Tag: Blast

Novato residents blast county plan to buy hotel for homeless

Novato residents blasted Marin County’s proposal to buy a 70-room hotel to convert to homeless housing during a City Council meeting this week.

Some residents urged the city to file a lawsuit to stop it. The Novato City Council expressed some openness to at least exploring that option but first wanted to provide more time for the public to weigh in.

The strong response came just hours after the county Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to continue negotiations to purchase the Inn Marin and Suites at 250 Entrada Drive under an expedited timeline that would not include any vetting by the city.

“It’s been my experience that if we want to get folks on board they need a seat at the table, and unfortunately in this situation, no one had a seat much less a table to even sit at,” Councilwoman Susan Wernick said.

The purchase could be approved by the county as soon as Nov. 17, just weeks after the county notified Novato officials in mid-October of the potential sale.

“I’ve spent more time and consulted with more people deliberating the purchase of a new television set than apparently has gone into the purchase of this property,” Novato resident David Gall told the council. “This is a long-term permanent imposition on the city in response to a short-term problem.”

The swift sale is possible through the statewide Homekey program, which launched in July. The program provides $800 million in state grants to counties and cities to buy hotels and motels to eventually convert to permanent supportive housing for homeless residents affected by the coronavirus pandemic. The state law that created the program, AB 83, allows counties to skip local government reviews for these housing projects if they meet certain criteria.

Inn Marin and Suites is one of three sites that the county is considering buying, along with sites in Corte Madera and San Rafael. The property owners had expressed interest in selling the properties to the county as part of the Homekey program.

The Inn Marin property owner, 250 Entrada Drive LLC, is seeking $18 million, though a county appraisal could change the price. About two-thirds of the cost would be covered by Homekey grants, county officials said.

The county plans to operate the inn as transitional housing with on-site services for homeless families for the first year before converting it into permanent supportive housing.

While acknowledging the rapid timeline is not ideal, county planning manager Leelee Thomas said the state grants must be used before the end of the year and properties must be readied for occupancy within 30 days after the purchase.

“A property needed to be fairly ready to be occupied because you have a limited time between closing escrow and having people move in,” Thomas told the council.

The county was also not expecting to be able to purchase the Novato hotel until it was notified by the state on Oct. 10 that it received tentative approval for more grant funds.

The Novato City

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Full Blast is back open but the future of city recreation is still unclear

Members of the Battle Creek Table Tennis Club have missed their Monday night sessions at Full Blast for the past six months.  

a group of people in a room: Members of the Battle Creek Table Tennis Club play at Full Blast Recreation Center on Monday, Oct. 19, 2020.

© Elena Durnbaugh
Members of the Battle Creek Table Tennis Club play at Full Blast Recreation Center on Monday, Oct. 19, 2020.

“I missed it quite a bit, not just playing, but the camaraderie,” said Craig Kenney, a longtime member of the group.  

Monday night was the group’s third time back together since the pandemic began in March, and the club was grateful to have the space to gather at Full Blast, which is back open after months of being closed due to COVID-19.

“This is a godsend,” said Mark E. Crum, who helps organize the club.

Though recreational programming is still on hold and the future is uncertain, the city is committed to providing residents with the space to play safely in Battle Creek.

The Recreation Department has taken a big financial hit this year due to the pandemic. Closed facilities and canceled programs meant recreation revenue fell by 45% during the months of July and August compared to the previous year fiscal year, according to city Finance Director Lina Morrison, and with COVID-19 cases on the rise again, programming may not return to what it was before anytime soon. 

The annual revenue of the recreation department was $2,476,902, according to the city’s 2020 amended budget. Although the department does bring in some money through grants and donations, revenue is the primary source of income for the department. 

“Our business model is built around the idea of gathering people, usually in close contact, for fun, and that doesn’t work well in a pandemic environment,” Assistant City Manager Ted Dearing said. 

Spring baseball leagues, summer youth camps and fall flag football were all canceled this year due to health and safety requirements. 

During the summer, the city used Full Blast as a temporary homeless shelter to allow more space for people to social distance. Although that was another source of lost revenue, Dearing said it was an essential role for the city to fill in a pandemic. 

Now, even with facilities open again, recreation looks different. 

“Regular recreation department services are severely limited, due to their nature and the guidance to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” Dearing said. 

With continued uncertainty around COVID-19, programming remains one of the biggest challenges, Dearing said. There aren’t any specific plans for programming for the rest of the year, and three recreation department employees are still on furlough out of a total of five. 

“We may have to change the way we think about how we deliver services,” Dearing said. “We’re going to try to offer as much programming as we can, but we recognize going forward it’s going to have to be financially feasible.” 

For the time being, youth programs through the department and at the Bailey Park complex are still on hold. 

Despite limitations, people have been eager to get back to the city’s facilities, Recreation Director Duska Brumm said.

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