To many observers, opposition to George Lucas’s proposed Grady Ranch digital film studio must seem like a scene from a bad movie.
The first thing to understand is that the master plan under which the project is proposed was approved by county officials in 1996. Sixteen years later, the famed filmmaker is asking to build his dream studio in the very place he started and in the county that has benefited so much artistically and economically from his genius.
The Marin County Planning Commission, after a year of examination and extensive public input, unanimously approved the 270,000-square-foot building on Feb. 27. Many have noted that the building is actually smaller than what was approved 16 years ago. “Overall, there is less impact and additional benefits,” a county environmental official said. One county supervisor was quoted as saying “It’s less intense. It’s less everything.”
The studio and other facilities — designed in Mission-style architecture — will be hidden from view behind a berm. Creeks will be restored and trails created. Lucas officials say that with Grady and other projects, more than 3,200 acres, some of it potentially developable, will be protected as open space.
But apparently even this was not enough. In a matter of days after the planning commission approval, a Lucas Valley homeowner group filed a challenge citing “all points raised in public comment letters” as the basis of its appeal.
How many times has the North Bay seen this movie?
On April 3, the Marin County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to hear the appeal. Arguments will be made. At some point decisions will be taken. Lawsuits will be threatened and perhaps filed.
Through it all, Marin’s leaders will be tested, but in the end they must ask themselves: “What community would not give everything to have a project of such quality and promise?”
A study of the economic benefits of the project is impressive. Construction and operation of the studio would create 690 jobs, including 460 during two-and-a-half years to complete the project, according to Robert Eyler, an economics professor at Sonoma State University who was commissioned by Skywalker Properties to analyze the project.
For each $100 million spent on construction of the project, the Marin economy would benefit from $133 million in related economic activity, including $4.9 million in state and local taxes, Dr. Eyler said. For each 100 employees hired for filmmaking, the county would capture 276 total jobs and local businesses would reap $82 million in sales. Those jobs would generate $3.8 million a year in tax revenue, Dr. Eyler said.
But beyond those measured benefits, the potential for other companies to spin out of the studio could help build on a critical Marin economic cluster in the digital arts. That would mean jobs — many of them high-paying — for Marin residents.
In the coming weeks, the Grady Ranch project will again be dissected in minute detail. In that process, it will be critical for decision-makers to keep moving forward in a timely fashion. And they should not lose sight of the big picture — the remarkable history of George Lucas in Marin County and the enormous benefits that will accrue far into the future for the vast majority of residents with the Grady Ranch studio.
To Marin County’s decision-makers and leaders, may the force be with you.
Brad Bollinger is editor and associate publisher of the North Bay Business Journal. He can be reached at 707-521-4251, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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