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Annex talk picks up new vocabulary

Negotiation on boundaries, discussion of city charter predicted

Posted: September 27, 2009 10:25 p.m.
Updated: September 28, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
As the communities straddling the western and northern edge of the Santa Clarita Valley prepare to recommend the type of government they want in the future, several words, including "incorporation" and "annexation," have been part of the conversation.

The newest word in the dialogue - and perhaps the word with the greatest effect on the outcome - is "negotiation."

"Whatever happens, there will be a negotiation," said Robert Kelly, Castaic Area Town Council member.

Kelly's words came after a public meeting last week that annoyed two members of the Castaic Area Town Council.

Annexation consultant Beverly Burr had stated that Castaic couldn't be cheaply annexed by Santa Clarita.

Residents of Stevenson Ranch, Westridge, Castaic and Tesoro will be asked to cast a nonbinding vote in November, choosing among forming their own city, joining the city of Santa Clarita or remaining in unincorporated Los Angeles County.

Burr said annexing Castaic would mean "alimony payments" to Los Angeles County to account for lost tax revenue the county receives from the area.

In addition, the city of Santa Clarita would foot the bill for nearly $1 million in annual road maintenance for Castaic, which is criss-crossed by rural roads along its outlying areas.

Castaic Area Town Council members left the public meeting steamed; Kelly said the comments by Burr seemed biased and premature.

"It doesn't matter what she thinks about the possibility of annexation," he said. "Any annexation effort is a negotiated annexation."

Kelly isn't the only person using the word "negotiation" as it relates to the future of the westside, and specifically Castaic.

Burr herself said any attempt by the city to absorb more land would include a negotiation between Santa Clarita and Los Angeles County over Castaic's alimony payments.

Those negotiations, Burr said, could resolve the $1 million in payments the city could owe the county.

"Where there's a will, there's a way," she said.

Burr floated the idea of using the existing utility user tax to foot the bill for the alimony payments to the county.

Residents of the county pay a utility users tax that city residents don't pay.

The tax, currently set at 4.5 percent, would roll back to 2.75 percent and begin a protracted seven-year phase-out under a plan from Burr, who was hired by the city to study the three options.

But that's not the only negotiable item between the city and the county if a future joining of Castaic to the city is pursued.

The boundaries are also negotiable.

Presently, Pitchess Detention Center, which is in Castaic, was lumped in with the Tesoro study are as part of both the incorporation study presented in June and Burr's annexation study presented this month.

Under study requirements, all the property in an incorporated study area must remain connected.

Burr said Pitchess was identified as part of Tesoro because the study area would otherwise be fractured by the jail and Interstate 5.

But if the boundaries could be redrawn to put Pitchess in Castaic, then annexation by the city is more economically viable, Burr said.
"Pitchess is gold," she said.

The jail brings in millions of dollars in revenue from the county and the state at no expense to the local government, Burr added.

If annexation is pursued, the matter of representation for the communities on the westside will be on the negotiation table, predicted Flo Lawrence, Castaic Area Town Council member.

The Santa Clarita city charter calls for an at-large election for City Council - meaning all five council members are chosen by all voters throughout the city. There are no individual districts.

Lawrence said there is no guarantee the westside will benefit from quality representation under such a city council charter.

"If we annex, there is no guarantee any representative will come from (Stevenson Ranch, Westridge) Castaic or Tesoro," he said.

Lawrence plans to bring those issues to the city if annexation is pursued.

"Of course we will bring it to the table," he said, "because the big question will be, are we a part of the Santa Clarita City Council instead of watching it?"

The debate over governance for the western and northern communities will continue on Oct. 8 at Santa Clarita City Hall with a public forum on the issue scheduled for 6:30 p.m.

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