Development is Difficult in Bolinas California

Posted by JZ on May 12, 2018

California is an expensive place to live. I knew that coming in to this state. But I did not fully appreciate this fact until trying to build something here. Larry Page once said Million dollar houses in Silicon Valley should only cost $50,000:

“Even more than technology, he puts this down to policy changes needed to make land more readily available for construction. Rather than exceeding $1m, there’s no reason why the median home in Palo Alto, in the heart of Silicon Valley, shouldn’t cost $50,000.” - Larry Page

Searching on Zillow, I came across an incredible deal. A near ocean front parcel of land, less than 20 miles from San Francisco for 12 thousand dollars. Determined to learn the back story and if any glimmer of hope existed I picked up the phone to talk with the Realtor to learn more about this land.

The unfriendly Realtor told me that the land was owned by a “84 year old community member” and I should call the Bolinas Community Public Utility District for more information. I’ll summarize a few weeks worth of research:

  • The BCPUD has been in an “Water Shortage Emergency Condition” for 47 years
    • The Bolinas Community Public Utility District is governed by a five-member Board of Directors who are elected by registered voters [4]
    • The BCPUD directly or indirectly provides water, sewer, solid waste, drainage, and parks and recreation services within its boundaries [4]
  • The parcel of Land has a tax liability because it is zoned by the County of Marin: C-RA-B2 “Coastal, Residential, Agricultural”
    • In 2017 Parcel 191-061-09 had a $840 annual tax liability
  • The California Coastal Commission, The Marin County Planning Commission and the Marin County Board of Supervisors adopted an 89 page regulation called the Bolinas Gridded Mesa Plan in 1984. Specific to this property, 2 important regulations stand out:
    • Policy LU-2: There shall be no residential development along the Mesa’s major drainageways
    • Policy LU-4: There shall be no residential development on the Mesa in areas with restrictive soils where on-site sewage disposal systems ore found to foil

Each of these regulations not only prohibit construction but also restrict land use through chicken and egg situations. For example Article III of the Marin County Site Planning and General Development Regulation explicitly prohibit camping without water and septic hookups.

This is a very small slice of California but represents an important example of the challenges for development. If an individual wishes to increase the supply of housing in this city, even on a parcel of land that is not restricted, they will have to deal with an unmotivated Government who have used a half centry old water emergency to stop development.