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May 22, 2012

Remind me how it goes: fear, anger,…?
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 03:33 PM * 69 comments

I see that George Lucas has given up on his long-running battle to build more studio space on his Marin County property. His neighbors have blocked his plans to expand Skywalker Ranch for years, citing the area’s residential character. So instead, he’s proposing to use Grady Ranch for residential purposes…just not the kind that they are likely to approve of.

His new intent (pdf) for the land:

We plan to sell the Grady property expecting that the land will revert back to its original use for residential housing. We hope we will be able to find a developer who will be interested in low income housing since it is scarce in Marin. If everyone feels that housing is less impactful on the land, then we are hoping that people who need it the most will benefit.

Lucas claims that it’s not revenge that motivates him.

“I’ve been surprised to see some people characterize this as vindictive,” he said, adding that there was a “real need” for affordable housing here. “I wouldn’t waste my time or money just to try and upset the neighbors.”

Right.

The Twittersphere, also unconvinced, is abuzz with praise for Lucas for this shrewd move in the ancient game of Neighbor Go. And I was too, at first. Zing! With added social credit for helping people on low incomes! But the more I think about it, the less I like it.

Lucas is using the poor—or the specter of the poor—as a weapon. That’s a bad thing twice over. It’s harmful in the abstract: treating people as an inherent menace is never good, and doing so in a way that deepens the divisions between the classes is particularly pernicious in the Occupational Era. And it’s worse in the particular. Imagine moving into that housing, just down the road from people who use phrases like “sheer terror” about you and draw analogies with Syria.

He should have listened to the little green guy. Knows a thing or two, that one does.

Yes, another post that started as a Parhelion, and grew and grew and grew until the ceiling hung with HTML tags and the walls became the back end and a comment thread tumbled by…

Comments on Remind me how it goes: fear, anger,...?:
#1 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2012, 04:22 PM:

I visited Skywalker Ranch some years ago. It wasn't located anywhere near shopping or business. It wasn't in the suburbs the way most people think of them: it's on a road where it was about a mile to the next residence, and the residences don't cluster. Now, things may have changed since I was last there: but I don't think it's going to be a highly walkable neighborhood.

Dense housing seems counterproductive. Still, I admire Lucas' ability to point out people's hypocrisy in this instance. The probability that low-income housing will actually get built there is pretty low.

#2 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2012, 04:31 PM:

I had exactly the same reaction. Initially, yay! affordable housing! But then it just kept not feeling right and within a little while I was all the way to what about infrastructure to support low income residential (elementary schools, nearby groceries, bus services)? And, yeah, Lucas is being the kind of asshole you get to be when you have whole banks made of gold in your pocket and a dispute with your neighbours. And using poor people as a cudgel, in the same way some others in his place would use 'landfill'.

Dunno much about Marin County, so maybe I shouldn't be so worried about the infrastructure.

#3 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2012, 04:34 PM:

Does George hope we'll forgive him for "Howard the Duck"?

#4 ::: tomslee ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2012, 04:35 PM:

"the specter of the poor—as a weapon"

But the "specter" is only a weapon if the other residents see the poor as a specter, no? This changes it, for me.

#5 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2012, 04:39 PM:

pericat @2:
using poor people as a cudgel, in the same way some others in his place would use 'landfill'.

This, as the cool kids say. This.

I've been to Skywalker Ranch myself. If the word "nestled" hadn't existed before, they would have invented it for how it sits in the grass-and-scrub-oak hills, out of sight of even the road. I gather from the maps that Grady Ranch is closer to existing infrastructure than that.

#6 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2012, 04:41 PM:

tomslee @4:

I think it's pretty clear that the residents do see the (relatively; this is Marin county) poor as a threat. It's not something that needed the reinforcing, though.

Just because the trench already exists doesn't mean I approve of him digging it deeper.

#7 ::: Laura Runkle ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2012, 05:05 PM:

I've had the same thoughts. Affordable housing really does need an infrastructure. While I wouldn't characterize Marin county as truly rural, the rural and even suburban poor are in a worse plight than the urban poor, and just building cluster housing in a relatively inaccessible location doesn't change the basic infrastructure.

On another note, thousands cheered over their morning beverage today at an announcement in our city's paper on affordable housing in an area where there have been many bad landlords. A local non-profit will become the landlord, complete with screening, something current landlords don't do.
Which leads to yet another question - when are people really glad to see an affordable housing initiative come in their neighborhood? What's the difference? What can be done to make affordable housing a desirable neighbor? Is it only time and a series of good experiences, as with bike trails? Are there best practices for integrating affordable housing into the neighborhood?

#8 ::: Ayse ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2012, 05:22 PM:

Given who qualifies for low-income housing in that area, this might be a nice lesson in basic economics for the rich neighbors who are so frightened of their potential new neighbors. I have two friends who live in low-income housing in Marin who are professionals with graduate degrees (in fields where salaries are "good" but still too low to allow them to live within 20 miles of their jobs). Being relatively poor does not make you a gangster or a terrorist, and I can't think of a better way for people to learn that than to see that the people who live in that housing are teachers, policemen, firefighters, the city clerk, the building department plan check guy, etc.

Marin County desperately needs housing for the people who work there in ordinary jobs. They need public transit to help people get around. Even if Lucas did this for bad reasons, this is something the county and the people who live there on a measly $62,000 per year for a household of one will probably not quibble about being able to live within 20 miles of where they work.

#9 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2012, 05:29 PM:

Yep, I went through the same series of reactions. And pericat++; please accept your internet.

I live in a formerly-poor area that's being gentrified (or maybe "has been gentrified" would be more accurate). When I moved to Hoboken in 1982, a white yuppie (remember yuppies? I was one) would have been risking serious danger even to walk in this area, let alone try to live here. In the early 90s this was an area where finding a dead human body right on the street corner made the police blotter but not the front page.

By the early 00s they were tearing down grungy old apartment buildings and putting up condos like the one I live in; now it's all luxury rentals. I think the one on my corner (where there used to be a sleazy bar, and where I was once asked by a desperate-looking woman where she could buy some heroin) has units whose rent is more than my mortgage by quite a bit.

But I can still see the projects out my window. I see the people who live there on the street, and in the little grocery around the corner. You really can't live here if you're afraid of poor people.

I enthusiastically wish my experience for Lucas' Marin County neighbors, but I still think he was wrong to use the presence of (relatively) poor people to punish those neighbors.

It's like that joke from Isaac Asimov's Treasury of Humor, where the rich woman asks the army Sergeant to send three of his men to dinner, but asks him not to send any Jews. Three African-American soldiers show up, and she sputters that there must be some mistake. "No," says one of the soldiers, "Sergeant Cohen doesn't make mistakes."

Glad to see her discomfort? You bet. Think it's OK for Sergeant Cohen to use them that way? Not so much. Do I tell the joke? No, except as an example of this kind of thing.

#10 ::: Marc G. ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2012, 05:53 PM:

Xopher@9: Interesting, the way I had always read that joke is that the three soldiers were forewarned volunteers, rather than simply pawns, which I think changes the tenor significantly. I admit there's no textual support for that interpretation, but it never occurred to me to read it otherwise.

#11 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2012, 05:56 PM:

Xopher, 9: I always thought that joke implied the enthusiastic cooperation of the three African-Americans.

#12 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2012, 06:09 PM:

Well, that IS comforting. But Asimov himself says the joke is troubling, because "the point is that blacks are even worse than Jews."

But I like your reading better.

#13 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2012, 06:25 PM:

Xopher, I always assumed the soldiers were in on the joke. And I like it, because it challenges two racist assumptions at one time.

Imagine Richard Pryor telling it...

As for Lucas: don't know how I feel about it. It may be all theater; I have no idea how serious he is.

#14 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2012, 06:25 PM:

My feeling about the joke is that either the black men were recruited (and possibly even thought of the idea), or at least one of them thought the situation was funny enough to come up with that rejoinder.

#15 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2012, 06:27 PM:

Serge Broom #3: Howard the Duck is unforgivable.

#16 ::: Neil W ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2012, 06:50 PM:

On the joke; the version told to me, which I suspect dates from later[1], involves American Naval Officers. I'd always assumed that, if not volunteers, going to dinner with local dignitaries was one of their duties, and they would not be unaware of the content of the invitation and likely prejudices of the hostess.

(I seem to recall that "three of your most handsome and presentable officers" may have been on the invitation, and she had three daughters as well)

#17 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2012, 06:56 PM:

Back where I grew up, there was a new housing development in a conveniently located but previously undeveloped area that was promoted as affordable housing. (That may have been a condition of allowing the development in the first place; I don't remember. Much of the rest of town had already been developed, and there were concerns about preserving what undeveloped space was left.)

And the housing was indeed affordably priced-- to the initial buyers. I heard that a lot of those initial buyers, who included some fairly well-connected folks in town, turned around and sold them almost right away, making a handy profit off their initial purchase, but quickly revaluing the properties out of the "affordable" range in which they were initially offered. If there's high demand in a new market, prices will naturally tend to go up unless there's some effective brake.

Restricting supply works much the same way, and zoning provides all kinds of ways to accomplish that. (Minimum lot sizes are one common technique where I'm from; there are others.) I'd think any place that can manage tight enough zoning restrictions to thwart Lucas for decades could also manage to keep them tight enough to prevent truly affordable housing from making big inroads.

I know very little about the rules and practices of California housing, so perhaps there are ways that one *could* establish significant, lasting affordable housing in this location. But when I read the story, I wondered whether in fact low-income people were not only being used as pawns, but as pawns who would ultimately get nothing out of the game they'd been put in.

#18 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2012, 07:07 PM:

Since it's a joke, we can modify it how ever we want. "Ma'am, Sergeant Cohen told us exactly what you said."

#19 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2012, 08:02 PM:

I've never won an internet before! I feel all shiny.

#20 ::: Ayse ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2012, 08:24 PM:

Hmm. Maybe I should not hit the post button when I'm in the middle of trying to answer somebody standing at my office door. That last sentence should read:

"Even if Lucas did this for bad reasons, this is something the county and the people who work there need. Low income in Marin is a measly $62,000 per year for a household of one, and people who qualify for that will probably not quibble about the semantics if it means they are able to live within 20 miles of where they work."

Those people deal with the lack of affordable housing by living out of the county and driving in. It's a lot cheaper and better for all of us to house them where they work, rather than upgrade roads to deal with demand from commuters and breathe air polluted by elderly cars sitting on the freeway for an hour each way.

And yeah, all the infrastructure is there apart from transit (which also brings gang members in from Oakland so must be opposed). It's just that only rich people really get to use it because nobody else can make the rent there.

#21 ::: vian ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2012, 09:07 PM:

What Ayse said, essentially.

You get a better, more cohesive community when your teachers, fire-fighters, police and so on can actually live in the county they work in. And in Marin, the only way that happens is through targeted low-income housing and land lotteries. The last such lottery I heard of was only open to people who worked in the area, and came with some stringent owner-occupier clauses to avoid the kind of profiteering John is talking about @17.

If people in Marin are so snobby they have a problem living with the people who serve their community (who, incidentally aren't "the poor" any more than I am), it says more about them than it does about GWL. Also, note that GWL can't win this one - if he'd simply announced a regular housing development, he'd still be accused of ruining the ambience, lowering the property values and stressing the infrastructure. Probably also greed. He could let Grady Ranch lie fallow, I suppose, and be accused of passive-agression, wasting such valuable land in an area that needs *insert the facility of your choice here, as long as it isn't a studio*.

Whatever his motives, low-cost housing is a good thing. And as tempting as it might be to read revenge as a motive - it makes a great story, after all - isn't it just possible that he's doing this to improve the community in which he and his family live? He's got form in that department - buying up derelict gas stations and turning them into parks, for example.

Even plutocrats who ruin their movies by tinkering endlessly with them deserve the benefit of the doubt, surely?

#22 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2012, 09:57 PM:

What Ayse said at comment #8:

Given who qualifies for low-income housing in that area, this might be a nice lesson in basic economics for the rich neighbors who are so frightened of their potential new neighbors. I have two friends who live in low-income housing in Marin who are professionals with graduate degrees (in fields where salaries are "good" but still too low to allow them to live within 20 miles of their jobs). Being relatively poor does not make you a gangster or a terrorist, and I can't think of a better way for people to learn that than to see that the people who live in that housing are teachers, policemen, firefighters, the city clerk, the building department plan check guy, etc.

Marin County desperately needs housing for the people who work there in ordinary jobs. They need public transit to help people get around. Even if Lucas did this for bad reasons, this is something the county and the people who live there on a measly $62,000 per year for a household of one will probably not quibble about being able to live within 20 miles of where they work.

When you start getting into it, this is a weird, creepy subject. Know what the Palace of Versailles and posh corporate office parks and campuses have in common? The ostentatious use of large tracts of ornamental land as a filtering and control device. It's a concrete statement of privilege: all spatial relations and transactions are easier and more pleasant for them, and harder for everyone else. Rich homeowners do this too, and when they don't buy up the land outright, they do their best to keep it from being turned to uncongenial uses. The servile classes are the ones who wind up with hard choices and long commutes.

As the story says, a family of four with an annual income of $88,800 can qualify for housing assistance in Marin. Abi's moral point has truth and righteousness on its side, but if I were up against Marin County housing prices, I wouldn't grieve too much over being used as the instrument of George Lucas's spite. It kinda helps balance all the times public planning gets used as a vehicle of someone's spite or self-aggrandizement, but does so to no one's benefit.

#23 ::: Ursula L ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2012, 10:33 PM:

If the housing in question is for people of an income level of $62,000 for one or $88,800 for a family of four, is it really accurate to call this "low income" housing?

Building housing for the middle-class in a county that is primarily populated and controlled by the very-upper class is something different from building low-income housing for the working class and poor.

The needs are different. For example, schoolteachers who are currently driving in from outside the county to get to work already have cars and aren't shut out by the lack of public transportation. But they'll appreciate the money saved by a shorter drive and less fuel burned.

There is certainly a need for middle class housing in upper class enclaves, and there is a need for low-income housing in upper class enclaves. But the two aren't the same thing.

And a discussion of the politics of housing problems that conflates the needs of the middle class with the needs of low-income people, is going to miss important details for both groups. A "low income housing project" that's actually targeting the middle-class creates the illusion that low-income needs are being addressed, while actually ignoring them.

#24 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2012, 10:33 PM:

Oh -- and "... original use for residential housing"? I ask what they've been smoking. OF course, the place may not be near Skywalker Ranch, but that's what is shown in the pic accompanying the original article.

#25 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2012, 10:45 PM:

It's clearly a subspecies of spite fence; but at least it's a socially useful spite fence.

#26 ::: grackle ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2012, 11:36 PM:

To follow on #8 and #22, it is also true that there would be resistance to "low income housing" just about everywhere in Marin county. The greater objection to Lucas Valley might be it's relative remoteness from jobs and services. Posh as it is as a neighborhood, its a country road location well outside of town. Rural living in such areas is expensive with relatively high transportation costs.

#27 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2012, 11:45 PM:

Fragano @ 15... More so than the 'first' three "Star Wars"?

#28 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 01:32 AM:

Serge @ 27:

Yes. I just watched Episodes 1 & 2, which I hadn't seen since they were released. They have problems, but there are enough good things in them that they're worth watching (seeing Yoda open up a can of whoop-ass on Count Dooku near the end of Episode 2 is worth the price of admission). But we also just tried to watch Howard the Duck, having never seen it before; and we lasted about 15 minutes before deciding it wasn't worth it.

#29 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 01:39 AM:

Teresa @ 22:

I think I agree; that is, the idea of using lower-income housing as a weapon in a land dispute bothers me, but the end result of increasing the affordability of housing in the SF Bay area is highly desirable. I lived in the Bay Area in the 70's and fell in love with San Francisco, even though I never was able to live there. Now though, the city has pushed out most of its service workers, transportation workers, retail workers, public safety workers, and teachers, and even made it difficult for families with small children to live there. That's the death knell of any livable city, no matter how many walkable gentrified neighborhoods it has.

#30 ::: Josh Berkus ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 01:42 AM:

Re #23:

As someone who's been down Lucas Valley Road, "low income housing" there would be "anything under $450,000".

What I'm more curious about is what he wants all these production facilities *for*. The new-ish Lucasfilm offices in the Presidio are half-empty, and the old production facility in San Rafael is almost deserted. Much of the post-production, CG and sound business has been outsourced to Canada, India and China, and what's left in the USA is mostly going to the lowest bidder.

So why would Lucas want to build a new facility on expensive real estate with poor transportation?

#31 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 02:14 AM:

TNH @22:
Abi's moral point has truth and righteousness on its side, but if I were up against Marin County housing prices, I wouldn't grieve too much over being used as the instrument of George Lucas's spite. It kinda helps balance all the times public planning gets used as a vehicle of someone's spite or self-aggrandizement, but does so to no one's benefit.

But it's not just a moral point of truth and righteousness. Stirring up your neighbors with dread of Teh (relatively) Pore Folks deepens the social divide, and makes it harder to build housing for them. Even if Lucas manages to get this stuff built (and he won't; he's just going to sell the land to a developer who makes the right noises), what about the next tranche, and the next? What about the actual concept of mixed-class communities? That's just moved one giant step further away.

If he genuinely wanted affordable housing built, he wouldn't have worded that announcement in a way that would cause his neighbors to show their asses and run around like ants from a stirred nest. And he knows these people; he's been battling them for years. He knew what they would do.

His lulz hardened attitudes.

#32 ::: vian ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 03:40 AM:

Even if Lucas manages to get this stuff built (and he won't; he's just going to sell the land to a developer who makes the right noises)

Actually, the Marin Community Foundation has a pretty good rep in that (literal and figurative) area; they get results and have been at it for a couple of decades.

You want to believe he's doing all this out of spite; fine. No-one can gainsay you; none of us knows what's going on under that hair. But it's not like he's said "Let me build my studio, or else - mwah ha haaaa - I shall assault you with poor people!"

He's got the land, he's decided to use it to ameliorate a problem in his community. Spite makes a better story, but not a lot of sense.

#33 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 04:23 AM:

#31 ::: abi

Is there any way of checking on whether things work out that way?

My bet is that Lucas' opening the space up for moderate-priced housing will make very little difference except to the people who move there, but I'm not sure how to check on that either.

#34 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 04:23 AM:

vian @32:

I'm glad to see that he's been in touch with them—that's not what his press release sounded like.

But it's not like he's said "Let me build my studio, or else - mwah ha haaaa - I shall assault you with poor people!"

What it sounded like to me was the parlor version of exactly that: a long complaint about his intransigent neighbors, followed by calling their opponents' bluff (If everyone feels that housing is less impactful on the land), adding a nice little twist about low-income housing. And I'm not alone in reading it that way; the zing factor is what got this talked about so much on Twitter.

If the housing gets built, fantastic. I'm very much for mixed-class communities, having grown up in one that was not (nothing smaller than a duplex in my entire hometown) and now living in one that is (everything from one-bedroom starter flats above shops to multi-million euro properties, all in a village of under 10,000 people. The majority of our teachers, mail carriers, shop assistants and firefighters are locals, even though we're right between two large cities.).

What cheesed me off, as I have said repeatedly, is that the way that Lucas went about announcing this move. It's counterproductive to the very thing he's claiming to support. And, not believing that he's either stupid or ignorant of his neighbors' likely reactions, yes, I do think that he did it deliberately.

#35 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 05:22 AM:

Bruce Cohen @ 28... Of Ep.2 I saw only the ending, which had Yoda and Saruman... I mean... Christopher Lee tossing big things at each other. For Ep.3 I was in the theater for another movie so I snuck in and caught the end, with OpieWan and Bananaskin fighting over a lava pit ("The Emperor is Evil!")("Not from his point of view!") then I went back to wait for "Fantastic Four" to start. All of those films were better than "Howard the Duck" - in the same way that a broken leg is preferable to amputation. :-)

#36 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 05:26 AM:

A local Albuquerque writer working on a "Star Wars" novel once got to visit Skywalker Ranch. Should he cross paths with George, he was warned, he was not to speak to him unless spoken to first. Oh, and I once met a woman who said she'd gone to high-school with George and that none of the girls would go on a date with him.

#37 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 05:40 AM:

#34 ::: abi

I'm not convinced that Lucas has the ability to predict people's reactions reliably.

#38 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 07:29 AM:

Serge Broom #27: The creation of Jar-Jar Binks warrants a major penalty, the rest is actually quite good.

#39 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 08:42 AM:

Fragano @ 38... Jar Jar, yes, and that dreadful kid who played Bananaskin?

#40 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 09:44 AM:

Serge--

Are you actually trying to tell us that someone is a bad person because, in high school, he couldn't get a date?

#41 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 10:08 AM:

Vicki @ 40... Heck no, and not just because *I* couldn't get a date even in college. It was just a reference to George's possible lack of social skills in a setting where *he* does not establish the rules.

#42 ::: Emmers ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 10:57 AM:

Vian @ 21 and John @ 17 remind me of the Little House on the Prairie books -- Almanzo homesteaded at age 19, despite the law requiring you to be 21, but he justified it to himself by talking about all the people who did the minimum to legally obtain the homestead, then sold their land to rich people. Interesting how some things never change.

#43 ::: rea ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 11:08 AM:

Do motives matter in this context? If someone does good for evil reasons, do we reject the good? If someone does evil for good reasons, do we embrace the evil? See, e.g., Ender's Game, etc.

#44 ::: Ayse ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 11:22 AM:

Ursula L @23: "If the housing in question is for people of an income level of $62,000 for one or $88,800 for a family of four, is it really accurate to call this 'low income' housing?"

Yes, it is. Local income levels vary. You can't compare what $62,000 a year would get you in Chicago or Iowa or even Modesto with what that gets you in Marin County. It's not right to only offer housing assistance to people who are living in poverty while ignoring the needs of people who work hard and serve others but don't make enough to pay average rent in their community. Especially when they don't make enough because we voted to pay them less, IMHO.

#45 ::: --E ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 12:05 PM:

I had the exact same reaction.

The original title of the third SW movie was going to be "Revenge of the Jedi" and was changed because revenge was not a jedi-like trait. Yet that paradox seems like the perfect description for this situation: does some good, but in a bad way.

#46 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 12:12 PM:

Serge @ 35:

Then you haven't seen the best, IMO, part of the whole ep 1-3 trilogy: the air-speeder chase in episode 2, where Obi-wan and Anikin go after a bounty hunter who's just tried to assassinate Senator Amydala. It's completely ridiculous from the point of view of the laws of physics, but a lot of fun to watch.

#47 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 12:24 PM:

abi,

I understand your unease that Lucas' actions are taken out of spite, and will rebound because of that. My concern is that the argument, "We can't do <X> because it will turn the [liberals, centrists, middle-class whites] against the very people we're trying to help," has all too often ended with no substantive action being taken. In the long run, as far as I can see, the only action that has positive effect on a privileged group wrt their attitude towards a less privileged group is to mix the people from those groups together and let them see that they're all very similar kinds of people. Sometimes that action has to be forceful (in the sense of legal action backed by police power), as in the integration of the schools in the Northern USA in the 1960s and 70s, and sometimes the reaction to that is so great that it results in a backlash that effectively undoes much of the positive effect (again as in the northern schools now). If there's an alternative that has a chance of working, I would like to know.

#48 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 12:35 PM:

Bruce Cohen @ 46... a bounty hunter who's just tried to assassinate Senator Amydala

Speaking of the latter, I always called her Princess Tonsils because I wanted to insert a 'G' in there, what with said 'G' being silent in the word's French version. That being said, George didn't seem to have improved his handling of women in this trilogy.

As for Star wars and the Laws of Physics...
(...must... not... laugh...)

One last thing... "Return of the Jedi" is why, to this day, I still can't hear the word 'destiny' without groaning.

#49 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 12:36 PM:

"George, you can type this shit, but you sure as hell can't say it."
- Harrison Ford

#50 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 01:02 PM:

My brother-in-law used to work for the Point Reyes Light. You can guess how much THAT paid. He lived for a while in a shack on the end of a pier, for a while in a cabin ... you get the idea.

#51 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 01:07 PM:

Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) @47:

The alternative, in this case, is not writing the letter that cocks a snook at your neighbors. Do the deed and let it speak for itself. Laugh all the way to the ribbon-cutting, but laugh up your sleeve.

Building low-cost housing to piss your neighbors off is still building low-cost housing. That's cool. Somebody please tell me where I said that building low-cost housing wasn't a good thing.

Pissing your neighbors off with a press release that says that because you couldn't build your studio on the land, you're going to let the dreadful poor people in is not cool. Even if he helps build the housing, which is a good thing, the press release was not a good thing. It deepened social divides. It increased the friction in society, in a place where we could use a little less friction.

#52 ::: Ayse ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 02:58 PM:

Abi: "It increased the friction in society, in a place where we could use a little less friction."

The thing is, I think that particular bit of society could use a little friction, if they honestly equate living next to a teacher, or a city building inspector, or a dental assistant with mortal terror. People who make comparisons like that cannot be treated like rational human beings because they have long crossed that line. They have no perspective.

I have no personal objections to making things a little less smooth for the residents who think this is bringing fire and terror to the countryside. As for the people who will get this housing, this is just the sort of information they need to know about their future neighbors. I wish I had known my current neighbor would think I was responsible for everything that would go wrong for her before I moved in. That information wouldn't change my buying this house, but I would not have spent so much time and energy trying to be accommodating to her if I had known there was no way to make her happy.

Sure, Lucas was an asshole about how he made the announcement, but he's rich and conceited, which means he's almost certainly incapable of much better behaviour.

#53 ::: rea ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 03:19 PM:

HelenS @ 50

Yo ho ho, the wind blows free
Oh, for a life on the rolling sea!
My brother-in-law was the keeper of the Point Reyes Light
And . . . no, sorry, that simply doesn't scan.

#54 ::: Laertes ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 04:04 PM:

Ayse @ 52: "It" in this case isn't the housing, it's the in-your-face press release. You'd reasonably expect the wealthy residents of Marin county to look askance at any moderate- or low-income housing project no matter the history behind it. Lucas has gone out of his way to make that pill a little bit more bitter for the people who were already going to have trouble choking it down.

If he had an ordinary human ration of empathy and humility and judgment, he could have framed the project as a victory for the locals rather than a victory over the locals.

"Sure, Lucas was an asshole about how he made the announcement, but he's rich and conceited, which means he's almost certainly incapable of much better behaviour."

I think you've got it backwards. We should expect more, not less, from those to whom much has been given.

#55 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 04:34 PM:

Sure, Lucas was an asshole about how he made the announcement, but he's rich and conceited, which means he's almost certainly incapable of much better behaviour.

Ayse, that would be an instance of the Known Asshole Defense. I don't buy it.

#56 ::: Neil W ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 04:42 PM:

abi @51 The alternative, in this case, is not writing the letter that cocks a snook at your neighbors. Do the deed and let it speak for itself. Laugh all the way to the ribbon-cutting, but laugh up your sleeve.

It's almost as though he doesn't trust them to be smart enough to figure it out for themselves, so has to spell it out and rub it in their faces several times to make sure they get what's going on.

Or am I still thinking about Revenge of the Sith?

#57 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 04:54 PM:

There is no low income housing being planned, so far, at least when the announcement was made. Lucas is not himself going to build low income housing. He's going to sell the land. He says he would prefer to sell it to someone who wants to build low income housing, but also that he can't control that.

It's reasonable enough for him to put it up for sale, it's his land. If he wants stars in his crown in heaven for building low income housing, though, I think there should be less of "I'm selling cos my neighbours are all stick-in-the-muds, and they'll be sorry when they see what the next guy has in store" and more of "I'm going into partnership with a low income housing builder to alleviate real and pressing housing issues in this my home county, and I hope to enlist the active support of my neighbours in the community."

#58 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 05:21 PM:

pericat @57:

Vian @32 linked to an announcement from the Marin Community Foundation.

The Marin Community Foundation, with the support of Lucasfilm, will explore options for the development of affordable housing on Grady Ranch in Marin County on which Lucasfilm had originally planned to develop a new film studio.

Whether the Foundation was contacted by Lucasfilm before the announcement, or volunteered to help Lucas turn his stated plan into a reality after it isn't clear. But all sides appear to be singing from the same hymn sheet now; that should help to make this a reality, if they have the track record vian says the do.

#59 ::: Ayse ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 05:42 PM:

Laertes @54: I think you've got it backwards. We should expect more, not less, from those to whom much has been given.

What I would like to see and what I reasonably expect to happen are two different things.

I mean, really. Are you saying I'm somehow part of the problem because I am unsurprised that George Lucas, notorious asshole, behaved like an asshole? Or even that Marin rich people, notorious assholes, all behaved like assholes?


Xopher @55: Ayse, that would be an instance of the Known Asshole Defense. I don't buy it.

I'm not sure there's much to defend here. The guy got in a dispute with his neighbors, which is half of what Marin is about (the other half is hand-wringing over whether poor people will take the bus in and kill everybody). They behaved like assholes, he behaved like an asshole. Neither side behaved well, and that should be plenty evident from the Syria comment. Of course, yeah, it would be nice if the ultra-privileged actually got held to a higher standard of behaviour, sure, whatever. Maybe in my utopian novel or when I daydream in the shower. In the real world, people think being rich is a sign of being right, and the richer you are the less your behaviour seems to matter.

Anyway, all parties involved appear to be humans, and humans are a squabbly bunch. And these are humans without a lot of real problems to worry about at that, so instead they turn that energy to suing their neighbors. The folks who might get housing they can afford probably deal with these people all day every day and expect nothing more from them. Not because they are excusing it, but because higher expectations would invariably be crushed, and that's no way to go through life.

#60 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 05:59 PM:

Ayse @59:
Are you saying I'm somehow part of the problem because I am unsurprised that George Lucas, notorious asshole, behaved like an asshole?

I can't see anywhere where Laertes said or implied you were part of the problem.

Not a helpful escalation. Dial that part of things down, please.

#61 ::: Ayse ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 06:18 PM:

Abi @60: I can't see anywhere where Laertes said or implied you were part of the problem.

You're right; that was a particularly graceless way to say that. But I do think there's a lot of loaded language in telling somebody what they should think/expect/feel about a situation, and that is what I was reacting to.

#62 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 06:30 PM:

Ayse @61:

I think Laertes' uses of "you" and "we" were more gnomic than personal.

Really, back it off.

#63 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 07:12 PM:

abi @ 58: Yes, MCF says that with support of Lucasfilm they will explore options, etc.

But spokesperson for Lucasfilm says "We are delighted... Marin Community Foundation is looking into the possibility of working with developers..."

It looks to me as though Lucasfilm's involvement in this begins and ends with selling the land. MCF may have the wherewithal to nail this thing down as a real live project that will result in low income housing, and yay them if they can do it, but I do not think that either George Lucas or Lucasfilm is an active motive force for it. I do wonder a bit just what he thought when it became clear that he was being taken seriously.

#64 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 08:08 PM:

Abi @31: Good point.

#65 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 02:32 AM:

If it goes like other affordable housing projects in Marin County, the neighbors who objected to it will, once it is built, demand to get their mother-in-laws in.

#66 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 12:17 PM:

By the way, in spite of my comments, I am grateful to George for what he did in 1977.

#67 ::: Larkspur ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2012, 02:28 AM:

I live in Marin County, in a small, modest apartment. I'm low income. I get by because I work for the wealthy people who live here. I'm like a plover who cleans the crocodile's teeth. It may not be glamorous, but it's win-win. All communities have their share of jerks, and this place is no exception. But I like a lot of my neighbors, and I get bored with the never-ending characterization of them (and presumably me, since I live here) as soulless, acquisitive, cold-hearted yuppie scum. Give it a rest.

There are plenty of infill places nearer 101 that could and should be used for lower-income housing. The Skywalker area is relatively remote, and frankly, while there is bus service within the county, its primary purpose is to get people to and from work in San Francisco. So it's not a great site for lower income housing.

Look. I live here. I'll never ever be able to afford to buy here, no matter what sort of financial accommodations are offered.

There is a lot of work to be done here, no doubt. Not long ago I read an article in the local paper describing the housing aspirations of a 28 year old schoolteacher, and those aspirations are pretty damn modest. No house with a pool and a fenced yard; no granite countertops, no spa. She just hoped to be able to find a one bedroom or a studio apartment that she could afford on her own, without roommates. She just wants to live like an independent working adult instead of a permanent college student. She's not finding anything within her budget. She needs to be able to live near where she works, as do other municipal employees and county workers and retail workers.

But the Skywalker Ranch/Lucas Valley area is not a sensible site, so George Lucas's trip seems to be pissy and vindictive. We need to get stuff done, and this doesn't help.

#68 ::: Ron Sullivan ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 07:59 PM:

Teresa @ #22: With all due respect, hold on a minute. Unbuilt-on land in Marin County is generally NOT "ornamental." Even what surrounds Lucas' place on Lucas Valley Road (which name preceded him, for anyone still wondering) is a relatively functional natural system. A surprising amount of the rest of Marin County is, too. This is one place where rich people (including oldtimers who have land but not much cash) have been useful.

The first objections I saw to Lucas' expansion centered on the potential destruction of streamcourses. In a place like Marin, that's disastrous. (See: Mediterranean climate, summer drought, fresh water, salmonids, local speciation, endemism in California.)

Which reminds me: I wonder where Lucas and/or his buyers propose to get enough water to support any sort of large building projects, especially housing.

I'll endorse what larkspur said just above this. We couldn't even afford to rent in Marin, so we drive there a lot. That's OK: the price we pay for what we go there to see, hear, smell, get all ecstatic about.

Also, what Josh Berkus said @ #30. Like ridiculously high rents in places with lots of empty buildings, this has a whiff of artificial finance about it.

#69 ::: Steve R ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 05:04 PM:

Neutral comment to answer some bits on integration of low-income housing:

My folks had a low-middle-class income, and when I was about 10 moved us to a rather posh area in Toronto, where many of the houses cost triple what ours did. For the sake of the better school. Perpendicular to our neatly-mowed crescent was a long road that went round the neighborhood, with smaller semi-detached houses. These were cheap, and every third one was government-supplemented for low-income families. And we all went to the same school with the rich kids.

Result: We all got a good education. The schools were all public. There were the typical cliques: Jocks, Stoners, Keeners, Losers, Geeks, Popular kids. There was (afaik) no notice taken of a kid's income in the hierarchy. In general, I had no idea which kids were low-income and which were high. I'm sure some kids and parents noticed, but I didn't.

Integration was never forced -- if you didn't like it, you didn't have to live there. But it worked.

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