Bolinas hoping to acquire marine lab

08/24/2017

Bolinas is closer than ever to some form of ownership of the pier and defunct marine lab on Wharf Road. The property, which the College of Marin has owned since the early 1960s, has sat empty since 2006. The college has voiced interest in selling or transferring ownership locally, and the board of trustees will consider the possibility in September.

Last week, a number of community members spoke in support of exploring future uses for the site during the regular meeting of the board of the Bolinas Community Public Utility District, which formed a committee to explore those possibilities.

“I really think it would be great if the property continued to have a scientific research or education component, and I love the idea of a consortium of institutions working together to make that happen,” Ralph Camiccia, chair of the Bolinas Lagoon Advisory Council, said. The council has a strong interest in protecting the pier—the only public dock in town.  

The lab building and two-story house were shuttered in 2006 due to a number of health and safety issues. The property is located near major fault lines and sits within a tsunami warning area and a flood zone. A rock slide area sits behind the lab and the two-story house is infested with black mold and mildew.

According to Greg Nelson, the College of Marin’s vice president for finance and operations, higher education institutions are prohibited from sinking funds into properties on fault lines by the Field Act, which laid out safety codes after a 1933 earthquake in
California. 

A study of the property conducted for the college’s board in 2015 concluded that it would cost more to renovate the lab than it would to rebuild it. Nonetheless, the college has historically not been forthcoming about passing along ownership. 

That year, community members were alerted about the college’s potential sale of the property and began talks about its future, but the college backed out by that summer. 

Utility district board president Jack Siedman, who was involved then as a community member, told the Light at that time that the college said the idea of selling the property was “off the table.”

Before that, in 2008, a group of Bolinas residents wrote an extensive proposal to the college, pitching ways to revitalize the site as a center for marine conservation and research. 

But over the last decade, the college curtailed its marine biology program, offering formerly yearly classes every other year, and focused funding toward other science labs. 

But those in Bolinas remained
hopeful. 

In March, the college expressed interest in selling again. “We didn’t know what was going to happen. The college could have decided to let it go to an organization or university that wanted to keep the pier for research,” Mr. Camiccia said. “It’s very important that the pier stays as a public access point to
the lagoon.”

Recently, Mr. Camiccia and Mr. Siedman joined Supervisor Dennis Rodoni and representatives from the college to discuss the property’s future.  

At last week’s utility district meeting in Bolinas, Supervisor Rodoni said there are various ways the community could proceed. “BCPUD could take ownership, [or] the county or a nonprofit [could]. We just have to figure out, once the college takes action, what is the best way to bring it into the community,” he said. 

Mr. Nelson explained that there are restrictions around what types of institutions the college can offer it to, when that time comes. The county is relatively high on that list, as is BCPUD. Nonprofits are low, he said. 

At the board meeting last week, representatives from the school, the Bolinas Community Land Trust, the Bolinas Lagoon Advisory Council and others affirmed a strong interest in the property. Multiple attendees suggested it be multi-use and that different groups could share the responsibility of raising funds and caring for it. 

“I’d love to see this property used for affordable housing, perhaps senior housing,” Arianne Dar, the executive director of the Bolinas Community Land Trust, commented. 

A committee with nine representatives from the community will explore the details, including what it would take to generate funding and the best organization or group of organizations to take the lead. 

In the meantime, Diana Conti, president of the college’s board, said the community taking ownership of the property was a “priority,” as far she was concerned. “It’s my hope that we will find a solution together,” she said.