George Lucas Uses The Force (Of Property Rights)

A portrait of George Lucas, Pasadena, Californ...

May the Force be with you, goes the eternal line from Star Wars.  When it comes to commercial property development, sometimes the Force is exactly what you need.

For 25 years, filmmaker George Lucas, creator of Star Wars, has been embroiled in a struggle over his commercial real estate project.  Owner of a stretch of North Marin County land near San Francisco, the filmmaker has been trying to build a complete film studio on his property. He’s proposed and studied and modeled no small plan: 300,000 sq. ft. of modern filmmaking facility, complete with a restaurant, retail, parking for 200 cars. He’s been fighting to bring $300 million of economic impact to the area. In other words, it’s the kind of think-big commercial development our industry generally likes to see.

But sailing has not been smooth.  Luke Skywalker didn’t triumph overnight, and neither has Lucas.  The past quarter-century has pitted him against his Marin County neighbors, who have opposed the project on the grounds that it would do exactly as Lucas says: bring a lot of economic impact, and with it, foot traffic and activity they don’t see as conducive to residential property value.

In some ways, it’s a classic struggle — not between good and evil to be sure, but between the rights of property owners to use the force of property rights to build what they want. That’s our system, and commercial interests don’t always win out over residential ones.  This week, Lucas announced he was ending his battle to develop the land into a studio.

He would instead use the land to develop…low-income housing.  In a statement, Lucas turned his neighbors’ objections on their head: “If everyone feels that housing is less impactful on the land, then we are hoping that people who need it the most will benefit.”

The local homeowners association has been such a thorn in Lucas’ side that he’s decided to abandon the studio construction entirely, issuing this official statement about Lucasfilm’s withdrawal of the new studio:

The level of bitterness and anger expressed by the homeowners in Lucas Valley has convinced us that, even if we were to spend more time and acquire the necessary approvals, we would not be able to maintain a constructive relationship with our neighbors.

We love working and living in Marin, but the residents of Lucas Valley have fought this project for 25 years, and enough is enough.  Marin is a bedroom community and is committed to building subdivisions, not business.  Many years ago, we tried to stop the Lucas Valley Estates project from being built, but we failed, and we now have a subdivision on our doorstep.

So what is George Lucas going to do with his property now that he’s tired of his rich neighbors putting up a not-in-my-backyard stink? He wants to transform the property into low-income housing, naturally, ending their official statement with this zinger, “If everyone feels that housing is less impactful on the land, then we are hoping that people who need it the most will benefit.”

He’s working with the Marin Community Foundation to instead construct affordable housing for either low-income families or seniors living on small, fixed incomes. In order to smooth along the development, he’s already given them all of the pricey technical studies and land surveys Lucasfilm spent years conducting.

Property rights.  Gotta love ’em.


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