Oakhurst residents may face new geological district fees

Oakhurst residents may face new geological district fees

Oakhurst residents may face new geological district fees
This house at the end of Kelok Way on a high hill in the Oakhurst GHAD is vacant and red-tagged. It is uninhabitable due to the structural damage caused by unstable ground shifting under it. Oakhurst residents are looking at a likely tax hike to save the seriously underfunded district. (Tamara Steiner photo)

CLAYTON, CA (Jan. 14, 2024) — Without increased funds from residents, the Oakhurst Geological Hazard Abatement District (GHAD) may soon become financially unsustainable.

GHAD is a special assessment district formed when Oakhurst was built to protect homes and infrastructure within its boundaries from geological hazards. Now, GHAD funding through taxes may be heading for another vote of Oakhurst homeowners. If homeowners in the flat neighborhoods around Oakhurst vote no again, homeowners on the hills will face the consequences.

At the Dec. 19, 2023, meeting, the City Council discussed the potential for updating GHAD’s Plan of Control.

“The Plan of Control categorizes geologic hazards and identifies the (levels of risk to each neighborhood) regarding how the district is to prevent, mitigate and abate these hazards,” said outgoing Mayor Jeff Wan, the new vice chair of the district.

Homeowners in the hills have been dealing with soil erosion, which could eventually make the homes unstable. One property has already been red-tagged and sits empty.

Underfunded GHAD faces operational challenges

In a statement, Wan explained that the district remains underfunded. “The GHAD funding level is insufficient to perform virtually all of the activities specified in the Plan of Control.”

Former Mayor Julie Pierce is familiar with the GHAD. “There were set fees for each neighborhood, based on their geologic risk, when the district was created, and then there was a set scale on how much they could be increased,” she told The Pioneer.

Pierce says several landslides were identified and fixed in the years before and after Oakhurst was built. However, some were much deeper. These have been subsequently identified – leading to current issues around Peacock and Keller Ridge.

“It was noticed that some of these open space slopes had some slips starting to show in them,” she said. “Many of those slip planes were as much as 90 feet deep, and they were creeping.”

De-watering drains that were installed significantly slowed, but not eliminated, the creep. If it continues, homeowners will face landslides and problems maintaining their properties.

Voting Dynamics

Homeowners have voted down fee increases for the district a couple of times.

“The folks who lived down in the lower part of Oakhurst, in the flatland, didn’t really care about the problems being experienced by those up in the hills, and they rejected any increase to the assessments,” Pierce said.

The entire Oakhurst district votes on whether to increase the fees, with different fees for different areas, based on their level of risk. Homeowners with less risk pay less. Those in the hillier areas with more risk would assume higher fees.

At the Feb. 6 council meeting, the GHAD board and city will decide on the amount of funding to request from Oakhurst residents.

Community Engagement needed

“In February, the city engineer is coming back with the Plan of Control, which is the document that kind of dictates the level of initial funding that’s going to be required for each area based on their level of risk,” explained city manager Bret Prebula.

If voters ultimately reject the plan, the district would not be able to perform its operations. “Then the Plan of Control would need to be severely curtailed, and basically all non-administrative functions of the GHAD would cease,” Wan said.

Prebula encourages everyone in the Oakhurst GHAD to watch or attend the meeting so they know what’s going on in each of their neighborhoods. “So, if or when it comes to the process of a vote for them to increase the assessment, they’re well-informed of what the impacts would be if it is passed or not passed.”

Vince Martellacci
Vince Martellacci

Vince Martellacci is a somewhat new resident of Clayton who loves to spend time in the town center and in Concord. He represents musicians across the Bay Area in the media when he’s not writing. Contact him at vince@4amindiepublicity.com.