Was this the ultimate act of cinematic revenge?
Filmmaker George Lucas, fed up with years of government delays and bitter fights with neighbors over plans to expand his movie-making complex in Marin County, announced Tuesday that he was quitting. He and his company are withdrawing their blueprints for a mission-style studio on Lucas Valley Road and taking them someplace where they're more welcome.
Where that is remains unclear. But, in what appears to be a final poke in the eye of neighbors, Lucas Films said it plans to sell the Grady Ranch property for low-income housing.
"We love working and living in Marin, but the residents of Lucas Valley have fought this project for 25 years, and enough is enough .<TH>.<TH>." the company said in its prepared statement. The company said it wanted to sell the land for affordable housing "since it is scarce in Marin," adding, "If everyone feels that housing is less impactful on the land, then we are hoping that people who need it the most will benefit."
It was a dramatic final act. Unfortunately, the North Bay is left to deal with the real-life ramifications.
This is not just a loss for Marin County, which stands to lose hundreds of new jobs and the infusion of millions into the local economy. It's also a blow to Sonoma County, which has benefited in myriad ways from the presence of Lucas Films in neighboring Marin County, including being home to many of its employees and contractors.
It's worth noting that Marin County had already approved a 450,000-square-foot master plan for Grady Ranch in 1996. This called for a 269,000-square-foot digital complex.
As part of the proposal, Lucas Films offered to contribute 800 acres to Marin County, bringing the company's total contribution to open space over the years to more than 3,000 acres. The project also included a $50 million to $70 million creek restoration project.
Nevertheless, Lucas Valley homeowners, many of whom live in residences built long after George Lucas moved to the area more than 30 years ago, protested about the noise, traffic and environmental impacts.
What makes this news all the more disappointing is that after 16 years of discussion and completion of a 588-page environment impact report, it appeared on the verge of getting the green light. Just two months ago, the Marin County Planning Commission gave the project unanimous approval.
County supervisors scheduled a vote last month, but it was delayed when state and federal agencies raised concerns about Lucas Film's stream-restoration plans. The company said it feared this could delay the project for years.
We would like to believe that Lucas Films would have a different experience if it sought to move its project to Sonoma County. But we have our doubts.
If Lucas Films ends up taking its digital complex out of state, this episode stands to become exhibit No. 1 in the ongoing political dispute over government regulation in California and whether the pendulum of planning rules and the power of NIMBY neighbors has swung too far against real economic development.
Either way, this is an ending that's unlikely to leave anyone satisfied, except, perhaps, residents of Lucas Valley.