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Whistlestop to pursue new downtown site for expansion

Whistlestop to pursue new downtown site for expansionhttp://www.marinij.com/general-news/20160816/whistlestop-to-pursue-new-downtown-site-for-expansion

Whistlestop is moving ahead with a plan to relocate to a former Pacific Gas and Electric Co. site near the senior center’s downtown San Rafael location.

The nonprofit that serves seniors hopes to move to a 3-acre site at 999 Third St., which it would share with San Rafael biotech company BioMarin, said Joe O’Hehir, the senior center’s chief executive. The new quarters are expected to be about the size of Whistlestop’s present location at 930 Tamalpais Ave.

Whistlestop and BioMarin have signed a non-binding agreement with Eden Housing to work together to make the land transfer, O’Hehir said. BioMarin acquired the property at the end of last year and environmental cleanup is presently underway. The site, which is being confined by a large white tent for about a year, was a former gas plant with contaminated soil containing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, petroleum products and metals.

Eden, a Hayward-based affordable housing building and management company, “would manage the housing component,” O’Hehir said. Affordable housing of about 50 studio and one-bedroom apartments has been proposed.

“The housing would be atop our center,” O’Hehir said. “That’s the beauty of the project. It means seniors can live above our center and enjoy the services, but live in a safer downtown setting.

“We plan on filing a joint pre-application with the city by the end of August,” O’Hehir said. The chief executive said the project is “right at the very beginning.”

The pre-application “provides the city with a written description of what the proposal is for the property, what Eden Housing and Whistlestop and BioMarin want to do,” O’Hehir said.

Whistlestop had originally pitched a $25 million expansion plan calling for a new senior center and cafe, a parking garage, and 48 studio and one-bedroom apartments at its existing site in an old train depot.

A newer design was scaled back to 41 studio and one-bedroom apartments after residents raised concerns about size, design and parking. The proposal to rework the old train depot site also was met with some criticism from some who wanted to preserve the city’s transportation history.

“We have been meeting with them (the three entities) informally for the last couple of months because they are looking to collectively come up with some sort of plan for the PG&E property,” said Paul Jensen, the city’s community development director.

After the group files its pre-application, “city staffers will scrutinize it and return it with any suggested changes,” Jensen said. The group might also request a conceptual review, “a preliminary review by our Design Review Board,” he said.

“The next step is a formal application that is reviewed by the city’s Design Review Board, then any other applications that might be needed,” Jensen said.

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Next is a review by the Planning Commission, then the City Council. “Right now that seems light-years away because there’s a lot of stuff that has to happen.” For example, “There’s environmental review. Some environmental review takes up to 12 months,” Jensen said.

Mayor Gary Phillips has gone on record in favor of the 999 Third St. location.

“It’s more attractive, it’s closer to the downtown, it’s away from the SMART station where trains will be coming and blowing their horn and a lot of commotion with buses and pedestrian traffic,” Phillips said in February. “It’ll be more accommodating for residents who will be there.”

BioMarin officials said the company does not comment on nonbinding private agreements, but referred to a previous statement that said officials were “excited about the possibility” of including the proposed Whistlestop Mission Plaza project into the company’s potential future expansion of its BioMarin headquarters in central San Rafael.

“We would not take possession of the property at 999 Third St. until PG&E completes the substantial environmental cleanup project on the property,” officials said in February. BioMarin bought the property from PG&E at the end of last year.

Andrea Osgood, Eden Housing’s director of real estate development, said, “Eden is committed to building affordable housing all over the Bay Area.

“Now more than ever, communities more desperately need affordable housing, particularly in Marin,” Osgood said. She said many of Marin’s seniors are struggling to find housing they can afford.

“A lot of people think Eden is trying to build housing that is not necessary,” Osgood said. “People who need these kinds of homes are generally your neighbors or people you see at the store. People don’t realize it could happen to them.”

Marin County social scene for the week of Aug. 15, 2016

Marin County social scene for the week of Aug. 15, 2016http://www.marinij.com/lifestyle/20160815/marin-county-social-scene-for-the-week-of-aug-15-2016

Marin Sanitary Service’s “Bella Notte” event at Marin Sanitary Service raised $10,000 to benefit Whistlestop’s programs and services. More than 100 guests attended and received a private tour of the Joe Garbarino’s Word War II Museum and a home-style Italian dinner, including Steven and Elena Bartley, of Fairfax; Anne Zucchi, of Larkspur; Rod and Trish Farrows, of Mill Valley; Col. Ralph Cole, of San Rafael; Becca Ryan, of Greenbrae; Trip Ames, of Tiburon; Elliot Levin, of San Rafael; Jeff Colin, of San Rafael; Joe O’Hehir, of San Rafael; Kate Colin, of San Rafael; Joe Garbarino, of San Rafael and Dennis Gilardi, of Larkspur.

The Faces of Marin’s Active Aging Movement

The Faces of Marin's Active Aging Movementhttp://bit.ly/2aeBEOO

The Marin Senior Coordinating Council, better known as Whistlestop, has a 62-year history ensuring that every
adult has the opportunity to age with grace, dignity and independence by pioneering the “Active Aging” Movement
in Marin.
Today, Marin seniors are facing similar challenges as the seniors of 60 years ago: hunger, isolation and access to
transportation. Whistlestop provides solutions to these challenges with an integrated hub of county-wide, special
needs mobility options, including volunteer drivers; nutrition programs like Meals on Wheels; problem-solving referrals and hundreds of daily active aging classes.
Seniors in our community are not a special case. They are people who have invested in our neighborhoods, our retail
centers and our schools by living, working and raising their families here.
Now it’s our responsibility to honor and respect those who have been part of the fabric of Marin for decades by both
paying them back and paying it forward for others who will need these services someday, maybe even you. Please
get involved by visiting whistlestop.org to see how you can support Whistlestop.

Whistlestop shifts plan to promising track

Whistlestop shifts plan to promising trackMarin  Independent  Journal (http://www.marinij.com)

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Whistlestop’s change in strategy to consider building its senior services center and affordable housing on another site, a few blocks west of the old San Rafael train station, holds promise.

It certainly avoids an expected political row over demolishing what’s left of the old depot.

Whistlestop has entered into a tentative deal along with BioMarin to move its plans to the old Pacific Gas and Electric site on Third Street.

Whistlestop’s plans are to build a new services center and housing, both to generate much­-needed revenue for its important community programs and to provide senior housing to meet another Marin need.

But its plans to put that development on the site where the old depot now stands stirred opposition from preservationists. The site is also seen as a potentially important piece in developing a new downtown transit hub.

Advocates for preserving the depot, which has already been altered in recent renovations, see it as playing host to a Ferry Building-­like market.

City leaders, seeking to avoid a prolonged and difficult political battle, have pressed for a compromise.

There is absolutely no debate over the importance of Whistlestop’s programs and Marin’s need for senior housing. The clash has been over the location and local history.

The depot proposal was headed for a prolonged politically charged cost, unfortunately at the expense of the nonprofit agency.

Joe O’Hehir, Whistlestop’s executive director, says a deal that would move the site is “do­able.”

That’s good to hear. Several months ago, O’Hehir was cool to the idea, obviously focused on moving forward with redeveloping the depot property.

But earlier this month, he asked the city to shelve the upcoming environmental review on the depot plan and Whistlestop would consider changing sites. The agency’s Lindaro Street bus yard would be made available for BioMarin’s expansion plans.

Mayor Gary Phillips has pressed for an alternative and says that moving Whistlestop’s housing several blocks away from SMART’S tracks makes sense for future residents. At a recent meeting, he also said

BioMarin will likely seek city approval to construct a building taller than the city’s current height limit. While downtown is the best place for that sort of development, City Hall should make sure the community is aware of what is proposed and what it would look like.

Whistlestop’s new interest in another location — one that’s closer to important services — is putting its plan on a track with a more promising potential destination.

URL: http://www.marinij.com/opinion/20160224/marin-ij-editorial-whistlestop-shifts-plan-to-promising-track

© 2016 Marin Independent Journal (http://www.marinij.com)

Whistlestop evaluates new downtown site for expansion proposal

Whistlestop evaluates new downtown site for expansion proposalMarin  Independent  Journal (http://www.marinij.com)

Nonprofit wants to expand senior center, build housing

By Stephanie Weldy, Marin Independent Journal

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

A proposal to expand Whistlestop senior center and add housing is on hold as the nonprofit considers shifting the project to a former Pacific Gas & Electric Co. site recently purchased by BioMarin.

“Many people have been asking why can’t we do more housing units for seniors, so we believe there’s a possibility we could do more than the number of senior housing units (we were proposing),” said Whistlestop CEO Joe O’Hehir. “We would hope there’s the possibility that at the other site we could increase that number.”

O’Hehir appeared Tuesday before the San Rafael City Council to announce plans to scrap an upcoming environmental review scoping session to consider the new proposal. The original $25 million plan called for a new senior center and cafe, a parking garage, and studio and 48 studio and one­-bedroom apartments at Whistlestop’s current site in an old train depot at 930 Tamalpais Ave. A newer design was scaled back to 41 studio and one­bedroom apartments after concerns about size, design and parking. The proposal to rework the old train depot site also was met with some criticism from residents anxious to preserve the city’s transportation history.

Officials will now use the next three to four months to determine whether the 3­-acre site at 999 Third St., which is tented and undergoing environmental cleanup, could be a better fit. Work is underway to remove dirt contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, petroleum products and metals left over from an old manufactured gas plant, according to PG&E.

New plans could involve a property swap between Whistlestop and BioMarin, O’Hehir said. Specifically, Whistlestop could share the Third Street property with BioMarin, with the senior center situated on the western side of the parcel. BioMarin could in turn take over at 648 Lindaro St., Whistlestop’s corporation yard, which acts as a holding site and maintenance facility for roughly 50 buses used to transport senior clients.

Mayor Gary Phillips said the proposition appears better for everyone.

“It’s more attractive, it’s closer to the downtown, it’s away from the SMART station where trains will be coming and blowing their horn and a lot of commotion with buses and pedestrian traffic,” Phillips said. “It’ll be more accommodating for residents who will be there.”

A longtime proponent of the idea that the Third Street location would be good for Whistlestop, Phillips introduced the idea of joint use to BioMarin officials.

If the new plan moves forward, the Planning Commission and City Council would have to review the proposal and consider rezoning the property, along with other contingencies, to accommodate both organizations’ needs. Phillips said BioMarin will likely ask for a height bonus. Parking at the site also would need to be addressed.

Cleanup at the former manufactured gas plant is expected to take up to 11 months. BioMarin officials have said they will not take ownership of the property until cleanup is complete. If the two groups do not reach an agreement, O’Hehir said the application on file would resume.

At Tuesday’s meeting, community members urged the City Council to discourage demolition of the former train depot building to make way for Whistlestop’s planned expansion. After O’Hehir took the podium to share the latest news, one resident broke out into a short burst of applause.

Amy Likover, a San Rafael resident and longtime opponent of Whistlestop’s application, said she looks forward to seeing how the new proposal will play out.

“I thank the mayor and Mr. O’Hehir for coming to this conclusion,” Likover said. “What matters most to me of course is the preservation of the historic San Rafael depot building. I look forward to better understanding how that will take place.”

Hugo Landecker, a resident who has led community efforts to encourage Whistlestop to move the project, said the news came as a welcome surprise.

“The PG&E site is infinitely better than the Whistlestop site,” he said. If the old application is revived, he is prepared to continue to fight to save the depot building, he said.

Liza Wozniak said if the new proposal does work out, she would like to see the depot building used as a commuter center.

“(Like) a mini version of San Francisco’s ferry building, where they can sell newspapers and coffee and have an open area for commuters to move and it could open into a plaza that accesses Fourth Street, which could improve business in the area and provide a friendly pedestrian-­transit environment,” she said.

URL: http://www.marinij.com/seniors/20160217/whistlestop-evaluates-new-downtown-site-for-expansion-proposal

© 2016 Marin Independent Journal (http://www.marinij.com)

Whistlestop officials identify new site that could accommodate expansion proposal

Whistlestop officials identify new site that could accommodate expansion proposalMarin  Independent  Journal (http://www.marinij.com)

Whistlestop also plans expanded senior center

By Stephanie Weldy, Marin Independent Journal

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Whistlestop officials are exploring the idea of a new site for their proposed plans to build a five-­story affordable housing complex and senior center in San Rafael.

Officials for the senior services agency said they have identified an alternative to their downtown depot home that could accommodate the project, but declined to release specifics beyond saying they are in talks with a property owner to see if an agreement can be reached.

“Consistently we’ve said if Whistlestop were approached with a viable alternative location that we would consider it,” said Joe O’Hehir, the senior center’s chief executive officer. “A possible location has come up and we’re in the process of reviewing this possibility with the property owner.”

The expansion proposal for the senior center, which has been in the old train depot building since the early 1970s, has drawn criticism from some community members. Residents have said the proposal requires demolition of the depot building to make way for the new development and should not be approved.

“San Rafael Heritage is looking for a win-­win solution for Whistlestop and preserving the historic depot building,” said Amy Likover, community outreach coordinator for the recently formed preservation group.

Because no agreement has been reached, center officials continue working with the city on the original application. A scoping session that will begin the environmental review process is still scheduled to take place later this month.

“We continue to work with the city of San Rafael’s planning staff on our current application and are looking forward to moving the process forward, assuming that’s the way we go,” O’Hehir said.

Public opinion

To prepare a draft environmental impact report, city officials are accepting comments on issues community members would like addressed. The city’s Planning Commission will review remarks received through Feb. 23 — the day the commission will meet and ultimately provide direction to city officials on topics to be included in the review.

“The intent of the meeting is to focus on the environmental concerns you would like to see discussed and

addressed regarding environmental impact — not whether the project should be supported or what not,” said Kraig Tambornini, senior city planner.

Potential environmental impacts that would be studied in the review include air quality, noise, greenhouse gases, transportation and traffic.

Depot building

The review also will study some of the more contentious aspects of the proposal, including whether demolition of the depot building would be a loss of a significant historical resource. Some residents believe demolition of the building, constructed in 1928, equates to a loss of the city’s transportation history.

“There’s a lot of history there,” said Hugo Landecker, vice president of San Rafael Heritage. “I think the bottom line that has to be decided by those responsible for whether this project goes ahead or not — they have to weigh what Whistlestop is offering, in the way of housing and services to the elderly, versus losing a gateway building to San Rafael, which has a lot of significant history.”

But officials with Whistlestop have disputed that claim. Officials with the senior center hired a historical consulting group to study whether the depot building has historical significance. According to the group’s report, dated August 2012, the building “is not eligible for listing in the California Register of Historical Resources (CRHR), or the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP), and that (it) is not a historical resource for the purposes of CEQA.”

Gateway

The original proposal for the depot building, if it continues moving forward through the review process, also will be evaluated for the visual quality it would bring with its prime location at the heart of the city, Tambornini said. Its visual impact will be evaluated as one of the city’s entry landmarks, as well as the views it could affect.

“It’s an important location for San Rafael, because it’s a gateway location,” Tambornini said. “Coming into town, that’s your first experience of the town. Right now you see the rail depot, which harkens back to a specific time for the city. For designers, if they redevelop it — it needs to be significant to the character of San Rafael.”

Consultant Amy Skewes­-Cox has been selected to prepare the environmental report. For preliminary costs for the scoping review and initial study, the city is paying $12,217, Tambornini said. The full review is expected to cost about $300,000.

If the proposal goes forward, the final environmental review and the project could go before the City Council in August or September.

URL: http://www.marinij.com/government-and-politics/20160206/whistlestop-officials-identify-new-site-that-could-accommodate-expansion-proposal

© 2016 Marin Independent Journal (http://www.marinij.com)

Door to door service

http://www.marinscope.com/mill_valley_herald/news/door­to­door­service/article_77a36508­f761­11e5­ b86e­b741adf22b07.html

Door to door serviceTwin Cities mayors among Marin leaders riding with meals on wheels to get look at senior needs

By Derek Wilson and Soren Hemmila | Marinscope Newspapers

Novato Mayor Pat Eklund visits with Craig Nelson during a ride along with Meals on Wheels delivery drivers last  week.

Mayors of cities across Marin joined volunteers with Whistlestop’s Meals on Wheels to deliver food last week and raise awareness of senior hunger.

Whistlestop’s Erika Vaughn said three paid drivers and 35 volunteers deliver meals to seniors throughout Marin County.

Corte Madera Mayor Sloan Bailey joined Whistlestop volunteer Orville Teising on Friday to deliver meals to three residents, including one of his neighbors.

John Bacigalupi was a little surprised to see it was not Teising, but Bailey delivering an order of chicken cacciatore, fruit, a biscuit and milk.

Bacigalupi lives just a few blocks away from Bailey. The two stood in the doorway joking and talking about the friends they might have in common.

Bacigalupi said the Whistlestop meals are a great help and that it’s nice to have someone to talk with for a while.

Larkspur Mayor Catherine Way participated in a similar ride along on Wednesday.

Teising joined the volunteer corps at Whistlestop five years ago, working in the Jackson Cafe and the information center at the organization’s downtown San Rafael facility.

“I want to get out and see people,” said Teising, who lives in Mill Valley. “People are fascinating. I hear their stories and they have done some amazing things with their lives. It’s great to just spend some time with them.”

Bailey credited Councilwoman Carla Condon with the push to have Corte Madera officially certified as an age­friendly community.

The Age­Friendly Corte Madera Task Force, a nonprofit organization, helps provide seniors with access to key services, including home repairs and healthcare.

“It’s a sensible program designed to accommodate people who are getting on in years,” Bailey said.

Bailey said the town is dedicated to providing seniors with access to transportation, legal aid and information, and recreation and enrichment programs.

Whistlestop’s Meals on Wheels program serves 230 Marin residents, but it is not just about a warm meal.

“A lot of the clients just love the company and look forward to these visits,” Vaughn said while delivering meals in unincorporated Strawberry with Mill Valley Mayor John McCauley last week.

Volunteers provide meals throughout the week and get to know their clients, according to Vaughn, who says Whistlestop will also conduct well checks on clients.

If things don’t seem right at a client’s home Vaughn said volunteers will make a note of it, and Whistlestop will follow up and contact the client’s caregivers.

Vaughn said Whistlestop’s clients get close enough to their volunteers to talk to them about personal issues and financial matters. She recalled one incident where a caregiver was spending a client’s money.

“The volunteer rushed back and told me. We did a report, and got that handled,” Vaughn said.

Strawberry resident Loyce King originally from Louisiana said having the company is nice, and the meals really help her out.

“I don’t always eat the meals right away. I put them in the freezer in case I need them,” King said.

Mayor McCauley said in addition to providing seniors with food the most important thing Meals on Wheels is doing is providing social contact with their clients.

“You can see the great affection that exists between the clients and the Meal on Wheels people. I thought it was very moving,” McCauley said.

Anyone who is 60 or older, lives in Marin and is homebound and frail is eligible for the meal service. The Division of Aging and Adult services will provide an In­Home Assessment within the first two weeks of being on the program to determine the eligibility of a participant. Meals are available on a long­term basis or temporarily if you are recovering from surgery or illness.

Visit whistlestop.org for more information about Whistlestop. Contact Derek Wilson at dwilson@marinscope.com.

Marin Voices and Views features Whistlestop CEO, Joe O’Herir

Marin Voices and Views features Whistlestop CEO, Joe O'Herir

Newsmakers Host has a conversation with Joe O’Hehir, CEO, Whistlestop

Newsmakers Host has a conversation with Joe O’Hehir, CEO, Whistlestop