Al Dugan says he’s an analytical, data-driven guy, the result of decades in the insurance field. Raised in New Orleans, he attended Louisiana State University before moving to the Bay Area; here he spent decades—including 24 years as an executive—underwriting marine and land cargo. He held major complex accounts with companies like Apple and Amazon, and traveled the globe.
Mr. Dugan was relatively uninvolved in civic life in Novato, where he has lived in the same house for decades, until a city effort to change zoning in a part of town to make room for high-density development in 2010 reeled him in. Since then, he’s cofounded a homeowners association, advocated for lower-density housing and investigated population estimates put out by the Association of Bay Area Governments—which he discovered were significantly higher than other state agency estimates and outpaced the growth that could occur under the city’s general plan. ABAG, he said, adopted two recommendations he made as a result of his findings.
Being a numbers guy has served him well, but Mr. Dugan is also affable and conversational as he delves into housing issues and problems with county government. The Light sat down with him last week to talk about his experience in Novato and stances on various issues in the race for District 4 supervisor.
Point Reyes Light: Why don’t you tell us why you decided to run for supervisor?
Al Dugan: What I had planned to do was to take a look at the people that filed for candidacy. Afterwards I was concerned; I felt like some critical issues were not being addressed. Given the issues we have in Marin County, I think it’s going to be critically important to have someone with strong financial skills. We have budget issues. In 2018–2019 the county budget is projected to go into a deficit. We also have pension issues.
I very much want to protect small towns and the suburban-rural character of Marin County—that’s the driving force for me. I actually think it’s an advantage not to have been in political office. I think it’s about time we had someone with 24 years of executive experience here to take a fresh look at things.
Light: What are the critical issues you felt were [not being addressed by other candidates]?
Dugan: There are a whole bunch of candidates in this race who think that everything is fine at the Civic Center. I think there are serious issues down there. One is the failure to properly engage the public and have transparency. Two issues jump off the page when you talk about that. The first is when they had the Board of Supervisors meeting and they started talking about housing, which is a big issue. They were in violation of the Brown Act because they had a meeting with substance and the public didn’t know about it. A group of citizens wrote a letter and said, “We don’t want you to violate the Brown Act anymore.” The response from the county was that they didn’t believe that they had violated the Brown Act. Then the group filed in court to get an injunction to stop them from doing it in the future. The supervisors authorized the county attorney to fight tooth and nail against the group. I thought their arguments were ridiculous and, of course, the county lost. If they made an honest mistake… They should’ve said, “Gosh, okay, we wouldn’t do it again.” I think there’s an arrogance to saying, “No, we didn’t do it and we will fight you tooth and nail to prove it.”
The other biggest issue is when supervisors placed multiple priority development areas up and down 101. And no one knew about them or what they were. Basically people had to fight tooth and nail to get those areas removed.
The other big issue is housing. It impacts all of Marin. There’s been a push to urbanize 101. There are people who are trying to tell us that the people who live there aren’t going to have cars.
Light: What about affordable housing?
Dugan: I very much support affordable housing. I think the first thing that’s critical—and I can’t believe it’s gotten to the point where it is—is the lack of repair at Marin Village. It’s all affordable housing, been there for years, and it’s in a complete state of ill repair. The number one thing we need to do with affordable housing is make sure we take care of what we got. The lack of repair and maintenance there is shameful.
I believe the best solution for affordable housing is the methodology used by the California Department of Housing and Community Development—that is, new development should be 20 percent affordable. I think here in Marin we need to look for small-scale affordable housing solutions and they have to fit into the neighborhood. I do not believe it’s good to have high-density, isolated housing; it’s much better to have infill spread amongst the community. I definitely support second units for ranches, something I’m surprised they’re not allowed to do because it allows the children to grow up there. I believe in second units and infill here. We have buildings that can be renovated and turned into housing, we have apartment buildings that could be rebuilt and we can make sure they’re affordable. Infill looks at what’s already here and figures out if there’s a way we can use it.
Newly built, federally funded affordable housing requires a lottery that the whole surrounding area participates in. We just built senior housing on Diablo: 61 units. It was federally funded. Nine units went to people from Novato. Everyone else is from around the [Bay Area]. On the other hand, the Rotary Club has built some affordable housing and it allows only Novato people. To me, that’s the ultimate model.
Light: What about Airbnb? Some people in West Marin have asked the county to regulate them because they feel like the community is being hollowed out.
Dugan: That is a serious concern. I think they should be regulated. I think certainly in a place that is a destination location like West Marin, that has a very small population, you have to be extremely careful that it isn’t overtaken by that type of development. It is a type of development. I think it should be taxed and carefully monitored and regulated. I think they should have to apply for a permit to be able to do it, so you can keep track of what’s happening.
Light: Have you followed much of the Local Coastal Program process?
Dugan: I think the commission has done a good job of protecting California’s coast. I am extremely concerned that Mr. Lester was relieved of his duties and forced out; I don’t think we’ve had a reasonable explanation of why and how it all happened. I think we need to be extraordinarily vigilant moving forward. [The new executive director needs to be] an open-minded conservation person so the coast isn’t over-developed.
As far as the ranches, I think that’s one of the beauties of Marin and I think it makes West Marin so unique. It’s really the spirit of Marin County. I support the ranchers 1,000 percent.
Light: What do you make of the lawsuit against the park service?
Dugan: I was at the Civic Center on Tuesday and I talked to Mr. [Steven] Woodside, who is the county counsel, about the lawsuit that they will intervene in. I would be doing the same thing. I think the deal that was made to create the Point Reyes National Seashore—the ranchers working with Sierra Club and other environmental groups—is a critical deal we have to honor.
I talked to Mr. Woodside because I was interviewed on KWMR and the interviewer asked whether the county lawyers would handle the lawsuit or whether they would send it to an outside lawyer. I said I thought the county counsel would, but I would check. I felt like it would be easy for the county lawyers to do the majority of the legal work. We have 16 lawyers at the county. Mr. Woodside told me he will personally be handling it, along with two of his lawyers.
Cal Berkeley has done a study that found if you took 5 percent of the ranchland in California and added a quarter to a half-inch of compost, you sequester the [carbon] equivalent created by six million cars. I look at this as an opportunity to be proactive on protecting the environment. I think that adds to the reason of why it is so critical. [And] of course everyone in Marin wants the fresh produce and the fresh dairy.
Light: Some people have suggested that Jared Huffman should introduce an amendment to the seashore’s founding legislation to ensure the continuation of ranching.
Dugan: I agree 100 percent. Interestingly enough, [in Novato] myself and a group were the first people to get reduced density for any Marin County jurisdiction [in our housing element]. The issue was that Marin was treated as a metropolitan area, with 30 units an acre—if you can imagine that. The same as San Francisco. We got Novato reduced to 20 to 23 units an acre. We ended up working with the state legislature and Mark Levine to get all of Marin reduced to 20 units per acre. It’s the same type of thing. They should mandate that the ranching be left there and that it be part of the ongoing West Marin culture.
Light: West Marin has traffic issues related to tourism. Is that something you have thought about?
Dugan: I’ve seen some reports of that. Do I have any solutions now? No. What I would say is that if you have an egregious issue, start doing road counts and accumulate data and hire traffic engineers to create parameters of what they need to be able to analyze it. And then analyze the actual flow and compare it to what the capacity of the road is. Once you know what your peak road count is, traffic engineers can figure out if there’s some way to make the traffic better. Unless the data is out there; I haven’t been able to find it if it’s out there. I’m an analytical guy, if you haven’t noticed.
Light: Pesticide use by the county is another issue people follow in West Marin.
Dugan: I was at the Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday to support the group that asked them to ban toxic herbicides and pesticides; I have heavily supported that, for quite a while. They’re being banned all over the world now. There are 20, 30, 40 countries that have banned products like Roundup. To me there is no reason why the county should be spraying that type of material on public lands. The risk factor to the citizens far outweighs the cost. It will cost more to do it right, but there are creative ways to do it.
I did an analysis of our water system [in Novato]. We get 80 percent of our water from the Russian River. I wanted to make sure they weren’t using Roundup and Rodeo in our watershed. I talked to North Marin, and they weren’t. I talked to Sonoma [County Water Agency], and they weren’t. But what about Lake Sonoma? They said, “Well, you got to talk to the Army Corps of Engineers because they manage Lake Sonoma.”
So I drove up there and talked to the maintenance superintendent. His name is Julian. I did a Freedom of Information Act [request] with the Corps of Engineers and found out they had been using Roundup at that location, but they hadn’t used it for two or three years because they couldn’t afford to use it. They were doing it mainly manually. This guy had a very limited budget for removal of invasive plants and weeds. Unlike Marin County or anywhere else, he couldn’t say, “I need more money.” He had a budget and that was it. So he hired Cal Fire to do controlled burns and that allowed them to train people for the fire season. And because he was short on cash, he traded gasoline and tires along with dollars to get the work done. Then he went to the California Department of Corrections and made a deal to get their honor prisoners to come and do mechanical removal.
I know the county just approved the budget for about $320,000 [$100,000 more than the contract was previously for a manual removal pilot project]; I think there’s potential for more creative ways to deal with the problem. But we can never trade dollars for safety and health of the citizens. If it takes $100,000 extra for people to be safe, then that’s what it takes.