The Coastal Post - June, 1998

Supervisors Reject Parent Appeal; School Budget Hemorrhaging

By Jim Scanlon

As expected on May 19, 1998, the Marin County Board of Supervisors denied an appeal of the approval of the Planning Commission for the joint sewage system of the French Ranch Development and the Lagunitas School. Supervisor Steve Kinsey forcefully urged that the joint project be allowed to proceed even though he conceived and initiated the highly controversial plan when he was an employee of the School District and an influential member of the San Geronimo Planning Group. Kinsey also urged that the requirement of planning staff to bury a large sewer pipe under the creek be removed.

The vote was 3-1. Supervisor Harry Moore said he would have agreed if the developer were to grant the School the easements it needs to proceed. He complained that the school was being held hostage by the developer.

The School's septic system failed some time ago and it received a hardship grant from the state to fix it. At the urging of Kinsey and others in the San Geronimo Valley Planning Group, the District signed a contract with the French Ranch Development to construct industrial type sewage treatment ponds next to the school and across SF Drake Blvd. from Lagunitas Creek. The sewage pond plan was junked, partly because of intense community opposition, but mostly because it would require the creation of a Community Service District, that is,. a "public entity", to oversee and operate the system. So, the School District and the Developer amended the contract and agreed to construct twin sand filter sewage systems, separate but side by side.

The School District is under intense financial pressure to go ahead with construction but cannot do so until the developer gets his final approval. Whatever benefits the District was to derive from the unusual joint agreement have long since evaporated and the costs mount. The sewage issue has dominated and obsessed District Trustees and, in addition, consultants' fees and legal expenses continue. An enormous amount of attention, time and money have now been diverted to the sewage problem-and yet there is no end in sight!

Now, the joint plan gets split ad each goes separately to the State Regional Water Quality Control Board, which has a written requirement for some kind of "public entity" to run sewage treatment districts. So, the "public entity" problem which stopped the sewage pond system, has not gone away and there does not appear to be a solution.

The State board will more than likely take its time in deciding what to do with the weird plan from San Geronimo. California is a very big state, with a lot of development going on, and State Boards sometimes do not like it when small town developers and politicians don't follow the rules.

What was significant about this hearing is that Planning staff have clearly signaled that Marin County will restrict it's involvement to enforcement of regulations. That is, it will not be the "public entity" to administer the latest sewage treatment district. The Supervisors have passed on the confusing mess to state officials

What is disastrous for the school is that it is now paying for pumping its septic system from its general fund. It cannot proceed with construction on its own until the Developer grants it an easement-which the developer will not do until he gets his final permit. The School District fears being sued by the Developer if it proceeds alone, on it's own. (So much for "feel good" consensus building agreements with developers).

When the Trustees signed the original contract-with virtually no discussion- there was said to be a verbal agreement that the Developer would pay for any pumping costs. When the contract was amended (with the assistance of the District's attorney) the Developer's contribution to any pumping costs was fixed at a total of $12,000 . The School has, so far, spent $60,000 to pump and has not yet received any money from the Developer.

Worse yet, the Trustees apparently assumed they could pay for pumping sewage with the hardship grant. The District's book keeper was unable determine the legality of using the state grant money for anything other than actually repairing the system, so to be on the safe side pumping costs will come out of general funds.

In its haste to assist and aid the French Ranch development, the School's Trustees rushed ; through an ill conceived plan which has been consistently complicated and stalled at every stage of development. They amended the plan in a special meeting just days before the retirement of one of the majority Trustees. While their legal assistant and consultants looked on, they never thought to determine they had the money. The actions of this Board seem to require a word stronger than "irresponsible" to describe them.

As the months go by waiting for State approval of the French Ranch Luxury Home Development, and money intended for the education of children needlessly drains away for legal advice, consultants and sewage pumping, it is entirely possible that teacher layoffs could occur.

Did Ad Shake Up County Officials?

When Elena Belsky went to the offices of the Gannet Corporation's Independent Journal on Friday May 15, 1998 to proof the half page ad which cost $1,400, paid by "Concerned Citizens of Marin" and "Save the Valley," she was shocked that it had been redesigned and it's focus changed.

The ad headline read: "Why is the County of Marin paving the way for private development?" In addition to the design changes there were two insertions indicating the ad was a "Paid political advertisement" and "Paid for by...."

Elena argued that it was self evident who was paying for it but let it go since she was afraid it might be pulled. She was told that it had been reviewed by the editor and the insertions had to stay, since it was "quite controversial".

Apparently the ad was effective. It was learned later that Supervisor Steve Kinsey held a closed door meeting on Monday, May 18, the day before the hearing on the appeal of the Planning Commission's decision concerning the French Ranch Development and the Lagunitas School (see above). Kinsey set up the meeting with the Developer and one of the School's Trustees to plan for the Hearing the following day.

What resulted was that the Marin County Council Patrick Faulkner apparently influenced by the ad, attended, and insisted that the Planning Commission's approval be amended in such a way so it was perfectly clear that the county could not be construed in any way as a "public entity" which would govern any joint sewer system to be used by the French Ranch and Lagunitas School.

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