Marin IJ

Ross Valley faces key flood decision

Staff Report
Marin Independent Journal
Article Launched:03/25/2007 11:05:31 PM PDT

BEFORE COUNTY and Ross Valley officials can start building flood control projects, they need to build a solid case for the money needed for those improvements.

And the clock is ticking.

The owners of 15,000 parcels in the Ross Valley have been notified how much a proposed flood control tax will cost them for each piece of property.

The annual fee - essentially a tax - will range from $30 for condo and townhouse owners to thousands of dollars for larger pieces of property. The average cost is about $125 (see chart at right for a breakdown by lot size).

Flooding has been a chronic problem in the Ross Valley for decades. Flood control efforts have stalled over the years, thanks to a lack of consensus and environmental concerns. The devastating flooding on New Year's Eve in 2005 has had a silver lining in that it has unleashed the political will to actually do something about flooding in the Ross Valley.

Supervisor Hal Brown, who represents the Ross Valley, has managed to keep the momentum building for the past year, and all the towns of the Ross Valley, Fairfax, San Anselmo, Larkspur and Ross, have climbed on the bandwagon.

Of course, it will take money to make a difference. The flood control tax will raise $2 million a year for 20 years. County officials hope to use another $3 million from other sources to pay for $5 million in flood control projects in the Ross Valley each year. They range from building bypass channels, excavating channel bottoms, enlarging culverts and creating flood detention basins. Improved warning systems also are on the wish list.

The goal is to avoid a repeat of the flooding that seriously damaged hundreds of homes and businesses in San Anselmo and other parts of the Ross Valley and the county. The damage from that flooding topped $100 million.

Because the proposed assessment is considered a fee, it just needs 50.1 percent - the owners of 7,506 parcels - to approve the levy.

Those property owners now have 36 days to voice their opposition to the fee - either in writing to the Marin Board of Supervisors or at a May 1 protest hearing. If more than 50 percent of property owners are opposed, the measure dies - along with the first real chance for a solution to the Ross Valley's flood problems in three decades. If it passes that first test, those voters in the flood control district will be mailed ballots on May 1.

That is why making a case for this fee is so important. Decades of development, often in flood-prone areas, means much of the Ross Valley is at risk during major floods, which seem to happen every 10 or 20 years. Flood control officials and their supporters need to make it clear to property owners and voters why this annual fee is crucial - even for those who own property in the hills and other areas that will never flood.

They need to show why this is about the greater good - the overall safety and quality of life of the entire Ross Valley. Everyone who lives in the Ross Valley, even the lucky ones who didn't suffer any damage from the latest floods, knows a resident and business who suffered major losses. Some are still repairing the damage.

A county engineer will explain the flood control fee at four meetings:

- March 27, the San Anselmo Town Council.

- April 4, the Fairfax Town Council.

- April 5, the Ross Town Council.

- April 18, the Larkspur City Council.

The Ross Valley flood control district also plans to meet April 19 to discuss the issue.

We urge residents to attend one of those meetings and hear what officials have to say. Ask tough questions. No flood- control plan can make everyone happy, but voters should feel satisfied that the proposal makes sense.

Officials have accomplished a great deal simply by getting to this point. But all that hard work will go down the drain if they can't get voters to pay for flood control improvements.
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