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Additional Annexation Thoughts

Kudos to members of the Chico City Council for sticking to their guns and standing strong against the bully Local Area Formation Commission (LAFCo) on January 21! Instead of breaking and bowing to LAFCo’s threatening letter, you stood up for your constituents by directing your staff to work towards finding an alternate solution. Granted, Mayor Scott Gruendl sounded wishy-washy when he talked himself out of supporting LAFCo (at least that was my take); but all seven of you did end up voting correctly. How refreshing!

Last Tuesday, in the rush leading up to the Council meeting, we provided the Council with information about the history of the LAFCo issue that was conspicuously absent from Nakamura’s staff report. We then shared it with you in the post, Chapman, Mulberry and the LAFCo Stick. Now that the pressure is off, here are some additional thoughts about the City’s position on the annexation debate.

Before expounding further, I want to be clear that none of us at Truth Matters, Chico! has a horse in this race. We have no enduring loyalty to the City’s policies, and none of us lives in an unincorporated island within the boundaries of Chico’s Sphere of Influence.

Having established that whatever the outcome of this debate, we will not be personally impacted, following are some additional technical and historical data, as well as points of general information (and some opinions) for you to consider.

Disenfranchisement? – LAFCo has repeatedly accused the City of disenfranchising the residents of the Chapman Mulberry area, which LAFCo’s Board and staff consistently label a “low rent” district. The facts, however, do not support the claim. The City has also chosen NOT to annex the areas of El Monte Avenue and Chico Canyon Road, notably two of the most “high rent” districts in Chico’s Sphere of Influence.

Want to be annexed? – While annexation proceedings can be initiated by the City, there is absolutely nothing preventing any property owner from submitting an application for annexation. In fact, when a resident submits an application for sewer service, there is an opportunity to indicate interest in being annexed concurrently with sewer connection. So, if someone personally feels disenfranchised by living in a County pocket, the solution is as simple as going to City Hall and submitting an application! In fact, the required forms are provided on the City’s Planning Department website. Here are the links to the application for annexation only or the application for annexation with sewer connection. Disenfranchisement? I think not.

How does the City or Council know what their constituents want? – The City proposed, and the Council approved, the idea of initiating annexation proceedings for a County pocket upon receipt of 50% plus one requests for sewer hookup. One of the great things about that proposal is it operates as an informal survey. If every time the City receives an application for sewer service, it asks the applicant to indicate whether or not there is an interest in annexing the property, and/or to sign a Consent to Future Annexation to obtain the sewer connection, then obviously the data to determine whether property owners in a County pocket are ready to annex is being collected. Can you think of a better way?

Condition of infrastructure in County pockets? – There has always been a lot of back and forth between the City and County regarding infrastructure in County pockets. What I can attest to as documented truth is the Overall Condition Index (OCI) of the City’s streets, how that number was negatively impacted by the many annexations that have already occurred, and how that number will be further negatively impacted when the remaining County pockets are annexed.

One of my responsibilities as a City employee was the Pavement Management Program (PMP), which kept an eye on the overall condition of the City’s roads and prioritized repairs based on taxpayers receiving the most bang for their bucks. (There is a point of diminishing returns when it comes to road repairs.) Please bear with me – I am trying to not get too technical here, but this is important!

The PMP assigns a Pavement Condition Index (PCI) to sections of roadways by taking into account multiple variables. This data goes through a complex mathematical calculation, via a computer program, and produces a number between 1 and 100 (where 100 is perfect and 1 is completely failed), which identifies the “condition” of the pavement in each section of roadway. All of the PCIs combined determine the OCI – ultimately assigning one number to establish the quality of Chico’s pavement.

Before Chico annexed approximately 7,000 acres of County pockets, its OCI was in the mid-70s, in the Very Good category. After those annexations occurred, Chico’s OCI dropped to the high 50s, the mid-range in the Good category. While I was managing the PMP, we decided to survey all road sections in the remaining County pockets, so we would be prepared to add them into our road maintenance program upon annexation. This survey informed us that Chico’s OCI would take an additional hit, putting Chico’s roadway network at the higher end of the Poor category.

Sales Tax Agreements? – It is difficult to discuss the existing Sales Tax Agreements between the City and the County without sounding overly opinionated; so I will limit my comments to the fact that the Agreements do exist, and in my opinion, it would be imperative that these Sales Tax Agreements be revised or eliminated upon annexation of all County pockets within Chico’s Sphere of Influence. Unfortunately, since both the City and County are parties to the Agreements, both agencies would have to agree to a renegotiation of the terms.

LAFCo staff has been working with City staff for years without resolution? – I can attest to LAFCo’s assertion that it has been working with City and County staff for two to three years, attempting to resolve the annexation issue. Mind you, the term “working with” is being used very loosely. Meetings had been occurring; however, in my experience, for about the first year plus some months, LAFCo staff would brainstorm with City and County staff and agree to proposed solutions, and then make a 180-degree turn at their Board meetings. LAFCo staff would repeatedly blindside both City and County employees with unexpected declarations, and would provide agreements and/or other documentation to the LAFCo Board that had not been shared with the other impacted parties.

The LAFCo Board and staff also had a very different view of the sewer connections permitted within County pockets. The City and County had been working together for years in an effort to assist property owners in complying with the Nitrate Abatement Order (linked in my previous post), which required abandonment of individual septic systems to reduce the impact of nitrates on the groundwater, without imposing additional financial burdens such as forced annexation.

LAFCo, on the other hand, wanted to use the sewer connections as a “stick” to enforce annexations. Both the LAFCo Board and staff publicly stated that if the City allowed property owners to connect to sewer service without annexation, property owners would have NO OTHER REASON TO ANNEX. Not to receive local police service. Not to have drainage issues resolved. Not to have roadway upgrades completed by the City. Not to be included in the street sweeping and leaf pick-up programs. Not to vote on local issues. Did you get that last point? LAFCo believes those property owners don’t care about the ability to vote; they just care about getting that sewer connection! So much for disenfranchisement.

What else might the community not know? – Did you know that only parcels that are already developed can be connected to sewer without annexing? Any new development within a County pocket would require annexation in order to connect to sewer, which would bring in all other adjoining parcels – likely at the developer’s cost – to receive City services and infrastructure. In fact, there are a few undeveloped parcels of land in the Chapman Mulberry area that were discussed in meetings between the City, County, and LAFCo. In addition to an initiation of the annexation process at 50% plus one sewer connection, annexation would also be initiated by any new development.

Thanks for letting me spout off on this LAFCo business; I’ve needed to get it off my chest for some time now. That said, I hope it brings some additional enlightenment to those interested in, and/or potentially impacted by, the annexation debate.

If you have specific questions regarding this or any other topic we write about, please always feel free to email us if you do not want to publicly comment on the post. Odds are, if you have a question, someone else might have the same question. Letting us know gives us an opportunity to further explain anything that seems clear to us but muddy to you non-bureaucrats. Among the three of us, there is a lot of information and specific data floating around in our heads that we may not realize is important or interesting until someone asks!

So if you have a question, bring it to us! We love hearing from our readers. And, we love it when our readers share our posts with their friends, families, acquaintances, mortal enemies…whomever!

Thank you for continuing to follow us and never forget:

Truth Matters, Chico!

Chapman, Mulberry and the LAFCo Stick

As mentioned in our Council Meeting post this morning, one of the items the Council will be addressing this evening relates to the Local Agency Formation Commission attempting to compel the City to annex certain unincorporated islands, including among others the Chapman and Mulberry neighborhoods. Conspicuously absent from the staff report is any mention of the historical context of this issue prior to August 2013. Once again, the ‘rightsizing out’ of institutional knowledge has led to incomplete information for the Council.

Since the history is critical to understanding what is at the core of this disagreement, we at Truth Matters, Chico! compiled some relevant documents (with the help of some ‘friends’) and forwarded them to the Council and staff this afternoon. Depending on the outcome of tonight’s discussion, we may delve more deeply into this issue to further enlighten the new Executive Team.

Following is the text of my email:

Upon reading the Staff Report for tonight’s LAFCo item, containing the most recent letter to the City of Chico, I thought it might be helpful for your discussion if I provided some additional historical information for context. Although some of you may already be aware of this, those of you who are new to the Council may not. Since Mr. Nakamura’s letter contained in the agenda report thanks Mr. Leverenz for the historical timeline, and contains no information prior to August 2013, I can only deduce that there is no one remaining on your staff with the institutional knowledge to provide the City’s perspective.

One important point that should not be ignored is what sparked LAFCo’s interest in this new round of annexations: the Regional Water Quality Control Board’s Nitrate Abatement Order affecting properties currently on individual septic systems. This Order directs each parcel owner, NOT the City of Chico, to connect the property to a sewer service and abandon septic tanks. While the City must provide the infrastructure necessary for the property to be in compliance, the onus for complying with the Order lies with the property owner.

LAFCo has consistently chosen to disregard the health and safety issues surrounding the Nitrate Abatement Order, choosing instead to focus on its goals, and the potential revenues involved in processing the annexations, without regard to financial and other impacts to property owners. LAFCo is using sewer connections as a “stick” to force Butte County residents to annex into the City of Chico.

I am attaching the Nitrate Abatement Order, as well as a few other documents that will provide additional history regarding steps your former staff took to resolve this issue with LAFCo. I hope it will provide additional insight for your discussion tonight.

Best Regards, Quené

Here are the documents that were attached to the email:

Nitrate Abatement Order

LAFCO Hearing summary 01-07-2011

Annexation Plan Council Report 08-03-2012

LAFCo Follow-up Letter 08-06-2012

This is an important subject for anyone living in the unincorporated islands of Chapman, Mulberry, Forest Avenue, East Lassen Avenue, El Monte Avenue, and Chico Canyon Road. While there are many benefits to being annexed to the City, there are also detriments and costs that should be considered. Please share this post with anyone you know who lives in the impacted areas, so they will be aware of what is at stake.

Thank you for your readership. As always, your questions and comments are welcome.

Remember: Truth Matters, Chico!

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