Tiburon is an incorporated town in Marin County, California. It is located on the Tiburon Peninsula, which reaches south into the San Francisco Bay. The smaller city of Belvedere (formerly a separate island) occupies the south-west part of the peninsula and is contiguous with Tiburon. Tiburon is bordered by Corte Madera to the north and Mill Valley to the west, but is otherwise mostly surrounded by the Bay. Besides Belvedere and Tiburon, much of the peninsula is unincorporated, including portions of the north side and the communities of Strawberry and Paradise Cay.
The population of Tiburon was 8,962 at the 2010 census. Belvedere and Tiburon share a post office.
The city’s name derives from the Spanish word tiburón, which means “shark”. The name was first given to the peninsula on which the city is situated, and probably inspired by the prevalence of locally native leopard sharks in the surrounding waters. Tiburon was formerly the southern terminus of the Northwestern Pacific Railroad, which transported freight for transfer to barges for shipping to cities around San Francisco Bay. It is now a commuter and tourist town, linked by fast ferry services to San Francisco and with a concentration of restaurants and clothes shops. It is the nearest mainland point to Angel Island and a regular ferry service connects to the island.
Earliest human habitation of the local area was by Native Americans, who have left rock carvings on Ring Mountain.
In 1884, the first post office in Tiburon opened. In 1964, Tiburon incorporated.
Tiburon has a Town Historian, Branwell Fanning. Much of the modern history material below is drawn from his “Brief History of Tiburon,” published in the Town of Tiburon’s General Plan.
Tiburón means “shark” in Spanish. Whether Lt. Juan Manuel de Ayala saw a number of sharks near where he anchored the San Carlos in August 1775, off what is now Angel Island, or whether the tree-covered Tiburon Peninsula looked like a shark we may never know. He named the land Punta del Tiburon, or Shark Point. The Coast Miwok Indians had lived here for thousands of years, but there is no clear concept of what they called the peninsula.
John Reed, from Dublin, received a provisional grant for much of Southern Marin, including the Tiburon Peninsula, from the Mexican authorities in 1831, and was formally granted the Rancho Corte Madera del Presidio in 1834. Reed married Hilaria Sanchez, daughter of the commandante of the San Francisco Presidio in 1836. The Reed name is preserved on streets, subdivisions, and the local school district. Various forms of Hilaria’s name, and that of her granddaughter Hilarita Reed, are found on streets, a housing development, and the Catholic Church.
Hilarita married Dr. Benjamin Lyford, who became the first land developer with his Lyford’s Hygeia, now Old Tiburon. The Benjamin and Hilarita Lyford House, formerly located on their dairy farm on Strawberry Point, is now a feature of the Audubon Society’s Western Headquarters and Sanctuary on Greenwood Beach Road.
Controversies surrounding development are a significant public policy issues facing the town; this condition has endured for at least three decades.
At the lowest level, any new construction or exterior renovation, commercial or residential, must be approved by the Design Review Board, which often applies stringent criteria to avoid “eyesores” and preserve neighbors’ views.
More significantly, there remain several large tracts of undeveloped land, virtually all of which have owners who desire to build multiple residences on these properties. Many of these properties, while located on the Tiburon Peninsula, are outside of town boundaries. However, under a LAFCO policy, any urbanization of these lands would result in their being annexed by the town since it is the town that would provide needed services. Hence, it is the town planning commission and ultimately the Town Council that determines the extent that these lands can be developed. Major tracts of land currently in various stages of planning or permitting include the Martha Property, Easton Point and Tiburon Glen. The permitting processes in all cases are lengthy and contentious, pitting developers against active and organized residents seeking to preserve the open space and quasi-rural character of the area and avoid the kind of traffic seen by other Bay Area communities. Particularly active in opposing development is the Tiburon Last Chance Committee. No development has yet begun on any of these open tracts.
The Martha Property and Easton Point, the largest of the undeveloped lands, are particularly contested issues, with court battles dating back to 1975. Historically the Ring Mountain property was an area of contest, especially due to the high biodiversity and presence of rare and endangered species.
In 2002, residents in a referendum narrowly defeated a proposed rule that would have prohibited much of the development on open tracts of land by, among other things, banning development near ridgelines. Among the arguments against this proposal were that it would subject the town to costly lawsuits by developers claiming their economic rights had been unjustly impaired.