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Cake Crumbles, Words Matter and Sad News

Marin lost a legend when environmentalist Huey Johnson slipped the mortal coil

It seems there is no end to the continued impact of COVID-19, both on public health and economic levels.

Cake Art, a baking supply and educational retailer on Fifth Avenue in San Rafael has called it quits amid the pandemic. Cake Art was a stalwart in the Mission City’s downtown since 1994 and typified the small businesses that dominate Marin. The shop at 1512 Fifth Avenue was owned by Kathy Collins and Maria Smithey.

The store was well known for both its baking supplies that helped shape many a celebration and also the classes that it offered. But the coronavirus spelled an end to the classes and made the decision to retire from the business and liquidate its products easier.

The store was a beehive at the holidays as gingerbread houses flew out the door.

Wordsmith comes up short

One of the things I marvel at is the business world’s ability to generate coded language, hot terms and nonsense phrases, not so much to make things more clear, but to obfuscate or sound cool.

Meetings are annoying enough with some guy from marketing talking about the need to “pivot” when he means change, or hearing somebody from HR go on about something being bleeding edge, and all I can think of is to put some pressure on the wound and get to the ER.

So, when I got an email from Matt Bartlett from Merida Capital pointing out a language issue in a recent story I wrote for NorthBay biz about the impact of illegal cannabis on the legal market, I was stopped in my tracks. In the story, I used the phrase “black market” to describe those growing and selling marijuana outside the bounds of the medical or adult use markets. (Check out “Special Report: Black Market Cannabis” in the August issue.)

To me, the phrase black market has always referred to something being sold outside of an accepted or legal market. But Matt pointed out, after the magazine went to the printer, that those in the know refer to it as the “unregulated market” or “traditional market.” Moreover, there is a feeling that black market has racist overtones, is Eurocentric and perpetuates black-and-white dualism.

This was not my intention, and I thank Matt for pointing this short coming out and apologize for my use of that phrase in the story.

Your Marin moment

Obituaries. Every new reporter begins by writing about dead people. And when you spend more than three decades in the word racket, you write more obits as your sources die.

Marin lost a legend when environmentalist Huey Johnson slipped the mortal coil. Johnson was green way before it was hip. He taught generations to love Mom Earth. He passed away in July at the age of 87 from injuries sustained in a fall.

Johnson’s accomplishments were legendary, founding the Trust for Public Land as well as the Resource Renewal Institute in Mill Valley. He was Jerry’s Brown’s resource secretary back in the ’70s when the governor was almost as serious about the environment as he was about singer Linda Ronstadt.

But Johnson’s shining moment came in 1972, when as western director of the Nature Conservancy he snuffed out a plan to create a 30,000-person city/disaster that would have been known as Marincello– where the Marin Headlands are in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Johnson worked behind the scenes as plans for 50 apartment towers and countless townhomes roiled the public. He raised $6.5 million from investors and the conservancy bought the land and turned it over to the National Parks Service, years before the GGNRA was created.

While Johnson was known for his love of nature and his creativity, he was also well known for a stubborn streak that bordered on inflexibility.

My last skirmish with him was over a story in this magazine about the fight over whether farmers and ranchers in the Point Reyes National Seashore should be removed. Johnson’s Resource Renewal Institute, along with others, had brought a federal lawsuit to force the issue, and I was seeking an interview with him. But the chat never happened, and I wrote that he couldn’t be reached for comment.

He wrote a letter to the editor after the story was published and said he had no idea how we hadn’t connected. He restated it was time for the ranchers to hit the road, and then said, that while he didn’t agree with everything in the story, it was the most accurate he had read on the subject.

Marin has had its share of characters over the years: Robin Williams, George Lucas and Gary Giacomini all left their mark on the county to be sure. But none of them had a larger impact on shaping Marin than Johnson.

He was the real deal.


Bill Meagher is a contributing editor at NorthBay biz and a senior editor at the Manhattan-based financial news portal The Deal. He covers alternative investment, micro and small cap equity and does investigative reporting.

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