George Lucas is right to build affordable housing in his wealthy California neighborhood.
He's building something that America needs way more of.
George Lucas just royally pissed off a bunch of his wealthy neighbors...
...and became my new hero.
You see, Lucas' movie studio, Skywalker Ranch, is located in Marin County, California, which is among the wealthiest communities in the country.
When Lucas first moved his studio to the wealthy suburban county in 1978, many of his neighbors initially feared he would build this:
But he actually built this:
A few years back, Lucas decided the studio was due for an expansion. Since he had gone to such great lengths to preserve the quiet, scenic qualities of the community before, he figured it would be no problem.
But his wealthy neighbors freaked out anyway.
They were afraid the expansion would spoil their precious views despite Lucas' long track record of not messing with anyone's view. And they were afraid a business expansion would disturb the character of the neighborhood.
The community fought the project for years, until 2012, when Lucas finally gave in and decided to sell the land to a developer who would keep the neighborhood residential like his neighbors requested.
But he would make sure that the people who moved into the new development would be the sorts of folks priced out of the otherwise wealthy community, writing in a letter:
"We hope we will be able to find a developer who will be interested in low income housing since it is scarce in Marin."
And well, you can pretty much guess what happened next:
Norimitsu Onishi, New York Times:
“It's inciting class warfare," said Carolyn Lenert, head of the North San Rafael Coalition of Residents.
Carl Fricke, a board member of the Lucas Valley Estates Homeowners Association, which represents houses nearest to the Lucas property, said: “We got letters saying, 'You guys are going to get what you deserve. You're going to bring drug dealers, all this crime and lowlife in here.' "
And at first, it played out the usual way. There was the community board uproar, and political hurdles, and endless red tape. One of his community partners backed out when the cost got too high. And the project was tabled.
But here's the thing. George Lucas is a billionaire.
Which means George Lucas can basically do whatever George Lucas wants.
So he's building it anyway. With his own money.
Now, two years after that project stalled, Lucas has decided to build the affordable housing and pay for it all himself.
“We've got enough millionaires here. What we need is some houses for regular working people," Lucas said through his lawyer Gary Giacomini.
Which, excuse me for gushing, is a move so baller that it almost makes up for Episodes I-III.*
*Just kidding, George Lucas. You can do no wrong and I love you.
As plainly awesome as this is, this sort of thing is obviously not a long-term solution for housing discrimination.
We can't wait for altruistic billionaires to swoop in on their white horses and integrate our communities with their magic money wands.
So listen, rich people.
I'm hip to your game.
You see, I grew up among you, in a well-off, bucolic, suburban community not far from New York City.
And I speak your language.
I know there was once a time when "I don't want a black family, or a Korean family, or the janitor and his kids moving in on my street," was a thing you could say to a bunch of other rich people without shame or embarrassment. Heck, in some circles, you might even get a medal.
But you can't say that anymore. People will look at you funny. With good reason.
So now you whisper things.
Things like "It's class warfare." Or "The schools will get overcrowded." Or "There'll be too much traffic downtown." Or "It's a fire hazard." Or "It is located in an undesirable location."
And sure, some people do legitimately worry about traffic, or development, or putting stress on the schools with the best of intentions.
But too often, these whispers are code for, "We don't want those people living next door."
Which is why I say this — as lovingly as I can:
Get your act together.
Poor and middle-class people want the same things you want: decent schools and safety for their kids, and a calm, peaceful life. They're not scary. They don't bite. And having them in the neighborhood probably won't trash your property values.
"I believe in equality of opportunity, just not equality of outcome."
...is a thing I've heard you all say over and over again — usually to convince yourselves that your successes are all thanks to your own plucky, nose-to-the-grindstone grit, as opposed to the natural result of having enormous advantages from the moment you were born.
And weirdly, I actually agree.
No one can guarantee that everyone will strike it rich in life (though I believe we can do much, much more to ensure that people who don't make it big don't simply fall through the cracks). Someone, inevitably, is going to cross the finish line first. But everyone — whether their parents are rich, poor, or otherwise — should start from the same starting line.
That means having access to good schools. And resources in your community to help you pursue your interests and develop your skills. And living side by side with successful people who can mentor you. I had that growing up. The kids who live in George Lucas' hometown in Marin have that. Kids only a few miles away in places like Oakland, or Bridgeport, Connecticut, or East New York too often do not.