Ju-Jitsu is the ancient Japanese art of using an attacker’s own force to defeat that opponent. George Lucas, the infamous creator of Star Wars and Indiana Jones, recently proved that he can not only produce great fight scenes; Lucas can also skillfully outmaneuver the stubbornness of his rich neighbors.
As reported in the San Francisco Chronicle, Lucas had plans to build a 270,000 square foot state-of-the-art movie studio at Grady Ranch that would include a day care center, restaurant, gym and a 200-car garage. While this development was large enough to create 600 new jobs, Lucas had tastefully planned to hide the attractive building in a valley, preserve 95% of the natural land, and spend over $50 million dollars to restore a stream to its natural state. Despite having an approved Master Plan from 1996 that included an even larger film studio on this site, Lucas met major resistance from his Marin County neighbors when he went to get the final permits.
With an average income per person of $91,483, Marin County is the fifth wealthiest county in the United States. To preserve the county as a bedroom community with minimal traffic, homeowners have fought Lucas’s efforts to develop his film making business, requiring him to spend millions on impact studies. While most cash-starved municipalities in America would roll out the red carpet for a development expected to generate six figure salaries and over $300 million of economic activity, the resistance of homeowners in Marin County is a vivid reminder that some people are not struggling in this economy.
Marin County’s largest employer is Kaiser Permanente, a behemoth health insurance corporation that has posted profits of $2 billion per year during the recession by reducing services and at times raising rates three times faster than medical cost inflation. In a working free market economy large profits invite competitors to provide services for a lower cost, thus reducing profits and helping consumers. Who is enabling corporations to extract wealth from wide swaths of the nation, while only enriching a few select regions?
The expression “Not in my back yard” is a well known trend in American development. Like the residents of Marin County, almost everyone, regardless of political perspective, becomes an environmentalist when a foul smelling industrial operation asks to set up shop next door. What is unusual about Marin County is the quality of the proposed development that was stymied. Does America have a rising self-absorbed elite who use government as a tool to protect both nature around their own homes, and their unfair business advantages? This would certainly explain why the political right is angry with big government interference and the left wants government to protect us from big business. Both sides are right, but neither side has a comprehensive solution.
Ironically, Lucas, who has over $3 billion in assets, had already built a 317,000 square foot LEED (environmentally responsible) facility in 2002 and a 155,000 square foot home for Skywalker Sound on another part of his 6,100 acres of land. These projects took over 10ten years to get approval, and never brought the bus tours and helicopters with celebrities that neighbors had feared. When threatened with lawsuits over his next proposed studio development, Lucas issued the following official statement:
“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 that is committed to building subdivisions, not business…. We plan to sell the Grady property expecting that the land will revert back to its original use for residential housing. We hope to find a developer who will be interested in low income housing since it is scarce in Marin. If everyone feels that housing is less impactful on the land, then we are hoping that people who need it the most will benefit.”
If there’s one thing rich landowners dislike more than film production in their back yard, it’s having to live near poor people. Well played Master Lucas. “May the force be with you.”