Everybody loves a drawn-out and dramatic NIMBY saga — especially when they involve people with buckets of cash throwing temper tantrums — so here’s a good one for you today in the event that you haven’t caught wind of it yet via psychic transmissions from that neighborhood gossip, Yoda.
For several years now, billionaire filmmaker George Lucas — the mastermind behind the “Star Wars” and “Indiana Jones” franchises and producer of critically lauded cinematic tour de force “Howard the Duck” — has been plotting to build a 263,701-square-foot digital production campus complete with restaurants, crèche and jobs (lots and lots of jobs) at Grady Ranch, a massive parcel of land that Lucas owns in a bucolic section of well-heeled, smart meter-weary Marin County, Calif. Lucas, a resident of Marin himself, claimed that the project would bring $300 million worth of economic activity to the area.
Well, as it goes, residents living adjacent to Grady Ranch, particularly those living in the Lucas Valley Estates subdivision (no, not named after the filmmaker himself), weren’t exactly keen on the idea of a movie studio being erected in their backyards. They fought the planned development pretty much every step of the way, citing increased traffic, noise and the disturbance of an environmentally sensitive swath of land.
So, after years of bickering, Lucas finally gave up and withdrew plans to build the studio at Grady Ranch. And then he issued this rather testy statement:
It is with great sadness that Skywalker Properties has decided to pull its application to build a studio facility on the old Grady Ranch. The level of bitterness and anger expressed by the homeowners in Lucas Valley has convinced us that, even if we were to spend more time and acquire the necessary approvals, we would not be able to maintain a constructive relationship with our neighbors. We love working and living in Marin, but the residents of Lucas Valley have fought this project for 25 years, and enough is enough. Marin is a bedroom community and is committed to building subdivisions, not business. Many years ago, we tried to stop the Lucas Valley Estates project from being built, but we failed, and we now have a subdivision on our doorstep.
The statement goes on to point out how Skywalker Ranch, Lucas’ nearby and mostly undeveloped 5,000-acre compound (most of Lucas’ actual business operations are headquartered in San Francisco proper at the Letterman Digital Arts Center at the Presidio), and other Lucas-owned properties in Marin have been nothing short of beneficial to the area:
Lucasfilm provided fire and rescue aid to the community and boosted Marin’s economy by hundreds of millions of dollars and provided employment to its residents. After Skywalker Ranch was completed, our neighbors praised us and the County continually used us as an example of how best to develop. We were one of the first large employers certified as a Marin County 'Green Business.'
And just wait ... it gets better:
We plan to sell the Grady property expecting that the land will revert back to its original use for residential housing. We hope we will be able to find a developer who will be interested in low income housing since it is scarce in Marin. If everyone feels that housing is less impactful on the land, then we are hoping that people who need it the most will benefit.
Zing! Affordable housing smack dab in the rural heart of one of the most exclusive residential areas in the country? That’s the most thoughtful extension of the middle finger to rich, development-thwarting neighbors that I've certainly ever seen.
Also on MNN: Messy yard spells jail time for strapped homeowner
Lucas is working alongside the Marin Community Foundation to “explore options” for bringing such a development to the area. And for the most part, the foundation seems gung-ho about it. Says CEO Thomas Peters:
We don't know yet what might be able to be developed there, but the notion of being able to explore his property and see if some beautifully designed family or senior housing can be developed there is too wonderful to pass up. One of the incredible offers that Mr. Lucas made is that he would make available the extensive technical studies that have been done on that land, including water, topography, creek access and other engineering data that would give us a head start and help us determine whether senior or affordable housing can be built there.
To be clear, this doesn’t exactly translate to “OMG, POOR PEOPLE AND OLD PEOPLE ARE GOING TO TAKE OVER OUR EXCLUSIVE, PICTURESQUE PLAYLAND” to area residents. Given that this is Marin County that we’re dealing with, “low-income housing” could very well translate to “upper-middle-income housing” and, as mentioned, the possibility for senior housing is also being explored. That option kind of makes more sense considering the ranch’s relatively remote locale, because, you know, old folks are generally more, umm, sedentary, than working-class families. Naturally, residents in the area think affordable housing would never fly due to the dearth of schools, public transportation, and other services in the area.
I’m curious to see how this all pans out. And hey, Lucas could have sold the land to Walmart or something, which I think would have been an even better method of evoking the ire of his fellow 1 percenters. I don't really care for your (recent) films, but may the force be with you on this one, Lucas ...
What do you think? A revengeful "right on!" for Lucas? Or just another instance of a mega-rich person trying to piss off his mega-rich neighbors, this time using affordable housing as a pawn?
And in other, completely unrelated Marin County real estate news, the former Nicasio estate of long-deceased hair farmer/Grateful Dead frontman Jerry Garcia is back on the market for $3.595 million.