After four years of meetings, the city council finally approved Novato’s Housing Element, a portion of the General Plan that sets aside parcels for future development. Many residents disagreed with the process, saying it robbed Novato and other cities of “local control.” The concerns centered around the impact of new developments, especially units marked “affordable housing”, such as increased crime, traffic and noise. At the heart of the issue was a desire to keep Novato the quiet, semi-rural suburb many said attracted them when they initially moved to the area.
This fall city employees moved into Novato’s new administrative complex, built with a $15 million refund from the now-dismantled redevelopment agency. The two-story facility boasts a better integrated “One Stop Shop,” meant to make doing business easier in Novato, according to city staff. The complex will also host Farmers’ Market, holiday gatherings and future Paint the Town Red celebrations. Some residents have criticized the building as unnecessary and worry about it reducing available parking downtown.
The Novato City Council approved using $370,000 from Measure F, the half-cent sales tax approved in 2010, to fund the city’s Shop Local campaign as well as to promote bio-tech companies to Novato. Supporters said doing so was an important long-term investment for Novato, but the move prompted anger from residents who said they approved Measure F because they believed it would go to keep vital city services, such as police and parks, not marketing.
This November, former Novato Fire Chief Marc Revere sued his ex-employer for defamation when members told the press he was let go because of inappropriate charges on his department-issued credit card.
Revere abruptly left the agency in 2012, although it was not clear whether he was asked to resign or was fired. He then filed a lawsuit charging fraud and defamation, with unspecified damages.
This fall, Patch readers learned that Novato Public Access Television has been struggling financially, for years relying on a school district loan to carry them over. Then, the executive director was let go, various members of the board quit and staffers told there was no longer money to pay their salary. Now the nonprofit is trying to regroup and has pledged to clean up its finances.
This year, local horse breeder Gray Fox Farms, located in rural Novato, was in the news multiple times after reports surfaced that it was abusing animals. Six horses were removed from the property after photos of the underweight animals surfaced. The Marin Humane Society sued the owners, who shot back with their own lawsuit, claiming the allegations were fabricated by the nonprofit as a ploy to raise money for the organization.
A painful chapter closed this year when four men convicted of murdering Novato resident Tong Van Le in his home in 2008 were sentenced to life in prison. Le was preparing to testify against a man who had robbed his San Francisco market when he was followed by the suspects and killed inside his garage on Pizarro Avenue.
Creekside Bakery owner Steve Jordan and Loveable Rogue owner Carlos Castillo led a campaign to stop the city’s annual collection of the downtown Business Improvement District tax, which all downtown merchants must pay or risk losing their business license. Despite support from many merchants, the city said the duo lacked enough signatures to freeze the annual assessment. Jordan and Castillo have pledged to keep working on the issue in 2014 and say they are concerned about the way the Novato Downtown Business Association spends merchants’ money.
Criticism of the DNBA include vendors on the group’s marketing committee who lobby to get contracts for their employers and missing financial statements that make it difficult to keep tabs on the organization. In response to the concerns, the city will hired a part-time executive director to oversee the group’s activities.
This September, Novato Councilman Eric Lucan announced a run for Noreen Evan’s seat representing District 2 in the state legislature. The move surprised many local watchers who said Lucan was a political novice who was not ready for higher office. They questioned his commitment to Novato and wondered whether he would be an effective mayor, a post he was nominated for this year (councilmembers take turns serving as mayor.)
Lucan argues his varied experiences--in politics, in business and local nonprofits --have prepared him for the next step. Plus, he says, there’s a lot he can get done for Novato from Sacramento and he’s kicking his campaign into high gear with fundraising and endorsements. Many locals are skeptical, but in a race stretching from Marin County to the Oregon border, this may not matter very much.
The serial bank robber who hit 10 Marin County banks over the past year was finally apprehended this December after robbing Bank of the West on Grant Avenue, then escaping to San Rafael. The chase ended with the thief shot outside of Northgate Mall and brought to end a yearlong crime spree that terrorized local bank employees and puzzled police. The bandit, since identified as Christopher Jay Wootton of Larkspur, could face life in prison.