Coast Guard housing, shuttering in Point Reyes, spurs interest in property

05/22/2014

After more than four decades of Coast Guard personnel and their families living in Point Reyes Station, the federal government plans to sell the housing complex, generating interest from a water agency and affordable housing advocates.

Curving east of downtown off 1st Street, the site is being evaluated through the U.S. General Services Administration, the agency responsible for constructing and managing government buildings and acquiring private services or supplies for public business. The G.S.A. will conduct an assessment of the site, verifying the infrastructure and completing an environmental review over the next several months, Lt. Eric Eggen, a public affairs officer for the Coast Guard who retired earlier this year, told the Light in December. 

The facility was unnecessary to maintain, as the Coast Guard transitioned to housing vouchers for employees to live in nearby cities like Novato or Petaluma, he said, adding that a final sale of the property could be expected next spring. (Lt. Eggen’s successor, Allyson Conroy, said she would neither confirm nor deny that the process was still underway. A G.S.A. spokeswoman said the lead for the Coast Guard sale is out of the office until June.)

With a groundbreaking ceremony shortly after Independence Day in 1972, the Coast Guard invested $1.1 million to build a complex of 10 wood-framed, two-story townhouses for 36 “married men and their families” and a two-story dorm for 42 “bachelors,” two per room, on a 39-acre site. At its peak, as many as 185 people lived in the complex, drastically increasing the village population. Luckily, “since urban congestion of any type does not now exist, this shift is of no importance,” a draft environmental impact statement said after construction began, to which the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin objected. 

Most of the employees work at the communication facilities known as CAMSPAC—the Communication Area Master Station Pacific—with a transmitter in Bolinas and receiver site in the Point Reyes National Seashore, delivering messages and voice communications throughout the Pacific region and serving as the distress center for troubled mariners in commercial and recreational boats.

“I can’t wait,” Toby Giacomini told the Marin Independent-Journal six months into construction. “I’m really looking forward to having new faces in town, so long as they’re good people.” Another interviewee, a teenage girl who wouldn’t reveal her name, bashfully admitted she was “very excited about all those bachelors coming to town.”

Relations between the Coast Guard and civilians were mostly neighborly, with brief flare-ups over restricted access to the tennis courts in 1980 and again in 1991. There was also the 1987 death of “the great brown hope, the darling of the baby horse world,” a three-year-old colt that ran headfirst into a fence as it attempted to flee a low-flying helicopter during a ceremony at the facility.

But the issue that caused the most conflict, which any new landlord will have to confront, was wastewater. During the 1990s, the Coast Guard tried to persuade residents to install a sewer system to serve the housing complex and downtown, but the proposal was consistently rejected out of fear of spurring development. The Coast Guard still apparently collects waste in a large tank and hauls it to a training facility near Two Rock or a nearby ranch with a wastewater system.

Two North Marin Water District wells and a treatment facility have been located on the property since voters approved an improvement district in 1970, said Chris DeGabriele, the district’s manager. If feasible, he plans to ask the government for the opportunity to acquire the portion of land around their wells, rather than continuing to rely on easements. 

The Community Land Trust Association of West Marin is an interested party looking at the properties as a way to alleviate the affordable housing crisis in West Marin.

“CLAM is painfully aware of the tremendous need for homes in this community, a need that has only increased in the last few years with the continuing reduction of rental stock and increasing rental prices,” said Kim Thompson, the group’s executive director. “The Coast Guard presents an opportunity for housing at a crucial point in the life of this community.”