Mill Valley locomotive project faces resistance in plaza redesign


Mill Valley plans to weigh ideas for expanding the city’s Depot Plaza, including adding a historic train, landscaping or outdoor picnic tables.

The Parks and Recreation Commission voted 3-2 at a Nov. 2 meeting to develop plans for each option. Much of the discussion, however, was dominated by the division over the installation of the historic locomotive – known as Engine No. 9.

The city has launched a review on how to design, renovate and animate an expanded plaza, the public center of the city. The expansion is made possible by redesigning the right turn lane from Sunnyside Avenue to Miller Avenue.

A survey conducted this fall polled the community on a range of options for expanding the area. The commission was tasked with reviewing those options and deciding which staff should prioritize for further research, said Sean McGrew, director of city parks.

City staff expect to return in the winter with a report reviewing each potential project. In the spring, staff will make a presentation to city council, which will make a decision on what to present there, McGrew said. Construction is not expected to begin before spring 2024.

“The process is going to take at least months,” McGrew said.

Eric Macris, president of the Mill Valley Historical Society, said at the meeting that his group had collected 869 signatures on a petition supporting plans to display the No. 9 engine in the plaza. He called the investigation “the tip of the iceberg”.

“We would like to encourage the commission to conduct a thoughtful and fair process that relies on the staff for facts and information and removes that process from a quest to declare victory. That’s not the goal,” he said.

Macris and his group, Friends of No. 9, proposed placing Engine No. 9 near redwoods in the plaza.

“It doesn’t block any view. It doesn’t dominate the square,” he said. “He’s just taking up space that’s now asphalt.”

A conceptual design outlining the positioning of the 36-ton locomotive was presented on July 23.

Locomotive No. 9 ran between Mill Valley, Mount Tamalpais and Muir Woods on the Mount Tamalpais Scenic Railway until 1924 before being sold to the logging industry. In 1953 it was exhibited at the Scotia Museum in Humboldt County. It was acquired in 2018 at auction and is being renovated.

Opposition to the locomotive was fierce, with many questioning its size and safety at the meeting.

Mill Valley’s Ruby Unger noted how many residents spoke out “strongly against” the No. 9 engine.

“Anything in there is going to encroach on the opening of the plaza,” said. “I sure hope we don’t see him there.”

John McCauley, former mayor of Mill Valley, said the proposal will eventually present new hurdles, such as the need for cover and the scaling of surrounding landscaping to facilitate the locomotive.

“The survey clearly shows that public sentiment is against the location of the place for the locomotive,” he said. “This idea is polarizing. It’s unpopular. »

Opponents recommended that the locomotive be featured on a city welcome sign, in a museum, or near the top of Mount Tamalpais.

Commissioner Katherine Jones said questions and disputes over scaling could be answered by further scrutiny of staff.

“I think it’s worth having additional conversations,” she said.

Commissioner Vanessa Justice said she would like the square to be kept as an open space. She was joined in opposition by commission member Naomi Gray.

“It doesn’t seem to me like an efficient use of time to fully investigate an option that has met with so much opposition,” Gray said.


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