Marin County Fire Department paramedic Kevin Stone prepares a syringe with Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at The Tamalpais in Greenbrae on Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020. Continuing Care Retirement Community staff at The Tamalpais are among the first to get the coronavirus vaccines in Marin. (Sherry LaVars/Marin Independent Journal)
On the first day of shelter-in-place restrictions in response to COVID-19, visitors to Vista Point get a view of a sparsely travelled Golden Gate Bridge from Sausalito a little after 9 am on Tuesday, March 17, 2020. Few people were at the popular bridge viewing area. (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal)
A jogger wears a mask as he runs along Bridgeway in Sausalito on Thursday, April 16, 2020. Although a new order does not require a face covering for people exercising outdoors, the county does encourage people to carry a mask with them and continue to practice social distancing. Masks are required to be worn when interacting with people outside one’s own household under the order. (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal)
McNears Beach County Park in San Rafael was among the parks to close in Marin County on Sunday, March 22, 2020. to control the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Marin County public health officials shut down all county parks Sunday after crowds converged on parks across the county during the shelter in place order. (Sherry LaVars/Marin Independent Journal)
A sign posted by the Marin County Open Space District reminds people to keep s safe social distance in the Terra Linda/Sleepy Hollow Open Space Preserve along Lucas Valley Road in San Rafael on Saturday, March 21, 2020. During the shelter at home order, health officials recommend maintaining a distnace of six feet from people in public to control the spread of the COVID-19 virus. (Jennifer Upshaw Swartz/Marin Independent Journal)
College of Marin nursing students Millie Murrin, left, and Elaina Manzanares take swabs from a patient at Marin County’s field testing station for coronavirus in San Rafael on Friday, March 27, 2020. People who have been referred for testing for COVID-19 by a doctor are scheduled for a drive-through test. (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal)
Cyclists pedal past a tree with a mask and a message on Miller Avenue in Mill Valley on Tuesday, April 14, 2020. It has been nearly a month since the shelter-in-place order began in Marin and other Bay Are Counties due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Sherry LaVars/Marin Independent Journal)
Customers wait in line to get into a credit union in San Rafael on April 24, 2020, two days after a countywide order took effect mandating face coverings in public. (Sherry LaVars/Marin Independent Journal)
Seniors wait in line for their turn to get into a Trader Joe’s store in San Rafael on Tuesday, March 31, 2020. Trader Joe’s, like other stores including Safeway, Target and Walmart, are dedicating time for only senior shoppers during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Sherry LaVars/Marin Independent Journal)
A guard closes at the main gate during a rally outside the gate to address the COVID-19 outbreak at San Quentin State Prison in San Quentin Village on Thursday, July 9, 2020. Over 1,300 inmates have tested positive for the virus. Six have died. (Sherry LaVars/Marin Independent Journal)
Left, Toby Blome of El Cerrito and her husband Fred Bialy display their sign as they join other prison activists for a rally over the coronavirus virus outbreak inside San Quentin at the main gate at San Quentin State Prison in San Quentin Village on Thursday, July 9, 2020. Over a third of the inmate population has tested positive for the virus. Six have died. (Sherry LaVars/Marin Independent Journal)
Edwin Martinez of Fairfax leads a chant during a Black Lives Matter march at Vintage Oaks shopping center in Novato on Monday, June 22, 2020. (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal)
Hundreds of demonstrators march up Fourth Street to City Hall in support of the Black Lives Matter movement in San Rafael on Thursday, June 4, 2020. The march started at Montecito Plaza. (Sherry LaVars/Marin Independent Journal)
Around a hundred protesters take part in a march in memory of Diamonte Riviore and other victims of police abuse in Marin City on June 14, 2020. The rally and march in Marin City, organized by his sister Kai Khalik, honored Diamonte Riviore of Marin City, who was killed by police in Utah in 2018. (Douglas Zimmerman/Special to the Marin Independent Journal)
Yema store owner Yema Khalif of Tiburon addresses Black Lives Matter demonstrators during a rally at the Tiburon Police Department in Tiburon on Saturday, Aug. 29, 2020. The rally against racial profiling and racism was called in response to a recent confrontation between Khalif and Tiburon police at Khalif’s store. (Sherry LaVars/Marin Independent Journal)
Tiburon police officer James Harris stands outside Yema in Tiburon on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. A threat of Election Day violence against the store and its owners was posted on the internet. (Sherry LaVars/Marin Independent Journal)
Yema co-owner Hawi Awash talks with Tiburon police officer James Harris on Election Day in Tiburon on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. An threat of Election Day violence against the store and its owners was posted on the internet. (Sherry LaVars/Marin Independent Journal)
Amber Allen-Peirson of Marin City addresses the crowd during a Black Lives Matter rally at the Tiburon Police Department in Tiburon on Saturday, Aug. 29, 2020. The rally against racial profiling and racism was called in response after local Black shop owners had an exchange with local police at their business. (Sherry LaVars/Marin Independent Journal)
Protestor Bobbie Casey of Sausalito stands by a sculpture of Sir Francis Drake during a rally in Larkspur on Wednesday, June 17, 2020. Some 150 people turned out for the protest calling for changing the name of Sir Francis Drake Blvd because of Drake’s involvement in the slave trade, and the removal of the statue. (Sherry LaVars/Marin Independent Journal)
Traffic is seen heading east on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard at Lagunitas Road in Ross on Wednesday, June 24, 2020. Many activists are calling for the renaming of Sir Francis Drake Boulevard because of Sir Francis Drake’s involvement in slave trade. (Sherry LaVars/Marin Independent Journal)
The Sir Francis Drake name is painted over at the school this morning in San Anselmo on Thursday, July 30, 2020. The Sir Francis Drake name has became a lightening rod in Marin County during the Black Lives Matter movement because of Sir Francis Drake’s involvement in slave trade. Many have been calling for renaming the school including some administrators, teachers, alumni and students.
(Sherry LaVars/Marin Independent Journal)
After pouring red paint on a statue of Junipero Serra, protesters wrapped cords and attempted to take it down. Activists staged a rally on Indigenous Day outside the Mission San Rafael and took down the statue of Junipero Serra in San Rafael on Monday Oct. 12, 2020. (Douglas Zimmerman/Special to the Marin Independent Journal)
Paul Dap of Mill Valley listens to Mayor Sashi McEntee explain what Mill Valley will do to for Black Lives Matter at the Downtown Plaza in Mill Valley on Thursday, June 4, 2020. (Photo by Jocelyn Carranza)
Kayla Wills of the Redding Hot Shots lights a back burn to deprive the Woodward Fire of fuel along the south side of Limantour Road near Olema on Sunday, Aug. 30, 2020. (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal)
Marin County firefighters deploy along Limantour Road near Point Reyes Station on Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020. (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal)
A firefighter with the National Park Service sprays as the Woodward Fire approaches the Bear Valley Trails in the Point Reyes National Seashore near Olema on Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020. The blaze has burned 2,689 acres since it started August 18. (Sherry LaVars/Marin Independent Journal)
Smoke from the Woodward and other north bay fires blankets the sky over San Rafael on Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020. (Sherry LaVars/Marin Independent Journal)
Tao Tran of San Jose holds his bike while a friend snaps a photo at Vista Point in Sausalito on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge are barely visible from smoke from California fires that has blanketed parts of Marin County and other areas around the Bay Area. (Sherry LaVars/Marin Independent Journal)
Mount Tamalpais is seen under a darkened orange sky at about 120 a.m. this morning in San Rafael on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. Smoke and ash from California fires has blanketed parts of Marin County and turned the sky a bizarre Mars like shade of orange. (Sherry LaVars/Marin Independent Journal)
Smoke and clouds darken the sky at 10:30 in the morning over Loch Lomond Harbor in San Rafael on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal)
Paulo Santos and Thomas Spratley of Sausalito snap photos from the Headlands in Sausalito on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. Smoke from California fires blended with a marine layer of fog to turn the sky orange. (Sherry LaVars/Marin Independent Journal)
Thank you signs for firefighters battling the Woodward Fire in the Point Reyes National Seashore are seen at the entrance of the former San Geronimo Golf Course in San Geronimo on Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2020. The former golf course site is now the Incident Command Post and Basecamp for the Woodward Fire. (Sherry LaVars/Marin Independent Journal)
San Chaison of Fairfax uses electric outlets provided outside City Hall in San Anselmo on Monday, Oct. 26, 2020. Chaison’s home is without power due to the PSPS initiated by PG&E. (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal)
Mark Nichol of Forest Knolls uses free wifi outside City Hall in San Anselmo during a PSPS on Monday, Oct. 26, 2020. (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal)
Jennifer Blackman of Bolinas drops her ballot into an official ballot dropbox at the Marin County Civic Center in San Rafael on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020. (Sherry LaVars/Marin Independent Journal)
Ballot inspector Lia Wilbourn looks over early voting ballots at the Marin County Elections Department in San Rafael on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020. (Sherry LaVars/Marin Independent Journal)
A “Vote” poster hangs in the window of the registrar of voters office at the Marin County Civic Center in San Rafael on Wednesday, April 29, 2020. (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal)
San Rafael mayoral candidate Kate Colin snaps a selfie with her husband Jeff Colin after an update showed her winning by a large margin during her election night gathering at the Elk’s Club in San Rafael on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020. (Sherry LaVars/Marin Independent Journal)
From left, Pamella Purkeypile of Novato votes while her nieces Ellouise Silva, 14 and her sister Havilah Silva, 13, look on at the library on Election Day in Novato on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. (Sherry LaVars/Marin Independent Journal)
Peggy Merz of Novato, right, joins a “Count Every Vote” rally in Point Reyes Station on Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020. She was one of more than 60 people who lined Highway 1 through town to hold signs and wave to passing motorists during the rally organized by Indivisible West Marin. (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal)
A north bound SMART train rolls past the San Rafael Transit Center in San Rafael on Friday, Jan. 24, 2020. San Rafael and the Golden Gate Bridge District are debating where the San Rafael Transit Center should be located. The two agencies are considering moving the center because of impacts caused by the SMART trains that run alongside the transit center. (Sherry LaVars/Marin Independent Journal)
A SMART train makes a stop at an empty platform in Downtown San Rafael on Tuesday, March 24, 2020. (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal)
A SMART rider takes a southbound train to San Rafael during the morning commute on Tuesday, March 24, 2020. The number of riders on public transit has plummeted since the shelter in place order took effect. (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal)
Deirdre Flanagan, left, is comforted by The Rev. Marty Tracy with Street Chaplaincy after Flanagan recognized a friends’ name on a list of the homeless people who died on the streets in Marin following a ceremony at First Presbyterian Church in San Rafael on Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020. Flanagan had come to the church for a warm to-go meal. (Sherry LaVars/Marin Independent Journal)
Homeless camps are seen in a parking lot under a stretch of highway 101 overpass near Fourth Street in San Rafael on Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020. Homeless camps have popped up in parking lots and along the highway during the pandemic. (Sherry LaVars/Marin Independent Journal)
Inn of Marin at Corte Madera hotel is seen in Corte Madera on Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020. (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal)
The Inn Marin Hotel is seen in Novato on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal)
The worst public health crisis in a century, a racial reckoning and massive wildfires that turned the sky an apocalyptic orange.
Any one of these events would have defined an extraordinary year for Marin. But 2020 was a year unlike any other — one that will be remembered for generations to come.
A look back on Marin’s top news stories of 2020 as selected by the Independent Journal:
The first cases of the novel coronavirus arrived in Marin in late February, when more than 50 people returned home to the county after a trip to Mexico aboard the virus-stricken Grand Princess cruise ship. By March, the county recorded its first COVID-19 deaths. Schools closed their campuses as infections climbed.
On March 16, Marin joined six other Bay Area counties in announcing the nation’s first “shelter-in-place” order. The criminally enforceable restrictions confined people largely to their homes and forced all but the most essential businesses to close, sending the economy into upheaval and triggering a financial crisis for many as small businesses endeavored to stay afloat and workers struggled to make rent and put food on the table.
Almost anything that would normally involve people getting together — classes, birthday parties, meetings and cocktail hours — moved online. Masks were made mandatory in public.
The lockdown was gradually eased, which fueled spikes in cases, before the rules were imposed again. A COVID-19 outbreak tore through San Quentin State Prison during a surge over the summer, infecting more than two thirds of the inmates and killing 28 of them.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Marin has logged more than 7,000 cases and 108 deaths from COVID-19 on top of those recorded at the prison. Nationwide, the virus has killed more than 315,000 Americans, more than World War II.
Demonstrators lay in the streets of Fairfax, marched through Marinwood and painted murals in Mill Valley. Across Marin and the nation, protests erupted over the death of George Floyd after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes on Memorial Day.
Black Lives Matter activists called for an end to police brutality, and urged Marin County’s cities and towns to take action. Several local governments responded by forming committees to discuss racial equity and police policies.
While many of the demonstrations were peaceful, some were turbulent. In San Rafael, protesters toppled a statue of Junipero Serra outside the Mission San Rafael Arcángel, saying the 18th-century Catholic priest contributed to the destruction of Native American cultures. In Terra Linda, a man brandished a weapon at a racial mural.
Local officials in some cases came under fire amid the racial reckoning. Activists urged Mill Valley Mayor Sashi McEntee to resign after she said the Black Lives Matter movement was “not of local importance” during a City Council meeting. A demonstration was organized in Tiburon after the town’s police chief, Michael Cronin, issued a warning that a protest in Marin City could make Sausalito and Tiburon targets for unrest. More protests followed after police questioned a Black merchant about why he was in his Tiburon clothing shop at 1 a.m.
A campaign is underway to rename Sir Francis Drake Boulevard and Sir Francis Drake High School because of the 16th-century explorer’s connection to slave trading.
California’s firefighting crews were stretched to their limits during the 2020 fire season after an August lightning storm ignited dozens of wildfires throughout the state. In West Marin, the Woodward fire burned through steep, rugged terrain in the Point Reyes National Seashore and triggered evacuations as it spread toward neighborhoods.
Smoke from the August wildfires, many of which continued to burn into September, created some of the world’s worst air quality in Marin and throughout the state. That came as restaurants were limited to outdoor dining because of the pandemic, and health officials had advised people who were getting together with friends and family to do so outside, where the risk of coronavirus transmission is lower.
The sky turned an ominous orange for a day in early September as smoke from wildfires burning along the West Coast combined with a marine layer. Some described the day as “apocalyptic.”
On dry, windy days, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. shut off power in parts of Marin, even as pandemic restrictions forced many to work from home. The preemptive power shutdowns were aimed at preventing the utility’s electric equipment from sparking more wildfires. Rolling blackouts also came during heat waves as California’s power grid operator scrambled to keep the strained system functioning.
Before the pandemic upended the economy, Marin voters in March struck down a ballot measure that would have extended the sales tax that funds the SMART train, delivering a massive blow to the transit agency after an expensive campaign fight. At the same time, voters approved a 10-year property tax measure that will raise an estimated $19.3 million annually to fund a wildfire prevention agency.
In the November presidential election, Joe Biden won 82% of the vote in Marin. Kate Colin was elected San Rafael’s first woman mayor and Maika Llorens Gulati, who ran unopposed for a seat on the City Council, became the city’s first Latino council member. The six-person race for three seats on the Sausalito City Council came down to one vote, triggering a recount that reaffirmed a victory for newcomer Ian Sobieski, who edged out incumbent Joan Cox.
Marin County rented hundreds of hotel rooms to house the homeless this year in order to stem the spread of the coronavirus among those who would normally sleep in shelters. The temporary hotel program, funded by the state, grew into a permanent one as California officials offered funding for cities and counties to buy buildings and convert them into homeless housing.
In November, county officials approved plans to buy an office building in San Rafael and a hotel in Corte Madera, which are set to provide a combined 62 apartments for the homeless under the state program. But a proposal to also buy a 70-room hotel in Novato — for which the state would have picked up two-thirds of the cost — became a topic of controversy, with Novato neighbors saying the deal was rushed. The plan was eventually squashed after supervisors said they couldn’t come to an agreement with the property owner.
In Marin City, a plan to build a 74-apartment complex on a 1.1-acre lot was approved this month without review by the county’s planning commission or lengthy environmental analysis under the California Environmental Quality Act. The approval process was streamlined under a new state law aimed at spurring more development in California.