Upfront: Sheds Happen

Locals freak out as strange and unwelcome obelisk appears in downtown Bolinas

By Tom Gogola

A shed went up two weeks ago in downtown Bolinas, and many people are not happy about it.

The shed was commissioned by the Bolinas resident who owns and lives at 12 Wharf Road, Matt Yerington—whose property includes a strip of driveway and dirt that bisects an open, paved space between the Bolinas Community Center (BCC) and BoGas. The latter is run by the Bolinas Community Land Trust, which also owns property near the shed. The shed was planted in a strip of dirt that runs up against the property line of the Community Center. It’s a wooden affair, 56 square feet, totally legal by county code, and was designed to stash sports equipment.

I talked to the owner of the shed early this week, and to a bunch of locals, and I interviewed the shed—the real victim in this tale, as far as I’m concerned. Asked about the controversial shed during a brief interview over his fence-where a large great dane growled in the direction of this reporter, the elder child of Yerington declared, “What controversy? We own the land.”

Indeed they do. But the controversy, as numerous locals have attested, is that the owner just up and built the shed without any consultation or discussion with the people who now have to look at it every day, and negotiate its somewhat awkward positioning.

It’s worth noting that some five years ago, Yerington installed planters in the lot after a two-year process that included a non-mandatory vote of approval from the BCC.

This time around, he didn’t go to the BCC for their blessing, Yerington says. He just wanted to build the shed for his eldest son’s surfboards, and for his youngest son’s bicycles and says time was of the essence. And one shed-opposing resident described the shed in terms usually reserved for a tight array of wallflowers at a dance—a socially awkward shed trying to shim its way into a tight space, with everyone staring and pointing. The poor shed.

One shed opponent freely admitted that the issue was something of a tempest in a teapot, but it’s nevertheless a tempest, a bombogenetic cyclone of characteristic small-town activity, a local issue of such excruciatingly small-town concern that it’s all anyone can do but beat every contour of the shed discussion to death, in the hopes that the shed will get the message and go away. “Did anyone break the windows yet?” asked a local in an emporium of natural health.

The shed doesn’t appear to have gotten the memo that it is not wanted. Like any newcomer to town, there are local rituals and mores that must be abided by in order to gain acceptance and learn the secret handshake. You don’t just show up and plant yourself in the center of community activity and expect the welcoming committee. Yerington says that he supports the idea of Bolinas as the “Land of No”—and that any change is going to be met with extreme suspicion. But it’s just a shed, he said. A resident called Marin County on Yerington, and he says the county inspector came and said, “What’s the problem?” It’s a private shed on private land that’s not being used for commercial purposes—though during an interview on the town dock on Monday afternoon, Yerington wouldn’t dismiss the possibility down the road.

Another long-time local noted that such was the militant spirit of the town, back in the day, that if the shed had been built 10 years ago, locals would have torn it down by now, ripped it out by its roots and sent it running. That local clearly hates the shed. Whatever land rights the owner might rightfully claim, the consensus among numerous interviews with locals is that the shed represents a giant “Eff You” to the town of Bolinas.

When the shed appeared, the immediate concern was that it blocked the sun from entering the Bolinas Community Center, where sunshine is desired for yoga classes and the various events that transpire at the town center. At first, the raw wood edifice inspired grousing that it would violate Marin code that requires beautification of new edifices via a paint job. The shed was soon painted in white-and-blue hues that are complementary to the paint job on the BCC, and there’s a neat architectural symmetry to the respective edifices’ peaked roofs.

If you didn’t know any better, you’d think they were related. Not so.

The shed popped up like a randomly appearing obelisk from the Led Zeppelin album Presence, or like the first scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey, where a bunch of proto-humans encounter the outer space obelisk and then figure out how to beat the crap out of other proto-humans, with bones. The obelisk was an evolution enhancer, but the Bolinas shed has residents reaching for their own bone weapons. Even still, the shed provided jobs to local builders and painters over the past couple of weeks. And cue the de rigueur jokes about the shed as an example of just the sort of affordable housing we need in Bolinas.

As of Monday morning, the shed rumors were flying faster than a 3am Trump tweet-storm. He’s going to build three of them! (Not so, says Yerington, who adds that he heard a rumor that he was going to build five sheds.) He’s going to totally block the sun. He’s going to start another surf shop in town! He’s going to add to an already nightmarish weekend parking scene! A local was busy finishing the paint job on a beautiful spring morning, as other locals leapt at the chance to throw their hate on the shed, even if anonymously.

Yerington says he didn’t go to the BCC or anyone else for approval that he didn’t need, owing to the time-sensitive nature of the shed build-out and its intended uses. His eldest son is a big surfer and is headed off to college in September. Yerington figures he’ll be stashing his boards at the homestead for at least the next four summers, and that if he’d waited for the BCC weigh-in on his plans, it would have taken five years and the entire purpose of the shed would have been rendered null and void by then. He needs the shed now, Yerington says, and adds that he figures on letting locals stash their stuff in it, too. Earlier in the day, the younger Yerington met this reporter at the gate to the family spread and said he didn’t see what the big deal was, and thought it was kind of silly that anyone would write about the shed. It’s just a shed; who cares. People care.

The shed, on the other hand, says it is glad for the attention to its plight, though it is suffering from some identity issues and could use a friend right now. During a recent interview with the Pacific Sun, the shed was empty and bereft, and wondered why everyone hated it so much. “I’m just a shed,” it said. “I mean no harm to the locals. It’s not like I’m the CEO of Pinterest or something.”

Locals interviewed for this story were uniform in their concern for the shed and its feelings. They’re not holding the shed personally responsible for its rolling outrage against town rituals, and during the interview at the town dock, Yerington was greeted by a few friendly locals who did not appear to be wielding pitchforks. He’s been living in his downtown Bolinas home for seven years and has a 12-year history in town. His wife is an artist who teaches at the local school. On Monday morning outside of the People’s Store—where the legendary “Free Box” abuts the Yerington property—the shed was all anyone was talking about, along with the lovely spring weather.

“I hope they will come to accept me,” said the shed.

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