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News: 08/15/2017

Supervisors move to set up advisory councils in unincorporated areas

MACs could provide communities with a stronger voice

Local citizen groups like the Springs Community Alliance and the Glen Ellen Forum may soon get another way to have their community’s voice heard over the cacophony thrown at county supervisors on a daily basis. On July 18, the Board of Supervisors approved policies and procedures to streamline the creation of Municipal Advisory Councils (MACs) in unincorporated areas of Sonoma County. These councils are seen as a way to get more input on specific issues like development, traffic, land use, and to bring community concerns forward or facilitate community improvement projects.

There are currently two municipal advisory councils operating in Sonoma County: the Dry Creek Valley Citizens Advisory Council (established in August 2012) and the Mark West Citizens Advisory Council (established in June 2016). The Sonoma Valley Citizens Advisory Commission (SVCAC) has a similar advisory role, but operates under a Joint Powers Agreement with the City of Sonoma.

“This is really participatory democracy at its base level,” said Supervisor James Gore, whose fourth district encompasses both the Dry Creek Valley Citizens Advisory Council (DCVCAC) and the Mark West Citizens Advisory Council (MWCAC). “This is really about us owning the future, this is about us owning the frame.” The MWCAC was created in 2016 covering the unincorporated areas of the communities of Mark West, Larkfield and Fulton, with the intent of keeping a franchise fee paid by those residents in those communities, instead of going into the County’s General Fund. An excited Gore also praised DCVCAC for developing a set of guidelines for winery development and events in their area, expected to come before the Board of Supervisors in the fall.

“Our mission is to foster dialogue,” said DCVCAC member Vicky Farrow. Farrow described herself as a skeptic early on, but has found the DCVCAC able to navigate and mitigate contentious issues. The council prides itself on having conversations, as opposed to debates, with neighbors and project applicants very early on in the process – before lots of money and time is spent, said Farrow. “Talking to each other – instead of at or about each other – solves many of the problems early on.”

First District Supervisor Susan Gorin has already been in discussion with the Springs Community Alliance and the Glen Ellen Forum about what the formation of a MAC might look like in those communities. The Springs Community Alliance represents over 15,000 residents in the Boyes Hot Springs area. About 4,000 people live in the Glen Ellen 95442 zip code.

“They are incredible self-starters,” said Gorin, of the Glen Ellen Forum (read article here), who praised the community projects they’ve completed just this year.

Gorin also expressed the need to work out any overlap in boundaries, like the Springs Community Alliance and the SVCAC, for example, so an applicant doesn’t have to go through two processes for project approval. Having a person serve as a liaison between a MAC and the SVCAC might be one way to solve this, she suggested.

Under the new policies, the councils will consist of five to seven members, who must live within the geographic boundaries of the area for which the group is established. Members would first be appointed by supervisors (to serve two-year terms with two-term limits) and then be elected by the council’s members thereafter. Council meetings will be limited to once a month and no longer than three hours. The MACs can’t take positions on candidates or ballot measures, and they must provide an annual report to supervisors. Members will undergo training in Brown Act, policies and procedures, public records act training, and conflict of interest code training.

Gorin said she’s had some informal conversations with Kenwood residents, but has not seen an upwelling of interest for a MAC in Kenwood. “The issues in Kenwood and Glen Ellen are similar, but they are not the same,” said Gorin. Setting up a MAC in Kenwood and Glen Ellen would not be redundant, she said, “but we are asking five to seven people to step forward with the ability and the time. It could be something Kenwood may not be prepared for.” That is a sentiment echoed by Valley of the Moon Alliance President Kathy Pons. Pons said she thinks Kenwood could benefit from the unified voice that a MAC might provide, but VOTMA was not looking to take that on. Pons said she sees MACs playing an advisory role, much like SVCAC, but VOTMA’s mission encompasses many more community concerns.

County staff members are expected to return to the board in September after evaluating options for funding and putting together a plan for implementing new councils in communities that want them. However, Gorin indicated she is already moving forward in her discussions with the groups in the Springs and in Glen Ellen.

Sarah Phelps is an editor and reporter. She was raised in Kenwood and has a BA from Loyola Marymount University.

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