Santa Paula City Council: Loss of Ag Land in 2016 SOAR Text and LAFCo Legislation

By Sheryl Hamlin

SOAR Revisited: Loss of Ag Land in 2016 Text

The SOAR (Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources) item on the November 2, 2015 Santa Paula City council was a continuation of a previous meeting where a proposed modification to the CURB (City Urban Boundary) was discussed. At that meeting, the council asked staff for more information, so the item was continued.

The issue ostensibly involves moving the CURB in what is known as “West Area 2” to include additional parcels and to eliminate the splitting of three parcels. During the course of the November 2nd meeting, Mr. Richard Francis, SOAR lawyer, repeatedly said that SOAR did not make the boundaries used in the initiative, but rather SOAR used the LAFCO boundaries.

But what Mr. Francis, the council and the staff failed to explain is that the CURB boundaries can ALSO be modified by city council for municipal facilities, such as a wastewater treatment facility. This was brought to light in the testimony of Mr. Lippert, whose agricultural property is outside the existing CURB, outside the existing city limit and outside the existing sphere of influence (SOI) boundary, but could be included in the CURB if the proposed changes are approved by the SOAR vote.  

The CURB was modified in 2005 for the wastewater treatment facility (WWTF) in Resolution 6241 by the city council. Mayor Procter was a member of that council, but did not volunteer information about the 2005 modification. The motion is here. References to the 2005 modification were not in the staff report for the November 2, 2015 council meeting.  The following were on the dais for the vote of Resolution 6241 in 2005:  Councilmember/Director Gabino Aguirre, Councilmember/Director Ray C. Luna, Councilmember/Director John T. Procter, Vice Mayor/Vice Chair Richard C. Cook, and Mayor/Chair Mary Ann Krause.  

Why the 2005 council would have created a situation where three properties were bifurcated was not addressed at the November 2, 2015 council meeting nor was this history supplied in the staff report. Below is the CURB as redrawn by city council Resolution 6241 in 2005. The nine affected parcels are annotated.  The council initiated CURB modification in 2005 created what Mr. Francis called the “silly cutout”. 

It is possible that the 2005 CURB modification (“silly cutout”) represented the least intrusive changes required for the new wastewater treatment plant without going to the voters, but unfortunately this history was not discussed at the November 2, 2015 council meeting. There was opposition to the location of the WWTF at the 2005 council meeting and loss of agriculture land and was criticized by some in the agricultural community. The area has been part of a longer term city expansion plan and was submitted to LAFCO as a possible SOI in 1998 per this document, which is was mentioned by Director Perros in his oral presentation. The expansion plans were criticized by LAFCO as reported in the LaTimes in 1998.

Note that per the 2015 staff report, the 1998 SOI request does not match the current SOI boundary for this area. Remember that SOAR sets the CURB and LAFCO sets the SOI, so it is likely that LAFCO denied the 1998 expansion request. The 2016 SOAR vote will allow the city to include this entire area in the CURB. If the measure passes, the city will have more clout with LAFCO to include the area in its SOI.

2005_6241

Mr. Elon Bender who owns three of the parcels said that he favors the proposed change enlarging the “silly cutout” to extend up to 126. He has 100 people employed now and plans another on the second of his three parcels and 200 on the third of the three parcels. His three parcels are visible from 126, so the change would allow industrial, rather than agricultural, visible on highway 126 and Mr. Bender could build out 100% of his properties as industrial rather than agricultural. He also reminded the council that his property had damage from the recent wastewater spill.

Mr. Lippert, a citizen and affected property owner who spoke in public comments, was concerned because the public was not able to vote on changing the CURB for the wastewater treatment facility in 2005. City Attorney Cotti clarified that the city council changed the CURB for the wastewater treatment facility, as allowed in the SOAR legislation. Mr. Lippert explained that the wastewater facility was originally agricultural land before the council changed the designation in 2005. This was not brought out in the staff report nor by the council.

cutout

In the picture below of the proposed CURB change, parcels 1,2,3,4 and 5 are visible from 126. Parcels 1, 2, and 3 were bifurcated as part of the 2005 wastewater rezoning change. Parcels 1,2, and 3 are partially in the CURB today. Parcels 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 are not in the CURB today, but the proposed language for the 2016 ballot will change the CURB to eliminate the internal line (“silly cutout”) and add the orange line, making all 9 parcels 100% within the CURB. The significance to the owners of these parcels is that a vote will not be required if they want to change the use of their land from agricultural to something else, although they will still be required to go through the planning process, as Assistant Planning Director Perros reminded the council.

Mr. Francis brought two versions of the 2016 ballot initiative for council’s consideration. At the previous council meeting where SOAR was discussed, Mr. Francis said that only the sunset date would be changed, if the city did not want the “silly cutout” removed. However, this is not exactly true, as Mrs. Krause, former mayor and council member reported in public comments. Mrs. Krause read Mr. Francis’ documents in detail and said the following:

  1. The revised ordinance (both cases) calls out the Adams Canyon project in detail, as it was presented to the voters. She said that if these items are not present in a new project for Adams Canyon, a new vote could be required. Any change would send the project back to the voters.
  2. The 81 Acre rule was included into the 2016 SOAR initiative. This was an approved item that said any project over 81 acres had to go to the voters, a measure approved by the voters in 2006.
  3. The new SOAR text includes the council’s ability to amend the CURB, as was done in 2005, but dropped the words “public schools” and “other government facilities”.

Council Member Tovias confirmed that indeed item number 1 above was correct. Council Member Gherardi said that item 3 was moot because the State of California decided school sites. City Attorney Cotti agreed. Mr. Francis replied saying he had dropped the “schools” reference because he was asked about religious schools, which became a more complicated matter legally.

Vice Mayor Hernandez said that of the 51 acres in the 9 parcels under consideration over half belonged to one owner, so he had a problem supporting this change which conceivably only benefitted one owner.

Stratis Perros, Assistant Planning Director, replied saying that all owners benefitted because they could develop their properties without a vote, but they would still go through the planning process.

The Mayor reiterated that the council is only discussing a recommendation to the SOAR group, so a council vote would not change what SOAR put on the ballot because SOAR is an independent organization. A straw vote was taken with a 4 (yes) and 1(no). However, recall that Mr. Francis said the quid pro quo for this change would be his return asking for support of the 2016 SOAR measure.

Mr. Tovias asked Mr. Francis why a sunset date of 2050 was being used.  Mr. Francis said that because there is check and balance, “direct democracy”, as he calls it, there is actually no need for a sunset because the boundaries can change with the needs and will of the citizens. SOAR works to protect the cities against the county, as well, he said.

If the SOAR vote fails in 2016, it will expire in Santa Paula in 2020. However, there may not be a SOAR vote if the council chooses to enact the legislation once the petition gatherers have provided SOAR with enough signatures, thus saving the cost of an election, which is what Mr. Francis originally proposed at the previous hearing of this issue at council. This council meeting set the stage for a return of Mr. Francis, once the signatures are obtained, asking for the council to approve the 2016 SOAR legislation administratively without putting the measure on the 2016 ballot.

The change will permanently remove this land from agricultural uses so this stretch of 126 at the entrance of the city will become entirely commercial, which is why Mr. Francis’ obvious eagerness to make this CURB change is counter intuitive.

LAFCO Legislation

lafco_staff_report

LAFCo is a state agency that is administered county by county. In a recent three hour meeting, LAFCo passed in a 4-3 vote a measure keeping Adams and Fagan canyons within the Santa Paula SOI. Napa and Ventura counties are the only counties where SOAR type laws exist, so it is not clear that the State legislature would take up this issue as a generally applicable piece of legislation.

Council Member Gherardi said that now is the time the legislators are making their 2016 legislative packets, so this is the right time to approach Santa Paula’s legislators: Irwin or Jackson. Council Member Tovias suggested that VCOG (Ventura County of Governments) should consider the issue and give the motion more clout. Mayor Procter said he was “ambivalent” and questioned the meaning of “honor a public vote” in response to LAFCo’s potential removal of Adams and Fagan canyons from the Santa Paula SOI. Vice Mayor Hernandez asked to know who would be involved and how much staff time and expense would be involved. Council Member Gherardi volunteered to talk to the legislators.

This item passed.

Other items

The planning staff reminded the council of the General Plan Update kickoff. Read about this here.

Future agenda items:

  • Lynn Jacobs, enhanced infrastructure funds
  • Santa Paula Creek, formally support effort brought up by Mrs Karayan and the County Watershed District
  • Reconnect water fee
  • Homeless shelter for El Nino
  • Update for the wastewater spill

To view this meeting, click here. To download the staff reports and agenda, click here.

To read the first installment of this council meeting, click here. To read the second installment, click here.

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For more information about the author, visit sheryhamlin.com

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