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More on Sale of Woolman Land

Published: Feb. 10, 2024

Click here to read "Letter of Dismay," published 1/27/2024.

No Factual Basis

Dear Editor,

I was saddened to see the decision of Western Friend to disseminate the email written by Dirk Neyhart of Berkeley Friends Meeting. Dirk does not have firsthand knowledge of the process the College Park Friends Educational Association (CPFEA) is currently undertaking, and much of what he writes has no factual basis.

The details of the contract between CPFEA and California Heritage: Indigenous Research Project (CHIRP) are not public, as is true for any real estate agreement. However, disseminating his assumptions so publicly hurts our endeavor. His letter does not seem guided by the Quaker values of truth, integrity, and community.

Our decision to sell this amazing land has been painful to us and to the many who have worked, camped, retreated, and learned here over the years. However, I can’t imagine the pain of those who illegally lost this sacred homeland due to the racist laws and practices spurred by the greed of the goldrush.

We ask our wider Quaker community to hold us in the Light as we continue to steward the process of an ethical land transition.

Sincerely yours,

Heidi Pidcoke, Assistant Clerk CPFEA (2/3/2024)

We Cannot Stay Silent

Dear Friend,

As the Ministry and Care Committee of Berkeley Meeting, we are compelled to speak out plainly about the message entitled “What would you do with millions of dollars of Quaker assets?” sent to you in recent weeks. The message was prepared by a longstanding beloved attender of Berkeley Meeting whose concerns about the pending sale of Sierra Friends Center, or Woolman, to the California Heritage Indigenous Research Project are known to us. While we accept that our Friend was led to speak his mind, we cannot stay silent regarding the language his email used in referring to Native Americans, which we consider disturbing, regrettable, and not in accordance with our Quaker principles.

Please get in touch if you have questions or concerns.

Ministry and Care Committee, Berkeley Friends Meeting

Raph Levien, Clerk


No “Comparables” to Assess Property’s Value

Although Friend Dirk’s Letter of Dismay was followed by only his signature, I am sure other Friends share some of his feelings of sorrow.

I too feel sad, if rather less so. Until I was actually on the College Park Friends Educational Association (CPFEA) Board in 2013, I didn’t fully understand the role of the Woolman School and the Woolman Semester that came later. I had been on the property for a Sacramento Meeting retreat, and a few years later for an Ecoberries weekend workshop. Witnessing several Woolman Semester graduation ceremonies helped me understand the mystique. I learned that Woolman’s record over those 60 years was mixed, as some students were less well stewarded than others.

It’s unfortunate that the property was reportedly usually financially threadbare, as I myself saw when I was the Treasurer of the Board. The reasons for red ink varied over the years I am sure, and I myself saw but a snapshot of the stalwart and endless shoring up of the accounts by many generous Friends. When way keeps not opening, wise Friends will change course.

The operational carrying costs of that real estate are rather inexorable, and I very much hope that the Nisenan folks with the California Heritage: Indigenous Research Project (CHIRP) have a robust plan for the future of the property. In fact, any buyer would be taking on a somewhat daunting responsibility. Appraisals are all well and good, but in the real estate industry, the actual value of the land is whatever someone is willing to pay for it. There are really no “comparables” for the Woolman property as there are for common single-family homes.

I reassure Friend Dirk that I cannot imagine how the Nisenan could install a casino there. The constraints of the use permit (tied to the deed) are substantial, and although I am not a lawyer, I suspect that the larger legal context for casinos would prevent it. The role of money in human activities is indeed problematic. Money can only take its value from the real world, and prices are a priori based on our collective choices. Real value rests on accurate informed choices.

However, I fear Friend Dirk is mistaken in suggesting that CPFEA failed to pursue advertising and fundraising on behalf of Woolman. Yet he may agree that Friends’ culture and methods differ noticeably from those of the capitalistic free market, and the message immanent in Friendly philosophy may find too few listeners. Also, I was never aware of any trouble finding plenty of promising students. But I was all too aware of the apparently impossibility of finding enough of the kind of students who would keep the Woolman Semester solvent.

Friend Dirk’s concern about the eventual uses of funds realized from the sale, and the selection of various worthy causes, is one that I am sure many Friends share and will consider at length when it’s clear what those funds will be. It’s my understanding that the CPFEA need not, and does not now plan to, dissolve as a corporation, and can perfectly well reconsider in depth and without haste how best to continue to fulfill its essential mission.

Often, people will think, “How can I afford this or that vital expense?” rather than strategizing, “How can I achieve my goals with the resources that are available to me?” So, potential financial gifts should not crowd out independent consideration of our most devout and real hopes.

I too would like more information and certainty about the future of the land – the events, projects, residents, etc. However, real estate transactions are legally rather persnickety, so we cannot evaluate the parties’ due diligence directly. We must rely on our knowledge of their character and stated intentions.

Friend Dirk raises a number of excellent questions about the community of the Nisenan and CHIRP as an organization, on topics other than real estate. I have a very limited acquaintance with them, and I am sure Friends would all benefit from getting better acquainted with Native Americans. This is best done directly. In general, I find that indigenous lifestyles tend to be relatively simple, materially, which reflect a perspective that is totally appropriate for Friends as we grapple with climate chaos. The landback movement may have something in common with the back-to-the-land movement.

Rewilding and eco-regeneration are seeping into our civilization. I believe we all carry inside us a dormant rapport with the biological and priceless world around us, with Gaia. Let us awaken.

Muriel Strand, Sacramento Friends Meeting (2/3/2024)

Topics:  Quaker Schools & Retreat Centers