Two races for open seats on the Novato City Council have inspired five diverse candidates to throw their hats in the ring for the Nov. 8 election.
Rachel Farac and Andy Podshadley compete to represent District 2, a portion of southwest Novato. The seat is open because Councilmember Denise Athas announced in May that she wouldn’t seek reelection after a dozen years of service.
Incumbent Pat Eklund is up against two challengers, Nicole Gardner and Chris Carpiniello, in the District 4 race. While Gardner and Carpiniello are newcomers to the Novato political scene, Eklund has served on the city council for 27 years, including several stints as the mayor. District 4 covers most of the southwest area of Novato.
District 2 Candidates
Podshadley, owner of Trek Winery in downtown Novato, describes himself as fiscally conservative and morally liberal. Although the Novato native has always wanted to run for a position on the city council, this election marks his first time running for office.
“I’m at a place right now where I have the time and can be an asset to the council,” Podshadley said.
It seems that Podshadley has spent years preparing for a city council seat. His leadership experience in the community includes coaching high school sports and serving as the president of the Downtown Novato Business Association and a committee member on the tourism commission for the Novato Chamber of Commerce.
Novato faces many issues right now, according to Podshadley. If elected, he plans on tackling the city’s $1.5 million deficit, crime prevention, and increasing affordable housing.
“I have two children in their 20s who can’t afford to live in the community they grew up in and love,” Podshadley said. “I’m for affordable in-fill development. We need to mix high-, middle- and low-income housing across all the different areas of Novato, instead of segregating affordable housing.”
The Novato Police Officers Association and the Marin Realtors have endorsed Podshadley.
Podshadley’s opponent, Rachel Farac, is a life-long Marin resident with a record of community service. Farac currently has a position on the county’s Mental Health Board and was previously on the Novato Planning Commission. She served as the chairperson for both groups.
As the mother of a 15-month-old baby and a two-and-a-half-year-old, Farac believes the Novato City Council needs a member with school-age children. Mayor Eric Lucan’s departure this year for his newly won seat on the Marin County Board of Supervisors will leave a void in that arena, according to Farac.
Her top priorities, if elected, include addressing Novato’s budget shortfall, public safety and homelessness. To implement solutions, Farac says the council must nail down where the city’s money is being spent.
“Novato hasn’t updated the annual financial report since [the fiscal year] of 2018-2019,” Farac said. “An updated report is absolutely necessary to make good financial decisions. I’ll work to secure additional funding for programs by obtaining infrastructure and other economic grants from the federal and state governments.”
Farac proposes that the city create a mobile mental health crisis unit, funded through grants, similar to a program on which San Rafael is now working. The goal is for mental health experts to respond to non-violent domestic calls for service, which will decrease the demand on the stretched resources of the police and fire departments.
“The county has a mobile unit right now, but they’re so busy, they’re not helping Novato,” Farac said. “We can utilize the learnings from other cities and counties to establish our own programs.”
The Marin Democrats and North Bay Leadership Council endorse Farac’s candidacy.
District 4 Candidates
Elected to the city council in 1995, Eklund has successfully won seven consecutive elections. As she runs for an eighth term, her opponents say a change in leadership is overdue, especially in light of the Novato budget issues.
Eklund didn’t respond to the Pacific Sun’s requests for an interview. We obtained information about her platform from pateklund.com; however, the budget page doesn’t go beyond the 2017-2018 fiscal year, and no explanation is provided.
Still, her statements on the website about the budget may yield clues about where she places the blame for the current deficit. After a description of the overall financial conditions since 2007, Eklund discusses the city’s tax measures and provides an overview of property taxes since the 1970s.
In conclusion, Eklund states that Novato’s property tax revenues are the lowest of the 11 cities in Marin County and that she didn’t vote for the $69 million budget for the 2017-2018 fiscal year.
Other issues important to Eklund run the gamut, including affordable housing, public safety, downtown revitalization, juvenile crime, seniors and the environment. There are a dozen issues listed, but only the budget page contains in-depth information. The other 11 pages contain no specific plans for solutions.
Challenger Nicole Gardner will bring a unique perspective to city politics. After losing her daughter to a drive-by shooting several years ago, she has received national recognition as an outspoken proponent of gun safety. Locally, Gardner serves on the board of Legal Aid of Marin and the Marin Race Equity Planning Committee.
Gardner cites diversity, equity and inclusion issues as the main reason she’s running. Gardner, who is Black, wants people of color to feel comfortable at the city council meetings and express their concerns.
“In Novato, I don’t always feel included,” Gardner said. “I love Novato, but it could be better with more diversity, more Black-owned businesses and more businesses owned by people from all ethnic backgrounds.”
Lack of transparency with the city budget also concerns Gardner, who plans to have the financial reports updated. Once the line item budget is reconciled, Gardner says she’ll look to increase the police and firefighters’ salaries, enabling them to live in the city they protect.
Other issues she’ll address are mental health care, especially for youth, and removing the police, known as school resource officers, from positions on public school campuses.
The Marin Democrats and Everytown for Gun Safety, a national organization, endorsed Gardner.
Chris Carpiniello, the third candidate vying for the District 4 seat, says he decided to run when he had time on his hands during the COVID lockdown and began attending Novato City Council meetings.
“I was horrified with what they were getting away with,” Carpiniello said.
As the chair of the Marin GOP election integrity committee, Carpiniello advocates for voting with paper ballots only. He believes digital elections are “rigged” and the 2020 election was “illegitimate.”
Like all the candidates, Carpiniello says the city’s budget is a primary problem.
“I’ll form a committee to get those books reconciled,” Carpiniello said. “We have to reconcile the books to know where we stand.”
Carpiniello plans to increase Novato’s affordable housing stock by lifting many of the building permit regulations, which he says curtail development. Another key goal is to stop the city government from “pandering to every special interest that comes around.”
The two candidates who win seats on the Novato City Council will certainly have challenges and hard work ahead. With each serving a four-year term, they should be able to make a dent in resolving the many issues facing Novato now.
The right to vote is a privilege. Mail in your ballot or get out there on Nov. 8 and make it count.