Marin IJ

Taxpayer group opposes Ross Valley flood fee

Richard Halstead
Marin Independent Journal
Article Launched:04/13/2007 12:18:06 AM PDT

The Marin United Taxpayers Association board voted Monday to oppose a storm drainage charge for flood-control projects in the Ross Valley.

Property owners in Fairfax, Greenbrae, Kentfield, Larkspur, Ross and San Anselmo would pay an average of $125 a year on their property tax bills. The move, if approved by a majority of those who mail in ballots next month, would raise about $40 million for flood control over two decades.

The tax association's board said the flood plan lacks specifics about how and for what the $40 million would be spent.

"The advocates' proposed 'plan' is actually only a grandiose outline of a plan, with a 'Christmas tree' of general goals to buy undecided votes," the board stated in a press release.

The taxpayers group said owners of hill properties, where no flooding occurs, would receive no benefit but would be required to pay anyway. And the board expressed outrage that all local county, state and federal government property would be exempt from paying the fee.

San Anselmo resident Louise Mathews, a critic of the proposal, said the flood control district is also exempting nonprofits.

"It's a legitimate concern," Mathews said.

Senior citizens would not get an exemption from the tax.

Board member Fielding Greaves said the organization has remained neutral on other recent tax and fee proposals.

"For some years, we've made a practice of not getting involved unless there is a strong feeling within the community that we should look into it and take a position," Greaves said.

Supporters of the flood plan were quick to respond.

"I am completely in support of this fee," said Lise Stampfli of San Anselmo, who helped found the Flood Mitigation League, a citizen group that formed after last year's flood of the Ross Valley.

About 1,200 homes and 200 businesses were damaged by the flooding that occurred across much of Marin in the early morning of Dec. 31, 2005. The Corte Madera Creek Basin has flooded 14 times in 50 years.

Stampfli says more detailed plans for spending the money must wait until a hydraulic model of the area and a feasibility study has been completed.

"If we don't pass something to get a revenue stream going, we're going to doom ourselves to more flooding," Stampfli said.

Supervisor Hal Brown, who has spearheaded the flood control effort, said state law created by Proposition 218 prohibits the district from stating in advance exactly what the money would be spent on. As for exempting government properties, Brown said, "tax money goes to schools and public buildings anyway. I don't understand that argument at all. It's specious."

Sandy Guldman, president of Friends of Corte Madera Creek, said she strongly supports the fee. "I am absolutely baffled as to how members of the community - even if they do live on a hill - can think they suffer no impacts when schools, fire departments and other public facilities are flooded. You can't cross the road. You can't get downtown," Guldman said.

"Do these people actually think it doesn't cost them anything when public facilities are damaged and have to be repaired?"

A public meeting has been scheduled for May 1 to solicit additional comment on the storm drainage charge proposed for the Ross Valley. If more than half of the 15,000 property owners in the flood control district object by that date, the proposal will be dropped.

Otherwise, ballots will be mailed out, and the tax will be approved if a majority of the property owners who vote approve it. Voters will have 45 days to return their ballots to the clerk of the Board of Supervisors.

Because the district calls the flood charge a fee for drainage service, and not a property tax, it requires a simple majority vote of approval, rather than a two-thirds vote as required by Proposition 13.

Contact Richard Halstead via e-mail at

Hub Law Offices 711 Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, San Anselmo, California 94960-1949 415-258-0360