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