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Vivalon shifts plan to promising track

Marin-IJ-Editorial_-Vivalon-shifts-plan-to-promising-trackMarin  Independent  Journal (

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


© 2016 Marin Independent Journal (

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