Bolinas? Baloney!

The effort of one small town to remain untouched by time has bred enmity and disaffection as surely as it has produced anything else

Callenbach's choice of a 20-year benchmark for his evaluation of a fictional utopia was savvy, for in fact, the shelf life of a utopia is rarely more than 15 years. By 1927, the reality of day-to-day life in Russia no longer justified who and what Stalin was. Two decades into Mao's China came the cracking of the Cultural Revolution. J.J. Rousseau, Mussolini, Lyndon Baines Johnson -- their ideas and ideals faded and faltered within a decade and a half out of the starting gate. Perhaps it's part of the natural process of aging, the assault of time on organisms animate and inanimate alike. Perhaps it has nothing to do with that, and means simply this: Starting something and sustaining it are quite different enterprises, as intertwined as they might seem in the beginning.

In the beginning, Bolinas had a plan. Bolinas was going to be ecologically sensitive, respectful of people in their endless variety while being discouraging to tourists, blessedly free of the automobile, encouraging toward flushless toilets, and intent on running land speculators out of town. Things were going to be fair and happy and egalitarian and ecological and great, even though the rest of America was going to hell in unrecyclable plastic handbags. Sound utopian?

This plan that Bolinas had for itself can be found in a 1975 document, passed and adopted into law by the Marin County Board of Supervisors, called the Bolinas Peninsula Community Plan. It isn't every sheaf of government paperwork that contains poetry, artwork, and photographs of women dancing without bras on, but then the Bolinas Peninsula Community Plan is special in a number of different ways. Together with a 1976 book called The Town That Fought to Save Itself, by Harvard-educated Bolinas writer Orville Schell, the plan is the town's equivalent of the stone tablets Moses received on that mountainside -- a vision for what people should do, in the New World Order. Both the plan and the book are splendid literary time capsules in their own right, but especially when considered together, providing as they do a perfect snapshot of what it's like when everything is still possible because nobody has woken up yet.

The Bolinas Peninsula Community Plan outlines 10 goals, including: limiting the use of the automobile in Bolinas, encouraging agriculture, limiting tourism, slowing growth, discouraging land speculation, protecting wildlife, accepting "a wide range of life styles," and fostering local jobs.

In bold italics at the end of the goals and objective section, the Bolinas Planning Committee added these emphases:

The Need To Move Towards Self-Sufficiency. Including: Reduction of dependence on commuting; strong emphasis on agriculture; the increase in local job opportunities; alternative energy resources; and water conservation.

The Need To Assure That Human, Plant, And Animal Habitats Are Truly Coexistent.

That Tourist Facilities In Themselves Do Not Become An Attraction, Rather Than The Recreation Facilities They Are Meant To Serve ...

That The Achievement Of The Plan Is a Goal Of The Plan.
Schell's book contains many of the same photographs, statistics, and statements as the government-approved community plan. But it doesn't name Bolinas. In Schell's book, the town that fought to save itself is given the pseudonym Briones, to discourage untoward visitors. It might seem contradictory to write an entire book about how great a place is while concealing its name, but then, the book plays by its own rules, especially in view of the endless self-exploratory ruminations that Schell engages in. Here's one:

"Success will certainly not just happen or be delivered. First, we will have to be able to articulate what we want, and we will not always agree. Then we will have to ask, explain, struggle, and even take. A lot of people will have to do a lot of work. People will have to get together, and there are bound to be some dull meetings, but some good ones as well. And then, we'll have to work. ... Even if we expend vast amounts of energy, nothing is guaranteed. There are too many examples of places which have not made it to allow for such confidence, and most of us have lived in such places. But somehow we must allow ourselves to dream what the future might look like for one small town. This may sound far-flung in this era of presidential criminality and political brutality. But regeneration will come from someplace. And I have a feeling it will come from the bottom; from some small place where people are still in touch, and cohesive enough to trust each other and to act. Perhaps we are such a place. What do you think?"

What do I think? Well, for one, being Will Weston and traipsing into Ecotopia isn't nearly as blissful as it sounds. For one, there are the darned mountains. On my first trip into Bolinas, I ride the aptly named Fairfax-Bolinas Road, taking a left at the stop sign where the coffee store is in downtown Fairfax, opposite the little parking area, and noting with utter and complete astonishment that a road sign actually points, with the most discreet arrow imaginable, the way to the town that dares not speak its name. I make a note of this in my notebook, but then I cease to care, seeing as anybody who can survive this incredibly twisted hill route obviously lives in Bolinas in the first place. The road winds up and down through the Mount Tamalpais watershed, crossing at one point over the actual water that's there, which is deep blue and mountain-lakey and beautiful until I stop my car, at which point a horde of seemingly angry bees gathers in close proximity to my head. Needless to say, I move on. At the fork in the road, I take the road more traveled, which turns out to be a big mistake, in that it puts me up on the high ridge overlooking Bolinas, again with a cloud of bees for companionship, and while I can see the town, I am not actually anywhere near it. From this height, Bolinas looks like a postage stamp, not one of the more glamorous ones of recent years, depicting rock singers and movie stars, but a stamp of older vintage, one that's been through the mail a few times, a stamp with ragged edges and curled-up corners, a stamp that's been licked here and there and that, for some reason, hasn't gone to the great postage meter in the sky yet. I turn the car around and head back down the mountain. I cross Highway 1 at the stop sign and drive straight on into town.

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