Tag Archives: Housing

Ranchers letter to Seashore Wednesday July 23, 2014

Below is a letter Point Reyes Seashore Ranchers Association members hand delivered on Wednesday to National Seashore Superintendent Cicely Muldoon regarding buildings at the Drakes Bay Oyster Farm

 

Dear Superintendent Muldoon,

The Point Reyes Seashore Ranchers Association is writing to inquire about the plans of the National Park Service for the buildings located at the Drakes Bay Oyster Farm. We are concerned that the Park Service may intend to demolish the retail sales building after July 31, 2014, and the worker residences at some later date. These buildings can provide significant benefit to the association members. They should not be demolished before their future use can be considered as part of the Ranch Comprehensive Management Plan Environmental Assessment process. While that process is pending, the buildings should be used on an interim basis to benefit the ranchers and the public.

After the oyster farm leaves, the retail sales building should be used to provide retail and educational opportunities for the ranchers, and to provide clean bathrooms and running water for the kayakers and other public visitors who visit Drakes Estero and use the running water to clean off themselves and their boats. After the oyster farm workers leave, the worker residences should be used as residences for workers at the Seashore ranches.

The concerns about the oyster farm, which were centered on wilderness policy, are not applicable to these buildings, which are not in wilderness or potential wilderness areas. Even the section of Schooner Bay adjacent to the buildings is not wilderness or potential wilderness. Grazing occurs on and around the building site.

As the association explained in its scoping letter for the Ranch Comprehensive Management Plan Environmental Assessment, there is a need to establish new on-farm retail opportunities, including the preparation and sale of local food items. (PRSRA scoping letter, sections 3a,viii). There is also a need for a location at which the public can learn about the history of the ranches. Ample septic system capacity and abundant water delivered by a certified public water system currently exist for the five housing units and the retail building. Adequate parking, public restrooms, walk in refrigeration and health department approval also exist for small scale food processing, storage and sales. It would require extensive permitting and construction to replicate these ranch assets elsewhere in the seashore. Here, only upgrades would be required.

The Seashore also allows other commercial uses at this site, including guided kayak trips. Presumably, the park will continue to allow this use. Currently, the kayakers and other visiting public regularly use the fully equipped public restrooms in the retail building. It seems appropriate to allow both compatible permitted commercial uses to continue on site.

The five housing units can be used for housing workers at the Seashore ranches. As the assocation explained in its scoping letter, there is a need for housing for these workers. (PRSRA scoping letter, section 3a, x). Building new housing for the ranch workers would be difficult, time- consuming, and expensive. Once the current residents have left, the units should be used for ranch workers.

The Seashore has publicly stated its commitment to the continuation of the ranches within the seashore. The assocation has made it clear to the National Park that these uses are vital to the long term viability of the ranches. Allowing these buildings to remain to continue to provide benefit to the ranches as they have in the past, to allow a transition from oyster worker housing to ranch worker housing, to transition from oyster processing to local value added farm product processing and to re-focus the interpretive services at the site to focus on history and sustainability of the working ranches located in working landscapes of Point Reyes National Seashore would help demonstrate the park’s commitment to the viability of the ranches.

Sincerely, Point Reyes Seashore Ranchers Association

Cc: US Senator Dianne Feinstein, US Senator Barbara Boxer, Congressman Jared Huffman, Assembly Member Marc Levine, Supervisor Steve Kinsey

 

The political, the communal, the individual: The three stages of the Boomer and the present malaise.

First the Boomers sought to take control of our political institutions; then in the frustration of this dream, awakened by state troopers’ and sheriffs’ batons, they tried the commune; true freedom, no politics, a group of equals. Finally, as the communes collapsed, the ultimate consumer called the Individual was born and the Boomers began to fold into their easy chairs of Imperial credit-booms, spirituality and inheritance.

Where then do we find the dreamers?

Today, the wealthy and ascendant who carefully tended the garden of their credit worthiness have, in our post-war, Wall Street reverie, bid up the prices of homes and property in West Marin, and the Bay Area generally. They have forced out the “hippies” and other remnants of the counter-culture. But let’s not mourn them only.

Let’s tell a story about them, a selective version of events to be sure, but not a wholly false one. It is a story about how the “counterculture” abandoned politics in favor of communal living. And, in the disappointment of the communes, they abandoned society to live as individuals. A narrow history and memory of failed idealism. This is the story of why we don’t believe the world can change.
Many people born in the 30’s and 40’s decided at various points in the 50’s and 60’s that they lived in a corrupt society. The government conducted unconstitutional and criminal wars. And it repressed the poor, women and minorities. America in the 50’s and 60’s was uniquely rich and powerful. Yet many did not share in this prosperity, or rather the rights and status of the weak had not grown equally in the sun of our golden empire. So, many a righteous Boomer (born 1945- ~1960) and pre-boomers (born in the 30’s), let’s call them Bloomers – either for the first to flower or old fashioned underwear, your choice – decided to engage in direct political action to change the government. Not just university administrations, but to change the federal government, to end repression, poverty, discrimination, and to end war.
They had a powerful opponent: the men already running the government. It was a terrible contradiction, the wealth that allowed so many the education and leisure to discover all of these beautiful ideas about equality and peace, was incubated within an Empire which was moving in an opposite direction – to remake the world in its image, through exploitation and violence. The Boomers’ and Bloomers’ parents were in charge – and did not want to give up power. So the government used repression, subversion and force to thwart the desire of their wayward children, and the minorities, to change the country.
The murder of four students at Kent State is, across generations, the most easily remembered example of the state declaring its intention not to be overthrown, but there are old forgotten words like cointelpro or the FBI’s “counter-intelligence program.” Already by the late 1960’s the FBI had been spying on and attacking dissident movements in the United States for decades. One grotesque example is the case of Fred Hamilton. J. Edgar Hoover wanted this black activist dead. If you don’t know the story, look Fred up. Find out, readers, if the FBI got their man!
Attacks on the left movements in America were extreme – including dozens of police riots on college campuses carried out by sheriffs and the National Guard (Alameda County Sheriff emeritus Edwin Meese gets special mention here). Universities were gassed by helicopters and planes, and not just with teargas. At UC Berkeley, it is claimed nerve gas was sprayed on students. and anyone else around that day as a testing ground for external enemies of the State.
One Boomer I spoke to recently at Nick’s Cove told me his childhood ideas about the goodness of our society ended when state troopers arrived at his university. On exiting the bus that had brought them – their opening engagement with these student protestors – one officer took out his baton, and in one swipe, smashed out the teeth of the girl standing next to him. This man told me, “She was so beautiful… I couldn’t believe the amount of blood….”
The commune
What did that fellow do? The dream of taking over America’s political institutions thus shattered, he went back to the land. In a mass rejection of society, 500,000 or more Boomers moved to the country side in an effort to create a more just and pure life – a life impossible in the brutality of industrial society – and crucially – away from politics, away from the failure of democracy and the Enlightenment.
I am referencing the work of documentarian Adam Curtis, who tracked down members of back-to-the-land communes. He wanted to know what happened there, in the eclipse of their activist ideals – the dream of using politics to change the world. He found, in many cases, a desire for radical egalitarianism – no leaders, no followers. This was expressed in the words used to rebuke group members who stood up for others, “Travel in your own country, man.” It was a complete rejection of organized politics. Alliances between commune members were forbidden.
The purpose of politics is the weak being able to organize and negotiate with the powerful. In the structureless communes, strong individual male and some female, personalities came to dominate, and crucially, no-one was allowed, by their ideology of radical freedom, to organize and resist the tyrants. Back in the city, you get the brutal oppression of the elite who controlled the government. If you stay in the commune, maybe an example is made of you by self-appointed leaders; maybe they turn your children or spouse against you; maybe you get raped. It turned out that escaping politics was no escape at all.
The Individual: Why I learned to stop worrying and love the 80’s
Consumer capitalism had prepared a perfect re-entry for the back-to-the-landers. The old politics were impossible, the communes were corrupt, and everyone was having kids – but now, ironically, you could be an Individual™. We forget that the 70’s-80’s self-help gurus came up with the “society doesn’t exist” line that the corrupt leaders like Margaret Thatcher brought to the mainstream.
There is no society – Maggie posited – only an economy. Lonely individuals seeking to maximize advantage for themselves, at the expense of all others – how close is that to lonely individuals seeking personal spiritual breakthroughs here in West Marin today?
The new mindset believes that the best you can do for others is to produce wealth, and thereby increase the wealth available to all and set an example of success. That is how you help the poor. And it matches perfectly with the spiritual and religious types who sell us the following; you must find your own internal peace, your own enlightenment, which will help you and set an example for others….
It was a lot clearer in the 80’s: Jerry Rubin, the Yippie capitalist, a voice for the once disaffected, selling the song of himself. Get to work! Don’t wait for the revolution; get that money, and buy the real you! Become credit worthy. Buy that house, perhaps a second house, in which your abandoned ideals can rest and wait for you, for your sentimental holidays, when you remember what you hoped for or what you resisted.
The Surprisingly Bearable, Unbearable Lightness of Being
To understand our fear of politics and why we aren’t making meaningful progress on the poverty and climate crises, let’s take the example, related to me by Paul Fenn, of Vaclav Havel and Milan Kundera.
Kundera has a broad popularity in the West, particularly his novel, The Unbearable Lightness of Being. His worldview instructs in two connected ways. For Kundera the ultimate wisdom is to see the myriad possibilities of experience and pleasure in the course of one’s life as a guide to true wisdom. For him, the ultimate vanity of man is to believe that he has an effect upon history. History is an uncontrollable and unknowable phenomenon, a volcano that erupts, and the fools believe that tossing a virgin into the caldera is going to prevent its capricious and devastating action. It was an ideal philosophy for the Boomer refugees who fled politics and communes for the beautiful private houses in West Marin.
Then there was Havel, who, to begin the story at the ending, was the first democratically elected President of a free Czechoslovakia. As a young man, Havel was a member of a relatively privileged elite in Czech society. Havel realized that he and his friends were sitting atop a repressive and corrupt society, enforced by the violence of the Soviet Union. And he decided to organize to oppose this corruption. He said that when he first knew his privileged relationship to his culture, in American terms, how he was rich and so many were poor, he was humiliated. And that is crucial. When we see ourselves, our own power, in relation to the suffering of the world, we are humiliated. We retreat from that emotion. It hurts us. We are tempted to turn away from the hurt and embrace the surprisingly bearable Unbearable Lightness of Being.
Vaclav Havel transcended the shame of inherited power, thus converted to responsibility, and led a movement that freed his country. Milan Kundera is popular amongst aging literate swingers. Most of us, if we peer out through the scrim of West Marin’s pageant of culture, have an enduring awareness of the suffering of the weak and are depressed at the apparent impossibility of doing anything about it. The way forward lies in politics and history, the story of what happened, what went wrong, and what to do about it. The further we descend into our inverted communities of solipsism and spiritualism, of fantastic and toxic individuality, the farther wisdom retreats from us.

Published June 26, 2014

 

Homes, or housing- a West Marin story

Congratulations to the graduating 8th graders of West Marin School. The best of luck as you go forward in high school. The changes come big and fast from here on out.

Sadly, there are only eight students graduating this year. This exodus of the young should be obvious to everyone and it’s not difficult to imagine the trend continuing until shortly there will be so few students in the Pt. Reyes area that the school itself cannot continue. One can chart a graph and see where it ends easily enough. If you add up the years of all the graduating class it barely approaches the median age of an Inverness resident.

In a decade or so when their formal schooling is over will any return to where they grew up? Let’s look at what they have to face:

The foul greedy monster himself, or at least his most apparent manifestation, greets the returning youth. Where to live? $850,000 will get you a small house but last I checked Wells Fargo isn’t issuing any 400-year mortgages. Master’s Degree in hand and a good job or not, just scratch the possibility of buying anything off your list. Probably forever. Go to Mississippi or South Dakota if you want the American dream. This surprises nobody certainly but it’s important in establishing where our youth stands, on what side of that fat green line he will find himself.

Let’s just suppose, so we can continue, that the problem of where to live is somehow surmounted and relatively affordable housing is secured. Housing—now there’s a word which puts one in his place immediately. Housing is for criminals, soldiers, and, in our case here, the poor. The old men and women of Inverness do not have housing, they have homes. Say to them “That’s a beautiful housing unit you’ve got there” and you’ll get some mighty queer, angry looks. It’s a telling, class-defining difference. Housing is for tenants, not landlords. People in housing refer to where they stay, not where they live. People in homes have a lifetime of memories; people in housing have a 30-day notice to vacate.

So a tenuous residency in the Pt. Reyes area is established which only eats up about three-quarters of his salary and gives him 150 square feet of a converted woodshed on someone’s three-acre estate. Try not to think about sharecropping or feudalism. As long as your face is white you’re okay. And certainly, if you’re living here your face is white. Very good. Time to enjoy. Hopefully, he likes the outdoors. The beaches and the trails are free, available to all (and never mind the irony that the only entity here whose purpose isn’t to turn a profit is everyone’s favorite target of contempt). As for cultural diversions—well, let’s just hope he likes ecstatic dance and bluegrass music. Maybe a one-woman show every now and then.

Or how about a nice dinner out? Well, for about what a new Model T cost in 1915 (and I use this as an example only because it will be familiar to so many people living here) you and your honey have the choice of about three different establishments determined to fleece every rich tourist rolling down State Route 1 with the promise of some foodie paradise.

And if our young couple enjoying dinner should marry and have a child or two? Let’s just hope that they never run out of diapers and have to make an emergency trip to buy some locally. Whatever savings they may have scraped together will be wiped out with a single package of Pampers. We’ve gone wildly out of balance here; the economy is warped by a tourist surcharge on everything from gas to bad, inauthentic Mexican food.

So who is to blame? Should we blame the rich who have gobbled up the houses only to let them sit vacant, gold in the vault, to be cashed in at some future age? We could, but they’re not here to blame and wouldn’t listen anyway. Bang your head against that wall a while, comrade. Besides, who was it that sold the house to them in the first place? The old. Or, more likely, the sons and daughters of the old who were left the house.

Must it be? Probably. The Grandi Building no doubt will be transformed into an expensive hotel with yet another overpriced, unwelcoming restaurant or two on the ground floor, not a community center. The few funky shops will close to be replaced by boutiques. The sound of children playing in Inverness will grow even more faint, then not heard at all. Houses will be sold at whatever price the market will bear, not a dollar less. It’s Capitalism son, nothing but, don’t look so appalled. Pt. Reyes will become an expensive museum, something to gawk at during lunch before roaring out of town again with a trunk full of souvenirs.

There is no amount of talk, no amount of writing, no amount of pseudo-grassroots signage or lockstep dogma going to make a difference when it comes down to money. We can Occupy Pt. Reyes and Ban Fracking all we want but we’ll need to gas up the Prius first before heading back to occupy our lovely million dollar Craftsman. Then again, who knows what seemingly innocuous event might change this ugly ancient course we’re set upon. Maybe one of our graduates, despite it all, comes back here determined to make it a home, not just a place to stay. Maybe you won’t even notice. We’ll grow our beards out and head to the mountains—symbolically of course, don’t worry.

Name withheld by author’s request.

Anonymous Submissions, Citizen policy:

Recently we have received some excellent submissions that, regrettably, were anonymous. Our policy is that sometimes they are permitted and appropriate, but handled case-by-case.  One case was a person who gave a false name and address, which we didn’t consider for publication once we discovered that the name and address did not exist.  We agreed to publish this week’s guest column without the name of the person after consulting with the author who lives in Inverness who has some concerns that the letter could put his family’s housing situation and livelihood at risk.

Published July 3, 2014

 

 

Lowest Wage-Earners Left Out of Forum for Housing

The “Housing Solutions for West Marin” meeting organized by Fred Smith held Wednesday night at the Dance Palace was well-attended by those who care deeply about housing issues in West Marin, with many contributing up-to-date information. Surprisingly, few people who I think need the help most dearly attended the meeting. That may have had to do with the way the meeting was advertised.
Sadly, the group was devoid of the familiar Latino faces we see at almost every community event, and was poorly attended by young parents and artists who grew up out here. I’m worried about them. Paraphrasing filmmaker Humphrey Jennings- because people share the same landscape, history and culture, they’ve got a collective unconsciousness, the legacy of feeling, the thing that gets people through the tough times together.
While Smith’s well-researched and careful presentation focused on solutions for the housing density problem for the median-wage earner in West Marin, low-income or homeless problems were not addressed. The statistics Smith presented for the median-income earner are to live here while eking out very small or fixed incomes, paying well over the 40 percent of monthly income Smith cited is too high for median-income residents. What little remains after rent is much different for low-income earners when it comes to buying food in West Marin.

For moderate-income residents, Smith suggested “Deed Restricted Housing,” requiring a change in county ordinances to offer incentives to owners to sell at the “median income affordable rate;” helping buyers to streamline inspection, permitting, property improvements and septic expenses; offering a reward to any owner who would rent at the median affordable rate (a bonus of 2 times the density- allowing them to build more multi-units); or offering owners of B&B’s incentives to return them to the rental market or to convert vacation homes to rental units.
Some sites Smith mentioned for future rental units included the “D” street strip, home of the Pinecone Diner, for second floor flats and, intriguingly, the Coast Guard Base with its 39 housing units already in place. Unfortunately is no septic system on the base — the CG has been trucking the stuff out for the past 40 years.
Smith offered novel solutions including the creation of a West Marin Housing Trust Fund similar to the one in Bolinas, possibly administered by Community Land Trust Association of West Marin. CLAM has worked very hard to address the housing problems here, rescuing and renting eight housing units, but when CLAM began, the goal was to provide “permanently affordable access to land, decent housing and workplaces for low or moderate income community members.”
Because CLAM follows Housing and Urban Development guidelines, qualifications for rent applications restrict its assistance to those with incomes of at least three times the rent, or $36,000 for a $1,000 per month unit, considered by HUD as “low-income.” The stark reality is that most full-time service workers here make much less. One local diswasher makes $10.00 an
hour or $21,800 a year, for which HUD has a different category, “extremely low-income.”
For housing-insecure locals who struggle with rent and run out of money well before the end of each month, CLAM can’t offer much. If CLAM is unable to help the poor and address the sense of hopelessness in our local dishwashers, childcare workers and gardeners, it is time to create an organization that is more of an advocacy group.
It became clear to me by the end of the meeting that a generational divide may be causing some of unnecessary disconnect within our community. While most of the young or middle-aged people in West Marin can be contacted instantly online using social media, a few folk at the meeting said they would opt-out of any email list or Facebook. If we want to reach all sectors of the West Marin population these days, it is necessary to have a multi-focal and bi-lingual communication patchwork including direct mail, the two newspapers, KWMR, email lists, websites, social media, the libraries and good old-fashioned word-of-mouth. If we don’t do that, the generational and cultural divide in this community will only get worse.

By Peggy Day