The Coastal Post - November 1999

Packed Meeting Over Pt. Reyes Affordable Housing

By Jeanette Marie Pontacq

Point Reyes Station recently went through yet another "vote" on the Ecumenical Association for Housing's (EAH) proposed housing development in the center of town. If possible, this "vote" was even more bizarre than the one last May when EAH invited hundreds and hundreds of people from all over West Marin and beyond to vote on whether or not Point Reyes Station should have another housing project.

This time, the "vote" started out as a simple membership-only action to be held within a regular meeting of the Point Reyes Station Village Association. Leading up to the vote of the membership were negotiations between the Design Review Committee and EAH on how to make the project more suitable for the town. These negotiations had been required by the county denial of EAH's original proposal as "more suited in a suburban setting." Members of the committee had diligently done a good job in working with EAH to move the number of units down and the placement more in keeping with the town plan.

On the table were important issues such as the fact that the new proposal by EAH put 36 units with 74 bedrooms on two-thirds (2/3rds) of the property, leaving one-third for potential commercial build-out in five to six years. The original proposal was 51 units on the whole property. Obviously, such a large section will be tempting for maximum build-out down the line to recover costs of the initial project. Lamar Turner of EAH has already publicly suggested the idea of a 27 bedroom hotel as one of several uses of this large section. Logic suggests that the ultimate number of "units" of mixed use on the property will total 50 or more.

At one point, however, EAH told the committee that it could not go lower in numbers nor make any commitment on what would be done with the 1/3 of the property to be developed later. It then said that it would be forced to leave if pressed any further...and it wanted "strong community support" to continue.

At the previous month's village association meeting, it had been agreed to have Supervisor Kinsey and EAH come to the next meeting and make a presentation to the membership. Having a vote was discussed. Just before that November 11th meeting, the executive committee decided to hold such a vote and word went out among the membership that such a vote was to be taken.

Meanwhile, the Point Reyes Light, for two issues prior to the village association meeting in question, offered a platform for advocates to write guest editorials, columns and letters. A number of them were inflammatory and harangued the readership around Tomales Bay with the plea that, if they cared about affordable housing, they should show up at the village association meeting in Point Reyes Station to influence the membership to vote for the project as is. Dissent was decidedly absent.

In this atmosphere, the executive and design review committees of the village association, became openly nervous that the project might lose in a membership vote and EAH might walk away, with them being blamed and harassed by project advocates within and without the planning area. What to do?

What was done was to quickly set up a "community" vote for the night of the village association meeting. Project advocates, of course, had already been warned two issues before in the Light to come to the meeting to make their case. Those who still feel the project is too big for the town, and who would not usually subject themselves voluntarily to such an atmosphere of proven harassment and insult, had to be told by word of mouth that they should come and vote. The only official notice was on the bulletin board in the Post Office and notice in the Light the morning of the meeting. Although many in the town never heard of the meeting, it swiftly morphed into a full-blown EAH presentation, with people from all over West Marin in attendance.

EAH gave a presentation and slide show on the project, which people were forced to sit through in order to be able to vote. Once the Q&A; section was opened, it became evident that close to 50% of the people in the audience were from outside the planning area. The head of the Design Review Committee of the association made a public statement that the committee approved of the project, as shown, going forward. Strong advocates, most from outside the town, proceeded to yell, insult the association, harass and demand a larger project. Long time residents of Point Reyes Station were horrified and disgusted by the behavior toward the town and the association and many just left.

The actual vote, when tallied, did show the village association membership rejecting the proposal 31 to 25, with the larger vote accepting the project 118 to 85. Later, a number of yes votes were found to be false, but the numbers still stood.

What does all this mean at this point? On the issue of whether EAH will stay or go, it probably means it will stay if it can get sufficient funding to build the project. It also means that it is super important that townspeople keep informed of how the project continues to change as funding demands become known. It also means that monitoring this project will be a job for quite a few years, especially when the 1/3rd of the property comes up for development in five to six years.

On the issue of the Point Reyes Station Village Association, members need to seriously ask questions regarding why their vote was deliberately negated by a hastily conceived and executed "community" vote. They should also ask why the Design Review Committee chairperson publicly endorsed the EAH project going forward before having a meeting with the membership to discuss how to proceed on such a volatile issue. Chuck Eckart, another member of the Design Review Committee, has stated in print that "the Design Review Committee supported the project and we worked hard for it." No matter how the vote(s) had gone, it is always important to have the association committee members report to the membership and involve the membership in what is done in their name.

Lots of people in town are angry about what happened on November 11 at the "community" meeting. Some are angry about the vote; some are angry about the harassment and insults; some are angry about the EAH numbers. Some are angry that the project is too small or too big. Being angry about it is non-productive. Instead of being angry, I suggest each and every person who feels they want to have a say in how the town moves into the future should show up at the next Village Association meeting in Point Reyes Station and become a member. It is where the action will be from now on.

Coastal Post Home Page