Do You Have to Buy?


West Marin Citizen


Browse in West Marin

You came for the weekend and you fell for the place. Soon you were looking at real estate, and getting pretty intense. It wasn’t enough to be in this stunning landscape. You had to have a piece of it.

Mini-dramas started playing in your mind. Haute casual weekends, the admiring nods of friends, a little juice to a marriage that had started to go stale. Your appetite was edging up on blood lust. You just had to get a house. Perhaps you are still in that state now.

If so, I suggest that you take a pause, especially if the home you are looking for is your second or more. West Marin isn’t just a landscape. It is also a community – more precisely a series of communities. People live and work and run businesses and send their kids to school here, just as they do where you live now.

Many of these people rent, and life isn’t getting any easier for them. Every house that becomes a second home, only to sit empty much of the year, is one less place available for a family to live in. Most of us know people – long-time residents, contributors to the community – who have had to move away because, after a series of forced moves, the string ran out.

On top of that, our merchants depend on fulltime residents. It is not easy to keep a grocery store going during the winter if your customers are someplace else. It’s hard during the summer too, if those customers bring food with them from the city for the weekend, instead of buying it here.

There’s also the community of which renters and merchants are part. You may not realize that there is not much government out here. West Marin is “unincorporated,” which means there are no town councils or other formal governing structures. Marin County takes care of the roads and the sheriff. The school districts run the schools.

Other than that we are pretty much on our own; and a rich culture of local self-help has emerged to fill the void. The list of organizations and ad hoc efforts is long. The Dance Palace community center; the Point Reyes Medical Clinic; the Papermill Creek Pre-School; the annual Recycle Circus; the affordable housing program called C.L.A.M. (Community Land-Trust Association of West Marin); KWMR-FM, our community radio station.

And on and on. These and a host of others (apologies to those not mentioned) provide social infrastructure and help meet daily needs. They depend on hours and hours of volunteer time, and donations as well. If the housing out here turns over to summer week-enders who sit on their decks in scenic splendor, this community sweat equity will diminish, and financial support as well, since the two tend to go together.

Many of our local merchants give generously to the community. Some businesses are practically community institutions. A drop in year-round customers would jeopardize their ability to do this. See how it’s all connected?

My suggestion is that you withhold consent from the real estate urge. Don’t fight it; just let it pass through your station like someone else’s train. If you want to move here and become part of the community that’s one thing. But otherwise, there are wonderful B&Bs, and weekly and monthly rentals too. You will enjoy the locale without worries about termites, water leaks, permit issues, winter storm damage and the rest.

And you won’t feel obligated to use the house when you’d rather go someplace else. You’ll appreciate the landscape more with no strings attached. Own a house and the things you are trying to get away from catch up with you. Rent and you have a clean slate for a while.


Too late?

If it’s too late, then here’s a thought. At least be a good neighbor, even if a parttime one. Don’t be like the lawyer who bought a house next to a friend and promptly made changes that blocked the sunlight to her garden. “Tough luck” this wonderful member of the second oldest profession informed her, through his groundskeeper.

You buy your dream house and it’s all about you – except it’s not. There are neighbors, and there’s also a community. As Frosty Troy, the great Oklahoma newspaper editor, used to say, “If you aren’t making a difference you are just taking up space.” You have the space, so now you can contribute, in however small a way.

Subscribe to the community’s weekly, the West Marin Citizen. West Marin is blessed with authentic independent journalism, so let’s keep it going. Listen to KWMR-FM, our community station. It is a something rare in America today – truly homegrown radio, with shows and voices you won’t hear anyplace else. (90.5 FM Point Reyes Station, 89.9 FM Bolinas) You can subscribe to the paper and listen to KWMR-FM online after you leave.

Perhaps most important, you can contribute financially to the station and to other local causes. These help make this place so special. Your check can help to keep it that way.

This goes for visitors too. Why not leave something behind?

We are glad to have you, for the most part. Most of us were visitors once too. Don’t be shy about attending programs at the Dance Palace and other community events. No one will look at you funny. You might even make some friends. If there is a Barn Dance at Toby’s during your visit you are in for a special treat. The kids – if you have them – will have a blast.

But please understand why we aren’t thrilled when the town becomes a traffic jam on weekends, and when people shout curses at us when we don’t vacate a parking space as they expected. (This happened to me not long ago.)

Understand too that it is not a treat when people use our roads to show off the (assumed) cornering capacities of their new Porsche or Ducati. A little local secret: when a reckless motorcycle rider goes off a cliff or into a tree, the grief out here is not universal.

We like bicycles, but not when the people on them ride two or three abreast on the narrow curvy roads, and give us the finger when we honk to get by so we can get our child to the dentist.

The road through Point Reyes Station might appear as Highway One on your map. But to us it’s Main Street. Drive slowly. Yield to people crossing the street—which they do at random – and pulling out of parking spaces. Slow down. Isn’t that why you are here?

But don’t slow down everywhere. When the line at the Bovine Bakery is going out the door, please don’t ponder your selection as though you were choosing a pair of Manolo Blahniks. It’s all great. You’ll be happy no matter what you get.

And if you do miss something – well, that’s another reason to come back soon. Not that you will need it.