The Eichlers of Lucas Valley - San Rafael - Page 3

In a majestic setting, this Marin community watches over their Eichler homes, hills, and the good life

Protecting the valley took up a lot of people's energies in the early days, and continues to be an issue. Marinoff ticks off the battles. There was the time in the 1970s when the two ranches to the neighborhood's west were slated for 750 houses. "We said, 'Let's do something about that.'" The result was a compromise to allow only 472 houses. One of those ranches has since been developed as Lucas Valley Estates.

ron marinoff

In the mid-'70s, to allow easier access to Point Reyes National Seashore, the California Coastal Commission suggested turning two-lane Lucas Valley Road into four lanes. "By a lot of lobbying we got that kicked out," Marinoff says. Then came a proposal to run a four-lane parkway across the largely undeveloped ridge to the south that separates Lucas Valley from San Rafael. "We got that kicked out too."

In the '80s, San Rafael proposed annexing Lucas Valley to a city that, Marinoff argues, "never saw a hill it didn't want to develop." Neighbors applied so much pressure, he says, that the "San Rafael power grab" died stillborn.

But none of these victories was the biggest, neighbors agree. Like many residents, John Trimble, an advertising writer and one of the first people to move to Lucas Valley, was attracted by the empty hills. "We bought the hillsides," he brags. It's a boast you'll hear often, and with reason.

When word got around in the early '70s that about 286 acres in the hills behind their home might be sold for a housing tract, the neighborhood galvanized. The County Service District proposed buying the land for open space, and put it to a vote in 1973. "We set a record with the bond issue to buy it," Marinoff says. More than 93 percent voted yes, and 86 percent of registered voters turned out, he says. "They bought here for a rural lifestyle," he says.

Today the Lucas Valley Open Space Preserve is managed by the Marin Open Space District but owned by the homeowners association, and is open to the public. But saving the hillsides hasn't solved all the neighborhood's problems. Fortunately, newcomers as well as old-timers maintain that do-it-yourself spirit.

Kelby Jones, whose professional background is in insurance and loss prevention, has taken on the difficult task of mobilizing neighbors in case of emergencies, as chair of the association's Emergency Response Committee. He's divided Lucas Valley into 23 smaller neighborhoods and is trying to get neighbors to prepare for wildfires and earthquakes.

kids in lucas valley

Two of the biggest potential disasters facing the neighborhood, Jones says, are wildfires and earthquake. Jones wants residents to consider using safety film to safeguard the large expanses of glass that give Eichlers so much of their character. "The good news," he says, "is this post-and-beam construction has held up pretty well in the earthquake events that have happened."

Other neighbors are working to keep Miller Creek free of debris to avoid floods and earth slides that affect people's yards. And the neighborhood came together last winter, after heavy rains caused a slide in the hills that sent mud flowing through the home of Shelley Munson, Catherine's daughter and a realtor at Lucas Valley Properties. Several other homes were also damaged. Munson's house has since been repaired, and the county is working with the neighborhood to stabilize portions of the hill.

Hunter has made one of his priorities modernizing the community center, improving its bathrooms and perhaps adding exercise equipment and a spa. "You need to progress. It's 2006. This place looks like it did in 1970," he says of the community center.

Preserving the character of the Eichler homes remains a challenge. Terry Bremer, chair of the Architectural Review Committee, runs a tight ship, all agree, and the adoption of written guidelines several years ago has helped a lot. Marin County played its part in preserving what the county zoning code calls the neighborhood's "unique architectural characteristics" in 1998 by making Lucas Valley a special zoning district. The design rules, Hunter says, are reasonable. "If it's visible from the street, it has to be reviewed by the committee."

"People often buy into Upper Lucas Valley for the school district, the sense of community, the safety, and what it can offer to children," Bremer says. "The modern architecture may not be top priority on everyone's list. Thus, balancing the needs of some residents with the equally important need of our architecture to stay true to its aesthetic and integrity is essential. Educating the residents as to the need for there to be a streetscape is one of our goals. Allowing some expansion without detriment to the original footprint of the house is another."