Sonoma

Mayor Discusses Allaying Environmental Concerns via Government Takeover of Site from Controversial Developer, Higher Gas Taxes, and Better Regional Planning

Published: December, 2002

Folks want to know: When is ferry service going to come to the North Bay?

Port Sonoma, we feel, is a great location for ferry service. When that's going to happen, I really can't tell you. We were allocated over $1 million in the new proposal that's going to the legislature to study Port Sonoma. I'm sure the environmental impact report is going to take about a year, and further study of Port Sonoma may take even longer than that. Environmentalists are afraid that development may pop up around the Port and they also worry about the wetlands. So I think the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors has to allay fears of that by zoning it so that development cannot happen.

The location is ideal because we can put the dock for the ferry out in the Petulama River, which is federally dredged. That reduces cost and environmental impact. Also, the ridership studies done by the WTA show that the majority of people riding that particular boat would be coming from Novato, which would also relieve congestion on the 101 corridor.

Environmentalists believe ferry service to Port Sonoma would extend sprawl while dislocating existing Sonoma residents to make way for wealthy "Montgomery Streeters." They are also concerned about the current developer. What's your take on all that?

We also feel that there should not be development around that port. At most, there should be a medium- to small-sized parking lot. There are wetlands there and we definitely don't want to interfere with them. Also, an old rail line goes right through there. It makes sense to use it to increase public transit.

As for the developer, I don't know how this is going to shake out over the long run or who is going to own the property for a ferry terminal. You know, we do have the power basically to make that into a public piece of land vs. a private piece of land if it is necessary. So if the developer feels that he wants to develop beyond what the supervisors in Sonoma County think is best, there are ways of not only mitigating it but also a way of changing the ownership of the portion that we would need for a ferry port.

As for sprawl, Marin County citizens don't like it either. But we have a situation in Marin County where we need our firemen, our policemen, our school teachers, people that work in Costco, people that work in Home Depot, and if you shut them out of the county, then they are going to have to get there from another place and that creates more traffic than would be the case if you just built the housing in the county.

We all know that the root problem is an over-dependence on cars. As a guy that has to get elected, would you ever publicly call for the real solution, which is a $5 a gallon tax on gasoline?

I lived in Europe before and I've seen situations where expensive gasoline increases the use of smaller automobiles and definitely causes transit systems to be used. Furthermore, if there is a high enough tax on gasoline, it can be used to fund transportation systems. I have always believed that the gasoline prices in America are far too low. I think higher gas taxes are imperative.

Why did the half cent tax increase for communal Sonoma-Marin transportation projects including reviving the North Bay railroad fail?

I was part of putting that together. Unfortunately, the problem with any tax issue in the State of California is the two-thirds majority requirement. You always have 20 percent of the people who will vote against any kind of tax.

People have to realize that lack of growth and the lack of building houses is causing traffic. The environmental groups have a legitimate complaint about sprawl and ruining the environment for us as well as ruining the environment for various animals and species that are endangered. I respect that and I thank God we don't have a society like in Russia where they totally ignored it and destroyed the environment. However, the main problem with the environmental degradation in the United States has been the fact that there are too many people. People are causing this environmental degradation and there is not an environmental group in Marin or Sonoma County or even nationwide that wants to take on that issue.

Realistically, when is the soonest you think we might see ferry service to Port Sonoma?

Optimistically, I think we're talking about 2007. We have asked our EIR people and our rail engineers to study the possibility of two links to ferry service, one is San Quentin and the other Port Sonoma. We are presently doing the aerial photography and the route analysis to those two points.

Everybody is aware of course that the State is waffling on whether or not to keep open or close San Quentin. We believe that there may be the possibility of putting a ferry port out there without closing San Quentin. It would also do a lot of environmental good because, as you know, the Larkspur Ferry has to restrict itself to 10 mph as it pulls out of the channel there because of wake damage. If you go out of Port San Quentin, however, that goes away. So it would make the ferry commute quicker and help the environment, too.

Michael Di Giorgio serves as Mayor of Novato and also sits on the Marin County Congestion Management Agency, the Sonoma/Marin Narrows (formerly Novato Narrows) Policy Advisory Group, the Citizens' Advisory Committee to the Water Transit Authority, and Smart (Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit Authority) and Smart II, the rail authority for the North Bay.