Council set to decide on islands
By Jay Seidel
La Habra Journal
The sounds of traffic are barely heard behind the wall that surrounds Scott Wilson’s back yard along Macy Street. Wilson and his wife Amy, sit on comfortable patio furniture and enjoy the shade of their back yard. The long-time resident of
what is classified as the Macy/Randall Island is one of the residents of the county territories that has voiced concern over the proposed annexation of the county property by the City of La Habra.
The La Habra City Council is set to make a decision on the proposed annexation of the six remaining county islands that fall within the city’s borders this September. The move to annex the territories was brought up by the city council on May 1, but faced quite a bit of outcry at the meeting from some residents of the islands.
At its heart, according to Wilson, is the argument as to why annex homeowners who don’t want to be annexed. Why not leave well enough alone?
Wilson and Bob Hatcher, another resident of the island territory designated as Macy/Randall, expressed the concerns of many residents in the islands of the increased costs to homeowners associated with a “forced” annexation.
Many of the 1,267 residents of the county islands are concerned with an increase in sales tax, trash rates, utility bills, taxes, business license fees, and the addition of overnight parking permit fees. Further, many county residents are on septic tank systems, and are concerned with having to be required to change and then pay to be connected to the city sewer system.
However, according to La Habra City Manager Jim Sadro, costs will be minimal to the residents. Taxes and utility rate increases are nominal and the timeframe for switching from septic to sewer will be up to the residents.
Regarding the increased expense for the city to take on the 1,267 residents, Sadro said that the estimated $7.2 million will not be all at once. The installation of sidewalks and street lights will come over a period of time and will be up to the residents on those streets.
Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson, who represents La Habra, said that it is a matter of “good government and management” that La Habra annex the islands.
The Citrus/Entrada and Cypress/Terry islands are the smallest areas and have a combined total of 11 homes. Nelson raised the question of how efficient it is for residents on the extreme northern border of Orange County to be serviced by Santa Ana, when they can be serviced more effectively by the city of La Habra. “What do they have against being a part of La Habra? It’s a great city,” he said.
For Wilson and other residents, it’s not that they have anything against La Habra, but rather enjoy their “island life.”
While some residents of the islands enjoy the separated lifestyle, others weren’t aware that it wasn’t part of La Habra, since they have a La Habra mailing address.
Street addresses are another concern for the residents in the islands. The numbers are out of sync with the city’s address system. Changing addresses can cost homeowners an expense, depending on how much they have connected to the address. Home-based business operators would have an additional increased expense with the change.
The numbering system for the city is to better provide police and fire services. However, La Habra Police Chief Jerry Price said that with increased technology, such as GPS, they will have no trouble finding a location when needed.
Sadro added that there might not be a need to change the address numbers right away, if at all. It is something the city needs to look into.
Wilson and other residents are concerned about the vague references to what they “might not have to do” or what might be “grandfathered” in that they have received from the city. “They haven’t put anything in writing,” Wilson said.
Along with the “grandfathering” uncertainty, many homeowners of the islands expressed further concerns over switching from county to La Habra building codes. What has existed for years under county ordinances could now be out of compliance under La Habra ordinances.
Many residents of the islands have expressed their lack of trust in what city officials have stated and said they prefer to see things in writing. In the May 1 council meeting that lasted nearly three hours primarily to accommodate as many resident comments as possible. Hatcher said that he felt that the residents of the Macy/Randall island were not given enough notification.
Councilman Michael Blazey called for a website to be set up to provide residents more detailed information on annexation and what will happen. The city staff agreed, but to date the site has not been established.
The push for annexation this year is fueled by the City of La Habra wanting to increase water flow and pressure north of Whittier Boulevard. However, five of the islands are located in that area and have been serviced by Cal Domestic Water.
Cal Domestic is changing its organization and it is becoming a water wholesaler. This would move those islands into La Habra’s water district. With this happening Orange County Supervisors and the Orange County Local Agency Formation Commission, which represents the state in discouraging urban sprawl and encouraging orderly and efficient provision of municipal services, encouraged La Habra to annex the islands.
However, LAFCO and Orange County officials said that the sixth and final island of Macy/Randall and its 305 parcels will have to be included in the annexation.
Annexation of county islands in La Habra has come up over the years. In the past island residents have been given a vote to approve or reject annexation. Some islands in La Habra have approved annexation in the past. It is just down to the remaining six islands within the city.
However, since 2004, California changed the law regarding annexation. It allows for annexation of unincorporated areas of up to 150 acres to be annexed with the local agency formation commission’s approval. The remaining islands total just under 131 acres.
Caroline Emery, Executive Officer with the Orange County LAFCO, informed city officials that both LAFCO and the State Board of Equalization are waiving all of the normal annexation fees required for the City.
With all other requirements in place, the last remaining step before annexation of the islands is the approval of the La Habra City Council.
Wilson and a group of other residents hope that they decide to just let them be.