Marin Independent Journal
Commitment kept headlands wild for all of us
Robert Praetzel shaped Marin, not with what he built, but by stopping an ambitious development that would have dramatically changed the face of our county.
Imagine a development of 50 high-rise apartment buildings, a large number of homes, a shopping mall and a grand hotel built across the Marin Headlands.
It might have happened. In fact, in February of 1965, the county approved those plans, despite strong opposition from many Marin residents.
Had it not been for the legal fight launched and led by three Marin lawyers — Mr. Praetzel, Doug Ferguson and Marty Rosen — the headlands would be covered with a proposed development, Marincello, and home for as many as 30,000 people.
Mr. Praetzel, a well-respected Marin lawyer and a longtime Kentfield resident, died at his home on Feb. 4. He was 97.
The lawyers joined forces with the city of Sausalito and challenged the county's approval.
They caught the county and developer short-cutting the approval process, including violating public notice laws, and convinced the court to overturn the county's approval.
The lawyers also won their case that the county had overstepped its legal authority by approving the sweeping rezoning of the 2,138 acres by resolution, when it should have been by ordinance. In short, they stopped the largest development ever proposed in Marin on a legal technicality.
Today, only a few concrete remnants remain from the start of the development. Some of the roads that were started have become open space trails in what is today a wide-open and treasured Marin Headlands parkland that became part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
While Rosen and Ferguson went on to build records as environmental activists, Mr. Praetzel, a quiet and gracious man, returned to his practice and, for years, maintained an office in San Rafael.
Over the years, he served on many local philanthropic and conservation boards.
He also coached one of the Kentfield-Greenbrae Little League teams, sponsored by the Greenbrae Pharmacy and fondly nicknamed the Pills.
Rosen praised his former law partner's contribution.
“It was his brilliance alone that was responsible for the creation of the Golden Gate national district,” Rosen said. “When people walk on the open space of Marin County they should be grateful to a man of talent, vision and perseverance.”
Their fight was captured in Kenji Yamamoto and Nancy Kelly's 2012 documentary film, “Rebels With a Cause.”
Mr. Praetzel also counted nearly 80 years of hiking Marin's trails, including many up and down Mount Tamalpais.
Mr. Praetzel's dedication, hard work and commitment to a fair public process shaped our county. He wasn't a politician. He was a talented attorney who saw that the county had failed to uphold the law.
He had a lot of public support across the county, but the fight came down to the law. He and other opponents of Marincello (and its backers) prevailed, forcing the county to reverse its approvals and setting the stage for the headlands to remain an open gateway to Marin today.
That's quite a legacy and one for which we should be thankful.