Point Reyes Light - November 24, 2004

 Lucasfilm to transfer much of its workforce

By Jim Kravets

All 250 employees at Nicasio’s Lucasfilm’s Big Rock Ranch facility will move to the company’s new $300 million complex in the San Francisco Presidio beginning July, 2005, a spokeswoman said. The Big Rock Ranch staff will join approximately 1,300 employees from Lucas’ other Marin companies – over 80 percent of the workforce – in making the move south. The 200 employees at Skywalker Ranch in Nicasio will be unaffected.

Workers will relocate to the four-building, 800,000 square-foot Letterman Digital Arts Center at the east end of the Presidio. The 1,491-acre former US Army base was transferred to the National Park Service in 1994. The federal non-profit Presidio Trust was established in 1996 to steward the land.

Lucas wants everyone under one roof

Lucasfilm spokeswoman Marlene Saritzky said George Lucas has long wanted his entire staff to be at the same facility, adding that this move has been in the works for years. "One of the primary goals of the new campus," Saritzky said, "is to have all the employees of Lucasfilm under one roof."

Currently the many companies that fall under the umbrella "Lucasfilm" – including Lucas Arts, Lucas Digital, Lucas Learning, Skywalker Sound, and Industrial Light and Magic – are based in various sites in the San Rafael area.

"It’s an enormous advantage for the company to be under the same roof together," Saritzky said. "It makes perfect sense."

In an attempt to cause the least amount of disruption for the staff, she said, workers will move to San Francisco in stages over two months "We’re working closely with employees to minimize inconvenience."

No further move planned

Everyone should be in place by September, Saritzky said, noting that there are no plans for a further exodus in the future.

"That’s it. Nothing further planned," she said.

Lucasfilm spokesmen were unable to estimate either the number or percentage of employees who currently live in Marin county. Saritzky said that while it’s really up to the individual whether they change residence to San Francisco, Lucasfilm is creating incentives for carpooling and vanpooling.

"We want to make it easy," she said. Saritzky, who lives in Mill Valley, is herself one of the employees who will move to the Presidio complex next year.

Increased traffic congestion on Lucas Valley Road, resulting from the two Nicasio facilities, has long plagued residents in adjacent communities. The move to the Presidio will no doubt improve this situation. Moreover, a worst-case-scenario in which 1,500 additional commuters clog Highway 101 would not likely pose a traffic problem on the Golden Gate Bridge, according to Mike Locati, Bridge Captain for the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District. "Presuming some will use [cashless] Fastrak [passes] and some will use mass transit, it will not be a big issue for us."

The 2,600-acre Skywalker Ranch facility in West Marin is home to Skywalker Sound, the company’s film-editing division, the art department as well as the George Lucas Education Foundation.

The 250 employees at Big Rock Ranch comprise Lucasfilm’s marketing, licensing, distribution and online departments. Despite rumors to the contrary, Saritzky said that Lucas intends to hang onto the property and has no plans for its sale or lease. "Big Rock Ranch will be used for future office production space by Lucasfilm."

Won’t sell Big Rock Ranch

The 185,000-square-foot facility at Big Rock Ranch was completed in 2002 for $81 million dollars. In retrospect, Saritzky said the company has no regrets about building the facility. During the planning process, Lucas agreed to restrict construction on the 1,117-acre ranch to a 56-acre area. As part of the project’s conditions of approval, Lucas provided the county with easements for 11 miles of trails across the Lucas Valley Open Space Preserve.

Lucas also offered to build a tunnel under Lucas Valley Road at the Big Rock summit to allow pedestrians, bikers, and equestrians safe-passage between county open-space lands on either side of the potentially dangerous roadway.

"At our expense, we’re willing to [build the tunnel]," then Lucasfilm President Gordon Radley, told The Light in Dec. 2002. The project is estimated to cost Lucas $1 million.

Tunnel’s environmental study complete

The tunnel project was put on hold in Aug., 2003 following the discovery on the site of rare plant species including Marin western flax and mount tamalpais Jewelflower. Nearby wetlands, which fall under federal jurisdiction, also delayed the project.

An environmental study supervised by county Public Works was completed last month.

"The study identified the location of the special status plant species in the vicinity of the proposed tunnel," Open Space District Assistant General Manager Ron Miska told The Light Tuesday. "Now," he said, "it’s time to make a decision whether or not to proceed with the tunnel."

The next step, according to Miska, is for staff from the Open Space District and the Department of Public Works to meet with Supervisor Steve Kinsey.

Miska doesn’t believe the mass shift of Lucasfilm employees will affect the project’s future. "I don’t think it’ll have any effect, really," he said. "There’s been no discussion about it, but we’re assuming Lucas will still have a facility out there."

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