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Set My People Free
Coastside Group Pushing New City
By Tim Hay, STAFF WRITER Saturday, October 11, 2003 - HALF MOON BAY

A newly formed Coastside group wants to wrest control of some 30,000 unincorporated acres from an open-space agency and form a new city: the Town of Rural Lands. The new town would be free from the "tyranny" of County government, environmental groups and the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, said Oscar Braun, founder of the Rural Lands Incorporation Now Committee. It would be the first new incorporated area since 1983 when East Palo Alto was formed. "We're an agricultural community. We have virtually nothing in common with the urban areas, but our rights are determined by the urban majorities," Braun said Thursday from his home just outside Half Moon Bay. "People (on unincorporated coastal land) want self-governance, self-determination. What we have now is a kind of apartheid system." Braun, a retired Johnson & Johnson executive, founded the group with former Woodside mayor John Blake, retired civil engineer John Plock and several other Coastsiders. "This is an attempt by the residents of rural lands to take control of their own destiny," Plock said from his home Thursday.

More than 100 people out of the 6,500 or so that live on rural land have already joined his crusade, Braun said. On several bellicose Web pages that quote liberally from the Bible and the Constitution -- and feature moving images of wild pigs -- Braun and other committee members denounce "Enviro-cults" and "racketeer-influenced" government, and lay out in detail the plan for the Town of Rural Lands. The town would be governed by a five-member council, and operate on the property taxes that the open-space agency now receives from Woodside, Atherton, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City and Portola Valley, Braun said. City leaders would also collect vehicle-license fees, franchise fees and an assortment of other routine charges. Government services could be kickstarted by an initial general fund balance of $100,000, Braun predicts. The group must get 25 percent of the 3,200 registered voters of the rural lands to sign a petition in favor of forming the new town, which would be submitted to the County's Local Agencies Formation Commission.

The commission has jurisdiction over all boundary changes and annexations on the Peninsula. If LAFco approved it, the plan could be put before voters in the next general election. But Martha Poyatos, LAFco's executive officer for the County, does not exactly gush with joy when asked about the prospect. In a March 27 letter to Braun, she brought up conflicts with the County's General Plan and Local coastal Program, and said a thorough study of the idea could cost the committee more than $100,000. "Of even greater concern is the fiscal viability of a new city in the current climate of local government finance in which well-established cities with diverse sources of local revenue are being forced to cut vital city programs," Poyatos wrote. But to Braun, fending off special districts and environmental groups is well worth the risk. Braun, who formed Save Our Bay and the Half Moon Bay's Surfrider Foundation, has been a thorn in the side of every agency, supervisor or environmental group that has tried -- successfully or not -- to regulate or control unincorporated areas. "These cults are trying to undermine our communities and our governments," he said. Braun has fought the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District since it announced in 1997 a plan to annex some 140,000 acres from Skyline Drive to the coast. He and others have said the agency has no plan for the area, cannot provide fire safety and has diminished residents' water rights.

In an effort to boost membership in their organization, the proponents of the new town are hosting a forum on Oct. 16 at the 4-Cs ranch off Highway 92 at 7 p.m. It will be moderated by a consultant who works with LAFco in Santa Barbara. The 4-Cs ranch is owned by John Cozzolino, who tried unsuccessfully to get a permit to bring elephants to his farm for this month's pumpkin festival in Half Moon Bay. County Planners shot down the permit, fanning the anger of Braun and others. "There's a group of urban officials deciding a farmer can't have something on his land that's permitted by law," Plock said.

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