Month: May 2018

Volunteers, nonprofits reviving some California state parks

Brandishing a pair of industrial-strength loppers longer than her arm, Elisa Rogalado plunges into a blackberry thicket lining the main road in Sonoma County’s Sugarloaf Ridge State Park.

“If you love something, you should take care of it,” says the retired Santa Rosa resident, yanking out a gnarly bramble that’s clogging the road’s drainage ditch. “And look,” says Rogalado, beaming as she pulls back her sweatshirt sleeve to reveal a turquoise-blue Garmin activity tracker. “I’ve burned 519 calories.”

Elisa isn’t the only one pitching in at Sugarloaf Ridge on this spring morning. Just up the road, a team of volunteers in hard hats cut down oaks and bays damaged in last fall’s destructive fires. (Roughly 80 percent of the rugged, 3,900-acre park was burned.) And in a few days, more than 60 volunteers will flood into the park to rebuild trails, clear debris and otherwise pitch in.

All these volunteers are coordinated not by California State Parks but by Team Sugarloaf, a partnership of five nonprofit organizations that now oversee the park’s daily operations. Responsibilities include coordinating volunteers, running the campground, staffing the visitor center, maintaining and protecting the park’s natural, cultural and historic resources, and paying the salary for the park supervisor and other personnel.

It’s part of a statewide trend that’s seeing nonprofit organizations, philanthropies, volunteers, cultural institutions and companies taking on bigger roles in operating California’s 280 state park units. And all eyes are on us as other states — and even the National Park Service — face similar challenges. (Full disclosure: The author is a member of Friends of China Camp State Park.)

“People here are so passionate, and willing not just to complain but roll up their sleeves and be part of the solution, and we’re willing to take a chance to work with them,” says California State Parks Director Lisa Mangat. “It’s a historic time. California has the opportunity to be the innovator, and the leader.”

The marriage between parks and partners isn’t new. The park system has been working with outside organizations and businesses for decades. (Think the woodsy camp store in Big Basin State Park near Santa Cruz.) But what is new is the extent to which these organizations are handling the day-to-day operation of the parks.

What started it all? In a word, crisis. In 2011, California’s budget was in a tailspin. To help cut costs, Gov. Jerry Brown announced a plan to lock the gates at up to 70 park parcels — news that shocked the public and kick-started local efforts to figure out how to keep parks open.

Nowhere did the grim news hit harder than in Sonoma County.

“We were staring at five parks closing,” explains Richard Dale, executive director of the Sonoma Ecology Center, which works to sustain ecological health in Sonoma Valley. While individual organizations signed up to stave off closure at four of the five Sonoma County parks facing closure, there was one park with no takers.

“Sugarloaf was the orphan,” says Dale.

To fill the gap, five groups said they could each take on some of the responsibilities of running the park. Sonoma County Trails Council would manage and maintain the park’s trails. Another group would run interpretive programs. Volunteers would continue to offer star-gazing programs at Robert Ferguson Observatory, near the center of the park. A private concessionaire would run the campground. And Sonoma Ecology Center would oversee general operations.

Partnership agreements were quickly cobbled together, and after a few tense weeks in early 2012 when Sugarloaf’s gates were locked, the park opened again.

“We had no idea whether it would work or not,” says Dale. “But I was hopeful that we could pull it off.”

Mangat says that the budget crisis called for these kinds of emergency solutions. “These partnerships didn’t go through the methodical planning process that we’re famous for in state government. The circumstances and the times required that we act. It was a leap of faith.”

With volunteer, nonprofit and other organizations keeping parks like Sugarloaf open, albeit in ad hoc fashion, the park system started to do some serious self-reflection.

“The institution had ossified,” says Michael Mantell, president of the Resources Legacy Fund and an expert in philanthropies and conservation efforts. “The department had become locked into a 1950s way of thinking.”

Hikers in Sugarloaf Ridge State Park wind through a forest of blackened oaks, already sprouting new growth following last fall’s fires. Photo: Harriot Manley / Special To The Chronicle

Photo: Harriot Manley / Special To The Chronicle

Hikers in Sugarloaf Ridge State Park wind through a forest of blackened oaks, already sprouting new growth following last fall’s fires.

To get more modern, California State Parks set up a Parks Forward commission, with Mantell and other independent experts on board. The commission was assigned to deliver a road map for achieving long-term sustainability for the park system. It also explored how to “make parks more relevant for California’s growing and changing population,” Mantell says.

After two years of research, Parks Forward concluded that local groups and volunteers pitching in with dollars and free or low-cost labor was an effective way to better manage parks — not to mention connecting people and parks in a powerful and meaningful way.

That didn’t mean that the state should hand over the keys to partners. Instead, says Mangat, it motivated the department to act. “We sat down with our partners to find out what areas they thought they were really strong at, and what areas might not be their thing,” she explains.

What’s beginning to gel now, as long-term cooperative agreements between parks and partners take shape, is a hybrid management style. Partners may handle day-to-day operations or other key roles, while State Parks takes on law enforcement, resource management and maintenance, and provides general oversight. The department has also created a Partnership Office, with staff focusing on nurturing and developing these new roles.

“It’s not cookie-cutter,” stresses Mangat. “We need to have conversations, so partners can focus on strengths.”

There’s also a focus on bringing in talent from outside the department. Brown’s 2018 budget includes funding for more than 360 new park positions, including rangers, resource specialists, cultural professionals, even lifeguards — almost all of them to work in the field, not in Sacramento.

Another directive is designed to attract Californians who haven’t traditionally visited parks, such as Millennials and ethnic groups. That could mean increasing the number of organized events, like the popular summertime concert series at Jack London State Park in Glen Ellen.

It could also mean more places to stay overnight at state parks, off the ground and in clustered shelters that better allow for groups and large families. In the Bay Area, Angel Island plans to add 13 cabins, potentially using a “wedge” design created by architecture students at Cal Poly Pomona. In Calaveras Big Trees State Park, 10 to 15 new cabins are in the works. These could be grouped to give a sense of community, and better serve all types of visitors.

California’s June ballot could also bring good news. Passage of Proposition 68 would authorize $4 billion in bonds, $3 billion of that earmarked for state and local parks and water projects.

Ultimately, the path that parks take may be up to the people who enjoy them — whether it is how they vote, what groups they support, or how they pitch in to keep the parks thriving and healthy.

“It’s all about giving back and contributing,” says Elisa Rogalado, still smiling as she cuts back more brambles at Sugarloaf. “And it’s a heck of a lot better than watching daytime TV.”

Harriot Manley is a freelance writer and photographer. email: travel@sfchronicle.com.

More parks with partners

Like Sugarloaf Ridge Regional Park, other state parks, historic sites and recreation areas threatened with closure in 2011 have also risen, phoenix like, from the ashes of a grim financial future. Here are three more that not only kept the gates unlocked but have forged new partnerships, connected with their communities, and thrived.

Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park

This downtown park, protecting the only remaining building of the 12th Franciscan mission outpost, has a guardian angel in Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks.

“In 2009 every one of the parks in our district was threatened with closure,” said Bonny Hawley, executive director of Friends of Santa Cruz. “We rallied the community and kept all the parks open. In 2011, when closures were threatened again, we offered to fund a portion of park operations at the mission.”

The group also organizes mission events, including the annual Mole & Mariachi Fest (held the Saturday after Labor Day). The food and music event brings in much-needed dollars for recent mission projects, including replacing floors with handcrafted adobe bricks and replastering walls. It’s also a nod to the region’s rich Hispanic culture.

“This community loves its parks,” says Hawley, “and we’re able to tap into that passion.”

Austin Creek State Recreation Area

Protecting rugged canyons, lush meadows, and a former artists colony, this roughly 5,600-acre park east of Guerneville is now managed by the nonprofit Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods. The partnership has paid off big time. “Campground revenues have gone from $30,000 to $90,000 a year,” says Stewards executive director Michele Luna.

Another accomplishment: the reopening of the historic Pond Farm, an experimental artists colony on the southeastern tip of Austin Creek. In the late 1930s, Marguerite Wildenhain, a Jewish master potter, fled Europe and settled at the hilly farm, where she taught the art of ceramics until the 1980s, when the farm was closed.

Photo: Harriot Manley / Special To The Chronicle

Laura Tyler Neely of Fairfax studies a pitcher, part of a display showing the teaching process used by master potter Marguerite Wildenhain at Austin Creek State Recreation Area near Guerneville.

According to Luna, nearly $500,000 from a 2006 state bond measure was secured by Stewards and used to restore the farm’s ark-like barn. (It still houses the rows of foot-powered kick wheels used by Wildenhain and her students.) More restoration plans are in the works, and volunteers lead monthly Pond Farm tours. There’s talk of an artist-in-residence program, too.

“We have a strong arts community in Guerneville,” notes Luna. “It makes sense to be part of that.”

China Camp State Park

At China Camp State Park in San Rafael, the nonprofit Friends of China Camp came to the rescue when closure was threatened, rallying donors and volunteers to keep the park open. Today, the group provides all staffing in the park and oversees daily operations, including the maintenance of miles of multiuse trails.

That proved to be a daunting responsibility when the 2017 winter rains washed out a 20-foot stretch of China Camp’s popular Shoreline Trail. Government funding for repairs were held up, so Friends, wanting to get the trail open, decided to fix the slide — and foot the bill.

That’s when the group turned to locals. “The San Rafael Rock Quarry donated 300 tons of rock, and volunteers pitched in to do much of the work — totaling about $50,000 worth of free labor and materials,” says Executive Director Martin Lowenstein. “That kind of support shows you what an organization can do when working with the local community.”

High Wind Watch issued May 09 at 12:49PM PDT until May 12 at 4:00AM PDT by NWS

NOAA-NWS-ALERTS-CA125AA414FA94.HighWindWatch.125AA44175B0CA.MTRNPWMTR.1ccf14f16247969e4bd9ff4af6657109 w-nws.webmaster@noaa.gov 2018-05-09T12:49:00-07:00 Actual Alert Public Alert for East Bay Hills and the Diablo Range; North Bay Mountains (California) Issued by the National Weather Service Met High Wind Watch Future Severe Possible SAME HWA 2018-05-11T20:00:00-07:00 2018-05-12T04:00:00-07:00 NWS Monterey (The San Francisco area) High Wind Watch issued May 09 at 12:49PM PDT until May 12 at 4:00AM PDT by NWS Monterey …Strong winds Friday night for North and East Bay Hills and Santa Cruz Mountains… .A system dropping into northern Nevada on Friday night will produce a strong pressure gradient across the Bay Area Hills. Northeast winds from 25 to 40 mph with frequent gusts to 55 mph will be possible from around sunset Friday night through early Saturday morning, especially above 1000 to 1500 feet. The hills of Napa county will likely see the strongest winds earlier Friday evening as the winds then pass over the rest of the East Bay Hills, Santa Cruz Mountains and higher terrain of Marin County. This will be the first strong offshore wind event of the spring so any weak trees, limbs or powerlines may be vulnerable for toppling. Take action now to secure loose objects if you have property interests in the North and East Bay Hills and Santa Cruz Mountains. …HIGH WIND WATCH REMAINS IN EFFECT FROM FRIDAY EVENING THROUGH LATE FRIDAY NIGHT… * TIMING…Friday evening through early Saturday morning. * WINDS…Northeast winds 25 to 40 mph with gusts to 55 mph. Highest wind speeds will occur in higher elevation locations, especially ridge tops and peaks. * IMPACTS…Blowing debris, difficult driving conditions for high profile vehicles, and potential for downed trees and powerlines. A High Wind Watch means there is the potential for a hazardous high wind event. Sustained winds of at least 40 mph…or gusts of 58 mph or stronger may occur. Continue to monitor the latest forecasts. WMOHEADER UGC CAZ507-511 VTEC /O.CON.KMTR.HW.A.0001.180512T0300Z-180512T1100Z/ TIME…MOT…LOC

East Bay Hills and the Diablo Range; North Bay Mountains FIPS6 006001 FIPS6 006013 FIPS6 006041 FIPS6 006055 FIPS6 006085 FIPS6 006097 UGC CAZ507 UGC CAZ511

Stumptown parade

Guerneville’s remarkable diversity goes on display Saturday, May 12, when the annual Stumptown Parade rolls down Main Street starting at 11 a.m.

The parade always celebrates fire trucks, marching bands and trucks carrying bands but can also accommodate spontaneous entries in a cowboy hat or a tie-dye T-shirt and walking a dog.

In other words it’s not exactly the Santa Rosa Rose Parade but that’s the whole idea. One year Jerry the Can Man, the Villa Grande resident who used to pick up cans and bottles downtown for recycling, wore a three-cornered hat and carried a musket and won a prize in the novelty division. The other parade categories include floats, trucks, automobiles, color guard, drill team bands and a horse & animal division.

The Russian River Chamber of Commerce is proudly presenting the 72nd annual Stumptown Daze Parade whose theme this year is “Super Heroes.”  

This year’s parade grand marshal is Skip Cassady who has served the Guerneville, Russian River and west county community for over 30 years and is known for his service and support for El Molino High School sports programs.

Post-parade fun includes a barbecue and live music in the Lark Drug parking lot on Main Street where the Russian River Firefighters’ Association grills tri-tip and chicken dinners served with beans, salad and garlic bread. The menu has child plates, barbecued oysters and beer and wine available from noon to 6 p.m.

“The Stumptown Daze Parade has a long history in Guerneville and the Russian River Chamber of Commerce is proud to have many entries representing the variety and diversity of our area celebrating local pride and showcasing agriculture, leisure activity, horsemanship, music and art, businesses, schools, classic cars, motorcycle clubs, non-profits and river culture,” said the chamber’s parade announcement.

“The Stumptown Daze Parade honors our place in history as a rugged, beautiful landscape; a frontier settled by Pomo Indians, Russian fur traders, railroad barons and loggers.”

True Value Hardware of Guerneville, the County of Sonoma, Friends of Stumptown, and the Russian River Chamber of Commerce are the 2018 parade sponsors.

The 10 Coolest Airstream Hotels To Check Into In 2018

Thanks to Instagram we’ve all become obsessed with living the best travel lives we can live.

And while travel trends come and go, there’s certainly one trend that we’re all too happy to see still going strong in 2018, and that’s Airstream camping. Because ever since the first Airstream was built in 1929 they’ve changed the way we thought about how, and where, we can travel.

From the mountains of France to the California desert, I’ve compiled a list of 10 Airstreams hotels that I think are particularly wanderlust worthy. And that, most importantly, require no towing.

El Cosmico, Marfa, Texas

El Cosmico is a particularly trendy and quirky hotel where the sleeping options range from yurts, safari tents, tepees, and even traditional rooms, to Airstreams – which are, if you ask me (and this list), the coolest option of the bunch. From a small 13-footer to a trailer measuring in at 42 feet long, come alone and mingle with this super hip crowd, or bring a group of friends and make a desert detox out of it. Check out their Goings On calendar before you go – there’s an eclectic mix of festivals, workshops, cook outs, bands, yoga retreats and more that are also worth heading here for.

Nick Simonite

El Cosmico in Marfa, Texas

Caravan Outpost, Ojai, California

Caravan Outpost is by far one of my favorite places to stay in all of Southern California. Plus, have you seen Ojai? I’d argue that it’s one of the cutest towns in the world. So, camping in a super cute, decked out Airstream just makes sense here. The trailers can sleep one to five people, they all come with record players and records (which you can swap out in the General Store), all of them are equipped with showers – but there are also beautiful communal showers and bathrooms on-site, and refrigerators, pots and pans, plates and utensils and A/C and heating are standard in each. At night, expect a bon fire and s’mores and conversations with some of the coolest travelers you’ll come across anywhere, the people that stay here are just as interesting as the Outpost itself.

Breanna Wilson

Caravan Outpost in Ojai, California

Bel Repayre Airstream and Retro Trailer Park, Manses, France

Situated on top of a hill with beautiful views of the surrounding Pyrenees Mountains, Bel Repayre isn’t in a touristy area of France, and that’s exactly what makes it so perfect. Quiet and peaceful, guests come here to spend time in the landscaped gardens, lounge trailer-side on sunbeds and take in the views from the trailer park’s Canadian red cedar wood hot tub. The Airstreams here are all vintage (‘40s to ‘80s models), and there’s even an Airstream converted into a bar, and another converted into a food truck. The French clearly know how to have a good time no matter where they are.

Bel Repayre Airstream and Retro Trailer Park

Bel Repayre Airstream and Retro Trailer Park in Manses, France

AutoCamp, Santa Barbara and Guerneville, California

With locations in Santa Barbara and Guerneville, I must admit that the Russian River AutoCamp in Guerneville is my favorite of the two (although the Santa Barbara camp is still pretty spectacular). Maybe it’s because the Russian River campsite is nestled among the Redwoods, with the Russian River, where you can spend your days swimming, canoeing or just relaxing at the beach, sits just outside your trailer door. Or maybe it’s because even though you’re just 90 minutes from San Francisco, in the heart of Sonoma wine country, this feels like a real escape, but without the whole having to rough it part – all of the Airstreams are outfitted with coffeemakers, TVs and internet. But now that I think about it, it’s probably because you can also book packages like the Cocoa n Camping Mugs or the Pinot Lovers package and have Ghirardelli hot chocolate mix or wine waiting for you when you arrive.

Aubrie Pick

Russian River AutoCamp in Guerneville, California

Camping Ca’Savio Italy Airstream, Venice and Rome, Italy

Everyone has seen the Colosseum, but not everyone has glamped in Rome, and that’s a real bucket list item to check off this year. Camping Ca’Savio’s Airstream’s in Rome (and Venice) are your only chance to glamp in Italy, and I’ll be the first to admit that even though camping isn’t exactly the typical way to visit the Eternal City, typical is boring, and this is anything but. Instead, imagine sitting beachside in Venice or escaping to the camp’s garden oasis outside of Rome’s chaotic city center where you’ll experience a side to these cities most others won’t. Now that’s what I call living la dolce vita.

Camping Ca’Savio

Camping Ca’Savio Italy Airstream in Rome, Italy

Hicksville Trailer Palace & Artist Retreat, Joshua Tree, California

With trailers having themes from western to alien, Hicksville is a quirky getaway in one of California’s best places for a desert retreat: Joshua Tree. This place doesn’t take itself too seriously, and guests can do everything from testing out their skills with a BB gun on the retreat’s BB gun shooting range to taking a dip in their solar heated pool (which is only open from March to November). Mini golf, darts, corn hole and an archery range are also part of the Hicksville experience, so you can spend the day kicking your travel partner’s ass at just about every silly sport out there.

Hicksville Trailer Palace & Artist Retreat

Hicksville Trailer Palace & Artist Retreat in Joshua Tree, California

BaseCamp Young Hostel Bonn, Bonn, Germany

A tour bus, two Volkswagen buses, a rooftop tent on top of a GDR Trabant, two totally decked out sleeper trains, four Airstream trailers, and a few more not-so-typical places to rest your head, this is the wackiest hotel on the list, by far. Not only do most of these – I’ll call them, interesting – accommodations sit inside an old storage facility turned faux campground, but they all come complete with faux front lawns, lawn chairs and props, each fitting the theme of the accommodation. There’s also a food-van and a beer-garden out front, because – as you can tell – this place has dreamed up, and included, just about everything.

BaseCamp Young Hostel Bonn

BaseCamp Young Hostel Bonn in Bonn, Germany

Shooting Star RV Resort, Escalante, Utah

While other campers will be bringing their own RVs and Airstream trailers, you can go the easier (and some might say, smarter) route and rent one of the eight Airstreams already onsite here. Designed to resemble dressing trailers for Old Hollywood stars, the movie theme here is fun and playful. Stay in Marilyn’s trailer while she was filming Some Like it Hot, John Wayne’s trailer while he was filming The Searchers, or Robert Redford’s trailer while he filmed Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. When the sun goes down jump in one of the hotel’s vintage cars and watch a movie at their drive-in theater, the same way you would have when these Old Hollywood movies first came out.

Shooting Star RV Resort

Shooting Star RV Resort in Escalante, Utah

Kate’s Lazy Desert Airstream Motel, Landers, California

Good luck choosing between a stay in Tinkerbell, Hot Lava or Hairstream – these trailers are all quirky, fun and a whole lot of retro. And that’s because owner Kate Pierson – one of the founding members of a little band called the B-52’s – is all those things, and more. Once you do finally decide which trailer you’ll call home for a few days, unpack, settle in and then head outside to explore – this is the perfect starting point to experience the magic of the Mojave Desert and surrounding Joshua Tree. At night, stick with the fun and music theme and make the 20 minute drive to Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneer Town Palace, where there’s almost always a live band playing, the food is excellent and drinks are served in mason jars.

Kate’s Lazy Desert Airstream Motel

Kate’s Lazy Desert Airstream Motel in Landers, California

Hotel Daniel, Vienna, Austria

Okay, Hotel Daniel is a traditional hotel, but there are three words to explain why this Airstream trailer had to make this list: free standing bathtub. Yes, you heard me right, there’s a full-size bathtub that sits inside this Airstream, and that alone is worth seeking out a night in this trailer. Not to mention, this 1952 Silver Creek Clipper has been beautifully redone to feature a clean, bright interior complete with wood panels and metal accents that make you completely forget that you’re in an Airstream. And while roughing it and camping are cool, you’re still essentially staying in a hotel, which means you still get all the perks – who doesn’t love a great hotel breakfast?

Hotel Daniel

Hotel Daniel in Vienna, Austria

High Wind Watch issued May 09 at 2:49AM PDT until May 12 at 4:00AM PDT by NWS

…Strong winds Friday night for North and East Bay Hills… .A system dropping into northern Nevada on Friday night will produce a strong pressure gradient across the Bay Area Hills. Northeast winds from 25 to 40 mph with frequent gusts to 55 mph will be possible from around sunset Friday night through early Saturday morning, especially above 1000 to 1500 feet. The hills of

The Guerneville Bank Club Opening

STREET DANCE — Jazz and western swing music by Out of the Blue had listeners dancing in the street in Guerneville last Saturday at the third anniversary party celebrating the opening of the Guerneville Bank Club ice cream parlor. Band members (from left to right) are Mark Larson, guitar and vocals, Carol Shumate, bass fiddle, Curtis Duff, pedal steel guitar and Phil Lawrence, mandolin.

River communities exit Palm Drive Health Care District

It was mostly a formality but it nevertheless drew protests last week when county officials formally removed the lower Russian River area from the Palm Drive Health Care District’s designated “sphere of influence.“

“We didn’t really expect to be in this position,” of having the river area detached and then cut from the sphere of influence (SOI), said Palm Drive Health Care District Director Gail Thomas before the final vote by members of the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO). “I’m asking you to really reconsider” the reduction, Thomas told LAFCO, the county panel that regulates government district services and boundaries.

Thomas along with Palm Drive Health Care District Executive Director Alanna Brogan and Palm Drive Health Care District Board President  

Dennis Colthurst asked LAFCO members to back off on the reduced SOI designation, despite the successful petition drive last year by lower Russian River residents wanting to get out of the district.

Sebastopol resident Joan Marler, whose husband Dan Smith has been instrumental in providing financial support to keep the former Palm Drive Hospital going as Sebastopol’s Sonoma West Medical Center (SWMC), said she was concerned that reducing the SOI “would open the door” for a more radical “zero sphere of influence” designation that could precede a dissolution of the entire health care district.

Russian River residents “may want to rejoin” the district sometime in the future, said Marler.

But LAFCO Chairwoman Teresa Barrett, who also serves on the Petaluma city council, agreed with Fifth District Sonoma County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins and fellow LAFCO panelists last week in pointing out that amending the SOI “doesn’t change anything” as far as SWMC’s ongoing medical services and financial challenges.

Detached Russian River area taxpayers can always petition to be annexed back into the health care district “if there’s a groundswell of support,” said Hopkins.

However, “I think it’s incredibly unlikely in the next 10 years the river will suddenly want to rejoin given the tremendous grassroots support for detachment,” said Hopkins when LAFCO took an initial straw vote last month to remove river communities from the health care district’s sphere of influence.

“I think it’s time to move on,” said Hopkins. If river residents ever want to rejoin the district they always have the option, said Hopkins, adding “let’s leave that to the river.”

LAFCO’s unanimous vote culminated a nearly three-year effort by lower Russian River property owners to free themselves from the health care district’s taxing power that extracts $155 in annual parcel taxes paid by west county property owners within the district’s boundaries.

The loss of future Russian River area parcel tax revenues will ultimately cut the Palm Drive Health Care district’s annual parcel tax income by 40 percent, according to LAFCO.

Health care district property owners pay an annual parcel tax of $155, which prior to detachment added up to approximately $3.5 million to pay district bond debt and help support SWMC operations.

The river’s parcel tax bills are expected to gradually decrease as the district pays off approximately $27 million in bond debt and settles a pending bankruptcy case.

The original 200-square-mile hospital district comprised nine school districts encompassing the communities of Sebastopol, Graton, Forestville, Occidental, Freestone, the coast from Bodega Bay to Jenner, Duncans Mills, Villa Grande, Monte Rio, Guerneville and Summerhome Park.

Last week’s vote means “LAFCO doesn’t think the district is going to grow in next five or 10 years,” said LAFCO Executive Officer Mark Bramfitt.

River taxpayers are still obligated to continue paying their share of health care debts incurred before the detachment last year.

But it remained unclear last week whether health care district taxpayers including the river may be responsible for repaying approximately $13 million in alleged overcharges that health insurer Anthem Blue Cross says the hospital owes for a discontinued toxicology testing program. Anthem’s lawyers say the toxicology program was basically part of a billing scam that gamed health insurance reimbursement rules.

Anthem’s claim says SWMC and the health care district were both involved in the effort to exploit medical billing rates that allow smaller rural hospitals like SWMC to charge higher rates for toxicology tests, a partnership that SWMC entered into last year with Florida-based Durall Capital Holdings.

Anthem’s claim, precursor to a potential lawsuit, demands that SWMC return $13 million in billings for drug testing services funneled to SWMC from Durall.

If Anthem is able to claw back the $13 million it could bankrupt SWMC and close the hospital, some county sources warned last week.