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Pair of difficulties descend on incorporation effort in Anza area
Friday, October 18th, 2013
Issue 42, Volume 17.
The first jolt came when a Riverside County official said his research indicated that no charter city has ever been formed during the California incorporation process. For some time, forming a charter city has been seen as the preferred option among many Anza-area incorporation proponents.
The second blow came when the county supervisor who represents the Anza area, and also serves on the county’s boundary-setting agency, said in an interview that incorporation doesn’t appear to be economically feasible.
But those potential setbacks have not extinguished a simmering effort in the region to wrestle local control away from Riverside County.
"The feeling for self-government is palpable and strong at almost every level – small property owner or large or whether you’re new or been here a long time," said Larry Linder, who sees incorporation as a way of tailoring local services to the area’s needs.
That feeling, which surfaced in recent interviews with area leaders, center on the belief that the county is not doing enough to promote public safety, economic development and property rights.
"They don’t care about us up here," said Robyn Garrison, an incorporation proponent and county critic.
Not so, responded Jeff Stone, the county supervisor who represents the region and also serves on the county’s seven-member Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO).
"I’ve done a lot to help them in the Anza area," Stone said in a recent telephone interview as he cited a new air conditioning system purchased for a community center as well as other projects and improvements his office has funded over the years.
Discussions on whether and how to push for city status for a broad swath of land stretching from Vail Lake to Pinion have played out at community meetings in recent months. An internet site was created to provide information and solicit donations and volunteers to circulate petitions, make telephone calls or do other tasks.
The web site’s authors identify a vast area – 334 square miles – which by far would qualify as the largest city in Riverside County. But, with just a mere 14,000 residents and few businesses, it would also have the lowest population and smallest tax base.
The web site estimates that the path to become a city could take 1½ to 2½ years and cost $250,000 or more for the required studies and hearings.
The web site’s authors estimate that a new city in the Anza area would have about $19 million a year in property tax revenue at its disposal to pay for such municipal services as planning, public works, administration and police and fire protection. But a financial feasibility study could indicate that the costs to provide those services would far exceed that revenue.
"That’s the one thing that could be a killer," said incorporation proponent Michael Machado. He said the community’s strong contingents of volunteer firefighters and crime watch members could offset a shortfall in public safety funding. Other municipal services could be provided on an as-needed, contract basis, he said.
"The city would pretty much start out as volunteers, which the community is in support of," he said. "They’re used to doing that."
In addition to having numerous volunteer firefighters, the area is home to several heavy equipment contractors who could carve fire protection breaks and access roads, he said.
"We’re perfectly capable of fighting fires," Machado said.
He said a lack of county funding and a backlash over aggressive county code enforcement actions have fueled much of the incorporation spirit. He said many residents are upset about the high cost of permits to open a business, a problem that thwarts the creation of local jobs and forces workers to commute long distances.
"These are the kind of things that enrage people," Machado said.
Along with a unified goal of forming a new city, a consensus has emerged among many residents toseek a so-called charter city. The name of the web site – "Incorporate Charter City" – reflects that sentiment.
Charter cities have "supreme authority over municipal affairs," according to a summary drafted by legal staff at the League of California Cities. That approach, rather than the standard structure of a general law city, is seen by incorporation proponents as a way to tailor the services and programs of a fledgling municipality created in the Anza area.
Of California’s 478 cities, only 108 of them are charter cities, according to the summary.
A city charter is, according to the legal analysis, "in effect a city constitution."
The desire to know more about the incorporate process prompted some Anza area leaders to contact George J. Spiliotis, LAFCO executive director. Spiliotis said he has fielded calls "on and off for several years" from Anza-area leaders who periodically discuss whether to form a city.
In a July 18 e-mail to Linder, Spiliotis addressed many of the questions that had have surrounded a possible incorporation as a charter city.
"There are no (legal) provisions that I can find that would allow the development of a charter prior to incorporation," Spiliotis wrote. He went on to detail the process in which charter cities are formed.
Cities must already exist before they can adopt a charter, according to Spiliotis and League analysts. An elected commission or the city’s governing board must draft the proposed charter, which must then be ratified by a majority of the city’s voters.
Spiliotis added that he would "strongly discourage" an effort to incorporate as a charter city even if it was allowed under state law.
"Adding the issue of a charter, in my opinion, would only further complicate the issues and the process, likely increasing opposition," he said in his e-mail.
The difficulties of incorporating as a charter city have not derailed the effort. But it has prompted some proponents to re-examine their approach.
"We are at one of those crossroads," Linder said. "It’s a methodical, grinding process. People come and leave (incorporation groups). It’s a living organism that grows and contracts. It’s a process."
History has shown that to be true in southwest Riverside County. Temecula’s incorporation effort took several tries and a pair of feasibility studies before that fast-growing community became a city in December 1989. Menifee’s push to become a city played out over two decades before the nearly 50-square mile area became a city in October 2008.
Riverside County now contains 28 cities. The latest pair of rural communities to become cities occurred when Eastvale incorporated in October 2010 and Jurupa followed suit nine months later.
Supervisor Stone said the financial problems facing many of the fledgling cities, especially cash-strapped Jurupa, spotlight the difficulties that the Anza area would face if it incorporated.
He noted that the financial challenges of forming a city have toughened in recent years as a result of the state siphoning away the share of vehicle licensing fees that had once been earmarked for municipalities.
"I think (incorporation) is highly unrealistic," Stone said. "It’s just not feasible."
Stone said a detailed study would likely show that the county spends more money providing services to the Anza area than it collects in taxes. He also countered many of the criticisms of the county that were raised in interviews by annexation proponents.
He said the county wants economic development to occur in the Anza area, and he has assigned a staff member to help cut through the red tape that can prevent new businesses from opening. He does not think residents would feel safe if they had to rely on mostly-volunteer police or fire protection services.
Stone said he believes most residents of the Anza area are satisfied with the current level of services, and they prefer a rural setting that can be at odds with the demands and financial pressures of running a city.
"They like to be left alone," he said. "They like their rural lifestyle."
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