DanvilleSanRamon.com

Newsfront - June 8, 2007

Alamo Inc.! meeting draws a crowd

Residents offer varied opinions on incorporation

by Natalie O'Neill

An opinionated and dramatically divided group of 200 Alamo residents crowded into Creekside Community Church last week on Wednesday night to hash out the pros and cons of the unincorporated area's potential for cityhood.

Supporters wore "Alamo Inc!" buttons and stressed the urgent need for local - as opposed to county - control.

"We think decisions should be made in Alamo, not in Martinez .... You deserve access to local officials," said Vicki Koc, one of seven members of the grassroots committee who organized and funded a financial feasibility study on Alamo incorporation.

Those opposed, however, said they feared Alamo would become a bureaucratic nightmare if it incorporated, with more rules and regulations. And some questioned what they would be getting that they aren't already.

"We chose to live in Alamo because we didn't like the setup in Danville Why do we need another bureaucracy? We don't," said Alamo resident Suzanne Thompson.

Incorporation supporters, however, said bureaucracy at the county level is much worse - and is not in Alamo residents' best interest.

"There is nobody up here who is advocating more bureaucracy," said Kent Strazza, of the committee.

"A small bureaucracy is a hell of a lot better than the county bureaucracy we have today," another speaker agreed, citing the Humphrey Ranch as just one project in which residents felt they had no say.

The reason for this, they pointed out, is county officials can only do so much for Alamo. They serve a large region and are expected to give time and attention to the whole geographical area.

The rupture between those in support and those opposed to incorporation was based largely on how satisfied or unsatisfied residents felt with county services.

"The kind of response we've gotten from the county again and again has been less than pleasing," said Alamo Oaks resident Charles Jarrett.

Jarrett, who is active in the Alamo Improvement Association, asked the audience members if they were happy with the services they had received from the county, prompting a loud and conflicted answer.

"No!" "Yes!" "No!" audience members responded simultaneously.

Bruce Marhenke, who has lived in Alamo for over 45 years, has started Alamo-based newspapers, and has been principal at schools in Alamo, said in his experience county representatives have been effective but that projects could have been completed faster.

Initially, going into the meeting, he was against incorporation, but now he says he has an open mind.

"If you have been here 30-plus years, the county has done a pretty good job ... but that's not to say things can't be improved," he said.

But county officials running the show have no real ties or connections to Alamo, said David Bowlby, who helped fund the feasibility study and serves on the San Ramon Valley Regional Planning Commission.

Now, with the Planning Commission "on the chopping block," important planning decisions may be completely up to the county in the future, Bowlby said.

"If (the planning commission) goes away, there will be no more forum," he said.

This is particularly questionable, given the changes that have been popping up in Alamo in the last few years, including an increase in huge hillside homes, an OK'd YMCA off Danville Boulevard, and the Humphrey project that resulted in a parking lot across the street from Monte Vista High School, residents said.

Aside from planning and development issues, others wondered whether the area has enough property tax and sales tax revenue to keep itself afloat.

But EPS research managing principal Walter F. Kieser, who provided a summaries and revenue expenses report, indicated the study was conservative and that inflation is factored into both the revenue and expenses.

The study shows that annual revenue would be about $7.5 million, while expenses would be about $7.2 million for the new town or city. No new taxes would be needed.

Some expressed concern about the few that incorporation would leave in the dust.

"Is there anyone with an Alamo ZIP code or an Alamo address that's going to be excluded from the incorporation process, and what's being done to protect them?" asked Alamo resident Gary Holtzer.

Members of the ad-hoc group said there would be a small number of residents on the Danville-Alamo border who did not have a 94507 ZIP code that would be excluded. The committee is looking into the details.

Fundraising will now begin as a next step and a petition will be circulated that must be signed by 25 percent of registered voters in Alamo to put incorporation on the ballot.

Incorporation must gain a 50 percent vote from residents and be approved by the county's Local Agency Formation Commission, LAFCO, which is charged with preventing the formation of non-viable cities. Incorporation would likely not be realistic before summer 2009.

To view the graphic map and the study, visit www.alamoinc.org.

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