What Future Do We Want?

“A town which is a community is a delicate organism.”  Orville Schell and Ilka Hartmann, 1971. Opening line of “The Town That Fought To Save Itself.”

A functioning community ensures its continuation by meeting the needs of young families.

This is not happening.

Unless we choose to work for a different future, Bolinas and Stinson Beach soon become a virtually childless retirement and vacation home community.  

It will remain lovely to live here, in this incredible nature park, if one doesn’t mind a community without resident school aged children.  For the true community that Orville and Ilka documented, we need to come together to once again work for a future we want.

We have two main problems:

1)  The school is not retaining existing students, nor attracting new ones.  

  • We’re down to about 85 students, from over 250 twenty years ago, in grades K-8. 
  • 50% (49) of the once enrolled classmates in grades 3rd to 8th have withdrawn.  Only a few left because of housing.
  • Only 1 child from Stinson Beach has been enrolled for more than 2 years.

2) There is almost no long term rental housing available.

  • It has become increasingly difficult for local families, generally through word of mouth, to find long term rentals.
  • Virtually nothing is available for new families wishing to move to town.  

Soon, as the school’s slow motion collapse continues, the hollowing out and departure of young resident families will be complete.

We need big, bold ideas that retain families, and attract new ones.

1)  The School Completely Reinvents Itself.

If the school does not change, no amount of newly available housing, at any price, will retain families.  And as high as our home prices are, wealthier families are paying those prices over the hill.  With our under 10 to 1 student teacher ratio, relatively abundant funding, amazing location, and the increasing ability to telecommute, there are plenty of families who would move here for an exceptional school.  

2)  Serious Short Term Rental Regulations.

To open up long term housing, especially for families, we need serious impactful regulation of the short term rental market, which has decimated the market for long term rentals.  Multiple coastal communities have already taken meaningful action.  a year ago San Francisco regulations shut down almost half of their airbnb listings.  

3) A New Housing Model Allowing Multiple Families On A Single Water Meter.

Our population has dropped precipitously in the last 48 years since the Bolinas water moratorium.  With advances in low flow usage we need to investigate ways to respect the moratorium, while getting more people living on a single lot and meter.

What’s not going to work.

1)  Expecting the school to fix itself, or the few remaining school parents to do so.  

Despite good intentions all around, and a staff and School Board that certainly cares, we need help from local elders who want a multigenerational community.

2)  Expecting the Bolinas Community Land Trust to do more than it can.  

The Bolinas Land Trust, which should be supported, can create only so much new housing – most easily for the many individuals and couples on their long waiting list.  To turn the school around, we need 30-40 new families to move into our community and they’ll need family sized homes.  BCLT may make an important dent, but it is unrealistic to think the they can do it all, and in a tight time frame.  Additional housing efforts need to be explored, along with immediate, impactful short term rental regulation.

It is time, once again, for this amazing place, for “Briones,” and its neighbors in Stinson Beach, to fight to save itself.  

It is not a time to look for scapegoats, fight internally, accept the status quo, or tread lightly around old wounds instead of resolving them.  We simply don’t have the time.