Keep Marin Working group forms to keep, attract jobs
SAN RAFAEL — County of Marin officials have been busy trying to convince filmmaker George Lucas to continue pursuing his Grady Ranch digital media studio, and local business groups have launched a new joint effort to help keep and attract employers like him.
However, a Lucasfilm spokeswoman said Thursday the decision to withdraw the project was final.
Mr. Lucas surprised the county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday,when they received a couple hours’ notice his representatives would publicly announced the withdrawal of an application to build a 270,000-square-foot studio on property along Lucas Valley Road northwest of San Rafael, according to board President Steve Kinsey.
He said the board at its April 3 meeting likely would have voted to deny an appeal from a neighborhood group against Planning Commission project approval just over a month before, had not Mr. Lucas’ organization asked the board to delay a decision pending further review of a 50-page letter from the Lucas Valley Estates Homeowners Association’s attorney on potential legal pitfalls under the California Environmental Quality Act.
After hearing of Mr. Lucas’ decision to take the project elsewhere, the supervisors sprang into action Tuesday and Wednesday to offer solutions to Mr. Lucas’ concerns, including the extraordinary proposal to stand beside him in any CEQA lawsuit over project approval, according to Supervisor Kinsey.
“Given what is at stake here, it is worth it to put a stake in the ground,” he said. “Even if it comes out the legal costs would run in the millions of dollars on the outside, there would be an even larger lifetime benefit and ancillary benefits to the community.”
Led by Supervisor Susan Adams, whose district includes Lucas Valley, the board repeatedly met with Mr. Lucas’ real estate company, Skywalker Properties, about concerns and solutions. They contacted the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board to clarify a March 29 comment letter from a joint resource agency review body on concerns about the revised grading and stream-restoration plans in the project. The supervisors contacted the Las Gallinas Sanitation District to clarify comments made by a district official to the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors and received a letter of support. Board members even worked with the Marin Municipal Water District over supplying recycled water, addressing concerns over water use.
A master plan for a studio complex on Grady Ranch and production offices on adjacent Big Rock Ranch project was approved in 1996–’97. The Planning Commission unanimously approved a precise development plan and supplemental environmental impact report on Feb. 27. Lucas Valley Estates Homeowners Association, which represents 174 residents near the Grady project site, appealed the decision in early March.
Skywalker Properties released a letter Tuesday afternoon announcing the withdrawal of the application for the Grady Ranch studio and noting plans to sell the property, perhaps for housing.
“The level of bitterness and anger expressed by the homeowners in Lucas Valley has convinced us that, even if we were to spend more time and acquire the necessary approvals, we would not be able to maintain a constructive relationship with our neighbors,” according to the letter. “We love working and living in Marin, but the residents of Lucas Valley have fought this project for 25 years, and enough is enough. Marin is a bedroom community and is committed to building subdivisions, not business.”
Skywalker Properties plans to sell the Grady Ranch property and look elsewhere quickly for a new studio site, because projects planned to be made in the new studio in 2013 already are in production, according to the letter.
After the Grady Ranch appeal was reported, Marin business groups started forming Keep Marin Working, a coalition of seven organizations to keep and attract employers. The group officially launched the day after the Board of Supervisors appeal hearing. Members include North Bay Leadership Council, Marin Builders Association, San Rafael, Novato and Marin Hispanic chambers of commerce, Marin Association of Realtors and the Latino Council, which has 190 members employing more than 1,000.
“This is a devastating loss,” said Cynthia Murray, president and chief executive officer of North Bay Leadership Council, a Sonoma-Marin business advocacy group that had its origins in earlier contested Lucas projects. “Losing the Geroge Lucas seal of approval of being in Marin County will have a detrimental effect for many years. … They’ve been essential to the Marin story about coming here and growing here.”
San Rafael Chamber CEO Rick Wells said the business group was eager to help revive the Grady Ranch project.
“If there is any chance we can do something to save this project, we should work together to do so immediately,” he wrote. “Without question, it has a far-reaching and significant impact on the health of our economy and our entire county.”
A major focus of legislative efforts this year for the Regional Economic Association Leaders of California Council, which has 20 major jobs groups in the state, including North Bay Leadership Council, is reform of CEQA to prevent abuse, according to Ms. Murray.
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