1. A Note from Fred Blackwell, CEO
  2. Community Conversation: World Café
  3. Strengths and Hard Stuff
  4. Trends
  5. Bold Steps and New Opportunities
  6. Messages to TSFF
  7. Participants
  8. Keep the Conversation Going

VOICE: Marin County

The San Francisco Foundation

VOICE: Marin County
The San Francisco Foundation
A Note from Fred Blackwell, CEO

VOICE: Marin County marked our half-way point in the listening sessions we are holding throughout the Bay Area, where we engage residents in a conversation about strengths, challenges, trends, and bold opportunities for the future of the county. Each of these sessions translates into practical application, informing our immediate work and the next decade of our work expanding opportunity and shared prosperity in the region.

The conversation in Marin held true to that mission. Many of you joined us with passion, energy, and truth-telling about what you are experiencing in the county. We heard that as much as there is pride in the prosperity and beauty in the county, there is a gulf in who gets to experience all of those positive attributes due to a variety of factors including geography, race, and class.

This challenge is the challenge of our day, and the very challenge that we intend to tackle as a community foundation serving the Bay Area region. As a region, we won’t be able to thrive if the entrepreneurs, public officials and policymakers of tomorrow are being left behind today.

With all the conversations we’ve had so far, a consistent theme our team has heard is how interconnected our region is as many of you live and work in different counties and cities. While this rings true throughout the region, there are issues in Richmond and Union City that are markedly different than in East Palo Alto or Marin City. Being able to have a strategy that’s both region-wide and responsive to nuances of neighborhoods and communities is important and the only way we will get there is through the kinds of partnerships and community conversations we are having throughout the region. This is how we will continue move forward.

In addition to asking people to share stories in person, we’re also doing so virtually. I invite you to visit bayareavoices.org to read and continue to share stories about your lived experiences in the Bay Area.

The more we share our stories, the more equipped we are to understand and take action that will make real change in people’s lives. Encourage your friends and neighbors to share their stories and take part as well because in order for our work to be impactful, it has to be grounded in community, in your voice and day-to-day experience about what it means to build a life and a future here at home.

Community Conversation: World Café

VOICE: Bay Area is a listening series taking place across the five Bay Area Counties, hosted by The San Francisco Foundation’s new CEO, Fred Blackwell, and his team to hear firsthand about the daily struggles, challenges, inspirations, and successes of residents as TSFF moves into the next decade of its work.

The topics of the day were discussed using the World Café method. This format brings participants together in groups of four to five for meaningful conversations around a specific set of questions, and participants' deep understanding of the issues facing the community, as well as creative thinking about how to address them. Participants had the opportunity to engage with many other attendees as part of the Café, both in small group conversations and as a whole. Below are the themes and deeper questions experienced in the small group conversations that participants shared with the larger group and a graphic recorder. A Café conversation is a creative process for leading collaborative dialogue, ensuring that everyone's voice is part of the conversation.

Strengths and Hard Stuff

We asked participants, "If a friend were moving to this county, what would you tell them about its strengths and treasures and the hard stuff?" 

Participants shared the following:


  • Open space and hiking that is beautiful and preserved.
  • People have strong principles, a vision for how life should be, and they put those principles into action.
  • There are 48,000 immigrants that live in Marin County. That’s a wonderful opportunity.
  • We have a strong community and grassroots leadership.
  • We have an enormous presence for arts.
  • We have thriving neighborhoods like downtown Novato and Corte Madera.

Hard Stuff

  • Affordability and transportation; bring electric shuttles back.
  • Isolation.
  • We have so many artists, but no support network for them.
  • In San Rafael more than 65 percent of the kids are in the freelance program.
  • Equity in education is a big issue.
  • The divisiveness that the inequality creates; the judgment strips away people's humanity where sometimes it’s just as easy to not see wealthy people as human.
  • Our county is not a safe place for all to live. I would invite those who say that this is a safe community to the Canal Area.
  • NIMBY (Not in my backyard) attitude.
  • Racism, the anti-immigrant movement, and accountability.
  • How can Marin County change the perception of the folks who may want to come here to live, or other counties who many want to collaborate?
  • Serious homelessness issue, also tied to drug and alcohol abuse.
  • We don’t understand the labor practices of the organic food movement. We don’t understand the equity that is lacking in that movement.
  • Hard to talk about the county as a whole; people very focused on their specific towns or cities.

We asked participants, "What have been the biggest changes (patterns, trends) you have seen in the last five years? Which changes are the most concerning to you? Which are most encouraging?"

Participants shared that:

Affordability, Housing, and Transportation

  • Marin County has a low unemployment rate, but it’s really hard to find jobs.
  • Rents have really increased dramatically. It’s more difficult for people that have vouchers of any kind to find landlords that accept them. Many low income people are having to move out of the county.
  • There is no parcel in the unincorporated areas zoned for multi-family housing.
  • Second homeowners are coming in, and it’s really impacting housing. The middle class is leaving and that impacts the workforce and schools.
  • Tracks are being laid for a Smart Train. But where is the infrastructure? How are people going to get the train?
  • A lot of funding for schools, particularly schools with varying achievement levels.
  • Increased traffic; high commuting county. There are very few good jobs in Marin. People with higher incomes are commuting out everyday for work, and people with primarily service delivery positions are commuting in. Lots of traffic and not good for the environment.
  • Five years ago a county-wide voluntary compliance agreement and the implementation plan was created. It’s been a good roadmap, and they’ve taken two of the 30 steps, but they’ve been important steps.


  • Large aging population; nearly 20 percent of Corte Madera is age 60 and over, yet we don’t have a senior center.
  • The silver tsunami – the aging population – is so important. It cuts across all of the issues that we’re talking about. 
  • Seniors have many difficulties in common. In West Marin, it’s exaggerated. Seniors have no public transportation to speak of. Clinics are at a great distance.
  • Shared housing is a trend and opportunity.
  • We need resources for our youth and young families. We can’t just be an aging community.

Racism and Equity

  • The same issues we are talking about now – affordable housing, racism, poverty – we all knew about five years ago but they were assumptions without data. The trend now is data. It’s a huge thing to connect the data. Now we have it. The portrait of Marin is a very complete. I would like to stop having these meetings. We know the solutions. Let’s implement them! The problem in Marin County is not money, it’s politics.
  • Racism is institutionalized; what’s happening at certain schools that more black and brown students are going to prison than to college?
  • More community is represented county-wide, there’s an equity coordinator at the county. 
  • How many of us are working toward equity. Racism creates inequities. Racism creates disparities.


  • Increased sense of fragmentation – people feel more isolated than they have.
  • Our communities are very hyper-local. There’s a lot of passion and volunteerism in our communities, but it’s hyper local.

Community Leadership and Collaboration

  • There is a trend and motivation toward a need to collaborate and come together to tackle issues.
  • There are a core group of immigrant volunteers working as civic leaders and advocates.
  • We have wonderful community support, so many involved volunteers. When a community pulls together, that’s when you see them work to make a difference.
  • Strong neighborhoods with bonds where people know each other and help each other, familiar in their neighborhoods.
  • The congregations over the last five years have been collaborating and networking, trending toward social action. The Marin Organizing Committee, made up of about 17 churches, work together toward affordable housing, finding a place for the homeless and developing strategies for human trafficking. The Marin Interfaith Council has 60 congregations that have come together. The trend is really strong.
  • We have a lot of Type A people, great ideas who want to make that happen, but sometimes there’s a lot of ego that comes along with that.
Bold Steps and New Opportunities

We asked residents, "From what you've heard today, what bold steps or new opportunities do you feel might make a difference in your community?" 

Participants shared that:

  • Imagine a Marin County where every child graduated high school bilingual in English and Spanish.
  • Let’s just build houses for the homeless.
  • We need leadership development that crosses over with working groups to find solutions. We need practice working collectively, building bridges and building capacity.
  • Engage and open up to President Obama’s strategy around creating pathways to jobs and manufacturing hubs.
  • We need to hold elected officials accountable. Being political is not just voting. It’s not just protesting. It's about accountability.
  • We talk about data as an end all be all. When we’re dealing with low populations' numbers, we need to create a culture of telling our own stories.
  • Uncover and discuss racism.
Messages to TSFF

Throughout the day, there were a number of ways for participants to share with each other and TSFF. One of those included an opportunity at the end to share one message that they wanted The San Francisco Foundation to hear that they hadn't yet had the opportunity to share.

On a big board with post-it notes, participants shared a number of reflections and messages with The San Francisco Foundation.

Below are some of the notes that were shared with us:

  • Support organizations working to bridge the stark inequalities in Marin: economic, education, opportunity, health.
  • Marin is the only Bay Area County without a tax for arts and arts education yet is the second largest California county to Los Angeles with artists as residents.
  • West Marin has unique needs; access to services; rural pros (beauty) and cons (isolation).
  • Make Marin a center for social innovation.
  • 48,636 immigrants in Marin.
  • Support community arts and creative placemaking that create spaces for cultural exchange.
  • We need to hear from youth, their experiences, and build them up as community organizers.
  • The West Marin Collaborative and Latino engagement.
  • Need regional dental vans for rural areas.
  • Make homelessness unacceptable in Marin. Find solutions, take action, move beyond barriers and implement.
  • Cradle to career structure to focus efforts on educational equity.
Keep the Conversation Going

#ShareYourVoice at bayareavoices.org