City Offices on Docket for Council Tonight

If approved, the city can open the construction job for bids and move closer to groundbreaking.

Constructing new offices for city employees is expected to cost at least $14.1 million, and administrators are asking permission from the Novato City Council on Tuesday to OK that plan and open construction bids.

The city administrative offices are to be built at the corner of Machin Avenue and Cain Lane on land that serves as a civic parking lot just south of the long-closed . Most of Novato's employees have worked in leased space on Rowland Way since a cluster of city-owned buildings off Sherman Avenue were red-tagged by the fire marshal.

According to a staff report, Kitchell, the project/construction management company for the project, has been providing regular updates to staff about the bill for the 18,887-square-foot, two story complex just steps away from . The design has been completed by RMW Architecture and Interiors.

When the City Council approved the project on May 10, 2011, the high-range estimate for all costs was $16.5 million. Although some residents expressed support for relocating staff members downtown and creating a long-wished-for civic center area, others all but begged the council to buy an existing building and spent the capital-improvement money on other projects.

Tuesday's meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. at Novato City Hall.

Worry May 22, 2012 at 02:29 PM
top 10 reasons downtown city offices are bad for novato 1. cost $700 pf to construct when other commercial projects being built for $250 pf 2. city offices remove ALL public parking from this lot 3. city offices results in net DECREASE of parking downtown 3. downtown specific plan & general plan call for 2-3 story parking facility here 4. city's parking study states day time parking issues will be "severe" 5. city's parking study doesn't even include impact 300 seat theatre will have 6. city's parking study drasticallly minimizes 999 grant parking impact 7. city offices open 4 days per week. closed all nights and fri, sat,& sun 8. city anticipates 60 visitors four days per week to offices. zero all other times. 9. city provides 60 parking spots total. anticipates 61 employees. 10. visitors will be pushed on to downtown streets further impacting parking this city office plan is the epitome of bad civic planning. it costs tax payers far too much. it reduces parking when we are trying to revitalize downtown and create tax revenue. if you consider the alternative, which is strongly suggested in the city's own downtown specific plan, building a parking garage for $3-4 million would bring great new businesses downtown and create the much needed tax revenues that the city needs. ask yourself how often you visit city offices? how often do you (would you) visit a vibrant downtown and spend sales tax dollars?
Worry May 22, 2012 at 02:38 PM
jim grimes.. you asked for what merchants are against downtown offices.. you wish has been granted. here is a very partial list of downtown merchants against downtown offices: Grazie, Morris & Co, Old Town Sports, Mara's Shoes, State Farm Ins, Novato Video Transfer, Bucks Saw Service, Finnegan's, Alice Becker, Pinnacles Dive Center, Flour Chyld, Zunino's Shoes... jim, these are only a few of the merchants that are against the current city office plan. almost every merchant downtown is against this plan.
Carol May 22, 2012 at 02:50 PM
You keep saying the study was "done and approved by ALL". Who exactly are "ALL"? "ALL" seems to be a self serving, selfish group who didn't really check in with "EVERYONE ELSE" living here in Novato. Why else would we be reading all of this griping on the PATCH blog? Why don't you name "ALL"?
BH May 22, 2012 at 04:05 PM
I think it is a mistatement to extrapolate the re-election of certain council people as a mandate to build this project. Remember the top vote-getter was against the project. The whole problem with the project is that the process was conducted in a manner to deliberately circumvent the right of the people to vote as stated in measure D. If they ever had put it to a vote and a majority of the people approved it, I would agree it was the will of the people, go do it. Too much money, not enough parking per their own study but this is their dream and they will fulfill it. The public will still be paying for it long after almost everyone involved is gone.
Cindy May 22, 2012 at 05:21 PM
Build the new city offices and the people of Novato will not come. The people of Novato will go elsewhere, to shop, to eat, to spend their money. It's pretty basic really, when you make it difficult for people why should they even attempt to shop downtown. No parking, no people!!!
Bill May 22, 2012 at 05:23 PM
Yes, I agree with BH. A new city office building was never voted on by the public; a loop hole was found by the Sonoma attorney to bypass a city-wide vote. City offices was one of several items the candidates discussed before the election. The vote was for who would be the best candidates for the job, not whether new city offices should be built. Since City Council members are not paid much to serve, we are getting mediocre candidates to run for office.
Lloyd May 22, 2012 at 05:36 PM
JLG to say you are incorrect would give any credibility to your assertion that this project was voted or approved by a single voter. Unless I was in a coma along with the rest of the town the City Council and City Manager bypassed the Planning Commission and any legitimate offering of any type of voter referendum in favor of doing an under the table deal. I know there are 500 people that signed a petition to have the offices close to downtown but I also know there were several thousand that signed a petition to open this whole process to public scrutiny. As usual the council made the wrong choice and our city manager yet again led them down the wrong path. BTW the only bad rumor I have seen is your rhetoric. AND what do you think there is to enjoy about city offices?
Bob Ratto May 22, 2012 at 05:58 PM
Building a new building with a cost that is twice as much as rent currently being paid in the face of escalating budget deficits with unavoidable impacts to downtown merchants is not what one would normally consider sound fiscal policy. Deliberately circumventing an established ordinance is not democracy in action. The city's legal budget is somewhere around $650k per year, perhaps it could be more wisely used.
Chris May 22, 2012 at 06:18 PM
Put the city offices in the square center, leave the downtown to the merchants.
Carol May 22, 2012 at 06:38 PM
JLG, My apologies - I guess I've been really busy working full time, raising my family and working hard in charitable organizations. I naively assumed that our City Council (majority not voted for by me) would follow common sense in making decisions that affect our community. I didn't realize that I need to micromanage every decision they make on our behalf. I have seen the light, and will "babysit" meetings and agenda's more often. I can no longer trust these self serving, selfish people who ARE NOT making decisions that are in the best fiscal interest of our community, as demonstrated by the dishonorable rule bending in this issue. The waste of our money is sickening. It is blatantly clear to me that they can not be trusted.
Mark Burnham May 22, 2012 at 07:10 PM
JLG you seem like an average novato citizen. how many times per year do you visit city offices? how often do you frequent downtown businesses per year? this is a straightforward question and looking for an honest answer.. it only requires two numbers.
J. Feldman May 22, 2012 at 07:50 PM
Let me describe a metaphor of sorts for this downtown building project. A family (though rather large) has to find a place to live. They barely make ends meet - in fact, are slowly accumulating debt. They had this cash stashed for a new home and figured it would really improve it's standing in the community. So they build this home with every dime of available cash it has left. The economic future is not stellar right now, but they are wishfully thinking that things will eventually get better and they will be able to afford to live there. Now building this new house will totally mess-up their neighborhood, but they figure that it will all work out in the end too - and actually improve it (isn't wishful thinking grand?). They are even paying 2-3 times the going rate for their new home because they are so desperate to live there - and of course that cash is just burning a hole in their pocket. Sorry folks - bad economics here! It will take one fiscal "snafu" to send this family into the abyss. The times of living beyond your means ended 3 or 4 years ago - I guess no one has told them that. Now ... if your family lived that way ... do you think it would be financially wise? I didn't think so!
Trish Boorstein May 22, 2012 at 07:53 PM
If anyone attends the city meeting tonight, ask that the council overturn their vote for not erecting story poles. Story poles are absolutely necessary in this town where the community has been led astray with projects like Millworks. Pat Eklund was the only councilmember who voted for story poles. The majority of the council should view this act as a gesture of good will to the community. Anything less is arrogance towards their constituents.
J. Feldman May 22, 2012 at 07:56 PM
A good assessment of the situation. Novato is known for bad civic planning. This "structure" will be around the corner from the Millworks - yet another brilliant move made by this city.
Roger May 22, 2012 at 08:29 PM
Jim, the top vote getter was vocal in his opposition to the new costly building, as BH said. He won, perhaps in great part because he was against the building. What do you say about that, Jim?
Mark Burnham May 22, 2012 at 09:10 PM
JLG..i give you credit for answering the questions..thank you! glad to hear that you support the downtown businesses. so it seems you are down town an average of 4 times per week. that is 208 times per year. on each visit you are contributing sales tax dollars with your purchases. you visit city offices more than the average person it seems. your statement above indicates you visit city offices 2 times per month. that would be 24 times per year. i'm assuming you get a roof permit every 30 yrs or so. when you visit city offices and contribute zero to the sales tax the city desperately needs. the point here is that if we took the average citizen and used the numbers you gave me as average visits to downtown merchants and city offices you can easily understand why most people here are up in arms about city offices downtown. i'd venture to say that your visits to city offices are probably on the very high end as very few people have any reason to visit and do most of their business online. the average person visits downtown restaurants/retail/services and spend dollars that support business owners, create sales tax revenues, and keep 1,000's of people employed.
Eleanor Sluis May 22, 2012 at 09:33 PM
The downtown offices costing $ 14.1 million dollars to build at $ 700 p/sq.ft., are inconsistent with the Economic section of the Novato General Plan and Downtown Novato Specific Plan policies, and programs. The site and costs of the new offices are not complementary with the following sections: 1.The City shall actively encourage new and existing targeted businesses to locate in Novato, increasing employment opportunities for Novatans. (The new office building negates this because of the parking issue.) 2. Economic Development & Fiscal Vitality Policy 10---Small and Locally Owned Businesses. Encourage the establishment of small and locally-owned businesses, and give this sector of the local economy a high priority.( not a priority for the city council with the new office building) 3. Economic Development & Fiscal Vitality Policy 11 Retention of Existing Businesses. Retain, upgrade, and increase the vitality of existing Novato businesses. (The new offices will take away parking.) 4. Economic Development & Fiscal Vitality Policy 15 Downtown. Improve the economic vitality of Downtown. (see above) Please see more--next statements about Economic policies 16,17, and 20.
Eleanor Sluis May 22, 2012 at 09:47 PM
5. Economic Development & Fiscal Vitality Policy 16 Tourism. Encourage the development of tourism in Novato. (The city gives approx. $90,000 annually to the Chamber to promote tourism. Offices do not promote tourism, but signage at $ 50,000 may ) 6. Economic Development & Fiscal Vitality Policy 17 Retail Development Downtown. Encourage additional retail development downtown. (City Offices at this site discourage development because of parking.) 7.Economic Development & Fiscal Vitality Policy 20 Attracting Shoppers. Attract shoppers to Novato's destination retail center(s) from within Novato and beyond. (see above) The only fact that is mentioned is that the plans favor city offices downtown for community identity. The big concern is that community identity may come from a vital, economically developed downtown with a new theater, shops, and sufficient parking and not from an office building. This means another site and a better designed building could be still near or in the downtown by buying and continue to provide services to the public. This project is does not appear to be in the best interests of Novato, economically, aesthetically, nor socially responsible to the needs and wants of its residents.
BH May 22, 2012 at 10:23 PM
Well stated Jim. You are absolutely correct, 2/3 of Novato was sleeping and a well organized group "won" big time. However, I think the election had many more facets than city hall, for instance housing. Does that make the result about city hall right or even a mandate of the majority? You can see this formula applied over and over again in local, state and federal politics. The people who win are a lot better organized and have a lot more staying power than most of the citizens. I'll go back to sleeping now because people like you are much better at politics. Good luck on your city hall but don't come crying to the voters when you all run out of money (again). Remember, the sales tax measure ends in just a few more years.
John Parnell May 22, 2012 at 10:58 PM
Does anyone know the new listing price for the Woodside Office Center at 7250 Redwood Blvd in Novato? It was just announced that Equity Office, a subsidiary of Black Rock, is going to sell this office building. It's 90,214 square feet, so the city could buy it & rent most of it (a la MTC). It would then be off Grant, but right across the street. It has plenty of parking & won't affect local merchants.
Bob Ratto May 22, 2012 at 11:21 PM
John I don't think it's listed yet, but a quick lookup on LoopNet indicated buildings in Novato go for around $300 per square foot, some more, some less. So, about 40% of what will be spent on the building. A commercial real estate broker could give a much better idea. While the building is far larger than what the City needs, they could make back a chunk through leases (but they have stated they don't want to be in the real estate management business). It is a very nice building!
Worry May 23, 2012 at 12:17 AM
john and bob what is interesting about this woodside office center going for sale (besides yet another class a space that could be had for far less than the $700 pf the city is planning on building) is that the city has recently identified the excess parking in this property's lot as a potential spot for overflow parking for city employees and their visitors to the currently planned spot. since city plans call for a reduction of overall parking, AND they have made it clear that the 56 onsite spots are not enough for their 61 employees and their visitors, the city says "maybe" people can park at woodside and walk to the corner of redwood and delong, cross, then walk up past the gas station and chipolte and turn down machin to the city offices. pretty far fetched considering the liability risk of an employee or a city visitor having to walk a few hundred yards to get to city office by crossing a major intersection. awww heck.. lets call it what it is... a pipe dream.. just plain stupid.. or perhaps call it just putting off the inevitable and dealing with it later so they can get their ridiculous building in. the INTERESTING part is that now they can buy woodside, class a space, tons of parking, for far less per foot than building new. yet another example of another property downtown that could house city offices. but heck we all know that it doesn't have to be downtown anyway.. because the city tells us only 60 per day will visit anyway.
J. Feldman May 23, 2012 at 01:52 AM
Anything we buy in California (and soon online) will add to Novato's portion of the sales tax.
Hans R. May 23, 2012 at 04:17 AM
Mr. Grimes, the city council is being amoral and wasting the taxpayer's money. The merchants on Grant that I have talked to are furious with the council and Frank.
Tina McMillan May 23, 2012 at 06:00 AM
Mr. Grimes, Still "trolling" for a fight are we? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Troll_%28Internet%29
Tina McMillan May 23, 2012 at 06:12 AM
Folks its useless arguing with JLG (a pseudonym as far as I can tell). His comments are meant to inflame and detract from any real dialogue. If you go back and reread his posts he is upset by how few people voted in the last election and in his mind, this is our reward. He sees the city offices as punishment for apathy. Most of his comments are not supported by facts. What seems to work best is to ignore him. According to Wikipedia its best not to feed the "trolls." Jim L. Grimes 2:32 pm on Monday, March 26, 2012 If your unhappy run for the office . If safety is a problem in this town , why did only 10,000 people vote last election ? Nothing is going to change .
Tina McMillan May 23, 2012 at 06:18 AM
The city can't use any of the RDA money outside of the $6 million in cash, to purchase an existing building that will be used as a partial rent back because they specifically had the loan repaid with a tax free bond measure that included a clause that prohibits spending the money in this manner. The money can only be used to build and what is built must be completed in three years or the money gets returned. It is the most dysfunctional, bizarrely limiting plan that I can possibly conceive of and yet our council and city manager all agreed to it.
Tina McMillan May 23, 2012 at 06:39 AM
The Novato city council risks having more than just mud on their faces if Novato's structural budget deficit is made worse by the city's poor planning with regards to the downtown offices. Though it is Novato residents who will suffer most, the city council members will long be remembered for spending $700 to $750 dollars a square foot, not including the value of the land or the interest payments on the loan, on a single 23,000 square foot downtown office building whose value will immediately drop by $9 million at its point of completion. This is the single biggest nostalgic mistake the city has made since its inception. It was pushed forward by former council members and a small group of residents who seem to lack any real concern for finances, city services and downtown businesses. Gail Wilhelm was heard to comment that the business owners themselves should be assessed a fee if they want a separate parking structure to be built. Though we claim to want revenue from sales tax we are the most business unfriendly town in all of Marin. This building is a farce. It was never necessary except in the minds of the people for whom it represents a kind of status symbol. Who in their right mind builds offices for $700 a square foot when they can be purchased for $300 a square foot along with ample parking?
J. Feldman May 23, 2012 at 10:05 AM
Tina: Lots of good points. I own interests in a few commercial buildings (not in California), and know what people are leasing these days. Even in large metropolitan areas, to build something that expensive is not in the cards any more - not for your run of the mill commercial property. Very few people are building anything, much less in this state. For a small cash poor city in cash poor California it is fiscally insane! To house 60 public employees? We lease space to medical groups with more employees than that - and far larger operating budgets than Novato (and they make profits too!). They keep overhead down and lease, and not Class A properties either. Office space is overhead - it doesn't get you anything but big bills to pay at the end of the month. If high end for profit businesses keep costs down, why does Novato want to erect a monument? This recession will last several more years - perhaps longer - and the city will feel it just as we all will. This seems to be "mill Valley envy". Well, Novato is not Mill Valley - never will be. And Mill Valley is not insane enough to spend themselves into the toilet. No one is impressed by expensive City offices - especially when you can't pay for the towels in the bathrooms!
BH May 23, 2012 at 04:51 PM
Thanks Jim for offering free hotdogs, but I won't be there. Most of us didn't run out of gas, but rather have run out of options to bring sense to this process. Why would anything I have to say about the building be useful at this point? I do not know much about architecture and frankly don't care what they build as it is the wrong building in the wrong place for the wrong amount of money. As you said earlier, you won and conversely, we and most of the citizens of Novato lost. Enjoy your party, I hope the financial hangover doesn't hurt too much. Contrary to what you probably believe, those of us involved in the opposition really do care about Novato. I live here, I work here, I employ people here, I own commercial property in downtown and I don't have any plans to go away. That is why your financial folly hurts because I am one of those that will get to pay for it. I will be there when the construction bids are discussed. I sure hope they don't come in over the already bloated budget.


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