The Coastal Post - December, 1995

$100 Million Buck Aging Center To Build Despite Negative Vote

BY DON DEANE

"The vote doesn't mean anything. We're going ahead and building the Buck Aging Center."

That's the bottom line. That is what staff and attorneys for the Buck Center For Research In Aging are telling the 30,724 citizens who voted against the $100 million building project defeating the previous approval of the project by the Marin County Board of Supervisors.

The November 7 ballot measure was a referendum to reverse the county supervisors' amending the county general plan and approving the construction of the Aging Center on unincorporated land near Novato. More than 18,000 signatures were gathered to put the issue on the ballot late last year.

The Buck Aging Center spent $600,000 of Buck Trust Funds to wage a slick and expensive campaign to get voters to endorse the supervisors' OK for the project. But 52 percent of voters nixed the huge bio-medical center. The Aging Center's campaign was the most expensive for any county ballot measure in the history the county.

But now, the Buck Aging Center and the county supervisors' lawyer say the vote against the center doesn't mean anything.

Attorney Hadden Roth, who represents the county supervisors on Buck Aging Center matters, said last week, "The referendum accomplished nothing at all. The Buck Aging Center had three chances of winning and only one chance of losing, so why not spend $600,000 on the campaign."

Roth said if the county referendum had approved the Buck Center, they would win. If the county referendum had turned down the Buck Center but Novato approved it, they would win. If the county and Novato voters had approved the measures, they would win. Only if county voters and Novato voters turned down the Buck Aging Center would they lose.

Although the referendum wording said voters were asking that the supervisors' resolution entitled "RESOLUTION THAT APPROVES AMENDMENTS TO THE 1994 COUNTYWIDE PLAN, SUBJECTED TO CONDITIONS OF APPROVAL AND IMPLEMENTATION OF A MITGATION MONITORING AND REPORTING PROGRAM" be entirely repealed, Roth says nothing of substance has been accomplished because Novato can approve the plan including the project's environmental impact report, conditions of approval and mitigations which were already approved by the county.

Sacramento Attorney Bill Yates who wrote the referendum has a different view. "This was a countywide project, not a Novato project. The vote was against the Buck Center. It was never intended to be a Novato project. If Novato wants to do it, they have to start all over again."

Yates said, "The board of supervisors made changes to the general plan to authorize the Buck Aging Center. They had to put the Buck Center in Novato's sphere of influence, they had to revise the agricultural (A-60) element of the plan. They had to take agricultural land out of the Williamson Act Preserve."

He observed, "Once the referendum qualified, the board's decision was vacated, gone, disappeared. And those actions of the board could only become effective if the majority of the voters had approved Measure A. The voters didn't. So the land is still zoned A-60, it is still under the Williamson Act and it is not in Novato's sphere of influence."

But Novato is proceeding full speed ahead. In a move to annex the unincorporated 488-acre site, the city council took just one hour to launch annexation proceedings on November 14 in a 4-0 vote. Resolutions and staff reports were prepared hours before the council meeting which were passed to get annexation on the Local Agency Formation Commission's (LAFCO) January agenda.

LAFCO is a seven member commission which includes two county supervisors, Gary Giacomini and Annette Rose, who both support the Buck Aging Center's plan; two city council members and three special district representatives. It must approve the annexation of the site into Novato.

Some politicians and members of the construction and trades community have much to gain and little to lose as ardent supporters of the $100 million construction project. Supervisor Gary Giacomini has sold much of Marin's political establishment on the Buck Aging project. Former IJ and Novato Advance senior staffers have also been hired on by the Buck Aging Center which is funded with $4.5 million annually from the Buck Trust.

Attorney Dotty LeMieux, a candidate for Fourth District Supervisor, articulated voter frustration in the county with their politicians and the democratic process in an open letter to the Independent Journal on November 28:

"The phrase "Remember the Jail!" has become the rallying cry of many who are disappointed, outraged, frustrated or simply once again disillusioned at the democratic process. How could we soundly vote down a proposal only to see it go ahead anyway?

"No wonder people consider the Buck Center proponents arrogant and disrespectful of the wishes of the people of Marin County.

"For those who may be new to County politics, the voters in Marin turned down the construction of a new jail not once, but three times, the last time in an initiative to halt all construction on the Civic Center site until approved by a vote of the people.

"As one of the attorneys who first challenged the building of that jail, forcing the County to consider less expensive alternatives, it was extremely frustrating to see those efforts overturned (on a technicality in the initiative process—the court felt the vote was really a referendum with a more stringent time limit for submission to the voters). This frustration has been felt and raised again and again by Marin County voters feeling an increasing distance between themselves and their elected representatives.

"Now, the citizens of Marin have spoken once again on their desire to see the Buck Center stop its grandiose plans to build a Taj Mahal medical research facility at Mt. Burdell in Novato.

"True, the Buck Center is a private entity, but it also has quasi public components. It is funded by charitable money left specifically for the benefit of the needy of all of Marin County, not the economic benefit of a small part of the County. It has a moral, if not legal, responsibility to respected the wishes of the population it is mandated to serve." (see Letters To The Editor for entire text.)

The Buck Aging Center is moving forward full speed ahead to start building this spring. County supervisors, four of which support the Buck Aging Center project are expected to do little to interfere with Novato's annexation of the county land to the City of Novato. The City of Novato is expediting annexation of the land and approval of the project which includes a $1 million payoff to the city by the Buck Aging Center their trouble and services. If the Buck Aging Center is to be stopped, it would appear that the opponents must turn to the courts to enforce Democracy in Marin.