Santa Paula Times

Politically motivated? S.P. City Council
questions LAFCo’s move on canyons

August 21, 2015
Santa Paula News

A potential move described by a City Councilwoman as “politically motivated,” an apparent bid by a state agency to shrink the city’s sphere of influence by removing two canyons long targeted for future growth was addressed Monday by the City Council.

The council discussed the upcoming September 16 LAFCo (Ventura Local Agency Formation Commission) hearing, a state agency with local commissioners that controls urban boundaries, at the August 17 meeting.

The upcoming meeting said Planning Director Janna Minsk caught city officials by surprise, as they expected no further consideration on the boundaries of Adams and Fagan canyons for more than two years based on LAFCo’s own timeline.

“Why are we out of sync with our five-year cycle?” Minsk told the council. “Any sphere change by LAFCo at this time is really out of sync with the voters’ desires.”

Minsk was referring to several actions by Santa Paula voters including establishing the CURB (City Urban Restriction Boundary lines) in 2000 as well as a vote in 2007 to allow development in Adams Canyon.

The two canyons dwarf Santa Paula’s present 4-plus mile radius at almost 6,000 acres, double the city’s size.

Minsk offered a timeline to the council noting that in February 2002 LAFCo approved the city sphere of influence that corresponded with the General Plan and in 2007 LAFCo reaffirmed the sphere.

But in March 2013 LAFCo commissioners expressed concern that development was not moving forward and several commissioners questioned the lack of specific plans for development and infrastructure among other issues. 

But the motion to remove the canyons from the city’s sphere died when LAFCo commissioners deadlocked 3-3. 

Minsk said in April a LAFCo commissioner asked for an update and a public hearing was scheduled for May, which was postponed to September per the city’s request.

The city has communicated with LAFCo regarding the reasoning behind the upcoming hearing and in an August 14 letter to the council Kai Luoma, LAFCo executive officer wrote that the commission will “consider updating the sphere of influence, which may include the removal of territory located in Adams and/or Fagan Canyons.”

The potential move by LAFCo said Councilwoman Ginger Gherardi is “politically motivated” and goes against the will of Santa Paula voters. 

Gherardi said she believes SOAR (Save Open-Space & Agricultural Resources) is a motivator to remove the canyons from the city’s sphere of influence ahead of a possible countywide vote in 2016—four years before SOAR expires—to extend the initiative to 2050. Under SOAR, if not in the city’s sphere of influence any development in Adams and/or Fagan canyons would require a countywide vote.

That, said Gherardi, contradicts SOAR campaigners’ insistence that voters would still guide growth and Santa Paulans have already made their decision on the canyons.

Gherardi said it would be a “precedent setting issue for the SOAR process,” and, “If the public can’t rely on being able to change the land use, they ought to know it...if that ballot process is meaningless, why have it?” 

Councilman Jim Tovias said he, businessman Steve Smead and former Mayor Bob Gonzales “led the campaign” that finally allowed growth in Adams Canyon.

“When we went to Estancia,” a luxury Scottsdale resort built by then proposed Adams developer Pinnacle, Tovias said he questioned company representative Greg Boyd asked, “what’s in it for Santa Paula?” 

Tovias said he found it would “double our general fund with little or no impact to Santa Paula...”

It was at the direction of LAFCo he added that Santa Paula eyed canyons for development.

Vice Mayor Martin Hernandez said “from a state perspective” LAFCo has “every right to do this,” by moving up the hearing schedule as the law states that such issues can be revisited “not less than every five years...”

City Attorney John Cotti confirmed the law but questioned, “How many they are taking off the cycle? Just one, that’s us...”

Hernandez said he was also concerned of the “burden” borne by the city of spending money on such matters for private property owners.

Said Mayor John Procter, “At the end of that hearing Supervisor Kathy Long,” a LAFCo commissioner, “said ‘see you in five years...’ To me it’s a matter of determining our own destiny and I feel like we’re being singled out.”

The council agreed to write a letter to LAFCo and prepare for the September hearing.