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Novato City Council Hears Objections to Frank's Appointment of Bob Brown

For over 45 minutes Monday night, Novatans were verbal and insistent that Bob Brown is the wrong man for the job as Interim Community Development Director.

The public comment period of the City Council Agenda for Tuesday, Feb. 28, was, as anticipated,  almost completely devoted to objections to the appointment of Bob Brown to an interim position as Development Director for Novato. Only two speakers had a different topic in mind -- support for the Save the State Parks resolution also on the agenda.

As reported earlier on Patch, City Manager Michael Brown , recently vacated by David Wallace. While one of these appointments, of Anne Cronin Moore as Interim General Plan Manager, is relatively non-controversial, the same cannot be said of Bob Brown’s appointment as Interim Community Development Director.

The controversy took on new life when that City Council approval for Brown’s appointment was unnecessary as he was a retired Cal-PIRS employee, whereas Moore had not been a state employee and would need council approval.

Although city manager Frank made a statement prior to public comment that echoed his statements to Patch that city council appointment was not needed, and emphasizing that Brown’s role would not be to manage the development plan, his pre-emptive defense was largely ignored.

Comments ranged from those who said the appointment was a “poke in the eye” or a “slap in the face” to Novato residents, to the suspicion that Brown’s presence on the board would “contaminate” the board’s decision-making, to suggestions of a “global agenda” of community development directors in favor of high density housing.

At least 20 people in the standing-room-only city council room voiced their objections to the appointment, most citing Brown’s similar position in San Rafael and his advocacy of high-density low-income housing of 30 units per acre, instead of the 20 per acre that the City Council and development commission have adopted as a goal for Novato.

Jeanie Jacobsen, for instance, said “It looks like Mr. Frank has hired the fox to guard the henhouse,” alluding to Brown’s higher density housing preferences for San Rafael.

San Rafael itself  almost become a metaphor for the argument, with its high crime rate and population density often cited as examples of what Novato residents would not like to see in their town.

The standards set by ABAG – the Association of Bay Area Governments – were frequently cited. As this outlined, ABAG follows the California mandated requirement for cities over 50,000 to have 30 units per acre in low-income housing, while cities under 50,000 are allowed 20 units per acre.

Both Novato and San Rafael are above 50,000 residents, though San Rafael (57,713) is slightly larger than Novato (51,904, both according to 2010 Bay Area census figures). In the 2000 census, Novato’s population was under the 50,000 mark.

The complete video stream of the meeting is available on the City of Novato website at this page.

Among other arguments aired, Robert Macintosh likened Bob Brown to a train set hobbyist, a “social engineer who wants to come into our house with his box” of train tracks. “We’re not a train set, we’re people,” he said.

Others argued that brown had an “ideological motivation” that made him unsuitable for the role, and questioned Frank’s own motivation in appointing him.

Several questioned whether or not Frank’s argument that city council approval was not required was accurate, and asked for a review of the appointment in any case.

Toward the end of the public comment period – which ran over 45 minutes by the clock – Trish Boorstein took the tack of reading a poem she had penned, suggesting  “Dear Council, are you in? Michael Frank’s appointment needs over-ridin’.”

At the conclusion of the largely civil public comment, the council adapted with near-unanimity the Consent Calendar, which included the Save our State Parks Campaign, a Marin County Major Crimes Task Force Joint Exercise of Powers Agreement, financial audit reports, pavement rehabilitation and the interim appointment of Anne Cronin Moore to serve as the City’s interim General Plan Manager – the partner position to that of the contested Bob Brown.

The vote to approve was almost unanimous, with only vice-mayor Pat Eklund voting No on the appointment of Moore.

There was no discussion of any review by the City Council of Frank’s appointment of Brown during the council meeting.

Clarification: An earlier version of this article misstated the density of ABAG standards as 30 residents per acre, not 30 units. Also, two individuals in the article and captions were misidentified. We regret the errors. The writer sincerely wishes to thank the sharp-eyed (and early rising) readers who pointed these out.

Steven Norwin February 29, 2012 at 10:50 PM
IRONY Isn't it ironic that the food stamp program, managed by the US Department of Agriculture, is pleased to be distributing the greatest amount of food stamps ever in its history? Meanwhile, the National Park Service, also part of the US Department of Agriculture, asks us to "PLEASE DO NOT FEED THE ANIMALS" because the animals may grow dependent and not learn to take care of themselves.
Mark Burnham March 01, 2012 at 04:23 AM
hi novato camper, thanks for making my point. i have not been to a neighborhood meeting but it doesn't surprise me at all that eklund is the "first to come and the last to leave". this "baby kissing" mentality that she embraces obviously give you the warm and fuzzies.. but there is no substance. anyone can go to their place of work (or to a neighborhood meeting), show up early and leave late, look like they are busy & concerned, say all the "right things"..argue about politics.. but not get anything done. it looks good to the average Joe or Jane who isn't smart enough to tie in performance with results..but at the end of the day the employer (the tax payer) pays for it. find someone who works with her at the epa.. i guarantee the majority of them will tell you the same thing. and.. yes..i have attended many meetings and watched many more live on cable access.
Roger March 01, 2012 at 05:00 AM
Since Brown is from San Rafael development, perhaps he can teach Novato how to attract and retain high-paying firms like BioMarin, which recently moved from Novato to San Rafael. Something there attracted BioMarin away from Novato. Perhaps our downtown looks dead with it empty store fronts (Pini old site)? BioMarin's new offices are more attractive than the old GreenPoint Mortgage building on Wood Hollow.
Craig Knowlton March 01, 2012 at 10:37 AM
Michael Frank served alongside Bob Brown and Farhad Mansourian on the TAM Technical Advisory Committee. One of Michael Frank's quotes when he was hired: "She's grown up as an urban child," Frank said of his daughter. "She said, 'Daddy, I don't like living in the city. I want space between the houses. I want to see green.' So I'm just doing what she says." Is he?
Bob March 01, 2012 at 03:54 PM
Mark Burnham, perhaps your vision for the future of Novato more aligns with the 3 incombant council members. Many of us would like to protect the small town feel that Novato has had and see that Pat Eklund is more aligned with our interests. It would be nice if the state would butt out with their mandates for housing growth and leave Novato to be the town we moved here for.
Eleanor Sluis March 01, 2012 at 04:16 PM
Families, seniors, neighborhoods continue to aspire to preserve low density, lowered heights of buildings, the downtown, and the surrounding environment along with commercial development which fit into the general plan. Neither Bob Brown’s actions, nor Michael Frank’s hiring him reflect those values of Novato. The residents in over 15 neighborhoods have worked for the last year to reclaim Novato’s rural/suburban designation, low-20 units to the acre and small town atmosphere. Our city council has supported the neighborhoods by writing and going to Sacramento with Novato’s concerns. The selection of Bob Brown as an employee is not in the best interests of the people who live in Novato. Both Brown’s and Frank’s continued presence as Community director and city manager are distractions from our current important issues of housing, debt reduction, and pension planning. As a voter, I am prevailing upon their good sense to respectfully request that both resign, effective immediately, so that we can move on to those pressing issues facing Novato.
Mark Burnham March 01, 2012 at 05:15 PM
bob, actually i am on the same page as you with everything you state. i'm not sure how you extrapolate from my comments that i am in the other council members corners. on to the next my friend
Eleanor Sluis March 01, 2012 at 08:16 PM
Thanks again to all of the people who do choose to write or speak out and discuss their viewpoints. Unless the council and others continue to voice their opinions and are on record, the council and others will not be able to say there were no differences of opinion and more likely will consider them when making decisions for all of Novato
Michael Reyff March 01, 2012 at 08:52 PM
The tragedy is that only 30% of registered voters voted in the last City Council election and they voted for the institutional incumbents. With such a poor voter turn out and the influence of institutional politics, Michael Frank and the City Council can appease the institutional authoritarians political edicts with impunity. Until the majority of the other 70% wakes up and realizes what is being done to their community, the destruction of our community will continue unabated.
Roger March 01, 2012 at 09:22 PM
My Way, did you vote for Lucan? He was against the Downtown City Office due to huge cost. I think it was chatter here and at Council meetings in 2011 that got the Council to go with a low-density affordable housing site list proposal to the State agency. Without that chatter we would have a plan now with high-density. Same Council, but just louder chatter from the vocal community.
Bob March 01, 2012 at 10:30 PM
Results as of Dec 29 10:56am, 100.0% of Precincts Reporting (30/30) (47 Total Other Write-In Votes 0.18%) Eric Lucan 5522 votes 21.47% Jeanne Macleamy 5150 votes 20.03% Madeline R. Kellner 4685 votes 18.22% Leslie Peterson Schwarze 4530 votes 17.61% Jerome J. Ghigliotti, Jr. 2513 votes 9.77% Eleanor Sluis 1990 votes 7.74% Manny Fernandez 1280 votes 4.98% 40.1% of the voters , 10,313 voters, voted for other than Eric Lucan and the 2 incumbents. Plenty of voters to replace the 2 incumbents but the votes were spread over 4 candidates. Had those candidates got together and selected the top 2 candidates we might have had a different City Council. If you add in the votes Eric Lucan got, 5522, that would total 15,835 votes (61.5%) went to other than an incumbent. A total of 25,670 votes were cast, many voted for more than one candidate, so the total voters were less than that number.
Steven Norwin March 01, 2012 at 11:00 PM
The voters of Novato did not vote Michael Frank or Bob Brown in. What part of that don't you understand Mr. Highway?
Mark Schoenbaum March 02, 2012 at 12:06 AM
@Steven, Don't try to reason with Mr. Highway (aka Bud Light) - he is not here to participate in a discussion, he is only here to argue with and ridicule those who do not share his self-important opinion.
Trish Boorstein March 02, 2012 at 04:48 AM
Any takers for the next election? On another topic, today in the IJ Bob Brown is quoted, "The role of a professional planner is not to impose their own philosophical point of view but it's simply to implement what the City Council has approved, the council's policies". As long as Council does not alter their 20 unit an acre density, and the State approves Novato's housing element, Bob Brown will have to support our suburban designation.
Roger March 02, 2012 at 05:01 AM
MyWay, we win a few, lose a few. We won on density in 2011. Admittedly, more losses than wins lately (eg, Hanna Ranch). I am happy if I win 1 out of 5 motions. You suggest nobody should show up for Council meetings ever?
Bob Ratto March 02, 2012 at 05:32 AM
Hi Trish Tooth fairy is en route...Absolute BS...thanks for your poem at Council, it made me smile, I was standing in the back of the room...Brown is the full on disciple of SCS/One Bay Area/every other phony "GHG" reducing group. The council/chamber can keep espousing this idea that they are listening to the citizens, that is just fine. The idea that over 66% of the population is made of homeowners and their values are not being represented will not go unnoticed. Brown can stay, new City Hall can be built, (with major ongoing structural deficits and no plan out) and Marie Antoinette will continue cake service.
Bob March 02, 2012 at 03:37 PM
Hopefully we won in 2011. The state has not accepted our housing element yet. If the state does not accept the 2011 proposed element then Mr. Brown will be in position to say "I told you so". I am hearing / reading that other cities in Marin County are unhappy with the numbers of mandated housing and the statistics that ABAG uses to arrive at the housing numbers, so why are not these cities including Novato, getting together and telling ABAG and the state enough already!!
Trish Boorstein March 02, 2012 at 06:49 PM
Bob, I'm always an optimist, however this appointment and the Council's disregard for the public speakers of our town has me worried. Glad you enjoyed my "rap". Next time someone can accompany it with some music- I think we should all get up and sing Humpty Dumpty just to eat up their time!
Tired March 02, 2012 at 07:22 PM
Bob Brown is a good guy -- people from all walks of life (environmentalists, businesspeople, residents, seniors etc.) supported him at his retirement party. We are lucky to have someone with his smarts, skills, even-keeled personality and collaborative spirit helping us. He authored one of the best climate action plans in the Bay Area, started tremendously popular citizen planning academies and had many other fine accomplishments. Besides which he has lived in this community of Novato for many years so he is our neighbor. Give him a chance people. Please don't make the mistake of thinking that the 15 or 20 of you who constantly complain represent the sentiments of all 50,000 of us residents.
Mark Burnham March 02, 2012 at 07:34 PM
i know someone who lives next to george bush jr. he says he is a great neighbor, self effacing, kind and an all around "good guy". people from all walks of life supported him after he left the office of president. whether or not bob brown is a "good guy" isn't the point "tired". people are entitled to weigh in on his past history as they choose.. just as you are allowed to stand up for him. the 15-20 people you reference that are concerned about his hiring are only the ones taking the time to check in on patch. you wouldn't want them saying "pls don't make the mistake of thinking that the 1 or 2 supporters on patch represent the sentiments of all 50,000 of us residents".
Bob March 02, 2012 at 11:23 PM
"Tired" it is all well and good that Bob Brown " authored one of the best climate action plans in the Bay Area". It is the legislators and folks like Bob Brown that decided for us to have clean air they passed AB 32 and SB 375 that started the "One Bay Area" and the state mandates of how your town will grow. It doesn't matter what the citizens think, they know best what is good for us. Your eyes are closed if you think 15-20 folks are disturbed by this. 61% of the voters voted for other than the incumbents and their go along policies.
Tina McMillan March 03, 2012 at 03:42 AM
Bob We have not submitted the housing element yet. That is the work to be done this year. It has been suggested that Ann Moore will be doing both the update on the housing element and the general plan.
Tina McMillan March 03, 2012 at 03:54 AM
Tired No one is saying that Bob Brown is a bad person. However his views on planning are part of his record of achievement in San Rafael as well as his membership in local groups advocating for ABAG's One Bay Area plan. Since Novato spent last year working on a housing element that challenges the notion of One Bay Area it is difficult to understand why Michael Frank would choose Bob Brown to replace Dave Wallace. Your conclusion that you have the support of 50,000 residents is disappointing. It appears that Novato has people who feel strongly about these issues but only a fraction of them choose to vote. It is likely that we will see a larger turnout in a presidential election year. I suspect we won't see any real changes until city services take such a large hit that people feel compelled to stand up and be counted. I would suspect that the group that supports Bob Brown is the same group that supports One Bay Area and that also supports an increase in affordable housing in Novato. That group is Stand Up For Neighborly Novato and Bob is all ready a member.
Roger March 03, 2012 at 10:41 PM
Mr. Highway: The voters want 20 uniits/acre. So does the Council. The loud crowd fought aginst 30 units/acre and won. The Greens lost for now (the State agency may reject what the Council and Novato voters want). Mr. Brown will do what the Council tells him to do. He has said as much.
Angela March 04, 2012 at 03:06 PM
Marin Voice: Marin should challenge regional plans http://www.marinij.com/opinion/ci_20090959
Roger March 04, 2012 at 09:07 PM
Angela: I liked the article in the IJ today. However, Brandt's conclusion that the housing mandates and re-zoning will focus on Novato and San Rafael seems odd to me since the study "A Portrait of Marin" focused on how Ross lacked affordable housing. I did find it refreshing weeks ago when the IJ actually covered that Ross issue, and then a citizen from Ross wrote the editor to saying AH doesn't belong in Ross. I live in Novato and hate it when the IJ portrays Novato as racist when my town has much much more diversity than Ross.
Bob Ratto March 04, 2012 at 10:24 PM
Roger I didn't see anything "odd" about her conclusions, they were pretty logical. Ross had their housing element approved by using the Marin Art and Garden Center, and they will build AH on that site right after they are done with oil fracking operation (which, is never). San Rafael has two PDA's , which are explicitly created for high density housing. Novato wanted lower density, but efforts will likely be made to have this turned down. So, what is the one thing Novato and San Rafael have in common that the rest of Marin does not?....the vehicle which leverages all efforts to promote phony GHG reduction, the little train. Don't think for a moment that the housing unit issue around the stations is over...SMART took MTC money, and they are going to be doing what MTC asks.
Roger March 06, 2012 at 02:54 AM
If Novato must have dense housing, I prefer it be located downtown rather than on the northern outskirts in a cow field near the single family houses of my neighborhood. There are more services available downtown. The listed Black John site is just as remote as the Hanna Ranch project, where the Council concluded no affordable housing should be inserted because it is too remote from services. Downtown needs more development anyway or it is going to die.
Tina McMillan March 06, 2012 at 04:28 AM
Roger Novato is only zoned for 5% commercial space compared to San Rafael's 17% and Petaluma's 11%. If you turn the commercial areas into residential areas with low income housing, there is no property tax obligation. That means you are adding families without increasing revenue to support city services such as police and fire and state services such as schools. Infill development may protect open space but it doesn't make up for Novato's $2.5 million dollar structural budget deficit. If we are going to add housing without a property tax base we must increase our commercial development to add more sales tax revenue and we must increase homes at the upper end of the scale to make up for money lost. The upper end homes will want to be on the outskirts of town in order to enjoy land and views that are worth the money they are paying in taxes. Eventually we have to expand our urban growth boundary because we have run out of places to build that will provide needed revenue. We could expand the Redwood corridor to include mixed use but it would have to be below market rate and market rate housing in order to provide some tax base. This is the year that the city has to certify its housing element and update its general plan. The importance of the direction we take will make the difference in the quality of our lives for decades. If we simply add infill development to the downtown area we don't make up for the budget shortfalls and we wind up losing more than we gain.
Tina McMillan March 06, 2012 at 04:29 AM
http://www.ci.novato.ca.us/Index.aspx?page=1383 "As the points below illustrate, the bottom line is that the City of Novato does not have the same sources of revenue that many other traditional cities have. This fact will remain a key handicap for Novato’s goal of financial sustainability and our desire for a high quality of community life. No Utility Users Tax – 50% of the statewide population has this major tax revenue (For those cities that have the tax, it makes up 15% of their budgets) Real Property Transfer Tax is 364% Less than Neighbors – Petaluma and San Rafael: $2.00 per $1,000 valuation; Novato: $0.55 per $1,000 valuation. As a general law city, we are not able to modify the Real Property Transfer Tax. No Additional Local Voter Tax Measures – San Rafael: General $.05 Sales Tax generates $6 Million annually Limited Commercial/Industrial Land Zoning – Novato at 5%; San Rafael at 17%; Petaluma at 11%. With less land available, there are fewer opportunities for sales tax which provides a great portion of cities’ funding base. No Refuse Franchise Fee – San Rafael gains $1.5 million and Petaluma gains $1.4 million annually. Late Incorporation Not a Full Service City – Limited functions (e.g. fire, water, sewer, and refuse) reduces opportunities for sharing of overhead costs. Impacts Without Compensation – Other entities' impacts on city streets with no compensation or cost sharing for deterioration of roadways."

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