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Santa Clarita Wants Sphere of Influence at Borders

It’s been 12 years since Santa Clarita’s four communities joined to form a city government that would allow more control over growth, development and tax revenue. And yet, the formal ability to influence development adjacent to its borders is one of the biggest goals to elude Santa Clarita to date. In 1985, the Cortese-Knox Local Government Reorganization Act provided a way for local government to achieve orderly growth and development. It particularly addressed how to deal with urbanizing areas and urban sprawl, such as what is happening today in Santa Clarita. Specifically, this legislation created Local Agency Formation Commissions (LAFCOs), which designated city “spheres of influence.” These spheres are areas surrounding a city that allow local governments to formally comment on land-use planning occurring adjacent to city boundaries. The concept of a sphere of influence seems tailor-made for Santa Clarita, a growing city of 148,000 people in approximately 50 square miles, completely surrounded by developing unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County. Since the city’s incorporation 12 years ago, more than 20 communities and developers with proposed communities have requested and been successfully annexed into the city; eight more are currently pending. Seeking higher service levels, especially in the areas of police and recreation, and avoiding taxes levied within the unincorporated areas, newly emerging neighborhoods have joined the city of Santa Clarita with a laundry list of wishes and special needs. Lower standards for new development in the surrounding county area have created a discrepancy in the provision of infrastructure and service levels between the city and the county. Residents often notice these differences and proceed to annex into the city, then want the city to “fix” things. If the city had a formal role in the county entitlement process before development takes place, more consistent and cohesive planning would occur. In its first attempt to obtain a sphere of influence in 1989 from LAFCO, Santa Clarita was told it needed to complete its own general plan before a sphere could be given. In Santa Clarita’s second request for a sphere of influence in 1991, with its newly adopted general plan for the entire Valley floor of 256 square miles in hand, LAFCO denied Santa Clarita its request for a sphere, based on the city’s recent incorporation and perceived unproven financial stability. The city recently began its third attempt to secure a sphere. With its 10-year-old general plan under one arm, and its more than 40 awards for excellence in financial management, strategic planning and budgeting under the other, the city of Santa Clarita is now returning to LAFCO with a request for its much-desired sphere of influence. Like the other two requests, this one envisions a planning area for the city that centers upon an area within the Santa Clarita Valley that makes sense from a planning perspective, and represents a reasonable, ultimate city boundary. Ideally, this sphere area should encompass the 256-square-mile Santa Clarita Valley, which is already part of the city’s general plan. However, the city’s humble request is quite a bit smaller. Artificial government boundaries should not be taken into account when land-use planning decisions are considered for the Santa Clarita Valley community. No matter where someone lives in the Valley, community values consistently center upon quality schools, excellent public safety, preservation of oak trees, hillsides, ridgelines and preserving the natural Santa Clara River. Good government dictates that decisions for land use and planning are best made at the local level, with community concerns heard by an easily accessible legislative body that keeps its residents’ interests at the forefront of their mind. The practice of good government would dictate that Santa Clarita be granted its long-awaited sphere of influence. It is time to follow the 1985 Cortese-Knox Local Government Reorganization Act and bring local control to local government. Los Angeles County and its LAFCO have a unique opportunity to help implement good governance in a successfully emerging city. Let Santa Clarita have its sphere of influence and get on with self-governance. And let’s hope the third time is the charm for Santa Clarita. This article was signed by the entire Santa Clarita City Council: Jill Klajic, Janice H. Heidt, Frank Ferry, Laurene West and Mayor Jo Anne Darcy.

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