Big Sur Special District

Self-Governance is a lofty idea, and one which has deep roots in our heritage as a country. Here, there is a movement to create what many have called “another layer of government.”

Wikipedia notes that self-governance: “… can be used to describe a people or group being able to exercise all of the necessary functions of power without intervention from any authority which they cannot themselves alter. Self rule is associated then in contexts where there is the end of colonial rule, absolute government or monarchy, as well as demands for autonomy by religious, ethnic or geographic regions which perceive themselves as being unrepresented or underrepresented in a national government. It is therefore a fundamental tenet of republican government and democracy as well as nationalism. Gandhi’s term “swaraj” (see also “satygraha”) is a branch of this self rule ideology. Another major proponent of self-rule when a government’s actions are immoral is Thoreau.”

Hmmm … I am not sure that definition truly describes what is being sought for Big Sur, so maybe “self-governance” is not what the “special district” is about.

Wikipedia defines Special District as: “Special-purpose districts or special district governments in the United States are independent governmental units that exist separately from, and with substantial administrative and fiscal independence from, general purpose local governments such as county, municipal, and township governments.[1] As defined by the U.S. Census Bureau, the term special district governments excludes school districts.[1]

Special district governments provide specific services that are typically not provided by general-purpose governments.[1] The services they provide range from basic needs such as hospitals, sewerage, and fire protection to smaller necessities such as mosquito abatement and upkeep of cemeteries.[1] Most special districts provide only a single service.[1] In 2007, the U.S. had more than 37,000 special district governments.[2]”

Okay, so what special services are being proposed? I know one idea behind this special district is to create a community center and to create work-force housing to sustain a sense of community.

Jack Ellwanger, of Pelican Network, is the person pushing the hardest to see this happen, and has formed a committee to work on the concept of a Special District for Big Sur, a quasi-governmental agency that will have the power to levy taxes. I am unsure exactly who is on this committee, as Mr. Ellwanger has unilaterally removed my name from his notification lists – all of them, apparently because I have disagreed with him on various points, including the concept of creating a special district. However, I am not the only one who does not feel a special district is needed or wanted here in Big Sur.

One leader in the community so succinctly wrote this: “The first and most obvious point surrounding this subject is why? If it ain’t broke, what are we trying to fix by adding yet another layer of government into the mix.
If it is to support existing critical community institutions like the Big Sur Volunteer Fire Brigade or the Big Sur Health Center, I would check in with them before assuming that they are automatically supportive.

Taxation to support this new governmental entity will most likely tap the Big Sur Business Community or the Property Owners or both. Something tells me that neither will be clamoring to be the first in line to sign that petition. Nothing like a devastating forest fire and a near collapse of the US economy to spank the generosity out the potential funders of this initiative.

Finally, the Big Sur Community enjoys a very unique and greatly under-used
deliberative body in the form of the Big Sur Multi Agency Advisory Council.
Recently, that forum played a large part in the retraction of the Andrew Molera State Wilderness bill. Without that ability to convene and rationally discuss community concerns, our Assemblyman would not have really known how important the issue was to us.

BSMAAC has the potential to be a more powerful institution, but it lacks the kind of local participation necessary to elevate the quarterly proceedings to something approaching the ideals I see reflected in the governance committee’s notes. Something tells me that if folks are not showing up at BSMAAC, unless there is a volatile, direct threat to the community, they will be even less inclined to show up to the arcane proceedings of a quasi planning commission, hamstrung by the land use laws enacted by the Coastal Commission and enforced by Monterey County Planning and Building. Or maybe I’m missing something.”

The “Governance Committee” as Mr. Ellwanger has dubbed it, planned to meet sometime before the July 15th BSMAAC meeting among themselves, and then to have a luncheon meeting with our State Assemblyman, Bill Monning, to follow the BSMAAC meeting. I have already given my input to Mr. Monning, joining others who feel that the creation of a Special District with unknown goals and an unknown tax base is ill-conceived at this point. As this concept does not have the backing of many of the most influential community members, and as it seems to be rather exclusive rather than inclusive thus far, I do not see it getting any traction at this point. Despite that, some of you may be interested in providing your input to Mr. Ellwanger or to give your thoughts to Bill Monning, whose link is to the right, under representatives.

6 thoughts on “Big Sur Special District

  1. Thanks for the thorough update, Kate. I think Jack is a bit snit-prone. What you put forth sounds logical to me and I’ll try to get more informed on the subject.

  2. Thanks Kate. I was not aware of this “governance Committee”. I too will try to get more informed on the subject.


  3. There’s a couple of different ideas about local or special districts. The Government Code has what’s called a “County Service Area. These are not governed by an local elected body as in a Special District. They’re administered by County Public Works under direction of the Board of Supervisors. Yuba has a fine explanation.

    Monterey LAFCO would be the place to find out about the formation of a Special District. Those are administered by a locally elected board.

    There’s also that phrase “sphere of influence” that will raise it’s head during talks with LAFCO. Is it possible to create a district that will include all of the services needed for Big Sur? Is it to the point where a majority of the residents think the area is being neglected? Has anyone gotten involved with the redistricting of the county supervisor lines? And one more thought…only registered voters can vote in the district elections and only those who actually vote will make those decisions. Random thoughts from someone who doesn’t live there.

  4. See the (SLO) New Times article “A World All Their Own” [June 23rd issue.]

    For example, Cambria’s CSD head was paid $231,000 in salary and benefits until she was fired, and even then she will collect nearly a year’s pay as “severance pay.”

    Can Big Sur residents afford this kind of more government bureaucracy?

    We should all be willing to help the poor, the sick, the elderly, and the children in our community, but adding more layers of fat-cat government employees is not the way to do this.

  5. What, precisely, are the governmental functions that Jack intends his special district to assume? And what will the special district be able to accomplish that can’t be accomplished through existing governmental entities? As long as the answers to these questions remain secrets known only to the exalted few that Jack deigns to include in his planning process, we can all happily imagine a special district designed to advance our own pet projects and issues. I’m guessing this special district will remain a serious topic of discussion in Big Sur for just about as long as Jack can avoid having to provide specifics.

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