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North Bay professionals news from Wine Enthusiast’s 40 under 40, Redwood Credit Union, Coldwell Banker and more

North Bay professionals news from Wine Enthusiast's 40 under 40, Redwood Credit Union, Coldwell Banker and moreSeven people from Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino counties are Wine Enthusiast magazine’s “40 under 40” list of notable professionals in wine, spirits, cider and beer.

Sarah Cahn Bennett, 39, of Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley is owner and winemaker of Pennroyal Farm in Boonville and owner-general manager of Navarro Vineyards & Winery in Philo. With a master’s degree in enology and viticulture, Bennett returned to her family’s business and launched sustainability initiatives.

Sebastian Donoso, 37, is winemaker of Fringe Collective in Hopland. Born in Chile, Donoso was tasked with running the high-end programs at Fetzer Vineyards and Bonterra Vineyards, Mendocino County operations owned by Chile-based Concha y Toro.

Paul Gospodarczyk, 37, is professor of winemaking at Napa Valley College and winemaker in charge of the school’s production facility and 5-acre vineyard.

Maayan Koschitzky, 39, is director of winemaking at Atelier Melka by Philippe Melka in St. Helena. Now a partner in Melka’s A-list consulting winemaking company, Koschitzky has worked at cult Napa Valley wineries Screaming Eagle and Dalla Valle.

Jennifer Reichardt, 32, owner and winemaker, Raft Wines, Sonoma County; chief operating officer, Sonoma County Poultry and Liberty Ducks, Petaluma. In 2016, she began making her own wine using organically farmed grapes from California.

Jamie Benziger, 33, winemaker, Imagery Estate Winery, Glen Ellen. Her father, Joe Benziger, founded Imagery in 1986. After producing a variety of wines alongside her father, Jamie Benziger took over winemaking at Imagery in 2017.

Chip Forsythe, 34, winemaker and CEO, Rebel Coast Winery, Sonoma. He launched Rebel Coast Winery in 2018, producer of the world’s first THC-infused, nonalcoholic wine.

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Gladys Milligan has been named manager of Redwood Credit Union’s new American Canyon branch at 406 Napa Junction Road, Suite 126, in the Napa Junction Shopping Center.

Prior to joining the credit union, Milligan worked in the financial industry for 15 years, 11 of which were in management, according to the announcement. She formerly worked for Washington Mutual/Chase and Travis Credit Union, where her responsibilities included shepherding the opening of new branches.

Milligan has a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration with a concentration in strategic management from Sacramento State University.

Karen Cherniss has affiliated the Napa office of Coldwell Banker Brokers of the Valley as a sales associate. Cherniss has been a real estate professional in the Bay Area since 1986, relocating to the Napa Valley in 1994.

Noemi Doohan has been selected as interim public health officer for the county of Mendocino.

Doohan has been a health and human services partner in the work she has led with Adventist Health Ukiah Valley’s Street Medicine Program, Family Medicine Residency Program and the initial funding and implementation of the Safe Haven Clinic project, the county stated.

In addition, Karen Smith will be contracting with the county to further support development of local public health services in Mendocino County. Smith was previously appointed by former Governor Jerry Brown in 2015 to serve as the state public health officer. She most recently served as health officer and public health director for Napa County.

Stephanie Robison has been named director of healthy aging services at Whistlestop, a San Rafael-based nonprofit that works with older adults and people with disabilities in Marin County.

Prior to Whistlestop, Robison was business manager at Marin Foot and Ankle, account manager at LifeMasters Supported SelfCare, recreation and fitness director at San Francisco Towers (a senior living community), and manager of geriatric programs at California Pacific Medical Services Organization.

She has a master’s degree in gerontology from San Francisco State University and a bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in aging from Washington State University.

Blanca Huijon has been named executive director of Puertas Abiertas Community Resource Center in Napa. Huijon has been with Puertas Abiertas since 2010 as a case mentor.

She attended Napa Community College, where she obtained four A.A degrees: social and behavioral science, general education, fine art, and math, the group’s website stated. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Chicano Latino Studies and minor in psychology from Sonoma State University. In 2013, she obtained a grant writing certificate from Sonoma State.

Josh Harrington has joined Land Trust of Napa County’s board of trustees.

Harrington is director of research at RBO & Co., an independent investment advisory firm in St. Helena. The land trust’s announcement stated his career experience includes equity research at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. in New York, portfolio management at TIAA-CREF in San Francisco, and independent consulting for investment management clients.

He was previously a director and board treasurer for Destiny Arts Center, a nonprofit based in Oakland that seeks to end isolation, prejudice and violence in the lives of young people. Harrington lives in Napa with his wife and daughter and enjoys reading, running, fishing and yoga.

Harrington holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Missouri, Columbia, with a major in finance and banking, and an MBA from the University of California, Berkeley.

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Jack Raineault has been selected as new chairman of the Healdsburg Jazz board of directors. He succeeds Paul Mahder, who recently resigned from the board to focus on a new business venture.

Raineault retired from Diageo, a global spirits and beer company, as director of beverage alcohol law after a career of 30 years. Previously, he served on the board of directors of CancerCare of Connecticut. He also volunteers at Legal Aid of Sonoma County.

Replacing Raineault as board secretary is Dennis Abbe, a retired software executive who has been a volunteer for Healdsburg Jazz since 2000.

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The National Association of Realtors has honored Mill Valley-based agent Kimberly Strub as a finalist for its 2019 Good Neighbor Awards. The award honors those “who have made a positive impact on their communities through extraordinary volunteer service.”

Strub leads the Schurig Center for Brain Injury Recovery, a nonprofit that improves the lives of people with brain injuries and their families through therapy, support groups and social and recreational activities. In a decade, she has raised $1 million, tripled both the annual budget and the number of people served, and helped set up a concussion protocol for children in the Marin County schools network.

Strub is one of 10 association members being honored who have donated their time, money and passion to enrich the lives of the people in their communities. On Oct. 2, five winners will be named from among the 10 finalists.

Marin nonprofit hires transit exec

Marin nonprofit hires transit execErick Villalobos has been hired as general manager of transportation services of Whistlestop – a Marin County nonprofit providing classes, transportation and other assistance to people with disabilities.

The San Rafael-based Whistlestop stated that in his new role, Villalobos will report to Whistlestop’s Chief Operating Officer Nancy Geisse and be responsible for the leadership and management of Whistlestop’s transportation services department. He will also manage Whistlestop’s current operating contracts and partnerships with Marin Transit, Golden Gate Bridge Highway & Transportation District, Transportation Authority of Marin, and other agencies and organizations with special transportation needs in Marin, Sonoma and San Francisco counties.

Prior to Whistlestop, Villalobos held several positions at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) for over 30 years. Most recently, he served as director of UCSF Transportation Services, associate director of UCSF Transportation Services and security manager of UCSF Police Department.

Villalobos holds Bachelor of Arts degrees in psychology and political science

from Notre Dame de Namur University, and a Master of Business Administration degree from the School of Business and Management at Notre Dame de Namur University. He also holds certifications from the Smith System Driver Improvement Institute, Department of Transportation: Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration & Training, and UCSF Leadership Institute.

“I was drawn to Whistlestop because of its deep commitment to serving its community and because the values of the organization so closely align with my personal values,” Villalobos stated in the announcement. “It’s a privilege to use the skills and expertise I have developed in the transportation sector to help make a difference, and work alongside Nancy and the rest of the Whistlestop transportation team to grow Whistlestop’s specialized transportation services so that no one is ever left behind.”

Erick Villalobos

Whistlestop to offer health appointment transit

Whistlestop to offer health appointment transitWhistlestop is seeking to prevent North Bay residents from missing medical and social services appointments through a new ride program launching in 2020.

The San Rafael-based nonprofit organization, which aims to increase the independence of local senior and disabled residents, has already been testing the program with local health care partners, including Marin Community Clinics and MarinHealth, since 2018.

“I believe that some folks certainly have transportation as a barrier to their getting needed medical and social services,” said Mitesh Popat, chief executive of Marin Community Clinics. “To the extent you can provide transportation helps break that barrier down.”

Nancy Geisse, Whistlestop’s chief operating officer, said the results so far show that missed appointments among patients has been reduced “considerably.”

When patients miss their appointments because they don’t have the physical or financial means to get a ride, it causes a ripple effect through the medical system, Geisse said. Missed appointments can put the patients at greater risk of serious ailments that may require emergency care, which can come at a cost to the patient, health care provider and insurance providers.

Missing appointments can also result in some residents losing benefits if they miss certain deadlines, said Kari Beuerman, assistant director of Marin County Health and Human Services.

“Whistlestop is a great local resource,” she said. “They are a well-trusted and respected provider. Here at HHS, we have a great partnership and working relationship with them. We absolutely applaud their efforts to expand their services.”

The new ride program works by allowing not only patients, but also doctors and discharge nurses, to call Whistlestop’s call center and request a ride for patients to their appointment such as a doctor’s visit. The program would be administered through the MediCal system, Geisse said, which covers transportation to appointments for those who qualify for the public health insurance program. However, it would not be limited to MediCal patients.

In addition, Whistlestop is expanding on its program to transport residents to adult day centers in Marin, Sonoma and San Francisco counties.

Whistlestop is in negotiations with a third local health care provider in Marin as well as three others in Sonoma County, where it is working to establish a location in Santa Rosa next year, Geisse said. The nonprofit recently expanded its ride service in San Francisco to take residents to adult day centers. The new service is expected to launch sometime in early 2020 in all three counties.

The new ride service is meant to work concurrently with Whistlestop’s other services, which include meal delivery, bus and carpool services, classes and social gatherings. Together, the programs seek to ensure residents have access to health care, nutrition and socialization, which Geisse said are key to living a healthy life.

“If you don’t have transportation you can’t access the social determinants of health,” Geisse said.

Other services in the region also provide similar ride services, though Geisse said it’s still not enough to meet the needs of the community.

Marin County’s Aging and Adult Services Division has a contract with the Bay Area-based Jewish Family and Children Services to provide assisted transportation.

Aging and Adult Services division staffer Jenay Cottrell said the county is aware of Whistlestop’s efforts and the recent pilot tests funded by a Marin Community Foundation grant.

She said Whistlestop “is very active in finding ways to expand what it does around a model that would enable it to get reimbursements for providing services that address social determinants of health.”

Correction: Whistlestop’s new medical transportation service will be available based on
need and is not limited to MediCal patients. An article Tuesday incorrectly described the eligibility requirements.

San Rafael’s Whistlestop has hired Erick Villalobos as general manager of transportation services

San Rafael’s Whistlestop has hired Erick Villalobos as general manager of transportation servicesSan Rafael’s Whistlestop has hired Erick Villalobos as general manager of transportation services and will report to the nonprofit’s chief operating officer Nancy Geisse. Villalobos previously worked at the University of California at San Francisco for more than 30 years, most recently serving as the director of transportation services. Whistlestop is a nonprofit that promotes independence and quality of life for older adults and those with disabilities.

Mill Valley 3rd grader wins Whistlestop holiday card contest

Mill Valley 3rd grader wins Whistlestop holiday card contest This week, 400 Marin seniors and their supporters will receive the official Whistlestop holiday card bedecked with more than 50 hearts — most drawn on a sturdy tree trunk and on envelopes hanging from its branches.

“They’ll feel happy because there’s so many hearts on it,” said the card’s artist, Asher Abedin, 9, of Mill Valley. “Hearts mean love, and it shows some respect.”

Asher’s drawing — which also features a peace sign, a rainbow banner and a Cupid’s arrow — was named the winner out of hundreds of entries for the first countywide Whistlestop holiday card contest.

Entries were open to all Marin elementary schools, from kindergarten through fifth grade. For her prize, Asher’s drawing has been printed on the official holiday card for Whistlestop, the San Rafael-based nonprofit serving older adults and people living with disabilities.

“I’m really happy because I’ve never done this before,” said Asher, a third grader at Tamalpais Valley Elementary School. “It’s the first time I’ve won.”

Asher’s school entered the contest because some students at Tam Valley have “senior buddies” that they visit at the Tamalpais, the retirement community in Greenbrae, said Kia Bernstein-Abedin, Asher’s mother. Asher said she shares art projects and recipes with her “senior buddy,” a woman named Bobbie.

“It was really special that they entered this contest,” Bernstein-Abedin said. “(Asher’s teacher) wanted to engage in the community with Whistlestop because it’s such a support to seniors in our community.”

Joe O’Hehir, Whistlestop CEO, said Asher’s card was selected because it has a universal message of love that embraces all religious traditions. Contest judges included Whistlestop staff and some of the organization’s older adult members.

“We wanted the winning design to be inclusive of all faiths and backgrounds, and that it embraced the holiday spirit of love, peace, kindness and community,” O’Hehir said in an email. “We were also looking for designs that captured Whistlestop’s mission — the power of human connection, and the interconnectedness of community.

“We felt that Asher’s design, depicting a tree with hearts, love in the center and emanating love was a perfect depiction of the holiday spirit and Whistlestop’s mission,” he added.

O’Hehir said Whistlestop was heartened by the response to the contest and the hundreds of student entries.

“We’re thrilled with the outcome of Whistlestop’s holiday card contest and the connection we were able to build with Marin schools during this holiday season,” he said.

Mary Jane Burke, Marin County superintendent of schools, said the contest was “an ideal opportunity for our students to use their compassion and creativity to start a larger conversation about giving back, and to think about the importance of the generations that came before them.”

Bernstein-Abedin and her husband, Zane Abedin, said Asher has been an avid artist since preschool. At age 3 or 4, “most kids were doing swirls and fingerpaints, and she was doing pictures of falcons and seals — and you could see what they were,” Asher’s father said.

“We’re very proud of her,” he added. “She did an amazing job — it was beautiful work. She just loves doing any sort of art, so it was great to see that she was acknowledged for it.”

Creativity appears to run in the family. Zane Abedin’s father, Zainul Abedin, was a well-known artist in Bangladesh, and Bernstein-Abedin’s mother, Les Bernstein of Mill Valley, is a published poet and was a judge for the Marin County youth poetry contest. Both parents are accountants, but Zane Abedin said he did a lot of art when he was growing up.

In addition to Asher Abedin, there were almost a dozen finalists selected. The names and their entries are posted at whistlestop.org/holiday-card-contest.

Burke will officially recognize all the winners and runners-up at a ceremony at 4 p.m. Jan. 9 at Whistlestop’s Jackson Cafe at 930 Tamalpais Ave. in San Rafael.

Jackson Cafe changes

Jackson Cafe changesA change of the guard has occurred in the kitchen this week at the 65-year-old Whistlestop’s Jackson Café. Marin resident and catering veteran Stacy Scott has been appointed culinary director and her husband and business partner, Chuck Ciaccio, is the new manager.

The two have debuted a creative and nutritious lunch menu while maintaining affordable pricing ($6 for Whistlestop members, $10 for nonmembers).

“We’re thrilled to join Whistlestop, an organization we have supported for a long time, and one that shares our values and commitment to the community,” Ciaccio says. “One of our goals is to introduce far-reaching and exciting new dishes, made with local and fresh ingredients, that will satisfy varied taste levels.”

Scott and Ciaccio will continue to operate their 30-year-old catering business Stacy Scott Catering.

Whistlestop is a San Rafael nonprofit that promotes the independence, well-being and quality of life of older adults and people living with disabilities in Marin County. Find out more at whistlestop.org. For more about Stacy Scott Catering, call 415-299-2503 or email stacyscottcatering@gmail.com.

Jackson Café is open to the public from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays at
930 Tamalpais Ave. across from the San Rafael Transit Center.

Awarding nonprofits and volunteers

Awarding nonprofits and volunteersRECOGNIZING EXCELLENCE IN THE NONPROFIT WORLD: The Center for Volunteer & Nonprofit Leadership (CVNL) presented its 27th Annual Heart of Marin Awards on Jan. 9 at a luncheon at the Marin Center Exhibit Hall in San Rafael. More than 600 community leaders, volunteers, elected officials and business members attended the event where winners in seven categories were awarded a check for $5,000 each. An award for corporate community service was also presented. Above are all the winners and sponsors along with event Emcee KPIX reporter Betty Yu (middle row, second from right) and CVNL CEO Linda Jacobs (middle row, far right).

Awarding nonprofits and volunteersAwarding nonprofits and volunteersAwarding nonprofits and volunteers

GIVING BACK TO THE COMMUNITY: CVNL recognized nonprofit organizations, the people who run them, the boards that guide them and the volunteers that help power them. Pictured above (left to right) are San Geronimo Valley Community Center Executive Director Dave Cort, Achievement in Nonprofit Excellence, Whistlestop volunteer Mehrbanoo Esmaili, Volunteer of the Year, and To Celebrate Life Board President Kristen Bennett, Excellence in Board Leadership.

Awarding nonprofits and volunteers

YOUNG PEOPLE IN ACTION: The youth judging panel (back row, left to right), Gracie LaKose, Jordan Hovey, Adriana Golden, Chiara Savage-Schwartz and Elijah Seabock, joined by award sponsor representative Ron Felder of Redwood Credit Union, awarded $1,000 each to five youth volunteers who have given their time and energy to local nonprofits. The youth volunteer winners (front row, left to right) were Sarah Goody, Climate NOW, Emma Lauter, Marin County Search and Rescue, Andrea Martinez, North Marin Community Services, Andrea Ortega, Next Generation Scholars and Kai Nittenberg, Ceres Community Project and OneTam.

Awarding nonprofits and volunteersAwarding nonprofits and volunteersAwarding nonprofits and volunteersAwarding nonprofits and volunteers

SUPPORTING THOSE IN NEED: Every year CVNL shines a light on those people and organizations who work to make the lives of everyone in Marin County better. Pictured (left to right) are Autistry CEO and Executive Director Janet Lawson, Excellence in Innovation, St. Vincent de Paul Society Executive Director Christine Paquette, Excellence in Leadership, Marin County Search and Rescue Unit Leader Michael St. John, Lifetime Achievement, and EO Products Co-founder Susan Griffin-Black, Corporate Community Service.

San Rafael seeks $1M from BioMarin for traffic, transit projects

San Rafael seeks $1M from BioMarin for traffic, transit projectsBioMarin could be required to pay San Rafael nearly $1 million for transportation and traffic flow improvement projects in connection with the pharmaceutical company’s plan to redevelop a major downtown property, city officials said.

The obligation is one of several tentative agreements that San Rafael and BioMarin reached this month in a private negotiation process. A development contract that spells out the obligations of both parties is now set for review by the San Rafael Planning Commission and City Council, officials said.

BioMarin is seeking the city’s permission to build two four-story laboratory and office buildings on a 3-acre site at 999 Third St., which would be a major expansion to the company’s facilities in downtown San Rafael. Additionally, the nonprofit Whistlestop hopes to build low-income housing and a senior center on the site through a partnership with BioMarin.

The proposed development contract, which is a 10-year agreement, “gives BioMarin a clear understanding of what the terms are for that site development,” said San Rafael Mayor Gary Phillips. “This way, they can make their plans knowing what constraints there might be.”

According to the tentative contract, BioMarin must pay San Rafael $500,000 for projects that improve traffic flow or parking availability. One such project would improve the timing of traffic lights along Second and Third streets, which are San Rafael’s busiest thoroughfares. The rest of the money is set for unspecified city projects.

An environmental impact study determined that BioMarin’s proposed development would likely worsen traffic congestion in San Rafael, generating approximately 2,453 daily vehicle trips. The company estimates between 500 and 550 employees will work in the offices on the property. The proposed housing and senior center will bring additional people to the property each day.

The contract also says that BioMarin must pay the city $400,000 for so-called “first and last mile” transportation initiatives, which are ways for workers to get to and from public transit. According to San Rafael’s planning manager, Raffi Boloyan, that money could be used to improve bicycle and pedestrian routes, or for other traffic and parking improvement projects.

Additionally, the contract says that BioMarin must create a public plaza, 3,500 square feet of retail space and conference rooms available for public use on its property. The company must fund the creation of a bike lane along Lindaro Street between Andersen Drive and Third Street. And it must complete a $16 million environmental cleanup of its 999 Third St. site, a former Pacific Gas and Electric Co. property, so that it is suitable for residential use, among other requirements.

San Rafael is required in the contract to allow BioMarin up to 10 years to build its project, if it’s approved by the City Council. The city must also freeze impact fees for the development at current rates.

BioMarin said in a statement that negotiations with the city over the development contract have been “productive” and that the company is “optimistic that we can finalize the process in the near future.”

“We’re grateful to BioMarin for investing in our community,” said San Rafael Councilwoman Kate Colin. She said the agreements in the development contract “will provide great benefit” to San Rafael, particularly the company’s environmental cleanup of the property.

The agreement, if approved, will allow the project to move forward for Whistlestop, the nonprofit organization that hopes to build a senior center and 67 apartments for low-income seniors on the property, city officials said. Though BioMarin doesn’t plan to start construction until 2025 at the soonest, according to Phillips, Whistlestop hopes to break ground this year.

Whistlestop hopes to start construction “as soon as we can, because of the vital need for both affordable housing and aging services in the community,” said Joe O’Hehir, executive director for the organization, which offers services for seniors and adults with disabilities.

Whistlestop has partnered with Eden Housing, an East Bay real estate firm, which is set to take on the affordable housing component on the site. Whistlestop’s senior center would take up the first two floors of the planned six-story building, and the 67 apartments owned and managed by Eden Housing would take up the top four floors.

According to O’Hehir, Whistlestop has raised the estimated $10 million needed to build its senior center through private donations. But Eden Housing, which plans to fund the estimated $38 million construction of the apartments through state grants, won’t begin applying for funding until city officials approve the project, O’Hehir said. If all goes according to plan, he estimates construction of the complex could be complete as soon as 2022.

BioMarin has agreed to donate the land for the project to Whistlestop, according to O’Hehir. The apartments and senior center would be built on a 15,000-square-foot portion of BioMarin’s property.

Whistlestop, in turn, has agreed to give its property at 648 Lindaro St. to BioMarin in a land swap, O’Hehir said. The property, which is adjacent to BioMarin’s campus, is used as a corporation yard for Whistlestop. The net property exchange results in a $1.2 million donation by BioMarin to Whistlestop, according to city officials.

“To me, that donation is priceless,” Colin said. “Not only because of the people that are going to be helped, but also it’s demonstrating to our population that we value healthy aging.”

The Planning Commission is scheduled to hold a public hearing to consider the project, including the proposed development agreement, at 7 p.m. Jan. 28 at City Hall.

Marin Voice: Creating a new model of care for older adults in Marin

Marin Voice: Creating a new model of care for older adults in MarinBy 2030, it is estimated that more than one in every three Marin residents will be 65 or older. And, the fastest-growing sector of the population will be over the age of 85.  Meeting the needs of this growing demographic will require a variety of improvements in housing, health care, nutrition, and transportation, as well as new models for providing vital services such as social connection, resource referrals, and engagement.

There is no debate about the desperate shortage of affordable housing and other services for older adults in Marin, and as the aging population continues to grow, these challenges will only become more pronounced. It is time for a community-based solution to this growing community crisis.

Whistlestop’s proposed solution is the new Healthy Aging Campus, a modern health hub for Marin’s older adults that will support the social and medical needs of older adults and provide affordable homes, accessible transportation and a myriad of vibrant programs designed to improve human connectedness in a central, community-based location. The social and medical services provided at this campus will be available to all of Marin’s older adults; not just those who live onsite.

The recent report, Older Adult Housing in Marin: Planning for 2030, estimates that approximately 7,000 older residents in Marin currently need affordable housing. Whistlestop is addressing this critical need by partnering with local nonprofit Eden Housing to develop 67 housing units that are 100% affordable and exclusively for older residents. This affordable housing project will be the first of its kind in Marin County and will feature community rooms, a computer center and library, and landscaped courtyards with gardens. The campus will also be San Rafael’s first car-free community, as services and amenities will be walkable, and transportation will be provided by Whistlestop for its residents and members.

There is growing recognition that non-medical services for older adults are as important for overall health as those received in a medical provider’s office. Whistlestop is addressing these “social determinants of health” by partnering with local health care payers and providers in creating a “modern health hub” and integrated care clinic at our new campus. Providing wraparound health care services will allow Whistlestop to more effectively address specific needs and will improve health outcomes for older adults in Marin County.

Social isolation is an epidemic sweeping our country. What many do not realize is that this is a medical epidemic. According to a study by researchers at the AARP Public Policy Institute and at Stanford and Harvard universities, the impacts of people living in social isolation add almost $7 billion a year to the cost of Medicare, mostly because of longer hospital stays — a result, researchers hypothesize, of not having community support at home. Those who are isolated are at an increased risk of depression, cognitive decline and dementia, among other health conditions. The new Whistlestop campus will be a welcoming, central hub for residents and members where they can share meals, attend classes and engage in conversations and activities with contemporaries.

The Healthy Aging Campus will also contribute to community vitality by moving isolated older residents out of their homes and into a supportive environment and integrating older residents into the thriving downtown San Rafael area. The project will contribute to the economic development, sustainability and vitality of downtown San Rafael.

At Whistlestop, we envision a connected community where older adults are celebrated and nurtured, and where all people have equitable access to whatever resources, connections and services they need in order to thrive. We call this “aging equity,” and we believe that we all share in the responsibility to make this vision a reality.

The San Rafael Planning Commission will review the merits of this project at a public meeting on Tuesday at 7 p.m.

To learn more about Whistlestop’s Healthy Aging Campus or to view a short film that captures Whistlestop’s vison, visit HealthyAgingCampus.org.

Joe O’Hehir is CEO of Whistlestop, a San Rafael-based nonprofit that promotes the independence, well-being and quality of life for older adults and people living with disabilities in Marin County.

Whistletop’s Holiday Card Contest

Whistletop's Holiday Card ContestOn Jan. 9, students, teachers, school principals and families from all over Marin gathered in Whistlestop’s Jackson Café to recognize the finalists of Whistlestop’s 2019 Holiday Card Contest. Elementary school students in grades kindergarten through five were invited to submit designs that highlight the holiday spirit of community, peace, love and giving, with the winning designs gracing Whistlestop’s official holiday card. Pictured above are (back row, left to right, Catherine Nam, principal, Rancho Elementary School, Joe O’Hehir, CEO, Whistlestop, Mary Jane Burke, Marin County superintendent of schools, Molly Mundell-Bass, teacher, Tam Valley School, (middle row, left to right) Heath Hochanadel, Tam Valley School, contest winner Asher Abedin, Tam Valley School, Oliver Pool, Rancho Elementary School, (front row, left to right) Quinn Ostroff, Rancho Elementary School, Varnika Kamma, Rancho Elementary School, Venisha Potnuru, Rancho Elementary School, Maya Livingston, Old Mill School, Kosara Fackler, Old Mill School, Emily Vasquez, St. Vincent de Paul Elementary School, and Josie Robison, Glenwood Elementary School.

San Rafael commission approves BioMarin, Whistlestop complex

San Rafael commission approves BioMarin, Whistlestop complexThe San Rafael Planning Commission has approved a proposal to build 67 apartments, a senior center and an office complex on a 3-acre lot downtown.

Commissioners voted unanimously on Tuesday to approve the redevelopment plan for 999 Third St., which was submitted in a joint proposal by the pharmaceutical company BioMarin and the senior services nonprofit Whistlestop.

“I’m really happy to see this project is finally coming to an end,” said Jeffrey Schoppert, the commission chair. “I think it’s going to be a terrific addition to downtown.”

With an endorsement from the Planning Commission, the proposal is set for consideration by the City Council, which will have final say on the redevelopment plan. A public hearing before the City Council hasn’t been scheduled, officials said.

BioMarin hopes to build two four-story buildings on the site, each reaching 72 feet in height. The complex, which would provide space for about 550 new workers, would include laboratory and office space, and would be a major expansion to the company’s facilities in downtown San Rafael.

The company’s director of campus planning and design, Char Zamanpour, told the Planning Commission that BioMarin is aiming to start construction on one of the buildings within the next six years. It hopes to build the second building within the next 10 years, she said, noting that the company wants to “be ready to build when the need arises.”

“For our company, when a drug gets approved and a treatment gets approved, we need to be ready to immediately bring on board space as needed for employees, so this allows us that flexibility,” she said.

Whistlestop, in partnership with the East Bay real estate firm Eden Housing, hopes to build a six-story building on the property, reaching 70 feet in height. The organization would operate a senior center on the first two floors of the building, while Eden Housing would own and operate the 67 apartments designated for low-income seniors on the four floors above.

According to Joe O’Hehir, the CEO of Whistlestop, the senior center would include medical facilities and a cafe. It would be “a welcoming central hub for residents and members where they can share meals, attend classes and engage in conversations and activities with contemporaries, all designed to increase physical and mental wellness.”

Several residents told the Planning Commission they supported the Whistlestop proposal, citing a lack of affordable housing opportunities for seniors in Marin.

“Affordable housing for older adults is critically needed in this county,” said Teri Dowling, a member of the Marin Commission on Aging and the Aging Action Initiative. She called the Whistlestop proposal “progressive and innovative,” and said it is “a role model for the kind of housing for older adults we need in Marin.”

According to O’Hehir, Whistlestop hopes to break ground on the project this year. The organization has raised the estimated $10 million needed to build its senior center through private donations, he said. Eden Housing plans to fund the estimated $38 million construction of the apartments through state grants, and will begin applying for funding if the project is approved by the City Council, he said. If all goes according to plan, he estimates construction of the complex could be complete as soon as 2022.

BioMarin has agreed to donate the land for the project to Whistlestop, according to O’Hehir. The apartments and senior center would be built on a 15,000-square-foot portion of BioMarin’s property.

Whistlestop, in turn, has agreed to give its property at 648 Lindaro St. to BioMarin in a land swap, O’Hehir said. The property, which is adjacent to BioMarin’s campus, is used as a corporation yard for Whistlestop. The net property exchange results in a $1.2 million donation by BioMarin to Whistlestop, according to city officials.

The Planning Commission on Tuesday approved a development contract between the city and BioMarin that would allow the company up to 10 years to build its project. The city has agreed in the contract to freeze impact fees for the development at current rates.

BioMarin is required by the contract to pay San Rafael $900,000 for traffic flow and transportation improvement projects. An environmental impact study determined that BioMarin’s proposed development would likely worsen traffic congestion in San Rafael, generating approximately 2,453 daily vehicle trips.

Commissioner Shingai Samudzi said he is concerned about an escalating traffic problem downtown. But, he said, “I don’t think we should halt development due to that.”

“It’s really easy to say, ‘Traffic sucks, therefore build nothing,’” he said. “We still have to solve the problem. They’re putting money up for us to do that.”

BioMarin is also required in the contract to create a public plaza, 3,500 square feet of retail space and conference rooms available for public use on its property. The company must fund the creation of a bike lane along Lindaro Street between Andersen Drive and Third Street. And it must complete a $16 million environmental cleanup of its 999 Third St. site, a former Pacific Gas and Electric Co. property, so that it is suitable for residential use, among other requirements.

The proposed development contract says that BioMarin would no longer be required to create a path along Mahon Creek, which was a requirement imposed on the company in 2015 when the city approved its plan to build a four-story office building at 755 Lindaro St. But the Planning Commission recommended that the city continue to impose that requirement on BioMarin, noting that the path would provide improved pedestrian access to the downtown SMART train station.

San Rafael senior housing project eyed for 2022 opening at site of BioMarin Pharmaceutical expansion

San Rafael senior housing project eyed for 2022 opening at site of BioMarin Pharmaceutical expansionSan Rafael’s City Council next month is set to consider approval for construction of a joint redevelopment proposal from BioMain Pharmaceutical and the nonprofit Whistlestop of a project combining the drug makers’ operations with a senior health center and apartments.

The deal, approved by the city planning commission last month, calls for construction of two four-story BioMarin research laboratory and office buildings at 999 Third St., on the corner of Brooks Street downtown. It’s part of an expansion of the company’s existing campus in the city.

In addition, a six-story building would be occupied partly by Whistlestop, founded in 1954 to support independent living for seniors and those with disabilities. Eden Housing would create 67 senior studio and one-bedroom apartments on upper floors of the building.

This property is planned to be the site for the first Whistlestop integrated health services center. It would be built on a one-third acre portion of BioMarin’s existing land. Backers said the center is set to bring medical professionals to the patient at a single location, in most cases without having them travel all over the county to get the care they need.

The Whistlestop portion of this parcel was obtained in property swap agreement. BioMarin made an in-kind donation of $1.2 million to Whistlestop through a land exchange, handing over a 15,000-square-foot parcel valued at $2.6 million in exchange for property owned by Whistlestop valued at $1.4 million, according to Jennifer Golbus, marketing strategist at Whistlestop.

Under terms of a separate building partnership between Whistlestop and Eden Housing, Whistlestop would own and occupy the first two floors of the building. Senior apartments on floors three through six would be owned and managed by Eden Housing. Rents are estimated to range from $770 to $1,650 a month. The flats are designed for low-income seniors age 62 and above who earn less than 60% of the area median income.

“Our goal is to build a healthy aging campus, combining a first-floor integrated health services center and senior housing, that addresses the urgent needs of older adults in Marin County looking for social connections, affordable homes and healthy living support,” said Whistlestop CEO Joe O’Hehir. “This center will be open to all older adults in the county, not just those who live here. It will have three exam rooms and private health services consultation offices.”

He said about 16,000 older adults in Marin County are isolated and currently living alone. O’Hehir estimated that 7,000 county seniors need affordable housing.

“We believe it takes a community solution to address a community crisis — including an epidemic of loneliness — by providing more options for seniors to safely live close to each other under an umbrella of care. Marin is the fastest aging county in the state.”

Last June, the city’s Design Review Board voted to support this project. On Sept. 24, the San Rafael Planning Commission approved the draft environmental impact report and in November held public hearings on the merits of this project.

According to O’Hehir, only one step remains. The San Rafael City Council still has to vote to approve the overall development plan. With positive recommendations from the Design Review Board and Planning Commission, and after conversations with council members, O’Hehir believes a positive decision could come in early March.

“We only need three votes,” he said. “Officials I have spoken with want to see it approved.”

Marin seniors celebrate Valentine’s Day at luncheon

Marin seniors celebrate Valentine’s Day at luncheonWhistlestop held their annual Valentine’s Day luncheon for Marin seniors, who were entertained by Lucina and her Cabaret of a 1000 Faces, at the center’s Jackson Cafe on Thursday.

Marin Voice: Whistlestop housing is the right plan for the right place

Marin Voice: Whistlestop housing is the right plan for the right placeBy Steven Saxe and Colin Russell, Marin IJ.com

Whistlestop Mission Plaza project receives strong endorsement from Marin Environmental Housing Collaborate (MEHC) in today’s Marin Independent Journal’s – Marin Voice. After a well-articulated discussion of the issues, MEHC concluded the project is “the right project, in the right place at the right time.”

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San Rafael council approves BioMarin, Whistlestop plans

San Rafael council approves BioMarin, Whistlestop plansThe San Rafael City Council has approved a plan to build 67 low-income apartments, a senior center and two four-story office buildings on a 3-acre downtown lot.

The council voted unanimously on Monday in favor of the redevelopment plan for 999 Third St., which was submitted in a joint proposal by the pharmaceutical company BioMarin and the senior services organization Whistlestop, both of which are based in San Rafael.

BioMarin, which bought the property in 2015, is set to build the two 72-foot-tall office buildings on the site. The company has told the city it hopes to start construction on one of the buildings within the next six years, and on the second building within the next 10 years. Once completed, the complex will provide space for about 550 new workers and will be a major expansion to BioMarin’s downtown San Rafael campus.

Whistlestop, in partnership with the East Bay real estate firm Eden Housing, plans to begin construction this year on its portion of the project, which is a six-story building reaching 70 feet in height. Whistlestop plans to operate a senior center on the first two floors of the building, while Eden Housing will own and operate the 67 apartments designated for low-income seniors on the four floors above.

The senior center is set to include medical facilities, a cafe and meeting rooms. Whistlestop plans to offer classes and activities for older adults at the center, according to CEO Joe O’Hehir. “We are thrilled and grateful that the city of San Rafael and Marin residents support our vision for the creation of this landmark project,” O’Hehir said in a statement.

BioMarin has allocated 15,000 square feet of its property for the Whistlestop project. In turn, Whistlestop has agreed to give its property at 648 Lindaro St. to Bio-Marin. The net property exchange results in a $1.2 million donation by BioMarin to Whistlestop, according to city officials.

The council on Monday approved a development contract between the city and BioMarin that allows the company up to 10 years to build its project. In the contract, the company has agreed to complete a $16 million environmental cleanup of the property, which was formerly a manufactured gas plant owned by Pacific Gas and Electric Co.

BioMarin is required in the contract to pay San Rafael $900,000 for traffic flow and transportation improvement projects. The company must also fund the creation of a bike lane along a quarter-mile stretch of Lindaro Street, and has agreed to create a public plaza, 3,500 feet of retail space and conference rooms available for public use on its property, among other requirements. The council’s vote to approve the project on Monday came during a council meeting that the public was banned from attending in person due to the statewide shelter-in-place order aimed at curbing the spread of the new coronavirus.

Mayor Gary Phillips presided over the meeting at City Hall and was joined by Councilwoman Maribeth Bushey, while the other three council members joined in by phone. A live video stream of the proceedings was transmitted on the city’s website and on YouTube for public viewing. People could also tune in to the meeting by listening to an audio feed over the phone.

People were invited to submit comments to the council by calling in, typing them into a live chat on the YouTube stream or sending them in writing to the city clerk prior to the start of the meeting.

“It went pretty well,” Phillips said of the meeting format. “We had the system in place without any technical glitches. It’s not my preference, but right now we don’t have another choice.”

These veggie boxes help train people with disabilities

These veggie boxes help train people with disabilitiesWhistlestop in San Rafael has kept up its mission to provide support services for older adults and people living with disabilities with free, personalized grocery delivery in partnership with United Markets. The new WhistleShoppers service facilitates food shopping for Marin residents without internet access or technical know-how or who are unable to leave home. To place a grocery order, call 415-454-0964.

The organization’s Jackson Café is open from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays for a selection of fresh, affordable takeout meals that are sold through the front door of the Active Aging Center at 930 Tamalpais Ave. in San Rafael. View the day’s menu and a list of additional Whistlestop programs that remain operational during the stay-at-home order, including local restaurants that deliver and the brown bag food pantry, at whistlestop.org or call 415-456-9062. You’ll also find links on the website for making a donation or offering volunteer help.

Marin applications for food stamps rise sharply

Marin applications for food stamps rise sharplyThe number of Marin residents approved for government food assistance increased 343% in April compared with a year ago, county health officials said.

Marin County’s Department of Health and Human Services granted 1,187 CalFresh applications last month compared with 268 in April 2019. There are 7,957 Marin households enrolled in the program.

Marin County received another 532 applications for CalFresh in April that are still being evaluated. It can take as long as 30 days to get an application processed.

Food stamps provided through the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program are known as CalFresh in California.

“While we are alarmed by the numbers of people in dire need, we are heartened by the fact that so many seem aware of the program and are availing themselves of this important resource,” said Kari Beuerman, assistant director of Marin Health and Human Services.

The increased demand for food stamps is just one indication of the growing number of Marin residents who lack the financial resources needed to feed their families since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

Because of the modest amount provided through CalFresh, hungry Marin residents are having to look to food pantries run by the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank and makeshift government programs to fill their plates.

“Folks have had the rug pulled out from under them,” said Meg Davidson, policy director at the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank. “A lot of people are coming to our food pantries as well as applying for CalFresh for the first time.”

Davidson said the food bank is serving 30,000 more households per week now that it was before the pandemic hit the Bay Area in mid-March.

“We definitely anticipate the need is going to grow as the unemployment numbers continue to rise,” Davidson said. “We’re opening new pop-up pantries every week, and they’re filling immediately. Our lines are quite long.”

Maria Jose Ruiz, a Marin County eligibility worker who signs people up for CalFresh, said that before the pandemic many people were hesitant to apply for CalFresh because of the stigma associated with government assistance.

“Since the virus hit,” she said, “people are definitely more open to applying because they need it.”

Ruiz remembers the call she received at the beginning of the county’s “shelter in place” order from the wife of an undocumented construction worker with six children. Her husband had just lost his job.

“She was petrified,” Ruiz said. “She didn’t know how they were going to feed their children or pay their rent.”

“That’s been the case with client after client,” Ruiz said. “They’ve lost their entire source of income. These are families who don’t have savings, that work day labor jobs and are really struggling to meet their needs.”

Ruiz said it is likely the county would have received more CalFresh applications if it weren’t for a new rule imposed by the Trump administration that became effective in February. The rule denies green cards, permanent legal status, to immigrants who are judged likely to require public benefits such as Medicaid, housing vouchers, or food stamps.

“When public charge went into effect, we had a lot of clients call to discontinue their benefits because they were afraid,” Ruiz said.

She said the public charge rule has also made many families fearful of using California’s Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer Program, which provides additional support to purchase groceries to families with children who are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals.

The size of the maximum benefit available through CalFresh is modest. The monthly allotment for a one-person household is $194, a little more than $6 per day; a two-person household is eligible for a maximum of $355, or less than $12 per day.

According to the Insight Center for Economic Development, an Oakland-based nonprofit, single adults in Marin need to spend $339 a month to feed themselves while two adults require $645. The estimate assumes the food is prepared at home using the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s low-cost food plan; it allows for no take-out, fast-food or restaurant meals.

“The CalFresh benefit just isn’t enough,” said Jacob Denney, the center’s director of policy and research. “The Bay Area is uniquely expensive. The statewide CalFresh benefit doesn’t account for that regional cost difference.”

Other county programs have also ramped up to help meet the growing need. Since the shelter-in-place order went into effect, the San Rafael nonprofit Whistlestop has increased the number of meals it is delivering to Marin residents with chronic or life-threatening illnesses through its Nourish program by 28% and the number of meals it is bringing to housebound older adults by 40%, said Nancy Geisse, chief operations officer.

“Since the second week of March, we’ve delivered 22,000 Meals on Wheels meals and over 7,000 Nourish meals,” Geisse said.

During the last two months, she said, Whistlestop has also delivered 5,400 meals donated by Insalata’s Restaurant through the San Rafael nonprofit ExtraFood.org. And it has helped register low-income Marin residents 65 or older in a state funded program that is paying Marin restaurants to provide meals to seniors who are sheltering from the coronavirus.

That program, which began May 18 and was slated to end on May 29, has been extended until June 10, Beuerman said.

She said 25 restaurants are participating in the program and 721 Marin residents are receiving meals.

Whistlestop’s CEO Joe O’Hehir set to retire in 2021

Whistlestop’s CEO Joe O’Hehir set to retire in 2021After more than a decade of helping to guide key services for seniors, Whistlestop CEO Joe O’Hehir has announced his plans for his own retirement.

“Whistlestop’s long-term stability and success, coupled with strong forward momentum in its growth opportunities, make this the right time for me to transition from the organization and pursue a range of personal interests,” said O’Hehir, who is scheduled to retire on Feb. 26, 2021 after serving 12 years as Whistlestop CEO.

“It’s the vision and dedication of our board, the compassion and devotion of our wonderful staff and volunteers, the outstanding generosity from our donors, and the strong collaboration with our partner community-based organizations that have helped make Whistlestop what it is today. I’ve loved every minute of my role and will always be a proud member of the Whistlestop family. I am humbled to have had the opportunity to serve.”

The San Rafael-based nonprofit’s mission is to promote independence, well-being and quality of life for older adults and people living with disabilities.

Whistlestop provides special needs transportation services through both the Golden Gate Regional Center and Marin Access, a partnership of Whistlestop, Marin Transit and Golden Gate Transit. Whistlestop provides medical and grocery transportation through its CarePool program and operates Marin’s Meals on Wheels and Whistlestop Nourish programs, serving meals to over 315 homebound older adults and people with chronic illness each week in the Marin community.

Whistlestop also helps strengthen community bonds with seniors through special programs.

During holidays, elementary students create cards for seniors. Whistlestop’s Active Aging Center offers nourishing meals and education and exercise classes.

During O’Hehir’s tenure, Whistlestop has grown into a leading $12 million nonprofit organization serving over 14,000 older adults and individuals with disabilities or chronic health conditions, and with a workforce of 400 employees and volunteers serving Marin, San Francisco, and Sonoma counties.

In March of this year, Whistlestop and its nonprofit partner Eden Housing received entitlement approvals to begin building the new state of the art Healthy Aging Campus. The campus will include 67 units of 100 percent affordable senior housing along with a new Healthy Aging and Integrated Care Center in downtown San Rafael. The new campus is scheduled to open in 2022.

“On behalf of the entire Whistlestop board, I want to express our gratitude for Joe’s strong leadership, forward-thinking vision, and the value-based programs and services he has created and led with his team,” said Denis Ryan, Whistlestop’s Board of Directors president. “The impact of Joe’s many years of service has had a positive effect on Marin County’s vulnerable older adult population.”

O’Hehir, who joined Whistlestop in 2008, has also served on the governing board of the In-home Supportive Services Public Authority of Marin for the past 16 years. He received the Center for Nonprofit Leadership’s “Heart of Marin” award for excellence in board leadership in 2006.

Dr. Tom Peters, President & CEO of Marin Community Foundation, weighed in: “Marin County has been one very lucky community in having Joe O’Hehir as a calm yet forceful voice for developing services to older adults and people with chronic challenges. Joe has shared with all of us the twin themes that are so apparent in his work: how to reach out to those most in need, and how to do so with utmost humanity, care and skill. Add to that his leadership style of creativity, encouragement and perseverance, and it’s clear, Marin is a markedly better and stronger community because of Joe O’Hehir.”

San Rafael: Whistlestop CEO announces retirement

San Rafael: Whistlestop CEO announces retirementAfter 12 years, Joe O’Hehir, the chief executive officer of Whistlestop, has announced his retirement.

Whistlestop is a San Rafael nonprofit serving older adults and those with disabilities. O’Hehir, the 2006 “Heart of Marin” award recipient for excellence in nonprofit leadership, was appointed to the post in October 2008. He plans to retire on Feb. 26, 2021.

During his tenure, O’Hehir has led Whistlestop’s growth into a $12 million nonprofit with more than 400 employees and volunteers serving more than 14,000 older adults and people with disabilities in Marin, San Francisco and Sonoma counties.

O’Hehir has been instrumental in gaining approval for Whistlestop’s new Healthy Aging Campus, which will include 67 affordable senior housing units and a senior center in downtown San Rafael. It is expected to open in 2022.

O’Hehir and the Whistlestop Board of Directors launched its two-year leadership transition plan in March 2018. The leadership team has promoted staff and has recruited professionals for leadership roles and new board members for the transition. A replacement CEO has yet to be named.

CEO of Marin County nonprofit Whistlestop to retire

CEO of Marin County nonprofit Whistlestop to retireJoe O’Hehir, CEO of the nonprofit Whistlestop based in San Rafael, announced plans to retire from that post on Feb. 26, 2021 after serving 12 years.

The Marin County organization works with older adults and those with disability, providing food, transportation and shelter services. The group, with a $12 million annual budget, serves more than 14,000 clients with a work force of 400 employees in Marin as well as San Francisco and Sonoma County.

In March, Whistlestop and its nonprofit partner, Eden Housing, received approvals to build its Healthy Aging Campus. The campus will include 67 units of 100% affordable senior housing along with a new Healthy Aging and Integrated Care Center in downtown San Rafael. The new campus is scheduled to open in 2022.

The nonprofit stated that it began an executive leadership transition plan in March 2018.

The group added that its board of directors has retained Envision Consulting to lead the CEO search process, which is expected to continue through the end of 2020. The company has offices in Los Angeles and New York.