FSACC secures relocation post-eviction

The Fairfax San-Anselmo Childrens Center is set to be purchased by the Seiderman Legacy Childrens Fund.
The Fairfax San-Anselmo Children’s Center is set to be purchased by the Seiderman Legacy Children’s Fund.
Luca Roy

After a two-year struggle with the Ross Valley School District (RVSD), the Fairfax-San Anselmo Children’s Center (FSACC) faced eviction in February of 2024. The FSACC has provided state-subsidized child care to thousands of children since its inception in 1973, but concerns over the property’s safety have led to debates within the community.

The FSACC’s original lease on their main property at Deer Park ended in August of 2022. The FSACC was unable to renew the lease due to issues that arose during an inspection conducted by the RVSD in the summer of 2022 which revealed that the structure violated multiple safety codes. 

The FSACC received a 30-day lease termination notice stating that they must vacate the property by February 21, 2024, or the RVSD would be able to commence legal proceedings against them. Despite this termination notice, FSACC staff and students have remained on the property, largely due to the fact that the RVSD has not filed an unlawful detainer which would forcefully vacate the property.

The Fairfax-San Anselmo Children’s Center provides state-subsidized childcare within the community. (Silas Eyler)

Marin resident and Eleven Real Estate agent Ryan O’Neil was elected Fairfax Town Councilman and trustee of the Ross Valley School District Board in 2012. During his career as a realtor, he has helped manage the FSACC property under the RVSD.

“[The FSACC] wasn’t evicted until [January]. Their lease was not renewed based on the fact that it was proven and has been documented many times that it is an unsafe place for children,” O’Neil said. “When we learned that there was a fire report that came in a couple of years ago that said that [the Deer Park property] is an unsafe place to have children, our attorney said that we needed to give them 30 days to find a new home.”

O’Neil attributed the FSACC’s delayed eviction to the emotional service it has provided to the Ross Valley community. 

“Our board agreed, ‘That’s not fair…’ these are 120 families [receiving FSACC services]… if this were some sort of business, they would have just been evicted….but because this is the emotional support of a community, we didn’t feel like we wanted to listen to our attorney,” O’Neil said.

According to O’Neil, the RVSD didn’t want the liability of renting the property to the FSACC. 

“We as a district could not afford to have a fire where children were killed without having an immense liability. Once you know about a problem, you’re liable to fix that problem. Once you know something and fail to act, that makes you liable,” O’Neil said.

Although the RVSD board had hopes of purchasing the Deer Park property, they were unable to acquire relevant information regarding the FSACC’s student data.  

“We [the board] wanted to know how many [FSACC] students came to our schools and they wouldn’t give us this data,” O’Neil said. “The town of San Anselmo did not step up to buy [the property], they have a much bigger budget than our school district. The town of Fairfax didn’t want to buy it either.”

The Fairfax-San-Anselmo Children’s Center faced eviction in February of 2024. (Luca Roy)

Parent and FSACC alumni Julia Howard-Gibbon also serves as the president of the FSACC Board of Directors. She was elected president in late 2023 but first attended the center as a student in 1987. During her time working for the FSACC, Howard-Gibbon noticed the deterioration of the property. 

“There haven’t been a lot of upgrades [to the FSACC,] so there was a report done, and there was some fear around safety related to earthquakes and fires,” Howard-Gibbon said. “The [RVSD’s] attorney advised them that if a catastrophe happened they could potentially be personally liable for anything that happened to kids on the property.”

In August of 2023, the FSACC began investigating the viability of the Deer Park property for themselves.

“We hired architects, engineers, and contractors to come take a look at the property and tell us what the [FSACC] would have to do to upgrade [the property] to get it to code and ensure future safety, and what turned out was that the building is already to code. It’s not in violation of any codes. The fire department inspected it, and it complies with fire safety codes,” Howard-Gibbon said. 

Despite claims from the RVSD, Howard-Gibbon says the property is safe to host a childcare facility.

“Child Care Licensing for the state of California did a thorough investigation and found [the property] safe for children, so it turns out that nobody is recommending that children be removed from the property, other than the RVSD,” Howard-Gibbon said. “We’ve had over 15 professionals or regulators look at the property, and they all said that while seismic or fire safety upgrades would be great, those things would be voluntary.”

The Fairfax-San Anselmo Children’s Center’s Deer Park Property failed to pass an inspection by the Ross Valley School District in 2022. (Luca Roy)

While Julia anticipated the RVSD’s plan to file against the FSACC, she doesn’t foresee the forced eviction of the center.

“The plan is for the district to sell the property to a new non-profit, the Seiderman Legacy Children’s Fund (SLCF), which will lease the property back to the FSACC. The [RVSD] will hold a vote on whether to sign the purchase and sale agreement [on March 27th] at the [RVSD] Board of Trustees meeting,” Howard-Gibbon said.

On March 27, 2024, the RVSD voted to sell the Deer Park property to the SLCF. The deal between the RVSD and the SLCF is expected to close within 60 days, and the SLCF will continue to lease the property to the FSACC.

Fairfax Council Member Stephanie Hellman has worked as a consultant under contract for the FSACC since September of 2023. She also serves as Board President of the Ross Valley Fire Department. 

“For over 50 years, [the FSACC] have been providing high-quality child care for infants, toddlers, and school-aged children before and after school,” Hellman said. “It serves our low-income, and primarily diverse community members. Over 70 percent of the families live in the Ross Valley, over 80 percent of them are families of color, and over half of them are single-parent families. It is a critical service that we need to support.”

While the Deer Park property’s alleged safety concerns remain unresolved, the purchase of the property by the SLCF will allow the FSACC to continue to offer valuable education to the Ross Valley community. 

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