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How local citizens got incorporation onto the ballot

A dedicated group of local people worked long and hard to get incorporation of Arden Arcade on the ballot. They had to slog through the state-mandated LAFCO process that was tilted in favor of the County, hold numerous fund-raising events and basically fight a steep, uphill battle while well-funded opponenets told tall tales and made false accusations. But they DID get the Measure on the ballot. Here, from the archives of the Sacramento Bee, is their story.

"Arden Arcade cityhood supporters have a reason to smile" (Robert Lewis, Sacramento Bee, March 22, 2010)

"After almost 4 1/2 years of fits and starts – filled with community meetings, fundraising issues and bureaucratic hurdles – a small band of incorporation proponents has finally overcome the critical first phase in making Arden Arcade a brand new city.
With two key studies released recently showing such a city is both financially feasible and environmentally sound, cityhood proponents are now turning their attention to getting incorporation onto the November ballot.
"While it was a large task getting the funding and making it through the (two reports), that was kind of like step one," said Michael Grace, the Arden Arcade Incorporation Committee's vice chair.
Arden Arcade is a community of 100,000 in unincorporated Sacramento County. Proponents want a city bounded on the north by Auburn Boulevard, on the west by Ethan Way, on the east by Mission Avenue and on the south by Fair Oaks Boulevard.
Most outside the community know Arden Arcade as a shopping destination, a heavily trafficked area with popular malls and retail centers.
For several years a small group of residents and business owners has worked to break from county government and bring local control to a community they say has suffered from crime, blight and a general lack of attention from the downtown Sacramento leadership.
"In the last 10 to 15 years, things have been deteriorating," Grace said last week. Driving through the area, he pointed out vacant storefronts, several crime-ridden neighborhoods and bumpy roads – a checkerboard of gray and black from recent county patches. "While the county tries to do the best it can … they're spread very thin," he said.
Moving forward has been slow. In past incorporation efforts, such as those in Elk Grove and Rancho Cordova, the Local Agency Formation Commission let incorporation proponents pay for costly required studies as they went and after work was completed, said Peter Brundage, executive officer of LAFCO, the countywide commission that governs border changes such as annexations and incorporations.
LAFCO leadership, however, required the Arden Arcade city backers to pay upfront. Largely as a result of that, the process dragged on and the cost increased.
"The last four and a half years there was a key group of us that monthly asked ourselves 'Should we go forward?' " said Joel Archer, the incorporation committee's chairman. He said the effort took on a new sense of urgency as the county's budget problems took a toll on services, particularly the loss of sheriff's deputies.
The group was finally able to finish paying for an environmental impact report and a comprehensive fiscal analysis early this year. In the past month, LAFCO released drafts of both reports for public review.
According to the environmental study, a city of Arden Arcade – which is mostly built out – wouldn't significantly affect the environment. The fiscal analysis shows the new city would be viable, although it likely would operate with slim surpluses for several years after incorporation.
Several hurdles remain for cityhood backers, who face a tight timeline to get incorporation placed on the November ballot. The committee and county first must negotiate so-called "revenue neutrality" payments.
These legally required payments are meant to cushion the county from the sudden loss of such a large portion of its tax base. While both sides are currently working on a deal, the fiscal analysis assumes an annual payment of about $8.6 million to the county.
LAFCO also has to determine a boundary for the proposed city. Cityhood proponents are proposing to make Fair Oaks Boulevard the southern boundary of the new city. This would, however, leave a finger of unincorporated land between the city and the American River.
County officials, including Steve Szalay, interim county executive, say the southern boundary should go all the way to the river. A strip of unincorporated land with 6,400 residents would cause problems for the county, affecting such services as garbage routes, officials said.
Opponents of cityhood accuse incorporation supporters of leaving the land south of Fair Oaks Boulevard out of the proposed city because residents in that area have been more dubious of breaking from the county and could vote against such a measure.
These opponents, largely organized in a group calling itself "Stay Sacramento," say incorporation could lead to higher taxes and more government. The group has accused outside interests, including contractors who could benefit financially from a new city, of helping fund cityhood.
The incorporation committee, which has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars, has refused to release a full list of who has donated or how much they have given to fund the studies, which cost the committee more than $250,000. Archer, the committee chair, said at least one donor wants to remain anonymous and others don't want the extent of their involvement known.
Despite obstacles, cityhood backers say they are confident incorporation will make it to voters this year. In this, they might have an important ally in Brundage, LAFCO's executive officer.
"My goal is to get it on the ballot," Brundage said."

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