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Bolinas? Baloney! 

The effort of one small town to remain untouched by time has bred enmity and disaffection as surely as it has produced anything else

Wednesday, Jul 12 1995

Page 4 of 7

You see, it wouldn't be very utopian if the same water moratorium that has preserved the physical beauty of the town has jacked prices so high that only people on the richer side of the socio-economic scale can afford to live there. One of the tenets of the revolution, in case you've forgotten, is that all of us on this great green ball of wax coexist equally. And yet a quick peek at the 1990 census, to use an entirely non-anecdotal fact source, shows that what Bolinas abhors may have come true. According to figures compiled by the federal government, the town that rebirthed itself on an agrarian ideal is, these days, a town half made up of commuters. And that, to be frank about it, isn't at all what the Bolinas Peninsula Community Plan had in mind.

"Bolinas was once a thriving agricultural community, and it was once a fishing port. That the plan seeks to help re-establish these older relationships, older economics, is not an exercise in nostalgia; but rather a first attempt at principles of a community basing itself in long time harmony with the earth, instead of the philosophy of rip and run, the philosophy we are mostly heirs to." -- Bolinas Peninsula Community Plan, 1975

"A new value is clearly emerging around the notion of what it means to be a landowner. Land is not a form of currency." -- BPCP, 1975

"Conservationists outbid by Esprit Co-Founder; Wildland site on Bolinas Lagoon Sold." -- San Francisco Chronicle, 1989

It is a testament to the power of myth that Bolinas has retained its hippie, happy-go-lucky image for as long as it has. Scratch your average San Franciscan, for example, and you'll hear about what a weird, wild, and wonderful slice of ideological variety Bolinas is.

Part of the reason for that is the absolutely relentless self-promotion Bolinas has done -- intentionally or unintentionally. Take The Hearsay News, for example. Published three times a week by the townspeople themselves, the Hearsay hypes that hippie happiness all over Bolinas. On June 21, for example, the Hearsay published a Summer Solstice issue, complete with a picture of the sun and this poem, by Asia Thorpe, titled "BoBo Summer":

Red Hot Scorcher
Fire Fly Peach
Sexy Sweaty Surfers
with web t-shirts
Watch topless
Goddesses on beach ...
Sheesh! But the numbers, most unfortunately, tell quite a different story.

In 1990, 1,066 people identified themselves as Bolinians in the federal government's decennial census. That's about three-quarters of the households in Bolinas, based on the number of water connections listed at the utilities district. The 1,066 figure also approximately matches the number of voters -- 1,025 -- registered with Marin County's supervisor of elections.

Now, we're not talking about 1,066 crazy, tie-dyed, ethnically diverse, topless, surfing free spirits living in camper vans. By and large, those 1,066 people are educated, affluent, Caucasian commuters. That's true in absolute terms, and in relative terms -- when compared, for example, to the results of a town survey conducted by the Bolinas Planning Committee in August 1972, and included as part of the community plan.

There's mean household income, for one: $47,718, some $10,000 higher than San Francisco's. Nearly half the town makes more than $50,000 per year. And more than half reported that they were in "managerial or professional services"; just 3.1 percent reported any farm income, while 45 percent reported receiving interest, dividend, or net rental income.

In 1972, by comparison, 24 percent of the town reported itself to be artisans or laborers; 40 percent weren't employed at all.

There's level of education, as well: In 1990, 77 percent reported some college, 58 percent listed actual college degrees, and 24 percent reported graduate degrees.

That's up from the 1972 results, in which 31 percent reported college degrees and 15 percent listed grad degrees.

Despite the plan's disdain of the automobile, in 1990 only 12 households reported not having a car. That's 2.6 percent of those responding. By contrast, nearly 45 percent of 1990 Bolinians were driving more than 45 minutes to get to work, and half of those were behind the wheel from 60 to 89 minutes each way.

In terms of property values, more than two-thirds of the properties in town are listed as worth more than $200,000, and almost three-quarters of the renters in town are paying more than $750 per month.

And, perhaps most interestingly, there's this: While 52 percent of the people who responded to the census reported living in the same house in 1990 as in 1985, 47.6 percent said they were living somewhere different than five years earlier. In fact, 33 percent of the people who called themselves Bolinas residents in 1990 didn't even live in the town in 1985.

And it's those folks -- the newcomers -- who are taking the blame for Bolinas' change, whether they deserve it or not.

There are two houses, in particular, that have come to be associated in the collective Bolinian mind-set with the way things aren't really the same anymore. There's the house at the end of Brighton Avenue, for one. It's a green shingled place, pretty in the way that seaside houses are, with decks and fences and big windows overlooking the sand and the shore. There's a sign on the gate, the one just beyond the chalk-painted mandala on the oyster-gray street. The sign says: "Ship's Lantern."

About The Author

Ellen McGarrahan


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