George Lucas Uses Jedi Powers (and Tons of His Own Cash) to Build Affordable Housing in His Ultra-Wealthy Community
The Star Wars creator pledges $200 million for low-cost housing in the middle of one of America’s richest zip-codes
image via wikimedia commons
George Lucas may have handed the reins of the Star Wars universe over to JJ Abrams and the Disney corporation, but that doesn’t mean he’s lost his Jedi edge.
For years Lucas has been at war, not with dark lords of the Sith, but with wealthy neighbors of his sprawling property in Marin County, California. At issue were Lucas’ plans to grow his “Skywalker Ranch” production studio – plans which nearby residents of the well-to-do municipality fought hard against, citing environmental concerns. And so, Lucas was forced to go back to the drawing board, abandoning the studio expansion, and regrouping with a much better idea: Affordable housing. Specifically, Lucas planned to sell some of his six thousand-plus acre property to a development firm, in order to build low income housing in the notoriously expensive community.
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But the rich-o’s in Marin County were having none of that, either. The local homeowners association was bombarded with angry letters, claiming the low income housing would introduce “Drug dealers,” “crime,” and “lowlife[s]” into the wealthy community. As Carolyn Lenert, head of the North San Rafael Coalition of Residents, told the New York Times in 2012, “It’s inciting class warfare.” Lucas, however, was not easily intimidated (this is, remember, a man who quit the powerful Hollywood Directors Guild over a disagreement on how to roll the opening credits for Empire Strikes Back) and remained resolute in his vision.
Now, two years after his initial proposal for low income housing met resistance from his neighbors, George is back with revamped plans for over two hundred affordable rental units, primarily intended for local teachers, firefighters, and police officers, across 52 acres of Lucas-owned land. This time, though, he’s not proposing selling the property to a development company. He’s going to build the homes and, perhaps more importantly, foot the bill–an estimated $200 million–himself. “We’ve got enough millionaires here. What we need is some houses for regular working people,” Lucas is quoted as saying.
Lucas’ plans include a swimming pool, community center, and even an orchard alongside the 120 workforce housing units, and 104 senior living apartments. According to The Contra Costa Times, the goal is for the workforce homes to be available for those making less than 80% of Marin County’s median annual household income, while the senior homes will be made available for those earning between 30-60% of the median (just over $90,000 for 2009-2013).
image via wikimedia commons
As eyebrow raising as low-income housing in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in America may be, it’s merely the latest in Lucas’ philanthropic ventures. A participant in the Bill Gates and Warren Buffett led “Giving Pledge,” Lucas has committed to donating at least 50% of his massive fortune to charity before his death. He has donated nearly $200 million to expand the University of Southen California’s Film School, and was a major contributor to the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial, in Washington DC. Following the reported $4.05 billion dollar sale of Lucasfilms to The Walt Disney Company in 2012, Lucas made it known he intended to see the majority of those profits dolled out to various education-focused philanthropies and charitable initiatives.
The revamped housing project still has a ways to go before Lucas can break ground on his property, but proponents of his plan are confident that by footing the bill himself, the Hollywood mogul will be able to move quickly, unhampered by conflicting interests. As Marin County Supervisor Steve Kinsey explained to local network affiliate KCBS: “George Lucas said, ‘if I’m not going to do what I wanted to do there, what can I do that would be really beneficial to this community?”
The force, clearly, is strong with this one.