Updated: May 9
When did paradise become purgatory? Marin County has been the gilded dream of California suburbia since the 1950s. Post World War II Marin was a "nice place to live" and for half a century after the war Marin stayed a nice place to live. In fact, Marin County got so nice that by the first years of the 21st century, condos regularly began to sell for half a million dollars and the aging Eichler style mid century mod split level ranch homes in the hills were considered a steal at a million and change. Weirdly, in 2021 the real estate market is still booming. If you are a home owner in Marin your house may end up beating inflation. (Actually, even if you bought at a "market peak" you may beat inflation.)
But, if you are a long term Marin resident, you are well aware that the county is getting increasingly dystopian. Paradise is beginning to look like purgatory.
We have gotten so used to homelessness, abandoned needles and bottles by the side of the road, tents, scavengers pushing stolen supermarket shopping carts and repurposed baby buggies loaded with cans, graffiti and garbage that we don't pay much attention anymore. This all seems like the new normal. But there is nothing normal about fifteen foot tall teepees constructed out of bedsheets and plush animals under a highway overpass. Look closely. All of these photographs were taken in downtown San Rafael in the first week of May.
Charlie Manson is dead. But walking between Third and Fourth Street is like a window into the hell on earth acid trip world of the Manson Family's end-times scavenger ethos.
Marin County has become a surreal place divided between those who live in a state of denial --because most people in Marin are in a state of denial, they reassure themselves that while there is trash, graffiti and homeless downtown things are still fine on the winding streets of Peacock Gap-- and those who realize actions no longer have consequences. Marin County has always had a stridently "environmentalist" population, but how many of the "environmentalists" of Marin would EVER bother to confront someone dumping Corona bottles and trash in an empty lot?
Will someone ask the gang member spraying sign on the public sidewalk if the paint is soy based? (This by the way is gang sign, not just a frustrated artist making an incomprehensible statement on public property.)
Will someone ask where commuters will park when the parking lots become residential areas? Will people care about the residents of Marin who do NOT live in teepees under the overpasses but also can not afford to live in gated residences in the hills? So far the dystopian new normal of downtown San Rafael hasn't impacted residential property values in the hills... but it has definitely impacted the quality of life of people who live, work, shop or attempt to run a business downtown. Who wants to zigzag through a pile of broken bottles to get takeout? Who wants to rent a bike? Go to the drycleaner? Walk home from work?
There is a piece of graffiti under the overpass. It says "Be The Solution!" The reality is we can not have a "solution" until we have the courage to confront reality and acknowledge that we have problems. Tent villages, scavengers, trash, gang graffiti and million dollar houses should not be the new normal.
Marin County, once so beautiful it was almost a joke, has become a dystopian embarrassing nightmare. And we have chosen denial. We are denying the signs of crisis, and we are denying the hellish humor. There is a mass homeless encampment less than forty feet from the sign saying "No Loitering, Camping" etc.
Presumably people who drive by have trained themselves not to look. I doubt many people feel comfortable walking by. I certainly did not. But I wanted to confront reality. And the reality is, this is a public shame that too many of the elected officials of Marin have failed to confront or acknowledge. Maybe our politicians hope we will all continue to focus on the narrative and deny reality. But, sooner rather than later, we will have to face the clear and present crisis of our Marin Dystopia. We will have to ask ourselves if we have reached peak horror? Remember, bad situations can always get worse. If you think it is as bad as it can get now, be aware it could actually get a lot worse. But, if we face reality, if we are creative and practical, if we are willing to put in the effort and show up at city council meetings... or any meeting... and demand an acknowledgment of this blight, this horror, this acid trip nightmare that has tarnished the California dream, we can make things better. And so we must ask ourselves a question I saw painted on the concrete downtown, Are We There Yet? Have we reached the point where we can NOT deny reality anymore?