Ross Valley narrowly approves flood control fee
Article Launched:06/29/2007 11:53:23 PM PDT
A new fee designed to implement flood control in the Ross Valley
squeezed out a narrow victory Friday, winning by just 65 votes - after
1,708 ballots were judged invalid.
The fee will raise about $40 million over the next 20 years for flood
control. Passage of the measure represents a victory for Supervisor Hal
Brown, who spearheaded the campaign after 1,200 homes and 200
businesses were damaged by flooding that occurred across much of Marin
in the early morning of Dec. 31, 2005.
The Ross Valley was hit the hardest. The Corte Madera Creek Basin has
flooded 14 times over the past 50 years.
Marin County Registrar of Voters Elaine Ginnold said most of the
invalid ballots - more than 1,000 - were unsigned. Ginnold said the
invalid ballots weren't counted so she couldn't say how they would have
affected the outcome.
"We just put them aside," Ginnold said.
The unsigned ballots were disqualified even though they had the name of
the person they were mailed to pre-printed on them, together with the
person's parcel number, Ginnold said.
"It said right on the ballot that they had to be signed to be valid,"
Ginnold said. In a typical election, people who vote by mail are
required to sign the envelope that contains their ballot, but not the
ballot itself, she said.
The final tally was 3,208 yes votes to 3,143 no votes. Of the 15,010
ballots mailed out to Ross Valley property owners on May 4, 8,059 were
returned, Ginnold said.
Louise Mathews of San Anselmo, a staunch opponent of the fee, said the
unsigned ballots should be considered valid.
"This is an absolute aberration of the process," Mathews said.
Despite the narrow victory, Brown said he was pleased.
"An enormous amount of energy and effort has gone into this over the
last year and a half," Brown said.
"It wasn't a ringing endorsement," he said, "but it passed, and that is
what this process is all about. There have been close elections for
eons, and this is one of them."
The Ross Valley Flood Control District's more than 15,000 property
owners will be charged based on the estimated amount of storm water
run-off their property produces. For that reason, the charge qualified
as a fee, not a tax, and the ballot measure's adoption required a
simple majority of those property owners casting ballots.
Residents in Fairfax, Greenbrae, Kentfield, Larkspur, Ross and San
Anselmo will be required to pay the charge. The average homeowner will
pay $125 a year. Renters will not be affected.
Supporters say the money raised by the fee will make the flood control
district eligible for millions more in state and federal grants.
The measure had the backing of the local chapter of the Sierra Club,
the Friends of Corte Madera Creek, the Marin Conservation League, the
San Anselmo Chamber of Commerce and the Flood Mitigation League, a
citizen's group that formed after the 2005 flood to lobby government
officials to act.
Opponents complained about being forced to pay for flood control when
their homes don't flood. And they insisted that the fee really
constitutes a new tax, and therefore should have been approved under
the rules governing new taxes established by Proposition 13. New taxes
are voted on by registered voters, not property owners, and require the
support of two-thirds of those voting for approval.
Now that a revenue stream has been secured, the next step will be to
refine plans for flood mitigation, said Bob Beaumont, chief assistant
director of the county's Public Works Department. Environmental impact
studies will be required.
"There will be public meetings. All the individual jurisdictions will
be involved," Beaumont said.
Three bottlenecks on Corte Madera Creek have been identified as likely
starting points to address flooding. Two of the three worst blockages
are in Ross - where a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers flood control
project has been stalled since 1971. The Ross choke points are at the
Lagunitas Road Bridge and a wooden fish ladder about 600 feet
downstream from the bridge. The Madrone Avenue Bridge in San Anselmo is
considered equally troublesome.
Brown said, "It passed. Now we get on with the work of it - unless some
court steps in and says no."
Contact Richard Halstead via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org