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Welcome to Bolinas, please keep moving

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BOLINAS, Calif. — It is the Howard Hughes of towns.

"There is no reason to come to Bolinas," Vic Amoroso was saying, adhering to the conventional wisdom in this famously reclusive place that no publicity is good publicity unless it is bad. "The beaches are dirty, the Fire Department is terrible, the natives are hostile and have a tendency toward cannibalism."

Long known for its live-and-let-live attitude (except toward visitors, whom it would just as soon not let live), this spirited community of surfers, poets, artists, writers and aging mavericks about 30 miles up the coast from San Francisco has reached a tipping point of sorts.

Perhaps nowhere is the Bay Area's relentless collision between hippie-van and BMW culture becoming more pronounced than in this preternaturally beautiful place at the tip of a peninsula.

Two recent developments typify the threat that many see to the town's personality.

First was the rumor that Martha Stewart had bought a house here. The news, which Stewart's spokeswoman denied, including putting up a highway sign that read, "Martha: 2 miles."

Then came the decision to cancel the Fourth of July parade, a tradition for 130 years. That followed a celebration last year when thousands of outsiders bearing coolers showed up, throwing firecrackers, fighting and trashing the beach.

An unincorporated village (population about 2,500), Bolinas has a long history of not only tolerance but also environmentalism, having waged a successful campaign to control development. But the question hanging like summer fog over this topographically insular community, surrounded by county, state and federal parkland, is whether a small place with limited resources, particularly water, can retain its character.

"It's kind of a cul-de-sac," said the 77-year-old retired postmaster, Annie Crotts, a Bolinas native who sings the national anthem on the Fourth each year from the balcony of Smiley's Schooner Saloon. "People come here for all sorts of reasons. Either they don't like it and leave immediately, or they stay and become part of the scene. Then they want to keep it to themselves."