Last Thursday, the “ad hoc committee” recently convened by the Community Services District Board met to explore the possibility of city-style incorporation for the Anderson Valley.
In a nutshell: It’s not easy.
In 1969, the “village” (town) of Mendocino tried to incorporate.
Voters said no, narrowly.
Incorporation advocates tried again in 1982 and again in 1988.
Nope. Narrow defeats again.
Opponents argued that incorporation wasn’t really justified, that it only added another layer of government bureaucracy and that it would cost people more tax money. However, each time incorporation came up for a vote, proponents submitted reputable analyses that showed the opposite — that incorporation not only saved money, but improved local services.
In 2003, the Governor’s “Office Of Planning And Research” issued “Incorporation Guidelines” which have to be met even before incorporation can be voted on. The Guidelines require that each county’s LAFCO (Local Agency Formation COmmission) must approve the proposal before a vote.
“A complex process” that “must meet legal requirements.” Proposals must be “fiscally feasible” because incorporation itself “is expensive” and the tens of thousands of dollars that are typically spent to bring the question to a vote would be wasted if the proposal is defeated at the polls — as it was those three times Mendocino took it to a vote.
Consultants and lawyers are typically involved, signatures must be gathered, strict time limits apply, reams of paper and analysis must be prepared (aka “an application”) — all of that just so that LAFCO can be given something to nitpick before it even reaches the ballot.
Then there are public hearings, elections, and more incorporation paperwork on the off-chance that more than 50% of voters approve.
And each County LAFCO can impose additional rules if they feel like it. (The LAFCO Board is made up of elected people from the County of Mendocino and the County's already incorporated cities, including the City of Point Arena.)
An incorporation proposal from Anderson Valley would, we assume, be stoutly resisted by the County of Mendocino because Anderson Valley returns a large hunk of money to the County every year in return for.... Well, in return for road work, deputies Walker and Espinoza (part-time) and Supervisor Dan Hamburg.
The two deputies would probably have to be contracted for through the County after incorporation, and the road crew would be missed if roads are part of the incorporation. Hamburg…?
According to the Guidelines, preparation of an incorporation proposal for LAFCO can cost between $50k and $150k. State loans are available, which are forgiven if the ballot proposal fails, but must be repaid if the proposal passes. The loan applications themselves require demonstration that the proponents can’t raise their own funds for the incorporation proposal. Given the large fortunes of many of Anderson Valley's hill muffins, and even some quite sizable pots of gold on the Valley floor, claims of pauperism out of Boonville would be unlikely to get a sympathetic hearing.
Anderson Valley's ad hoc incorporation committee itself is only lukewarm about the idea, raising their own concerns.
Fire Chief Andres Avila said that it might be hard to recruit and/or hire people for a city council and/or staffers who would be needed to perform whatever government functions may be involved.
CSD Board member Kathleen McKenna agreed, adding that it’s already hard to find people to run for the CSD Board, and it probably would be harder to find people willing to sit on a City Council.
And all five members of the ad hoc committee said they’d only be in favor of the idea if it could be shown that no new bureaucracy would be created and no new taxes would be imposed. In essence, incorporation involves transferring certain enumerated functions from the County to the newly incorporated Valley-City.
(And what would be call ourselves? Pinotville? Pot City? Stump Town? Boono?)
The Ad Hoc Committee agreed that Anderson Valley at present is getting poor service from the County considering the lush tax to Ukiah from Anderson Valley, although getting the specific numbers on how much taxes we pay versus what we get in services may be difficult.
Recent Fifth District Supervisors have certainly given Anderson Valley short shrift. Anderson Valley-related items seldom make it on to the Board's agenda, and when they do (such as the recent Fairgrounds budget presentation), the Board offers nothing in the way of help, useful advice or services. Worse, the County totally ignored the enormous amount of work several locals put into preparing Anderson Valley comments and suggestions for the County's updated General Plan.
For most Valley citizens, the mere prospect of dealing of dealing with County bureaucracies, especially building and planning services, elicits despairing cries. Many people think there’s not enough law enforcement coverage for the tax money the County gets in relation to the proportion of constituents in the Valley.
Anderson Valley pays taxes in several categories — property tax, sales tax, bed tax, to name the three most lucrative — but gets back almost nothing in return — and when we do, it's frequently not helpful. (Case in point: the eyesore Ricard building in South Boonville which the County says hasn't quite achieved maximum kindling quotient (MKQ) to trigger a nuisance abatement, although comparable slums in other areas of the County have been fairly promptly addressed.)
The Board of Supervisors has too few meetings, making it very hard to arrange for attendance at their convenience, and even if locals attend they are limited to three minute-mini-presentations during public comment.
There are obvious benefits to incorporation: Anderson Valley could manage many of its own affairs, presumably more efficiently and effectively — and (arguably) for less cost than the County now charges. Local elected officials would be more accountable to local residents than our one elected County Supervisorial representative who considers himself a “coastal supervisor” but lives in Ukiah. Our prior Supervisor, David Colfax, lived in Anderson Valley but didn’t represent anyone but himself. In twelve years as Supervisor, Colfax held only two local meetings and at both of them he bluntly told local constituents that nothing could be done about their modest requests.)
Then there’s the question of borders: Should a newly incorporated entity encompass just Boonville and Philo where most of the Valley’s population resides? Or should it be geographically large enough to include the hamlets of Navarro and Yorkville? (The late Smokey Blattner, asked how many people actually lived in the Anderson Valley, famously replied, “To know the answer to that one you'd have to beat everyone out of the bushes.”)
Another question that several committee members raised was how would the local wine industry feel about incorporation? They seem pretty happy with the status quo under which the County not only has no interest in regulating high end booze, but actively avoids even the slightest proposal to regulate the hooch business. For example, when the locals who prepared General Plan input (the first submission was lost in the Planning Director's inbox, he said) made the modest suggestion that tasting rooms be treated like other small businesses and required to obtain simple minor use permits, neither the County nor Supervisor Hamburg paid any attention. In fact the entire range of common sense local planning suggestions and recommendations were simply tossed into the County’s recycled waste bin.
Most of the opposition to the incorporation attempts made in the Town of Mendocino back in the 1980s, came from libertarian types who saw the idea as nothing more than attempt by liberal government lovers to lay on another layer of local bureaucracy that they and their pals could get high pay to occupy. But Fox News-think aside, incorporation has obvious benefits. And Anderson Valley is certainly under-served by County politicians and bureaucrats.
But so far there doesn’t appear to be enough interest in the potential benefits of incorporation to overcome all the administrative and financial hurdles that are required just to put the issue on the ballot.
The Ad Hoc Committee has scheduled its next meeting for Thursday, February 13 at 2pm at the Boonville Firehouse. The public is welcome to attend.