May 17, 2012 -- A defiant George Lucas showed his Indiana Jones-caliber feistiness when the filmmaker ended nearly 25 years of neighborhood oppostion to a California studio by announcing the land would instead be used to build low-income housing.
Lucas has been trying for decades to build a state-of-the art film studio on his Grady Ranch in Marin County, Calif., but his well-to-do neighbors have blocked his plans at every step of the way. In an official statement released by his production company, Lucasfilm Ltd., he said, "enough is enough."
"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," Lucas said in the statement.
"We love working and living in Marin, but the residents of Lucas Valley have fought this project for 25 years, and enough is enough," he wrote.
He said that "movies are waiting to be made" so he needs to take his project elsewhere.
"We have several opportunities to build the production stages in communities that see us as a creative asset, not as an evil empire, and if we are to stay on schedule we must act on those opportunities," Lucas wrote.
But he saved the zinger for the last paragraph of the two-page statement.
"We plan to sell the Grady property expecting that the land will revert back to its original use for residential housing," he wrote. "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' move to make the upscale neighborhood affordable-housing friendly raised questions about whether he's attempting to exact revenge on his stubborn neighbors or even whether he's bluffing about a plan that's not real.
Thomas Peters, president and CEO of the Marin Community Foundation, can vouch for the plan's seriousness. The foundation is one of the largest in the country for investing money in philanthropic projects, so Peters immediately put a call into Lucasfilm after reading the statement.
"Was this just an edgy comment or does it have something to it? I was pleasantly surprised that Mr. Lucas and his top company folks responded immediately that he was quite sincere about it," Peters said.
Peters has known Lucas, 68, for more than 20 years and Lucas has now made the land exclusively available to the foundation for development.
"[The proposal] was entirely focused on that positive outcome. It was not, as many people have speculated, 'This is how I'll show them,'" Peters said. "[Lucas] doesn't need, and doesn't have, any energy whatsoever for looking over his shoulder.
"He was passing a little frustration, as well he should after ... years of back and forth, but the fact of the matter is that he's done with that proposal. That's a set decision," he said. "The good news, depending on people's perspectives, is we'll get this done and we intend to do it here. He's also a guy that gets things done. We're going to do this."
The land in question is about 1,000 acres of "gorgeous, roaming land filled with oaks, eucalyptus trees and creeks," Peters said. Like Lucas' other two ranches, he builds on 3 percent of the land and preserves the rest.
That leaves the foundation with about 200 acres for the proposed housing project, which he says is more than enough. Early plans are looking at building about 300 apartments and condos on the land, most likely for senior citizens in need. Peters estimates the project will take about two years to complete.
"[Lucas has] been an extraordinarily good steward of the land and neighbor and planner and job creator," Peters said. "Most communities would bend over backwards to welcome him."
Lucas' projects in the county have created hundreds of jobs and brought in hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, Peters said.
As for the neighbors, it's unclear what they think.
"The immediate neighbors, the ones that have been in a jostling match with Mr. Lucas, gave the reporter nightmare response, 'No comment,'" Peters said.
He plans to sit down with each neighbor to talk about the benefits of the project and joked that he might be the one that comes out "with a stick in my eye."
Lucasfilm has already shared the costs -- millions of dollars -- for the two decades' worth of studies on the land's grading, topography, water and power sources.
"It's an enormous head start both in time and money," Peters said.
He added that many people have a stigma with the term "affordable housing" that makes them feel as if something is about to go wrong and jeopardize issues like property value type of neighbors.
"If we can get people to sit down and have good conversations with them, we can show them that these will be well-designed, well-managed affordable housing complexes," Peters said. "This is completely serious and completely sincere."