La Habra annexes county islands

By Jay Seidel
La Habra Journal

In front of a packed council chambers that flowed over into the City Hall atrium, the La Habra City Council voted 4-1 to annex the last remaining six county islands that fall within the city limits.
After two hours of public comments where those in attendance spoke against the annexation and shared their concerns about the impact of becoming part of the city, the council members discussed the issues and worked to address some of the concerns.
Councilman Tom Beamish made a motion, that the council approved, to direct the city staff to schedule town hall meetings and to ensure the city is getting input from the new residents about the direction they want to go regarding being assimilated into the city.
Of the concerns expressed by the residents, many voiced their concern over promises the city was making. City staff shared that all legal county permitted construction on properties will be grandfathered in to the city, and will be listed as a legal non-conforming status.
However, that didn’t comfort all residents.
“I’m concerned about the permits,said Scott Wilson, a resident of the Macy-Randall island on the northwest side of La Habra. “Some construction on my house did not need permits in the county, and I’m concerned about it not being grandfathered.”
Further, many residents shared their worries of future city councils and what changes they might implement.
Beamish and Councilman Michael Blazey both expressed that they wanted to put in writing the plans as they go forward with the island annexation, so future council members will be unable to change or implement changes on the residents.
Mayor Pro-Tem Tim Shaw added that with the influx of the new residents, perhaps its time to get their input on making some changes to the way the city does things. Perhaps they should look at La Habra’s permit requirements and maybe adopt some policies like the county.
“Just because we’ve always done something a certain way doesn’t mean we have to always do it that way,” Shaw said.
Another major concern expressed by many residents is the possible change of addresses as the county numbering system is different to the city system.
Sue Schmidt, a resident of Sharon Way, which is an island area, tried to appeal to the council members about the impact the address change could have.
“What if they changed your address,” Schmidt asked the councilmembers. “Would it be OK with you? What if they did it to your parents? It’s a really big thing to me. The people that are being affected by it, It’s a big deal to them, and I hope you think of it as it is a big thing for you.”
Beamish and Blazey shared that the town hall meetings would allow the La Habra Police chief and Los Angeles County Fire assistant chief to share their views on the addresses for those gathered. After that, they said they were in favor of the residents deciding if they need to change their addresses.
Beamish said that some may have to change because they are the same number, but one has been county and the other La Habra.
Councilman Jim Gomez cast the only vote against annexation. He said that it was the number of people who shared their concerns and opposition of annexation convinced him not to do it.
“An overwhelming amount of people testified that they clearly did not want to be annexed into our City,” Gomez said. “Although I would have loved to have them be part of our community I am not going to force the issue down their throats.”
Another concern addressed by the residents is the cost of moving from septic tanks to connecting with the city sewer systems. Some of the residents are already connected to the sewer system, but the majority are still on a county or septic system.
City Manager Jim Sadro explained that if the residents on a street don’t want a sewer built, they don’t have to have one. The city will allocate that money to other repairs. However, if they want it, the city will install the sewer and run lateral lines to the property lines. The residents will need to pay for the connection, which was estimated to be approximately $23,000-$85,000. However, costs can be reduced due to different contractors or by the homeowners doing some work themselves.
However, California law states that if a residence is 200 feet or less from a sewer they must connect.
Annexed neighborhoods can petition to have the city declare their neighborhoods rural and not needing sidewalks or sewers. The petition is signed by the residents in the area and will come before the council for approval for the designation.
The city began the discussion about annexing the remaining Orange County islands Macy/Randall, Citrus/Idaho, Citrus/Entrada, Cypress/Terry, Hensel/Magda and Palm/Shadycrest in 2016 when the city of La Habra was looking to run a new larger water line across the city north of Whittier Boulevard. At the time of planning it was determined that the line will cross five county islands within the city limits. At the same time, the organization providing water service to those islands, California Domestic Water Company, decided to change its operating model and change to a wholesale water company instead of retail customer services.
Elias Saykali, La Habra Public Works Director, explained that there are “major deficiencies” in the water lines in the northern part of the city. He explained that there is some water that flows at 300 gallons per minute with reduced water pressure in smaller 4-inch pipes. In an effort to meet the city’s water master plan, Saykali said they want to move to 6-10-inch pipes in an effort to 1,500 gallons per minute.
If the city did not annex the islands previously serviced by Cal Domestic, it was estimated that an additional $2 million would need to have been spent to route the water around the county islands.
Prior to the meeting, residents of the islands raised concerns over a possible conflict of interest as La Habra City Attorney Dick Jones is a current California Domestic Water Company board member. Jones understood the concern and said that he checked with Cal Domestic legal council and said he was told that is wasn’t a conflict. However, he recused himself and the city retained an outside law firm to represent and advise the city for this issue.
The largest island neighborhood, Macy/Randall island, will remain being serviced by Suburban Water while the rest will come under the city’s water service. .
The city started to discuss the annexation of these properties when in order to run a larger water line across the northern part of the city the cost to move round the islands would be very expensive. This was at the same time Cal Domestic was geting out of retail service. OC and the LAFCO officials informed La Habra city staff that the county would approve the property tax transfer if the city annexed the sixth final island, Macy/Randall, removing all of the county controlled territories within the city limits, which they did on Monday.
The next step to complete the annexation is the agreement will be presented to the Orange County Board of Supervisors within 30-45 days and they will vote to approve the annexation and transfer of the county assets to the city of La Habra.
Then comes the ongoing task of assimilating the new residents into the city.

Started in 1995, the La Habra Journal is an independent community news source serving the cities of La Habra and La Habra Heights.