Ross Valley panel selected for child care site decision


A committee of seven Ross Valley residents has been selected to guide the fate of the Fairfax-San Anselmo Children’s Center.

The Ross Valley School District board of trustees voted unanimously Wednesday in favor of the panelists. The group, selected from 16 applicants, is expected to hold public hearings over the next few weeks to determine if the children’s center site can be declared as surplus property.

Such a declaration would clear the way for the school district, which owns the property at Deer Park in Fairfax, to sell or transfer the site to the center’s operators. The center leases the property from the district on a month-to-month basis.

“We need for this to happen for this process to move forward,” Heidi Tomsky, the center director, said after the committee members were announced. “This is a good thing.”

Superintendent Marci Trahan said the committee members include a broad representation of the community, as required by law. The committee was required to include someone who represents “the ethnic, age group and socioeconomic composition of the district” as well as a businessperson, a teacher, a school administrator, a landowner or renter, a school parent and someone with expertise in zoning, property management or environmental issues.

“We were able to have all seven categories of people represented,” Trahan said.

The committee members are Brad Bauer, Chris Carson, Max Edwards, Janet Garvin, Claudia Holko, Tayu Neogy and Justin Taplin.

Carson is the district’s chief business officer, satisfying the requirement for a school administrator, and Holko is a retired Ross Valley district teacher. Bauer is the husband of former district trustee Annelise Bauer, but it was not clear how his credentials fit in with the panel’s requirements.

The occupations, ethnicities, ages or affiliations of the other committee members were not available.

Trahan said the group was kept to seven, the minimum number required, in order to allow for ease and efficiency in coordinating schedules for meetings.

The center, one of the only subsidized child care centers in Marin that supports low-income families, has been in the Deer Park location for decades. The crisis started in March, when the center asked the district for a long-term lease so it could seek grants for improvements and renovations.

In May, Terry Tao, the district’s attorney, recommended declining the center’s request. Instead, he said, the trustees should issue a notice to vacate the center property within 30 to 60 days because of liability issues.

Tao advised trustees that the property needs at least $8 million worth of repairs and renovations to bring it up to various safety, fire and building codes. Without the upgrades, he said, the trustees could be held personally liable if something happened to the children or staff.

The trustees declined to act on Tao’s recommendations. Instead, they agreed to a process for potential sale or transfer of the property to the center’s operators. At the same time, however, there was a massive public outcry to protest the idea of an eviction at the center. Large crowds attended each public meeting on the issue throughout the summer and fall.

On Wednesday, some of the district’s critics questioned why officials chose to keep the number of people on the new committee at seven. Under law, the committee could go to a maximum of 11 people.

“This is such an important topic,” Ross Valley education activist Lisa Canin said. “Why not have more people?”

Sharon Sagar, board president of the Ross Valley Charter school, said she was not chosen for the committee, even though she has expertise with the children’s center. She served for 15 years on the school district’s board of trustees and on the board’s facilities and maintenance committee.

“The committee members they chose do not represent any of the people who have been showing up for public meetings,” she said. Sagar said she has been to every meeting on the topic since the discussions started in the summer.

Bob Davisson, a San Anselmo resident and local banking professional, also said he applied for the committee but was not selected. An avid supporter of the center, Davisson has attended numerous public meetings.

Davisson said he might have alienated officials when he recently pushed to get a copy of the district’s insurance policy. He eventually got a copy of the 46-page document, he said, but he had to register some complaints first.

“I guess I’m not one of their favorite people,” Davisson said. “I offer an alternative voice.”

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