The Kenwood Press
News: 10/15/2018

Incorporation a hard road to travel

Jay Gamel

When people living in unincorporated areas become overwhelmed with issues that their county government doesn’t seem to be addressing, one of the first thoughts to pop up is “Let’s be our own city!” Kenwood and Glen Ellen residents are no exception, as mounting problems with traffic, safety, and other growth impacts manifest themselves in daily life. The idea has been explored several times in the past and has yet to come to fruition.

The Glen Ellen Forum is exploring the idea of having more influence over self-government, but have passed on incorporating in favor of forming a Municipal Advisory Committee (MAC) that would have direct input to the District Supervisor, Susan Gorin.

Incorporation is a long and expensive process, according to Mark Bramfitt, executive officer of the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO), which ultimately has jurisdiction over the creation of new cities and other special districts under California law.

“We charge a $10,000 initial deposit against actual staff expenses,” Bramfitt said. “Incorporating will probably cost well over $10,000.” By comparison, the recent detachment of an area from the Palm Drive Health Care District cost about $12,000, and that was a relatively minor adjustment to an existing district.

“For context, it will likely cost $50,000 to $100,000 to put the proposal together,” Bramfitt added. “The LAFCO fees are not immaterial, but are not the driving factor.”

A unique agency under the law, LAFCOs are mandated in each county under state law, but are not a county organization. They have no powers to police or enact land use laws, but do have the sole right to approve annexations, detachments and formation of a host of special districts and municipal corporations.

The various LAFCOs can differ on how they interpret the law, Bramfitt, said, but Sonoma County’s agency basically follows state guidelines. These guidelines are fairly exhaustive and clearly define the process of becoming a city. See the website at calafco.org for more information on these guidelines.

Kenwood tried it 50+ years ago

The annexation of Oakmont to Santa Rosa in the early 1960s set off Kenwood’s biggest incorporation push to date, with Kenwood resident Bob Cannard leading the drive to prevent annexation from happening to Kenwood and a good chunk of what is now considered Glen Ellen.

A survey of Press Democrat articles from 1963 and 1964 provides a history of the struggle and ultimate demise of the drive to incorporate that was fueled by annexation fears.

A government research consultant by the name of William R. Zion had prepared an incorporation study in 1962 for the Sonoma Valley Chamber of Commerce, exploring the consolidation of the Springs area into a new city. In 1963, he prepared a report for the group spearheading the drive to incorporate a 14-square-mile area from Lawndale to Dunbar to Warm Springs and Bennett Valley roads. That report cost $500.

Thanks to Kenwood historian Dee Sand, we have a copy of that report which offers a lot of insight into the thinking of the day. You can read the Zion 1963 Incorporation Feasibility Report here.

The incorporation drive actually postponed the formation of the county’s first LAFCO since it had to be addressed before that new commission could become a reality. It would soon acquire the ability to kill new incorporation petitions, then handled by the county government.

The incorporation push came on the heels of Santa Rosa’s annexation of the recently developed Oakmont, just north of town. The report notes that “Incorporation is viewed ... principally as a means of protection against annexation, as a means of keeping Kenwood as it is.”

Zion concluded that incorporation was feasible – barely – if residents settled for basic services for several years due to a very thin tax base. “City Hall operations and staffing will be particularly minimal,” the report said. It would depend on recently enhanced state gas tax increases expected to come to ‘smaller’ cities, and the county’s willingness to make existing services available at a reasonable cost.

The incorporation drive led to some hot debates and factionalism between Kenwood and Glen Ellen residents, many of whom were included in the originally proposed boundaries of the new city with little or no consultation.

By the next year, the drive failed, as enough homeowners petitioned against incorporation to ensure it could not muster enough votes to pass.

The new city was expected to eventually contain 40,000 people, based on the census data of the time and the county’s rate of expansion.

“The incorporation area has 650 registered voters, including all of the Kenwood, Dunbar and Lawndale precincts, and small portions of the Pythian Home, Dunbar South and Glen Ellen East precincts,” the report noted.

“The issue truly does come down to scale,” Bramfitt said. “The burdens of supporting a city operation have to be spread over a reasonable population. Sonoma, Cotati and Cloverdale all have had or do have struggles, and they have populations in the high thousands.”