DanvilleSanRamon.com

Newsfront - August 24, 2007

Alamo answers

Petition to study incorporation may start circulating in September

by Natalie O'Neill

A petition for Alamo cityhood won't begin circulating until at least September, but that hasn't stopped spearheads of the movement from spreading the word.

The ad hoc incorporation committee has begun giving informal education sessions to neighborhood groups in intimate settings - gatherings of about 25.

"We take them through the material - it's very straight forward. Concerns seem to evaporate pretty quickly," said Chris Kenber, spokesman for the seven-member committee.

The purpose is to talk about the government Alamo has today, how it would change, and why it would make a difference, Kenber said.

The smaller, more personal settings are effective since packed meeting halls have a tendency to erupt into an unorganized debate, he explained.

In Alamo, which has about 5,400 households, this small-scale grassroots method of advocacy is unique to the area. But it's not the only way incorporation advocates plan to inform the public.

While a date hasn't yet been established, a second large community meeting will be held closer to the time petitions begin circulating.

Education before the signature-gathering process begins is important, committee members said. And many active Alamo residents agree.

"We have to go into it with our eyes open," said Karen McPherson, who worked as a liaison to Supervisor Donna Gerber and served on several local councils. She said she hopes to have some of her concerns addressed in coming weeks.

For now, the intimate ad hoc meetings are providing a question-and-answer forum - ranging from critical inquiries about the financial feasibility study to accusations of a "hidden agenda."

"I'm concerned that the advocates haven't understood how much is involved in running a city," Steve Lange, president of the Roundhill Homeowners Association, wrote in an e-mail. He added he believes substantial investments in bonds may be necessary.

Other outspoken Alamo residents believe the seven-member committee is rife with their own interests - namely related to development and politics.

"It's a facade of special interests," said Hal Bailey, who advocates a charter town with a defined general plan and strong citizens' oversight.

Kenber said he'd heard similar sentiments arise at meetings and addressed them accordingly.

"People think there must be some secret agenda," he said. "What secret agenda? What do I have to gain?"

His goal and the goal of the group is simple, he said. It's to give the area stronger local decision-making power.

"Alamo has 5.8 percent of the vote in the county. We have essentially no leverage," he said.

At last week's meeting, time was spent debunking myths surrounding incorporation, he said. Many people believed Alamo has already tried to incorporate and failed. But the Alamo area has never tried on its own - only with Danville, he said. That vote failed but Danville residents voted to incorporate by themselves in 1982.

"There's never been a vote on Alamo itself," Kenber explained.

Attempts to incorporate Alamo as part of a San Ramon Valley city also failed twice in the 1970s. In total, six efforts to incorporate with adjacent have occurred since the first was initiated by Alamo Improvement Association in 1956.

In addition, Kenber said the group has spent much time explaining there will be no need to raise taxes or build a city hall. Legally, there's no way to raise taxes after a city council is formed without two-thirds of Alamo voting for it, he said. That's a very difficult - and unnecessary - thing to do, he noted.

When petitioning begins, the committee must collect signatures from more than 25 percent of the voting population in Alamo. Then an incorporation feasibility study by the Local Agency Formation Commission can be conducted, which would take about 12 months. After that, voting can happen.

Signing the petition just moves the study forward, it doesn't mean you are necessarily for incorporation, Kenber explained. It just gives the area an opportunity to find out if cityhood works, he said.

"Why wouldn't you want to find out?" he asked.

A vote on incorporation would likely take place in March 2009. Over 50 percent of Alamo voters would have to support the legislation in order for it to pass.

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