sanantonio-sm

THE SECESSIONS OF PETALUMA

Here’s the ultimate Trivial Pursuit question, Sonoma county edition: How many times has it been proposed for Petaluma to seize the county seat from Santa Rosa and/or split off to become the seat of a new county?

Recently I conducted a scientific survey of expert historians (I asked guests at a Christmas party, a few friends, some followers on Facebook and that know-it-all cashier at Trader Joe’s) and the consensus was that it’s happened two or three times. The correct answer?

Nine…probably; I hedge because there could be yet another skirmish or three that could crawl out of the late 19th century woodwork.

A couple were like war campaigns and lasted more than a year; others apparently went little further than a committee being formed or the passing around of petitions. Some efforts are difficult to evaluate because few newspapers from that particular time still exist.

While all of the schemes end up with Petaluma becoming a county seat, they are remarkably different otherwise. Sometimes a new county is formed, borrowing a bit of northern Marin (or not). Sometimes Sonoma county is broken up into three counties – four, in one proposal – and sometimes Petaluma is annexed to be part of Marin. A common thread is that Petaluma has more in common with Marin and points south than everything north of them in Sonoma county, which is hard to dispute; until the train arrived in 1871, it was easier for the Petalumi to get to San Francisco than Santa Rosa, particularly in winter.

Here’s a summary of the various proposals:

1860 Marin annexes everything south of Cotati
1861 Move Sonoma county seat to Petaluma
1865 Marin annexes everything south of Santa Rosa
1870 Create a new county from southern Sonoma county
1872 Divide Sonoma into four with south, north, central, and river counties
1883 Move Sonoma county seat to Petaluma
1906 Create a new county from N Marin + S Sonoma + coast down to Tomales
1920 Create a new county (discussed below)
1950 Create a new county from N Marin + S Sonoma + coast down to Stinson Beach

The 1883 plan was hashed out in the preceding articles and was the most rancorous, as Petaluma and Santa Rosa had agents fanned out all over the county urging – and maybe, paying – residents to sign petitions or counter-petitions. This attempt also highlighted how difficult it was to make such a sweeping change; this petition wanted the Board of Supervisors to allow voters to weigh in on the issue, but (as I understand it) the decision still would be ultimately left to the legislature. These rules would later become increasingly byzantine.

Although the Petaluma/Santa Rosa rivalry puts a unique spin on the matters here, there was an outsized prestige in being the county seat a hundred years ago and more; other communities had no choice but revolve around it as planets circle a star. Besides a courthouse it meant having all the county offices and the best professional services – lawyers of all types, major bankers, specialist doctors, etc. It also meant busy stores, hotels, restaurants and saloons along with the higher rents paid to downtown landlords who really owned the whole place. Those are reasons why Petaluma was willing to donate $100,000 in 1883 to move the courthouse there – and hey, maybe the local nabobs would achieve a bit of immortality by slapping their names on a prestigious building or something. After all, there’s also more than a dab of vanity motivating some of these plans.

Another main incentive that year was for Petaluma to dodge paying for a new courthouse in Santa Rosa. That was also the major objective of the 1872 petition, which asked the legislature to create Russian River county as well as new northern and southern counties as afterthoughts. This petition apparently collected a number of signatures in West County but was never mentioned by the other local papers so it obviously went nowhere. It’s fun to read, tho, because the author seemed to think he was appealing to Parliament – I can only wonder if he wore a powdered wig while writing this: “…respectfully petition your Honorable Bodies to consider and pass to enactment the bill offered herewith…” At the same time, he thought it appropriate to include petty gripes: “…the County Buildings at Santa Rosa are inconvenient and insufficient (with one exception, and that accommodates but one County officer).”

It’s doubtful the 1870 separation even made it to the petition stage but it’s uncertain because its advocate was the Petaluma Crescent, a short-lived pro-Democrat paper. No copies survive so we only know about it from comments that appeared in the semi-allied Santa Rosa Democrat. This effort was oddly specific that Petaluma needed to have its own County Hospital because the county wouldn’t pay for emergency medical care away from the hospital when “a man is shot or stabbed in an affray and unable to settle his doctor’s bill”. There’s quite a story behind that, I’ll bet.

Likewise we have an incomplete picture of the 1865 Marin annexation because no Petaluma newspapers from that year are (currently) available on microfilm or digitally. That’s particularly sad because this was the most interesting effort of all: Petaluma was circulating a petition that would take away everything south of Santa Rosa Creek – essentially, half of Sonoma county. It seems clear this was intended to be a kind of war reparation; as explored here, the Civil War ended earlier that year with Sonoma county more divided than ever, with Petaluma cheering the Union victory and Santa Rosa still rabidly pro-Confederacy. Noting the overall county voted against Lincoln in 1864, the Sonoma Democrat muttered bitterly, “If the Abolition [Republican] ticket had been successful in this county, last September, nothing would have been said, at this time, about division.”

There’s little to write about the 1860 and 1861 proposals, except the latter was cut short at the start of the Civil War – there’s some discussion of both in “PETALUMA VS SANTA ROSA: ROUND ONE.” Nor is there much about the 1906 attempt, except it was the first launched under the auspices of the Petaluma Chamber of Commerce. The most memorable thing about it was the San Rafael Independent’s great pun in calling it a “hen coup.”

The financial and political backers of these propositions were never identified until the Chamber appeared, but there were sometimes hints. In 1920 the Press Democrat wrote the new proposed county might be called “McNear county” with George F. McNear’s approval, although it’s possible that was intended as a joke.

Of all the various proposals, the one in 1920 first looked like a sure thing. Not only was the Petaluma Chamber behind it, but this time there was financial backing (McNear, I presume?) for a legal team and Sacramento lobbyist.

The PD claimed “certain prominent residents of Petaluma who desire to see Petaluma made a county seat and a new county” convinced State Senator Lewis L. Dennett of Modesto to introduce SB 648, which would make it much simpler for a county to divide. (In fairness, there were then up to ten other communities in California where a county split was desired, the only other in the Bay Area being recently founded Richmond, which was the anchor for the booming western end of sprawling Contra Costa county.)

Directing the 1920 campaign was Homer W. Wood, editor of the Petaluma Morning Courier, and a “Committee of Fifteen.” Since this scheme involved land in Sonoma and Marin counties, their game plan was to present to the Board of Supervisors in both counties with petitions calling for a popular vote. The Supervisors were expected to refuse to call for the elections since the laws by then made it nearly impossible for such a ballot measure to win, requiring election results to meet certain approval ratios among “new-county” and “old-county” votes, acreage and population minimums kept for the “old-county,” and so on. Once they were turned down by the Boards, the plan was to ask the state Supreme Court to throw out the complex formulas and turn the clock back to 1907, when only approval from two-thirds of the voters in the new county territory was required. Easy peasy!

First, however, they had to come up with a name and boundaries for the new county. Many names were suggested, including Marisoma, Marinoma, Novato, Tomales, Bay Coast, Northbay, American Fertile (!), Chanticleer, San Pablo, Petaluma and San Antonio. They picked San Antonio because “San Antonio is a historic name, a Spanish name, a northern Marin name, and the name of the creek…” That lasted for two months before they settled on the name Petaluma county. See above, re: vanity.

The continually shifting boundary lines were clues that their plan might not be ready for prime time. During the two month lifespan of the San Antonio version the southern border originally ended just before Olompali State Park, then was snapped back to the existing Sonoma/Marin border. In the east it first did not include Sonoma Valley, but then went all the way to the Napa county line. Later the town of Sonoma opted out, so the border didn’t include the Valley of the Moon again.

Composite map of the proposed "San Antonio county" boundaries, Jan.-Mar. 1920
Composite map of the proposed “San Antonio county” boundaries, Jan.-Mar. 1920

 

They dropped the northern Marin component because the central tenet of the deal was that tax rates would be lower in San Antonio county, but when the Committee actually crunched the numbers they discovered the former Marinite’s taxes would actually go up. That was such a fundamental mistake it probably should have killed the project.

But an even greater snafu happened in August when the northern border was shifted to Monte Rio (the borderline now dropping south just east of Occidental), absorbing most of West County – no matter that the new county seat of Petaluma would be considerably farther away than Santa Rosa. Making such a substantive change at such a late date shows more poor planning, particularly since it meant that petitions signed up to that date were now invalid – backers had to scrap five months of work gathering signatures and start all over again.

The year ended, more months passed, and the petition was presented to the Supervisors who predictably rejected it. The Committee filed the planned writ of mandate with the Supreme Court and waited some more.

Finally in November 1921 – nearly two years after the new county was proposed – the court rendered its opinion: No, the Board of Supervisors wasn’t required to put the issue on the ballot. It was the narrowest decision possible, ignoring the question of whether the laws needed to be overturned or not. “As matters now stand, we are just where we were before we inaugurated the New County movement,” moaned the Petaluma Argus.

Courier editor Wood vowed to fight on, suggesting another writ might “force the hands of the supreme court” but that was that.

The last attempt to make Petaluma a county seat was in 1950, and came as a surprise to residents of the city of eggs. A small group of disgruntled Marin ranchers, a retired sea captain, and a “frequent critic of the Board of Supervisors” descended on the Petaluma Chamber of Commerce to make their case for a N. Marin-S. Sonoma county. Their gripe was that their area hadn’t “received enough consideration from ‘resort-minded’ Southern Marin county officials,” according to a story in the Mill Valley paper.

The new county would reach down to Stinson Beach and would be named “Drake,” “Tomales” or “Petaluma.” The group was in the process of forming committees.

Petaluma chamber president Ed Fratini told the paper the group was received with “open mouths and considerable amazement, but we listened with a great deal of interest and have invited them to return at any time.” They didn’t.

 

 

 

 

 

ANNEXATION. – We are told on what we believe to be reliable authority, that a very large majority of the present residents of Marin county have avowed it to be their earnest desire that at the next session of the Legislature the county line of Marin should be extended eastward so as to include all that portion of Sonoma county lying between the present county line of Marin and Sonoma and the Napa line, and as far North as may be necessary to embrace Two Rock Valley, Big Valley, &c., thence on to the mouth of the Estero Americano, and that Petaluma shall become the county seat of Marin. That such an arrangement would be greatly to the advantage and accommodation of a majority of the residents of Marin, no one at all conversant with the county will doubt. A large majority of the residents of that county, either reside along and in the immediate vicinity of the present line between Marin and Sonoma, or in the northern and western portion of the county. To these people Petaluma is of easy and speedy access, and much nearer than San Rafael. Further it is the point where they transact all their ordinary business affairs of trade. That they should, under these circumstances desire the change, no sound unbiased mind can marvel. To the inhabitants of that portion of Sonoma thus proposed to be annexed to Marin, we believe from all that we have been able to learn, that the change would be agreeable and profitable, and from a similar cause. Petaluma is likewise their point of trade, (with the exception of those of the Sonoma Valley,) and to make it the county seat of Marin county would as a sequence greatly accommodate and benefit them. From present indications this matter will be laid before the Legislature at its next sitting, and it is quite possible it may even be before the people as one of the local questions to be provided for during the approaching political canvass. It may be well therefore, for such as have not already done so, to look this matter squarely in the face, and calmly, cooly, and dispassionately, discuss its features.

– Sonoma County Journal, August 3, 1860

 

The Reorganization.

We have patiently waited to see what arguments the Argus of Petaluma or Standard of Healdsburg would offer the people in favor of a change of boundary between Sonoma and Marin counties. Our contemporaries both favor the idea of ceding to Marin the major part of the wealth, territory and population of Sonoma, and as neither of them have adduced a single reasonable argument in support of the position assumed by them, we are forced to conclude they are actuated solely by selfish motives, that they desire only to establish in their respective towns a county seat, and in order to gain this distinction they would sacrifice the best interests of tbe people at large. But one difference seems, to exist between them on the subject, and that is as to the division line, the Argus proposing to cede four-fifths of the county to Marin, while the Standard would be content with donating a little more than half.

Outside of Petaluma but little has been done or said about the matter yet. A meeting of the citizens of that city was held on Saturday last. We learn from one who was present that the attendance was very small. The following are the proceedings of the meeting; it will be observed that McNabb of the Argus was bell-wether of the flock:

Hon. J. H. McNabb called the meeting to order, and after stating the object of the meeting, O. Swetland, Esq. was elected President, and Thos. L. Carothers, Secretary of the meeting.

G. W. Reed, being called for, addressed the meeting. Hon. J. H. McNabb introduced the following resolution which was unanimously adopted:

Resolved, That the citizens of Petaluma and vicinity are in favor of changing the boundary of Marin county, so as to include all that part of county lying south and east of Santa Rosa creek, so that the northern boundary of Marin county shall be as follows: Commencing at the mouth of Russian River, and running up said river to the mouth of Santa Rosa creek, thence up said creek to its source, thence south easterly to the Napa county line.

On motion of G. W. Reed,, a committee of three consisting of H. L. Weston, A. McCune and H. Meacham was appointed to report a committee of nine to the meeting, to take the necessary steps to secure the passage of an Act by the Legislature, changing the line of Marin county as in dictated by the resolution…

– Sonoma Democrat, December 16 1865

 

THE BENEFITS OF DIVISION. — To divide the County as proposed by the Argus, running the line at Santa Rosa Creek, will leave Sonoma county with a voting population of 1,500, while it will give to Marin 3,000 voters in addition to her present population. This would entitle the county of Marin to one Senator and three Assemblymen, while Sonoma would be represented by one Assemblyman. Again, the State and county taxes of Sonoma this year amount to $2.50 on the hundred. These added to the enormous Federal taxes paid by our citizens are no inconsiderable sum. Divide the county and incur an additional expense of transcribing records, removing county seats, the construction of new buildings, etc., and we will be called upon to pay at least one dollar per hundred in addition to what we are paying now And all for what? Simply to gratify the whims and caprices of a few disappointed politicians ot the McNabb, Cassiday stripe. Tax payers will do well to consider the responsibilities they are about to assume in petitioning for this change. If it is absolutely necessary that Petaluma should be made a seat of Government it would be better to change the present county seat than to ruin the county by dividing it up…

…If the Abolition ticket had been successful in this county, last September, nothing would have been said, at this time, about division. McNabb and Cassidy may attempt to ignore politics in the matter, but they belie their consciences whenever they assert that they are not actuated by personal political considerations in advocating this measure, and the people know it.

– Sonoma Democrat, December 16 1865

 

Unwise Agitation.

Contests concerning the local interests of different parts of a county are always of a bitter and unpleasant character, and therefore should never be undertaken without the strongest and best of reasons. This is particularly true of contests relative to the division of a county and the removal of the county seat. Nothing but the most absolute and imperative necessity, looking solely to the material benefit and accommodation ot the larger portion of the people, can excuse the agitation of such a question. In the case of Sonoma county this necessity does not exist; and yet we find a correspondent of the Petaluma Crescent in its issue ot Tuesday last, stirring up this strife in a boastful, unreasonable and intemperate communication. Without advancing a tangible reason to support his position, he demands that the county shall be divided and Petaluma made a county seat. This, we are told, must be done, and that hereafter the people of our neighboring city will support no man for office who is not in favor of making Petaluma “the county seat of a new county, to be comprised of territory surrounding her.” This idea is worthy the brain of a reckless radical politician, who knows that his party, being largely in the minority, has nothing to lose by breaking down party lines; but we are astonished to see it pass unrebuked through the columns of our Democratic contemporary. However, such a threat can alarm nobody, and we do not believe that our fellow citizens of Petaluma will give it their sanction.

Chief among the reasons (?) assigned by this enlightened correspondent for dividing the county and locating the county seat at Petaluma, are that sick persons cannot be immediately taken to the County Hospital, and the Supervisors allow no pay for “outside attendance” that when a man is shot or stabbed in an affray, and unable to settle his doctor’s bill, (it strikes us there is a good deal of physic in the communication) the unfortunate medico gets nothing, but it the party is arraigned before the Court, on a criminal charge, and cannot himself employ counsel, our legislators have provided a fund to pay an attorney to defend him. It is scarcely necessary to say this is stupid nonsense, and without any bearing upon the question. Petaluma is now within thirty minutes of the county seat; every tax-payer knows it would bankrupt the county for the Supervisors to allow bills for “outside attendance” on the sick; and finally, there is no provision whatever for the payment of attorneys appointed by the Court to defend impecunious parties.

No good can result from the agitation of the question of a division of the county and relocation of the county seat. It will embitter the minds of the people; array section against section; involve the expenditure of large sums of money, and prove a positive injury to all concerned. Petaluma tried it before, under more favorable circumstances, and signally failed…

– Sonoma Democrat, December 3 1870

 

The following petition far the creation of a new county is being circulated for signatures in the northern part of this county, and is being very generally signed.

To the Honorable Senate and Assembly of the State of California:

Whereas, It is not only the privilege, but the duty of a constituency to petition the law-making power to remedy any defect or make any change where it will be for the best interests of the community, we, the undersigned citizens of Sonoma county, therefore, respectfully petition your Honorable Bodies to consider and pass to enactment the bill offered herewith, entitled, “AN ACT TO CREATE THE COUNTY OF RUSSIAN RIVER AND DEFINE THE BOUNDARIES THEREOF,” for the reasons that follow, to-wit:

1. That the great extent of the present County of Sonoma renders it exceedingly inconvenient and expensive for citizens of remote parts of the County to visit the County Seat when required to do so by business or imperative legal summons.

2. That the great distance to be traveled in reaching the different parts of the County of Sonoma, with its present boundaries, greatly increases the cost of service of all processes of law over what the cost of such processes would be in the said proposed new Counties.

3. That the towns of Healdsburg and Petaluma are geographically, as well as by established lines of travel, the centers of the proposed new Counties, and easy of access from all parts thereof.

4. That the County Buildings at Santa Rosa are inconvenient and insufficient (with one exception, and that accommodates but one County officer), and in a short time must be replaced by new buildings at large expense to the County, whereas the expense of County Buildings for the proposed new Counties would be borne in great part by the voluntary contributions of tha citizens of Healdsburg and Petaluma.

5. That, after the proposed division shall be made, the smaller of the two Counties will be more extensive in area, greater in natural resources, and richer in assessable property than any one of many other Counties of California; and in population will be greater than any of thirty-four other Counties of the State.

6. That the vast extent of the County of Sonoma, as now existing (equal to that of the State of Rhode island), the expense and inconvenience of necessary journeys to the present County Seat, and the rapid growth of the County in wealth and population, have caused the almost unanimous opinion among its citizens that sooner or later a division of the county will be an imperative necessity; and it is therefore for the best interest of the whole people of the County that the division be made before new County Buildings shall be erected at the present County Seat at a great expenditure of money.

[Note. — Many of the undersigned, through misconception of the facts, were induced to sign a “Remonstrance” against the proposed creation of a new County, long before the circulation of this or any similar Petition.]

– Russian River Flag, February 1, 1872

 

NEW COUNTY MEETING HELD

Pursuant to a call issued by J. L. Camm of the Petaluma Chamber of Commerce, upon request of a number of prominent Petalumans, a meeting of local citizens was held at the city hall there Friday evening for the purpose of discussing the advisability of inaugurating a “New County” movement. The Council chambers were well filled and the meeting was called to order by Mr. Camm. who stated the object and outlined the proposed new county plan. The project, as stated, was to form a new county, with Petaluma as the county seat, by taking that portion of Sonoma county south from a point north of Sonoma, including Penngrove, Bloomfield, Valley Ford and Bodega, and by taking that portion of Marin county lying north of a straight line running westerly from San Antonio creek to the ocean including the town of Tomales…

– Petaluma Argus, June 30, 1906

 

NEW COUNTY DIVISION PLAN
PETALUMA IS TO ATTACK LEGALITY OF PRESENT LAW

Petaluma is again planning to divide the county. The scheme has been quietly working for some time, and at a meeting to be held there on Wednesday evening of next week the plans of its promoters will be formally announced.

The present plan differs from the last one in that “full publicity” is to be the watchword.

During the closing days of the last session of the state legislature. attention was directed to a mysterious bill introduced by a representative from Los Angeles county simplifying the method by which counties might be divided. Upon investigation, the real sponsors of the measure were found to be certain prominent residents of Petaluma who desire to see Petaluma made a county seat and a new county formed out of the southern part of Sonoma county and the northern part of Marin.

The strong light of publicity directed toward the measure resulted in its defeat, and it was generally believed that nothing more would be heard of county division, at least for some time to come.

But it now appears that following the defeat of the measure here referred to, advocates of the plan to divide the county soon got to work in an effort to see what else could be done.

They consulted an attorney, who is said to have advised them that, in his opinion, the present law governing the division of counties in this state is unconstitutional in that it carries no enacting clause.

The present plan, therefore, is to attack the constitutionality of the present law and if the attack results successfully the old law will prevail.

The difference is that under the old law, only those desiring to form a new county have the right to vote on the proposition, while under the law as it now stands residents of the entire territory affected are allowed a vote.

In other words, if the present law is set aside only those living in the southern portion of Sonoma county and in the northern part of Marin, will have a right to vote on the question of dividing these counties and establishing a new one. And on the other hand, if the present law be upheld all the residents of Sonoma and Marin counties will have the right to vote on the proposition.

Present plans have not yet developed to a point where a name for the proposed new county has been agreed upon. It is understood, however, that “Petaluma county” is quite generally favored.

When the matter was under discussion before, George F. McNear, at one of the meetings, is said to have asked. ”What are you going to call this county?”

“We will call it McNear county, if you say so,” some one replied. “I have lived in Sonoma county a long time,” Mr. McNear is said to have remarked, “and am not sure that I would care to live in a county known by any other name.”

Advocates of the proposed new county will base their appeal upon the argument that better and more economical government can be obtained in a small county than in a large one. They will also contend that the population of Sonoma and Marin counties is increasing rapidly, and that the establishment of a new county government will not materially increase the rate of taxation in the territory affected. They contend that a good portion of northern Marin county already does business in Petaluma and that residents of that territory find it inconvenient to transact their private business in one place and their public business somewhere else.

There seems to be no question but that a determined effort is to be made to secure a division of the county along the lines above indicated, and that the constitutionality of the present law governing county division in this state will play an important part in determining the outcome. If the entire territory affected either one way or the other is permitted to vote on the question, there is little likelihood that the proposed new county will be established. If the people of Petaluma, southern Sonoma and northern Marin counties are given the entire say, however, the result may be different.

– Press Democrat, January 17 1920

 

CITIZENS MOVE TO FORM NEW COUNTY

Is the present county division of this state unconstitutional? Will the Supreme Court so declare?

Upon the answer to the foregoing questions hangs the fate of the proposition of creating a new county by taking certain territory from Sonoma and Marin counties. If the Supreme Court shall, when the time comes, declare the county division law unconstitutional, then an election will be held to ascertain the will of the people residing in the new-county territory. If the Supreme Court decides the law IS constitutional, then some other method of acquiring a new county will have to be adopted.

The present law requires a sixty-five per cent vote in new-county territory and, in addition, a fifty percent vote in old-county territory not included in the new county. Under such a law, division of counties is ninety-nine and nine-tenths per cent impossible. Should this law be declared unconstitutional, the law of 1907 would be restored. Under that law, a sixty-five per cent vote in new-county territory would be sufficient without a vote in old-county territory.

Three local attorneys and some of the best constitutional lawyers in the state have submitted opinions to the local new-county committee, which has been in existence for over one year, that the present county division law will be held to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court if the matter is presented in good faith by the people desiring to create a new county.

At a meeting of citizens interested in the formation of a new county, with Petaluma as the county seat, held at the Fraternal Brotherhood hall on Wednesday evening, the foregoing situation was fully set forth by various speakers, after which, by unanimous vote, it was decided to proceed with the new-county plans so as to present the matter, in good faith, to the Supreme Court. In order to accomplish this result, petitions for the formation of the new county, signed by fifty per cent of the voters residing in the new-county, will be presented to the boards of supervisors of Sonoma and Marin counties. The boards of supervisors cannot do otherwise than refuse to call the elections prayed for in these petitions. The petitioners will then go to the Supreme Court on mandamus proceedings to compel the boards of supervisors to call the elections under the law of 1907, which provides that if the people of any given section of the state, with certain restrictions as to population, desire to form a new county they can do so, provided sixty-five per cent of the electors vote for the formation of such new county. The matter of preparing and circulating the petitions and the general conduct of the new-county campaign was placed in the hands of a Committee of Fifteen to be named by the chair.

…Homer W. Wood, originator of the new-county movement, presided. He explained in great detail the various steps needful for the formation of new counties and what has been done in the past by the new-county committee. He also set forth the various points of law upon which the attorneys base their contention that the present county division law is unconstitutional. These points will be covered in a separate article either in this or future issues of the Argus.

Editor Wood also explained that the effort to have the present county division law declared unconstitutional, thereby restoring “self-determination of peoples” in this regard, is statewide and that a number of cities over the state have shown a willingness to lend whatever assistance is needed, both in coin and legal talent, to help the people of southern Sonoma and northern Marin counties win back their “birthright.”

The purpose of last night’s meeting was to reach a final decision as to the advisability of launching the new-county movement and taking such steps as are needful to get a decision from the Supreme Court. This matter having been disposed of favorably and unanimously, and by the unanimous adoption of the address to the voters published elsewhere in this issue of the Argus, many matters relative to the proposed new county were discussed.

Many names were suggested, among them being Petaluma, Marisoma, Marinoma, Novato, Tomales, etc. The matter of a name, which must be inserted in the petition, was left to the Committee of Fifteen.

The boundaries of the new county, which must also be set forth in the petition, were tentatively outlined as follows:

Starting at the mouth of Salmon Creek, draw a straight line one mile north of Cotati to the crest of Sonoma mountain; thence in a general southeasterly direction, following the trend of the mountain range to Sears Point and San Pablo Bay; thence follow the trend of the San Pablo Bay coastline to a point one-half mile south of Novato; thence slightly southwest via Nicasio, between Olema and Point Reyes Station to the head of Tomales Bay; thence follow the eastern shore of Tomales Bay and the coast line of the Pacific Ocean to the point of beginning.

There will be some variations of these boundaries in order to follow township, school district or election precinct lines, the final decision for the purposes of the petition being left to the Committee of Fifteen.

The estimated area is 600 square miles and the population 20,000.

The matter of taxation was discussed at great length. Editor Wood and others, who have been studying the question for over a year, were very positive in their assertions that there would be a decrease in taxation in the new county, so far as the Sonoma county portion thereof is concerned, and no increase in the annexed portion of Marin county. This is a matter that will be discussed at length in future issues of the Argus. The Committee of Fifteen will also promulgate much information along these lines.

As to the necessity of acquiring a new court house, the opinion was expressed at the meeting that the immediate needs of the new county would be provided for by the enterprising citizens of Petaluma without cost to those living outside the city.

As to the amount of the bonded indebtedness to be inherited by the new county from the old, it was explained that none of this indebtedness to be inherited by the new county from the old. It was explained that none of this indebtedness would fall upon the people of northern Marin county; that the people of southern Sonoma county would assume responsibility for that portion of the county road bond issue actually expended within the new county; that probably the Sonoma portion of the new county would not continue to pay court house bands. This matter would be adjusted by three commissioners, one to be appointed by each of the old counties and a third by the state.

Many columns of space would be required to impart to the readers of the Argus the mass of information resulting from the discussion at Wednesday night’s meeting. As the campaign for signatures to the new-county petition progresses, our readers will be fully and impartially enlightened upon all the phases of the project.

– Petaluma Argus, January 22 1920

 

TO THE VOTERS OF SOUTHERN SONOMA AND NORTHERN MARIN COUNTIES

A movement having for its purpose the formation of a new county, Petaluma as the county seat, has been under way for some time. The movement has now reached a stage where its success is reasonably assured. Therefore, we, the undersigned, respectfully urged all voters to sign, when it is presented to them, a petition for the formation of the proposed new county, said petition being the first necessary legal step in that direction. In support of this request, we respectfully represent:

1. That the proposed new county will afford its residents and taxpayers better government, better roads, and a larger measure of participation in the management and control of their affairs as a smaller cost than under present conditions.

2. That the territory proposed to be embraced in the proposed new county is now so detached from the seats of government at Santa Rosa and San Rafael that the people residing therein have not, and cannot have, that degree of intimate relationship with the conduct of their affairs so essential for true progress and proper development.

3. That experience teaches that whenever and wherever large counties have been divided and new counties created the resultant development has been many fold greater than could have occurred without such division, with no increase in taxation.

Petaluma is today the social and business center of this area proposed for a new county and should be the governmental center. There is no just reason why the people of this section should not govern themselves in a new county rather than to be a minority of two counties. Likewise, there is no just reason why this movement should be opposed by anyone.

For the foregoing and other substantial reasons which will be submitted to the voters of southern Sonoma and northern Marin counties in due season, we have hereunto attached our signatures this 21st day of January, 1920.

[56 names]

– Petaluma Argus, January 22 1920

 

SOTOYOME COUNTY WITH HEALDSBURG THE SEAT OF GOVERNMENT. WHAT!

A number of Healdsburgers are watching with interest the attempt of Petaluma to have a new county out of the southern end of Sonoma county and the northern portion of Marin county. Petaluma will attack the constitutionality of the new law which says that the whole county should vote on it instead of only the within the proposed county. Should Petaluma be successful in her contention, there is every probability that a similar movement will be inaugurated in Northern Sonoma looking toward the formation of a new county in this portion of California with Healdsburg as the county seat.

Such a plan has been under consideration for a number of years by some of the large thinking people of the community who have wearied of being the tail-piece of Santa Rosa’s kite and seeing that town hog every thing In sight. The plan to be followed here will be similar to that inaugurated in Petaluma, that of getting a petition signed by at least fifty per cent of the voters in the interested districts, which petition will be presented in proper form.

The principal part of the tax monies raised go toward the building of roads, bridges, schools, hospitals, a jail, if one is needed, and in the formation of a new county, road taxes are expended only on roads within the new boundaries. In other words the taxes we would pay would be utilized in our own district. At present large sums of money go into the pockets of Santa Rosa merchants for county supplies that come out of the pockets of taxpayers in and around Healdsburg. For instance a lot of taxpayers’ money is going into the well-lined pockets of the Santa Rosa printers which facts can be easily verified and mighty little of it gets into any Healdsburg print shops, as well as other business houses here.

The Petalumans held an enthusiastic meeting Wednesday night and the legal preliminaries are being carefully arranged. The list of signers to the petitions so far shows the leading citizens of southern Sonoma are taking hold with a rush. Santa Rosa is genuinely worried over the outlook and one newspaper in particular is devoting much valuable space to ridiculing the idea and hurling diatribes and anathemas in large chunks.

The boundaries of the new county in Northern Sonoma would be along a line drawn east and west through or near Windsor and would include a large and valuable territory, the tax money from which would carry the new county along in fine shape, whereas now it is scattered over a lot of poor territory in other sections. The plans are being held in abeyance until the Petaluma people are to determine their legal status.

– Healdsburg Enterprise, January 24 1920

 

COMMITTEE OF FIFTEEN MEETS

The Committee of Fifteen for the formation of a new county, met at the offices of Attorney F. A Meyer Saturday evening for the purpose of making plans for the circulation of the petition to call an election of the voters, the petition to be used for the purpose of testing the constitutionality of the present law providing for the division of counties.

Reorganization resulted in the election of the old officers, as follows: Chairman. Homer W. Wood, Secretary, F. J. Burke, Treasurer, E. E. Drees.

After an outline by the chairman of the course to he pursued, the first order of business was the choosing of a name for the new county. Many names were considered, among them being Bay Coast, Northbay, American Fertile, Chanticleer, San Pablo, Petaluma and San Antonio.

The first vote was taken on San Pablo, the committee being almost evenly divided on this name. A second vote was taken and the result was 5 to 4 against it. The next name considered was San Antonio. This name received seven votes for and three against. So without further voting this name was adopted.

San Antonio is a historic name, a Spanish name, a northern Marin name, and the name of the creek that will flow almost thru the center of the proposed new county. so it is particularly appropriate….

– Petaluma Argus, January 26 1920

 

Now Santa Rosa IS In Bad
Healdsburg Wants a County
Joins Division Agitators

Oh. gosh! Now we are in bad!

Petaluma doesn’t like us, and neither does Healdsburg.

Both of ’em have announced campaigns for new counties.

And it looks like Sonoma and Cloverdale and Sebastopol may get the same idea, and then look what we would be up against.

We’d have to take our pretty court house and our nice Ionic county jail out in our own back yard and play all by ourselves.

It would be a pretty bad situation all right, alright. If it were not for the fact that we can still retaliate. After all the rest of them get through trying to divorce themselves from us we can still do as well as they did, and try and divorce ourselves from ourselves.

This talk of county division Is all damphoolishness, anyway. According to the law it can’t he done, because Sonoma county has to be left with 1200 square miles and 25,000 population, and you simply cannot figure any combination like that without Santa Rosa in it unless you draw a nice puzzle picture line all around Santa Rosa, carefully connecting all the other towns of the county by a corridor of land. And then you’d have to steal half of Napa and Mendocino counties to get away with, and it seems like the people of those counties don’t much like the idea of breaking up their happy families.

The fact of the matter seems to be that some other parts of Sonoma county are jealous of Santa Rosa, just like Chicago is jealous of New York and Los Angeles is jealous of San Francisco. They can’t understand how Santa Rosa stays the biggest town in the county, when all we have is “boobs,” and they have all the smart and clever people residing within their borders.

Petaluma is adopting a real dignified stand in her divorce trial from Santa Rosa and Sonoma county, and it’s just as well. Santa Rosa has no particular quarrel with Petaluma people. and probably wouldn’t mind letting them go and play with their new county, if it were not for the fact that it can’t be done legally, and it seems so foolish for anyone to say that two families, or two counties, can live as cheaply as one. It ought to be made a crime to hand out “pap” like that to the voters.

But a couple of Healdsburg editors – and Gee! but it’s hard to believe they’re serious are openly advocating county division so that Santa can’t “hog everything,” and directly accusing county seat newspapers of grabbing all the county printing business (just as if we still wouldn’t have the county business if they were successful in taking their own county home to play with) and of course, (this is a secret) they never tell the world that the reason the county seat papers get certain county business. is because the county seat papers have the only equipment for the work.

And. as far as the whole of county division goes, seems like there never was a small town anywhere on the face of the globe but that thought its bigger neighbor was trying to “hog” everything in sight. Why. even right here in Santa Rosa, some of the most widely known people in town go to San Francisco to buy their shoes, stockings, furniture. etc. so why blame Healdsburg and Petaluma people if they come to Santa Rosa to buy.

– Press Democrat, January 27 1920

 

M’NEAR COUNTY BEING OPPOSED
Southern Marin County Bitterly Opposed to County Division for Giving New County to Petaluma.

SAN RAFAEL, Jan 28.- McNear county, the new county which Petaluma is proposing to slice out of Marin and Sonoma counties, will meet with bitter opposition from the entire southern section of Marin county. The opposition has been taking form of late and will cumulate in a meeting which is to be held In San Rafael within the next few days to formulate plans for an organized fight against the division of Marin county.

The plan will be to fight the declaring of the present law unconstitutional, which if accomplished, would mean that a majority vote of those within the proposed new county would he all that is necessary to make the change.

Under the law as it stands now a 65 per cent vote of those within the district of the proposed new county together with a 50 per cent vote of all electors in both counties would be necessary. San Rafael is preparing to wage its fight against a declaration that the present law is unconstitutional.

– Press Democrat, January 29 1920

 

NOW CLOVERDALE AFTER COUNTY SEAT
CITIZENS NOT WILLING TO BE TAIL TO HEALDSBURG KITE THEY SAY

The Cloverdale Reveille, in commenting on proposal of the county of Sotoyome with Healdsburg as the county seat, has this to say:

“With Petaluma working on plans to secede from Sonoma county and establishing a little county that will be very much her own comes the announcement that Healdsburgers also have ambitious plans in a similar direction. Those at the head of the Sotoyome metropolis would slash a slice off old Sonoma at Windsor and create another county out of what is now northern Sonoma. These plans, of course, are contingent upon the Petalumans succeeding in having the present law creating new counties declared unconstitutional. If our southern neighbors are successful, then the Healdsburgers declare they will go to bat.

“In sounding out some of Cloverdale’s prominent citizens, they declare themselves as not altogether satisfied with Healdsburg’s program. They decline to be the tail to Healdsburg’s kite. If old Sonoma — the best county in the golden state —- is going to be mutilated by our good friends of Petaluma and Healdsburg, they say they are not going to sit idly by and watch the surgical operation without having a say where the cuts shall be made.

“They have no objection to Petaluma being made the county seat of San Antonio but the don’t like the idea of Healdsburg being the county seat of Sotoyome. Cloverdale is going to be just as generous with Mendocino’s landscape as Petaluma is with Marin. Why not cop off a few hundred square miles from southern Mendocino’s fertile acres, taking in Hopland and Booneville? Southern Mendocino’s natural trading place is Cloverdale. It would be a distinct advantage to them to come in. This would give sufficient territory to form a county that would have ample resources to give it high standing among the counties of the state.

“And the location of the county seat? Well, Cloverdale is the logical place.”

– Healdsburg Tribune, January 30 1920

 

DIVISIONISTS CHANGE PLANS

SAN RAFAEL, Feb. 23 —County officials received word today from the committee of fifteen in charge of the Petaluma movement for a new county, that the plan of including a portion of northern Marin in the proposed district has been abandoned. The reason given is that it will be impossible to establish a tax rate as low as Marin county’s outside rate, which is $1.88. The minimum for the new county, it was stated, will be 10 cents higher than this amount…

– Press Democrat, February 24 1920

 

‘PETALUMA’ NAME OF NEW COUNTY

PETALUMA. March 6. – The “Committee of Fifteen” at a meeting held in this city Saturday evening, decided definltely that the name of the new county which they propose to slice from Sonoma county will be named “Petaluma County.”

The committee decided to drop the plan to take any portion of Marin county for the present, because of the fact that the new county cannot hope to have a tax rate as low as Marin county has, although the rate figured now will be about 80 cents on the hundred dollars below the present Sonoma county rate.

According to the present plans of the committee the line on the north will be drawn almost due east and west from a point about a mile north of Cotati, running east to the Napa line and south to the southern boundary of Sonoma county. The line will cross the Sonoma valley near the Eldrldge home and will not include Kenwood or Glen Ellen. The committee expects to start a campaign of education in the near future in the Sonoma valley and also in the Valley of the Moon.

– Press Democrat, March 9 1920

 

NEW COUNTY PLAN FOUGHT BY WOMEN

That Petaluma is going to meet with some opposition to its plan of dividing Sonoma county and especially to the plan of including Sonoma valley within its boundaries is evidenced by a resolution recently passed by the Women’s Club of Sonoma, the county’s historical city. The resolution has been forwarded to the Petaluma Chamber of Commerce and is as follows:

Whereas, there is a movement under way to divide Sonoma county, whereby Petaluma and contiguous territory is to be the nucleus of a new county,to he known as San Antonio county: and whereas, Sonoma Valley has been invited to join in said movement and to become a part of the new county of San Antonio; and

Whereas, Petaluma has expressed a desire to know something of the sentiment of Sonoma Valley toward the plan to include Sonoma Valley; now, I therefore,

Be It Resolved, that the Sonoma Valley Women’s Club, representing over 125 members in every section of the Sonoma Valley, deplores the division of Sonoma county, one of the old and majestic counties of our Golden State, and expressed most decided opposition to; any effort on the part of Petaluma to include in their plans Sonoma Valley, whose history is so interwoven with the county which bears its name that it can never he disassociated with it…

(Signed) AMELIA BATES, Chairman of Committee on Resolutions.

– Press Democrat, March 16 1920

 

SONOMA PEOPLE ESCAPE CLUTCH OF NEW COUNTY
Committee of Fifteen Abandons Designs on Resort Section; Hostile Sentiment Given as Reason for Changing Plan.

PETALUMA, May 4.—At a meeting of the Committee of Fifteen in charge of the proposed new county at the law office of F. A. Meyer on Saturday evening, a change was made in the boundary lines for the division of Sonoma county, whereby it was decided to eliminate the City of Sonoma and the resort section of Sonoma valley.

The northern line of the proposed county will go from the Pacific ocean east to the Sonoma creek in the Sonoma valley, thence southerly following the meanderings of Sonoma Creek to Napa street, thence easterly to the corporate line of the City of Sonoma, thence southerly along the city line to the south corner of the City of Sonoma, thence easterly near the boundary line of the City of Sonoma to the Napa line, thence following the Napa, Solano and Marin county lines to the point of beginning.

The change in the boundary line was made owing to the fact that the people in the City of Sonoma are desirous of remaining with the old county. The proposed county according to revised plans, will include El Verano, San Luis, Vineburg, Schellville, Wingo, Fairview, Sears Point. The boundary lines as laid out by the committee will take in practically all the ranches in Sonoma valley.

– Press Democrat, May 5 1920

 

SONOMA PEOPLE MAY FLIRT WITH COUNTY OF NAPA
Valley Residents Say They’d Rather Join Napa Than Petaluma’s Proposed County, and Good Roads Cited as Reason

VINEBURG. May 14.— At a meeting held here last night Secretary Kerrigan of the Petaluma Chamber of Commerce and H. H. Wood of the Petaluma Courier were the speakers to arouse interest in the proposed county division. They told their audiences of some forty persons that the new county could take in any part or the whole of Sonoma Valley even though the valley returned 100 per cent vote against it, provided 65 per cent of the people in the proposed new county voted in favor. In such case the only way Sonoma Valley could stay out would be by securing 50 per cent of the voters of the opposing district to sign a remonstrance against being taken into the new county.

There was a strong sentiment in favor of this valley uniting with Napa county, if division is to come, on account of good highway, the nearness to a good city with all county buildings already erected and with a tax rate lower that the proposed new county advocates are offering.

Three signatures, it is understood were secured to the petition for division.

– Press Democrat, May 15 1920

 

NEW COUNTY DIVISION PLANS MADE

WILL BRING BODEGA IN NEW COUNTY LINES, START NEW PETITIONS

The Committee of Fifteen, which has charge of the work of getting up the petitions to be submitted to supervisors seeking the division of Sonoma county and the formation of the County of Petaluma from the southern portion, decided at a meeting Saturday to recast the boundary lines and commence all over again the work of securing signatures for the petition.

It was announced after the meeting Saturday that the action was taken at the earnest request of half a dozen representative citizens of Bodega township who had meet with the committee and urged, that all of Bodega township and a small fraction of Redwood township be included in the territory to become a part of the new county of Petaluma. They promised their own support to the movement and the support of others whom they had conferred with.

The men who attended the meeting of the Committee of Fifteen and presented the matter were F. A. Cunninghame, H. C. McCaughey, Attorney Walter McCaughey, A. L. Tomasi, R. P. Baker, of Bodega; C. A. LeBaron of Valley Ford, A. H. Meeker of Camp Meeker. They declared that the sentiment in Bodega township was strongly in favor or uniting with the proposed new county and that it should be included at this time for the good of all concerned.

CHANGES IN BOUNDARY

The delegation submitted a written proposal to so change the boundary line of the proposed new county as to include the towns of Bodega, Occidental, Camp Meeker and Monte Rio. The proposed new boundary which will be drawn and again submitted for signatures will commence at a point in the Pacific Ocean three miles off the mouth of Russian River and follow that stream to a point a short distance east of Monte Rio and then south or slightly southeasterly to a point about ten miles east of Bodega and then due east to the Napa county line.

This would mean that the line which runs just north of Cotati directly westward to the Pacific Ocean will be changed about six miles west of that place and turn northward to the Russian River.

TO START WORK ALL OVER

It was said at Petaluma Saturday that the original boundary petition only lacked one or two hundred names to be ready for presentation to the board of supervisors, but that with the promises made by residents of Bodega it was considered far better to drop the petition entirely and prepare a new one to take in all the new territory proposed, as if would make a larger and better county in all respects.

It is admitted in Petaluma that the proposed new county is still far in the distance, as it is known that even after the petition is submitted to the board it will be rejected and then will come a hard and bitterly contented legal battle in an effort to have declared unconstitutional the present statute on county division as well as constitutional restrictions before it can be submitted to a vote of the people.

– Press Democrat, August 1 1920

 

BLOOMFIELD OPPOSED TO SEPARATION

[…]

– Press Democrat, August 21 1920

 

PETITION FOR NEW COUNTY “OVER THE TOP”

On Monday morning the New County petition went “over the top.” The 3,000 signatures needed to make the petition valid for presentation to the Board of Supervisors had been secured at that time….

…When the petition is filed with the Board of Supervisors it will be rejected by the board as not being in compliance with the present law governing the division of counties. An appeal will then be taken to the supreme court on a writ of mandate, in an endeavor to have the present law declared unconstitutional and to have the law of 1909 restored…

– Petaluma Argus, January 3 1921

 

COMPLETING PLANS FOR NEW COUNTY PETITION

…It is not generally known that a new county division act, was introduced in the legislature prior to its recess, by Senator Dennett of Modesto, and will come up for passage at the final half of the session next month. This act will provide for the formation of new counties when the decision so to do is confirmed by the vote of the people of the territory affected…

– Petaluma Argus, February 4 1921

 

NEW COUNTY PLEA LOSES FIRST ROUND

The petition to the board of supervisors for an election to submit the question of the formation of the proposed new Petaluma County was denied by the board yesterday morning, on the grounds that the petition had not been signed by 65 per cent of the qualified electors of the county at large, also it appears upon its face to reduce the area of Sonoma county to less than 1200 square miles, and does not comply with the statutes of the state relative to the organization and classification of new counties…

…The Senate County Government committee at Sacramento has amended the new county division bill pending before it so as to make it a measure to strengthen the present laws and cure any defects it may have, according to word received in this county, and it is expected that the measure will he passed by the legislature before the supreme court can pass upon the writ of mandate from the petitioners, in which case they will not gain anything by their efforts up to this period.

– Press Democrat, April 16 1921

 

Did the New County Committee of Fifteen make a fatal mistake when it outlined the New County area by making it so large as to reduce the area remaining in Sonoma county under 1200 square miles? … The matter of area remaining in the old county is the only instance in which the New County Committee did not comply with the law of 1907 which must be restored if we are ever to get a new county. This being true, it is feared in some quarters that both laws of 1907 and 1909, will be declared unconstitutional in which event the only way in which counties could be divided would be by act of the legislature.

– Petaluma Argus, August 21 1921

 

COUNTY DIVISION GIVEN SETBACK IN SUPREME COURT DECISION

[article only says analysis to come]

– Petaluma Argus, November 12 1921

 

The decision of the supreme court in the New County case decided nothing except that the board of supervisors will not be required to call the election petition[ed] for. The legal points raised in the case are untouched by the court…As matters now stand, we are just where we were before we inaugurated the New County movement. There are still good and sufficient reasons upon which to base a new petition for a new county…the New County movement is just getting a good start. We have “all the time there is” to finish it.

– Petaluma Argus, November 16 1921

 

PETALUMA DIVISIONISTS WILL CONTINUE FIGHT TO SEPARATE SONOMA COUNTY

While checked in plans for the division of Sonoma county by reason of the decision of the supreme court announced Saturday, the Petaluma county divisionists have not given up, and will keep on fighting, it was announced yesterday.

The opinion rendered by the court has been received and is not regarded as satisfactory by Petalumans because its practical effect is to decide nothing except the bare question of denying the writ sought to compel the supervisors to call a county division election. Attorney E. J. Dole, representing the divisionists, received a copy of the opinion yesterday.

In referring to the case, the Petaluma Courier of this morning will say as follows:

“From the standpoint of the petitioner. the opinion is extreme!’ unsatisfactory, as its practical effect is to decide nothing except the bare question of denying the writ.

“The court expressly reserves all questions of the constitutionality of the various acts that were raised In the argument.

“The court merely holds that If the acts are unconstitutional that there is no law by which a new county can be created, and if not unconstitutional, then petitioners have not compiled with the law.

“The proponents of the new county and the lawyers who handled the case have been expecting a decision one way or the other as to whether the county division laws were partly or entirely unconstitutional. If entirely unconstitutional, then the legislature would be compelled to pass a good law, rather than one that would prevent county division as in the past.

While it is claimed that the supreme court studiously avoided saying whether the laws were unconstitutional or not, those who understand the matter believe that either both laws are unconstitutional or that the supreme court justices are divided in their opinion as to whether the part of the law of 1907 and all of the amendments of 1909 are unconstitutional as contended by the lawyers of Petaluma in the case.

“Why the supreme court should leave the matter in such a period of uncertainty is a mystery, unless it is that the justices were divided, which is often the case. The opinion has been expressed by different ones that the supreme court justices were divided from the fact that the dismissal of the writ of mandate was so late in forthcoming.

“The case was finally argued and submitted on the 15th day of August. Usually there is a quick decision in such proceedings, but nothing was heard from this case for three months lacking three days, and then comes what is almost no decision at all.

WILL KEEP ON FIGHTING

“While the proponents of the new county have had no conference as to what will be the next procedure, it is expected that the fight will be kept up. Perhaps another court procedure will be determined upon to force the hands of the supreme court for a decision as to whether the entire law is unconstitutional or not. It the 1909 and 1907 laws are both unconstitutional, then the legislature will be compelled to pass a good law under which we can operate and carry the formation of a new county on to a successful conclusion.

About fifteen other towns are as strongly interested in the matter as is Petaluma, and it is not thought that the fight will ever be dropped until the legal tangle is unravelled and this state has on the statute books a proper county division law, the same as is in existence in eastern states.

– Press Democrat, November 16 1921

 

North Marin Seeks to Form New County

Irked at being ignored by county officials in San Rafael, a group of dissident Northern Marin farmers and dairymen yesterday declared that they would pursue their proposal to secede from Marin and form a new county with southern Sonoma county and have Petaluma as the county seat.

“We’ll be back,” spokesmen said yesterday in referring to the invitation of the startled Petaluma chamber of commerce for them to meet with it again. A small but determined group of ranchers laid the new county proposal before the Petaluma chamber Monday.

David Rogers, publisher of the Haywood Press at Pt. Reyes and frequent critic of the board of supervisors, was one of the delegation, Also included were Capt. A. S. Oko of Inverness, a retried merchant marine skipper who carried refugees to Israel, and two others.

The new county would be named “Drake,” or possibly “Tomales” or “Petaluma.” It would include all of Northern Marin except the Novato area and would extend down the seacoast as far as Stinson Beach. Oko said that the group would continue with their plans and form committees to gather support and sound out public opinion.

As for Petaluma – the plan was received with “open mouths and considerable amazement,” according to Ed Fratini, president of the Petaluma chamber.

“But we listened with a great deal of interest and have invited them to return at any time,” he said.

Courthouse officials in San Rafael yesterday predicted that the move would be short-lived and pointed out that a similar suggestion was made about 27 years ago. Both geographically and economically, southern Sonoma and northwestern Marin areas are closer than Northern and Southern Marin. Essentially dairying, agricultural, and poultry farms, the area has long felt that it has not received enough consideration from “resort-minded” Southern Marin county officials.

Sentiment In Northern Marin in recent months has been against the acquisition of Angel Island and the construction of the Marin district hospital at Greenbrae. Chambers of commerce of southern and central Marin cities have likewise been demanding a master county highway plan because of a feeling that too much county money is being spent on little-traveled Northern Marin roads.

– Mill Valley Record, April 14 1950

Read More

1906earthquakesmoke

CAUSE OF DEATH: EARTHQUAKE MADNESS

More deaths from the 1906 Santa Rosa earthquake have been found, although these victims died far away at an asylum.

Before getting into that, some bookkeeping is in order. The unofficial death toll for that disaster now stands at 82, with 85 being a reasonable bet. Although the full count can never be known, it’s still likely to fall in the 100-120 range.

This new total of 82 represents two asylum discoveries and an upgrade of three victims to “certain” status. A full list is available as a PDF or a spreadsheet, and a single-page 1906 Santa Rosa Earthquake fact sheet can also be downloaded.

Briefly: The upgrades are thanks to clearing up confusion dating back to the time of the disaster. There were four death certificates for “unknown” persons and the monument over the earthquake victim’s mass grave specifies “FOUR PERSONS UNKNOWN.” Rural Cemetery Archivist Sandy Frary uncovered the original death certificate for unknown #1 and found it was for three unknown persons, not a single individual. The monument also lists the unknown as “NOS. 1-4-6-7” which implied seven burials, so this now synchs up with a newspaper story at the time describing a coroner’s inquest of seven unknowns. All this is hashed out in greater detail in a previous article, “WHO LIES BENEATH?” which has been slightly updated to include the new confirmations.

Sandy Frary also came across an obituary I had overlooked. From the Press Democrat, August 13, 1907:


Mrs. L. W. Stebbins, who died in Ukiah, was buried here Monday from the Christian Church, the Rev. Peter Colvin conducting the services. Mrs. Stebbins’ death was directly due to the great disaster of last year. Her awful experiences in those April days racked and wrecked her mind and body. Her reason failed, and she was taken to the state hospital for treatment, but steadily declined in health…

(RIGHT: Smoke and downed lines on Fourth street in the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake, one of only two photographs believed to have been taken that day. Courtesy Sonoma County Library)

Emma Stebbins, a 40 year-old housewife who lived on Ripley street, had died at the Mendocino State Hospital at Talmage, near Ukiah. She had been there almost exactly a year, her mind gone because of “earthquake of [April] 18th and death of father,” according to her commitment record. She spent her days staring into space and answering questions incoherently. Then she stopped eating and died.

The Mendocino hospital was the only place in the North Bay for regular people who lost their wits; the asylum in Napa was then used for the criminally insane, and Eldridge (Glen Ellen) was mostly for those deemed “feeble-minded” – for more background on these mental hospitals, read “THE ASYLUMS NEXT DOOR“. Those admitted to Mendocino were usually alcoholics/drug addicts who cleaned up and went home or those with senile dementia who died there. In the wake of the great 1906 earthquake, there was a surge of people whose cause of mental illness was deemed to be the disaster.

Between the April 18 quake and the end of 1906, fifteen people from Sonoma county were sent to that hospital, almost half of them for reasons apparently linked to the quake. Of those six whose sanity was shaken by the shaking earth, three died. Besides Emma Stebbins, Jacob H. Schlotterback of Santa Rosa was sent there (cause: “earthquake of April 18, 1906”) and was dead in less than a month. Like Emma, he refused to eat. Emma and Jacob count as Santa Rosa earthquake victims #81 and 82. Here we’re only collecting names of people whose deaths were attributed to being caught in Santa Rosa’s disaster, but another local who later died at the asylum was William Newcom/Newcome of Healdsburg, committed because of the “shock of earthquake.” Should it be determined he was in Santa Rosa that morning he’ll be added to the list.

Not everyone with earthquake madness went to the asylum. America Thomas died at home about ten weeks later from “general disability following general neurosis caused by shock” according to her death certificate, and Elwin Hutchinson, a 15 year-old schoolboy who died at the end of 1906, suffered from “partial paralysis and nervous prostration” (Hutchinson’s death certificate did not specify the earthquake, so he is among the three unconfirmed disaster victims). Nor did everyone with serious mental problems die; Hattie Runyon’s family kept her breakdown secret for two years.

But there was a Santa Rosan who died during the quake at an asylum: 26 year-old Annie Leete, who was working as a waitress at Agnews State Hospital in Santa Clara. Agnews was the other general population asylum in the area – the South Bay equivalent of the Mendocino hospital.

The tragedy of what happened there is probably the last great untold story of the 1906 earthquake; the destruction at Agnews was worse than either San Francisco or Santa Rosa by comparison, with over ten percent of staff and patients killed (11 employees plus 107 of 1,075 inmates).


Los Angeles Herald, April 19, 1906. Note the misinformation about Santa Rosa

Helen Warwick, a writer for the Oakland Tribune who was in quake-ravaged San Francisco just a few days before, wrote “never, in all my life, had I dreamed or imagine anything so totally and absolutely demolished as the Agnew Asylum.” The roof of the administration building pancaked, all five stories of it. Some brick walls fell exposing the infirmaries and some floors collapsed.

It’s impossible to imagine the terror the mental patients must have experienced being captives in their locked rooms as the world seemed to collapse around them. They were lucky no fire broke out and immensely fortunate that hospital superintendent Dr. Leonard Stocking kept a level head. After digging himself out of the debris he freed the inmates without hesitation, mobilizing about forty men into a search-and-rescue operation. Given that the hospital would have been short-handed to supervise over a thousand unconfined patients even in the best of conditions, it was a courageous action.

Dr. Stocking later wrote a report where he claimed “very few wandered away,” but that was putting the best face on it. The Santa Cruz Sentinel wrote, “Scores of the demented escaped from the boundaries of the institution and are wandering, many half clad, about the surrounding country.” The San Francisco Chronicle reported “200 inmates of the asylum escaped and are roaming over the countryside,” although most newspapers were printing 40-50 had escaped.

Rumors of all sorts flourished in the following days. Governor Pardee had a staff to refute wild stories appearing in East Coast press that San Francisco had been hit by a massive tsunami and that thousands were dying of plague. Also circulating was the claim that the superintendent of State hospitals had ordered the shooting of a hundred patients at Agnews to prevent them from escaping.

(RIGHT: Agnews State Hospital in Santa Clara before the 1906 earthquake)

For months, papers were describing deranged people arrested around the state as being allegedly Agnews escapees. A man in Los Angeles who attacked a woman at the train station and tried to drag her away; a guy “in a demented condition” found near Fremont; someone in San Francisco who threatened his mother and others with a pistol.

Fortunately, few from the “ward of the desperately insane” seemed to have escaped. Their housing was on the top floor of one of the buildings most damaged, and seven died. Deputies from the Santa Clara Sheriff were quickly on the scene and followed by other officers – by remarkable good luck there was a state sheriff convention underway in San Jose. The most violent 99 patients were sent to the Central Valley asylum in Stockton by train, according to a wire service story, “crowded into two [rail] cars and were raving and yelling. Many of them attempted to jump from the cars and the attendants had great difficulty in restraining them.”

Volunteer doctors and nurses also poured into the grounds of the wrecked hospital, where medical care was provided under the trees to the approx. 180 patients injured. By nightfall a tent city had arisen. Dr. Stocking’s report described it in glowing terms: “..so comfortable and contented are they that many, both employees and patients, ask to be allowed to camp all summer.” But reporter Helen Warwick painted a different picture: “Some were chatting rationally enough, wandering about from one place to another, others stood and gazed, wild-eyed and dumb–an awful rigidity in face and figure arguing desperate insanity. Some were strapped to benches; some threw their hands in the air and grappled with some imaginary foe, while one woman shrieked and screamed, that the walls were falling, falling, and cowered to the ground begging the others to keep them off.”

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lakejonive1908

LOSING THE LOVELY LAKE JONIVE

Once upon a time Sebastopol had a popular and beautiful lake until the town turned it into an open cesspool. As the saying goes, this is why we can’t have nice things.

A small remnant of the lake can still be seen during the rainy season at the intersection of High School and Occidental Roads but more than a century ago it was year-round. Here’s how the Sebastopol Times described it in 1903: “A beautiful body of water a mile long, 150 feet wide, and from 20 to 30 feet deep, boarded with oaks, willows, etc., is situated within a mile of town and is a favorite place for bathing, boating, and fishing.” Five years earlier a tourist praised in the Sebastopol Times its “crystal laughing waters” which seems a bit embroidered, but it’s safe to presume it was a very pleasant place.

(RIGHT: Colored postcard of Lake Jonive in 1908. Image courtesy Sonoma County Library)

It was known as Lake Jonive (“strangers will take notice that it is pronounced ‘Ho-nee-va,'” the Press Democrat noted in a promotional supplement, adding a syllable lost today). The papers also called it the Lagoon or simply the Laguna, although that shorthand was also used in other stories about plans to drain the entire Laguna de Santa Rosa plain – more about that in a moment.

The Sonoma County Library has about twenty photographs of Lake Jonive, mostly from around 1900 and mostly showing people boating. The photo marked “Pleasure Resort” shows the swimmer’s diving tower and wooden landing where all those women with elaborate, flowery hats rented boats from Joe Moran’s family, on the western shore. Other snapshots show couples lounging on the lake banks, which was also where crews of hop pickers pitched tents during the harvest season. No anglers are pictured but it was a very popular fishing hole where anyone could catch salmon and steelhead, carp (which appeared after a 1878 flood washed them out of a private pond), bass and catfish (which were introduced in following years in efforts to kill the carp). “From the clear waters of this body have been caught salmon-trout that filled the sportsman’s heart with joy,” boasted a promotional article in the 1902 Sebastopol Times.

The last known photo dates from 1912, which may be because the following year Lake Jonive was thick with dead and dying fish.

“I have never seen anything like it in my life,” Deputy Health Officer John L. Gist told the Press Democrat. “I have seen fish but the number and the size–some of them immense–and such queer actions. I have never noticed before in all my experience. There were a great many dead fish on top of the water from some cause. There were hundreds and hundreds of fish, all wiggling and with their mouths open as if they wanted to get out of the water to reach air.”

Water samples and dead fish were sent to San Francisco for analysis. Unfortunately, we don’t know the results; the Santa Rosa papers didn’t mention the topic again, and there is no Sebastopol Times microfilm for 1913. But the fish were clearly gasping for air because they were asphyxiating – the lake was so polluted the water was nearly dead from lack of oxygen. Part of the blame likely goes to the canneries; apple pomace sucks up lots of O2 as it decays, not to mention the peels having residual lead arsenate from the insecticides used in that era. What was mainly killing the lake, however, was the 100,000 gallons of untreated septic tank effluent Sebastopol was pumping into the southern end of the lake every day.

In the years around the turn of the century, Sebastopol was perpetually on the verge of a major public health crisis. Following a diphtheria outbreak in 1898 there were calls to do something about the sewage problem. Homes had an outhouse or cesspool and since most of the town is built on a slope, any overflow or leaks flowed down the street or on to a downhill neighbor’s property – and maybe into their private well. A few years later a Sebastopol Times editorial commented the smell was “the most detestable foulness imaginable.” Once the town incorporated in 1902 efforts were quickly undertaken to buy equipment to pump the failing cesspools and three years later, bonds were sold to build an actual sewer system, which terminated in a big wooden septic tank slightly north of today’s Teen Center on Morris street. From late 1906 everything collected there was flushed directly into Lake Jonive without any treatment. This system remained in place until 1929.

(By the way: Except for the events of 1912 and 1913, most of the research here comes from John Cummings, who wrote several excellent papers on Sebastopol history which are available for download from SSU. If you’re interested in this topic or Sebastopol history in general I encourage you to explore them.)

Sebastopol’s toilets may have been the main culprit in the killing of Lake Jonive, but there were other threats. Over the course of three generations – from 1877 to 1946 – there were numerous plans to drain the Laguna and reclaim the fertile soil for cultivation. The proposal in early 1913 was to blast a four-mile canal between the lake and the Russian River. The Santa Rosa papers commented that property owners were enthusiastic because the land “has no particular value” as it was.

(RIGHT: Swimmers in Lake Jonive in 1909. Kids, don’t swallow the water. Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library)

Like most of these half-baked schemes, the 1913 plan didn’t get out of the preliminary stages. One that did find some traction came in 1929, when Press Democrat editor Ernest Finley and L. C. Cnopius of Sebastopol blasted a half-mile ditch between their properties which resulted in Lake Jonive – or what remained of it, by then – dropping eighteen inches. Finley also led efforts during the Great Depression to get the state involved in a works project to drain the entire Laguna de Santa Rosa. More about that can likewise be found in the Cummings papers.

While sewage poisoned the lake and reclamation projects repeatedly threatened to destroy it altogether, neither explain what reduced Lake Jonive to its relatively puddle-like size. In a 1955 story on local history, the Sebastopol Times quoted a member of the Moran family as saying, “when [Sebastopol] put in the sewer plant it encouraged weeds to grow and silt filled it in.” Another significant factor was garbage – next to the sewer farm was the town dump, which covered roughly the area around today’s Community Center, park and ball field.

There were apparently no restrictions on what could be thrown there and whenever there were heavy rains the tin cans, bottles and other lighter trash washed into the lake. In 1926 the city council declared it an “unsightly mess” and imposed fees (75¢ for an abandoned car, please). Sebastopol didn’t close the dump until 1966, and then only after strong pressure from the county health department citing both Russian river water contamination and air pollution from the dump’s incinerator.

Lake Jonive was Sebastopol’s jewel, an irreplaceable treasure which the town and canneries killed in just six years. There’s irony in noting it was 1910 – smack in the middle of the tragedy – when the town held its very first Gravenstein Apple Show, promoting the apple industry’s special relationship with the community. Such a pity that was the only thing that Sebastopol thought was worth celebrating.

PLAN TO CUT CHANNEL FOR WATERS OF LAGUNA
Project Would Reclaim Two Thousand Acres of Land

Parties interested in the drainage of the lands lying along the water course in western Sonoma county, known as the laguna, have planned to hold a mass meeting at the office of the Leppo Realty Company, on Fourth street, at 10 o’clock on the morning of January 4th. To this meeting all persons owning land along the laguna and adjacent thereto are urged to be present and take part in the discussions.

It is planned to cut a channel in the laguna to guide the waters straight to the river, and not permit them to overflow hundreds of acres each winter, as they have done for hundreds of years past. This annual inundation of these lands have deposited a rich sediment there, but it has made it impossible to farm them. When a channel has been cut to carry off this water and confine it to a narrow bed, these hundreds of acres will be reclaimed, and they will be among the most valuable and productive in the entire country.

Contractors will be in attendance at this meeting and submit plans and estimates for doing the work, and if arrangements are made they will be in position to speedily undertake and carry out the contract. This will give for farming purposes from 1500 to 2000 acres of lance, which is now considered waste, because of the annual overflow, which makes it impossible to get crops therefrom.

The channel which it is proposed to cut will be 25 feet wide and not less than 6 feet deep at any portion of the stream. This will give an abundant passageway for confining the waters of the laguna, and prevent them from spreading over these hundreds of acres, destroying their usefulness from a productive standpoint. This will give a direct channel from Sebastopol to Russian river, and make a water course of about six miles, on which the people of the Sebastopol section could maintain launches and other small craft. This straight channel will give an opportunity for fish to come from the river, and so stock the streams tributary to the laguna, and will provide the local fishermen with an exceptional abundance of sport along that favorite line.

Contractors who are willing to undertake the work of cutting the channel will present their proposition to the property owners at the meeting on January 4th, and it is certain that the reclaiming of this quantity of land will add materially to the wealth of Sonoma county and to its taxable property, besides becoming valuable for the owners, where not it has no particular value. The project is one of far reaching importance, and it is hoped that every one residing along the stream will attend the meeting.

– Santa Rosa Republican, December 27, 1912

 

CONSIDER PLAN DRAIN LAGUNA
Seek to Reclaim About 2,000 Acres of Fertile Farm Land in the Gold Ridge Section

To recover about two thousand acres of land by draing the Laguna de Santa Rosa was the proposition discussed at a meeting of the property owners adjoining the Laguna, held on Saturday morning. It is proposed to cut a channel from the Laguna to the Russian river, a distance of about four miles. This will enable the water to be carried off and the rich land placed under cultivation.

The meeting was called to order and J. D. Baliff was chosen chairman…F. C. Stauvel was appointed to take up the matter with the remaining property owners to see if they would join in defraying the cost.

Two methods were discussed to put the proposed ditch through. One was by dredger and the other by dynamite. The latter was favored as being more economical. It is thought that there will be about four miles that will have to be dredged. The project is a large one and the property owners are very enthusiastic about it.

– Press Democrat, January 5, 1913

 

MANY FISH DEAD AND DYING IN LAKE JONIVE ON MONDAY

County Health Officer S. S. Bogle received a telephone message Monday morning from the Lake Jonive section near Sebastopol, stating that for some unknown cause all the fish were dying in Lake Jonive, and asking that the matter be given immediate attention. Dr. Bogle sent Deputy Health Officer John L. Gist to the scene and the officer found that the report was correct. The top of the water of the lake was thick with all kinds of fish, Mr. Gist says. There were immense black bass, carp and catfish, and some smaller ones too, but hundreds of them, wiggling about in the water with their mouths open as if gasping for air, and all presumably endeavoring to get to a fresh water stream at another end of the lake.

“I have never seen anything like it in my life. I have seen fish but the number and the size–some of them immense–and such queer actions. I have never noticed before in all my experience. There were a great many dead fish on top of the water from some cause. There were hundreds and hundreds of fish, all wiggling and with their mouths open as if they wanted to get out of the water to reach air. It beat anything you can imagine.

“Unlike the shyness fish usually exhibit when an angler is after them, these shoals of fish came right towards us. They all seemed to be wanting to get to the fresh water. I telephone and get Deputy Fish and Game Commissioner Henry Lencioni to come over from Santa Rosa and when he arrived he was just as surprised as I was. He could not fathom the cause of the trouble any more than I could. We discovered that some distance further up the Laguna the water from the septic tanks of the Sebastopol sewer system empties into the Laguna which passes through Lake Jonive. Draining from the wineries and some pomace has been passing through the sewer into the water. I think possibly some matter may have gotten into the lake from this source. The fish looked as if they were intoxicated. We got several samples of water from the place where the septic tank water empties into the Laguna, then we got some further down and also a sample from the fish pond. We also caught some of the fish and the water and fish we are going to take to the analyst in San Francisco for examination tomorrow. Then we shall know what has caused this unusual stir among the fish in Lake Jonive. I had been told that a person could not catch fish in the Lake. There were certainly enough of them, dead and living, yesterday.”

– Press Democrat, November 11, 1913

 

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