Faces of West Marin’s future, searching for a home

David Briggs
Vanessa Waring struggles financially as a farmer in West Marin.
08/04/2011

On August 21, the seventh Community Conversation will take place at the Dance Palace, in Point Reyes Station. The event, which follows a series of conversations centered largely on local agriculture and the environment, will focus on younger generations currently living in West Marin and the challenge many of them face in securing affordable housing.

In light of the conversation, the Light has compiled a series of brief portraits profiling some of the young individuals who are currently contributing to our local economy, but having difficulty finding housing. 

Vanessa

Vanessa Waring could have had so much more if she’d only stayed in Fresno. In Fresno, the farmland is plentiful, the tractors are large and the living is arguably affordable. Fresno was where she grew up; it was what she knew. But it wasn’t where she felt inspired. “I remember when I first got into farming,” she said. “I was telling my peers and elders in Fresno about it, and their response was like, ‘Why would you do that? Don’t you want to be successful?’”

In time Vanessa, 27, found West Marin, and with it the lure of an alternative, more intimate way of living on the land. She moved to Bolinas, where she now lives with a friend in a rented space, and is working with Arron Wilder to launch the inaugural Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) season at Point Reyes Farm. An antiquated blue Volvo transports her back and forth. 

But financially, it’s a struggle. “It doesn’t really make sense to farm on land that you’re not living on,” she said. “If you’re trying to actually make a living off of it, it just … it doesn’t work.” 

Maggie and Luke

Maggie Beth Levinger and Luke Regalbuto fell in love after college, while driving through Mexico in a beat-up Toyota pick-up. When they returned to Humboldt four months later, they realized there was nothing left for them there. So they moved to West Marin. 

Actually, the plan had been to move to San Francisco; they were only going to use Inverness, where Maggie’s father lived, as a home base while looking for apartments. But the area drew them in. Luke got a job, Maggie reconnected with old friends, and previous notions of living in the city faded. 

They began renting a house with three other young people in Inverness Park. It was great, until one by one the other three residents bailed, leaving them with a rent they could no longer afford. So they moved in with Maggie’s father, and have spent the last three years searching for an affordable alternative.

The biggest challenge, said Maggie, 28, is finding a place that is both affordable and not substandard. “I called a woman the other day,” she said, “and the price was right in our range—about $1,000. And then we went to look at it and found out it was actually $1,200, before utilities, and didn’t include a kitchen. And that is so common. The places we can afford are either in someone’s basement or moldy or just lacking basic amenities.”

Last year, the couple started a fermented foods business, which is doing well. But without the housing security provided by Maggie’s father, they would likely have been forced to move elsewhere long ago. “We absolutely would not be here now,” Maggie said. “We would not be here providing our community with fermented foods, and teaching people about preserving foods or doing any of the other community-oriented things that we do.” 

Molly

Molly Myerson started game night three years ago, out of necessity. She enjoyed board games well enough, but at the time what she really needed were friends. 

“It was a very conscious community building project for me because I had lived here for over two years and I knew hardly any young people,” she said. “I figured that people weren’t going to want to go to meetings, so I was trying to think of other ways to connect.”

Molly set up an email list, and managed to find 10 people interested in participating. More eventually followed. Thirty or so individuals are currently signed up. A number of them congregate regularly outside of game night, for birthdays and musical performances and a weekly game of ultimate Frisbee at Love Field. 

When she first moved here from Manhattan, Molly lived mostly out of her car. Since then, it’s been one move after another. She now rents a room in a house. 

To pay the bills, Molly works as a school garden instructor two days a week in Larkspur and as a freelance landscape designer with her boyfriend, who “lives in a tent at the back of a guy’s property.”

Though Molly, 29, is pleased with the success of game night, she could do more with a stronger  sense of security. 

“If I spend a lot of energy looking for or making a home, or feeling insecure about the basic foundation of my living I don’t have as much to give to the things that I really want to be doing, like community building and growing food and exploring alternative lifestyles,” she said.