College presses to repair Bo lab
The department’s recommendation marks a potential sea change in a conversation around the lab that has drawn local support for community ownership. Though it has been on the table before, a conversation sparked last summer around the possibility of the college transferring ownership to the village or a nonprofit that could better access funds for repairs.
The site, which includes a two-story house, a water storage tank, a shed and a public dock, has been closed since 2006 due to a number of critical health and safety issues, including black mold infestations.
“I think everyone in the community can agree that we do not want the lab to sit abandoned any longer,” said Ralph Camiccia, who chairs the county’s Bolinas Lagoon Advisory Council. Mr. Camiccia is also part of a subcommittee formed by the Bolinas Community Public Utility District at the recommendation of Supervisor Dennis Rodoni to explore the possibility of community ownership.
The department’s resolution includes letters of support from Bolinas stakeholders, including the school district, the Rod & Boat Club and the lagoon advisory council. Local conservation organizations such as the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin as well as the acting superintendents of the Point Reyes National Seashore and Golden Gate Recreation Area also contributed letters.
The college’s president, David Wain Coon, said he received the department’s recommendation and is reviewing it with legal counsel.
Back in 2016, the college included the renovation on a list of projects that could be undertaken with funds generated by a bond measure, which ultimately generated $265 million in funds.
Yet after voters approved the measure, the college decided it could not use bond funds to repair the lab, Mr. Coon said at a meeting last October. According to him, a state law called the Field Act prohibits using state funds for the repair or reconstruction of school buildings within 50 feet of faultlines. Mr. Coon said the lab fell within that distance of the San Andreas fault.
But the department’s letter challenged this reasoning on a number of counts. First, it said the lab is exempt from the restrictions of the Field Act, which explicitly does not regulate “outdoor science classrooms.” Second, it argues that the college has not properly determined that the lab is indeed within 50 feet of a faultline.
Perhaps most importantly, the letter said the Field Act does not regulate community college buildings at all. Those are regulated by a 1972 law called the Alquist-Priolo Earthquake Fault Zoning Act, the letter states, but that act applies only to school buildings located on campuses. The resolution urged the college to use existing funds generated by the 2016 bond measure to start repairs.
The overwhelming support for the department’s call to keep the lab within the college’s ownership does not come out of the blue. A public meeting about the future of the lab last October was dominated by people with ties to the college who urged the administration not to let go of the lab but to restore it for college use. Many stated how influential it had been in their own careers as marine biologists or described the importance of field-based education.
But at the time, Mr. Coon said he wanted to find a “win-win” for the college and the community. He described two ways forward: either the college could surplus the property and transfer ownership to a new entity, or it could keep the property and sign a long-term lease with a nonprofit that would be able to raise enough money to rebuild the lab. He called the latter the “preferred option.”
The life and earth sciences department said it hopes to collaborate with the community, government entities and conservation groups, stating in its letter that such “chances for relationship-building will lead to internship and job opportunities in very competitive fields.”