Agency OKs Pared Bid for Santa Clarita City

Times Staff Writer

Backers of a proposed city in the Santa Clarita Valley won a major victory Wednesday, but not before the proposed municipality was whittled down once again and ordered to pay about $2.7 million to Los Angeles County.

After acting on a variety of last-minute boundary changes and two requests from the county, the Local Agency Formation Commission approved the final plan for the City of Santa Clarita and sent it to the Board of Supervisors for a public hearing July 9.

The commissioners urged the Board of Supervisors to act by Aug. 6 so the question can be placed on the Nov. 3 ballot.

"You've cleared your first hurdle," LAFCO Chairman Kenneth I. Chappell told cityhood proponents at the end of the meeting. "But you still have many more to go."

At the request of the Board of Supervisors, the commissioners ordered the city, if approved by voters in November, to repay the cost of services the county is required by law to provide the newly incorporated area until July 1, 1988, the beginning of the county's next fiscal year. The costs will amount to an estimated $2.7 million if the city is incorporated Dec. 1.

A revision in state law allows counties to receive payment for municipal services they provide to new cities whose applications were filed after Jan. 1, 1987. Under the old law, counties were required to provide new cities with services such as law enforcement and fire protection, at no cost, from the date of incorporation to the beginning of the county's next fiscal year.

Although the Santa Clarita application was filed before Jan. 1, cityhood backers agreed to reimburse the county anyway, to head off a move by Supervisor Pete Schabarum, a member of LAFCO. Schabarum had proposed that the city be barred from incorporating for eight months after the expected November election, in order to save the county money that would have been lost providing it with free services.

A second county proposal that the city repay the county for sales taxes lost during the same period was rejected by commissioners, despite Schabarum's claim that the action amounted to cityhood backers reneging on an agreement.

"This commission is not bound by any agreement," said Commissioner Hal Bernson, a Los Angeles city councilman. To require the new city to repay sales taxes would amount to "a double penalty," he said.

Chappell, mayor of West Covina, said that to require the proposed city to give back the sales taxes, estimated at $3.5 million, would be "extra frosting on the cake" for the county. He added that repayment of that much money might hamper the financial viability of the city.

"Santa Clarita is the first city that has had to pay back anything to the county," Chappell said.

At one point, Schabarum argued that the county's general fund will lose $4 million a year after the city incorporates.

"Do you mean that this area generates $4 million more than it costs you to service it?," Commissioner Henry Jackson asked Schabarum. When Schabarum answered in the affirmative, Jackson, mayor of Huntington Park, said, "Now I know why you don't want them to become a city."

"I'm sorry the county will suffer," Jackson said, "but the county can absorb the loss better than the city."

LAFCO also denied requests from two private property owners and one from a developer to have their property excluded from the city. Commissioners granted requests from two other developers--Newhall Land & Farming Co. and G. H. Palmer & Associates--to be excluded from the boundaries.

Both developers have projects under construction that have been approved by the county and might be disrupted if jurisdiction were transferred to the city. Both tracts, totaling 272 acres, are in Canyon Country near the Antelope Valley Freeway. It was the fourth time the city's area had been reduced, carving the originally proposed city of 95 square miles down to about 40.

The commissioners also granted, then reconsidered, a request from the California Highway Patrol to include all of the Golden State and Antelope Valley freeways within the city. They rejected the motion after LAFCO executive director Ruth Benell said approval might jeopardize the November election date, because much of the complicated preparatory work would have to be redone to take the change into account.

Capt. Bill Kelley, commander of the CHP's Newhall office, said he believes jurisdictional problems will result because the city limit is now drawn down the center of the freeway, chosen because it is a readily recognizable boundary.

"I really feel we will have some long-term problems as the city matures," he said.

Cityhood backers expressed cautious optimism after the meeting.

Worried About Board Vote

"I feel as though we are still on tenterhooks," said Connie Worden, spokeswoman of the Santa Clarita City Formation Committee. "We're so dependent on three votes from the supervisors to get that November election date."

"I would be more pleased if I didn't see problems getting it on the November ballot," said cityhood committee chairman Carl Boyer III.

Boyer and Worden said they fear snags in getting three votes on the board because Supervisor Ed Edelman will be out of the county in July and early August, when the issue is expected to come before the board, and Supervisor Kenneth Hahn is not expected to be able to attend meetings because of his health.

"I'm worried about Schabarum," Boyer said. "I'm afraid he's going to try to postpone the election.

Supervisor Mike Antonovich has pledged his support for the November election.

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