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News: 10/15/2018

Big MAC in our future?

Committee to advise county government under consideration

An advisory panel that would regularly listen to Glen Ellen, Kenwood and Eldridge residents and keep district supervisor Susan Gorin informed about local concerns could be formed as soon as December, if all goes well. Municipal Advisory Councils, called MACs, have been around for decades in California and are as unique as the unincorporated areas they serve, offering a voice to rural residents who often feel they have little say over government action – or inaction – that affects their small communities.

The concept of MACs is becoming attractive to Sonoma County’s busy supervisors as outlying communities grow ever more vocal about issues that impact their communities. The imminent disposition of the Sonoma Developmental Center was one of the reasons that people in Glen Ellen started the Glen Ellen Forum, to explore what influence they might have over what happens to their 945-acre neighbor, formerly home to thousands of developmentally disabled people. Sonoma County’s supervisors formally established county policies and guidelines for developing MACs in mid-2017.

“MACs work in other counties as community advisory bodies to the supervisor to discuss and prioritize municipal services important to those communities,” First District Supervisor Susan Gorin said. She is one of five county supervisors and is working with groups in the north Valley of the Moon and in the Springs area to bring two new MACs online by the end of the year. “I need our communities to come together as advisory bodies to help me prioritize the needs of the communities.”

The Springs council is closer to fruition and Gorin hopes it will be approved in November.

Glen Ellen Forum representatives Arthur Dawson and Michael Wray discussed the idea with Supervisor Gorin in 2017, and a MAC might have developed later that year but for the wildfires that broke out in October. Since then, those involved have expanded their thinking to consider adding Kenwood, Eldridge and Madrone Road area residents to their boundaries, though they have different needs and issues.

Gorin met on Oct. 1 with Dawson, Mike McDonald of Eldridge, Kate Eagles, Leslie Vaughan, and Poppy Mann. [Disclosure: this reporter was invited to attend to provide input about Kenwood as a long-time resident, not as a reporter or member of any other group.]

“The Eldridge, Kenwood and Glen Ellen communities are coming together to work out the details of what they might want to do,” Gorin said after the meeting. “I am in discussion with the committee to review proposed boundaries, purpose, representation and bylaws.”

“The unincorporated areas really need a voice,” Dawson said. “We need to have a clear and transparent process to express the will of people on various issues. A democratic process where citizens are told about things in a broad sense, talking to a spectrum of people in the town, holding public meetings where people can voice their concerns and advocate for things they feel can work well.”

Advisory vs. advocacy

By any name, advisory councils are not intended to advocate particular points of view, but to advise their sponsors on what is important to the community, representing all the points of view wherever possible. They gather information through regular meetings and pass it along to the governing body to help inform further decision-making. This is different than the Glen Ellen Forum and the Valley of the Moon Alliance (VOTMA), which essentially advocate for policies to be put in place. Those groups could advocate to a MAC which would then gather background materials and information for further deliberation at the county level, saving the county both time and money.

The Sonoma Valley Citizen’s Advisory Commission was formed in 1993 to deal with development issues and is now operating under a Joint Powers Agreement between the county and the City of Sonoma – a different creature from a MAC.

VOTMA will host a discussion of MAC ideas at their quarterly meeting on Oct. 17, starting at 7 p.m. at the Kenwood Depot. The public is invited to attend.

The specter of a substantial resort development at the foot of Kenwood’s iconic Mt. Hood prompted the formation of VOTMA in 2002. Despite pushing back over a seven-year period, it ended badly for resort opponents, with the resort getting the green light. Now, after years of delay, due mostly to the recession and changes in ownership of the property, the Sonoma Country Inn is on track to be built soon.

After that battle, VOTMA continued to voice concerns over related issues: increasing traffic levels on Highway 12, proliferation of wine tasting rooms and event centers, the continuing loss of local residential property to vacation rental owners, and more.

Under the 1977 California enabling legislation, MACs serve the board that creates them and can be filled by election or appointment, with appointments generally favored over the more expensive election process. Appointments would likely be the case for a local MAC, with Gorin picking from a field of applicants once the formation is approved.

MACs are nothing new in California or Sonoma County. The first one was set up for East Palo Alto in 1967. The Windsor Municipal Advisory Council was formed in 1987, essentially to address the idea of incorporating the community as a city, which happened in 1992.

Recently, two new MACs were given official status by the board of supervisors: one for the Lower Russian River and another for the Sonoma Coast area, both in the county’s Fifth District overseen by Lynda Hopkins. The Dry Creek Valley Citizen’s Advisory Council has been advising Fourth District Supervisor James Gore since 2012.

A 1977 study by then third-year law student Jack Fuller – commissioned by the Governor’s Office of Strategic Planning – remains a primary source of information about MACs . Download the "Fuller Report on MACs."

“Unlike most groups that advise county governments on specific issues, such as county-wide planning or health, a MAC has the freedom to address all issues affecting its community,” Fuller wrote. “This so-called ‘county town’ can bring a better understanding of community needs than a county could otherwise possibly acquire and can provide a community with an effective form of government short of actual incorporation. Moreover, a MAC, empowered to advise on a whole range of local issues, can provide the coordination necessary to make community-level government more efficient and less expensive.”

“The process for nominating and appointing the MAC members will roll out in December,” Gorin said, “and I will work with a few members of each community to select the members. The board will approve the appointments, and hopefully, the MACs will begin operation early next year. It is a very exciting time for our communities in the unincorporated areas of Sonoma Valley. They will find their voices, and effectively advocate for their needs.”

You can read more about Kenwood's past attempt to incorporate here.
California Code, Government Code - GOV 31010.


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