The Coastal Post - June, 1996

Work Starts On Buck Center, Committee Plans To Appeal; No Bank Loan Or Local Builders

BY JOAN REUTINGER

Word was received that the Committee to Save Mount Burdell is definitely going to appeal retired Judge Peter Allen Smith's ruling that work could proceed on the Buck Center for Research in Aging. The Judge said he allowed the Novato vote to sway him, which approved the project, but totally ignored the fact the countywide vote nixed the $100 million building project. Opponents say this would be the basis of their appeal.

On January 1, 1987, the Marin Community Foundation took over the distribution of most of the Buck funds. In August, 1987, Judge Homer B. Thompson chose the three "major projects." You don't hear much about the other two, the Marin Institute for the Prevention of Alcohol and Other Drug Problems, and the Beryl Buck Institute for Education, mainly because they don't have any grandiose ideas. But you hear a lot about the Buck Center for Research in Aging, mainly because they spend money as if they really had it, while they only have about $4.5 million a year.

They bought property on Mount Burdell for $5.8 million; they hired a world-famous architect, I. M. Pei, to design the Buck Center for a similar amount; they spent about half a million trying in vain to stop the countywide vote; they spent over $100,000 a year on the salary of the executive director, Mary McEachron, and a similar amount for the so-called "grand master" overseeing the money from the Buck Trust; they even paid Supervisor Giacomini's aides $40,000 for helping them; and they are preparing to spend $10 million on site preparation. To date, tens of millions of dollars have been spent of the Buck Trust funds.

The reason site preparation costs so much is that in 1992 when the County released an environmental report on the site, they also gave the risk of seismic damage. Plans were immediately redesigned and the actual building site was shifted. So the site preparation includes grading, utilities, roads, parking, landscaping, and stabilization of the quarry face, which was where the seismic damage would occur.

The first phase of development is supposed to cost $40 million and is expected to include 14,000 square feet of facilities including an administration building with a large meeting room, a laboratory building and support facilities. The Center has $60 million budgeted for the future to complete the project.

One interesting mystery is why Wells Fargo bank has turned down a request for a construction loan. Evidently they were influenced by projections that the Committee to Save Mount Burdell supplied, which said the Buck Center would run out of money before completion of the project, and wouldn't have enough to pay yearly expenses.

Another mystery is while Buck officials always said they would hire local contractors, they have hired Kitchell CEM of Sacramento to manage the first phases of construction activity. It has not been decided yet whether local people may be hired as subcontractors, but locals have been assured they will be used "whenever possible."

If the Buck Center overlaps the Hamilton Field project, Novato will really be a busy place. Hamilton Field project proposes 925 homes and also 535, 000 square feet of commercial space. If the workmen all get out at the same time, watch out, because traffic, which is already crowded, will be horrendous.

The Coastal Post has always opposed the Buck Center because they have thrown money around like sand. And as Helen Brown, co-chair of the Citizens Against the Buck Center, says, "Everyone has been against us. The County, the Buck Center Board, the Supervisors (especially Gary Giacomini), but we've fought to the bitter end."

If you should wish to help the appeal, for lawsuits always cost money, the Committee to Save Mount Burdell may be reached at (415) 291-1605.