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BioMarin submits plans for San Rafael expansion

BioMarin submits plans for San Rafael expansionThe BioMarin pharmaceutical company, which already occupies a sizeable office complex in downtown San Rafael, is poised to expand into the old 3-acre Pacific Gas and Electric Co. property on Third Street.

The company, which develops drug therapies for rare genetic disorders, has submitted conceptual design plans to the city for a 62-foot-high office building and separate five-story Whistlestop senior center and housing complex at 999 Third St.

The plans, submitted by Los Angeles architects Johnson Fain and San Francisco architects Van Meter Williams Pollack, call for the BioMarin office building to front on Third Street, with the Whistlestop building to sit on the west end of the property at Brooks Street.

If approved as presented, Whistlestop would relocate its “active aging” center from its current spot at 930 Tamalpais Ave. at the downtown SMART rail station to the new location. The new building, developed under a partnership with Eden Properties, would include 54 units of senior housing on its top three floors and program rooms for yoga or other activities on the bottom two floors, said Yvonne Roberts, Whistlestop’s development and marketing director.

“We won’t have our administrative offices there — we’ll probably just rent office space elsewhere,” said Roberts, adding she was “very excited” about the new building. “We want to have all that space for programs and activities.”

BioMarin spokesperson Debra Charlesworth said PG&E completed environmental cleanup and soil testing at the site last summer, allowing BioMarin to take possession of the property late last year.

“Demolition on the remaining building on the property is in progress and scheduled for completion by mid-February,” Charlesworth said in an email last week.

She noted that the state Department of Toxic Substances Control “is analyzing the results (of the soil tests), and should have a completed analysis in the next few months.”

PG&E spokeswoman Deanna Contreras said in an email that the utility company was not involved with BioMarin’s redevelopment plans but will “continue to monitor groundwater conditions at the site for several years to confirm the effectiveness of cleanup activities. BioMarin is responsible for the removal of on-site buildings and any cleanup of soil beneath those buildings.”

The former PG&E building is wrapped in protective covering to contain any dust or debris that could be shed during the demolition.

BioMarin occupies several buildings in the San Rafael Corporate Center area at Lincoln Avenue and Second Street in downtown San Rafael and numerous laboratories and manufacturing facilities in the Bel Marin Keys area of Novato.

The company also is “considering options” for constructing an office building at 755 Lindaro St. in San Rafael, Charlesworth said. The city granted approval for the company to build there in 2015.

BioMarin acquired ownership of the San Rafael Corporate Center campus in 2014 and is the sole owner and the largest tenant at the campus, where it maintains its corporate headquarters.

Roberts said she was told the next step in the new proposal would be a design review study session, likely in February.

Marin Voice: Leveling the playing field in health care

Marin Voice: Leveling the playing field in health careThese days, health care and uncertainty seem to go together. Families worry about insurance coverage and community clinics fear that government funding may be drastically reduced.

Despite the turmoil, Marin Community Clinics remains strong and is here to stay. (Our collaborative effort with the county of Marin to transfer dental and medical specialty services is a recent success.)

This year, more than ever before, we are committed to ensuring access to health care for everyone. Our 2018 theme is “Leveling the Playing Field in Health Care,” with these priorities:

• Addressing key social barriers to care — Many of our patients have challenging life situations that have a direct impact on their health.

The list is long — the high cost of care, inadequate or no health insurance, lack of transportation, limited access to healthy food, being unhoused, lack of child care and substance abuse problems.

These issues can result in delayed care or no care at all, which can be life-threatening.

Marin Community Clinics is committed to breaking down these barriers, often working in partnership with other organizations.

For example, a collaborative project is underway with Whistlestop to provide our patients with transportation to their medical and dental appointments. It’s already having an impact — more appointments are being kept.

We continue to provide healthy food at our popular weekly Health Hubs and help hundreds of residents with health insurance enrollment.

• Being the “health home” for our patients — For patients with complex health problems or barriers to care, having one place to receive care is ideal. Medical, dental and behavioral health providers work as a team, labs and pharmacies are on site, and even optometry and radiology are available. It’s easier for patients and health outcomes are better.

• Increasing the breadth and depth of our services — The more services we can provide at our own clinics, the more convenient for patients and the better coordinated the care.

In 2018, we will continue to expand specialty medical services.

We will also increase wellness services, with classes on stress management, diabetes, and pain management — issues affecting many of our patients.

With the recent addition of a substance abuse specialist, we now offer alcohol and drug abuse counseling.

• Adding to our Charity Care Fund — This year, we set aside $20,000 for our Charity Care Fund, which helps pay for services that patients need but that we don’t provide, such as MRIs. That won’t be enough, so we have set a goal of $100,000 for this year that we hope to reach through fundraising efforts.

• Serving a broader base of patients — Marin’s older adult population is dramatically increasing and the community-based physician population is dwindling. The result is that many older adults are having difficulty accessing primary care.

Marin Community Clinics intends to play a strong role in filling this gap and is well-prepared to do so. We are a Medicare-certified provider and have providers with both expertise and strong interest in serving older patients.

• Enhancing our technical capabilities to reach patients — Many of our patients don’t have internet access, but virtually all of them have cellphones. We currently use telecommunications for appointment reminders and plan to explore additional platforms so that we can provide health information targeted to patients’ specific needs.

• Advocating for our patients — Finally, in this uncertain time, advocacy has become increasingly important. We will continue to serve as a strong advocate for our most vulnerable patients and encourage you to do so as well. Contact your local legislators and share your views.

Yes, we have a lot we want to accomplish in 2018, but it’s an important year and we are confident that we can make a difference in the health of Marin and help ensure that everyone has access to high-quality health care.

San Rafael’s Whistlestop: A place ‘full of life’

San Rafael’s Whistlestop: A place ‘full of life’The new SMART train tracks at the downtown San Rafael station tightly parallel Whistlestop, which has been getting its fair share of attention lately. An illustration of Whistlestop’s planned new building just a few blocks away caused a kerfuffle about the design.

But how many people really know what Whistlestop does? Many passersby and SMART riders might think that with its proximity to the tracks, a cafe and a name like Whistlestop, it must be a transportation hub with access to tickets and information.

They’d be wrong.

Whistlestop is a nonprofit organization that works with aging adults and people with disabilities. And while volunteer greeters couldn’t be kinder or more patient with confused travelers wandering through their doors, they’re also busy: 287 Whistlestop volunteers worked with 11,363 people last year in a variety of programs and services.

San Rafael, like the rest of Marin County, has its fair share of aging adults. That may be why, in late January, the Board of Supervisors approved a resolution declaring 2018 “The Year of the Older Adult.” Whistlestop plays a significant role in keeping an aging population connected to people and activities that engage them in life, from transportation to the center, to classes, meals in the Jackson Cafe, social events and volunteer opportunities.

Take Lola Duarte, an elegantly dressed woman with a sparkle in her eyes, celebrating her 89th birthday this week. Every Tuesday through Friday, she socializes and knits or crochets with her circle of friends. They often donate their creations to the Whistlestop gift shop as one way of giving back.

The new SMART train tracks at the downtown San Rafael station tightly parallel Whistlestop, which has been getting its fair share of attention lately. An illustration of Whistlestop’s planned new building just a few blocks away caused a kerfuffle about the design.

But how many people really know what Whistlestop does? Many passersby and SMART riders might think that with its proximity to the tracks, a cafe and a name like Whistlestop, it must be a transportation hub with access to tickets and information.

They’d be wrong.

Whistlestop is a nonprofit organization that works with aging adults and people with disabilities. And while volunteer greeters couldn’t be kinder or more patient with confused travelers wandering through their doors, they’re also busy: 287 Whistlestop volunteers worked with 11,363 people last year in a variety of programs and services.

San Rafael, like the rest of Marin County, has its fair share of aging adults. That may be why, in late January, the Board of Supervisors approved a resolution declaring 2018 “The Year of the Older Adult.” Whistlestop plays a significant role in keeping an aging population connected to people and activities that engage them in life, from transportation to the center, to classes, meals in the Jackson Cafe, social events and volunteer opportunities.

Take Lola Duarte, an elegantly dressed woman with a sparkle in her eyes, celebrating her 89th birthday this week. Every Tuesday through Friday, she socializes and knits or crochets with her circle of friends. They often donate their creations to the Whistlestop gift shop as one way of giving back.

She is one of those volunteers every nonprofit hopes to find. She came to take music lessons on the ukulele and loved the place so much, she decided to give of her time and skills — of which she possesses many. A life-long volunteer, Fisher knew a solid organization when she saw one.

Marin social scene: Whistlestop

Marin social scene: WhistlestopWhistlestop raised $115,000 at its third annual Whistleschtick comedy fundraiser at the Throckmorton Theatre in Mill Valley. The event was attended by nearly 200 people, including Nancy Sheppard, of Larkspur; Trip Ames and Gee Kampmeyer, both of Tiburon; Lisa Kampmeyer and Elliot Levin, both of San Rafael; Susan and George Cohen, Anna Jane Reid and Serena D’Arcy Fisher, all of Novato; Bill and Linda Tichy and Becca Ryan, all of Greenbrae; Fabia Butler, of Mill Valley, and Vicki Soulier, of Kentfield.

If you have news about the fundraising and benefit scene in Marin County or about an event that just took place, email calendar@marinij.com. Please send high-resolution (300 dpi, 2 MB) JPG photos no later than 9 a.m. on the Monday immediately following your event. Please identify the names and towns of everyone in each photo (from left), and give us a photo credit for the photographer. Please tell us how much money your organization raised and how many people attended your event.

In Your Town for June 29, 2018

In Your Town for June 29, 2018NOVATO

Man sentenced for scuffle with police

A homeless shoplifting suspect who injured two police officers in a confrontation received a three-month jail sentence.

Ryan Scott Grimes, 27, was arrested on March 27 after a theft at Lucky Supermarket on Grant Avenue. Police saw Grimes in the area, recognized him as the suspect and approached to search him, according to court filings. Grimes was on probation for a prior offense and was subject to on-the-spot searches.

Grimes refused to talk to police and kept walking, then fought officers as they tried to detain him and allegedly tried to remove an officer’s gun. Police subdued him and took him to the hospital for treatment of injuries that included a Taser strike.

One officer suffered a cut to the eye that required three stitches, and another was treated for a hand scrape.

Grimes pleaded guilty to a felony assault charge. The plea deal called for six months in jail, which amounted to three months under the state’s half-time sentencing program.

He was sentenced Wednesday in Marin Superior Court and placed on probation for three years. His public defender, Eva Bennett, said Grimes forgot he was on probation and was required to submit to a search.

“He was just having a lapse of good judgment,” Bennett said.

Grimes was released from jail Thursday with credit for time served since his arrest, and transferred to a homeless shelter program.

SAN RAFAEL

Panel on aging plans education forum

The Marin County Commission on Aging will hold a free community education forum “Mental Health Resources and Supports for Older Adults in Marin County” July 5.

The forum is at 10 a.m. at Alma Via of San Rafael, 515 Northgate Drive.

More information is available at marinhhs.org/boards/commission-aging.

Library plans event on Constitution

The San Rafael Public Library will hold an event “Hand writing the Constitution” July 1.

Drop in between 1-4 p.m. to participate. Copies of the U.S. Constitution, paper and pens will be provided.

The library is at 1100 E St.

Whistlestop to hold patriotic luncheon

Whistlestop will host a patriotic luncheon and sing-along July 5.

Lunch is served from 11:30 a.m.- 2 p.m.; entertainment is planned from noon-1 p.m.

Whistlestop is at 930 Tamalpais Ave.

Marin sees debut of farmers market on wheels for seniors in need

Marin sees debut of farmers market on wheels for seniors in needA farmers market on wheels designed to reach older Marin residents made its debut Thursday, offering locally grown green beans, white mushrooms and cucumbers, among other fare — at wholesale prices.

The “Rollin’ Root” truck is being put on the road by the nonprofit Agricultural Institute of Marin with the goal of providing access to healthy food grown on local farms to provide nutrition education in low-income communities.

“We are bringing the farmers market to low-income senior communities throughout Marin,” said Andy Naja-Riese, who heads the Agricultural Institute, as supporters gathered near Whistlestop in San Rafael. “Our goal is to overcome transportation barriers so all people can access local, fresh products.”

The pilot program has the truck picking up goods at the farmers market at the Civic Center early Thursday morning. The plums, basil, onions and other produce are loaded on the truck, which then makes three stops. The first stop is from 9 to 10 a.m. at Whistlestop, 930 Tampalpais Ave. From 11 a.m. to noon, the truck stops at the Marin Valley Mobile Country Club, 100 Marin Valley Drive in Novato. Finally, from 3 to 4 p.m. it is at Maria B. Freitas Senior Community Center, 455 Manuel T. Freitas Parkway in San Rafael.

“All of those sites are located at senior activity centers or senior housing centers so we can bring the farmers market directly to senior communities,” Naja-Riese said. “We know that seniors are at risk for a variety of nutritional-related issues. This will help them eat healthier and improve their overall diet and wellness. It’s a variety of foods.”

Having a regular schedule is important, said Liana Orlandi, program manager for the Rollin’ Root.

A farmers market on wheels designed to reach older Marin residents made its debut Thursday, offering locally grown green beans, white mushrooms and cucumbers, among other fare — at wholesale prices.

The “Rollin’ Root” truck is being put on the road by the nonprofit Agricultural Institute of Marin with the goal of providing access to healthy food grown on local farms to provide nutrition education in low-income communities.

“We are bringing the farmers market to low-income senior communities throughout Marin,” said Andy Naja-Riese, who heads the Agricultural Institute, as supporters gathered near Whistlestop in San Rafael. “Our goal is to overcome transportation barriers so all people can access local, fresh products.”

The pilot program has the truck picking up goods at the farmers market at the Civic Center early Thursday morning. The plums, basil, onions and other produce are loaded on the truck, which then makes three stops. The first stop is from 9 to 10 a.m. at Whistlestop, 930 Tampalpais Ave. From 11 a.m. to noon, the truck stops at the Marin Valley Mobile Country Club, 100 Marin Valley Drive in Novato. Finally, from 3 to 4 p.m. it is at Maria B. Freitas Senior Community Center, 455 Manuel T. Freitas Parkway in San Rafael.

“All of those sites are located at senior activity centers or senior housing centers so we can bring the farmers market directly to senior communities,” Naja-Riese said. “We know that seniors are at risk for a variety of nutritional-related issues. This will help them eat healthier and improve their overall diet and wellness. It’s a variety of foods.”

Having a regular schedule is important, said Liana Orlandi, program manager for the Rollin’ Root.

Marin has the oldest and fastest-aging population in the region. One in four Marin residents — 64,000 people — are 60 or older. Within 15 years an estimated one in three will be 60 or older, according to a recent report, a state-mandated document known as the County Area Plan for Aging, 2016-2020.

The report outlines plans to address seniors’ needs in a county where the median age is close to 46. By comparison, the Bay Area median is about 38, according to the Association of Bay Area Governments.

The county plan — required every four years — was augmented by a survey of 3,000 seniors that highlighted areas of concern among Marin’s residents age 60 and over.

Of those residents, up to 25 percent say they are struggling to pay for housing, food and medications, according to the report. About half of those seniors report they run out of money for food during most months.

Aside from the mobile effort, there is a senior produce market from 10 to 11 a.m. on the first and third Wednesdays of each month at the Margaret Todd Senior Center, 1560 Hill Road in Novato. The program also provides produce at or below wholesale prices for seniors. That market is a partnership between Episcopal Senior Communities/Novato Independent Elders Program, and the Marin Community Foundation.

The Rollin’ Root also sells its products at a wholesale rate for the low-income seniors.

The Marin Community Foundation, Bothin Foundation and the California FreshWorks Fund helped fund the truck.

“A majority of the food is organic, and it’s all really healthy,” Orlandi said. “It’s exciting to launch this.”

San Rafael expansion plan submitted by BioMarin, Whistlestop

San Rafael expansion plan submitted by BioMarin, WhistlestopBioMarin has filed an application for its downtown San Rafael expansion, a major mixed-use project that will include an affordable senior housing and activities center.

The pharmaceutical company’s project at 999 Third St., a former Pacific Gas and Electric Co. property, includes two four-story lab and office buildings for BioMarin use, and a six-story, 67-unit senior housing and activities building for Whistlestop, a nonprofit serving older adults.

BioMarin submitted the application Friday with slight revisions after preliminary plans were reviewed by both the San Rafael Design Review Board and Planning Commission earlier this year.

Raffi Boloyan, the San Rafael planning manager, said that the City Council gets the final vote, but the proposal would first need the blessing of the Design Review Board and the Planning Commission. The first step for staff is to review the completeness of the application before a hearing is scheduled to consider the project.

In September, the city hired environmental consultant Amy Skewes-Cox for $277,771 at the expense of the applicant to begin the environmental review process, Boloyan said.

“Typically a project of this magnitude, you’re looking at a year to a year-and-a-half process,” he said.

“I think there is going to be a lot of attention to it because it is a key piece of downtown,” he said. “People will be looking at the use and the mass, the scale and design of the structure.”

BioMarin, which already occupies a sizable office complex in downtown San Rafael, owns the 3-acre lot. The company donated about 15,000 square feet of the northwest corner of the property to Whistlestop, where it plans to relocate its “active aging center” from its 930 Tamalpais Ave. site at the SMART train station.

Whistlestop officials are working on that portion of the project with Eden Housing, a Hayward-based affordable housing company. The Healthy Aging Center would occupy about 18,000 square feet of the two first floors of the building and would provide activities such as socialization, dancing, exercise and physical therapy and other health care services.

The remaining four floors would be dedicated to housing. One unit would be reserved for a live-in manager, while the remaining 66 would be open to rent for residents who are 62 and older and earn less than 60 percent of the area median income.

“We think this is a model for the future,” said Joe O’Hehir, CEO of Whistlestop. “We want to bring health care payers and providers together in one place to improve the quality of life and get the services all in an integrated care model.”

The project overall would require a major environmental and design review permit approval, a use permit to allow residential uses in a commercial zone and a parking modification to allow the reduction of onsite parking from 293 required to about 50 spaces and other approvals.

Specifically for the Whistlestop project, the site would have only 12 parking spaces — 11 for Whistlestop use and one for the onsite residential manager. O’Hehir said residents would be asked in their leases to agree not to own cars.

O’Hehir said that Whistlestop provides transportation and that service will be available to all residents. He said the idea is to help residents save money on owning a car and to reduce traffic in and out of the busy downtown area.

The city zoning allows for only 25 units on the 15,000-square-foot site. Because all units will be offered at the affordable rate, the two nonprofits say that the project qualifies for three concessions under the state’s density bonus law, which would allow them to build the 70-foot building and 67 units.

The top floor of the building is set back in a “wedding cake” tiered fashion to address previous concerns about the visual impact from the street.

Project planners said Marin County has the oldest population in the Bay Area, and by 2030, one-third of Marin County residents will be age 60 or older.

Daniela Ogden, a spokeswoman for Eden, said there is an extreme housing shortage in the Bay Area, and that their properties are constantly receiving inquiries from prospective tenants who are in need of affordable housing.

“We are hearing this need and we want to address it,” Ogden said. “To have this opportunity with Whistlestop is so wonderful because we see how vital housing is in the community and how people are struggling.”

The BioMarin portion of the project calls for two east-west rectangular four-story office and lab buildings totaling 207,000 square feet on the east side of the 133,000-square-foot property bounded by Brooks, Lindaro, Third and Second streets.

BioMarin spokeswoman Debra Charlesworth said that overall the project provides community benefits, including 3,500 square feet of retail space and 6,000 square feet of landscaped plaza open to the public during daytime hours at the corner of Third and Lindaro streets. She said the project promotes a vibrant downtown, creates a transit-oriented development and helps achieve the city’s general plan goals.

“We are pleased at the opportunity to continue to grow in San Rafael, to contribute to the city’s economic development and our development proposal that could create a win-win situation for the city of San Rafael, Whistlestop, Eden Properties and BioMarin,” she wrote in an email. “We are proud of this pioneering proposal that provides an opportunity for public and private entities to collaborate on a development that will have significant and long-reaching benefits.”

BioMarin bought the San Rafael Corporate Center campus in 2014 and is the sole owner and the largest presence at the campus, where it maintains its corporate headquarters.

Marin Voice: Activism and community help to cope with Alzheimer’s

Marin Voice: Activism and community help to cope with Alzheimer’sI hope I’m better at parenting the baby growing in my womb than I have been at parenting my parents.

Last October my husband and I moved back to my childhood home to care for both of my parents living with Alzheimer’s disease. My sweet mother has been on home hospice for all of that time — her journey began noticeably in 2012 — while my dad is still high-functioning through his decline that was only formally diagnosed slightly over a year ago.

This is an unimaginably challenging journey, and though I’ve made my share of rookie mistakes, I seem to have learned a bit along the way.

I’ve learned that even though social stigma still keeps Alzheimer’s and related dementias in the shadows, every time I bring it up, someone has a story. Of their parent or grandparent or auntie or neighbor. But in spite of how ubiquitous this disease is, most people understand little about the importance of early detection, what dementia is — and is not — or what their options are. Some of this ignorance comes from a breakdown in communication with medical professionals, but a lot of it is willful ignorance. We are culturally so terrified of this slow disease, many choose not to know.

And so I’ve learned to share my story with willing and unsuspecting audiences alike. For many years, I could not talk about this without crying, and now you can’t keep me quiet once I know someone has a connection to Alzheimer’s. I talk about it with my neighbor when I see her walking her dog. I gave my card to the sales rep at REI who was helping me find a simple water bottle for my dad. I post so much about it on social media that distant connections frequently send me private messages that they too are caring for someone — often early in the diagnostic process — and are overwhelmed and scared and paralyzed with anxiety of what’s in store.

I’ve learned to ask for help because no one is coming to my family’s rescue. I depend so heavily on an ecosystem of support, I cannot imagine the care partners who are trying to do this alone. I depend on incredibly compassionate paid caregivers while I’m at work. I depend on Whistlestop to take my dad to his day program. I depend on Senior Access to engage my dad socially four days a week by taking him to museums, performances and dignified lunches. I depend on Hospice by the Bay to send nurses, home health aides, social workers and volunteers to the house to tend to my mother’s various needs. I depend on my neighbors and siblings to fill in those hours when I need more help.

I’ve learned that even though social stigma still keeps Alzheimer’s and related dementias in the shadows, every time I bring it up, someone has a story. Of their parent or grandparent or auntie or neighbor. But in spite of how ubiquitous this disease is, most people understand little about the importance of early detection, what dementia is — and is not — or what their options are. Some of this ignorance comes from a breakdown in communication with medical professionals, but a lot of it is willful ignorance. We are culturally so terrified of this slow disease, many choose not to know.

And so I’ve learned to share my story with willing and unsuspecting audiences alike. For many years, I could not talk about this without crying, and now you can’t keep me quiet once I know someone has a connection to Alzheimer’s. I talk about it with my neighbor when I see her walking her dog. I gave my card to the sales rep at REI who was helping me find a simple water bottle for my dad. I post so much about it on social media that distant connections frequently send me private messages that they too are caring for someone — often early in the diagnostic process — and are overwhelmed and scared and paralyzed with anxiety of what’s in store.

I’ve learned to ask for help because no one is coming to my family’s rescue. I depend so heavily on an ecosystem of support, I cannot imagine the care partners who are trying to do this alone. I depend on incredibly compassionate paid caregivers while I’m at work. I depend on Whistlestop to take my dad to his day program. I depend on Senior Access to engage my dad socially four days a week by taking him to museums, performances and dignified lunches. I depend on Hospice by the Bay to send nurses, home health aides, social workers and volunteers to the house to tend to my mother’s various needs. I depend on my neighbors and siblings to fill in those hours when I need more help.

 

Marin social scene: Marin Center for Independent Living Auxiliary Board and Whistlestop

Marin social scene: Marin Center for Independent Living Auxiliary Board and WhistlestopThe Marin Center for Independent Living Auxiliary Board raised nearly $500,000 at its 11th annual Angels by the Bay Gala at the Meadow Club in Fairfax. The event was attended by 230 people, including Justin and Yleanna Brown, and Brian and Susan Telford, all of Mill Valley; Kathleen Woodcock, Jim Lazor and Kristina Victor, all of Greenbrae; Dominic and Susan Pomila, Frank and Lois Noonan, Josh Voss, Buck Kamphausen, Jack Thornton, Jaz Rahul and Mary Lou Madison, all of San Rafael; Wendy Calcaterra, Michele Johnson and Keith Conroy, all of Novato; Tracey Raymond, of Tiburon, and Isabel Allende and Roger Cukrus, both of Belvedere.

Whistlestop raised $200,000 at Whistlestock V at the Fairground Island at the Marin Center in San Rafael. The event was attended by 400 people, including Yvonne Roberts, of Fairfax;  Serena D’Arcy Fisher, and Peter and Peggy Rubens, all of Novato, and Joe O’Hehir, of San Rafael.

If you have news about the fundraising and benefit scene in Marin County or about an event that just took place, email calendar@marinij.com. Please send high-resolution (300 dpi, 2 MB) JPG photos no later than 9 a.m. on the Monday immediately following your event. Please identify the names and towns of everyone in each photo (from left), and give us a photo credit for the photographer. Please tell us how much money your organization raised and how many people attended your event.

BioMarin Pharmaceutical, nonprofit Whistlestop partner on Marin County housing project

BioMarin Pharmaceutical, nonprofit Whistlestop partner on Marin County housing projectWhen Whistlestop CEO Joe O’Hehir returned to Brooklyn, New York, where he was born and raised, he noticed something besides the much-talked about gentrification of a formerly gritty area he left in 1978. He noticed elderly people, even those in their 80s or 90s, still living at home in the neighborhood.

“Older adults particularly do better in that urban setting because they have social connections,” said O’Hehir, a former boss of Brown & Toland Medical Group.

Now, as the leader of a nonprofit aimed at supporting the independence of older adults, O’Hehir hopes to replicate that type of urban social support network in less-urban San Rafael in Marin County.

A proposed $32 million senior housing project and healthy aging center right in downtown San Rafael is central to that vision.

Whistlestop — the 65-year-old nonprofit’s official name is Marin Senior Coordinating Council — submitted a formal application for the new development Oct. 5 along with Novato-based BioMarin Pharmaceutical Inc., which owns the former PG&E lot at 999 Third St., and with Hayward’s Eden Housing.

MEDICAL CARE ISN’T THE ONLY NEED

O’Hehir, a 20-year veteran of the health care industry who worked at big businesses and tiny startups, with physicians and insurance companies, has led 175-employee Whistlestop for a decade. During his long career, he’d noticed something lacking from the traditional model of care for the elderly — a focus on social connections and support in a lively environment.

“We worked a lot with the Medicare population,” said O’Hehir. “A lot of older adults struggle. Older adults would be hospitalized because they hadn’t been cared for.”

Some of that missing care, O’Hehir felt, was social, rather than strictly medical. Whistlestop already had a strong track record in supporting older adults in the area through meal and transportation assistance programs at its location at the SMART train terminus beside busy Highway 101 in San Rafael.

The nonprofit delivers between 1,600 and 1,700 meals per week through its Meals on Wheels and Whistlestop Nourish programs, according to spokesman Gus Nodal. Its Jackson Café serves lunch to 50 or 60 people every day, charging just $6 for those over age 60. And through various transportation assistance programs, Whistlestop provides 275,000 one-way rides per year.

But the physical limitations of its cramped, crowded space by the train tracks and freeway on-ramps prevented Whistlestop from adding something O’Hehir thought essential — affordable housing. And the area was getting even busier.

“The voters had just passed SMART train and we realized they were quickly going to be our neighbor here,” said O’Hehir. “Our first idea was to redevelop our existing building. We own it. We decided to see if we could build housing here.”

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

In 2015, Whistlestop turned in an application to the city for a new healthy aging center at the current location, including a housing element of about 40 apartments.

The city’s response was both positive and negative.

“They liked the project but thought we should find a better location,” said O’Hehir.

Easy to say, but not easy to do, especially in crowded San Rafael where property prices are high. Whistlestop started searching though.

“We’d been looking for a number of years. We are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit so we don’t generate tax revenues for a city,” O’Hehir said.

Most downtown parcels were “earmarked for hotels and other businesses,” he said.

When it seemed unlikely the nonprofit would find a suitable spot, O’Hehir hit on the idea of a partnership with another — profit- and tax-generating — business, in this case BioMarin.

“When I heard they were going to buy the PG&E property, I approached them. They were skeptical,” he said.

The BioMarin project, at a former PG&E space, proposes two buildings for office and laboratory work, plus a gym, retail and restaurant space, said company spokeswoman Debra Charlesworth. Overall, it will encompass 207,000 square feet of new development in two phases, expanding on an existing research facility in San Rafael run by the pharmaceutical company.

O’Hehir and Whistlestop floated the idea of including the 18,000-square-foot healthy aging center and 67 units of affordable housing for seniors in the project. To close the deal, O’Hehir’s team made a pitch familiar to many developers: Projects are more likely to win approval from regulators if they benefit a neighborhood directly.

“We said it would be helpful for them to show community benefit,” O’Hehir said. The proposal eventually convinced BioMarin, which signed an unofficial memorandum of understanding with Whistlestop. It is an unlikely partnership but the incentives have been aligned,” said O’Hehir.

GROWING OLD TOGETHER

After working with BioMarin, Eden Housing and San Rafael intensively for 18 months or so, Whistlestop and its partners now have to wait to see whether, and in what form, the project will be approved. All that work with city planners in advance should help get the project through the process, O’Hehir said, but there are no guarantees.

“One never knows,” he said. “The city planning staff takes about 30 days to have all the various departments look at it. Then there will be a formal review beginning of this coming year, and an environmental study. It takes basically a year to get through it so the city council can vote on it.”

Part of the process involves cleaning up the former PG&E site — but that bit of the deal is between BioMarin and PG&E, said O’Hehir. About 75 percent of the lot has already been cleaned up, he said.

“They get regulatory approvals. They have to deliver our portion of the site clean and we are confident they will,” he said.

Once all this is done and the project is formally approved, he said, then Eden Housing will go to work to raise money for it “to build their stack of money,” as O’Hehir described it, putting together financing from various sources including low-income tax credits. That should take about six to nine months, and then construction itself should last from a year and a half to two years.

All in all, O’Hehir said the project could be finished in three to three and a half years.

When it’s done, Whistlestop will operate the healthy aging center on the lower two floors — an operation similar to its current one — while Eden will oversee the 67 housing units on the four floors overhead.

It can’t happen too soon, said O’Hehir, pointing to statistics showing that a third of Marin County’s people will be over 60 by 2030.

Whistlestop won’t just be sitting around waiting for the project to be finished, either. O’Hehir said educating the community about the need for this development – and others like it — will be an important effort for the nonprofit in the next few years. He also hopes to change some misconceptions about growing old.

“Most people think of aging as an individual rather than community issue. But that’s not true where you’ve got more old people than children. They need to age within the community,” O’Hehir said.

Marin County’s economics also make growing old a different experience than in poorer places.

“In Marin there are more middle-income older adults who can’t continue to live here,” he said. “Typically, when I was young, you always lived near grandma and grandpa and you took care of them. That’s not true so much now because of the cost of living in Marin where the children of older adults can’t afford to stay here.” That’s the message O’Hehir and Whistlestop plan to keep promoting.

“We do a lot of community speaking,” he said. “The majority of individuals want older adults to be able to stay in the communities they raised their children in. We are really their voice.”

Marin nonprofit chooses new CFO

Marin nonprofit chooses new CFOJeff Wands has been hired as chief financial officer at Whistlestop, a nonprofit that promotes the independence, well-being and quality of life for older adults and people living with disabilities in Marin County. In his new role, Wands will report to CEO Joe O’Hehir, and be responsible for Whistlestop’s financial management, forecasting, reporting, and risk management, as well as information technology and facilities management.

Wands, a Fairfax resident, comes to Whistlestop after nine years at Westcoast Children’s Clinic, a private, nonprofit children’s psychology clinic in Oakland, where he served as its CFO. The organization’s announcement stated that prior to Westcoast Children’s Clinic, Wands was CFO at Connecticut Humane Society and vice president of Finance at Kelson Physician Partners.

Wands has a bachelor’s of science degree in business administration with a concentration in finance and a master’s of science degree in business administration with a concentration in computer information systems.

Founded in 1954 as Marin Senior Coordinating Council, Whistlestop promotes the independence, well-being and quality of life for older adults and people living with disabilities in Marin County.

Earlier this fall, the organization filed as application with the City of San Rafael to partner with Novato-based BioMarin Pharmaceutical Inc. to develop a $32 million senior housing and healthy aging center in that city.

Marin holiday lights tour brightens spirits of adults with memory loss

Marin holiday lights tour brightens spirits of adults with memory lossAdults with memory loss enjoyed socializing, family togetherness and some holiday cheer Thursday thanks to two San Rafael nonprofits that teamed up to put on a holiday lights tour, visiting some of Marin’s most dazzling displays at private homes.

“It’s really a special outing,” said Dana Pepp, the chief growth officer at Senior Access, a nonprofit that hosted the tour. “It’s a safe, supportive, fun, and comfortable space to be social.”

This is the second year that Senior Access has offered the holiday lights tour, which includes a visit to the famous Rombeiro house on Devonshire Drive. It’s a free outing designed to offer clients, who may not otherwise be able, to experience a drive through residential neighborhoods with family and friends to marvel at elaborate light displays.

The nonprofit provides day activities and outings for adults dealing with varying stages of memory loss, Alzheimer’s, dementia or related conditions. The day center on Skyview Terrace charges $125 per day for the outings or for supervised activities at the facility. Government assistance programs or longterm-care insurance pay for some clients’ participation, which allows caregivers a break.

Staff drivers from Whistlestop, the downtown San Rafael active aging center that offers athletic, social and cultural activities and organized trips and transportation for Marin residents over 60, volunteer their time for take Senior Access clients on the tour. Whistlestop has been providing transportation service for Senior Access activities throughout the Bay Area for more than five years.

Joe O’Hehir, CEO of Whistlestop, said he and the staff are glad to be part of the event.

“We’re certainly learning the power of human connection,” he said, calling it “an important ingredient in the antidote to loneliness and isolation.”

He added, “And our drivers, who are highly trained, sensitive and compassionate, become surrogate family members.”

Pepp said that one of the key contributing factors to memory wellness is social integration and social connectedness.

“Feeling connected, part of a group and being hugged daily is greatly important. It will improve their overall health and cognitive health,” she said.