One Saturday morning in October 2011, Kim Thompson walked up to a booth at the Point Reyes Farmers Market, where the Community Land Trust Association of West Marin was advertising job openings. She never anticipated that, by Valentine’s Day, she would be hired as the nonprofit’s executive director, or that nine years later, she would be saying goodbye to an organization far stronger than when she joined it and embarking on a new career as a consultant in the field of community land trusts.
When talking about CLAM, Ms. Thompson doesn’t say “I.” She says “we.” Under her leadership, the nonprofit more than doubled its affordable rental homes, created the first two community land trust-owned affordable purchase homes in Marin, facilitated the creation of more than 24 affordable rentals on homeowners’ properties, and secured the Coast Guard neighborhood for development as affordable housing.
Ms. Thompson shifted to her role at CLAM to director of community engagement in 2020 and left the organization at the end of August to work in the wider world as a consultant. CLAM’s interim executive director, Mary Vradelis, said the group will launch its executive director search in October, and hopes to have a new hire by early next year.
When Ms. Thompson’s colleagues think of their standout memory of her, it usually involves the way she commanded a room. Board president Maureen Cornelia was present when Kim stopped by the farmers’ market. Now, she watches her “bringing people together with her gifted speaking style.” “She galvanized community support for the acquisition of the Coast Guard housing site,” Ms. Cornelia said. “That was a multi-year effort with many twists and turns that resulted in solid community support for this once-in-a-generation project.”
Mark Switzer, an affordable housing advocate, said, “Any time she leads a community meeting, her powerful conviction shines.”
Program manager Ruth Lopez said the way Ms. Thompson spoke to an audience inspired energy and community building. When Ms. Lopez joined CLAM as an administrative assistant, it was just her and Ms. Thompson, squeezed into a small office together. Over time, Ms. Thompson encouraged Ms. Lopez to attend trainings, and Ms. Lopez was able to step into her new role. “She guided the organization through some significant growth,” Ms. Lopez said. “We went from a staff of two with the board serving as auxiliary staff, to a staff of six with the board better serving their governance role.”
The Coast Guard neighborhood was one of the main reasons Ms. Thompson held onto her position for twice the average run of an executive director. The success of the project was so important to her that she didn’t want anything to jeopardize it.
After spurring hundreds of letters to Representatives Jared Huffman and Nancy Pelosi and Senator Dianne Feinstein, Ms. Thompson got a call one day from the General Services Administration. “I will never forget: We were working in this tiny little shoebox office, and the phone rang, and this woman said, ‘Hi, I’m Monica Pack from the General Services Administration and you guys have done a lot. We’re shocked. What is happening in Point Reyes? We’ve never seen anything like this.’”
Ms. Thompson passed along then-Supervisor Steve Kinsey’s number, and a conversation between state, county and local authorities ensued. The work of CLAM and the community is a lesson in community empowerment, Ms. Thompson said.
“Our capacity as human beings is extraordinary,” she said. “In working from a community standpoint, you are aligning the best of people’s capacity and skills with the common good and that can’t not be inspiring. It keeps you going, even amidst really big hurdles.”
From early on, Ms. Thompson’s work was centered on the intersection of community and environment, or “developing a right relationship between land, place, and community,” as she puts it. She moved from Texas to Fresno at 7 years old and grew up surrounded by people who loved to give and serve their community.
“When I was 18, I was fascinated by culture and people and places and spirit. And when I look at where I am at this moment, I actually see there is a lot of truth, there is a lot of through line. It’s not the same place [I imagined], but it’s the right place,” she said.
Ms. Thompson graduated with a degree in anthropology from the University of California, Davis in 1994, and spent a year in a Malshegu village in Ghana, where she got her first taste of applied anthropology.
“We had to stay close to the people, and through that develop a lens around the development efforts that were happening, some of which were well matched with the Indigenous community, and many were not,” she said. “But you would never know that unless you spent time with the people.”
When she came back, she earned a Master of Divinity at San Francisco Theological Seminary in San Anselmo.
After graduation, she sought out real-world work. She was the director of the Healthy Homes Project with Fresno Interdenominational Refugee Ministries, organizing better housing for Hmong, Lao and other refugee communities. During that time, she was a founding member of the Fresno Housing Alliance.
“I was really compelled by the Southeast Asian refugee community in the valley, so I began to look to work with people who were living in apartment complexes just like the one I grew up in,” she said.
Before coming to West Marin, Ms. Thompson worked as the director of Fresno Madera Medical Society’s air quality program and taught environmental ethics, cultural anthropology, theology and Biblical studies at Fresno Pacific University.
As a consultant, Ms. Thompson hopes to develop a broad reach through a new website and podcast. She wants to help people “hungry to understand what steps they can take to bring land and housing into community ownership.” There is no community land trust in the San Joaquin Valley, for example, but “that’s going to change.”