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Top 10 Novato Stories of the Year

There were plenty of fascinating stories in 2013--some thrilling, some sad and some just shocking. Here are our picks for the year. Don't agree? Post your picks for "Top Stories" in the comments

Housing Element Wars

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.

New City Offices Unveiled

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.

Measure F for Marketing

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.

Flames Over Fire Chief

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.

Much Ado About Public Access

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.

Marin Humane and Local Horse Breeder Sue Each Other in Animal Neglect Case

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.

Life Sentences for Murderers of Novato Businessman

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.

Revolt of the Downtown Merchants

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.

Lucan Running for State Senate

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.

Bank Robber Caught After Yearlong Crime Spree

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.

Sam December 30, 2013 at 07:37 AM
Novato is a sad place if one of your top stories is Lucan running for State Senate. This man stiffed every voter who voted for him. In this family it will never be forgotten as what a real moron did to lie to this and every other family. He then called looking for money again when he is half way through his term. Then The council makes him the Mayor so he will vote with them . Please dump this man at the pools
Roger December 30, 2013 at 12:49 PM
Another important story in 2013 was the city's public workshops to decide what type of development should be allowed in the area near Trader Joe's. Also, the story about the city manager's pay increase was a popular one for gathering comments.
novato 3per December 30, 2013 at 01:00 PM
Sam, I want to hear what you have to say, how did Lucan "stiff every voter" and "lie" to your family. (Humor me, I've only recently begun caring about local politics, save a few historic issues)
Karina Ioffee December 30, 2013 at 01:52 PM
Good one, Roger. Thanks for including that.
Hopkin December 30, 2013 at 03:48 PM
3per, by reading Sam's comment, I gather that Lucan solicited them in a fund-raising effort and apparently misled them as to his intentions and aspirations while holding office.
Roger December 30, 2013 at 06:42 PM
Karina: You writing a weekly crime report this week? I really like those reports since sometimes I hear of problems in my own neighborhood where I can be more alert and avoid crimes.
Concerned Citizen December 31, 2013 at 11:15 AM
Karina the current ongoing drought will affect many residents in many ways. For instance the Novato Sanitary District bases all homeowner sewer rates on their Jan.-Mar. NMWD water bills. Unfortunately many due to no rain are forced to keep their landscaping systems on. Although none of this water actually goes into the sewer system there is no way to differentiate and many will see their next tax bill have $500-$1000 higher sewer fees. Can you find out if the NSD will adjust for this obvious flaw in the assessment methodology? Happy New Year and thanks.
Karina Ioffee December 31, 2013 at 04:50 PM
Interesting, Concerned Citizen. I'll put in a call to them. Happy New Year to you as well.

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