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Jason Walsh: MACs a promising step for Sonoma Valley communities


Municipal Advisory Councils have been around since 1971, when state legislation called for such bodies of “local citizens elected by the citizens or appointed by the board of supervisors (to form) with the purpose of representing the community to the board.”

It’s taken 46 years, but Sonoma County is finally hopping aboard the MAC truck, as the Board of Supervisors on July 18 approved plans to allow unincorporated communities to establish their own advisory councils. The councils would consist of five to seven members, appointed to two-year terms by their county supervisor and would serve in an advisory role only.

While MACs are new to Sonoma, their concept isn’t. Redevelopment advisory committees predated such councils – but since Gov. Brown dissolved state redevelopment agencies in 2012, unincorporated communities have struggled to find an impactful voice in the land-use and planning of their local neighborhoods.

Some ad hoc groups rose to fill the void. The Springs Community Alliance for instance, carried enough weight to advance that area’s own version of a general plan, aka the Springs Precise Plan. Others – such as the Sonoma City Council-appointed Sonoma Valley Citizens Advisory Commission, which offers guidance from a Valley-wide perspective – has enjoyed more official standing, though it’s remained somewhat city-limit specific.

But MACs are a step forward – they’ll adhere to county policies on meeting regularity and length and provide annual reports to supervisors. Plus, they’ll be trained in public meeting decorum, to recognize conflict-of-interest situations and no-doubt take up time and resources from county staff. In other words, they’ll involve bureaucracy.

Which is another way of saying they’ll be a part of county government – their own self-government. And that’s something for which Valley communities have been clamoring.

The Springs Community Alliance has been resilient in its efforts to guide a vision for the Highway 12 corridor. Whether it would remain as a companion to a possible Springs MAC is somewhat dubious. Perhaps SAC members would fold into a would-be Springs MAC, perhaps not – those details will be worked out.

Glen Ellen residents, meanwhile, have recently formed the Glen Ellen Forum to respond to such community issues as traffic, tourism, emergency response and the future of the Sonoma Developmental Center lands (the SDC is set to close in 2018). Our “village” to the north is ripe for a municipal advisory council.

According to the plan the Board of Supervisors approved, the MACs will be appointed by the supervisors; it’s a condition that’s already drawing heat from some community members who say the neighborhood councils should be elected by their communities in order to have some independence from the supervisors. It’s a legitimate question, since state law apparently allows for it.

For the time being, the plan for the first year in 1st District areas, is that Supervisor Gorin will solicit nominations and, from there, make appointments.

The process to initiate municipal advisory councils has only just begun. We hope the Board of Supervisors will move quickly to clear any additional hurdles so Glen Ellen and the Springs can create their own MACs and re-establish a greater voice in the direction of their communities.

Email Jason at jason.walsh@sonomanews.com.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story mis-named the Springs Community Alliance.