Marin IJ

Ross Valley flood fee enacted despite protests

Rob Rogers
Marin Independent Journal
Article Launched:07/17/2007 04:02:04 PM PDT

Ross Valley property owners will be billed to pay for flood control projects even though residents claim voting irregularities should invalidate a mail-in election used to establish the fee.

In a controversial mail-in election in which the county disqualified 21 percent of those who voted, the flood control fee passed by just 65 votes.

County supervisors voted 3-0 to formally establish the fee, which will cost the average property owner about $125 a year. Supervisor Susan Adams was attending a conference in Washington, D.C.

Supervisor Charles McGlashan left his seat shortly before the vote was taken, returning without comment after the vote. He could not be reached for a comment following the meeting.

County officials say the fee will raise $40 million during the next 20 years for flood control projects in Fairfax, Greenbrae, Kentfield, Larkspur, Ross and San Anselmo. The Corte Madera Creek basin has flooded 14 times in 50 years.

The county Department of Public Works sent mail-in ballots to 15,010 property owners throughout the Ross Valley. But some of those property owners, including former San Anselmo police chief Bernard Del Santo, said they never received ballots.

San Anselmo resident Louise Mathews is checking a list of property owners supplied by the county assessor's office against a list of those sent ballots, which she said was formerly posted on the Internet at

"I've gone through about 6,000 of the 20,000 parcels and found about 300 property owners who didn't know anything about this," Mathews told supervisors Tuesday. "They never had a chance to vote."

While 8,059 voters sent back ballots, about 1,700 ballots or 21 percent of those voting were invalidated because the ballots were not signed. In a typical election, less than 1 percent of ballots are disqualified - and ballots are not signed.

Critics contend that the signing requirement, specific to the mail-in election, confused many voters, and that the unsigned ballots should be counted. The unsigned ballots include the printed names of those who received them.

"We request that the unsigned ballots be declared valid and counted, and if not, that you do the election over, and have it run in the office of elections, where it belongs," said Basia Crane, a member of the Marin United Taxpayers Association.

Crane and other critics have maintained that the flood control "user fee" is really a tax, and that supervisors chose to call it a fee - which requires only a majority vote to pass - to avoid Proposition 13 requirements that call for a two-thirds majority to approve a tax.

"This proposed fee neither identifies a service to be provided nor exists as a fixed amount," Crane said. "Therefore, in truth, it is a taxÉ This should never have gone on the ballot."

One critic stopped short of saying she would file a lawsuit.

"I don't do lawsuits," Mathews said. "There are other avenues of making sure the Board of Supervisors does right."

Contact Rob Rogers via e-mail at

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