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News: 03/15/2020

Sonoma Valley Fire District coming together

Protest period will last until May 6; new district could be live on July 1

The consolidation of Glen Ellen, Valley of the Moon and Mayacamas fire organizations is moving steadily toward a July 1 “go live” state for the resulting Sonoma Valley Fire District, a move that gladdens county authorities who have sought to consolidate the dozens of small, independent fire districts in the county for many years, both for efficiency and cost effectiveness.

“Our community has greatly benefited from our alliance with the Valley of the Moon,” Glen Ellen Fire District Board president Peter van Fleet told the Sonoma County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) at a March 4 meeting. Glen Ellen has contracted with the Valley of the Moon for administrative and fire services since 2018.

LAFCO is instrumental in the creation, definition, and validation of special tax districts for school, fire, water, sewage, and other municipal services. The commissioners unanimously approved an application by the three fire districts to become the Sonoma Valley Fire District, providing a single fire and emergency umbrella. The merger was approved on March 4 at the regular LAFCO monthly meeting.

The final approval of the merger will come on May 6, allowing time for residents and property owners to register formal protests under the governing state rules for special districts.

No protests had been filed when the merger request was discussed before a packed house of men sporting dark blue shirts and shiny gold badges belonging to three-dozen fire chiefs, battalion chiefs and other fire officials intently observing the process.

“This is a real winner for all of us,” chairman of Valley of the Moon Fire District Board Bill Norton said. His is the largest of the three merging districts.

VOM Fire Chief Steve Akre who will also command the new Sonoma Valley FD, called the approval, “A real validation of our need.”

The pending loss of a substantial sales tax measure designed to provide over $50 million a year to county fire agencies has made the decision to go forward with the merger even more important, Akre said recently. Measure G was put to voters on the March 3 Primary Election ballot, and is falling short by two percentage points as of this writing, with tens of thousands of last minute votes remaining to be counted. The final result will not be announced until the end of the month.

“For starters, we will not get the 26 new firefighters that would have been possible with the Measure G funds,” Akre said. “We will get nine. It’s a big impact.”

Another heavy impact of the tax failure will be on vegetation management and other fire protection needed to combat rising temperatures and falling rain levels. The county has been and continues to be vulnerable to disastrous fires over the summer and early fall.

All properties in the expanded district will now be subject to Glen Ellen’s $200 maximum annual parcel tax rates without a formal vote. That is, unless residents of the affected districts – Mayacamas and Valley of the Moon FD – object through a two-tiered write in process that will end on May 6.

Akre said the tax rates will be set at 75 percent of the maximum for the first year, which comes to a $150 parcel tax for residents and $.075 per square foot for commercial property. There is a schedule of rates for several classifications of property.

LAFCO has already scheduled the final approval for May 6 at 2 p.m. at the County Administration Building, room 102A (Board of Supervisors Chambers).

Both voters and property owners in the affected districts may protest via postcard or online. The two groups are separately considered, and if 25 percent of either group objects, the issue will be put to a formal vote later. If 50 percent of either group objects, the issue simply fails.

“There are no requirements for a public meeting at this point,” Akre said. “Notices are going out to property owners and registered voters within VOM and Mayacamas areas.” Glen Ellen residents have already approved the tax levels that will be applied to the joining districts and will not be included in the protest period.

“Public notifications (will) have information about the reorganization and have a detachable protest card to be filled out and returned,” Akre said. “They will tell you where to call or go to get more information. We absolutely encourage anybody with questions or concerns about reorganization to call us at 996-2102.”

How to File a Protest

Any registered voter residing within, or owner of land within, the territory proposed to be annexed to the Glen Ellen Fire Protection District may file an official protest. All protests must be made in writing and must be received during the official protest period, which ends on May 6, at the close of the protest hearing.

Protests submitted by a registered voter must be signed, dated, and include the name of the voter and the voter’s residence address. Protests submitted by a landowner must be signed, dated, and include the name of the landowner, the street address of the land owned within the affected territory, and the Assessor’s parcel number or other description to identify the location of the land.

If you are both a registered voter and landowner within the affected territory, you may file both types of protests. Protests are counted in the two categories for the purposes of evaluation. It is not necessary to state a reason for filing a protest. Anyone who has filed a protest may withdraw it at any time before the end of the May 6 hearing. If sufficient protests are filed within the protest period, confirmation of the reorganization may be placed before registered voters through an election, or the reorganization may be terminated.

Protest forms can be accessed on the Sonoma LAFCO website, or at the LAFCO office. Use of a protest form is not required, but a protest must meet all of the requirements described above.

Written protests can be mailed to Sonoma LAFCO, 111 Santa Rosa Ave., Suite 240, Santa Rosa, CA 95404, or delivered in person during business hours Monday through Thursday. Protests can also be submitted at the protest hearing. Protests cannot be accepted by fax or email. All protests must be received by Sonoma LAFCO by the conclusion of the protest hearing on May 6. Any protest that does not meet the conditions stated will be considered invalid.


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