Money ranks next. The various sources of tax funds must add up to a budget to pay the new city's expenses and be convincing to the county's Local Agency Formation Commission where sharp eyes can dampen the whole scheme. Getting past LAFCO signals when the work really starts. Organizing a campaign, recruiting advocates willing to stop playing golf or cutting their lawns, raising campaign money, and guaranteeing every voter is personally contacted and given literature makes creating a new city a sweatshop job.
Take my word for it. I was co-chair of the 1973 Alamo cityhood campaign, and was one of five elected city councilmen to the city that wasn't elected. This was the last attempt of four planned but only three actual elections for Alamo's incorporation, dating back to 1964.
In 1967, when the Danville area was included (before Danville had its own city election) the proposed city's name would have been "Danville," but cityhood lost by 966 votes. Most of these self-government efforts were pubescent, as I suspect were meeting the early clearance rules of LAFCO, though in 1973 it took several visits to LAFCO to convince the agency that Alamo's incorporation of everything south of Walnut Creek to the Alameda County line was the right dog to own. Voters didn't agree: 5,178 said Yes; 6,623 voted No.
It doesn't take a college education to understand that this nearly half-century of voter negativism centers on one concept. Alamo residents may not cringe at the cost of self-government, although it is usually sold with an informal promise of no tax increase, but the majority of them are denunciatory of the feel of more government interference with their peaceful half-acre existence. So the big sell this time is to convince residents that when Alamo becomes a city they will be dealing with elected and staff officials who are friendly neighbors, taking over from the regimented staffers in Martinez who get their paychecks from the county, not from where they are laying down the law.
Is cityhood a deceitful promise of a blue sky? Not if we cast an eye to our nearby neighbors, Danville and San Ramon, where citified success is amply evident to the most casual drive-through visitor. What we're talking about here is changing the hard-line rule of the county for the more sympathetic help of incorporated self rule. Example: County informants estimate there are about 15 or 20 rights-of-way easements granted and built by developers in Alamo to move excess water flow to primary drainage facilities. Developers lined these rights-of-way with a thin layer of concrete, presumably without county specification. Over the years this cheap construction has seen serious cracks in the concrete and water leakage, and the easements become filled or partially blocked by an accumulation of mud, weeds and leaves. Who is responsible for cleaning up these messes? Not us, the county says; the supervisors have created no budget for it.
Frankly, I've come to think of incorporation as a free insurance policy - insurance that the mounting costs of county government and the pressures of population growth will play minimal political damage in the town I've called home for half a century. There are two ways to acquire this insurance policy. Incorporate. Or be annexed to Danville.
There are already backers of this second option. One is Robert Myhre, whose property runs between the Iron Horse Trail and Danville Boulevard. His principal point: City infrastructure would already be provided by a proven record of successful local government. He, too, has been around here for a while, a half century or more.
One can easily see the gravitational influences of Danville. Our shoulder-to-shoulder communities are the archetype of similarity, assuring a happy marriage, which would not be the outlook if, say, Danville's coffee-drinking society that fills the sidewalks at noontime were asked to merge with the fast-growing, commercial-industrial San Ramon city to the south. Of equal importance is the political punch that annexation would gift to both communities. No longer separate small towns but now a good size city, its voice would be louder in Martinez, even in Sacramento, when dealing with refractory agencies.
The difference in incorporation and annexation is like a comparison of seeing an independent doctor-specialist or going to a hospital with a hundred doctors. You can be treated well both places but the hospital can treat more complaints you should have known but didn't. Which is not to say Alamo has an unknown rash of problems, but the insurance policy we're being asked to buy offers a bigger payoff if it's issued by Danville.
Annexation doesn't mean the loss of Alamo's name, its post office or its ZIP code. Geographically, maps would show the increased boundaries of Danville but also the name Alamo. A good example of this is Santa Clarita in Los Angeles County. Incorporated in 1987, Santa Clarita comprises four separate towns - Newhall, Valencia, Canyon Country and Saugus - all continuing to have their own post offices and ZIP codes. If you ask a resident of Santa Clarita where he lives, he answers with the name of his local community, not Santa Clarita.
Alamo's growth since the last incorporation vote has been less startling, about 30 percent, and all living in upper income homes. Which is not to say we don't have troubles. It took three years to get the county public works department to put the tiny Andrew P. Young Park in the town's center in condition to install a memorial plaque for a dedication ceremony. Outranking that complaint is the uncertainty we have in the county's authority to decide zoning and land use applications filed by local developers. I spent three hours one night auditing the public meeting of the Redondo Beach Planning Commission whose recommendations were passed on to the city council. Despite some split votes, the city's interests, not the county's, dominated the proceedings.
It was a valuable lesson. The negativism in Alamo's past incorporation efforts was a misunderstanding of the role local decision making plays in local society. The closer Alamo can get to home rule - either as an independent city or annexed by Danville - the better opportunity it has to perpetuate the special qualities of our life here in the friendly, beautiful and comfortable community of Alamo.
Roy S. Bloss is a 52-year resident of Alamo; 1973 co-chairman of San Ramon Valley's campaign to incorporate as a city; author of numerous history books; co-founder in 1975 of San Ramon Valley History Society; and president of Association for the Preservation of Danville Boulevard.