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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 . 

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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