Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Monte Rio sewer: money down the toilet?

According to intrepid (& highly knowledgeable, pleasant & witty in person) reporter Elise Roberts' February 1, 2007 article in the Russian River Monthly ("State grant moves MR sewer closer"), the California Department of Water Resources has approved a $3.5 million grant towards construction of the sewer plant, but the county has repeatedly refused Monte Rio resident Doreen Atkinson's requests for a public meeting (the usual lame excuses ... they're sending out a letter, they need to review bids first, blah blah blah). I probably don't need to go on & on about the content of this article, since you'll all be able to read it for yourselves when the Russian River Monthly arrives in our mail boxes sometime this week.

Now, I probably am not as well-informed as I should be, since I live in Rio Nido (where we already pay a whopping $800 assessment per year for the Guerneville sewer -- more than we were paying in the Bay Area) & have only been here for two years.

But I harbor strong doubts about whether the Monte Rio Sewer will ever get built & am not entirely convinced that it should get built, for the following reasons:

  1. It's hideously expensive: The tax assessment for the sewer will be over $1000 per month per parcel (unit of real estate -- property taxes are either payed directly by property owners or passed on to tenants via rent) because the town only has something like 400 households & a handful of well-run & viable -- but not immensely wealthy & mostly family-run -- businesses amongst which to divvy up the costs (the Monte Rio Chamber of Commerce describes it as a "small community ... snuggled between the river and the redwood crested mountains."). Yegads ... unless the majority of Monte Rio denizens of my acquaintance merely act as though they work hard to make ends meet because their modesty & sense of noblesse-oblige prohibits them from flaunting their immense personal wealth, I know of very few -- if any -- people who can comfortably afford the extra $1K+ per year.
  2. There doesn't seem to be much enthusiasm in Monte Rio: I hear that the measure for approving the sewer project only passed by 25 votes (out of 1,104 residents, 549 households, 233 households & 807 housing units, according to the Monte Rio entry in Wikipedia). Most of the people I know or have spoken with on this subject either respond by spewing coruscating torrents of vitriol at worst or express tepid approval or resignation at best. For example, a friend confessed to me that "we do spend close to that on our septic system anyway." That's the most positive thing I've heard any one say about the prospective sewer project. This makes me wonder ... who, exactly, is for the Monte Rio sewer project? Somebody has to be.
  3. Problems with the proposed site: The county wants to locate the sewer treatment plant on the river-front portion of what is now Sheridan Ranch -- a beautiful, historic, ecologically-sensitive, & valuable (by the standards of environmentalists, real estate developers, businesses, & community activists alike), 20-acre property that extends from a long stretch of the river-front in the southern part of Monte Rio across River Road/116 & towards the East. Not only do significant segments of the community object, but the owners (who have listed the property for sale at $4 million) refuse to sell the river-front portion of their property to the County. I can only imagine that the eminent-domain-sale price did not appeal to them, plus, they surely must have anticipated that the presence of a sewer treatment plant along the river front would significantly devalue the remainder of their property. So far, the courts have sided with the owners of Sheridan Ranch. Even if the county succeeds in purchasing the proposed site, potential adverse environmental consequences & related studies could hold back development of the sewer for years & years.
  4. Proposed costs keep escalating: While a myriad of disputes rage through the community of Monte Rio, the projected costs of building the proposed sewer system continue to increase exponentially. It doesn't seem to matter how much the sewer proponents manage to raise from state agencies & others ... the costs continue to escalate beyond reach.
Meanwhile, the entire community of Monte Rio struggles under the burdens imposed by what amounts to a building & remodeling moratorium, because septic systems cannot be constructed or upgraded. Financially strapped families cannot build a desperately-needed new bedroom or bathroom for their new children or aging in-laws. Businesses cannot set up or expand. Land, in effect, cannot be built upon & hence cannot be bought & sold. Monte Rio's formerly prosperous downtown (part of which was destroyed in a fire) remains blighted & buildings must be razed to the ground because their proximity to the river do not allow them to rebuild septic & plumbing systems that would conform to today's standards.

Do the County representatives hope to starve the residents & business people of Monte Rio into submission & subsequently hold them up as an example to the rest of us in Western Sonoma County? I suspect so, although I would prefer to think not. If they wished us well, they would encourage us to find & implement more creative solutions for our community's slow-growth needs.


Anonymous said...

Can you spell T-O-R-R?

Russian River Rattina said...

Dear anonymous,

you just did ;^) ... Thank you for bringing up a valid point.

The Torr family has lived in Monte Rio for generations, are movers & shakers in this community, & they own a lot of the real estate in downtown Monte Rio. Much of which cannot be developed or rebuilt due to stricter standards for septic systems & erosion.

In a way, I can't blame the Torrs for wanting a new sewer system so they can develop & profit from their land-holdings. If I had invested in all these properties & was told that I couldn't do anything with them, I would feel TOTALLY ticked off.

Yet I feel disappointed in the lack of respect, sense of community, & innovative leadership on the part of the powers-that-be -- which include the Torr family.

Investing redevelopment money into more affordable & environmentally beneficial technologies -- including upgraded septic systems, composting toilets, rainwater collection, & gray-water plumbing systems (which recycle non-drinkable but harmless water waste from washing dishes, clothes, cars & our bodies with environmentally safe cleaning products) -- would enrich our community both spiritually (we're taking good care of the earth as the Bible/Torah/Koran & most other important religious & philosophical texts command us to do) & economically (we can achieve greater resource independence as individuals & also utilize the beautiful Sheridan Ranch property for revenue-producing eco-tourism instead of some nasty sewer plant).

I wish the Torr family would put their formidable energy, resources, & clout into pressuring the county to adopt more sustainable & ecologically sound development practices. We have a chance to become a world-renowned model for economically & environmentally successful redevelopment & the Torrs are missing a huge opportunity to work towards the common good while also benefiting themselves & to make a huge name for themselves. Orrin Theissen, where are you?

We River Rats & Rattinas have the caring, commitment, diversity, talent & community activism required for such an undertaking. Here along the banks of the Russian River, the rednecks, gays, soccer moms, radical Christians, homeless, blue-collar tradespeople, white-collar professionals, ethnic minorities, dot-com millionaires, & numerous other contingents who normally don't mix with one another have to -- and do -- look each other in the eye & interact with one another. After all, this IS a small community.

We are caring, tolerant, independent, hard-working & willing to sacrifice & help an awful danged lot for the good of our community IF our needs & input are respected.

Amanda Atkinson said...

Thank you all of your thoughtful comments and research. I moved to Monte Rio with my husband (who has lived here his whole life). We moved in almost five years ago, after the original vote, but before the "protest" vote. No one in all this time has given me any proof that my septic system is failing to the point of environmental hazard. Or failing at all. If they did, I would fix it!
This project is so costly finacially and environmentally for our community. We have two small children, under the age of five, here in Monte Rio and we both work full time to keep up with everyday costs of living. This $1200 a year increase in our taxes would definitely become a burden, not to mention the initial costs to hook-up, which are around $10,000 and the yearly up keep.
Also, if any part of the system breaks down due to a power outage (which I'm sure you know happens any time the wind blows out here) I will not be able to flush my toilet!
I am enraged that I am being forced to pay for something than will ruin this beautiful area for myself and my family. I think that there are a few greedy people in Santa Rosa and one big Greedy company named Questa that have no concern for the people who actually live here.

Again. Thank you for your concern, because there are lots of families in this area that do not want this type of system. I am open to something a lot more environmentally friendly and cost effective.

One more point, Doreen has been fighting for years for a full report of the accounting and money spent since this project has started. She has been met with resistance at every point of the process and still has no report. How much tax payers money have they spent just to trying to push this through in 9 years? This should be a question for all residents in Sonoma County, not just the ones that are directly affected by this disaster!

Thank you for your blog space!
Amanda Atkinson
Monte Rio resident in the
"Proposed" sewer district