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Board of Supervisors Department

Lower Russian River Municipal Advisory Council

Workshop 3

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The 3rd Governance Solutions Community Workshop, conducted on January 27, was attended by 138 participants. This workshop represents a collective endeavor where hundreds of individuals contributed their insights, helping to identify service gaps. Blue Sky Consulting provided a thorough financial analysis, leading to a draft report outlining  a range of recommendations and governance solutions considerations. These insights are invaluable for community members looking to develop or enhance local governance systems. To ensure everyone can engage with the materials from this event, an audio recording and a comprehensive summary of the meeting are available through the links below. With this material, we not only document the work to date, but also encourages every community member to engage in shaping our collective future.

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Audio only video:

Workshop Recap:

Supervisor Lynda Hopkins opened the meeting emphasizing that this is really about the community and its people. We've wrapped up a series of discussions and town halls with consultants from Blue Sky, aiming to find the best ways to govern the Lower Russian River area. Although it's the last meeting with Blue Sky, it marks the beginning of our community's journey toward improvement.

Now, the question is, what do you, the community members, want to achieve? We're here without a fixed agenda, ready to understand your needs and preferences.

We've recognized a common desire for safer streets, better health services, simpler permit processes, and a governance system that empowers our community. People have different views on how to achieve these goals. Some suggest forming our own local government, others are against it, and many are still considering the best route.

Supervisor Hopkins assured that there is no predetermined outcome. Our office is prepared to support any direction you choose, be it exploring the idea of creating a new government structure, forming a council of local governments, or setting up a community service district. Our team is dedicated to working alongside you and helping to advance these initiatives.

Our role is to support, not dictate. We're here to assist in crafting the future of the Lower Russian River, listening and collaborating to ensure that the region's future is in your hands. We're committed to being your partners in this journey.

Matt Newman with Blue Sky consulting group shared that working with this community on the governance study over the past year has been a privilege and thanked attendees for participating in the meeting. He added that we're here to discuss potential governance models and the work we've done so far. This meeting is also the community’s chance to ask questions, ensuring you're well-informed to make decisions about your community's future.

As a reminder, this initiative began when Supervisor Hopkins recognized the community's desire for improved governance. She championed the idea of engaging a team to gather information and conduct financial analysis, all to support your decision-making.

We began with interviews with the leaders from a wide variety of community organizations and a prior meeting here, where we gathered insights from over a hundred community members about their pressing needs. An online survey further enriched our understanding of the needs, allowing us to develop a range of governance options to address your concerns.

Following the initial engagement phase, Blue Sky conducted financial analyses to gauge the revenue generated by the region and the investments made by the County Board of Supervisors. We've compiled all findings and proposals into a report, available on the River MAC website. The report presents options developed by Blue Sky, along with some recommendations. It's crucial to remember, however, that the power to decide rests with you, the community.

Today's meeting is about addressing your questions and gathering your input. Your feedback will shape the final recommendations we present in the report, ultimately enabling you to steer the community's future.

The creation of a new governance entity like a city or special district could provide some solutions. However, some needs may need a different approach, as the solutions are within the county's scope.

Services such as mental health, substance abuse treatment, transit, and food security are typically county responsibilities. Enhancements in these areas will require collaboration with Supervisor Hopkins and the Board of Supervisors. Efforts to improve these services are already in motion, led by Supervisor Hopkins in response to the community's input during this process. Nonetheless, today's meeting focuses on issues that are suitable for local governance solutions, where a new city or special district could have a meaningful impact.

Issues like land use, building permits, affordable housing, public safety, roads, public works, and broadband connectivity are all potentially within the scope of a new governing body. Determining which issues are most pressing and what form of governance could best address them is a critical part of this process.

Exploring governance solutions, the options are diverse. Institutions like the Municipal Advisory Council (MAC) already contribute by conveying community needs to the Board. Enhancing or expanding the capacities of existing special districts could also be a viable path. Alternatively, creating a new, specialized district tailored to specific community services presents another potential avenue.

Today's discussions aim not only to deliberate on these options but also to leverage your collective insights to shape a governance structure that genuinely reflects the community's aspirations and needs.

A Community Services District (CSD) could function almost like a city, providing a broad range of services from public safety to roads, depending on the community's decision. However, it's crucial to understand that, unlike a city, a CSD cannot regulate land use. Only cities or counties have that authority. Therefore, for those prioritizing issues like land use or vacation rental policies, forming a city might be the more appropriate option.

Blue Sky has laid out a spectrum of governance options. Each option offers varying degrees of local control and requires different levels of community effort to establish. It's essential for the community to weigh these considerations, mindful of both the opportunities and the challenges inherent in local governance.

Financial considerations are central to this decision-making process. Blue Sky conducted an in-depth financial analysis, detailed in our report. This community generates significant revenue, approximately $16 to $17 million, which is collected by Sonoma County through various taxes and fees. Conversely, the county spends around $12 to $13 million on direct services here, suggesting a surplus. However, this calculation doesn't account for county-wide services like probation, jail operations, and the Board of Supervisors, which add an additional $7 to $8 million in service costs.

This analysis indicates that while there might appear to be a surplus, the region is not necessarily contributing more than it receives in services. The real opportunity lies in gaining control over the allocation and utilization of these funds. Forming a new local government, like a city or a special district, wouldn't necessarily increase the total funds available but would allow for greater local discretion in spending, potentially leading to more efficient and aligned service delivery. The key is in negotiation and collaboration with the county to reallocate funds and responsibilities in a way that meets the community's unique needs and aspirations.

To reiterate: creating a new government entity, such as a Community Services District (CSD) or a city, doesn't inherently generate more funds but offers more control over existing financial resources. If the community desires additional funding, raising taxes could be a path, but it's distinct from the formation of a new governance structure.

The report proposes two primary recommendations based on our expertise and community feedback. The first involves enhancing what you already have. The Municipal Advisory Council (MAC), for instance, could be granted a budget to recommend spending on community priorities. Although MAC's advisory nature means it can't directly spend the money, it can influence how the Board allocates funds. This approach is relatively straightforward, doesn't require a popular vote, and can quickly address community needs, albeit with the risk of the Board retracting funding in the future.

Our second recommendation is forming a council of governments to improve coordination among local entities. This could lead to more efficient service delivery and investment planning. It's a cost-effective strategy that leverages existing local government structures.

Alternatively, establishing a new Community Services District presents a pathway to local governance. This entity, essentially a multi-service special district, can offer various services, from public safety to street maintenance. Importantly, the community can authorize the CSD to undertake specific functions without overextending at the onset. It offers a phased approach to governance, allowing the community to assess the CSD's performance and incrementally assign more responsibilities if deemed effective. This pathway provides a stepping stone towards greater local control and potentially evolving into a city if the community so decides.

The process of forming a new governance entity involves community mobilization, financial analysis, and seeking approval from the Local Agency Formation Commission. It requires defining the entity's boundaries, understanding its financial landscape, and negotiating with the county for resource allocation, especially if assuming responsibilities currently managed by the county.

Ultimately, the community's support, manifested through elections, is paramount. If the community endorses the formation of a new governance entity, elected officials will then assume the responsibility of operationalizing it, which involves routine governance tasks like conducting meetings, legal compliance, and financial reporting.

While this is a brief overview of the process and the options available, it's vital to delve deeper into specifics and address any concerns or questions you may have. This is the beginning of your journey towards enhanced local governance, and it's crucial that every step reflects the community's collective will and vision.

Comments & Questions from attendees included:

  1. Autonomy and Land Use: A Community Services District (CSD) lets the community decide about many local services. However, it doesn't have power over land use or changing certain taxes. People in a CSD can talk about these issues and give opinions, but they don't have special authority.
  2. Grant Funding and Emergency Aid: If a local government like a CSD or a city is formed, it might become easier to get grants and emergency funds from state and federal sources. The eligibility for this funding can depend on the type of government structure chosen.
  3. Election and Formation Process: To establish a CSD or a city, the voters would need to give their okay. Before reaching the voting stage, however, the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) must agree to the proposal. This process involves building a strong base of community support, conducting financial assessments, and negotiating resource sharing with the county, all driven by citizen initiative.
  4. Financial Implications and Revenue Reallocation: Creating a new government entity doesn't automatically mean more money. It means there can be more control over the existing funds. Negotiations with the county are crucial for a fair distribution of resources, particularly if the community feels it has been underfunded in the past.
  5. Incorporation Challenges and Possibilities: Becoming a city has its challenges. It requires meeting certain standards, fixing long-standing issues, and possibly advocacy with the State. However, some communities have managed to become cities by addressing these needs and negotiating with existing cities.
  6. Flexibility in the Path to Self-Governance: The steps to establish a CSD or becoming a city begin in the same way. This approach allows the community to stay flexible, adapting to different circumstances, legal requirements, and community needs as priorities and goals are established.
  7. Tourism and Promotion: A CSD could potentially focus on tourism and promotional activities. This could involve working with groups like chambers of commerce to enhance tourism efforts and use funds effectively.
  8. Engagement with Diverse Communities: It's important to include everyone in the decision-making process. This means making sure that meetings are accessible to all, including offering translation and interpretation services.
  9. Community Engagement in Decision-Making: The process should consider what different parts of the community want regarding governance and services. While financial studies might look at the entire region, individual communities should have the flexibility to opt in or out based on their preferences.
  10. Financial Aspects of Governance Structures: The discussion highlighted community concerns about funding sources for various initiatives, whether it's for community services, infrastructure improvements, or governance operations. It's crucial to understand how forming a CSD or city could impact the community's capacity to manage finances effectively.
  11. Election of Representatives and Leadership Quality: The success of any new governance structure depends on the quality of elected leaders. It’s important to have community members who are both willing and prepared to step forward, ready to lead and contribute to building the strength for consistent and effective governance.
  12. County Resources and Support: The role of the county in supporting the community through this transition was discussed. Resources like the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) and county supervisors are key to this process.
  13. Community Projects and Immediate Needs: The discussion also covered immediate community needs such as improving streets or establishing community centers. Supervisor Hopkins highlighted a commitment to ongoing community development.
  14. Cultural and Community Values: The community's appreciation for its cultural and environmental heritage was emphasized. Any governance changes should align with and preserve these values.
  15. Aging Infrastructure and Financial Challenges: The community faces challenges in financing the maintenance and upgrading of aging infrastructure, such as sanitation systems. Discussions focused on finding sufficient funding and avoiding penalties while not overburdening the community with these costs.
  16. Revenue Analysis and Transparency: There was a call for clear and transparent information about tax collection and allocation, particularly the transient occupancy tax (TOT). More detailed financial analyses and open access to data were requested.
  17. Representation and Governance Structure: A question was raised about increasing the number of representatives on the Board of Supervisors to ensure more localized and diverse community representation. Clarification was provided that it is very unusual for a California county to have more than 5 Supervisors, San Francisco - which is also a city - being an exception.
  18. Engagement and Outreach: Community engagement and outreach were highlighted as essential to a governance initiative. Suggestions included increased promotion of community meetings and reaching out to residents who might not be active online or aware of ongoing discussions.
  19. Volunteerism and Leadership: The important role of volunteers in community initiatives and governance was recognized. Encouraging young people to get involved and ensuring a sustainable leadership transition were discussed.
  20. Proactive vs. Reactive Approach: A community member urged the importance of planning ahead for the long term, rather than only tackling current problems. This approach focuses on making our community stronger and more capable of facing future challenges, ensuring it remains sustainable over time.

The meeting concluded with a reminder that the conversation and efforts towards improved governance and community development must continue, with everyone encouraged to participate actively.  

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