Filmmaker George Lucas has pulled the plug on building a new film studio and floated another option for the Northern California site–affordable housing.
After years of trying to develop a new facility in Marin County, Lucas recently dropped his application to build on a property known as Grady Ranch, citing a long battle with neighbors.
“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,” said a letter announcing his plans.
But, that’s not the end of the story. Lucas, the man behind “Star Wars,” has unveiled part two.
“We hope we will be able to find a developer who will be interested in low-income housing since it is scarce in Marin,” said the letter. “If everyone feels that housing is less impactful on the land then we are hoping that people who need it the most will benefit.”
While some have seen the move as a shot at the protesting neighbors, the idea has advanced a step further.
The Marin Community Foundation has stepped in to work with Lucasfilm to explore options to develop the site with affordable housing.
“We are thrilled that George Lucas is seeing this as an opportunity to address one of the most critical issues in Marin County—making it possible for a broad range of individuals and families to afford to live in Marin,” said Thomas Peters, president and CEO of the Foundation. “In many instances, this is housing for people who work in the county but can’t afford to live here and for people who grew up here but who now cannot afford safe, secure housing in their home county. And we have always paid particular attention to the need for affordable housing by the county’s expanding senior population.”
The Foundation’s work has included providing loans and grants to nonprofit housing developers.
While stressing that planning is in the very early stages, Peters said they hope to move quickly. Lucas is providing access to extensive engineering studies done on the land. “It’s not an insignificant gift,” he said, noting the detailed and expensive reports have been done on the water tables, topography, and other technical aspects of the property.
“We want to use that while the shelf life is current,” he said.
The team is working on formulating a process to move with deliberate speed and to get the most creative ideas for the sweeping site.
Marin County is one of the most expensive housing markets in the nation. The median price for an existing single-family home was $672,620 in March compared with the statewide median of $291,080.
It is also one of the most expensive markets to rent an apartment. The “housing wage,” an estimate of the full-time hourly wage a household must earn in order to afford a decent two-bedroom apartment at fair market rent while spending no more than 30 percent of income on housing costs, is a soaring $36.63 in the county, according the “Out of Reach” report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
In comparison, the state housing wage is lower but still a high $26.02, meaning a minimum-wage earner would have to work 130 hours per week to afford a decent two-bedroom apartment at fair market rent.
It looks like the Foundation and Lucasfilm will now move toward working with affordable housing developers. Perhaps, the force will be behind them in developing the property.