Despite strong resident opposition, the Novato City Council on Tuesday approved using $370,000 of Measure F funds for two marketing campaigns it said were an important long-term investment into the community.
The council approved using $72,000 to continue the Shop Local initiative, started this June, and another $292,000 to help market the San Marin Business Park and Bel Marin Keys as hubs for bio-tech companies through a direct mail campaign, social media and print advertising.
“It’s an investment, when we look at Measure F funds, we’re looking at something very unique and very special that’s going to build us for the long-term,” said Councilwoman Madeline Kellner who was the first to make a motion to approve the controversial issue. “We’re taking the bull by the horns and not just sitting by.”
Many residents criticized the plan, saying it was wrong to use money from Measure F, a half-cent sales tax approved in 2010, for something besides vital city services. Others said the city’s plan was too vague and relied more on wishful thinking than data.
“I like the concept, it’s great, it’s wonderful, but what’s missing is actual performance indicators, metrics,” said Cliff Jacobs, a Novato resident. “We hear that we can access them, but I haven’t seen any results. I’ve heard a lot of ‘could, should, would’ but it’s all theoretical.”
Tom Hartje, a resident who said he had 30 years of experience in marketing and advertising, said using Measure F funds to market Novato as both a shopping destination and a hub for bio/life-science companies betrayed his vote.
“It’s a shenanigan for the voting public who voted for something else… It’s typical political switch and bait,” Hartje said.
He also called Shop Local, a campaign that uses a website, T-shirts, stickers and other materials to urge Novatoans to frequent local stores, and for which the city has already spent $50,000, an “unmitigated disaster.” So far, 57 companies have signed up for the effort and the site has 120 “Likes” on Facebook.
Not all residents who spoke at Tuesday's meeting were against using the $370,000 for marketing efforts.
Joe Robinson, a member of the Patridge Knolls Neighborhood Association, located near the Buck Center, said his group welcomed the plan and said it would help recruit bio-tech companies.
“I think it’s one of the most exciting things, along with the economic development plan, I’ve seen in the time I’ve been here," Robinson said. "Attracting bio/life science companies will enhance Novato’s prestige as a scientific research center while increasing city’s revenue while attracting future residents and workers with high paying jobs."
City Manager Michael Frank defended the use of Measure F, saying it was a general sales tax measure that could be used for any purpose the council decided.
“If it were a special sales tax, like for police and fire services, it would be different, but it wasn’t,” he said.
The city has collected roughly $9 million with the measure and spent about $1.5 to balance the budget and prevent further staff cuts. A total of $22 million is anticipated before the measure expires in 2016.
“I find it somewhat hard to believe that people didn’t know they were passing a general sales tax measure,” he said.
Councilmembers Eric Lucan, Denise Athas and Jeanne MacLeamy also supported the move, calling the spending an investment in Novato.
“I’m hearing this from our residents that we need good-paying jobs,” Lucan said Tuesday. “If we want to market ourselves, we have to do it for something we’re already good at and become excellent in the whole Bay Area. This sends a message that ‘Yes, we believe in you and we want you to continue to grow.’”
Jeanne MacLeamy said the money was needed to spread the word about what Novato offered, both as a place to do business and a place to live.
“We’ve got the best downtown among the surrounding cities and we just need to get the word out,” she said. “We can’t afford to give companies tax breaks, but we can at least get the word out and we do it through marketing.”
Mayor Pat Eklund was the lone dissenting vote, saying that Measure F had not been intended for the city’s marketing activities, including hiring an economic development manager.
“When people voted for this, I expected that money would be used to fill the gaps until the economy was turned around,” Eklund said.
The mayor also criticized the Shop Local campaign, saying she failed to see how it differed from what the Novato Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Novato Business Association were doing.
Do you feel using the $370,000 for marketing Novato is an appropriate use of the money? Why or why not?