A smattering of residents whose governance fate could be decided by a November 3 advisory vote showed up Thursday night to hear representatives of Westside communities discuss the pros and cons of their options.
The council chambers at Santa Clarita City Hall was the setting, where about 50 residents, along with city and county officials, pondered boundaries, services, taxes, land use and timelines.
The residents of West Ranch, Castaic and Tesoro del Valle will be asked to express their preference from a choice of three governance options: to incorporate into its own city, annex into the city of Santa Clarita or maintain the status quo and leave everything the same.
Editor's note: the audio podcast of this forum is now availible in the player below.
"An initial fiscal analysis will tell cities hoping to incorporate whether incorporation will fly or not," said Sandor Winger, Executive Officer of the Local Agency Formation Committee, the quasi-legislative group that has to approve all changes in governance, who added that the process of incorporation could take more than a year and a half.
Beverly Burr, a consultant who analyzed the feasibility of annexation into the City of Santa Clarita, ran down a list of benefits and drawbacks, including local control, no sales tax competition, lower utility tax payments and a better variety of parks and recreation programs being the benefits of annexation and deep pockets for road repairs and more expeditious building permit processes if they remain unincorporated.
One question asked more than once was if the town councils would take a position; both West Ranch Town Council President Ron Mechsner and Castaic Town Council President Steve Teenan said that the councils were merely providing information to residents and encouraging them to go to the polls to make themselves heard.
A voice not heard during the four informational meetings held over the summer was the Tesoro del Valle area. Spokesperson Richard Ryan, who serves as treasurer of the area's homeowners association, addressed the position question.
"Our land use committee is currently gathering information," he said. "We feel there are really only two options here, it seems unlikely that we could incorporate into a separate city because of the physical separation of our communities, which leaves staying with the county or annexation.
"There are basically three issues to address," he continued. "The timing of the annexation, because 1,100 homes were built in 2005 and 700 remain in the planning stages, so we wouldn't want the process disrupted; the boundaries, because we wouldn't want a partial annexation and the services provided by the county, especially with parks and landscaping."
The panel took questions from media representatives of The Signal, KHTS and the West Ranch Beacon as well as members of the audience. Community integrity seemed to be a common concern, but Winger interjected "LAFCo has the right to add or subtract territory" into the discussion, reminiscent of the trials of Santa Clarita's incorporation more than 20 years ago.
The City/County's One Valley, One Vision program was also called upon when boundaries were questioned, specifically related to the preservation of Castaic's rural areas, which are currently covered by special zoning. Consultants agreed that the OV/OV plan as well as several LAFCo precedents would require that zoning ordinances would have to be disclosed prior to any annexation or incorporation could be approved.
Asked near the end of the evening about their relationships with the City of Santa Clarita, both Castaic and West Ranch spokespersons said that there were good times and bad. Tesoro, being a newcomer to the game, had a unique perspective.
"We've shaken hands," Ryan said. "We've not yet danced or embraced."
The advisory vote is scheduled Nov. 3 and votes will be reported by precinct area in KHTS's election coverage. For earlier articles on the annexation information meetings: