Wednesday, April 23, 2014
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

Special districts often have low governance profiles

SRD_special districts 1

Solano Resource District volunteer Doug Darling, right, walks through a creek at Blue Rock Springs Corridor Park in Vallejo, as Jesse Bethel High students clear away invasive plant species. The Solano Resource District is one of about 40 special districts in Solano County. (Robinson Kuntz/Daily Republic)

By
From page A1 | February 22, 2014 | 5 Comments

This is the first of a periodic series that will look at Solano County’s special districts.

FAIRFIELD — Solano County has what almost seems like a stealth government that oversees millions and millions of dollars annually.

This obscurity isn’t necessarily by choice. It’s just that most of these various bodies are governed by boards that have nowhere near the profile of city councils or the Solano County Board of Supervisors.

More than 40 special districts make decisions in the county concerning everything from cemeteries to water deliveries. They maintain levees and they fight mosquitoes and they fight fires. They are “special districts” because they are limited to specific tasks within a specific area.

Solano County isn’t unique. Special districts can be found all over the state. California’s 58 counties have either about 3,300 or 4,700 special districts, depending on how special districts are defined.

Some local districts play a big role in everyday life for citizens. The Fairfield-Suisun Sewer District runs the sewer system and the sewage treatment plant that serves Fairfield and Suisun City. The end product is water that meets federal and state environmental standards so it can be emptied into Boynton Slough in Suisun Marsh.

Some districts interact with the populace. The Solano Resource Conservation District conducts field trips in Suisun Marsh, Rockville Hills Park and various Vallejo parks that teach schoolchildren about the local environment and watershed. It helps farmers better understand the soils and hydrology of their properties and comply with state Water Board regulations.

Other local special districts are obscure for good reason – they are small and affect few people.

Most residents have little interest in Reclamation District 2034, which consists of two landowners with a duck club. The district operates a pump and the landowners share the Pacific Gas & Electric Co. bill. Its most recent expenses are unknown, according to a report by the county Local Agency Formation Commission.

Special districts have boards that are in some cases elected by voters and in others that are appointed by the county and its cities. In a few cases, city councils and the Board of Supervisors do double-duty and serve as the board.

The districts under state law are subject to public scrutiny. They post agendas for their board of directors meetings and anyone can attend. It’s just that people often don’t.

“It’s never a large amount of people,” said Jon Blegen, manager of the Solano County Mosquito Abatement District. “Some people will come in just if they’re interested. We have a lot of meetings where it’s basically the Board of Trustees and myself and the secretary/bookkeeper.”

The Solano County Auditor-Controller’s Office in the early 1990s issued audits that found problems with the financial records of several of the smaller, local special districts. No cases of embezzlement or wrongdoing surfaced, just some instances where districts didn’t make deposits on time or improperly classified some revenues.

Some special districts simply lacked expertise or didn’t make a priority out of bookkeeping, then-Auditor Controller Bill Ricciardo said in 1993.

“Often the people running the district are the same people who fight the fires,” he said.

Then-Chief Auditor Simona Padilla-Scholtens in 1993 said sloppy bookkeeping could make it possible for someone to steal money without anyone realizing it.

Twenty-one years later, Padilla-Scholtens is the county’s Auditor Controller. She sees progress on the special district front.

“I think for the most part today there has been some significant improvements for most – I don’t want to say for all,” Padilla-Scholtens said. “They have improved the controls, they have better systems, the audits reflect there are less audit deficiencies within special districts.”

Special districts are a world of their own. A 2010 state Senate Local Government Committee report found both pros and cons.

The districts can tailor services for local needs, link costs to benefits and respond to their constituents, the report said.

On the other hand, having too many special districts can create inefficiencies, with some districts providing the same services that counties and cities provide. Plus, it can be hard for residents to figure out who’s in charge, the report said.

The State Controller’s Office puts out a list of the 250 special districts in California with the most revenue. Topping the 2011-12 list is the Sacramento Municipal Utility District with more than $1.4 billion, followed by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, also with slightly more than $1.4 billion.

Solano County has only one district on the Top 250 list and that just barely – the Vallejo Sanitation and Flood Control District, at number 241 with $29.6 million.

The county’s special districts are small in the big scheme of things. Still, they handle taxpayers’ money and make decisions that help shape the community. It’s just that they often do so with few people paying attention.

Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or beberling@dailyrepublic.net. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.

Barry Eberling

Barry Eberling

Barry Eberling has been a reporter with the Daily Republic since 1987. He covers Solano County government, transportation, growth and the environment. He received his bachelors of art degree from the University of California, Santa Barbara and his masters degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley.
LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | 5 comments

The Daily Republic does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

  • The MisterFebruary 22, 2014 - 7:06 am

    While most are probably benign enough, there are some districts in the Bay Area and along the coast that have been notorious and evil for decades. These special districts were populated with Agenda 21 activists that have stripped individual property rights, increased fees, and thwarted any activity not within the agenda of Agenda 21. Special districts can be a useful segmentation of government for specific purposes, they can also be little Hitlers with no oversight and the power to take your money and restrict your property. One local example is Redevelopment. This special district let bonds that put you on the hook to repay... and you never got to vote on it. It just happened. The financial people are happy, the developers are happy, the Redevelopment Board are happy... but when it all fell apart, you are left responsible for paying for everyone's happiness... to the tune of a couple Billion dollars... just for Fairfield. Keep your eye on special districts. Thanks to Barry for this article!

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • PornacFebruary 22, 2014 - 7:56 am

    Secret government.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • B. ThiemerFebruary 22, 2014 - 10:37 pm

    Where can we find a list of all of these districts?

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Rick WoodFebruary 23, 2014 - 7:56 am

    Good idea for a series. I believe the State Controller keeps a list.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Rick WoodFebruary 23, 2014 - 7:59 am

    Special districts are a good way to be sure funds will be directed to a focused government function.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
.

Solano News

Delta barriers no longer needed

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A1

 
 
Supervisors voice concern on state Delta plans

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
Dental clinic coming Friday, Saturday

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A3, 4 Comments

 
Rotarians talk about running clinic to help Haitians

By Ian Thompson | From Page: A3 | Gallery

 
Fairfield-Suisun Sewer District eyes new auditor

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A4

 
County honors Purple Heart recipients

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A6

 
Solano recognizes 1,300-strong volunteer corps

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A6

 
Highway 12 night work scheduled in Delta

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A7

 
Kids fishing derby in Fairfield is part of Earth Day

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A7

 
Garamendi to host open house at Fairfield office

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A7

 
County approves Icon agreements

By Barry Eberling | From Page: B9

 
Ceremony set to break ground for Suisun City Walmart

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: B9, 19 Comments | Gallery

Dutch Bros. opening with free drinks

By Barry Eberling | From Page: B9, 8 Comments

 
Mustangs and More event moved back to October

By Ian Thompson | From Page: A10

Museum readies to host Sallie Fox Day in Vacaville

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A10, 1 Comment

 
Golf tournament to raise funds for children

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A10, 1 Comment

Rotary club to host clay shooting derby

By Susan Winlow | From Page: A11

 
Ghost Walk returns to Suisun City

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A11

Penalty decision looms in Winters homicide case

By Lauren Keene | From Page: A11

 
NAMI talk on reducing mental health stigma

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A11

 
.

US / World

Michigan affirmative ban is OK, Supreme Court says

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

 
In Internet TV case, justices show concern

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

GOP candidate releases education policy overview

By The Associated Press | From Page: A12

 
Analysis: Putin likely to ignore West on Ukraine

By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

Biden: Russia must ‘stop talking and start acting’

By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

 
Most Sherpas decide to leave Everest for season

By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

Grieving borrowers told to repay student loan

By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

 
Jet stowaway at hospital; security issues linger

By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

SKorea ferry toll hits 146 as search gets tougher

By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

 
Ukraine orders new ‘anti-terror’ operation

By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

In Ukraine’s east, mayor held hostage by insurgent

By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

 
Acts of bravery emerge from pilloried ship crew

By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

‘Piles and piles’ of bodies in S. Sudan slaughter

By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

 
FedEx sued over deadly California bus crash

By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

Obama views mudslide scene, mourns with survivors

By The Associated Press | From Page: A14

 
IRS awards bonuses to 1,100 who owe back taxes

By The Associated Press | From Page: A15, 3 Comments

.

Opinion

 
Editorial cartoons for April 23, 2014

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A13

 

Groundwater becomes next big California fight

By Thomas Elias | From Page: A13

 
Fairfield’s main problem is the mayor

By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A13, 6 Comments

.

Living

Solving and resolving life’s problems

By Barton Goldsmith | From Page: A2

 
Today in History for April 23, 2014

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

Community Calendar: April 23, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A2

 
 
A healthy take on the very not healthy Scotch egg

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

How can I get my 12-year-old grandson to sleep in his own bed?

By Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar | From Page: B7

 
Horoscopes for April 23, 2014

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: B7

.

Entertainment

DeGeneres making design series for HGTV

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9

 
Discovery to chronicle Everest avalanche

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9

Bieber seeks delay in Fla. DUI trial

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9

 
Bon Jovi helps open low-income housing in Philly

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9, 1 Comment

TVGrid

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A11

 
.

Sports

5 Fairfield runners finish Boston Marathon

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: B1

 
Sharks beat Kings 4-3 in OT, take 3-0 series lead

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

Prep swimming update: Postseason looms on horizon

By Paul Farmer | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
SCC softball ends regular season with 29 straight wins

By Brian Arnold | From Page: B1 | Gallery

Seahawks acquire QB Terrelle Pryor

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
NFL playoff game to air on ESPN for 1st time

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

MLB suspends 4 after Brewers-Pirates brawl

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Djokovic: Wrist better, will try to play in Madrid

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Armstrong coach Bruyneel banned for 10 years

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Pujols’ 500th HR helps Angels beat Nationals 7-2

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Rangers rally for two runs in ninth to beat A’s

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

 
Beverly Hanson, forgotten pioneer in women’s golf

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Tech boom presents new wrinkles for Wrigley Field

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Warriors announce new plans for SF arena

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Kentucky freshman Julius Randle to enter NBA draft

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
AP Source: N.Y. Giants’ Hill facing 3rd suspension

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Warriors’ Curry eager to erase Game 2 nightmare

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Spurs’ Popovich wins NBA Coach of the Year

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

Raiders begin offseason workouts

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

 
David Moyes out as Manchester United manager

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

NBA Playoffs: Raptors even series with Nets

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3 | Gallery

 
.

Business

Novartis reshapes business with GSK, Lilly deals

By The Associated Press | From Page: B9

 
McDonald’s 1Q profit slips as US sales decline

By The Associated Press | From Page: B9

AT&T had strong 1Q on wireless installment plans

By The Associated Press | From Page: B9

 
Valeant, Ackman make $45.6B Allergan bid

By The Associated Press | From Page: B9

.

Obituaries

Robert James Carty Sr.

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

 
Richard P. Horn

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

Dondi Martin

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

 
Anne Irene Elizabeth Fulgoni

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4, 3 Comments

Kyong Hee Maxwell

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

 
Norma O’Regan

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4, 1 Comment

.

Comics

For Better or Worse

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Dilbert

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Get Fuzzy

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Pickles

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Blondie

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Beetle Bailey

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Baby Blues

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Sally Forth

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Rose is Rose

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Frank and Ernest

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

B.C.

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Garfield

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Zits

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Peanuts

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Wizard Of Id

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
Baldo

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

Bridge

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

 
Sudoku

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

Cryptoquote

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

 
Crossword

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

Word Sleuth

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7