Friday, February 16, 2007

Ross Valley Watershed and Flood Protection Project proposed mail ballot

At the third Ross Valley Watershed community meeting held on February 10th, engineers explained that in Fairfax, some of the flood control solutions being considered are water detention basis which could be created at sites such as Lefty Gomez Field and White Hill Middle School. Water could be held in basins during flooding events and then released slowly as to not overwhelm our creeks. The biggest restriction that causes flooding in downtown Fairfax is the undersized culvert that runs under Bolinas and Sherman. The capacity of the culvert is 850 cubic feet of water per second, and during the 12/31/05 flood, the out of culvert flow was 600 cubic feet per second. The culvert needs to be replaced and widened to handle the flood flows, and ideally, the creek in this area should be “daylighted” instead of running underground. Other large projects proposed to reduce flooding risk are needed in San Anselmo and Ross.

The valley-wide project costs, including continuing the hydraulic modeling into critical reaches of the creek such as Fairfax and Sleepy Hollow, are currently estimated at $100 million and can only be undertaken with sufficient funding. Last year, the local Ross Valley governments pulled together and raised $660,000 for projects completed during the past year. Additional funding will have to come from a variety of State and Federal sources. Californians recently passed Propositions 1E and 84, which make billions of State dollars available for flood control. However, those funding sources require that a local revenue source. The proposed source is a storm drainage user fee, explained below.

In the Ross Valley Watershed, creeks and streams are part of the natural drainage system that sends stormwater runoff to the Bay. In order to provide initial funding and matching funds for the high cost of completing the many proposed projects that would reduce flooding risk, a storm drainage fee is proposed to be taken to the property owners in the Ross Valley. The fee for a property would be related to how much stormwater runoff it generates. Land that is developed creates “impervious areas” where water cannot soak into the land, resulting in stormwater runoff. The fee would be based on both the size of the property and how heavily it is built on.

Under the proposed fee, the vast majority of single-family residential properties in the Ross Valley would pay $125 or less per year. Most condo owners would pay approximately $30 per year. The fee would be capped at $180 a year for residential properties. The fee would end in 20 years, unless extended another election.

If the Marin County Board of Supervisors determines that the Ross Valley Flood Protection and Watershed program stormwater user fee should proceed with a vote of the property owners, ballots could be mailed in early May. Each ballot will contain the exact fee for a property. In conformance with California law, ballots are mailed to the property owner of record, which is not always the person living in or conducting business in a building on that property (renters do not vote because they don’t pay the fee directly). There would be one vote per property and passage requires at least 50% of the returned ballots. Property owners would have 45 days to vote and return the ballots by mail or in person to the County Clerk.

This effort is an opportunity for the Ross Valley to raise the funds necessary to make monumental and historic improvements to our watershed for restoration and improvement of our creeks and drainage system to reduce flooding risk. More information on the mail ballot will be forthcoming this Spring.