DanvilleSanRamon.com

Cover Story - February 27, 2009

Alamo at the crossroads

Tuesday's vote will decide the future for the semi-rural community

by Geoff Gillette

"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I - I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference." Robert Frost's classic poem "The Road Not Taken" captures the mood in Alamo in these final days before the March 3 election.

Two very distinct paths lie before Alamo, currently known not as a town but as a "census-designated area." Either Alamo will incorporate through the will of the voters; or it will stay as it is now, also at the will of the voters, with all services and governance coming through the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors.

Here is where the similarity to Frost's poem ends. In the poem, the two paths were different and it was easier to see which was the one less traveled. The same cannot be said for Alamo where arguments have been made on both sides claiming that their vision of the future for the small community is best.

Where things stand now

Currently, residents of Alamo receive all of their services from the county. The County Sheriff's Department provides police service through a sub-station and designated deputies who patrol the area. Additionally, some roads are patrolled by the California Highway Patrol.

Extra police service is provided to the P-5 district in Round Hill. The service is paid for through an assessment to the homeowners in the special district.

Emergency services are provided by both the San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District and the Contra Costa Fire Protection District depending on the location of the residence.

Roads and maintenance are covered by the county's Public Works department. Building permits and inspections are carried out by the county Planning Department. Any hearings over permit infractions or issues go before the county planning commission and then on to the Board of Supervisors.

Alamo residents do have some input into what happens, as they have local representation on several advisory committees for county service areas whose members are appointed by the District 3 County Supervisor, currently Mary N. Piepho:

* P-2B advises on the policing needs of the Alamo community;

* P-5 committee oversees the special police district in Round Hill;

* R-7A handles parks and recreation; and

* Zone 36 is for lighting and landscaping, the Alamo Beautification Advisory Committee.

Also Alamo Improvement Association, a paid membership organization, provides advisory input on planning issues.

How did we get here?

If services are provided, if local input is allowed, why incorporate? Proponents have been pushing hard during the last two years to incorporate into a town and take control away from Contra Costa County. The question is ... why? In cases like this there is usually a tipping point, an issue or event that becomes the lynchpin around which a movement forms.

According to the Alamo Incorporation Movement, the issue could best be summarized as "local control." Some of the things AIM has been concerned about are the possibility of widening Danville Boulevard, planned expansion of the Stone Valley Road interchange (aka the Ultimate Configuration) and no-right-turn-on-red signs at Danville Boulevard and Stone Valley Road.

Incorporation supporter Chris Kenber said that "local representation" is not the same as local control.

"We have these committees, but you have to understand these are all advisory committees. And the county is free to ignore our advice," he said. "I think one of the reasons the incorporation movement got started was that people on these committees got frustrated."

The Alamo Community Foundation (ACF), formed to fund the incorporation movement, stated that its supporters feel the community is often overlooked because it represents such a small portion of Contra Costa County. An informational document from the ACF reads, "The County Board of Supervisors makes decisions in the interests of the County that may or may not reflect the interests of Alamo, which is only 1.7% of total County population, and only 6% of the population of County District 3."

Proponents have said all along that the ability to make the decisions that affect their community are what's at stake in incorporating. At one of the hearings on incorporation, resident Vishwas More said, "Washington doesn't do it, Sacramento doesn't do it. County doesn't do it. Let us do it ourselves. We can do this."

Vicki Koc, who has spearheaded the incorporation movement, said that incorporation is about the ability to determine the town's own destiny. "Let us make the decisions that affect us," she said, "Let us have our own voice."

The argument against incorporation

Those who oppose incorporation say that while the county may not be perfect, they feel the system works and they don't want to see change. Early in the discussions of incorporation, opponent Robert Myrhe used the old adage, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Myrhe is not alone in his trepidation. Many residents have expressed deep concerns about how a local town government would impact Alamo and the lifestyle that many residents love. Both sides say they don't want Alamo to change, but opponents feel the best way to maintain the town's character is to keep things the way they are.

A dedicated and very vocal group has formed, calling for the defeat of the March 3 ballot issue and maintaining Alamo as is, under county rule.

Another issue for many of those standing against incorporation is the strong belief that the Comprehensive Fiscal Analysis performed by the firm of Winzler and Kelly as part of the approval process was flawed.

Cecily Talbert Barclay, a land use attorney, joined the ranks of the opposition after studying the proposal and determining that the assumptions made in regard to revenue generation and expenditures were based on 2006-07 data which, in the current economic climate, is no longer relevant.

Barclay and other opponents commissioned their own study of the CFA, which they say showed serious errors in revenue projections that could lead the newly formed town to bankruptcy within two years. At a meeting in January, Barclay said, "My bottom line is we should incorporate someday, but we absolutely should not incorporate based on a report created in 2006."

Additionally, Barclay and other opponents maintain that incorporating will not truly sever ties with Contra Costa County but will instead impose an additional layer of bureaucracy into the situation. They feel that since, at least initially, the new town will be utilizing the county for many of its services that the town's governing body will be an unnecessary filter between the county and the residents.

The end of the debate

Over the last several months, the two groups on either side of the issue have formed deeply entrenched beliefs in regards to what is best for Alamo. What started out as spirited debates has devolved into acrimonious argument of the "he said/she said" variety. One side makes a claim, the other responds, to which the first responds again ... and so on.

The debate, for all practical purposes, will come to an end March 3, when voters cast their ballots, making the final decision as to where they've placed their trust - in the proponents and their CFA or the opponents and the Barclay Analysis.

Regardless, the question that remains is: Where will Alamo and its very disparate residents go on March 4? Has the rift that has grown between the two sides become too wide to bridge?

To return to Frost's poem "The road less traveled," when Alamo chooses its path, be it town or census-designated area, its 16,700 residents will be walking that path together.

For more information on the Alamo Incorporation efforts, for and against Measure A, visit the following Web sites:

www.alamoinc.org – supporting incorporation

www.alamospotlight.com – opposing incorporation

Comments

Posted by Joel Libove, a resident of another community
on Mar 2, 2009 at 4:46 pm

Alamo voters may wish to look at Orinda before voting yes on incorporation. Locally-imposed land-use rulings, however well-intentioned, made by personnel lacking in planning experience and impartiality, can impose limitations on an individual property that can far outweigh any purported benefits to the community.

Orinda's incorporation in 1985 brought increased costs and impedances to many small property owners, some of whom reported outrageously oppressive treatment by its planning department and design review boards.

Alamo already enjoys good land usage and roads. County government can often provide more unbiased, uniform, and cost-effective service than can a small municipality attempting to assume or "enhance" these functions. The promised benefits of Alamo incorporating are reminiscent of similar pitches made for incorporating Orinda, that ultimately yielded higher costs and a very mixed result.


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