San Mateo Ecovillage  

a San Francisco Bay area

intentional community/urban retrofit co-housing/mini-ecovillage

We are forming a small urban community 20 miles south of San Francisco in two 4-unit apartment buildings facing the lagoon between San Mateo and Foster City. We are seeking other "families" and individuals to share ownership. We expect to share some meals, gardening, and other interests. There are fruit trees and organic gardens.

photo by Clay Smith

We enjoy the view from our spa, deck, and dock. This location is wonderful: lots of birds, sunrises and moonrises over the water, access to a bike path a 1/2 block away, large park with playground, tennis courts, etc., one-two blocks away, other recreational opportunities nearby with the city amenities of proximity to freeway and public transportation including express buses to downtown San Francisco and to the San Francisco Airport as well as to the East Bay. This gives us a connection to the BART extension. Caltrain is a little over a mile away.



Numerous pictures have been posted in Yahoo scrapbooks

Origninally we were looking at the cohousing model and though this is not the way cohousing usually forms, it seemed like a viable alternative in the high priced San Francisco Bay area.  It did not seem too different that the N Street model. I have heard this type of model called virtual cohousing or urban retrofit development. (After many years of hearing about them, I finally got to visit inn December 2005) Temescal Creek Cohousing in Berkeley is another retrofit cohousing community. There have been two different cohousing core groups on the Peninsula working on developing the traditional cohousing model but both have disbanded because of the difficult in finding an appropriate site.  Later I became more aware of the ecovillage model and that felt more like what we were up to. While waiting.....and waiting to purchase our second building all community members besides the founders were renters. We welcome others to become co-owners though may be still keeping one or two apartments as rentals.


Navigating the website:links to other pages within site are in italics.



 Community Founders

 Joining Us

 More photos


 Community Charter

Member bios

 Neighborhood Map




Organic Gardening has been a primary focus on this site since the beginning of its formation. Our gardens have been through many transformations and a description of the process can be found on the historical earlier version of this site. We have studied a variety of organic/sustainable gardening techniques over the years. We explored the use of Permaculture and have also been very interested in Biodynamic Agriculture. Penny Livingston of the Permaculture Institute of Northern California brought her Introduction to Permaculture workshop to us in March 1998 to provide information to local folks about how to apply these principles to an urban backyard and began our gardening process.

In January 2004, we completed an extended Urban Permaculture Course and were certified as permaculture designers. Now, with all the map technology from google, you can even see where we, and other permaculturists are on a map. We also have an interest and some training in biointensive methods. Brian has studied mycology and we even have some mushrooms growing in our garden. His recent studies have furthered what we originally learned when studying biointensive gardening. "To grow healthy, productive plants you need healthy, productive soil. It is the organisms in the soil that provide the food plants need, in the form they need, when they need it," says Dr. Elaine Ingham from the Soil FoodWeb. We have incorporated what we learned from Dr Ingham in forming our new business, a mobile compost tea center called Communi-tea. Being involved with that business is also a possibility for community members.

Currently we have extensive gardens mostly in raised beds made with recycled wood and stone. We have planted about two dozen fruit trees as well as berries, veggies, and herbs. In 2002, some of our raised beds were designed as a modified labyrinth. (These are behind the second building which we were not able to purchase until 2005.)

and the labyrinth in July 2007

Besides growing veggies...we like to grow lots of flowers.


We have a large hoop greenhouse and a small rigid greenhouse which is used for starting seeds. We have chickens which aid in the composting process as well as worm boxes and other forms of compost. We are currently in the process of building a gray water system with ponds and surrounded by cob benches. We get some of our produce from the garden. We also support a local CSA getting much of the rest of our produce from the folks at Two Small Farms. The garden is also used for our weekly common meals.

Do check out more photos in Yahoo scrapbooks. I have lots more current pictures, but have not found time to post them yet. I have particularly enjoyed taking pictures of flowers in our gardens.   



Some communities are more values based than others. The smaller the group is, the more we feel it needs to share values. Many of our values can be summed up in the concept of sustainability. We have been involved with a local planning group called Sustainable San Mateo County. We have been nominated for a sutainability award by the Green Party of San Mateo. I am impressed by the Environmental Values Policy Statement of the forming East Bay Cohousing. Another excellent description of the values we espouse can be found on the pages of the Global Ecovillage Network.

Some of the strong values we hold that we would like to see "grow" on this site include: growing some of our own food; supporting local organic farmers in farmers' markets or in a CSA; reduce, reuse, recycle; avoiding buying food and other items that contribute to the destruction of local economies and the environment; and consensus decision making. We want to share time in the garden and at the dinner table with the people we live with.... in a non-smoking environment.

Our list of commitments to shared values was expanded in August 2002 when we completed our community charter.

Who we are:

Well, I keep saying we and you probably want to know who is behind all this. You can find out a lot about us by looking at the website I developed for our rural project in Washington State called Dragon Belly Farm. This site also provides extensive links to many of our areas of interest and commitment. Brian's recent pursuit of marble mosaic was inspired by our trips to Damanhur, a spiritual community in Italy. You can see more of his marble work in our Yahoo scrapbook.




Brian and I have been involved with the communities movement since the late 70's and intensively since we purchased our Washington property more than a decade ago. When we originally moved here we anticipated returning to a rural area when we "retire." Now our options have expanded. In the meantime, we wish to develop and participate in urban community. Brian is working as a machinist for United Airlines. My name is Sanda. I currently work as a teacher. You can find out a little more about us by looking at my home page.



Shared ownership

We began on this process slowly and probably naively. In February 1998, we purchased one of eight 4-unit apartment buildings. We expected to be purchasing an adjacent second 4-unit building two years later, but the owner has delayed for various "good reasons", but finally he committed to selling it and we closed escrow on July 1, 2005. We hoped to eventually have the buildings owned by their occupants and had been investigating what form of shared ownership would best fit the situation. Sharing ownership of a 4-plex does give one opportunity for relatively affordable housing. Becoming a condo is probably not feasible; co-op ownership is not usually used in California; so after attending a real estate seminar in San Francisco, I found that "Tenants in Common" is an increasingly common way for folks to buy their own home in our high priced real estate market.

My mortgage broker, Anne Griffin, who is also my friend, has suggested the possibility of "Lease option." We could lease the units and give you an option to buy your unit. While you would lease at market rents, you would also need to pay an additional amount that would go toward the option to buy. The advantage for you is that it locks in the price. It is assignable (saleable) but if it is not exercised within the option period (usually 1-2 years), the buyers lose their option money. Anne went on to say, "the intent here is not to trick people and take their money, but to include some high energy visionaries who do not have the upfront cash."

Joining us:

We are interviewing and actively spending time with people interested in participating in our vision of sustainable community within the city of San Mateo. We are particularly looking for other gardeners or people who desire to learn while putting time and energy into the garden. I often advertise current openings using well as having listings in the Intentional Communities Directory and links from their online directory as well as link from the Ecovillage site and the Cohousing site. One way to find out more about what we are doing is to come to one of our garden(ing) parties, frequently followed by a potluck dinner. Visits can also be arranged at other times. More information on the process to become a community member can be found in the community charter.

Trouble in paradise: Our first co-owners moved in with their two sons in December 2005, but it appears this decision was a mistake on all of our parts, as they don't share the value system described in the community charter of the San Mateo Ecovillage, and have not honored their commitments to the community. We are working to resolve this issue, so we can continue our flow to acheiving our dreams of creating a model of sustainable living in a suburban setting. Another family signed papers to take advantage of a lease option, and began to move in December 2005, and hope to be purchasing by summer 2006, but after a wonderful year here in which the whole family made outstanding contributions to the community and the garden, while increasing their knowledge and sharing their wonderful children, primarily because of the crises created by the situation with the first family, they decided to move on....causing no little heartbreak for many of us.

In the second builing, there were two 2BR-1ba units available for purchase. As of November 2006, there are two interested buyers for those units, and we hoped to close escrow in November, but because of the crisis above, with one of the potenital owners pulling out of the loan, their purchase was delayed until January 2007, and the upstairs 3BR-2ba unit the family who left were occupying is available for immediate occupancy by a potential co-owner. Those purchased 2 BR units are currently receiving remodeled bathrooms and lots of loving care throughout the rest of the apartment. The last downstairs 3BR-2ba units in each building are currently rentals, but can be purchased, though there is some thought of turning one of them into a common space apartment, which would release what would be a very large 1BR unit for sale, which has been used as common space up to this point.

Renovation and possibilities for expansion

We expanded our dock early in 2002 using Nexwood made from recycled plastic and rice straw. We feel that photovolteics increase our movement towards being a model of sustainable living and we completed installation for the whole building and our meters started spinning backwards in February 2004. Last year, we completed the extention of our deck so that it connects with decking to the other upstairs apartment. Accesibility has been increased with stairway (salvaged from a house that was being demolished) in the backyard so that folks from the downstairs as well as the upstairs apartment will have easy access to that deck, which will also create more common space. This was a part of a more extensive remodeling project on our apartment which included adding a loft on a third level and making use of a lot of recycled or sustainable building materials. I have created another page which shows pictures of the remodeling process.

Three years later in July 2007, you can see our loft in the background.

We would hope that new owners will continue renovation, adding to both personal and common space, while working as environmentally sensitive as possible within the limitations of a retrofit. At this point, there is a plan for people in the second building to add on to their units. We certainly expect upgrading and remodeling. The city will allow us to add more square footage though we cannot add more bedrooms. We would like to see a deck built on the new building and a bridge between the two. We have had the vision of building additional common space over one or both carports, which would also probably require rebuilding the carport so that it would be able to support a second story.. An alternative plan would be for the community to take over the apartment which has been shared with common space. A long term dream would include seeing if neighboring buildings could be purchased. One more 4 plex would give us the number of units recommended as a minimum for cohousing.

In the past, we have always been networking with others to develop this project.   One of the apartments was set up to be shared as common space with one bedroom rented out to community members. We use the other bedroom as our office.  By renting out this apartment as a one bedroom at a reduced rent, even with only one owner, we were able to provide community space for our weekly meal and meeting and other community events. The process of developing community took a great leap forward in December 2000 with the addition of folks with both community and gardening experience as well as being as avid of environmentalists as we are.  There have been other community oriented folks who have moved in as renters over the past four years. By spring 2004, most of those folks had left and we began recreating our community. (Interestingly, two couples who met here have gone on to purchase a duplex together in Oakland and two of the single folks are now sharing an apartment in San Francisco.) During summer 2004 we did some major renovation in one of the other apartments. We have been focusing on finding co-owners and transitioning from a community primarily of renters. With some of the folks who expressed interest in the ecovillage, we did some revision of the charter to reflect that transition. Look forward to an updated bio page soon.


Community members:

You can find out about some of our other community members on our bio page (....just need to get all these new folks to send me a bio. In the meantime, I created a bit of a chronology generally of their initial email contacts with the community.)

We met two of the new community members, Ryanne and Jay when they came over to intereview us about the ecovillage for their video blog last fall. Check out their website, lots of videos on different green subjects. Or see that video here.


Working with the Neighborhood

We are interested in helping create a greater feeling of community in our culturally and economically diverse neighborhood. We are nestled between the lagoon which forms our eastern border (with Foster City across the way), wetlands on the south, Hillsdale Blvd on the north and Highway 101 on the west with the large Los Prados Park in the center.

Photo by Clay Smith , a former community member and creative photographer. Check out his time lapse videos taken right here; I particularly like "Squirrel."

We are served by the San Mateo-Foster City School District and our local schools are George Hall Elementary School and either Bayside Middle School for the Arts and Creative Technology or Abbot Middle School. There are also several exciting magnet programs at district elementary schools including a bilingual immersion with international curriuclum developed at Stanford, a school for gifted kids, and a Montessori program. High school students are served by San Mateo Union High School District. In the past we have been involved with a now defunct program to organize the neighborhood by Kids and Family First.

Our neighborhood is changing rapidly as homes are being remodeled and costs are doubling. We are served by a small shopping center 1/2 mile away which includes Marina Market (primarily Asian), several restaurants, and other businesses. There are several other commercial centers within a mile or two including Whole Foods and Trader Joe's.



We are currently involved with the Marina Lagoon Action Committee. The San Mateo Water Ski Club is also part of this organization. They recently were doing a community project to improve the shore line to facilitate erosion control. This picture was taken on a day when they came over to work on our shore line. This was done using recycled concrete diverting this construction material from the waste stream. We look for other opportunities for local community involvement....and always look for opportunities to reuse or recyle materials.

Some local and state wide recycling organizations:

For further information


:or call us at (650) 574-7155.

San Mateo Ecovillage location on a Google Map

You can get directions here from whereever you are and even see what we look like from space!

Site updated July 2007

You can read a lot about the formation of this community by looking at an earlier version of this website. In September 2002, I began a revision of this site.