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Castaic Residents Listen, Leave Frustrated, At Town Council Presentation

castaicmtg1More than 200 people gathered at Castaic Middle School Thursday night to hear what West Ranch people heard Monday - just one side of a complicated situation that they'll be asked to vote on in November.

Representatives from Economic and Planning Systems presented a fiscal analysis for the proposed incorporation of the Westside - a city that could include Stevenson Ranch, West Ranch, Castaic and Tesoro areas - or not.

The only bottom line residents were given was that any incorporation efforts would not be fruitful until at least 2012.

The meeting was called by the town councils of Castaic and West Ranch to present the pros and cons of three options that will be put before the residents. An advisory, non-binding vote will be taken for the area to either a) incorporate and become a city; b) annex into the City of Santa Clarita or c) remain individual towns in unincorporated area of Los Angeles County.

Representatives of the county, city and both town councils were present, although they left the primary presentation to the consultants.

Confusion ensued when a resident pointedly asked where the city's annexation feasibility study would be presented for their consideration. When presenter Richard Berkson said that the study would be available in the fall, Rosalind Wayman from Supervisor Michael Antonovich's office guessed September, while Santa Clarita Assistant City Manager Ken Striplin offered October as a possibility.

When the crowd reacted negatively, protesting that it would not give them enough time to make an educated choice, both entities said they would do what they could to get results as soon as possible.

castaicmtg2Gail Ortiz, public information manager for the city, said that the consultant, who was selected from a list offered by both the Castaic and West Ranch Town Councils, has missed several deadlines and the city is frustrated by their performance.

"The consultant that is being paid to do this has given us deadline after deadline and has not met them," she said. "At this point, we'd like to talk to the town councils in terms of  what to do to go forward so we can have the information for the town councils and they can have it for the community."

While the basic information on feasibility remains the same as KHTS reported Monday night (click here for the story), some of the flaws in the study began to surface Thursday night.

After Berkson said that the Pitchess Detention Center would not be included in the city, he said that the prison population would boost resident numbers and help the fledgling city get state and federal money. Officials from the Sheriff's Department said that the inmate population of a county jail couldn't actually be included because it is a transient number, unlike the population of a prison, such as the state facility in Lancaster. This would take at least 6,000 "residents" out of the tax base calculation of the study's 45,000 estimated population.

When the question of borders came up, Berkson also said that different income producers may or may not be included in the new city. Magic Mountain, which contributes between $500,000 to $1 million to county tax coffers every year, may or may not be included in the city. Castaic Lake is excluded from the city, but the county's jail and sports complex were areas that could be determined.

Naming the new city was a question that popped up on several of the comment cards turned in to the speakers - which were read by the presenters instead of the residents, despite an available microphone in the front of the audience. That issue was put aside as a smaller problem to deal with that would come up after the money and boundary issues were resolved should the advisory vote go towards cityhood.

Berkson emphasized that if cityhood were the choice in November, the process would have to start with a petition signed by 25 percent of the residents, followed by an application and fees submitted to the Local Agency Formation Commission, a process that could take up to a year. Then LAFCO conducts hearings and a general election is held with the formation as a ballot issue, with the city formed three months to a year after the election.

"The soonest a city would be formed would be 2012," Berkson said.

Wayman said that the vote was "a way for the county to get a snapshot of what the communities want to do," and that they considered local opinion very important.

One thing the consultants did emphasize several times through the meetings was that complete transcripts of the report and the community meetings would be available on the websites of each town council: www.castaicareatowncouncil.org and www.westranchtowncouncil.com