The dream of local representation is driving a new movement to incorporate southern Humboldt or a part of southern Humboldt.
On Feb. 28th, Supervisor Clif Clendenen and LAFCo administrator Alisha Oloughlin traveled to Garberville to address a multitude of questions and take input. Community members raised many questions that weren't answered immediately, check out Virginia Graziani's article in the Redwood Times for more information (see below). And stay tuned, we'll have more information as the incorporation meetings continue.
Can SoHum become a city?
Pluses, minuses aired at Sunday meeting
by Virginia Graziani Redwood Times
Approximately 30 Southern Humboldt residents came to town on a Sunday evening to discuss the possibility of creating an incorporated city in SoHum, an idea that has been approached in years past and found to be unfeasible.
But times have changed, said discussion leaders Jim Lamport, Dan Glaser, and Andy Caffrey, particularly with legalization of marijuana on the horizon, so this may be the right moment to move toward local self-government.
Second District Supervisor Clif Clendenen and Local Agency Formation Commission administrator Alisha Oloughlin were guest speakers at the meeting, held at the Vets Hall in Garberville last Sunday, February 27.
“The county is neutral on incorporation,” Clendenen told the audience. “It's not about whether it's good for the county, but whether it's good for Southern Humboldt…. I don't see any heartburn on the county's part about this.”
Clendenen added that he sees his role as helping local people connect with county and other agency representatives who can provide information and help with the process.
The main issue is balancing the advantages of local self-determination with the burden of providing service, Clendenen said.
Since the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978, which restricted increases in property tax assessments to tiny increments each year and froze the tax rate at one percent of assessed value, very few places in California have incorporated.
Rio Dell incorporated in the mid-sixties, and there have been no new cities in Humboldt County since then.
Only a portion of property taxes collected for an area comes back to the county. Sixty-three per cent goes to the state's education funds and much of the balance is "sliced and diced," Clendenen said, among various state funds. Only a fraction of the property tax collected in Humboldt comes back to Humboldt.
For example, in the area in and around Garberville, approximately a half-million dollars was collected last year, but of that amount, only about $20,000 was returned to the county for its general fund. If this area became part of an incorporated city, the $20,000 would go to the city.
Furthermore, as the recession has caused a sharp decline in property values, owners are having their properties reassessed at lower values, so less property tax can be collected. Devaluation of large business-held assets, such as those of the Humboldt Creamery, has taken a big bite out of tax revenues available to the county.
Lamport, who has been researching incorporation, pointed out that other types of revenue are available to an incorporated city. These include the transient occupancy tax (TOT, or “bed tax”) collected from visitors staying in hotels and motels, sales tax, motor vehicle in-lieu fees, and many other fees.
Another possibility is creating a city-owned business, such as a co-generation plant. Some cities in California, including Ukiah, generate their own electricity, providing power not only to the residents but also selling the excess to commercial power companies, such as PG&E.
Also under consideration is the possibility of revenue from legalized marijuana. While Caffrey cautioned the group that marijuana is not legal now and no one knows when it will be legal, Glaser noted that medical marijuana is already legal. At least one person in the audience remarked that the effect of legalization on the local economy could either be beneficial or disastrous.
Overall, the participants were positive about incorporation in spite of potential financial pitfalls, citing the advantages of being able to make decisions locally with locally elected officials managing the city.
While public support and financial feasibility are essential, incorporation cannot happen without the approval of the Local Agency Formation Commission, a state-mandated body made up of representatives of the county, the cities, and special districts such as fire districts and community services districts.
Humboldt LAFCo administrator Oloughlin outlined the incorporation process, which entails many steps. First, proponents of incorporation should determine the desired boundaries of the new city, and then use one of three methods to initiate the LAFCo process.
An existing agency within the proposed boundaries can ask LAFCo to consider incorporation, but that agency must be willing to take full responsibility for completion of application requirements, including paying all the fees involved, which can be as high as $100,000.
Alternatively, proponents can write a petition for incorporation and gather the signatures of either 25 percent of the registered voters within the proposed boundaries or 25 percent of the landowners whose holdings total 25 percent of land within the proposed boundaries.
After LAFCo certifies the petition, the proponents need to complete a Comprehensive Fiscal Analysis demonstrating financial feasibility, and a Service Plan showing how the new city can fulfill its obligations to provide public services.
An incorporated city is required to provide four services: “general legislative function,” law enforcement, animal control, and land use planning. The city may provide the latter three services by contract with the county, another agency, or, in the case of land use planning, by hiring an outside planning consulting firm.
Optional services that can be provided by a city include water and sewer, road building and maintenance, street lighting, drainage, parks and recreation, and libraries.
The county must continue to provide health and welfare services, criminal justice, regional parks, election and voter services, certain types of planning and environmental services, tax assessor and collector, and other general government services not provided by cities.
When the application and supporting documents are complete, LAFCo will hold a public hearing at which it will decide whether to approve, approve with conditions or amendments, or disapprove the incorporation.
If LAFCo approves incorporation, it will be put on the ballot for the next county general election. All registered voters within the proposed boundary will be able to vote on whether or not to go forward with incorporation, and a simple majority of voters will make the final decision.
[Note: At Sunday's meeting there was some uncertainty about the election requirement, but by email last Monday, Oloughlin confirmed that an election is necessary following LAFCo approval, per California Government Code section 57077.]
One of the key issues is the size of the proposed city. While it would certainly include the current service district boundaries of Garberville and Redway, many of the participants were from outlying rural areas, and the general consensus was that the largest boundary possible would be most desirable.
Some envisioned a city stretching from Alderpoint to Shelter Cove on the east-west axis and from the county line on the south to at least as far north as Weott. Many people would like to see the Piercy area included, but Oloughlin said that LAFCo does not allow a city to cross county lines.
This brought up the confusing issue of Sphere of Influence (SOI), an area designated by a city or district that is not currently inside its boundaries but where growth is expected in the next five years.
LAFCo does allow a city to include a contiguous area in a neighboring county in the city's SOI, but usually only to create a buffer to prevent inappropriate development that would damage the city's viability, such as a Wal-Mart, from being built on the outskirts of the city.
“This is a great opportunity to inventory what we have and what we want,” said Glaser toward the end of the meeting. “We shouldn't be too constrained. There are local remedies for loss of tax revenue through Prop. 13, whether or not [non-medical] marijuana is legalized. We can have local planning, we can do it by consensus - look at the bright side.”
Glaser, Lamport, and Caffrey hope to hold a larger general meeting to attract more participation by the end of March.
In the meantime, informal discussions continue at Lamport Legal Documents, above Madrone Realty in Garberville, every Monday beginning at 1:30 p.m. All interested persons are welcome to attend.
Especially needed are people willing to work on the initial fiscal analysis. The group has been collecting budgets from small cities around California to help determine costs and revenue, and would like help analyzing this data.