Ross Valley voters may get another chance at
Marin Independent Journal
Article Launched:07/30/2007 11:20:31 PM PDT
The controversial results of an election that
authorized a new Ross Valley flood mitigation fee may be thrown out and
the election repeated, Marin County Supervisor Hal Brown said Monday.
Brown said he fears that legal challenges threatened by San Anselmo
lawyer Ford Greene and the Marin United Taxpayers Association could
take years to resolve - thus preventing expenditure of fee revenue and
blocking flood control projects.
"I dearly want to dig in my heels," Brown said. "But you've got to look
at the big picture."
The Board of Supervisors created the fee by ordinance after the
election and could vote to cancel it, said Brown, who led the campaign
to adopt the fee. He said he would decide within the next 10 days
whether to ask his fellow supervisors to rescind it.
About 21 percent of the 8,059 votes cast in June's mail-in election had
to be discounted; most of those ballots were not signed. Only property
owners were allowed to vote on the fee, which would raise about $40
million for flood control projects in Fairfax, Greenbrae, Kentfield,
Larkspur, Ross and San Anselmo.
By paying for a manual recount, Greene was able to determine that the
measure would have failed by 147 votes if the unsigned ballots had
counted. Of the 1,678 disqualified ballots, 730 were marked in favor of
the flood measure, while 942 were against.
Greene has said he plans to sue because the ballot failed to adequately
alert voters that they had to sign it. Greene says the warning to sign
should have been printed in larger type and in the same area where the
signature was designed to go.
Brown, who addressed the Independent Journal's editorial board Monday,
displayed ballots used in similar elections conducted by the city of
Roseville and the Jurupa Area Recreation and Park District in Riverside
County. Both ballots had the same layout as the Marin ballot. The
ballot was designed by MIG Inc., a Berkeley-based consulting firm that
was hired to disseminate information about the fee and conduct the
Brown said if the election is repeated, the ballot would be redesigned
to emphasize that it must be signed to count. Brown said the fee might
also be adjusted to include government-owned property. The Marin United
Taxpayers Association has threatened its own suit challenging the fee's
legitimacy because it exempts taxpayer-owned parcels, such as the
College of Marin.
Greene reacted to the news by declaring victory.
"I've caught them, and they know it," Greene said. "You better believe
if I hadn't started this and made a big stink about it, they'd be out
having meetings and rolling this baby forward."
Greene does not, however, think the election should be repeated under
Proposition 218 rules, which allow victory if a majority of property
owners support the fee. Instead, Greene wants the flood control
district to treat the fee as what he believes it is - a tax. New taxes
must be approved by a two-thirds vote of the registered voters affected
by the tax.
If voters cast their ballots by mail in such an election, they sign the
envelopes that contain the ballots but not the ballots themselves.
"We don't say how we vote and then sign our names so the Gestapo can
examine what we've done. That's not American," Greene said.
The idea of voiding the election's results and doing it over received
mixed reviews from supporters of the fee.
"It was a legal election. I think it would be a bad idea to throw it
out," said Lise Stampfli Torme of San Anselmo, who helped found the
Flood Mitigation League of Ross Valley, after the flooding that
occurred in the early morning of Dec. 31, 2005. About 1,200 homes and
200 businesses were damaged across much of Marin, with downtown San
Anselmo especially hard hit.
Torme said a major effort will be needed to win approval of the fee if
the election is held again.
"There was a terrible amount of misinformation spread around during the
campaign by the other side - out-and-out lies - saying that there
wasn't a plan to spend the money. There is."
Rupert Russell, who escaped from his flooded Ross home with his family
by wading through high water during the 2005 storm, said he would like
to see the matter resolved outside a courtroom - even though he and
others could have suffered severe injury or death in the flooding.
"If a majority of the community doesn't want to take steps to ensure
that doesn't happen again, then that is something we have to live with
- so be it," Russell said.
Sandra Guldman, president of Friends of Corte Madera Creek Watershed,
said, "There has been such a fuss made; it's probably not a bad idea"
to repeat the election.
But Guldman said she is frustrated by the opposition to the fee.
"I can't believe the residents of the Ross Valley are so small-minded
and have so little sense of community that they wouldn't vote this in,"
Guldman said. "It's not really a large amount of money per parcel, and
we could do so much with it - leveraging it for matching funds and
really moving forward."
The average Ross Valley homeowner would pay about $125 a year.
Contact Richard Halstead via e-mail at email@example.com