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MARIN COUNTY'S NEWS MONTHLY - FREE PRESS
(415)868-1600 - (415)868-0502(fax) - P.O. Box 31, Bolinas, CA, 94924

November, 2005

 

Skeptics Journal
Ode to Benches
By Jeanette Pontacq

A friend from far away came to visit recently. While his wife bought bagels and cheese at the Palace Market in Point Reyes Station, my friend and I sat on the bench in front of the store, in the sun. We watched the passers-by on both sides of the street, content to be a stationary part of the community's morning reality.
My friend was charmed. Benches for people to sit on in public are rare where he comes from (Los Angeles); people in public are meant to keep moving and consuming. Benches, on the other hand, invite strangers to talk, to smile, relax and be human.
The next day I counted two benches, well used, in front of the Bovine. What a wonderful thing they are! Those two benches are such an integral part of the town that few of us could imagine our little burg without them. And there are others - at the Post Office and in front of Toby's - each well used as well.
The town could do with some more benches, some more areas where locals can casually find each other. Places to stop moving and come together. While I was musing on where a couple more benches could be put, the county announced they were willing to spend more than $500,000 ($240,000 for buildings, $200,000 for site improvements and about $77,500 for architectural designs) to "provide the public" with a "Visitor's Center" adjacent to the EAH "affordable" project. Once that information was reported in the Point Reyes Light, and once the townspeople openly wondered why we needed a Visitor's Center at all, the county suddenly backtracked to saying that, really, they only intended to build "two toilets and a small parking lot." The reason given for such a high cost for two toilets and a small parking lot, per Supervisor Kinsey, was that "the DPW must have over-estimated the cost so as to not have the project come in over budget." Gosh, that "over-estimation" trumps the old joke about the Pentagon spending $999.00+ on a toilet seat.
The important thing to remember is that the original approval for the EAH project in Point Reyes Station included approval for a commercially zoned area on Mesa Road (now controlled by the county), as well as the toilets, parking lot and whatever other "visitor-pleasing" stuff could be fit on the land. The town has all that to look forward to.
Point Reyes Station got a raw deal imposed upon it via the EAH project. The much-touted development was intended to provide affordable housing (both for purchase and for rent) for local workers as one of its primary goals. Well, the houses built for that purpose ended up being sold at market rate, quite a number even as vacation cottages-for people from outside the area.
Now the rental apartments are being filled - but few seem to be going to the local working demographic. One long-time resident, who works full time in town, had to turn down the offer of an apartment he had won via the lottery because he could not afford it. The two-bedroom unit came with a price tag of $1,400 a month! Another long-time resident, who rents a small house in town and works here as well (as does her husband), also told me that they had been high up on the list to get an apartment but had turned it down because it was priced higher than where they presently live. And so on.
I think the town has the right to know WHO is actually going to live in those apartments, and where they came from. In other words, how many real working locals were helped by this development and all it has done to the town? That is a question that should be answered. Did we help locals or did we simply add more people to the town from elsewhere? How many will commute elsewhere to work from Point Reyes Station, and how far? Why the secrecy?
Putting that aside for the moment, however, let's try to make some lemonade out of this lemon of a development. Instead of being TOLD what will be built adjacent to the rentals, along Mesa Road, why not speak up and demand that the townspeople have a real voice in what will be built here. Rather than just decide what color they paint the toilets, perhaps we want something else all together. We need to get over the idea that "all this stuff" is pre-ordained and our only role is to decide on the quality of the toilet paper. Which brings us back to benches. Townspeople need to speak up with what they want to happen along Mesa Road now. Benches are only a first thought. After all, the county has officially stated that they have over half million to spend on the area along Mesa Road in back of Toby's etc. That could buy quite a few benches.
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