Long awaited study detailed for residents Monday night.
For years, the question has been posed: would all the homes and businesses in the Santa Clarita Valley be better served under one governing body? On Monday night, residents in Stevenson Ranch, West Ranch, Castaic, and Tesoro (all in unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County) now have more information on that subject than ever before.
The Governance Alternatives Study, funded by the City of Santa Clarita and completed by Burr Consulting, weighed the predicted realities of the communities should they decide to annex into the City. The study was completed to balance a County-funded study which looked into the feasibility of the unincorporated communities forming their own city.
The information from both of the studies was designed to educate residents prior to an advisory vote on November 3. The vote is non-binding, but will guide future direction from the involved governmental and political bodies, pending the outcome.
Overall the Study detailed Monday night calculated annexation's effects on taxation, public services, public works, and more. Roughly 50 people were in attendance for this meeting, far less than the amount that participated in either of the June meetings discussing the County-funded study.
Here's a breakdown of what the Study found:
Burr estimates that residents in the studied areas would save money on taxes if they annexed into the City. This is based on information that indicates solid waste charges are an average of $43 more expensive per home in the County versus the City. Additionally, LA County levies a utility tax of approximately $151 per home. The City does not impose such a tax.
However, several additional City taxes will bite into that savings. These include a stormwater fee, increased streetlight assessments and a $26 per-year open space fee. Overall, Burr predicts that the average homeowner would save about $93 per year.
The study forecasts a better picture for businesses. If annexation occurs, the Burr report anticipates several tax decreases. The County's 4.5 percent utility tax is not mirrored by the City, and hotel taxes are only 10 percent in Santa Clarita, compared to 12 percent in unincorporated areas. Furthermore the City's designation as a State Enterprise Zone could offer greater tax incentives for businesses if annexation takes place.
Developers currently pay much higher fees for parkland development in the City than in the County, and therefore that industry would be impacted to a greater extent if annexation were approved.
Currently, Stevenson Ranch, West Ranch, Castaic and Tesoro are governed by Los Angeles County officials, who meet in downtown Los Angeles. At the top of this structure are five La County Supervisors, elected by district. In our local district, Michael Antonovich is the elected Supervisor. Although voters in the studied unincorporated areas do get to vote for their supervisor, they make up only two percent of the constituency for the District 5 seat.
If annexed into the city of Santa Clarita, residents would be governed by five City Council members elected at large. All Council members would be local residents.
Overall, the Burr study found that residents would receive a greater level of service if they were to approve annexation into the City. While Los Angeles County contracts with the LA County Sheriff's Department for public safety in the unincorporated areas, the City does so on a larger level. This, the study assumes, would provide additional law enforcement services such as COBRA (a gang detail unit), the Business Alliance program, and Community Interaction Team. Additionally, unincorporated areas currently rely on the California Highway Patrol for traffic enforcement. The Study anticipates that by annexing the areas would then benefit from Sheriff's traffic enforcement and investigation on City streets. Note: these benefits could also be attained if the areas formed their own City, provided that the chosen leaders contracted for said services.
Both the County and City have varying attributes when it comes to Code enforcement. While both respond to emergency code violations in the same time frame, the City was found to respond faster on non-emergency calls. However, the County operates regular code sweeps whereas the City only responds to complaints. The Study did note that the City operates a neighborhood makeover program which reaches out to violating neighborhoods.
Park space was found to be comparable in the studied unincorporated areas.
From the City side:
From a governmental standpoint, the Burr report predicts that the annexation would be a positive move for the City of Santa Clarita. While the City would have to pay some form of mitigating fees to the County for at least 7 years, local economic recovery and growth is expected to make the entire City function at a sustainable rate.
Voters in the unincorporated areas will chose from the following options in the November 3 election, selecting their preference for the future: incorporate a brand new city, stay exactly the same, or annex into the City of Santa Clarita. The vote is only meant to gauge what the residents prefer. The results will guide future actions towards the most popular option.
Of course these estimations can vary widely, depending on a host of circumstances. For example, the November 3rd vote might reflect interest in annexation from only a portion of the studied areas. If that is the case, each area's fiscal benefits and detracting factors could force different results. Furthermore, if a majority of the studied areas do support annexation proceedings, and the City moves forward, the Local Agency Formation Commission (which has the ultimate approval over annexations provided less than 15% of registered voters in the affected areas don't formally oppose) could alter the annexation area and/or County mitigation payments.
Both of the conducted studies represent the political infancy of this issue, and the resident vote will be the next major milestone.
The next community meeting to discuss these will be Thursday September 24, from 6:30 - 8:00 p.m. at Castaic Middle School located at 28900 Hillcrest Parkway in Castaic.
To read more about the County-funded study analyzing a new city's feasibility, click here.