Minutes from the bridge and a world away
Photos by Tim Porter
If the true measure of a community is the quality of the young people it raises and the way its citizens interact, then Tamalpais Valley might be one the richest areas in Marin.
“Pride in your school is such a great feeling,” says the popular principal of Tamalpais Valley Elementary School, Gail Van Adelsberg. “The kids here are proud and feel they can do anything.”
Van Adelsberg, known affectionately as “Mrs. Van” by students and even some parents, moved to Marin to begin teaching at the school 10 years ago, leaving behind jobs teaching at American schools in such exotic places as La Paz, Bolivia and Lima, Peru.
The physical setting of the school with 492 students as well as the commitment level of the parents and staff immediately impressed her. “We have very generous parents; it’s just unbelievable. They are willing to volunteer, drive on field trips and put their money where their mouth is,” she says. “They are willing to contribute whatever we need.”
In an area that is mostly residential, the top-ranked school, built in 1951, serves as a meeting place where parents can get together and discuss the challenges and pleasures of raising children. “There is a wonderful community feel; people want to meet each other and help where they can.” All of this makes teaching in Tam Valley a lot of fun. “This is my favorite teaching job I’ve ever had,” Van Adelsberg says. “It’s dynamic, challenging and extremely rewarding—all in such a beautiful setting.”
Just minutes from the Golden Gate Bridge between Sausalito and Mill Valley, this unincorporated area of Marin County has about 2,500 households, each with ample access to a wealth of bike paths, parks, trails, Mount Tamalpais, even a creek. Its residents are also within easy striking distance of downtown Mill Valley, San Francisco and the southern portion of West Marin. Through State Route One, which runs right through Tam Valley, residents can easily access the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Mount Tamalpais State Park and the communities of Stinson Beach, Muir Beach and Bolinas.
But one of the community’s true treasures lies a little closer to home.
“I lived so close to the community center and got exposed to local government that way,” says Tam Valley Community Services District board president Steffen Bartschat, who has lived in the valley for 12 years. “I thought it would be nice to get involved and discover all the things that we could do.”
Bartschat quickly discovered that there were indeed many things to do and learned more about the community services district, formed in the 1960s to handle three main tasks for Tam Valley: sanitation, garbage collection and parks and recreation. The district board is composed of elected members and serves as kind of a city council but with a limited focus.
“It gives you a very tight mission compared to a town council,” he says. “And people seem to like having local government smaller and closer. If they have a problem or suggestion the board is made up of their neighbors; they can just walk right over.”
According to Bartschat, the fact that these services are handled by the district and not contracted out allows people to try new things or implement fresh ideas on the fly. He points to examples such as food waste collection, sewer line replacement, recycling programs and paper shredding and medicine collection events as recent examples. He is also proud of the contract post office station that opened recently at DeLano’s IGA. “That came from someone in the community with a good idea,” he says.
But Bartschat admits that while sanitation and garbage are important, it is parks and recreation and the standout Tam Valley Community Center that are the real attractions. “We are re-creating kind of a 1950s feel,” he says of the center. “Lots of family events, barbecues, music and films. We are really building a sense of community.”
Patricia Scott Winslow, a Decker Bullock Sotheby’s agent with years of Bay Area experience, says it is just this sense of community that is bringing young families from San Francisco north when they’re looking for a new home.
“It is an easy commute, you can drive right out to the beach and you are surrounded by stunning open space,” the Mill Valley resident says. “People come from all over to live in or near Mill Valley.”
So far this year about 29 homes have sold in Tam Valley to people looking to call the area home. Prices ranged from a low $370,000 for a 699-square-foot home to $2.395 million on the high end for something quite a bit larger. On average prices are a little lower in Tam Valley than in Mill Valley, with a median home price of just over $1 million.