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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.

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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