At the end of December, Novato Patch asked its readers which individual deserved to be . Based on the comments added to that prompt, it was obvious that Toni Shroyer had a lot of fans in our town. She is being recognized as Novato's Person of the Year for 2011 (not to be confused with the annual Novato Citizen of the Year awarded at the Paint the Town Red event).
Shroyer, a real estate agent by trade, became a de facto community activist during the that struck Novato during the city’s general plan update and poured hours of her time into researching the hot-button issue. She also became heavily involved in the monitoring of police calls for service after it was revealed that the had a higher-than average rate of calls.
Novato Patch asked her to answer a few questions about the commitment she made to the community and what it’s been like from her angle.
What was it that triggered your intense involvement in civic issues in 2011, and why?
I received a call from a friend in June 2010 who told me the city was planning on rezoning people's land (without their consent) for 313 units of high-density, low-income housing within less than half a square mile area. The city had targeted heritage homes and properties of families who have been in Novato for generations.
The concentration of poverty in housing projects never works but is a cash cow for developers. That phone call changed my life and ignited my civic involvement, which continued in 2011 and today. My parents did not raise a shrinking violet.
Was the time you invested in taking a public role well worth it? Why or why not?
I wasn't planning on taking on a public role in the city. I naively assumed that if I presented community concerns to the city of Novato our problems would be fixed promptly and efficiently. I had to become vocal when serious problems in our community were simply being ignored.
It was worth reporting the Novato City Council to the D.A.'s office for not following the Brown Act, California’s open meeting law. If we don't have adequate public notice, we lose our democracy.
After 1,483 police calls in a three-year period to the Wyndover Apartments, I had to speak out about the injustices of the system. The investors of Wyndover do not pay any real estate taxes, lack accountability and receive almost $2 million in rents annually while not providing safe housing for the poor. Finally, the state told Wyndover to put security gates in the parking lot and security cameras in the complex (the NPD has done an excellent job with dealing with all of the crime at Wyndover).
The Pennies for Police Dogs Campaign with the goal of providing funding for narcotics training for all three police dogs. Enhancing our public safety is definitely worth it. Painting over gang graffiti and picking up shopping carts that have been abandoned around town has resulted in a lot less blight. That’s been worth it.
It has been rewarding to be a part of these positive results. The people's involvement in Novato is vital. One person can make a difference in our town and that person can be you too.
Who were the most inspirational Novato people you encountered in 2011?
Elizabeth Sleath, Pam Drew and Will Lieb.
Elizabeth Sleath is our tireless fundraiser for School Fuel. Elizabeth's children are grown, and she is still helping ours. Thanks to Elizabeth and School Fuel, we are able to keep electives, such as music, in Novato's public schools.
Pam Drew is Novato's best community organizer and Novato citizen's No. 1 researcher. Pam has uncovered the inconsistencies with our government's Sustainable Communities Strategies (SCS). Pam has exposed increased density causes loss of quality of life, creates local pollution and congestion.
Will Lieb is a third-generation Novato resident, our last chicken rancher and Novato's unsung hero. Will ran for Novato City Council in the ‘60s and ‘70s and was fighting for the same issues we are still fighting for today: private property rights, preservation of open spaces and fiscal responsibility in our local government. Developers were always circling his property like vultures and he fought them off all his life and won. In September he said to me, "What you are doing in Novato (activism) won't make friends or get you on any boards, but keep doing it!"
Why do you enjoy living in Novato?
I love living in Novato because this is a community of engagement instead of rage. The good people of Novato have the courage to speak out about injustices in our government and have the pride to stick up for their town. If there is a problem, residents become part of the solution. This is one of the last areas in Marin where neighbors can have livestock in their backyards and drive John Deeres in their front. There are endless activities for people to be involved in, from attending events at the Margaret Todd Senior Center, to shopping in Old Town to riding a horse at Novato Horseman's. I love living in Novato because the people are very down to earth, diverse, welcoming, friendly and kind. My family and I feel much supported, appreciated and loved in this community.
What is the most urgent issue in 2012 for Novato?
The most urgent issue in 2012 is getting back our local control and our democracy. Our government is steamrolling ahead with regional control, bypassing our local control, and our democracy has been eroded. Our private property rights are being attacked. We need to bring back our democracy and fight against governmental dictatorship. We can, we are and we will. The good people of Novato never cease to amaze me.