North County Islands: Transition Time
Some live in distinct urban communities like Midway City, Sunset Beach and Rossmoor. They generally resist annexation but lack the tax base to be cities of their own. Some, like Coto de Caza, are part of private associations providing many municipal services. Others are rural communities like Silverado, Modjeska or Trabuco Oaks whose residents seek little from government other than to be left alone.
Many are in so-called “county islands”. They are pockets of county territory totally surrounded by adjacent cities. These islands range from just a few homes to areas of several thousand people. For historical or political reasons, they remain unincorporated.
It is on these islands that Board policy is increasingly focusing attention. It is becoming more difficult for OC Sheriff’s deputies, building inspectors, code enforcers and street sweepers to serve these scattered and isolated islands. Annexation to adjacent cities would consolidate and make more efficient municipal services.
Annexation, however, can be a prickly issue. Some island residents fear greater code enforcement and higher taxes, while other welcome the greater city services that might be received. Many cities see annexation as a drain, as the islands have no sales tax base and could require costly infrastructure upgrades. Typically, the County offers financial incentives to cities to annex these islands.
The final decision is in the hands of the Local Agency Formation Commission. LAFCO is independent agency led by its own 7-member governing board, including Supervisors Silva, Campbell and Wilson. LAFCO hearings consider city and county concerns, as well as those of area residents. In the larger islands, their decision can be appealed by a direct popular vote.
All five of the cities in my Fourth Supervisorial District have grappled with the fate of the county islands:
ANAHEIM: About 8,000 residents live in an area of West Anaheim, roughly between Gilbert, Brookhurst, Katella and Broadway. Nicknamed by some the “Gaza Strip”, it includes 100-year old homes in the Colonia Independencia and 1950’s homes in the Sherwood Forest tract (named by local Disneyland employees).
The Board of Supervisors and the Anaheim City Council approved an annexation agreement, which was affirmed by the LAFCO Board. By law, however, resident have 30 days to gather signatures to force a vote, and an activist group is doing just that. I’ve told residents in numerous community meetings that joining Anaheim is in their long-term interests. Mayor Pringle has been particularly active is reaching out to residents.
BUENA PARK: Sandwiched between Beach Blvd. and the L.A. County line (and the City of La Mirada) lies a 39 acre gated tract of 400 residents. Buena Park has no interest in annexation, as the area lies across Coyote Creek and has access only through La Mirada.
FULLERTON: The small Page Island (along the NW corner of Brookhurst and the Riverside Fwy.) was annexed by Fullerton in November, 2004.
LA HABRA: There are 13 separate county islands scattered throughout La Habra, totaling 151 acres and over 1,500 people. Infrastructure deficiencies and lack of sales tax base has long dampened any interest by La Habra to take them over. Current City-County negotiations may soon resolve this, and would involve incentive for the city to proceed with annexation.
PLACENTIA: Centered on Yorba Linda Blvd. and Hamer Ln. is a 76-acre neighborhood of 918 residents. Totally surrounded by Placentia, these island residents are neither served by the Placentia Police Dept. nor can vote in Placentia elections. Some preliminary city-county talks have begun.
There are still about 11,000 residents in my district living in scattered unincorporated islands. I believe it is in their interest—and the cities’ and county’s—to ultimately be annexed. The county has become a regional planner and service provider. Local municipal services are better performed by the cities. However, careful negotiations and a respect for local identities will be needed for any final resolution.