Dean Clough

May 1, 2023

Portico Darwin: The Good and Bad of Regulation


2 Minute Read
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Today and to complicate your Monday, I am going all nuance-y on you.  Like this:

  • I am overall a YIMBY:  yes, in my backyard, when it comes to new housing, infrastructure, etc.
  • But wow am I glad a development (practically in my backyard) called Marincello got the big-time NIMBY treatment

I'll also use this story to illustrate where regulation and conservation are good things.  Very good things.  I think I even published a brilliant reader's explanation of conservativism, and how it's derived from "to conserve".  More nuance!  But I digress.

Marincello was a proposed housing development in Marin County just north of SF that envisioned approximately 25,000 people in 50 apartment towers and in hundreds of homes and townhouses.  There was to be a mall and posh hotel at the subdivision's highest point.

It was never even started, although they did build a sign.

The rejection of Marincello in favor of open space was important.  It predated things like the 1972 creation of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which itself would come to encompass this very land, as well as my beloved Presidio.  Its demise was an early nail in the coffin of mindless sprawl, at least here.

For the locals, this sign was located at what is now the Rodeo Drive "exit to nowhere" off of 101 South in Marin, near the Robin Williams Tunnel.

For those not familiar, here's where it would have been located.

And here's what it would have looked like; you can get oriented by noting the position of The Golden Gate Bridge in both images.


Here's what the area looks like now.

I've lived in SF since May of 1992.  I literally can't fathom what losing a big chunk of the Marin Headlands to some Bogus suburban nightmare would have done to the region.  I do know it's one of the loveliest places on Earth now, and open to the public.  Marincello's failure was a triumph of the conservation movement of the 1960s.

And there's the nuance.  I feel most would agree now that saving (conserving!) this part of coastal California was a good thing. 

But the thought of what could happen without guardrails (e.g., defacing the spectacular Marin Headlands with shitty houses and apartment buildings) has resulted in a regulatory and bureaucratic clusterfuck where NOTHING gets done or built.  Ever. 

Yes, I've bitched about it before here, but it's worth repeating:  we can't get it together enough as a nation to do big and good things any longer.  We drastically need more housing in a lot of places, but we're not doing it.  We need to radically rethink and rebuild our electrical grid, but we're not doing it.  We need to get serious about any number of issues.  But we're not doing it. 

I think that's largely because of the well-intentioned regulations put in place at the time and in the aftermath of Marincello.  Most wanted to prevent it and actually-realized fiascos like the Embarcadero Freeway here or the destruction of Penn Station in Manhattan from happening in the future.

Which is great in theory, but we now have a terribly sclerotic realm, one where the United States landing a man on the moon now seems like science fiction.  Like so many other things, we should seek balance.

So good riddance, Marincello (and Embarcadero Freeway!), definitely, but we need to do big things, now, in the right way and in the right places.  Perhaps expedite the LA - SF high speed rail line?  Heck, I'd settle for broadband as good as South Korea's . . .


When praise comes from someone as accomplished as Dr. Davis Fladgate - well, let's just say it means more than hearing it from Hunter Deuce.

Your Friday newsletter was very interesting and astute.

That is much appreciated, and I'll say this:  Professor Octogenarian has excellent taste in blogs.

Thank you to any one that is reading this newsletter.


In a first time play on KLUF, here are The Moody Blues and their lovely Days Of Future Passed.

About Dean Clough