Three Rivers is often left out of the decision-making process when it comes to issues regarding, well, Three Rivers. We have no absolute, collective entity that wholly represents the community.
A decade ago, I wrote a multi-part series in favor of incorporation for Three Rivers. I haven’t wavered in my opinion that incorporation would be best for Three Rivers and it is worth initiating studies to determine the feasibility.
Currently, the County of Tulare is in process making some important decisions on behalf of Three Rivers that would be better handled on a local level: Sunshine Paradise Ranch LLC on the upper South Fork; Redwood Ranch, a wedding venue on South Fork; an upscale hotel project in the center of town; and a (countywide) Short-Term Rental Ordinance.
These projects provide revenue for county government and do nothing to create policy for or fund Three Rivers’s future. Three Rivers is Tulare County’s cash cow.
Tulare County Inc.
Tulare County was created in 1852. In 1874, Visalia was the first city to incorporate.
Today, the county has a half million residents. There are eight incorporated cities.
The last city to incorporate was Farmersville, almost 60 years ago. So it’s been business as usual at the County of Tulare since 1960.
Woodlake was incorporated in 1941, Exeter in 1911, Lindsay in 1910, Dinuba in 1906, Porterville in 1902, and Tulare in 1888.
When Farmersville incorporated, the community had 3,100 residents. At the time of incorporation, Woodlake and Exeter had 1,150 and 1,500, respectively.
As of the 2010 census, Three Rivers had 2,182 residents.
Incorporation usually starts with a group of residents forming a committee to explore the possibility.
An incorporation committee articulates goals, raises funds, collects signatures, assembles application materials, works with the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) staff and consultants, testifies at hearings, and negotiates revisions.
The purpose of the process, which could take a year or more to complete and has some unavoidable costs, is to ensure that the proposed incorporation is in the best interest of the community, economically feasible, and environmentally sound.
According to the State of California’s Office of Planning and Research, residents seeking incorporation should consider the following questions before making a formal proposal to LAFCO:
What is the problem, if any, driving the desire for change in the existing governmental structure? Can the problem be addressed by other means?
What is the role of the County government in the community? Is the County willing or able to address the identified problems?
What is the community’s relationship to other adjacent communities?
What would the proposed boundaries look like and how would that affect other agencies and communities?
What is the past history of local efforts to incorporate?
How is the community changing?
What is the community’s capacity for self-governance?
How are services currently provided and how would they change? Does the area have the ability to provide municipal level services if incorporated?
Who is likely to benefit from a change and who is likely to lose?
Cities can provide services through one of two models. A municipality can be a “full-service” city, which means that it provides all municipal level services (such as fire, police, garbage collection, water, sewer, etc.) through city employees in departments governed by the city council.
Alternatively, a city can be a contract city, providing many of these services through contracts with service providers such as special districts (water, parks), the county (fire, police, public transit), and private companies that provide contract municipal services (trash collection).
A new city’s revenue can come from a variety of sources. Here are some examples:
Property taxes, special district property taxes, property transfer taxes, sales tax, transient occupancy tax, state fees and taxes, franchise fees, gasoline tax, other fees and taxes, and fines and grants.
The economic strength of Three Rivers as a gateway community to a national park is dependent on park visitation, which has been increasing. The revenue currently generated from this surge in visitation goes to the County of Tulare.
A town council would be elected.
Three Rivers has three elected boards: Three Rivers Union School, Community Services District, and Memorial District, and has two seats on the seven-member Woodlake Unified School District board. In recent years, these positions have consisted of off-ballot appointments because not enough candidates file to run for election to make it a race.
Serving on the local town council wouldn’t be an easy task. Controversial decisions would have to be made. A feasibility study would determine if there is the interest of enough residents to serve in an official capacity on behalf of an incorporated Three Rivers.
Sequoia will always be looking for ways to improve the visitor experience, which will likely mean increasing visitation even more. That will lead to greater impacts on, and opportunities for, Three Rivers.
Are we going to be ready?