"We do have larger, more important issues," admitted Novato City Manager Michael Franks, but he serves at the pleasure of Novato's City Council. Hence, a letter of complaint from Franks, to Caltrans Division 4 Director Bijam Sartipi. At issue, 1,800 square feet of flowers on a hillside overlooking Highway 101.
"Marin County has had a ban against billboard advertising since the 1970's," noted Franks. And the flowers, which depict a car that resembles a Prius, crossing a bridge that resembles the Golden Gate, are sponsored by Toyota.
"Smells like advertising to me," said one woman at a local car wash.
"I don't know what that thing is," said another. "It's just ugly."
Novato has no jurisdiction over the land in question, Caltrans does. It launched the yearlong trial program to have individuals or businesses take over responsibility for roadside maintenance on three-acre plots. Toyota hired a company called Greenroad Media to run the campaign.
"We'd really like to be able to mitigate the issue with the city if possible, but if it's not possible we certainly don't want to create consternation by the citizens," said Greenroad spokesperson George Manyak to the Marin Independent Journal.
"It just seems wasteful," Franks told ABC7 News. "We still have water rationing in this county. Those flowers do not set a very good example."
Toyota paid a $50,000 performance bond and spent another $50,000 on construction.
Caltrans spokesperson Bob Haus says Caltrans did know about Marin's non-billboard ordinance and never imagined it would create an issue.