Thursday, April 17, 2008


A number of people in the media have contacted me in search of opposition to incorporation, in an attempt to balance their stories. I've told them all I'm in the same boat, looking for someone who will go on record to make a case against.

Nobody has found one yet.

This does not mean there is no real opposition. The kind of opposition that should be feared is the kind that has a lot of money, and specializes in last-minute "hit-piece" mailings with no opportunity for discussion. For example, there could be a flood of postcards sent in the week before an election making all kinds of dubious if not outright misleading statements. Those involved in the public debate might have no opportunity to rebut falsehood, and those sending such mail would have purposely hidden their existence and specifics of their objections in the run-up. Indeed, the true motivations might easily remain completely hidden. They can throw out specious flash-point arguments to make a stink. This isn't what I'd call credible, but it can, sadly, be very effective.

If I am thinking about who might produce this kind of effective opposition, completely within constitutional rights to participate in a political process, there are very few possibilities. They include those with (a) access to money; (b) a perception of financial threat from incorporation; (c) a willingness to throw (a) against (b) to achive a more favorable result.

The bottom line, to me, seems to be control of development and re-development. Therefore, those with threatened financial interests are property owners and developers who see risk to their investments, or limits on their opportunities being imposed. Those owners and developers who would have enough at risk in Alamo would be owners of -large- parcels, and those who'd want to develop those large parcels.

Identifying potential opposition seems as simple as looking at a tax-map and seeing who owns or controls large property whose development opportunity might be restricted by the Town, perhaps through a new general plan. There aren't that many large undeveloped parcels in town.

I don't know if the people involved with in-fill (re-)development would feel as motivated to nudge the political process their way through funding of hit-piece mail. They might vote against incorporation, but I don't know that they'd pay for an operation to significantly affect the result.

AlamoInc FAQ

The Alamo INC website has a "frequently asked questions" (FAQ) page that seems to has some answers that seem a little off to me. Some are offering more reassurance than I think can honestly be provided, and some others are trying to provide facts that talk around rather than directly to some mal-formed questoins.

In the interest of dialog, here are some of those points:

Frequently asked questions about incorporation

Question: Will incorporation raise my taxes?

Response: No. California state law prohibits any incorporation from raising taxes to balance the books. Any future tax increase or tax cut requires a vote by Alamo residents, with a 2/3 majority in most cases. A city council cannot, solely on its own action, impose or raise taxes.

Me: "No" is overstated. The real answer is "probably not", for the reasons given.

Question: Are there enough sales taxes to support a Town of Alamo?

Response: Yes. The comprehensive Initial Fiscal Analysis, available for review on our website at, lays out in detail the sources of tax revenues for the Town of Alamo. 35% of the expected revenues will come from your property taxes, and 19% will come from Vehicle License Fees (VLF). VLF revenue is not available to either Alamo or the County today – it is reserved for incorporated cities, and the only way Alamo can take advantage of the substantial fees we pay on our vehicles is if we incorporate. Sales tax ranks third at 11% or around $1 million – significant but far from the major source. The balance comes from parks, gas/road, police and other taxes – taxes Alamo residents already pay today.

Me: "Probably" is more like it than a flat "Yes." AlamoINC thinks so based on the Initial Fiscal Analysis, but this still needs to be examined in more detail.

Question: I understand incorporation is expensive. What are the expected costs and who pays them?

Response: The cost will be about $250,000. Neither the State nor County will pay for this so this amount has to be raised by Alamo residents. The principal components of the expense are about $90,000 for a Comprehensive Fiscal Analysis, prepared by outside consultants, a Metes and Bounds (surveyed boundaries) project for about $60,000, an environmental review for about $25,000 and so on. These costs do not include the cost of an election campaign in late 2008/ early 2009, likely to require another $50,000. Alamo is an affluent community so we should be able to raise this amount of money.

Me: If AlamoINC doesn't raise it, it won't happen. With either result (yes or no) there is no taxpayer liability, so this shouldn't affect anyone's decision one way or the other.

Question: I'm concerned that incorporation will bring sidewalks and city lighting to our community and change its character.

Response: There's no reason to be concerned. The whole purpose of incorporation is to give us – Alamo residents and voters – control over how Alamo changes and develops. All communities change, but our best chance of keeping Alamo the town we love is to take control through incorporation. None of our plans and suggestions would change the character of Alamo – in fact, preserving its character is one of our most fundamental goals in incorporation. Alamo's future should be decided in Alamo, not in Martinez.

Me: Of course there is reason to be concerned! This is one of the key issues!!! That is why people had better vote in the elections!

Choosing words carefully, while the county is unlikely to mandate things out of thin air, it is less unlikely to happen in a Town of Alamo. My guess is the officials who voted for such a thing would be run out of town on a rail, but it seems more likely to happen in a town than the county.

The same thing is true of permit reviews and other critical matters.

Question: Won't this increase bureaucracy?

Response:Response: - Not at all - the County employs over 9,000 staff. Decision making will be simplified by transferring both tax revenues and the responsibility for services to the Town of Alamo: decisions will be made locally. If Alamo voters don't like the result, they can vote out the entire council. Today, our votes affect neither the County nor Alamo - we are effectively disenfranchised.

Me: "Not at all" is flippant, and arguably flat wrong. The right answer is probably "Maybe, depending on how you look at it." The answer is reliant on a value judgements about whether the county bureaucracy is efficient, and whether the one Alamo puts in place as an an alternative is worse, better, or just more of the same.

Question submitted from the website:
I would like some specific vision, value, and strategy. Can you give me several specific goals, or plans? Nothing generic please. What would be done Better, Cheaper, Faster, and what would be done that isn't done Now?

I am looking for something more like a quantifiable platform. We citizens are being asked to redirect our tax based investment in Alamo from the County which has a long track record of at least some success, to something we can't see or talk to before transferring all the money to it. I don't like playing roulette when I can't even see the table.

What would be done Better:
Police services would be combined in one Town of Alamo Police Department responsible for both crime suppression and traffic enforcement. Now, responsibility for policing rests with the sheriff and traffic enforcement is legally the responsibility of the California Highway Patrol, which means very little enforcement is done other than on the freeway. The Town of Alamo Police Department will have regular patrols and will know the town intimately, which will discourage some of the vandalism and the smash and grab car robberies in Alamo. Since traffic stops are also a crime deterrent (for example, a traffic stop may result in a drug bust or a DUI), it is more efficient and effective to have law enforcement combined into one local agency.

Alamo's share of road taxes will come to Alamo and can only be spent in Alamo on Alamo roads. The county is not required to spend road taxes in Alamo but must pay attention to countywide priorities. In past years, these priorities have sometimes conflicted with Alamo needs in lean budget years.

Alamo is now obligated to function under the general plan created for us by the county. Under cityhood we would have the opportunity to create and adopt our own general plan specific to our goals and objectives, as the writer wishes. The process of general plan development would be highly interactive and would involve any citizens who are interested. However, by law, it can only commence post-incorporation.

What would be done Cheaper:
Alamo citizens pay taxes into county service area R-7A for parks and recreation development and services. The county charges R-7A significant sums for overhead and administration, including staff and travel time for a staffer to travel to Alamo to attend advisory committee meetings. The same is true for Alamo's Zone 36, the Alamo Beautification Committee, whose budget is eaten up with county administrative charges. A new Town of Alamo will have significantly reduced overhead charges for our parks and beautification committees since the Town will not be responsible for the lifetime health benefits the county is obligated to pay its retirees.

What would be done Faster:
The county has been discussing traffic improvements on Danville Boulevard for twenty years. Common sense tells us that when only Alamo citizens are involved in the discussions, and those citizens are driving on the Boulevard every day, that traffic problems will be addressed in a shorter time frame.

There are many other examples of the efficiencies of dealing with local people and making local choices.

In passing, please note that after incorporation, we will be a far cry from transferring "all the money" to the new town. We will continue to pay our fair share of taxes to run the county, to pay for fire protection, schools, police protection, etc. Please refer to the article on the website, "How the new Town of Alamo will use your tax dollars" which provides details on projected expenditures.

Me: Remember, AlamoINC isn't putting a platform together about how to actually run things, it is trying to create a local framework for making decisions about how to do run things. Asking for the equivalent of a "party platform" isn't in the scope. The real answer to all such questions ought to be, "it will be a democracy based on the will of the voters in the town."

I don't get the impression there is uniform opinion on many matters within the generally pr0-invorporation crowd, so generalization is impossible. For one particularly tender topic, there are folks who have been on radically opposite ends of the debate about the YMCA at Hap Magee who are pro-incorporation.

Comment submitted from the website:
We lived in Moraga for 24 years and watched them incorporate. That added more layers of bureaucracy and taxes. Go look at how they spent their money and evaluate the terrible condition of their and Orinda's roads. We would not want to see Alamo go that route.

Reduced Layers of Bureaucracy
One benefit of incorporation would be that a number of government functions would transfer from the County to the Town of Alamo. The result would be that Alamo residents would have more input and influence in the local decisions that directly affect us.

No New Taxes
California state law forbids taxes from being raised to "balance the books" for incorporation. The new town must be able to pay its own way over the long term using existing revenues. California law also requires that all tax increases be submitted to the voters - the town council will not have the power to raise taxes.

Road Maintenance is in the Plan
A Public Services Plan was developed to assess the feasibility of incorporation. This is presented in Chapter IV of the Initial Feasibility Study which states in part, " The IFA assumes an approximate $5,800 per road mile maintenance cost for repair and maintenance of pavement, hardscape repairs, drainage, and traffic signals, based on data from other comparable cities. An additional $1,700 per mile is also included for administration and related costs, based on the County budget."

Me: The response doesn't seem to really answer the questions, because a real answer would have to challenge the premises. (1) Do Moraga residents pay more taxes now than they would have had it not Incorporated? (I don't know the answer, but I tend to doubt it. Perceptions and reality in this area seem likely to be quite different); (2) How terrible are Orinda roads compared to those in unincorporated county with similar traffic density? Objective measures only, not just anecdote; (3) How is Orinda/Moraga spending tax money that is inappropriate? (4) For each thing offered in answer to (3), did the voters approve it, and if so, what is the complaint?

Oh yeah

There's been a little progress, mainly a meeting on April 8th that I missed by the pro's. I've still not seen or found anything like a credible opposition, which doesn't mean there isn't one lurking.

I presume the meeting on the 8th went over some of the things discussed in the front-page article at that might be linked to here on their web-site, being a reprint of something that got run in Alamo Today, by Dave Dolter. Since links there are flakey, here it is in totality:

What Are the Governance Requirements for the Town of Alamo?

Alamo Today -- April 2008
Dave Dolter, Alamo Incorporation Movement

The requirements for organizing a city (or town) are found in the California State Constitution and in state statutes, particularly the Government Code. Unlike counties, which are legal subdivisions of the state, California cities are municipal corporations. There are three types of cities:

  • General law cities – organized under state law, which describes their powers and specifies their structure.
  • Charter cities – are organized under a specific charter describing the powers and organization the city will adopt, approved by a vote of the citizens of the city
  • Combined City and County – San Francisco, the only one, is a charter city/county.

State law requires Alamo to incorporate as a general law city, and the law provides wide leeway in how general law cities organize themselves. Many small and medium sized general law cities are contract cities and these cities contract for a wide variety of municipal services. Alamo will be a contract city initially and likely for many years following incorporation.

The government of a general law city is vested in:
  • A city council of at least five members
  • A city clerk
  • A city treasurer
  • A chief of police
  • Any other subordinate officers or employees provided by law

The Alamo Incorporation Movement application to LAFCO (the Local Agency Formation Commission responsible under state law for incorporations) requested that Alamo have five council members elected at-large, i.e., elected by all registered Alamo voters. To comply with the requirements for other officers, the Town Council will need to adopt an ordinance providing for the Council-Manager form of government where the Council appoints a professionally trained city manager to manage the daily affairs of the Town. The city manager would also appoint any other of the above officers designated by the Town Council, typically the city clerk. Since the provision of police services will initially be provided by contract, the police chief will be the contract police officer in charge. Likewise, the city treasurer may be appointed by the city manager and in small communities, the finance director may fill this role as well. The city manager would also select and appoint other department heads and employees, such as his or her assistant, the planning/community development director, city engineer/ director of public works, etc.

In many general law cities, the positions of city clerk and/or city treasurer are elected officials. The Council could also choose to appoint them instead of the city manager Post-incorporation, these positions could be made elective if voters approve a ballot measure to do so.

Every city has a city attorney although state law does not require one. A city attorney is typically the other direct appointee of the Town Council (in addition to the city manager). Typically a small community would contract for these legal services with law firms that specialize in municipal law.

One of the compelling reasons for incorporation is for Alamo citizens to influence land use planning and development directly. State law dictates that there must be a planning agency for these purposes. State law also requires the council to adopt an ordinance assigning the functions of this planning agency to a planning department, one or more planning commissions, administrative bodies or hearing officers, the council itself, or any combination it deems appropriate and necessary.

To assure community involvement, cities typically provide for a planning commission of five to seven members to advise the council on such matters. Indeed, the council cannot act on many planning matters until it receives a recommendation from the planning commission. For example, in many cities, the planning commission has final approval of subdivision maps (unless appealed to the council).

In Alamo, this commission will have important initial duties including crafting and recommending a new general plan (required by law), a new zoning ordinance to implement the new general plan (also required by law) a new subdivision ordinance (required by state law) and other duties as referred to it by the council.

No other commissions are required by law. However, active citizen participation in local government is vital. To this end, councils typically create advisory committees and commissions to help with city governance. Members serve without compensation except for reimbursement of approved business expenses. Where appropriate, youth representatives may also be appointed.

In Alamo's case, the creation of these advisory bodies will be at the discretion of the elected Alamo Town Council. However, the council will be receptive to the desires of Alamo residents. Merely as a guideline, the following is a list of the committees and commissions established by our neighboring communities. Note that these entities were created over a period of many years - Alamo would need to start small and assess our local needs over time.

Arts Commission
Parks and Leisure Services Commission
Heritage Resource Commission
Planning Commission
Design Review Board

San Ramon:
Architectural Review Board
Arts Advisory Committee
Building Inspection Board of Appeals
Community Cable TV - Board of Directors
Economic Development Advisory Committee
Finance Committee
Housing Advisory Committee
Library Advisory Committee
Open Space & Conservation Advisory Committee
Parks & Community Services Commission
Planning Commission
Policy Committee of the City Council
Redevelopment Agency
San Ramon Valley Regional Planning Commission
Senior Citizen Advisory Committee
Teen Council
Transportation Advisory Committee
Transportation Demand Management (TDM) Advisory Committee
Tri-Valley Transportation Council (TVTC)

Walnut Creek:
Arts Commission
Design Review Commission
Park, Recreation & Open Space
Planning Commission
Transportation Commission
Zoning Administrator
Bedford Gallery Advisory Council
Bicycle Advisory Committee
Civic Arts Education Advisory Council
Golf Course Advisory Committee

Crime Prevention
Design Review
Emergency Preparation
Parks, Trails & Recreation
Planning Commission
Senior Services
Youth Services
Committees & Task Forces

I think we've been over most of this other posts here. In particular, this seems to stick a fork in the idea that there is some kind of "contracted services municipality" that is not described by the term "General City".

In one semi-amusing note, I got hate mail from Google complaining that my ads for this site used a forbidden trademark term: "alamo". I presume this is the rental car company. After I asked if this was a DMCA takedown notice (which they did not say), and I volunteered to file a counter-notice, the issue was considered "resolved". They never admitted they made a mistake.