Marin IJ

Valley flood control tax proposed

Rob Rogers
Marin Independent Journal
Article Launched:03/17/2007 11:12:45 PM PDT

The owners of more than 15,000 Ross Valley properties received notice this week about a proposed flood control tax.

Those owners have 45 days to decide whether to support the project, which will pay for improvements to flood channels, detention basins and other projects to protect low-lying areas hit by the floods of Dec. 31, 2005.

Marin supervisors approved a fee schedule for the flood control district - which includes Fairfax, Greenbrae, Kentfield, Larkspur, Ross and San Anselmo - March 13. The schedule calls for the average Ross Valley homeowner to pay $125 a year.

Supervisors also set May 1 as the date for a "protest hearing," a required forum in which property owners can express their questions or concerns about the tax.

County officials sent notices about the tax to owners of 15,010 properties in the Ross Valley watershed on Thursday.

A consultant, Terrence E. Lowell and Associates, determined the amount each property owner would pay based on the type of building, the acreage and the amount of paved surface on the property.

"It's a complicated formula, based upon whether it's bigger or smaller, or has more or fewer impermeable surfaces, than the average single-family home, which would pay $125," said Jack Curley, assistant county engineer.

Owners of condominiums or townhouses smaller than .15 acres could pay as little as $30 per year, while owners of commercial or industrial properties between half an acre and an acre could pay $1,141. The fee would be in place for the next 20 years, and could increase as much as 3 percent each year.

The entire fee schedule is available in room 304 of the Civic Center in San Rafael.

County officials claim the flood assessment isn't a tax, saying it's based on the "permeability" of a property, rather than its assessed value.

"All taxes are based on the assessed value of a property," Curley said. "This is an improvement fee, which we've tried to keep as fair and equitable as possible."

Supervisors plan to use the $2 million generated by the tax, together with $3 million drawn from other sources, to pay for $5 million in annual flood control projects, including enlarging culverts, excavating channel bottoms, building bypass channels, stabilizing banks and developing flood detention basins and warning systems.

"We hope to leverage those fees through grants," said Supervisor Hal Brown, a strong supporter of the project. "That's very important to us."

First, officials will have to convince the owners of at least 7,506 properties to approve the tax.

Property owners receive a vote according to the number of parcels they own within the watershed. Someone who owns two homes, for example, gets two votes, while owners who share ownership of a property share a vote.

If the owners of more than half of those properties voice opposition - either at the May 1 protest hearing or in writing to the Board of Supervisors - the proposal dies.

If not, the county will mail ballots to voters in the flood control district on May 1.

And because county officials are calling the assessment a user fee - and not a tax - they say the plan will pass with a simple majority vote of mail-in ballots, not a two-thirds majority as required by Proposition 13.

"This election is key to our countywide efforts for the watershed," Brown said. "It's important for future efforts like this in Novato, Tam Junction or Tam Valley."

County engineer Jack Curley will outline the Ross Valley flood control tax hike at four meetings:

- March 27 with the San Anselmo Town Council.

- April 4 with the Fairfax Town Council

- April 5 with the Ross Town Council

- April 18 with the Larkspur City Council.

In addition, Ross Valley's Flood Zone 9 board will meet at 7 p.m. April 19 at a location to be determined.

For more information, call 499-6528 or visit the Ross Valley Watershed Web site at

Contact Rob Rogers via e-mail at
Hub Law Offices 711 Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, San Anselmo, California 94960-1949 415-258-0360