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A Modest Plan to Create the Town of Ross Valley

As San Anselmo prepares to tax, tax, tax tonight, another plan is on the table.

The Town Council of San Anselmo stands poised to this evening.

(This is the . This post will focus specifically on the Ross Valley and will present a viable way to continue services and maintain community identity as it is today -- and maybe even better.)

In the last post, I discussed at some length the current duplication of services in the Ross Valley and the fact that we are paying over a million dollars a year for top management salaries to manage five small towns and a portion of the County in Kentfield and Sleepy Hollow.

The population total of the area in question is approximately 52,250, including the County portions. At the same time, the populations of Novato and San Rafael are 51,900 and 57,700 respectively.

Recent discussions resulted in only some luke warm support from several council members. This evening the council is being presented with a plan AND the implementing agreements that would transfer the dispatch and some administrative services to Twin Cities. It would retain counter services in San Anselmo weekdays and provide instant television access from anyone seeking services after hours. The two Chiefs have to be congratulated for their work on this project that will save both agencies several hundred thousand dollars a year, while providing faster and more efficient response.

A the same time the Ross Valley Fire Department has successfully integrated the Sleepy Hollow Fire Department into its' operations and is working behind the scenes to bring the Town of Ross into the department. As was mentioned in the previous blog, the Ross Valley Paramedic Authority covers the towns of Corte Madera, Larkspur, Ross, San Anselmo, Fairfax and the County territory. Flood Zone 9 covers the entire Ross Valley from White's Hill to the entrance of Corte Madera  Creek into San Francisco Bay.

In a very simple world, the Ross Valley is already well on it's way to consolidation, except that we have continued to carry on almost a "shadow" government with expensive administrators and 25 exhalted and elected councilmembers. (I appreciate the situation, having been there for over 17 years.)

Here is the simple way to create the consolidated City of Ross Valley with the very special and local control issues addressed in a manner that insures that none of the exclusiveness of any town or city is taken away by the big government agency, the Town of Ross Valley.

First and foremost, the present towns and cities will be able to maintain their geographic identity simply by being the "Larkspur District of the Town of Ross Valley," etc. There could even be some Post Office savings further down the line.

The new town's governing council would be composed of SEVEN councilmembers, one elected from each of the districts. The town would be managed by ONE manager/administrator, and the several smaller departments (planning, public works) would serve the entire Town of Ross Valley, not stopping at smaller town lines as done today. Equipment costs, tractors, pickups, police vehicles would go down considerably as most likely fewer pieces of equipment would be needed. (In an extreme emergency, like a flood, pre-arranged emergency standby contracts with local companies would be in place.)

One of the first points of opposition to consolidation is the issue of the various and separate tax measures and bonds that are out there in each of the jurisdictions. These would simply be continued to be collected to their expiration dates, placed in a common escrow account and used for services in the limited geographical area in which they were initially voted.

Garbage rates would essentially remain the same, now that Marin Sanitary has received equalized rates throughout the valley. The Ross Valley Sanitary District issues, while uncertain, could be easier handled with a larger jurisdiction: the Town of Ross Valley.

In order to bring this all about within the next few years, my recommendation is that the County of Marin, especially the Second District, designate County Administrator Matthew Hymel and some of his support staff as the convenor of a private meeting, lasting two days, to which each town mayor and chief administrator would be invited. At that meeting all of the issues would be laid out, whether they be legislative or financial, to determine how and at what cost the consolidation would be accomplished, and what political complications would need to be be addressed, along with a timetable.

Out of this meeting would emerge a "Town Of Ross Valley Consolidation Plan" to be presented to each town council and the public for comment, affirmation, and adoption. Actual work can start immediately, as the Ross Valley already has some stalwart managers in place.

In the end, some of the present staff will either retire or be laid-off, just as in the private sector, as there will be duplicate persons available for the reduced number of jobs.

What must be remembered here is that government is the provider of services, and it belongs to all taxpayers, not only the elected or appointed officials.

The time for such a consolidation is now because the economy is not picking up at a rapid pace, but more importantly local government must put aside its old ways and start to operate in the 21st Century. Anything less is unwise financially wrong.

What do you think?

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Jory Prum July 27, 2011 at 03:21 AM
To me, this sounds like an idea that is 100% financially motivated and fails to grasp that the towns have fairly different cultural identities, especially Fairfax. While this proposal sounds idyllic on paper, I am proud of my little town and dont want to see it sucked into a larger vortex of wealthier, more gentrified towns, which surely it cannot be denied that the rest of Ross Valley can be described as. After such a move, all I could possibly see Fairfax becoming is a gentrified town that moves steadily to rolling up its sidewalks at 7pm like the other towns. I couldn't bear that, honestly.
Craig sharrow July 27, 2011 at 02:36 PM
Different cultural identities? All the towns are predominantly white, Protestant, middle-to-upper-middle class suburban bedroom communities. OK, Fairfax is the hippie step-child, but still not that much of a outlier. How could a single municipal government force Fairfax to get a haircut and go to bed early? Let's deal with a real problem, use some common sense and fiscal responsibility: merge the redundant municipal services!
Jory Prum July 27, 2011 at 05:53 PM
There are all kinds of "cultural identities" out there, Craig; they don't all mean "skin color". How can a single municipal government change Fairfax? Well, to start with, if each town has one representative and the other towns decide that imposing a more severe noise ordinance that effectively shuts down live music (as has been attempted before, even in Fairfax), we'd have very little to say about it. I think the cultures of San Anselmo are radically different. San Anselmo is definitely a sleepy little town. It's downtown consist primarily of antique shops, and the prices of housing certainly illustrates that a wealthier populace inhabits. Fairfax, on the other hand, has at its core a night life, including 3 venues, six bars, and 22 restaurants. I don't want to see that became a casualty of the situation our governments are being put in as a result of seemingly neverending rotten financial times.
Greg Nudd July 27, 2011 at 10:40 PM
I share Jory's concern about our "hippie outlier" being Rossified or, heaven forbid, Kentfielded (I kid! sort of). The reality is that it is irresponsible to have this duplication of management and services. A similar consolidation of the school districts should also be undertaken. It's robbing taxpayers of their right to the most services for their dollars. I expect some of my friends in Ross would not want to be "Fairfaxed" either. So, any consolidation would have to account for and accommodate neighborhood differences. Just as San Francisco can have Pacific Heights and Bernal Heights. I'm sure the City of Ross Valley can have the Fairfax and Ross neighborhoods with local mores respected.
John Ferguson July 28, 2011 at 06:29 PM
If the only real opposition to a plan such as this one is the possibility of cultural homogenization, then let's move forward immediately. Cultural identity and mores aren't the result of governance, they come from the population that inhabits the place which this will not change. Fairfax is Fairfax not because of the town administrative structure but because of the people who choose to live and work there.
Jory Prum July 28, 2011 at 06:44 PM
I tend to disagree. Fairfax is Fairfax because of the people...AND because it is run by the people who live here. The other towns in Ross Valley operate differently because they are run by the people who live in them, too. It's not to say that Fairfax is defined by its governmental structure; far from it. But the way Fairfax is governed is certainly as a result of the people who live here. Therefore, if there is only one City and 1/7th of the representation of that city is from Fairfax, the town will definitely lose out culturally. The entire reason for having separate governmental entities in this world is so people can exist and have the rules that apply best to their way of thinking. Isn't that why we have states and counties? It's not just the simple issue of redundant expenses; otherwise we'd have one giant country with only one set of laws. Yet, as an example, we live in the State of California, a place progressive enough to have legalized medical marijuana back in 1996, leading the way for many other states. New York just legalized gay marriage, something that should have happened here already, too. Fairfax has been a trendsetter along these lines, too, with the pesticide ordinance, banning plastic bags, and other political hot-button issues that have become models for other towns & cities. Ross didn't start these things. Nor did Kentfield. What would be the chances of these movements succeeding when only 1/7th of the town's reps care about them?
Jory Prum July 28, 2011 at 06:49 PM
As I've said, the idea is not necessarily a horrible one to consider, but it is 100% financially motivated. And I think there are equally important non-financial aspects to consider. In America, though, we seem incapable of discussing anything without leaning heavily on the financial evidence, as if it were more valuable or important than any other aspects. It's not much different than when I hear someone complain about how high the cost of living is in Marin. But they subsequently fail to consider the intangible aspect of how superb the quality of life here is, too. Both are important. But the intangibles keep being disregarded in favor of discussing only the financial aspects (tangibles).
Peter Breen July 28, 2011 at 07:48 PM
This is a great discussion ! I think that if you scratch just below the surface you will find great similiarities in most people. Wanting to hold on to a label of town membership seems to eliminate others from the same type of thinking, wherever they live. Indeed, economics is the primary driver because of the financial mess we all are in right now. However, from the more purest point of view wouldn't it be a good thing if the basic services were indeed consolidated for quicker response at less cost. The schools have partially done it. Fire departments are on their way. Police services are coming together. It is really noithing that would deprive any individual of their town identity. Fairfax District can till be cool, as with Corte Madera District being trendy. Let's think of other types of ways to govern such a consolidated town in a way that assures that each district has it's representation
OctaviusIII August 07, 2011 at 05:03 AM
A couple of points to make, and sorry for coming to the party late: 1) Consolidating these towns into something with a population above 50k would trigger the "municipality" clause of the affordable housing laws, meaning any additional affordable housing zoning would need to be 30 units per acre rather than 20, as it currently is. I'm not saying that's a good or bad thing, but it's something to consider. 2) Washington, DC, my adoptive home, has a concept called Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs), which handle alcohol licensing, local parking, and development. They don't receive much of a budget, but a slightly more empowered version could be applied to the City of Ross Valley with the same boundaries as the towns today. Noise ordinances, parking, alcohol and development could start at these Advisory District Commissions, allowing the "Districts" to govern themselves to some degree while leaving broader administration to the City. This would help address Jory's concerns. 3) I think with a city as heterogenous as this hypothetical city would be, a Mayor-Council system would work better, or at least one at-large office like San Rafael's mayoralty.
OctaviusIII August 07, 2011 at 05:05 AM
Oh, one more thing: combining our cities and towns into one would diminish our power on TAM, ABAG, MTC, and the other regional boards that are one-place-one-vote. Again, not saying whether it's a good or a bad thing, just saying it's something to keep in mind.
Aaron August 13, 2011 at 07:54 PM
San Anselmo is a uptight and cold community. Fairfax is the exact opposite,,, I say NO. The SAPD looks for ways to give tickets.. Fairfax is a live and let live town. Long live Fairfax!!!
Brian Simon August 16, 2011 at 02:45 AM
I agree with Aaron. San Anselmo using traffic tickets as a way to make more. They give out more BS tickets that even seems possible.

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