Lawsuit challenges vote on flood control measure in San Anselmo

Peter Fimrite, Chronicle Staff Writer
Saturday, August 11, 2007

Crews clean up Anselmo Avenue after the San Anselmo Creek...

The long-delayed effort to prevent another catastrophic flood like the one that inundated San Anselmo on New Year's Eve 2005 is being taken to court.

A lawsuit was filed in Marin County Superior Court this week challenging the mail-in election that supposedly approved raising $40 million over 20 years by charging property owners a flood fee.

The suit, filed by San Anselmo lawyer Ford Greene, says the ballot used by the Marin County Flood Control and Water Conservation District failed to adequately warn voters of the unusual requirement that they had to sign the ballot, resulting in the disqualification of 1,678 ballots, or 21 percent of the total.

"They employed a trick ballot to eliminate an entire category of voters who by nature would have been disinclined to burden themselves with any kind of tax," Greene said Friday. "They knew they could disqualify old people on fixed incomes."

The vote, completed in June, passed by only 65 signatures. Greene said a manual count determined that the measure would have failed by 147 votes had the unsigned ballots been counted. The warning that ballots would be disqualified if they weren't signed was in small print and in an out-of-the-way spot on the ballot, he said.

Supervisor Hal Brown and county lawyers have said they intend to stick by the vote, which was in compliance with the law.

Flood control has been a major issue since Dec. 31, 2005, when San Anselmo Creek poured over its banks, flooding 500 homes and businesses and causing millions of dollars in damage.

Flood victims filed lawsuits and complained loudly that San Anselmo and the other 11 entities in the flood corridor - including Fairfax, Ross, Larkspur, the Marin Municipal Water District and the Ross Valley Sanitary District - were not doing anything to prevent a repeat performance.

The election was supposed to resolve the issue, but it, too, is now mired in controversy.

"Flood control doesn't justify the subversion of people's votes," Greene said. "I'd like them to throw it out and then do it properly."

A hearing is expected to be set within 25 days.

E-mail Peter Fimrite at

This article appeared on page B - 2 of the San Francisco Chronicle
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