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Shifting Sands

Lawson's Landing considers next moves

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COST OF COMPLIANCE  Lawson’s co-owner Mike Lawson says the family-owned business will continue - to work with environmentalists and the state to upgrade its facilities. - TOM GOGOLA
  • Tom Gogola
  • COST OF COMPLIANCE Lawson’s co-owner Mike Lawson says the family-owned business will continue to work with environmentalists and the state to upgrade its facilities.

All is quiet on a breezy winter morning at Lawson's Landing in Dillon Beach as land-use negotiations continue to play out between the Lawson family and the California Coastal Commission.

In its latest appearance before the 12-member commission in November, Lawson's long-in-the-works wastewater-removal plan was rejected because it reportedly posed a threat to federally endangered red-legged frog habitat.

I spent the morning with Lawson's lead legal consultant and self-described environmentalist Tom Flynn and the affable Mike Lawson, a co-owner of the grounds, touring the variegated acreage and getting the rundown on their plan for a new wastewater system after the coastal commission shot down their latest iteration of the plan.

To hear the pro-Lawson's forces tell the tale, Lawson's has been working in good faith to come into compliance with various upgrades and state demands since 2008 when the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin (EAC) appealed a Marin County Board of Supervisors' decision to approve low-cost camping on about 90 acres in the 950-acre property.

Lawson's has been in operation since the 1950s and mostly serves out-of-town campers rolling in from the Central Valley. It's a wind-scrubbed haven near the mouth of Tomales Bay that features camping, fishing and boating, and hosts a boat livery and machine shop for boat repairs.

The site had numerous environmental issues that predated the takeover of the facility by a younger generation of Lawsons. A sand-mining operation has been shuttered. Numerous old bathrooms have been shut down and hundreds of camping spaces have been closed in order to accommodate the demands of the coastal commission.

The Lawsons submitted a Coastal Development Plan (CDP) that was approved by the commission in 2011 and which set out the contours of a plan that would keep Lawson's in business, while addressing environmental-remediation issues over a period of years and projects.

Over the following six years, the family tried to meet the demands of both the EAC and the Coastal Commission, says Flynn, as it set out to bring the facility into full compliance with environmental law, and which included retiring some old bathrooms in sensitive camping areas. This transition at Lawson's appeared to reach its most physically obvious and painful nadir when the Lawsons removed the last of the funky old legacy trailers from the site in 2016 as part of the 2011 agreement.

In early December, the place felt like it was lost in a limbo as the latest coastal commission vote represented a "back-to-the-drawing-board" moment for the Lawsons and Flynn. They've been busily sussing out a new pathway for the wastewater pipes that won't run afoul of the commission, by avoiding areas that the coastal commission says would unduly impact the frogs. In the transition from the old wastewater system (which has been removed) to the new one (which has yet to be approved), Lawson's has leaned heavily on portable toilets for its guests.

As for those old funky trailers, the idea was to replace them with higher-end cottage-trailers, says Lawson, and to expand the camping areas to accommodate tent campers.

Those spots now remain vacant, save for the addition of some picnic benches. It's the slow season and the biggest crowd they've seen lately were the 500 or so folks who showed up after getting burned out in the North Bay fires.

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