a San Francisco Bay area

intentional community/urban retrofit co-housing/mini-ecovillage
 

 

We are a small urban community 20 miles south of San Francisco in two 4-unit apartment buildings facing the lagoon between San Mateo and Foster City. We share gardening, some meals, and other interests. There are more than two dozen fruit trees and extensive organic gardens.

photo by Clay Smith

We enjoy the view from our spa, deck, and dock. This location is wonderful: lots of birds, sunrises and moonrises over the water, access to a bike path a 1/2 block away, large park with playground, tennis courts, etc., one-two blocks away, other recreational opportunities nearby with the city amenities of proximity to freeway and public transportation including express buses to downtown San Francisco and to the San Francisco Airport as well as to the East Bay. This gives us a connection to the BART extension. Caltrain is a little over a mile away and also connects to BART at our closest station in Millbrae.

 

 

 

 

Originally we were looking at the co housing model and though this is not the way cohousing usually forms, it seemed like a viable alternative in the high priced San Francisco Bay area.  It did not seem too different that the N Street model. I have heard this type of model called virtual cohousing or urban retrofit development. (After many years of hearing about them, I finally got to visit in December 2005) Temescal Creek Cohousing in Berkeley is another retrofit cohousing community. There have been two different cohousing core groups on the Peninsula working on developing the traditional cohousing model but both have disbanded because of the difficult in finding an appropriate site. (In 2007, I heard of another group forming in Redwood City.) Later I became more aware of the ecovillage model and that felt more like what we were up to. While waiting.....and waiting to purchase our second building all community members besides the founders were renters. We welcome others to become co-owners though may be still keeping one or two apartments as rentals. The present mortgage market has made it close to impossible to have co-owners and currently we are primarily a community of renters.

 

Navigating the website:links to other pages within site are in italics.

 Agriculture

 Values

 Community Founders

 Joining Us

 More Photos

 Expansion

 

Community Charter

Updated 2011 Charter v3

Beekeeping

 Neighborhood

 

Map

 Schools


 
 

Agriculture

Organic Gardening has been a primary focus on this site since the beginning of its formation. Our gardens have been through many transformations and a description of the process can be found on the historical earlier version of this site. We have studied a variety of organic/sustainable gardening techniques over the years. We explored the use of Permaculture and have also been very interested in Biodynamic Agriculture. Penny Livingston of the Permaculture Institute of Northern California, now called the Regenerative Design Institute brought her Introduction to Permaculture workshop to us in March 1998 to provide information to local folks about how to apply these principles to an urban backyard and began our gardening process.

In January 2004, we completed an extended Urban Permaculture Course and were certified as permaculture designers. Now, with all the map technology from google, you can even see where we, and other permaculturists are on a map. Some other sites with permaculture design principals are the Permaculture Institute and from New Zealand. We also have an interest and some training in biointensive methods. Brian has studied mycology and we even have some mushrooms growing in our garden. His studies have furthered what we originally learned when studying biointensive gardening. "To grow healthy, productive plants you need healthy, productive soil. It is the organisms in the soil that provide the food plants need, in the form they need, when they need it," says Dr. Elaine Ingham from the Soil FoodWeb. We have incorporated what we learned from Dr Ingham in forming a new business, a mobile compost tea center called Communi-tea. Being involved with that business is also a possibility for community members.

Currently we have extensive gardens mostly in raised beds made with recycled wood and stone. We have planted about thirty fruit trees with multiple varieties grafted on to some of them, as well as berries, veggies, and herbs. In 2002, some of our raised beds were designed as a modified labyrinth. (These are behind the second building which we were not able to purchase until 2005.)

The labyrinth in July 2002

Lots of extensive work was done on the labyrinth the summer of 2007 with the support of many new community members. The beds were raised further and filled with deep soil comprised of the decomposed wood chips which had been in the paths, compost made on site, and composted saw dust and horse manure picked up from Woodside, and the soil that had been previously developed. The process was continued with the other half of the labyrinth the summer of 2008. Some additional very deep beds were made in the first set of beds behind the first building. So over the past five or six years, we have moved from hardpan to 3-5 feet of quality soil.


 

 

...and the labyrinth in July 2007

Besides growing veggies...we like to grow lots of flowers.

 2008 was a great year for sunflowers....
and lots more reworking of garden beds and the soil. 
We came up with some new ideas on how to do raised beds.


We have a large hoop greenhouse and a small rigid greenhouse which is used for starting seeds. We have chickens which aid in the composting process as well as worm boxes and other forms of compost. We are in the process of building a gray water system with ponds and surrounded by cob benches. We get some of our produce from the garden. We also support a local CSA getting much of the rest of our produce from the folks at Mariquita Farm. The garden is also used for our weekly common meals, which tend to be vegetarian or what is described as "pescatarian", but always have a vegetarian alternative.

One of the agricultural projects that I have become more and more interested in is beekeeping.  Brian has been managing bees here for the past two years, but said he would not continue unless I joined him in the activity.  I took the beginning course with the San Mateo Bee Guild in March 2010 and we are on our way.  I have begun to create a separate web page for that activity and to promote the sale of our honey....actually the honey that the bees in our keeping are producing.

Do check out more photos on line..... I have lots more current pictures, but have not found time to post them yet.

Oh, wow....I just learned that I can embed that slideshow right here. Thanks Picassa, but they are even larger if you look on them at their site.


 

Values:

Some communities are more values based than others. The smaller the group is, the more we feel it needs to share values. Many of our values can be summed up in the concept of sustainability. We have been involved with a local planning group called Sustainable San Mateo County. We have been nominated for a sustainability award by the Green Party of San Mateo. I am impressed by the Environmental Values Policy Statement of the forming East Bay Cohousing. Another excellent description of the values we espouse can be found on the pages of the Global Ecovillage Network.

Some of the strong values we hold that we would like to see "grow" on this site include: growing some of our own food; supporting local organic farmers in farmers' markets or in a CSA; reduce, reuse, recycle; avoiding buying food and other items that contribute to the destruction of local economies and the environment; and consensus decision making. We want to share time in the garden and at the dinner table with the people we live with.... in a non-smoking environment. We have had deliveries from a local CSA for the past 5 years. We are the pick-up site for over 20 families. More information about Community Supported Agriculture can also be found on one of my favorite resources, Wikipedia.

Our list of commitments to shared values was expanded in August 2002 when we first completed our community charter. It has since been revised.
 

Who we are:

Well, I keep saying we and you probably want to know who is behind all this. You can find out a lot about us by looking at the website I developed for our rural project in Washington State called Dragon Belly Farm. This site also provides extensive links to many of our areas of interest and commitment. Brian's pursuit of marble mosaic was inspired by our trips to Damanhur, a spiritual community in Italy. Since that time, he has created counters, floors, and walls.

 

 


 
 
 
 


Brian and I have been involved with the communities movement since the late 70's and intensively since we purchased our Washington property almost two decades ago. When we originally moved here, we anticipated returning to a rural area when we "retire." (This picture wa taken the first year we began gardening....so many changes.) Now our options have expanded. In the meantime, we wish to develop and participate in urban community. Brian is working as a machinist for United Airlines. My name is Sanda. In 2009, I retired from my work as a teacher. You can find out a little more about us by looking at my home page.

It amazed me when I looked at this picture taken in 2008 and saw how much we have done, as this picture is taken in almost the same spot as the one of Brian leaning on a rake almost a decade earlier. And if you roll your mouse over the picture, you can see what it looked like in 2010 taken from a similar spot.



 

changes

 
 
 
 

 

Shared ownership

We began on this process slowly and probably naively. In February 1998, we purchased one of eight 4-unit apartment buildings. We expected to be purchasing an adjacent second 4-unit building two years later, but the owner has delayed for various "good reasons", but finally he committed to selling it and we closed escrow on July 1, 2005. We hoped to eventually have the buildings owned by their occupants and had been investigating what form of shared ownership would best fit the situation. Sharing ownership of a 4-plex does give one opportunity for relatively affordable housing. Becoming a condo is probably not feasible; co-op ownership is not usually used in California; so after attending a real estate seminar in San Francisco, I found that "Tenants in Common" is an increasingly common way for folks to buy their own home in our high priced real estate market. " The current real estate and mortgage market has pretty much put the idea of co-owners on hold.

Joining us:

We are interviewing and actively spending time with people interested in participating in our vision of sustainable community within the city of San Mateo. We are particularly looking for other gardeners or people who desire to learn while putting time and energy into the garden. I often advertise current openings using Craigslist....as well as having listings in the Intentional Communities Directory and links from their online directory as well as link from the Ecovillage site and the Cohousing site. More information on the process to become a community member can be found in the community charter.

Renovation and possibilities for expansion

We expanded our dock early in 2002 using Nexwood made from recycled plastic and rice straw. We feel that photovoltaics increase our movement towards being a model of sustainable living and we completed installation for the whole building and our meters started spinning backwards in February 2004. Last year, we completed the extension of our deck so that it connects with decking to the other upstairs apartment. Accessibility has been increased with stairway (salvaged from a house that was being demolished) in the backyard so that folks from the downstairs as well as the upstairs apartment will have easy access to that deck, which will also create more common space. This was a part of a more extensive remodeling project on our apartment which included adding a loft on a third level and making use of a lot of recycled or sustainable building materials. I have created another page which shows pictures of our remodeling process.

loft

Three years later in July 2007, you can see our loft in the background.

Dreams: We had hoped that new owners would continue renovation, adding to both personal and common space, while working as environmentally sensitive as possible within the limitations of a retrofit. At this point, there is a plan for people in the second building to add on to their units. We certainly expect upgrading and remodeling. The city will allow us to add more square footage though we cannot add more bedrooms. We would like to see a deck built on the new building and possibly a bridge between the two. We have had the vision of building additional common space over one or both carports, which would also probably require rebuilding the carport so that it would be able to support a second story. An alternative plan would be for the community to take over the apartment which has been shared with common space. A long term dream would include seeing if neighboring buildings could be purchased. One more 4 plex would give us the number of units recommended as a minimum for cohousing.

In the past, we have always been networking with others to develop this project.   One of the downstairs apartments was set up to be shared as common space with one bedroom rented out to community members. We use the other bedroom as our office.  By renting out this apartment as a one bedroom at a reduced rent, even with support of only one owner, we were able to provide community space for our weekly meal and meeting and other community events. The process of developing community took a great leap forward in December 2000 with the addition of folks with both community and gardening experience as well as being as avid of environmentalists as we are.  There have been other community oriented folks who have moved in as renters over the past four years. By spring 2004, most of those folks had left and we began recreating our community. (Interestingly, two couples who met here have gone on to purchase a duplex together in Oakland and two of the single folks are now sharing an apartment in San Francisco.) At one point there was another owner who remodeled their upstairs 3BR apartment. Shortly after they left, we stopped using the downstairs apartment for common space, but rented it as a one bedroom with den. We had no common space for awhile, but then we decided to make the renovated upstairs 3BR into common space. We rent out two of the bedrooms, and claimed the third bedroom for ourselves as a sort of hobby room. The whole community is enjoying the larger room with a better view.

Community members:

You can find out about some of our other community members on our bio page Yet another period of massive change and the bio page needs extensive changing as people come and go.

We met two of our former community members, Ryanne and Jay when they came over to interview us about the ecovillage for their video blog in 2007. Check out their website, lots of videos on different green subjects. Or see that video here. After a year of great growth for both them and the community, they left during the summer of 2008 to form a community in Virginia.


Click To Play

Ryanne and Jay inspired me to learn more about video blogging, and I finally began to do things after I discovered the qik application that turned my iPhone into a video camera that streamed on line. I started doing lots of political videos and one of the ecovillage. In April, they came out with a better quality video application, though it does not live steram. I took two video clips the first week of May 2010. I am working on turning it into an iMovie using still photos as well, but in the meantime, here are the two clips. More recently I have gotten involved with Livestreaming, particularly working with the GPUS channel.

 

 

Working with the Neighborhood

We are interested in helping create a greater feeling of community in our culturally and economically diverse neighborhood. We are nestled between the lagoon which forms our eastern border (with Foster City across the way), wetlands on the south, Hillsdale Blvd on the north and Highway 101 on the west with the large Los Prados Park in the center.

Photo by Clay Smith , a former community member and creative photographer. Check out his time lapse videos taken right here; I particularly like "Squirrel."

We are served by the San Mateo-Foster City School District and our local schools are George Hall Elementary School and either Bayside Middle School for the Arts and Creative Technology or Abbot Middle School. There are also several exciting magnet programs at district elementary schools including a bilingual immersion with international curriculum developed at Stanford, a school for gifted kids, and a Montessori program. High school students are served by San Mateo Union High School District. In the past we have been involved with a now defunct program to organize the neighborhood by Kids and Family First.

Our neighborhood is changing rapidly as homes are being remodeled and costs are doubling. More recently four of the "remodels" are megahouses which is changing the character and increasing prices. We are served by a small shopping center 1/2 mile away which includes Marina Market (primarily Asian), a few restaurants, and other businesses. There are several other commercial centers within a mile or two including Whole Foods. Aladdin Market (Middle Eastern) and Trader Joe's.

 

 

We are also involved with the Marina Lagoon Action Committee. The San Mateo Water Ski Club is also part of this organization. They recently were doing a community project to improve the shore line to facilitate erosion control. This picture was taken many years ago on a day when they came over to work on our shore line. This was done using recycled concrete diverting this construction material from the waste stream. We look for other opportunities for local community involvement....and always look for opportunities to reuse or recycle materials.

Some local and state wide recycling organizations:

For further information

 

:or sanda at greensolutions.org or call Sanda and Brian Everette at (650) 574-7155.
 



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Site updated August 2011