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City Council must decide between accepting county-approved development plans, or losing $1.3 million annually until mid-2014.
| Thursday, Nov 8, 2012

Click image to enlarge | The North Copperhill annexation areas include the orange, yellow, purple and red areas. The red area is the Copper Hill Estates LLC property.

The city of Santa Clarita’s recent annexations pushed its population to 205,000, making Santa Clarita the third-largest city in Los Angeles County behind L.A. and Long Beach.

The city isn’t done.

The city is closing in on its largest annexation to date: the 2,475-acre “North Copperhill” annexation, where some 9,500 residents live.

The area is roughly bounded by San Francisquito Canyon Road on the west, Bouquet Canyon Road on the east, the city boundary on the south and the Angeles National Forest on the north. Most of the existing homes are north of Copper Hill Drive, although the annexation also includes David March Park and the neighborhoods around Plum Canyon Elementary School.

The process is nearly complete – but there’s a hitch.

The annexation must be complete before Dec. 1 if the city is to receive the tax money it needs to provide services to those current 9,500 residents.

If it the annexation goes through after Dec. 1 – even if it’s Dec. 2 – the city will have to start providing the services on Day One but it won’t get any tax money until July 2014. The city would be out $1.3 million annually during that time.

Here’s the deal.

Generally, the “local” share of property tax money goes to whatever agency provides the municipal services. The so-called “North Copperhill” communities are currently in the county, and the county provides the municipal services there, so the local property taxes go to the county.

Once the communities are the city, the city will provide the services, so the property taxes will go to the city.

But not necessarily right away. There’s a process involved in transfering taxes from the county to the city. It requires the city and county to hammer out an agreement saying just how much those taxes are, and when they’ll be received.

Both the city and county have signed the agreement. But under that agreement, the transfer must take place by Dec. 1 or the city would have to wait an entire extra fiscal year before it takes effect – meaning July 1, 2014.

There’s one thing standing in the way of the Dec. 1 deadline.

That one thing is a piece of vacant land south of Copper Hill Drive.

In 2005, the landowner, Copper Hill Estates LLC, got county approval for the creation of 95 single-family lots with 1 open space lot, 1 privately maintained park lot, and 2 landscaped lots for a total of 99 lots on the property.

The land is part of the Copper Hill annexation, and the City Council needs to accept the developer’s plans as approved by the county before the Local Agency Formation Commission will record the annexation.

The deal was hashed out at an Oct. 10 LAFCO hearing, but then the development company decided it needed more time to file its formal plans.

So LAFCO held a special Oct. 24 and said: OK, city, promise in writing that you’ll accept the developer’s county-approved plans and we’ll meet your Dec. 1 deadline.

On Tuesday, the Santa Clarita City Council will decide whether it wants to accept the developer’s plans or risk losing $1.3 million on services it will be providing to the existing residents.

If the council agrees, LAFCO would hold a final hearing Nov. 28 and record the annexation with the state Nov. 29.

Under the bargain, the developer would have until March 19, 2014, to file the formal plans (the tract map).

If it doesn’t, the developer would have to start from scratch and go through the city’s approval process, which could be more rigorous.

According to a city staff report, if the developer starts over with the city, “The new or modified project must fully comply with the city’s General Plan, UDC, and other regulations including, but not limited to, permitted uses, parking, setbacks, right-of-way improvements, landscaping, and hillside development. Any substantial redesign and/or reconfiguration or new tract map would require the applicant to further cluster the development within the existing hillside than what was originally approved by the county.”

As it stands, the developer has promised to support the North Copperhill annexation. So if the City Council agrees Tuesday to accept the developer’s county-approved plans, the annexation goes through and the city collects the property tax money (not just from the developer but from everybody in the annexation area).

If the city doesn’t accept the developer’s plans, the developer would likely protest the annexation. But its protest alone probably wouldn’t be enough to sink the annexation. A significant number of other property owners in the annexation area would have to voice their opposition, too.

If the annexation goes through over the developer’s protest, it would happen sometime after Dec. 1 and the city would have to start providing services right away – without the tax money to pay for those services until mid-2014.

The gap between a rock and a hard place is $1.3 million a year.

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