Saturday, August 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 |

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

2 shot Friday night in Fairfield

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A1, 15 Comments

 
Vallejo celebrates cultural diversity

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
Groups receive honors for going green

By Brad Stanhope | From Page: A2

 
Badges pinned for new Fairfield, Vacaville firefighters

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A3 | Gallery

 
‘Nuttin But Fun!’ theme of 2015 Dixon May Fair

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A3

 
Adult literacy efforts in need of volunteers

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A3, 1 Comment

County looks for Solano centenarians

By Barry Eberling | From Page: A3

 
Brown signs two bills by Wolk

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A4

Brain tumors are not all alike

By Scott Anderson | From Page: B8

 
Weather for Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: B10

 
Fairfield police log: Aug. 21, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

Suisun City police log: Aug. 21, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

 
.

US / World

New Obama birth control fixes for religious groups

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1, 12 Comments

 
US won’t let borders hamper fight vs. extremists

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

Interpol seeks clues to Thai ‘baby factory’

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

 
Parents had hoped to negotiate with Foley captors

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

Couple charged in alleged odometer rollback scheme

By The Associated Press | From Page: A4

 
Passengers leave trove at San Francisco airport

By The Associated Press | From Page: A4

Lawn removal in parched California draws fine

By The Associated Press | From Page: A4, 6 Comments

 
IDs of men found shot in adjacent yards released

By The Associated Press | From Page: A4

DUI arrest is California Democrats’ latest blow

By The Associated Press | From Page: A4, 2 Comments

 
Questions, answers about Missouri grand juries

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

Gov’t warns US retailers about hacking software

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
New fear: What happens in Ferguson if no charges?

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5, 2 Comments

Ice bucket challenge may change nonprofit world

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
Obama taking less vacation, but too much for some

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

Days Obama, predecessors spent on vacation

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5, 9 Comments

 
Ebola spreads in Nigeria; Liberia has 1,000 deaths

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

Mosque attack kills 64 in Iraq, Sunnis halt talks

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

 
Hamas kills 18 suspected informers to deter leaks

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

UN: death toll from Syrian civil war tops 191,000

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

 
West condemns Russia over convoy to Ukraine

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

.

Opinion

 
Boxer, Feinstein: Different routs in backing Israel

By Thomas Elias | From Page: A8

 
Somebody deserves to be fired

By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A8, 2 Comments

.

Living

Community Calendar: Aug. 23, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A2

 
Today in History: Aug. 23, 2014

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2, 1 Comment

A ‘gifted’ family member doesn’t have a degree, can’t keep a job

By Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar | From Page: A7

 
Horoscopes: Aug. 23, 2014

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: A7

.

Entertainment

Ebola outbreak revives interest in ‘The Hot Zone’

By The Associated Press | From Page: B9

 
Parole denied yet again for Lennon’s killer

By The Associated Press | From Page: B9

TVGrid

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B9

 
.

Sports

Gray pitches into 9th, A’s top Angels

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
Avila remains undefeated after opponent throws in towel

By Marcus Lomtong | From Page: B1 | Gallery

Offense struggles, Raiders fall to Packers 31-21

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Panik, Giants end Nationals’ 10-game win streak

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Ryu has 66, leads by 5 at Canadian Women’s Open

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Goodes leads Boeing Classic by 1 stroke

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Davis’ accomplishments still inspire despite loss

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

Versatile Martin looks to earn 49ers roster spot

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

 
New, longer grass laid at 49ers’ Levi’s Stadium

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

US picks 12-man roster for basketball World Cup

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Blaney steals 1 from Kyle Busch on final restart

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Harvick wins Bristol pole; 5th of this season

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Chevrolet wins IndyCar manufacturers championship

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Scott, Tringale tied for the lead at Barclays

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
This date in sports history for Aug. 23, 2014

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

 
.

Business

Fitbit to Schumer: We don’t sell personal data

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

 
Jell-O can’t stop slippery sales slide

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

At Jackson Hole, central bankers eye varying goals

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

 
Yellen: Job market makes Fed hesitant on rate hike

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

Lawsuits challenge FAA drone, model aircraft rules

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

 
.

Obituaries

Mary Louise Loveall

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

 
Sandra “Sandy” Caldwell Garton

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4, 1 Comment

Paul Nolin

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

 
.

Comics

Baldo

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

 
Peanuts

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

Zits

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

 
B.C.

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

Blondie

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

 
Rose is Rose

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

Frank and Ernest

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

 
Wizard of Id

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

Beetle Bailey

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

 
For Better or Worse

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

Baby Blues

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

 
Get Fuzzy

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

Garfield

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

 
Pickles

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

Sally Forth

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

 
Dilbert

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A6

Cryptoquote

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A7

 
Bridge

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A7

Crossword

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A7

 
Sudoku

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A7

Word Sleuth

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A7

 
.

Home Seller 08/23/14

Real estate transactions for Aug. 23, 2014

By Daily Republic | From Page: HSR2

Average US 30-year mortgage rate at 4.10 percent

By The Associated Press | From Page: HSR3