Ticky-Tacky on Tomales Bay
By Jeanette Pontacq
big red sign that surfaced on Mesa Road in
Point Reyes Station at the end of January shouts "NEW HOMES!" The
sign is part of an advertising blitz to sell market rate cottages that had
originally been built as "affordable." Prices were advertised at
$575,000 and UP. This for obviously ticky-tacky, Corte Madera-suburban,
stripped-down cottages with mini lawns in a very bad location, wedged between
the Coast Guard concrete housing development and the to-come, maybe-affordable
rentals, from the same people who brought you the "NEW HOMES!" sign.
As I write this, at least one new owner (out of two so far) has already asked West Marin Real Estate how to make the house a vacation rental. A big part of why housing is at such a premium here is 1) the high percentage (especially in Inverness) of second homes that mostly stand empty, 2) the ease and profitability of using some second homes as vacation rentals, and 3) the significant number of homes turned into B&Bs.
Angry PRS locals have taken to calling the whole hillside, with its iffy septic system, "The Projects." As one who would have liked to have seen reasonably-priced housing throughout West Marin, integrated as small units into each village, this large, over-the-hill development in Point Reyes Station (which already has two other developments) is a great disappointment, especially in the face of no other affordably-priced housing on the drawing board in Inverness or elsewhere around Tomales Bay.
How many real locals, with real local, non-ranch jobs, get those "affordable rentals" under federal regulations of non-discrimination (which negates the EAH-promised restriction of rentals and ownership to locals only) is an interesting question. This problem was known from the start, but proponents ignored it to convince naive locals that only they would get something out of this development. Wrong!
How long the rentals last as affordable is another question, when even more cuts of Section 8 housing vouchers are announced regularly. The much-depended-upon Buck Fund is pulling back, citing financial reverses in the market. Not to mention the Bush Administration's push to end housing subsidies and drive a stake through the heart of "affordable housing."
Honestly, all of this could have been foreseen by anyone even remotely sophisticated in finance and politics. It could have been at least partially planned for... did proponents not see the market reverses or the fact that Bush was here, with an agenda, for over 4 years already? Outside, independent analysts, looking at the project dispassionately, have been stymied as to why such a large, ill-placed project was envisioned as viable in the first place.
At this point, locals grumble to each other but refuse to speak out publicly on the already-developing development because 1) it is a done-deal and 2) it is/was not pc to criticize anything that has an element of "affordable housing" attached to it. Same tactics as used by Bush on critics of his Iraq policies! "Affordable Housing" is the WMD (i.e. Weapon of Mass Destruction) of developers. Bottom line: in the end, there really isn't any!
Locals need to demand to know who got what from this over-priced development (either money, political appointments or county support for pet boondoggles), weighed against the massive payment the town of Point Reyes Station has made in view of its extreme make-over, increase in traffic, noise and night lighting. The Point Reyes Station Village Association, who originally facilitated this project in the face of members' dissent (almost all of whom have since quit in disgust), would do well to take a leading role in letting residents know what they ended up with for all the divisiveness and quiet anger that came from it being built.
EAH named one of the roads leading into The Projects, Giacomini Way. The Giacomini family probably took a loss on the property value, seen in retrospect of present marketability. EAH instead should have named it after Michael Mery, because he (who owns rental property in Inverness) was the guy who twisted arms to get this PRS project done in the face of obvious PRS anxiety. He appears to have accepted no contrary opinions and to have either participated in, or turned a blind eye to, the demonization of those with questions. Michael absolutely deserves the honor of having a "Projects" road named after him, to remind us all from whence it came.
Over a year ago, concerned citizens met to hear representatives of Tomales Bay State Park present their ideas on adding a drive-in campground near the entrance. Michael Mery was seated next to Wade Holland in front of me as the presentation took place. Michael, who was against such a move, spoke up eloquently and asked why "things could not just stay the same." At the time, I was initially touched by his obvious sincerity and wistfulness on inappropriate development. Then I had to stifle a laugh. The irony was just too great.