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You'll have to get past this man

• If a city wants to annex land, it'll have to convince Sandor Winger.

Posted: March 30, 2008 12:55 a.m.
Updated: May 31, 2008 5:02 a.m.

Sandor Winger, LAFCO's executive director, reviews and ultimately gives the thumbs up or down to proposals that require redrawing the county map.

 
If a line is being drawn in the sand anywhere in Los Angeles County, Sandor Winger is the man who draws that line.

His official title is "Executive Director of the Local Agency Formation Commission for the County of Los Angeles."

If anyone wants to annex county land - be they city officials of Santa Clarita or Los Angeles, county officials, developers - they end up at LAFCO and, most likely, in front of Sandor Winger.

And, despite the recent downturn in housing sales and new development, a lot of people evidently are still trying to annex land.

Case in point: Winger's desk.

Inside his office on Central Boulevard in Glendale, every inch of his desk is covered with neatly stacked piles of stapled papers, arranged in over-lapping rows like decks of cards; each is a request for annexation.

When he's reminded of the power he wields - that all developers, all municipalities and government agencies wanting to re-draw the county map for their own benefit must submit applications to him for review -Winger makes no move to soften the stark observation.

"It is what it is," he said. "We have a job to do."

Winger reviews the applications and makes his recommendation to the LAFCO board where the final decision is made.

LAFCO in Los Angeles is responsible for reviewing and approving all proposed jurisdictional boundary changes in the county.

The office was set up in 2000, with other LAFCO offices throughout the state, to discourage urban sprawl and encourage the orderly formation and development of local government agencies.

Winger - not afraid to respond to casual first meeting inquiries with "I feel (crappy)" - slams an inch-thick spiral-bound book on his desk.

"This means everything to us and I mean everything," he said, tapping a copy of the Cortez-Knox-Hertzberg Local Government Reorganization Act of 2000.

"We take no sides. We don't get into haves and needs and wants and wishes," he said, Applicants making requests for annexation must meet strict criteria spelled out in the hefty LAFCO manual. A short list of essential services serves as the foundation behind any approval. Topping the list of those fundamental requisites is water.

"Water is California gold," Winger said. "If we do not get absolute commitment for a water supply, we won't recommend that application," he said. "Let's say somebody in Santa Clarita wants to annex a piece of territory to Santa Clarita, if I'm told they cannot supply water, it won't happen."

On Dec. 23, 2002, one of the applications to land on Winger's desk was from the Las Lomas Land Company, LLC, about land in Santa Clarita.

Winger sent it back, telling the company its application was incomplete.

"There's certainly a lot of people upset about Las Lomas but I gotta do my job," Winger said.

In the case of Las Lomas, when the company's application for annexation was returned, developer Dan S. Palmer turned his attention to the city of Los Angeles.

Palmer was allowed to build about 250 homes in the unincorporated county land off The Old Road near Highway 14, but not 5,553 housing units as he had planned.

The only way to convince LAFCO that more than 5,500 units would receive a constant supply of water, was if Las Lomas was part of Los Angeles.

On Mar. 19, those hopes ended for Palmer when city council voted to stop all work on Las Lomas.

The task of reviewing an application to annex Las Lomas land into the City of Los Angeles was suddenly one less job to stay on Winger's desk.

If the city council decision to stop the project created an empty spot on his desk, another request for annexation immediately took its place.

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