The Coastal Post - September, 1995

More On The Eternal Buck Aging Center

BY JOAN REUTINGER

"It's the biggest scandal in the history of the county," is the way Ken Masterton describes the plan of the Buck Aging Center to spend almost a half million dollars ($465,794) towards winning both the Novato and County elections for the Buck Aging Center in November. Ken Masterton is the volunteer campaign manager on the other side. He describes the Center as "sinfully wasting Beryl Buck's money."

The two sides on the Buck Aging Center are gearing up for a dramatic showdown. People are aghast that the center is willing to spend a half million of Beryl Buck's money which she thought she was leaving to Marin's poor and needy.

It's as though someone deliberately used hard-fought-for tax money for the schools on some whim. And it has never been positively proven that if the countywide vote went against the Center, and the last minute Novato vote, which cost the center $60,000 to squeeze onto the ballot, went for the Center, which one would win out.

Novato City Manger Ron Wood says if the City of Novato votes for the Center, that would nullify the county vote, but a lot of people disagree. For one thing, Wood is not a legal scholar; he holds no legal degree. Some people say he votes for the Buck Aging Center which supposedly would bring international fame and fortune to Novato.

But would it? So far the county has jurisdiction over the property the Buck Aging Center would be built on. It would have to be annexed to the City of Novato, which Novato hasn't yet applied for.

And as to fortune? Nobody has been able to ascertain the financial status of the Buck Aging Center. Reporters have tried but failed. And all the established research centers are worried about losing their funding under this cost-cutting Congress, which is only giving nominal amounts to the established centers. Why would a new center, with no viable record, win out over the established centers?

Supervisor Hal Brown, who is the only supervisor who didn't vote to endorse the Center recently, asked what the financial obligations to the county would be if the Center didn't get federal grants. And for that matter, who is going to pay for the annual upkeep of the Center which is estimated to be at least a million a year. Would the county be responsible for it? No one knows, because the Center is very secretive.

And would the Aging Center take away Buck millions which go to other charities? That is the greatest fear and what Mary McEchron, director of the Center, has hinted at. McEchron, who is paid a six figure salary, would naturally want to hold on to this lucrative job.

McEchron recently paid (with Buck money) for a poll in which she predicts victory. She maintains that as soon as the word is out that the only purpose of the Center is to prolong the healthy and productive years of senior citizens, people will vote for it in both the County and in Novato. Of course, that's a worthy cause, no one doubts it, but so is balancing the budget. It all depends on the Center's getting federal funding.

The whole fiasco will probably wind up in the courts, that is the opinion of most lawyers. Very few lawyers whom the Coastal Post approached know the answer to the question: "If the countywide vote approves the Center, and Novato votes against it, what then? On the other hand, if the countywide vote is against the Center, and Novato approves it, what then?" Of course, those opposed to the Center are hoping both votes will be negative, and the Center is risking a lot of money on the hope that they will be positive. No one seems to know the answer.

The giving of private money from the Buck Trust is like giving money to a politician for an election or buying an election. Yet the Buck Aging Center would deny this. They think it perfectly legitimate to give away half a million to insure that the county and Novato residents vote for the Buck Aging Center.

The Coastal Post thinks otherwise and is willing to say so. Let us know what you think.

Big Buck Bucks Buy Support

The Buck Aging Center has spent nearly $500,000 of charitable funds on its campaign to date. Of this amount, nearly $250,000 was spent in an unsuccessful attempt to derail the November countywide referendum on the Buck Aging Center's development plans.

"We knew the Center would spend a lot of money on this campaign, but we didn't know they'd spend like drunken sailors," said Craig Perrin, Chair of the Committee to Save Mt. Burdell. "The fund-raising reports prove that the Center lacks support in the community as a whole."

The Buck Aging Center proposal calls for building a sprawling $100 million research complex complete with a research laboratory one-fifth the size of the Pentagon, condominiums, homes, tennis courts, a pool and a mini-shopping mall on the unstable slopes of Mt. Burdell. Opponents charge that the proposal is a financial boondoggle which threatens the Buck Trust and will not increase medical research, and that the project will bring environmental hazards, including infectious viruses, and radioactive and toxic wastes to the picturesque slopes of Mt.Burdell.