Russian River Valley News

Russian River Valley News
WE are US in Small Towns
By Vesta Copestakes
July 2024

Inspired by the May 2024 newsletter from the Forestville Chamber of Commerce, it’s time for me to write about the Lower Russian River Governance Study which can be found on the Lower Russian River Municipal Advisory Council (LRRMAC) web page (https://sonomacounty.ca.gov/rivergov) with a summary that makes it more digestible, and a one-sheet the LRRMAC Stewardship Committee created to hand out at local events. 

The Governance Study was done to answer questions about how our small town needs can be met with improved services…through the structure cities have (mayor, city council, city services, etc.)…or through something less complicated. Many people feel that by becoming incorporated we gain more direct control over meeting our needs that county services cannot. The Study shows us what it would take to accomplish incorporation and what other options are open to us if we choose not to go that route. 

The Forestville Chamber newsletter starts out with: ”Forestville is ‘unincorporated’ and with that comes some pros and cons.” We are towns that are represented by a county supervisor, governed and served by the county, and paid for with county and state taxes. Our County government takes care of BIG services like law enforcement, roads, etc. but we are responsible for meeting other needs like downtown clean-ups, decorations, events, etc. 

We like to say “they are us” whenever someone wonders about missing services they used to enjoy when they lived in incorporated cities…like clean streets, which is why we have volunteer cleanups. WE take care of OUR home.

It’s all up to us and that’s the Big Deal. 

Right from the start of the study in February 2023, the Office of Supervisor Lynda Hopkins (District 5) held public workshops, stakeholder meetings, and used online tools such as surveys to “identify unmet needs” and how our community hopes to meet them in the future. It gets complicated, of course, because government is complicated, but the Bottom Line is if WE want our own government, WE have to decide to form it, BE it, and be RESPONSIBLE for it.

People who live here have to decide they want to run for public office, we hold elections, and those people become the government leaders of our towns. That also puts all of the responsibility (financial and otherwise) for law enforcement, services, roads, etc. on our backs. Some cities hire outside services to fulfill needs rather than form departments with staff, and/or contract with county services. But, theoretically, since we have taken on the responsibilities, we have more control over how these needs are met.  

As the report states, we first define boundaries (which towns want in and which towns don’t), figure out where money is coming from (taxes and fees), create entities to manage the money, and form departments that maintain those services. The people who do all this work are elected or hired staff (we choose the elected ones). 

It’s not easy to form a City and most communities have not accomplished creating new ones in California for quite some time. It requires a LOT of community effort and engagement, financial risk, compromise, and … there are options that are not so daunting, which is how the report ends with recommendations we might consider.

  1. “Strengthen existing institutions” which “has the potential to improve services at the lowest cost to the community.”
  2. “Form a new Community Services District with the authority to engage in a broad range of services, including roads and law enforcement.”

This is where WE come in. WE have to decide what the future of our towns look like, what we want, and who is going to be responsible for serving our needs. If people really do want to consider how to get our community needs met at a larger level than volunteering, it’s time to pay attention to how that can be possible.

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This column has been reprinted with the permission of Neighbors of the Russian River Valley.*

* River Valley News column will be published in the April 2024 Neighbors of the Russian River Valley (Best Version Media), a monthly magazine distributed to neighbors in the Russian River Valley. Reprinted with permission. For more info, go to their Facebook page, here.

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• 5:30 – 7:30 PM
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6550 Railroad Ave., Forestville
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• For more info, contact:
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Lucy Hardcastle
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