On a recent visit to the post office I saw on the wall a desperate appeal by a longtime Bolinas father and son for a place to live. Later, sitting down at my computer, I saw another plea for housing from a family of five who will soon lose their rental. They have children in the school district, work locally and are solid members of our community. Soon after I heard that a house currently for sale might be purchased and turned into yet another short-term vacation rental. I’m upset. The housing situation is alarming and every time I turn around, the town is losing another full-time resident family or individual. Young people trying to make it cannot afford to live here.
I joined the board of the Bolinas Community Land Trust three years ago because I love Bolinas and the diversity of our little town. I owned the hardware store and knew that my employees invariably struggled finding places to live—an ongoing problem for local businesses and their workers. Local businesses cannot survive without regular customers and the weekend surfer and vacationer community is not enough to sustain those businesses. I was concerned that Bolinas would turn into a resort town with fewer and fewer full-time residents, and I didn’t want to see our local businesses, school and fire department have to leave town.
The land trust is committed to creating enough housing to keep our community and school stable. We are excited to be working on some real solutions: buying existing properties, building conservative new homes, working with legacy housing gifts and helping people create second units that conform with our new septic program. The trust has been fundraising for several years, allowing us to purchase a water meter, a red-tagged property with a water meter, and a parcel of land. We were gifted property on Overlook, and an anonymous donor helped us purchase 20 acres on the Tacherra ranch and an empty lot across from the Bolinas Market. We have plans and drawings for most of these projects in our downtown office and invite everyone to visit, ask questions and learn about what we are doing.
We are developing these projects—which will be staggered over a period of at least five years to lessen the impact on everyone—within the constraints of the Bolinas Community Plan and the water moratorium. The projects will strictly adhere to state and local building laws, and we plan to mitigate any clearing for building purposes by planting native plants. We are also working closely with the Bolinas Community Public Utility District regarding water usage. We have spent an enormous amount of time on the required studies, permits, plan reviews, revisions and compliance issues in order to fulfill the county’s and the utility district’s requirements.
I live around the corner from one of the potential building sites, and although I like the empty and open lot, I think it’s more important to have a place for a community member to live, without having to constantly worry about being kicked out for a short-term rental or a sale.
My husband’s family has owned property in Bolinas for over 100 years. The town has changed a great deal in that time. He remembers when the Big Mesa had only a sparse few houses and the rest was primarily grass, with no coastal scrub and few trees. The town was filled with mostly agricultural families, business owners and vacationers. There were only a few houses on Horseshoe Hill and one small dwelling in Paradise Valley.
The San Francisco Bulletin’s lot giveaway in 1927 and, later, the 1971 oil spill, brought many newcomers and buildings to Bolinas, and we all survived. Change is constant, and we don’t need to fear it. Yet there is one thing that has remained unchanged in Bolinas during its existence, and that is a community of families at its core. But that core is now under threat.
We are so fortunate to live on the edge of the Point Reyes National Seashore, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and Marin Municipal Water District lands. Nature abounds, and we’re only asking for a few small projects that will fold right into the local landscape after a few years. The town is still a wonderful place to live, full of diversity with its artists, farmers, fishermen, local businesses, nature lovers and people of all ages and income levels.
We have the opportunity to save our town by stabilizing the community and stopping the flow of families and friends being forced to leave as they lose their housing. Only hard work and hard decisions will preserve our unique community from becoming a resort town with few full-time residents.
Bolinas resident Karen Dibblee sits on the the Bolinas Community Land Trust board.