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.