Monday, December 31, 2007

CC LAFCO Membership

From the CC LAFCO site, we learn the current set of Commisioners includes two Piephos, Mary N., and David.


Danville Weekly Forums

Digging around some more, there's lots of conversation going on at the Danville Weekly Forums. Here are some relevant topics:

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Curiouser and Curiouser

Little did I know -- Alamo has a political underground, it seems. It's mind boggling to me.

Apparently, there are a lot of people who feel intimidated by The Man, and have organized themselves like a revolutionary movement with "Neighborhoods" (cells) represented by a somewhat known individual, the members of which are held to confidentiality for protection against retaliation. Mail goes through the cutout, er, neighborhood representative, and then to anonymous mail addresses. This is called an "e-chain", a term that I have never heard before in 30 years of net use (predating the Internet, when it was the ARPAnet with 30 hosts in the whole country).

I learn we live in the "Greater Miranda Neighborhood", one of 29 "Greater Neighborhoods".

We are told that in this back-channel, most are opposed to incorporation, think of AIM as carpetbaggers, and a good number seem to want to change the name of the town -- "Diablo Vista" anyone?

What can be made of this?

Heck if I know! On one hand, the secrecy strikes me as just bizarre, but I suppose the possibilities of retaliation against local professionals and businesses is real, and not to be dismissed.

Yet, how does a shadow organization communicating through essentially anonymous email accumulate credibility? What I've heard so far is mostly vague allegation of chicanery by the proponents. The main substance seems to be that the preliminary finances were cooked to the tune of $3.7 million in year one. The alternative proposal of a "citizen-led contract service municipality" sounds interesting, but I don't have a clue what that would be like.

Where is a website explaining the opposition position and the alternative it offers?

We are not without criticism of AIM's selective communications, but we're not at all sure that guerrilla opposition is a high road to take in response.

It's easy to criticise (Hi Mom!), and always hard to do something. But what should Alamo do? I fear the "antis" are adopting a negative strategy of attacking AIM rather than the proposal itself, and not offering concrete alternatives.

I, for one, don't feel duped by claim the petition was presented as a "feasibility study", and filed as an "application", because I don't much see the difference. There is a formal study being done, and a real election to be held. If the formal study is shoddy, it will be ripped apart. If the proponents can't make their case in a run-up to the election, it will be hard for them to win.

I don't see any upside to the Powers of county politics for Alamo to secede from county administration and incorporate. And I don't yet see any real downside for the town.

Recent Non-events

We had some friends over for dinner last night, and the Incorporation question came up.

Our shared gestalt was that the significant opponents will be folks who are serial "flippers" in town. These are people who buy a property, fix it up somehow, then sell it quickly. They are fearful about increased review and inability to do the kinds of "improvements" they'd like to make. These are also folks with willingness to fight the proposal if they feel truly threatened.

Dustup at the DW

Anyway, there has been a little recent coverage. Over at the Danville Weekly, there's a letter wondering why the folks at AlamoInc have gone silent, and a whopping 28 entries in the comments. We'll conclude that DW is the place for discussion, as we've gotten zero comments to date.

The comments there are almost all negative, taking the position that the effort is (a) a subterfuge involving County politics as usual; and that (b) the petition was misrepresented as a feasibility study when it really is an application.

One of the main participants is Lisa Wright, who seems to be running an e-mail list that is attracting opponents, which we had not heard of before. There is a comment by Hal Bailey attempting to describe the lists, which I'm attempting to follow-up. They are "by invitation only", which is either oddly exclusionary, or an effective anti-spam measure.

Later comment suggests the private lists are related to the Alamore website in some way, and suggests that going silent after getting what is wanted from the public is Business as Usual with Alamo politics, and that we should be wary.

A look at Alamore suggests the mailing lists are related to the Alamo Community Council, which is one of the shadow bodies sponsored/tolerated/used-by the County Supervisors to appear to be responsive. It is one of the bodies that would be made irrelevant by an Incorporation. Those with traditional ties might feel threatened, so maybe it isn't surprising their mailing lists tilt negative.

Progress Report

There's a CCTimes article by Lea Blevins on on Dec 21st, reprinted at the Alamo Inc site. A contractor has been selected for the "comprehensive fiscal analysis". Proponents are still hoping for a March, 2009 ballot, and there will be at least one workshop to review the report. It isn't called a "feasibility study", so the semanticists at the DW comments and AIM seem like they can get out of it what they want.

This also means the election is over a year out, in 2009, which ought to offer plenty of time for discussion. It doesn't seem like it is being railroaded through on that timeline to me.

Earlier Complaints

The DW had an op-ed on Nov 2nd by Phil Erickson we'd missed, arguing against. He says the "pro's" are really people of the Danville-mindset who were for the YMCA and pro-Mary N. Peipho.

That kind of makes me wonder, because one of the joys of Incorporation to me will be making Mary N. Peipho less relevant to the running of Our Town than she is now.

He also makes the claim that Alamo has no retail tax base, which seems to ignore Alamo Plaza, I think.

In comments, Lisa Wright alleges misrepresentation in the fiscal analysis made by AIM to entice petition signatures, to the tune of a $3.7 million discrepency in first year funding. I'll assume if true, this will get addressed in the formal study.


The DW comments carry (some?) posts from the "Alamo Neighborhoods Forums." One had this disclaimer:

Alamo Neighborhoods' Forum is providing this information as a courtesy. Our forum supports the establishment of an Alamo Region Planning Commission and committees, as a SuperMAC, prior to any consideration of incorporation. The proposed Alamo Region Planning Commission and committees would consolidate SRV Regional Planning Commission activities for Alamo, county agencies such as R-7A and the AIA planning functions with neighborhoods' community counsel for formal planning advisory and compliance actions.

So the alternate proposal seems to be merging and institutionalizing the existing bodies in some way. How would they be funded? Unclear to me. None is elected now, and the supervisors are removing elections from some of these types of bodies that formerly were. I don't see how this makes sense, but maybe someone can explain.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Tauscher has no opinion

I wrote to Ellen Tauscher, our US Representative (D-Alamo), and got this response:

Thank you for writing to me about the Alamo Incorporation Movement petition. As you know, the petition has been signed by more than 3,000 residents and the Local Agency Formation Commission has scheduled a December 19 meeting at which a consultant will likely be selected to analyze the feasibility of this proposal. I support the will of the people of Alamo. As long as the Local Agency Formation Commission deems that incorporation is financially feasible, voters will have an opportunity to voice their opinion at the ballot box in 2009.

I'm glad we know where she stands...

Thursday, November 15, 2007

A new wrinkle

More actual news and information from the Danville Weekly, in the form of a Guest Opinion from Roy Gloss, an organizer in an earlier attempt at incorporation. Here's a paragraph that echoes concerns we've shared here:

It doesn't take a college education to understand that this nearly half-century of voter negativism centers on one concept. Alamo residents may not cringe at the cost of self-government, although it is usually sold with an informal promise of no tax increase, but the majority of them are denunciatory of the feel of more government interference with their peaceful half-acre existence. So the big sell this time is to convince residents that when Alamo becomes a city they will be dealing with elected and staff officials who are friendly neighbors, taking over from the regimented staffers in Martinez who get their paychecks from the county, not from where they are laying down the law.

And he raises an interesting alternative, annexation by Danville.

A comment there asks the question,

When did Danville become a model for community service to its neighborhoods? The City Council (calling it a town is silly) is at odds with its neighborhoods and is sprawling "monster boxes" in stucco-tacky array. Danville is more Tra-la-LA that Los Angeles itself.

If we want a stucco-tacky future, Alamo might as well annex to Brea California.

Well, we could ask to be annexed by Walnut Creek instead, would that be better?

Symbolic Heart of the Town

What everybody says they want to preserve are the drive-thru Alamo Hay and Grain, and it's neighbor, the shoe repair with the horse on top.

Drive through and we'll drop a bale of hay into your pickup.
(photo: Alamo (Un) Incorporated?)

Shoe Repair AND Tack Shop.
(photo: Alamo (Un) Incorporated?)

About 10 years ago, there was also "Alamo Lumber" behind both with an entrance on Stone Valley, but it folded, and all we have left is the pigeon coops of the owner. At one point, there was talk of maybe putting a quick oil-change place there, but that never happened.

The question hangs, when the proprieters of Alamo Hay and Grain and the Shoe Shop are obliged to retire, what becomes of these landmarks? Do we hope someone else takes on the facilities in a compatible way, let them sit idle, tolerate their scrape and rebuild, or try to do something else?

Do we expect the Mary N. Piepho's of the County to do something we like, or to approve a fast-food with a drive-through?

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Moving Forward

Alamo Incorporated has the signatures, now they need the money. They say they have 3100 signatures compared to the 2500 required, and so can move forward. They need to raise $250,000 privately to fund the next steps.

I think this is the part where some of the opposition was saying, "we can't afford it". But if it's private contributions, and some people don't contribute, how was it unaffordable to them? They are getting free ride.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Opposition emerges

The Danville Weekly had a report of 20 folks gathering to organize oppostion.

"I like Alamo just the way it is. We know exactly what we're going to get from the county, we don't know what we're going to get from incorporation," said Tony Carnemolla, who opened the meeting with a speech.

Jack Squat from the county is what we get, or plans to overdevelop. The apparent concern is that Alamo doesn't need local control because there's nothing left to control, and somehow it will be too expensive, and maybe just a Municipal Advisory Council is good enough.

Recall that some MACs were elected, and then the supervisors (including the beloved Mary N. Piepho) decided they should be appointed. Now that's local representation!

I don't sense a coherent opposition message. I think the finances for a Town of Alamo are plausible. The county seems more likely to allow/encourage/tolerate bigger development than local planning would.

What I fear from a Town is the empowerment of the clipboard crowd, resulting in an overplanned town of "neat streets." and no opportunity for individual character.

Thursday, November 1, 2007


While looking at the County Public Works Dept for the previous post, I came upon this chart that appears to be traffic mitigation fees charged to projects.

It is probably not surprising to see that Alamo gets charged more per single family house than most other areas. Now, it's reasonable that areas in unincorporated county get charged more than those in cities, but $9906? Ouch.

The Ultimate Configuration

The November issue of the "Alamo Today" tabloid came in the mail, and contains the usual fluff and nonsense. The front page news is a plea for location of a bus bench that was donated by the Rotary and filched from Danville Blvd, complete with color picture of it before it went MIA. (The Danville Weekly is vastly more informative on local issues.)

The only thing in the Alamo Today that is like news are two "advertorials", both pro-incorporation. One is by spearhead Sharon Burke, and the other is by longtime resident Grace Schmidt. I take "advertorial" to be a paid ad that looks like editorial content. It is, unfortunately, the closest to real news content that Alamo Today gets, sigh.

Schmidt has been pushed over the edge by the County's "Ultimate Configuration" of the 680/Stone Valley interchange, which is described as being about like the Sycamore interchange in Danville.

Reference given to the County public works website, where this is a "capital improvement program" goal, on pages 234 to 238 of the 5M PDF. Here are the pages snipped out:

Page 234; Click for Bigger.

Page 235, Click for Bigger.

Page 236, click for bigger

Page 237, click for bigger

Page 238, click for bigger

Page 239; click for bigger.

These projects will certainly get some attention, with Schmidt calling them a "tipping point." The real summation from Schmidt is:

The irony of the Ultimate Configuration is that it would flood Alamo roads with non-local traffic to alleviate congestion on Interstate 680, which was once intended to divert non-local traffic from Danville Boulevard.

As far as I can tell, the major causes of traffic up and down Stone Valley are the schools: Stone Valley MS, Monte Vista HS and El Cerro MS. At least, that's the appearance I get dropping my kids off at the school. I'm not sure what to do about that, but I'm not sure widening the road is the answer. One thing I would do is put a right turn arrow on the Miranda to Stone Valley turn, so that when Stone Valley east is turning left onto Miranda, the exiting traffic could proceed without a stop.

Restriping westbound Stone Valley so there's a longer left turn lane for the SB 680 on ramp would also be smart.

Anyway, projects run by the County are much less likely to take Alamo's concerns into account. It'll want to speed traffic through to Danville, where Alamo might just as soon make that a hard way to get to Green Valley.

At the same time, these projects are not currently funded by the County, and it's no sure thing there would ever be the money for their execution.

The road I'd like to get widened is Diablo Road from Green Valley to the Athenian, because it is a nasty, accident prone twisty section.

While we're in the vicinity, it'd be really nice to get a resurfacing of Diablo Scenic from the Estates up to the Park entrance at South Gate Road.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

A Rohrshach

Here's an example that will help you find your center on some of the issues. The Dec 18 2006 Oakland Tribune writes,

Alamo man turns home into castle

A MAN'S HOME is his castle, especially for an Alamo carpenter whose quirky home improvement project gives true meaning to the phrase.

T.J. Baker may not be royalty, but he has king-sized plans for his pad.

The master craftsman is transforming his 50-year-old tract home on Hemme Avenue into a bona fide King Arthur-style castle. "I'm not an engineer, I'm not an architect.

"But I am a dreamer," said Baker, a brawny, middle-aged contractor with a soft spot for fairy tales. Children squeal with delight at the sight of his house, which faces Rancho Romero Elementary School.

Drivers slow down, stare at it and scratch their heads.

Baker's unorthodox approach to home improvement has sent shock waves through the upscale bedroom community and has raised more than a few eyebrows. Baker's biggest fans are among the younger generation.

"It's cool!" said 5-year-old Rancho Romero student Leyla Lewis, eyes wide. "It's make me think of the castles where princesses live."

The partly completed renovation on 27-Oct-2007. Click for bigger.

Photo: Alamo (Un) Incorporated?

Her mom, Susie Lewis, rolled her eyes. "It's the Winchester Mystery House of Alamo," she said, referring to a Victorian mansion in San Jose famous for its offbeat, rambling design.

Hemme Avenue residents began noticing changes in their neighbor's ranch house about two years ago. First came the Roman columns, like a row of soldiers guarding Baker's front door. Soon, stone cherubs and statues of Greek gods began popping up around his yard. "Is it the Parthenon? I don't know what's going on down there," said Laurie O'Dwyer who lives a couple doors down.

"It's different, it's definitely different. But I don't think he's hurting anybody by doing it," she said with a smile. "It doesn't exactly blend in with the neighborhood, does it?"

Rancho Romero parent Karen Taggesell said with a giggle. "It sort of gives you something to look at as you drive by."

In an era of Space Age home design, Baker is going full speed in the opposite direction, about a thousand years to be exact.

"I believe every man should have his castle and/or kingdom of heaven," said Baker, who shares the house with his girlfriend, "Queen Becky," and his 19-year-old son, T.J.

A lifelong romantic, the Southern California native fell in love with medieval architecture during a stint in Europe in his early 20s.

A job led him to the Bay Area about 10 years ago. He took a liking to Alamo and bought a house there.

Because he will probably never own a palatial estate in the English countryside, Baker says he will turn his suburban lemon into lemonade. He works on his house in between managing his own construction company, reading Shakespeare and hacking out an idea for a book he has about humans struggling to survive in the DigitalAge.

For design inspiration, Baker draws on storybook illustrations and his own imagination. He built his version of a parapet, or fortress wall. To the roof, he added crenulations --the technical name for notches like those found in a king's crown.

Eventually, he hopes to add a second story with a Romeo and Juliet-inspired balcony. He also wants to turn his garage doors into drawbridges and build a moat around the house.

County approves, sort of

Contra Costa County officials say he is within his rights. "We really have no control," said senior planner Aruna Bhat.

"He can paint his house purple if he wants to, as long as he is complying with county regulations."

Unlike many parts of unincorporated Alamo, there is no homeowner's association setting housing restrictions where Baker lives. The county's regulations focus mostly on safety rather than on aesthetics.

"What he plans should be compatible with the neighborhood. It's hard to say that about a 9-foot parapet," said Preston Taylor, chairman of the Alamo Improvement Association.

Troubled kingdom

The citizens committee makes recommendations to the county on Alamo issues.

Earlier this year, a county zoning administrator made Baker tear down part of his parapet after neighbors complained it exceeded by three feet the county's 6-foot height limit for residential fencing.

Baker responded by planting the piece of broken wall in his yard. He plans to cover it with cannon balls to create the illusion it has been bombed out by an invading Celtic army.

"People enjoy the freedom that Alamo represents ... yet, whenever these sorts of things happen, it raises the question again of whether Alamo should be incorporated so there can be those standards," said Roger Smith, chairman of the AIA's planning committee.

"I think it's just about the strangest thing I've ever seen in my life," said Saz Ahern, office manager at Rancho Romero. "I keep waiting for Sleeping Beauty to come out."

Fernando Olivas, 70, a 25-year resident of Hemme Avenue, says more people should look at his neighbor's house through the eyes of a child.

"He took this suburban, old-time cracker-box house and turned it into a great talking piece in the community," Olivas said. "It's different. What's wrong with that?"

If I end up in favor of Incorporation, I don't want the TJ Baker's of the town to have more trouble than they have with the County. This is in-line with my recommended background reading.

There is fair concern it's not finished in nearly 3 years.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Meeting Last Night

I went to an information meeting at the Creekside Church last night, and signed the petition. That seems harmless enough.

I was amused to see some literature that tickled my "clipboard crowd" sensors. The FAQ addressing the issue "but it's not broke, why fix it?" talked about a bunch of things they thought were problems The Town of Alamo ought to address:

  • Lackadaisical traffic enforcement by the CHP
  • Inability to set a teen curfew to address "wild parties"
  • Inability to stop "inappropriate" projects like the Chevron minimart.

Drat, I'm more or less in favor of the status-quo on all those points. I wasn't aware we had a traffic enforcement problem, or out of control wild parties that needed a curfew, and I like the new Chevron compared to the old one.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Background reading

The Big Orange Splot, by Daniel Pinkwater. Also see reviews at Amazon.

Both sides, critically

If you found this blog, you're probably already aware of an effort to incorporate Alamo CA -- there's an official website devoted to this task at

This isn't that site.

We have no connection with the incorporation effort, or any active opposition.

We're 14 year Alamo residents, and unredeemable bloggers who like to inflict our opinion and commentary on the public. Our intent is to cast a skeptical eye on both sides of the debate.

As far as we can tell, the reasons to incorporated include:
  1. Folks don't like remodels and construction they've seen in Alamo.
  2. Lack of representation in Martinez.
  3. Lack of services.
  4. Dislike of Mary N. Piepho, the relevant elected official.
  5. Traffic.
  6. More control of tax revenue.
  7. Civic boosterism
  8. Envy of recently incorporated neighbors Danville and San Ramon.
Reasons to oppose incorporation include:
  1. Freedom to do construction/remodelling with lax county supervision.
  2. Concern about tax increases.
  3. Fear of civic construction (see #2 above).
  4. Preservation of diffuse/rural country atmosphere
  5. Whatever it is, I'm against it.
  6. I'm still pro-Prop-13.

The official pro- website makes a lot of arguments in favor, but doesn't seem to link to any opposition. They make a plausible sounding case that incorporation would be "revenue neutral", which translates to, "no new taxes."

In honesty, Alamo ought to be good on the revenue font. It has a tremendous property tax base, and enough business for significant sales-tax revenue. What concern there would rightly be ought to be on the size of the municipal service infrastructure that will need to be created and funded on an ongoing basis.

We're inclined to think the big factor in the debate is control over construction and development. The county lets almost anything be built, and this seems to irk a lot of people. Having local control would mean creating a master plan with some control over zoning, all of which would slow down the process of continued development. We don't know if the modest level of town staff discussed in the current proposal is realistic, or if we will end up at the end with sizable planning and inspection departments who are tasked with making life difficult for people who want to do something, or something different.

The problem with local control, is, of course, that people don't like to be controlled -- they want to control what others do. Our earlier experiences living in places with "associations" is that the people who like associations are people who want everything "just so." They don't appreciate vitality, or variation, or expression of personality very much. They tend to have too much time on their hands, and are often seen wandering around the neighborhood looking for violations. We call them "the clipboard crowd," and they were among the reasons we moved to Alamo in the first place.

Where do we stand on incorporation? Well, we don't much like Mary Piepho, but we're not sure we want to pay for building another library either. On the matter of controlling development, we're not sure how much of a problem there really is, maybe because no one is doing a tear-down McMansion build next to us.

Which leaves us undecided. We'll probably sign the petition to allow more debate to develop, and make comments sometimes when we're so moved.

Enjoy the lovely autumn!