Council scrambles to delay LAFCo hearing on canyons
By Peggy Kelly
Santa Paula City Council
Published: December 26, 2012
The City Council was blindsided and scrambled at Monday’s meeting to ask for a postponement of a hearing that could take two canyons slated for future development out of Santa Paula’s sphere of influence.
At risk are Adams Canyon and Fagan Canyon, whose status per state law must be reviewed every five years by the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo).
City Manager Jaime Fontes’ report for the December 17 council meeting noted the so-called Municipal Services Review for Santa Paula was presented to LAFCo at their November 14 meeting. “LAFCo... has previously indicated its intention to greatly reduce, if not eliminate entirely, the city’s sphere of influence” for Adams Canyon, which Fontes’ reported led to a December 4 meeting with LAFCo Executive Officer Kim Uhlich and others.
The city has and continues to receive “significant interest” relative to development in both canyons’ sphere areas, and Fontes’ wrote the reduction of same “could greatly limit development, with its potential economic benefits” in those areas. Adams Canyon has more than 6,500 acres and Fagan Canyon more than 2,170 acres.
Development of both has been controversial, with numerous ballot measures. After several tries when voters rejected a much larger 2,250 home development and later a scaled back version with questionable financial returns to the city, Adams finally won voter approval for 495 custom home sites, a school and resort/golf course. Fagan’s bid to build 2,147 homes and amenities was rejected by voters the sole time it has appeared on the ballot, but development discussions continue.
Uhlich presented some background on the law and the LAFCo review as well as potential actions - no change, eliminate both canyons, or eliminate Adams Canyon only from the sphere of influence - that could be taken by LAFCo at the January 16, 2013 hearing.
“I would like to get a copy of that report,” said Councilman Bob Gonzales, who noted it was “troubling” that the city had not been informed of the issue that would “impact our backyard.”
Gonzales had worked for the Pinnacle Group, the potential developer of Adams Canyon, on their second attempt to develop the canyon before he was elected to the council. As a councilman Gonzales was an outspoken proponent of the third canyon development proposal, which finally garnered voter approval.
In her presentation Uhlich noted the city had been notified “formally” in May 2012 of the pending study and had been sent a questionnaire that was returned by the city in June. Since that time LAFCo and the city had corresponded and the former received a draft on the potential action, which was also reviewed and returned by the city. A public notice of the November meeting was also issued when the commission voted to accept the report.
Each councilman expressed their deep concerns with the proposed changes as well as the process, and asked pointed questions about same.
Uhlich noted the inclusion of Limoneira East Areas 1 and 2 to the sphere of influence later approved by voters; development plans are already in place. City staff had been asked if there were any formal requests pending to develop in Adams and/or Fagan canyons, and LAFCo learned there are none at this time.
Councilman Jim Tovias noted a 50-acre parcel is also being considered by LAFCo for a sphere of influence change, but “What we are looking at is an entire land grab” of property as large as the city itself. In addition, Gonzales and Tovias both noted the perception of such an action would be, said Tovias, that in the city of Santa Paula “your vote doesn’t count.”
Councilman Martin Hernandez asked if there was a deadline or if the issue could be delayed, and Uhlich said LAFCo is already pushing past the state mandated deadlines. LAFCo has “been talking with cities for six months... it’s not a surprise even to you staff,” and Uhlich said the agency believes it provided sufficient notice.
Hernandez also questioned whether a “letter of intent” by a potential developer would suffice as a formal request, and Gonzales noted there is development in Adams Canyon with a parcel approved for 74 homes north of Foothill at Peck Road.
Mayor Ralph Fernandez’s remarks centered on the lack of documentation provided to the council on the issue, which he noted had been the focus of “battles” over development. Uhlich repeated that LAFCo does have options including no change in the designated sphere of influence.
She did question some later CURB actions, noting it appears some properties were bisected, which would create problems for divided parcel owners. The issue should be addressed in the future, as those creating such maps, she noted, use at times “a small map and a Sharpie” to designate boundaries.
There were several public speakers and more council comment before Vice Mayor Rick Cook made the motion to formally request the LAFCo hearing on Santa Paula’s sphere of influence be delayed and the report received and filed by the council.