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Sausalito 2040 General Plan Update: Focus on The Marinship

The City of Sausalito is unique in the San Francisco Bay Area, known for its magnificent views of the City of San Francisco and the Bay, its marinas, and vibrant waterfront community. Although it’s famous for its picturesque setting, the City’s character is steeped in the history of the maritime industry in northern California. The area known as “The Marinship,” which lies East of Bridgeway and North of Napa Street, is testament to that history and Marin’s only remaining industrial zoned, working waterfront community.

The Marinship is home to a diverse and eclectic mix of maritime industries, small manufacturers, artisans, artists, tradesmen, and tech startups. As a participant in the City’s 2017 Marinship Workshop commented, “The Marinship contains the culture of this town.”


Map of Marinship

The City of Sausalito is presently moving into the final phases of its review and approval of the Sausalito 2040 General Plan Update. This series of articles will analyze and assess its implications for the Marinship.

The Sausalito 2040 General Plan Update and DEIR

California cities are required to periodically update their General Plans in order to better reflect changes in state and federal law, economic trends, and the interests of its residents. The General Plan is often referred to as the “blueprint for the community’s vision of future growth.”

After gathering information and input from the public, consultants, and committees through a series of workshops and public hearings, the City of Sausalito recently published its Draft 2040 General Plan Update documents on June 4, 2020. Click here to view a copy. As required under the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”), it has also published the 2040 General Plan Draft Environmental Impact Report (the “DEIR”). Click here to view a copy.

The DEIR is intended to provide decision makers and the public with an assessment of potentially significant environmental impacts and discusses how those impacts will or will not be mitigated to reduce environmental harm. The public is now given a 45-day public comment period (beginning June 4th), during which comments, questions, and criticisms about the General Plan Update Draft and the DEIR can be submitted. The City is required to respond to the DEIR comments, in writing, prior to holding its public hearings to “certify”/approve the Final version of the EIR.

It is important to note that, generally, if the public fails to submit comments or arguments about the DEIR, during that comment period or prior to the final decision vote by the City Council, they will likely lose their right to contest those issues, legally, in a court of law.

The time for residents to make their voices heard is now.

Community Venture Partners, Inc. (“CVP”), a Marin nonprofit organization, is undertaking a review and analysis of the Sausalito 2040 General Plan Update, primarily focused on its impacts on the Marinship. CVP will retain legal counsel and experts as needed to inform the general public, comment on the City’s proposals, as deemed appropriate, and assess the City’s compliance with CEQA.[1]

A Brief History of the Marinship

Soon after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, the US government asked the W.A. Bechtel Company to construct a new shipyard in Sausalito to build “Liberty Ships” for the war effort. The majority of the Marinship’s acreage is landfill that was created in 1942 by the US Army Corps of Engineers. As noted in the General Plan Update documents, “Bechtel chose this site because it was level, largely undeveloped, and had deep-water access close to the Golden Gate.” [2]


The Marinship, 1943

Many of the original buildings associated with the shipyard still stand today. “These buildings are an important element of the area since they are a defining characteristic unique to Sausalito.”[3]

Land use in the Marinship

The types of uses allowed in the Marinship has been a subject of controversy for decades. Although designated for industrial uses only, in the 1960s, portions of the Marinship were converted to commercial office use. However, with the adoption of the “Marinship Specific Plan in 1989, this practice was halted. The Specific Plan envisioned the Marinship as a working waterfront with an emphasis on related marine industrial land uses, and a location for arts and artisan production. This is a restriction that is still supported by many Sausalito residents and business owners.

In 1985, a “Traffic Initiative” was passed that established specific limits on the intensity of development for most of the City's commercial and industrial areas. In the Marinship, the intent of these regulations was for new buildings to be smaller than many which existed, or permitted under prior regulations.

According to the City’s General Plan Update analysis, and “assuming maximum potential industrial and commercial development is realized in the Marinship, approximately 698,025 additional square feet (146,124 square feet of industrial and 551,901 square feet of commercial) of new development could be constructed.”[4]

The Sausalito 2040 General Plan Update Draft: The Marinship

Regarding allowable uses, the Sausalito 2040 General Plan Update Draft”) states,

“As part of the update process, the objectives, policies, and programs of the Marinship Specific Plan have been incorporated into the Land Use and Growth Management, Waterfront, Community Design, Historic and Cultural Preservation, Circulation and Parking, Health, Safety, and Community Resilience, Sustainability, and Economic Elements.”[5]

The Draft General Plan goes on to say,

“The Marinship area in Sausalito… is one of the main sources of City business revenues (Sales Tax, Property Tax, & Business License Tax). It is also home to five of the City’s Top 10 employers. The Marinship features a diverse mix of business uses including Applied Arts, Industrial, Business Commercial, Restaurant, Grocery Store, Financial, and Other uses.

“The Plan establishes a policy which specifies that no new commercial office space may be created in the Marinship except for necessary ancillary and incidental office space for permitted uses. The Plan provides for continued use of existing office buildings and for limited commercial uses which support this industrial area and support an innovative network of skilled artisans, builders and inventors. The only other commercial designation within the Marinship is the Shopping Center designation which allows the continued use of a full-service supermarket. ”[6]

Throughout the documents, the Draft General Plan is replete with emphasis that the prevailing restrictions on land use and business types allowable in the Marinship will be honored and maintained.

For example, under Policy LU-2.16, it states,[7]

Policy LU-2.16. Marinship Office Uses Impacts. Continue to ensure that office uses do not adversely affect the desired continuance of marine related industrial and waterfront uses in the Marinship area.

LU-2.16.2. New Marinship Office Uses. Limit office uses in the Industrial and Waterfront Land Use Designations to those offices that existed prior to or on April 5, 1988 and new ancillary office space.

LU-2.16.3. Ancillary Office Space. Revise the zoning ordinance section 10.28.050(D)(2) to specify the maximum percentage of building area that can be considered ancillary office space (i.e. the small amount of office activity needed to administer the operations of an approved use).

Similarly, under Policy Objective, LU-3, it states,

Promote and Enhance Industrial Economic Viability

Policy LU-3.1. Marinship Industrial. Encourage industrial use of the Marinship.

LU-3.1.1. Maritime and Industrial Committee. Determine viability of forming a Sausalito Maritime and Industrial Committee to facilitate representation of industrial and maritime businesses in the city and advise on collaboration.

LU-3.1.2. Zoning Ordinance (Marinship Uses). Update and revise the list of permitted uses in the zoning ordinance to be consistent with the Land Use designations and the Marinship Vision, provided in the Waterfront Element. Define conditions under which conditional uses will be permitted.[8]

LU-3.1.3. Commercial Uses in the Industrial Zone. Consistent with existing zoning requirements for the Industrial Marinship District maintain the maximum limit of 40 percent of the permitted FAR allowance for commercial uses limited to commercial office, commercial services, restaurants and food services.[9]


Policy LU-3.2. Marine Industrial Uses. Promote and encourage new marine industrial uses.

Policy LU-3.3. New General Industrial Uses. Promote new general industrial uses that are small scale, low traffic generating, non-polluting, and contribute to the economic sustainability of the Marinship. [Emphasis added]

LU-3.3.1. Zoning Ordinance (General Industrial Uses). Update and revise the list of permitted uses in the zoning ordinance and define the conditions that permit conditional uses.[10]

LU-3.3.2. Industrial Study. Conduct study on strategies to retain existing industrial businesses and what new industrial or industrial-related uses would suit the Marinship.

Policy LU-3.4. Marinship Preservation. Preserve the heritage, history, and existing vibrant industrial community.

LU-3.4.2. Restaurant Restriction. Limit the amount of new restaurant and food services uses in the Waterfront and Industrial Land Use Designations to those that provide unique local neighborhood-serving services and amenities, with a defined conditional use permit or a hard cap. [Emphasis added]

LU-3.4.3. Design Guidelines. Consider the development of Marinship design guidelines that maintain an urban rather than suburban character for building style, landscaping and supporting elements. [Emphasis added]

L-3.4.4. Sense of Place. Development plans should recognize the aesthetic and social value of small-scale, individual activities as a vital component in the overall composition of the Marinship. [Emphasis added]

The Draft General Plan is also emphatic about maritime uses located on the Marinship waterfront. For example, Policy LU-4.2. Marinship Waterfront Uses, states that the City will

Promote marine industrial oriented uses that require waterfront locations and ensure the preservation of the existing general industrial uses found in the Marinship waterfront area.[11]

And in Policy LU-4.10. Preserve and enhance the maritime history and character of the Marinship.

This shall include giving, to the extent determined reasonable, development preference to marine uses and maritime industries.

At the same time the Plan discourages new uses that increase “tourism” in the Marinship. See

Policy E-6.4. Limit Marinship Tourism. “Minimize new tourist attractions in the Marinship.” Page E-25

Engagement by Interested Parties

Policies throughout the General Plan Update refer to defining “conditional uses” (uses that are not in conformance with the Marinship’s industrial zoning or its other restrictions; e.g., LU-3.3.1) or make reference to how the General Plan Update amends or otherwise might change the existing Marinship Specific Plan.

For example, LU-3.4.5. Parcel Specific Guidance notes that

The Marinship Specific Plan contains detailed descriptions and tailored land use requirements on a parcel by parcel basis. This guidance should be carefully evaluated and updated into a reader-friendly format that presents the information clearly. Consideration should be given to consolidating land use requirements by sub-zones instead of parcel-by parcel.[12]

It is recommended that interested parties actively participate in forums and committees that define conditional uses and/or consolidate zoning by “sub-zone” to ensure it the intent and spirit of the existing Marinship Specific Plan is maintained. Also, since it is the stated intention of the 2040 General Plan Update to eliminate the Marinship Specific Plan as a regulatory document (see LU-4.2.2 Retire Marinship Specific Plan), it would be prudent for the interested parties to ensure that all of the regulations now encoded in the Specific Plan are fully included in the final version of the 2040 General Plan Update.

Similarly, the Draft General Plan makes frequent references to updating and revising the zoning code, and defining “conditions" under which conditional uses will be permitted:[13] This updating and “conformance” of the zoning ordinance process will follow the adoption of the Final Sausalito 2040 General Plan Update and the City Council’s certification of the Final EIR.

This issue is also referenced in the “Economic Element” of the General Plan Update under,

Policy E-6.5. Innovative Marinship. Promote and support innovative business uses in the Marinship that serve Sausalito’s sustainability leadership objective (Sustainability Objective S-2). Pages E-25 and E-26.

E-6.5.1. Innovative Uses. In a process linked to the Zoning Ordinance revision described in LU- 4.2.1, consider permitting innovative businesses in the Marinship uses that complement the Marinship’s applied arts, business commercial, restaurant, financial, technology, maritime, light industrial, and artist communities.

E-6.5.2. Innovation Strategy. Develop a strategy for attracting innovative businesses uses that help Sausalito pursue its sustainability leadership objective without detracting from the applied arts, business commercial, restaurant, financial, technology, maritime, light industrial, and artist communities in the Marinship.

These new policies and the future they contemplate are another part of the overall update process that the community should comment on at this time, and remain engaged in, throughout the public process.

The Future of the Marinship

Despite the numerous commitments in the General Plan Update to preserve the physical, aesthetic, cultural, and economic character of the Marinship, some residents and business owners worry that those strong policy statements may be eroded, over time, for the sake of economic and financial expediency.

Marin County is neither a major incubator for new startup businesses nor is it a mecca for major corporate or industrial/manufacturing relocations. In fact, when companies of all kinds begin to experience significant growth, they tend move on to less expensive and less restrictive locations. At the same time, the types of businesses that have historically thrived in Marin County – small retail, professional services, and community-serving retailers – are either being “Amazon-ed” out of existence or priced out of existence (rising rents and costs of doing business in Marin).

On the other side of the equation, Marin County and other parts of the State are witnessing a growing revolt against the proliferation of excessive taxes and fees by local, regional, and state governments and agencies. The recent defeat of the SMART train tax extension and a number of local school bond measures attest to this.

At the same time, there is growing pressure on small Marin County cities to increase revenues in order to provide public services and maintain infrastructure. This, in turn, has translated into increasing incentives and/or loosening restrictions to more intensive real estate development.

In the Marinship, existing industrial, artist/craftsmen, tech, and maritime uses are generally small-scaled and classified as low intensity, as noted above. The question going forward then is not just what does the community want the Marinship to be, but what can preserve the Marinship in a sustainable way, economically, culturally, and environmentally.

Times are changing. Some of the uses that the City has worked hard to keep out of the Marinship, to preserve its unique character, such as commercial office space, may be less viable in the post Covid-19 world. We'll have to wait and see. Increased tele-commuting may prove to be a financially beneficial, permanent trend, regardless of the pandemic.

Similarly, existing retail space in Marin County, also restricted by the 1989 Specific Plan, is going begging for tenants. Building new retail development would be financial suicide in the Marin County market for the foreseeable future.[14]

The General Plan’s goals to preserve and promote maritime, artisan, technology, and other such businesses in the Marinship, are laudable. But the City is going to have to strike a careful balance between competing interests and the realities of the current economic times we live in. There may be future proposals for new types of non-traditional business ventures that are currently not even on the radar. The City needs clear and transparent methods, in place, to deal with that possibility.

Sausalito's Economic Challenges

As shown in the charts and diagrams below, the Marinship is presently the major contributor to the City’s tax revenues (charts from the Kosmont Group Report).




Like all small Marin Cities, Sausalito faces financial and budget-balancing challenges. Consolidation and fiscal discipline are certainly helpful, but the challenges remain. The need for revenue growth could put significant pressure on land that may be viewed by real estate professionals as “under-utilized.”

But is the past prologue? Will growth demands outweigh the City’s covenants, as they did in the 60’s and 70's? It will be important for the City to address this challenge in a realistic way.

And then there are the environmental challenges.

Environmental Challenges in the Marinship

Among the many environmental challenges the Marinship area faces are the impacts of sea level rise, flooding, and seismic hazards. These include liquefaction (land “liquefies” in an earthquake as it becomes saturated with water), land subsidence (the coastline is sinking), and even the threat of a tsunami.[15]

FEMA maps show a significant percentage of the Marinship is vulnerable.


Click on the Map to enlarge

Note that under Subsidence (page HS-18), The General Plan Update states,

Land subsidence refers to the motion of the earth’s surface as it shifts downward relative to sea level. Subsidence is caused by seasonal effects such as the expansion and contraction of soils affected by changes in moisture content, depletion of underlying groundwater, and seismic faulting. Areas built on landfill are especially susceptible to subsidence. [Emphasis added]

Subsidence is an issue throughout the city, but it is of concern in the Marinship which is sinking at a rate of 0.5 to 0.75 inches per year according to the Waterfront and Marinship Committee’s 2010 Sausalito Waterfront and Marinship Vision. Subsidence can lead to groundwater intrusion and intensify flooding and the effects of sea level rise, making development and infrastructure in these areas more vulnerable. [Emphasis added]

The Introduction to the General Plan Update calls these "acute dangers" (page LU-9), which are exacerbated by the presence of expansive soils, ongoing coastal erosion, and persistent flooding during rainy months of the year.



Sea Level Rise

To its credit, the City has included a "Waterfront Element" in its General Plan Update, which is not a state requirement. This acknowledges the unique characteristics of the City and the Marinship. The Waterfront Elements notes (page W-5),

"Sea level rise is an urgent issue for the City, and one in which actions taken (or not taken) in the near term could have extreme long-term effects on the quality of life and ability to do business."

Although the General Plan Update is filled with references to risks of sea level rise and climate change, and contains comments, throughout, about impacts and intentions (e.g., on circulation, infrastructure, healthy waterfront ecosystems, open space, "preserving historic" assets, etc.), it does not go so far as to propose an actual, action plan to address sea level rise on a citywide basis.

However, the Plan does include a number of policies and possible programs to arrive at that type of plan, all of which should be carefully evaluated by interested parties.

For example, under S-1.4.2.Capital Projects, it states.

Prepare a guidance document for addressing increased sea level rise impacts in the City’s Capital Improvement Projects (CIP) plans that addresses key areas of improvements that can systematically address incremental flooding areas. Require that sea level rise be addressed in City’s capital planning and incorporate adaptation measures for public improvements.

And under HS-1.9.2 (page HS-56)

Localized Sea Level Rise Study. Consider initiating and implementing a localized sea level rise study that identifies local improvements in low lying areas to minimize current effects of sea level rise.

And under S-1.1.3 (page S-13)

Overlay Zone. Adopt an overlay zone on the Zoning Map based on the Sea Level Rise Map. This overlay zone shall include land use regulations for site planning and a minimum construction elevation to accommodate sea level rise and land subsidence.

And Policy S-1.6. (pages S-4 to S-15)

Sea Level Rise Adaptation. Proactively pursue planning and implementation of adaptation and mitigation strategies for sea level rise and land subsidence.

But until or unless these "policies" are actually funded and undertaken, the General Plan Update presently considers "evaluating" and "mitigating" the actual impacts of sea level rise on a project by project basis (or in the zoning code), putting the mitigation costs on individual property owners through zoning and development standards. This seems to be an unrealistic burden for any one property owner or local business to bear.

Other Marinship Considerations

In a catastrophic event, the environmental concerns may be amplified by the unique ingress and egress challenges in the Marinship, due to private roadway ownership. This argues against significant increases in development density in the Marinship unless emergency evacuation issues are addressed and can be mitigated on a project by project basis.

Finally, there is an issue of hazardous materials and soils contamination, which are presently “sleeping dogs.” As noted in the General Plan Update, page HS-23,

Sites where materials such as paint, rubber products, oil, tar, solvents, and pesticides were used have the potential for contaminating nearby site. Existing or former light industrial uses located in the community, such as gas stations, machine shops, nurseries, laboratories, laundries, maintenance yards, fuel tanks, and chemical storage sites, should be evaluated for potentially hazardous soils prior to development approvals.

In 2015, our organization studied the hazardous soils potential on the “Machine Shop site,” the last of the great old industrial buildings in the south end of the Marinship. Records showed that hazardous materials in the old landfill were a concern and a significant cleanup operation might be needed before any redevelopment could take place.

So, how will all these concerns impact future development in the Marinship? Do they favor redevelopment of already developed parcels and mitigate against allowing widespread, large-scaled new development?

This is where the input of interested parties is essential to crafting a reasonable outcome.

CLICK HERE to read PART II - The Kosmont Study

CLICK HERE to read PART III - Housing and the Marinship


On June 17th, the Sausalito Planning Commission will hold a virtual meeting to “Solicit Comments on the City of Sausalito 2040 General Plan Draft Environmental Impact Report

The current Draft EIR is available at: or

For more information, please see:

[1] CVP is seeking tax deductible donations to the CVP Marinship Fund, to support this effort. Donations can be made by mail or online on our website by CLICKING HERE.CVP accepts donations in the form of cash, checks, credit/debit cards, as well as donations of securities such as stocks and bonds.

[2] WATERFRONT ELEMENT - PUBLIC REVIEW DRAFT: APRIL 6, 2020 | W-11; Excerpts as written for the 2011 Historic Context Statement by Knapp & VerPlanck.

[3] Sausalito 2040 General Plan Update DEIR

[4] 2040 Draft General Plan Update – Land Use and Growth Element, page LU 23

[5] 2040 Draft General Plan Update– Land Use and Growth Element, page LU 23

[6] 2040 Draft General Plan Update– Land Use and Growth Element, page LU 34

[7] 2040 Draft General Plan Update– Land Use and Growth Element, page LU-51

[8] These “definitions” will be of critical importance to all interested parties.

[9] 2040 Draft General Plan Update– Land Use and Growth Element, page LU-53

[10] The process of defining “conditions that permit conditional uses is something interested parties should monitor closely.

[11] 2040 Draft General Plan Update– Land Use and Growth Element, page LU-55

[12] 2040 Draft General Plan Update– Land Use and Growth Element, page LU-53

[13] 2040 Draft General Plan Update– Land Use and Growth Element, e.g., page LU-54, Policy LU-3.4.1

[14] One of the glaring flaws in the Kosmont Study, done to assess the City’s economic future, is its reliance on retail stores retaining their historical market share: something that is never going to happen.

[15] Tsunami HS-4 General Plan Health Safety and Community Resilience Element

Bob Silvestri is a Mill Valley resident and the founder and president of Community Venture Partners, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit community organization funded only by individuals in Marin and the San Francisco Bay Area. Please consider DONATING TO CVP to enable us to continue to work on behalf of California residents.