Former state architect's buildings red-tagged by Marin County

Sim Van der Ryn, California state architect under Gov. Jerry Brown in the 1970s, and a leading figure in the sustainable architecture movement, was “red-tagged” by Marin County building inspectors last year for a structure he was building on his Inverness property.

At issue was a “detached accessory structure for living space,” under construction without a permit, says Christy Stanley, the code-enforcement officer on the case. But the county inspection—which followed a confidential civilian complaint against Van der Ryn—yielded “additional violations on the property,” says Stanley. Van der Ryn submitted new building applications in late January that would bring other structures up to snuff with county rules, after “a couple of rounds of inspections, both on-site and in our office,” says Stanley, a 25-year employee of the county.

Van der Ryn modified the red-tagged building and has “chosen to scale back some of the improvements to limit his permit exposure” on other structures, says Stanley.

Van der Ryn tells the Bohemian that one red-tagged building was an attempt “to create affordable housing for some people who work here. Now those people are gone.” In Brown’s administration, “I was the state’s chief enforcement officer,” he says with a laugh as he defends the county’s code-enforcement mandate. “The county isn’t a villain, they are not the problem,” he says. “They have to do the investigation.”

For now, Van der Ryn says he’s working to bring his properties into compliance, and that the real villain is the well-heeled NIMBYism of newcomers unfamiliar with local byways (i.e., the person who called the county on him last summer).

“People can feel the change here,” he says.—Tom Gogola

Sonoma County Library