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Council Narrowly Approves City Offices Construction Deal

Vote was 3-2 to award a $10.4 million contract to San Leandro firm.

Although unanimous bummed that it wasn't going to a hometown construction company, the Novato City Council awarded a $10.4 million deal to the San Leandro-based Sausal Corporation on Thursday to build new city offices in downtown Novato.

The vote was 3-2 to award the deal to Sausal, which will work with the Kitchell project management firm to construct new offices for about 60 city employees on a piece of property in Old Town, just across from the . The project all told will run about $14.5 million.

Mayor Denise Athas and Councilman Eric Lucan were the dissenting votes in a single-agenda meeting that lasted 90 minutes, much longer than anyone anticipated. Athas said she voted the way she did because she had strong hopes that a Novato construction company would have made a successful bid for the job. Two finalists,  and , were determined by city staff to have calculation flaws in their bids, forcing the city — by ordinance — to go with the next lowest bidder, Sausal.

"I wasn't saying no to the downtown offices and I wasn't saying no to Sausal," Athas said about her no vote. "By the time the vote gets to the mayor, the vote is pretty much determined. You know how it's going to go. ...

"It would have been nice if we're building a Novato building that we could use a Novato builder, and I would have liked to have figured out a way within the law to award it to a Novato builder."

Lucan, who joined the council in December, was steadfast in his opposition to the project since he started his campaign for a council seat because of the city's financial challenges. He said it wasn't the best way to spend nearly $15 million of the city's money.

"At this point, you have to turn the page," he said. "Once the vote is done and ground has been broken, that's the time to move on. I could continue to be a critic for years to come and say this is reason why we're not on the path to fiscal sustainability, but that's not conducive to moving on. I hope there will not be any cost overruns because that's going to look bad. I can just hope for the best."

Pat Eklund, Madeline Kellner and Jeanne MacLeamy voted yes on the contract.

Eklund said she was disappointed that a solar power system was not part of the package because of financial reasons, and she had wished that story poles would be erected at the construction site to give people an idea about the scale of the building, but she said she supported the project and contract nonetheless.

Kellner said her vote was rendered in the best interest of the city knowing that time is of the essence to free the city from a cost-prohibitive lease at the at 75 Rowland Way. In September 2013, the lease will jump from about $650,000 annually to about $750,000.

MacLeamy, an architect, has been the staunchest supporter of a civic center complex in the Old Town area. Thursday's construction contract vote came more than a year after the council voted unanimously to build downtown.

"What this is now is a culmination of years of studying that site," she said. "After the (2009) restoration of City Hall, which was kind of the first piece of the puzzle, this city office building is the only thing everybody could agree on. ... In my mind this was sort of a master plan we were carrying out."

All the council members expressed regret that the winning bidder wasn't a local company and hoped some of the subcontractors would be local.

"We took the lowest bidder with a responsive bid, and it's so unfortunate that Arndt and West Bay did not put in responsive bids," Eklund said. "I would've loved to have had local company and local workers on the job."

Several years ago Eklund requested that the city ordinance be altered so that local companies would have preference in the bidding process.

"I did that so we can make sure we keep our money local," she said. "And I'm going to pursue that again. We have to look at what other cities are doing."

For more coverage of this meeting, check out this story from the . 

janna nikkola July 07, 2012 at 02:03 PM
So no one is completely in favor of this building, but it's going forward anyway. I'm not in favor of a city hall that being squeezed into the back of a parking lot, with no "street presence". I was not in favor of the $6.7 million spent to renovate the old city hall building which now stands vacant and unused except for city council meetings twice a month. I'm not in favor of the old rat-infested theater building left standing vacant and unused in front of the new city hall. All three old red wooden building should have been demolished to make way for a new city hall with a street presence. At some point Novato taxpayers must consider whether a city council is the best way to govern our city, given the many ill-conceived decisions that have been made by the city council, which is a group of amateur politicians who govern our city as a part-time job, like weekend warriors. It just isn't working for the good of our city.
Bob Ratto July 07, 2012 at 02:19 PM
So the project does not go to the lowest bidders (both of which happen to be local), apparently because of some "calculation errors"? Since this whole thing is colossal calculation error/gross misuse of public funds can we just call for a big do over?...You know let the voters directly vote, without deliberately skirting the ordinances enacted by the council...No solar?..$700 per square foot?...this business of saving rent is a complete red herring...cash is cash...whether it is rent or the $2MM + per year nearly 7% bond interest..(why has that not been rewritten?)
Jerry July 07, 2012 at 09:11 PM
Janna, you have some nice ideas on that area and I hope that you know that has been tried several times in the last 30 years and gone no where. More importantly, you have not told us how we would finance this nicer civic center.
SM July 07, 2012 at 09:27 PM
... and all while our schools are suffering...hmmm twisted priorities.... I totally agree with Janna and Bob... this should have been a Novato community vote since we are the ones funding it. Yet another poor decision by our City Council... Do over!!!
Gail Wilhelm July 07, 2012 at 10:01 PM
Okay folks, when will you stop flogging a dead horse? The decision has been made for almost a year. The public had their say during the last city council election when there were three candidates that opposed building city offices at the current site. As for the disappointment about not having a local construction company, aIl I can say is if they were incapable of doing a 10 million dollar bid correctly, what hope was there for getting the job done right? Mayor Denise Athas took the unprincipled way out. Tsk, tsk. If have more respect for the way Lucin handled himself.
Trish Boorstein July 07, 2012 at 10:06 PM
Where are the story poles? A transparent and engaged community always gets story poles. Maybe the Council will change their vote and erect them. Alas, wishful thinking I guess.
Rebekah July 07, 2012 at 10:12 PM
Michael Frank spends $50,000 for signs to advertise downtown (and the council lets him) so we can "shop local." Yet our leaders refuse to set the example and hire local workers? So if the city won't support their own, who will? Thank you Athas and Lucan.
Dave Robertson July 07, 2012 at 10:15 PM
"We have to look at what other cities are doing"? (Pat Eklund) Well, Pat, other cities are likely not spending had borrowed money to build an office building for a handful of city employees - many of whom may be seeking employment elsewhere as this city runs out of more and more money! $14.5M? Money is hard to come by these days - and the $750K a year for rental is high also. The current rental building for city offices is way too plush .... I mean, after all, this is Novato!
Tina McMillan July 07, 2012 at 11:17 PM
Janna's comments are spot on. We could have bought a much less expensive office building with enough parking to cover all the public vehicles but the city specifically did not include class B buildings in its search. Remember the city hired a contractor to tell them whether it was better to buy existing or build from scratch. It might have been wise to also hire a commercial broker to get another point of view. This new building precludes any additional parking in old town which had been promised and included in the MacDonald plan that was developed after a year of public input. When MacLeamy was elected that plan was tabled in favor of moving to Rowland after which, MacLeamy convinced the council that one building was needed. Later a small group of residents, including Stompe and Wilhelm, pushed the idea of building in Old Town which has been debated for decades. The message from the council, once again, is that Old Town merchants don't matter and building a city center is worth spending every last dollar that was obtained from the RDA loan. Remember the cost does not include the Community House or the other remaining buildings or even the value of the land. The RDA loan alone will cost 40 million once the bonds are repaid with interest. We have to ask if this council even cares about fiscal sustainability when the need to build a class A structure for offices for employees we may not even be able to retain took precedence over parking in the downtown area.
Joe July 07, 2012 at 11:27 PM
Why can't Novato use an existing building? Novato has plenty of unused office and store space. Is this new building project written in stone? Is no one flexible? Is it impossible to change our minds in this tuff economic time?
Tina McMillan July 07, 2012 at 11:31 PM
The council had plenty of time to let us vote in 2010 when they paid for a construction company to tell them to build a class A structure. The way around a public vote was the repayment of a loan to the city from the RDA (which had been earning 10% interest, can you say conflict?) which then gave the general fund 17+ million. The loan was structured so that it had to be spent in three years and only on public buildings. The checks and balances on this issue were partially covered by measure D until the city got their money from the RDA. Once the money was in the general fund, with the precondition that it be used to build or buy property that would be used by the public and not rented back for any other use, they had a slam dunk. As much as Gail may want this to go away it will always be in the memories of the people that knew from the start that the public's right to weigh in was subverted. In 2010 with the focus on the housing element, no one realized until too late, that the plan to put a parking garage on this property was no longer in place. This whole process is wrong on so many levels. If the council is right and the people of Novato want to build in Old Town and at this cost then a vote would have made it a clear choice. In previous votes, based on measure D, the residents would not approve expenditures of this magnitude and the controls in place were in the borrowing of money. No money was directly borrowed, therefore measure D didn't apply.
Tina McMillan July 07, 2012 at 11:36 PM
Rebekah Remember 2013 is an election year. Athas has supported this project from the beginning. If she really cared about local companies taking precedence she would have created the means. Lucan's hands have been tied since the beginning. He came into office with this deal decided by the existing council. The steps that prevented this from going to a vote are the responsibility of the council minus Lucan. All they had to do was let us vote on it. How about a measure that says the city can't spend millions of dollars on office buildings without public approval, particularly when they are operating at a structural deficit and fast cutting services?
Mark Burnham July 07, 2012 at 11:39 PM
gail wilhelm.. it took you 30 YEARS of "flogging a dead horse" to get your offices to the point where they are going to break ground. don't fault those who are against the project from speaking out against the city council's decision to spend $15+ million of tax payer funds when circle bank is building the same sized building around the corner for $3.9 million.
Mimi M.P. July 08, 2012 at 12:00 AM
Tina et al you bring up very valid points. During the election, Lucan only talked about Pension Reform. The youngster was MIA during the Affordable Housing debate---the most important topic that will decide the future of our town. Tina, you are right. 2013 is election year and it's time for a new council, because you cannot rely that they will do the right thing for the citizens. The administration, needs to be fired, with Mike Frank at the top of the list. Frank needs to go. He is a fiscal disaster and he was hired by the council for his "financial experience." Santa Rosa was happy to get rid of him!
Renee July 08, 2012 at 12:01 AM
Shame on you city council!! I was at the meeting Thursday night with my husbands carpenters union Local 35 and West Bay Construction. Most all of the carpenters there were long time residents of Novato, many born and raised, many out of work for many months and years such as my husband. Many spoke to city council pleading with them to re-consider West Bay Const. so many of these out work carpenters can have a possibility of local employment. Not to Mention how West Bay Cons. is a vital support to our community on so many levels. The bids in question I believe is to do with more politics not what is good for the city of Novato, as usual Thanks for Nothing City Council!!!!
Tina McMillan July 08, 2012 at 12:14 AM
Here is one that was looked at and rejected. http://www.loopnet.com/xNet/MainSite/Listing/Profile/Profile.aspx?LID=17238014 The current price is $4,500,000.
Bob Ratto July 08, 2012 at 12:43 AM
Renee Something about this whole contract thing smells very rotten. i know some people from West Bay, and I know they do top notch work. Hiring local would have definitely had the effect of helping the local economy (a lot!)-now, these paychecks are going to be going to workers most likely living in the East Bay, where they will spend their money at their local stores, etc. They will also be more likely to hire East Bay subcontractors, as they are more familiar with them. So, we are kicking out local contractors for a technicality for a building project that was not vetted by voters on another technicality. This City needs more transparency and accountability, and it starts at the top. It is always nice to have new things, but you need to be able to pay for them. When the City wants to extend the sales tax, vote no.
R. C. Taylor July 08, 2012 at 08:02 AM
Here Here Mr. Ratto! I smell a rat with Michael Frank and the Novato City Attorneys. You are on to something. VOTE NO MORE TAXES FOR NOVATO! STOP THE WASTEFUL SPENDING! VOTE FOR A NEW COUNCIL!
R. C. Taylor July 08, 2012 at 08:02 AM
City Slicker, there are more than two people running for Novato City Council next election.....stay tuned....
Mark Burnham July 08, 2012 at 02:33 PM
can someone clarify here why story poles "can't" be erected before the city council builds this $15 million dollar ($700 pf) building?? does anyone know why the city council decided to not erect these poles as they require others to do on almost every other project? thank you
Trish Boorstein July 08, 2012 at 08:02 PM
Mark, as I recall when it was put to the Council for a vote, only Pat voted for story poles. I had repeatedly asked for story poles at Council meetings to no avail.
Trish Boorstein July 08, 2012 at 08:22 PM
Millworks apparently had red ribbons tied to some of the Redwood trees, a very deceptive move. Story poles are the right thing for any project, especially one that has a lot of community opposition.
Bob Ratto July 08, 2012 at 08:22 PM
There is a big difference between "can't" and "won't"..in this case, they certainly can, but it is rather obvious they won't. Why they won't is something that will just need to be figured out for later, I guess.

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