Lawson’s Landing under threat by regulators

Update, December 11, 2011: Thanks largely to the Environmental Action Committee, a well-funded “environmental” group, all trailers have to be gone from Lawson’s in 5 years. Score a win for trust fund activists (anyone check the income level and sources thereof of the activists?), a loss for Californians of moderate means.

I consider myself an environmentalist. And for this reason I’m alarmed by a new and very strong movement among people who call themselves “environmentalists.” If I may generalize, these are people who do not hunt or fish or make their living from the land. They often have not grown up in the areas where they are active. They want everything to return to an imaginary pristine state. They tend to be from families of wealth, have college degrees, can raise money for their non-profit groups, and know their way around in the political and media worlds.

This something I wrote on behalf of a gem of a local community that is now being persecuted. It’s for people of Marin County, and for Californians in general.


I’ve lived all my life in the Bay Area, and over 40 in West Marin, and I’d never been to Lawson’s Landing until a few weeks ago. I’d driven past the turnoff to Dillon Beach (in Tomales) scores of times, but never turned west. Well, on the last set of low tides, I went up there to go clamming with my new-found friend Eloy Garcia.

A bit of background: last year I saw an article in the West Marin Citizen showing Eloy with a “clam gun,” and it described his way of using it to get horseneck clams. Boy, that sure beat my system of back-breaking shovel work to get them. I called Eloy up (in Woodland) and we ended up making a trade. He sent me the parts for a clam gun and I sent him a bunch of our building books.

Eloy called me last month (I was surprised he remembered me), and said if I came up to Lawson’s Landing, he’d show me how to use it.

Off I went. I met Eloy, his wife and two other couples, his camping buddies, who were in trailers on the grassy campgrounds. We had beers around the fire on a chilly night, and there was good rapport, even with me a total stranger. We all shared a love of the outdoors, and fishing, and camping. I slept in the back of my truck and the next morning we went clamming. That’s another story (and a good one).

I’d read about the Lawsons controversy (under fire from “environmentalists”), so was interested to see the place firsthand. I learned that there were maybe 250 trailers there semi-permanently, and a campgrounds. Where we camped was a grassy meadow, lots of other campers around; it was quiet, mellow, felt really nice.

After clamming, I walked around shooting photos and I’d like to show you what I saw. Click here for a slide show, photos shot June 16th, 2011:

Or if you are typing the URL into a browser:

To sum up:

Hundreds of people are having a great time at Lawsons Landing. Boating, fishing, camping, escaping the heat of the Sacramento Valley in summer. Sure, there’s funk galore, and there are a few krappy looking places. But overall, it’s neat. The trailers are tended, many are decorated and homey inside, with tiny gardens. On the cheap. These people aren’t jetting to distant locations and staying in extravagant hotels. They’re driving a short distance in their own state, to the seashore, cooking their own food, making their own beds, breathing the clean salt air, and having a mighty good time.

I talked to a guy whose family had been coming there for 3 generations. He showed me a scrapbook with photos. “Here’ a picture of me when I was 12,” he said, and he’s holding up a 3-lb.stripd bass. About the coming hearing, he said, “They’re not going to cut our throats, they’re just going to keep stabbing us until they bleed us to death.”

The fishing alone is phenomenal. Boats launched, clams dug. Rock crabs, surf perch, halibut, that day a 6-ft.thresher shark. Abalone. People are heading out in Boston Whalers, Klamaths, rowboats, kayaks, rafts, Zodiaks, bringing in fresh (organic) food for their families. Going out through the surf into the ocean in the bigger boats for salmon and rock fish. Win-win.

I had a good feeling about everything going on there and want to convey this to the powers-that-be (Coastal Commission) and anyone else who hasn’t been there. And to you critics (those who want to see it returned to it’s “pristine” state), check out the reality of California’s past: Tending the Wild

Native American Knowledge and the Management of California’s Natural Resources. 

These are Californians, most from the Sacramento Valley. They’ve been coming here for 80 years. They’re not really a sophisticated (Whole Foods/iPad/suit/college degree/lawyer/ivy league/family money, etc.) group. They’re not really web-savvy. They can’t hire powerful lawyers. But they’re native Californians, and this is their place.

Much of it doesn’t look as it did before human habitation, but what does?* The former wetlands area that is now the campgrounds, with healthy grass, looks good, gosh darnit! And a lot of people are enjoying it.

Lawsons’ Landing (click here) is a vital, chipper little community, a wonderful resource for Californians and I sure hope they don’t fall victims to misguided regulation.

Lloyd Kahn

Editor, Shelter Publications

Author of Shelter and Builders of the Pacific Coast

*How about going after the Seadriift gated community at Stinson Beach, where the dredged building sites (for weekenders’ million $ 2nd homes) on Dipsea Road block natural drainage of the Bolinas Lagoon and contribute heavily to the filling in of the lagoon? Return that to its pristine state.

About Lloyd Kahn

Lloyd Kahn started building his own home in the early '60s and went on to publish books showing homeowners how they could build their own homes with their own hands. He got his start in publishing by working as the shelter editor of the Whole Earth Catalog with Stewart Brand in the late '60s. He has since authored six highly-graphic books on homemade building, all of which are interrelated. The books, "The Shelter Library Of Building Books," include Shelter, Shelter II (1978), Home Work (2004), Builders of the Pacific Coast (2008), Tiny Homes (2012), and Tiny Homes on the Move (2014). Lloyd operates from Northern California studio built of recycled lumber, set in the midst of a vegetable garden, and hooked into the world via five Mac computers. You can check out videos (one with over 450,000 views) on Lloyd by doing a search on YouTube:

11 Responses to Lawson’s Landing under threat by regulators

  1. Seadrift should have never happened. Who bought who I wonder? No McMansion monsters at Lawson's Landing. As long as the people at Lawsons' Landing are not dumping plastics and non organic matter or toxic fluids they are far ahead of most beach communities. When will we ban lawn blowers – huge polluters – and lawn chemicals?
    Thanks for writing about this.
    SF Bay Area

  2. Condemn it in the name of the environment then sell it to a developer who will pave it over and turn it into a parking lot for big money.
    I could happily live in a place like that but the bulldozers would follow me and it would be doomed.

  3. Well done, Lloyd. You make a very valid point in a way few 'newcomers' think about. Living in the islands, it's in our face often, as 'we' are the 'they' who want things to either stay the same or go back to 'how it was' only to realize the locals don't always see things the same way. Exceptions? Of course, but the point remains. Hoping Lawson's Landing folk get to keep on showing those generational photos for many years ahead.

  4. Thanks Lloyd = you are right on target to me. I am a native San Franciscan and this exact problem also exists here in a huge way (though not quite with the natural setting as Lawson's). You can count the natives on one hand now because they can't afford to live here and it's no longer a real place, its a caricature of it's former self.

    I'm about as old as you and unlike prior generations (SF has long been a refuge and that's a good thing) in my lifetime most people who have moved here now, all feel way too entitled… with fashion, arrogance, ignorance, a .com job and … money. They came here because it seemed unspoiled and special, then proceeded to turn it into the very place they ran from. There is no middle class now and what remains of the poor, will soon be pushed out like has been done in the gentrified Fillmore and Divisadero areas. Our politicians and lobbyists are each aligned with special interests, so as they transition through here, different special interests get 4 years of prosperity, sell us a widget, take the money, and run.

    I no longer recognize this place. Once I have the wherewithal and clarity to leave, it's only healthy to do so. Only I won't want to change where I go because it will be the reason I went there.

    Same it true when I hike Tam or Pt. Reyes. People's laws and sense no longer count for much in the face of dollars, toys and corporate sponsored government. Rather, its only how much money you have which directly equates to our new 'last man standing' form of law and justice. He who has the ugliest lawyer(s) wins. Sad stuff but thanks for airing this information. It just reminded me of 20 miles south where it's different but the same…

  5. Sad to see your post on this Lloyd. I've generally found that when people do not have a rational argument, they make personal attacks or question the credentials of people they do not agree with. Sorry Lloyd, I do not fit your stereotype of an environmentalist, nor do many others of us in west Marin who value the natural environment and want to protect our endangered wildlife and ecosystems. I grew up here, have lived here for 48 years. I fish. I am not wealthy nor do I come from a wealthy family. I do not have a college degree.

    The illegal development at Lawson's has had huge impacts on the dunes and wetlands ecosystem in a one of a kind area on our coast. I'm a native Californian and this is my place too. I don't want to see it trashed like every other area on the coast that is degraded and destroyed by humans. What about shelter for red-legged frogs, or do you put humans and profit first every time?

    The final decision at Lawson's was not the "throat-slitting" and the Lawsons are not being victimized by environmentalists or the Coastal Commission. The compromise that was reached was reasonable given their illegal activity and the sensitivity of the dunes and wetlands that have been trashed. You should write about that.

  6. Quick note: "Anonymous" is a woman who lives in my town, and while it's true she is a native Californian and grew up here, she IS wealthy — both financially and in having the time to attend meetings, write letters, and help persecute Lawson's Landing. She's another privileged person going after those less fortunate. Two more points:
    1. Lawson's hasn't trashed their area.
    2. There was no "compromise" here. In 5 years the trailers must be gone. The Environmental Action Committee and "anonymous" have successfully destroyed this little community.

  7. Wrong Lloyd – anonymous is not a woman who lives in your town. I am a 48 year old male and I live in Inverness. You and I have never met. I am not a she and I assure you I am not wealthy. I guarantee you are wealthier than me, so give up that lame argument. You confirm my point, which is that you do not have a rational basis to oppose sensible environmental protections, so you attack the messengers. In this case, you are way off base. Even the Lawson's Landing owners agreed the outcome was a reasonable compromise that allows them to stay in business.

  8. Whoops! I was sure I knew who this was. But same mindset. BTW, the messengers in this case are writing the messages; not like the king sending an uninformed vassal off to deliver a message sealed with wax to the enemy.

    What's your name, Anonymous? After all, you know who I am. Maybe we'll run across one another one of these days and have a chance to discuss in more detail in person. I'd like to meet a native-born Californian who works for a living, is a fisherman, and thinks the way you do.

  9. Lloyd, I agree with some of what you say, so please don't attack me. I've been going there for 30 plus years mostly camping in the meadow which has looked like a minefield for many years. Too many pull in and first thing they do, is dig another firepit. It's always been against the rules, but not enforced. I'm sure the CCC noted this too. We campers and Lawsons are both to blame. I hope you enjoyed your fire in an existing firepit. – Ron, Sacramento

  10. Lloyd,

    I personally know one of the Lawson's and have met Mom and Dad Lawson a few times. I have spent time with some of the old salty sea dogs in their trailers, gone fishing with them so I have fond memories of this place like you do. Consider yourself lucky like me, knowing that we were fortunate enough to enjoy a time before the godamned environmentalists decided it was better to save a few fucking frogs than it was to let a person enjoy his last years in a rare place like this. If you haven't experienced Dillons like this STFU about the firepits, frogs, and dunes. There are real people, who've worked their whole lives to make their final stand in a place like this. A lot older and wiser than anyone who has replyed to this article so far (including me) According to friends most of those dunes were man made by Lawson Sr. to keep the wind down at the campsite. Nice article by the way.

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