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The Cows Come Home, Hotel Cash & Local Privilege

Columnist: Bill Meagher
May, 2019 Issue
Columnist

Bill Meagher
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Straus Family Creamery, the pioneering organic dairy based in West Marin, joins the ranks of businesses moving north in order to grow. The company is headed to Rohnert Park to build a new production plant after 25 years in sleepy Marshall. Albert Straus, founder and CEO, famously returned from his ag studies at UC Davis and declared to his family that organic dairy was going to be very large and that the family operation needed to convert. Straus Family Creamery became the first certified 100 percent organic dairy in the county.

The business uses product from dairies in Sonoma and Marin for its lines of milk, cream, yogurt, butter, sour cream and ice cream. Straus is well known for its innovation, which is often outside the box. Always concerned with the environment as well as the creamery’s impact on it, the company built a methane digester and uses an electric truck to distribute feed to its cows. Straus kicked the tires on the long underused Birkenstock facility at the northern edge of Novato on

Highway 101 in its search to find new digs

Over the years, some businesses have opted to move to Sonoma County as they have been unable to locate suitable property, finding Marin’s regulation’s stifling, or discovered the best way to hold onto their workforce was a move north. The highest profile example is Fireman’s Fund, which had a 700,000-square-foot campus in Novato and now calls Petaluma home after downsizing the operation. San Rafael Hotel moves along a proposed five-story hotel to be located at the corner of Fifth Avenue and B Street has the blessing of the city’s Design Review Board. The 140-room project proposed by locally-based Monahan Parker Inc. for Marriot, would replace the 12,000-square-foot former bank building that currently sits on the 29,000- square-foot property.

The next stop for the hotel will be the Planning Commission. As it’s currently envisioned, the hotel would include an event space, gym and a restaurant. A rooftop bar and garden are also in the works and the hotel is currently slated for 87 parking spaces. Monahan Parker is chatting with the city to acquire a trio of metered parking spaces to use as drop off area for guests. The project is not fully embraced by the public at large, which finds it too big, too flashy and that the city should consider other uses for the parcel. This is unlikely to happen for two reasons. First, the project is gaining steam at the city level as it moves through the process. The second reason is simpler than momentum: Money. Should the hotel be built, the city gets a 12 percent slice of every room night. In a world where costs keep going up and the number of revenue streams are contracting, hotel’s are like potato chips to most cities.

Hard to eat just one.

Your Marin moment

The “Operation Varsity Blues” college admissions scandal has shone a bright light on the no-holds barred process of getting junior into the “right” school, and there is always a local angle. In this case, the federal net that scooped up college coaches, prep and admission staff and parents included William McGlashan Jr. of Mill Valley and Todd and Diane Blake of Ross. McGlashan is well known in private equity circles and is the founder of TPG Growth, the buyout vehicle of TPG Capital. Todd Blake is an investor and entrepreneur and his wife Diane co-founded Winston Retail Solutions. The Blake’s allegedly paid Key Worldwide Foundation $200,000 and the USC women’s athletic department $50,000 to make their daughter a Trojan. Key Worldwide is the company at the center of the scandal. Court documents say that McGlashan worked with Key to fake his son’s ACT results to get him into Northeastern University.

The particular scam resonates in Marin for a couple important reasons. Number one: the quest to get kids into not just college, but the right school, is sacred in a way that is comparable to the worship of high residential housing prices. Parents regularly seek to have their kids deemed special education so they can receive more time on standardized tests despite the fact their children need no such accommodations. And number two? Cash. Any place that has the concentration of education and money such as Marin is a breeding ground for the sense of entitlement that helps the end justify the means in this kind of circumstance.

I certainly understand parents wanting the best for their children, but you really have to ask yourself: What lesson are these parents teaching their offspring?

Bill Meagher is a contributing editor at NorthBay biz. He keeps the wolf from the door as a senior editor at The Deal, a New York-based financial news organization. He can be reached at bmeagher@northbaybiz.com with news tips and threats of legal action. Follow him on Twitter @MeagherBill.

 

 

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