WatchSonoma Watch

Santa Rosa nudged to eliminate unincorporated ‘islands’


It will be more difficult for Santa Rosa to avoid annexing small islands of unincorporated county land inside its borders under a policy adopted Wednesday by the agency responsible for setting the local government boundaries.

The city no longer will be allowed to annex only a portion of small islands, defined as those with fewer than 12 registered voters, according to rules adopted Wednesday by the Sonoma County Local Agency Formation Commission.

Instead, new annexation requests will be approved by the commission only if the entire island is brought under city jurisdiction.

The new policy will likely apply to only about a quarter of the 52 such islands in the county, 51 of which are in Santa Rosa. It will not affect the future annexation of the largest island, the 3,500 acres of Roseland that remain outside city’s southwest boundary.

“I think it’ll provide more clarity and certainty that we can eliminate some of the smaller islands and provide better police and fire service to those areas,” said Richard Bottarini, executive director of the commission.

The 11 members of the commission are representatives of the public, the county, and its nine cities and 54 special districts. Their role is to regulate the formation and expansion of government agencies to promote efficient government.

The commission views county islands as an unfortunate consequence of rapid city growth that need to be eliminated to limit confusion and inefficient delivery of services, such as sewer, water and public safety.

The policy shift is a compromise between the status quo, which encourages annexations of entire islands whenever possible but doesn’t require it, and a tougher stance some favored to require annexations of entire islands up to 150 acres.

Supervisor Efren Carrillo said he favored the tougher option because he saw it as the commission’s role to “push as hard as we could” for a policy that eliminates all the islands.

“The intent is for us to encourage the cities to annex all island of unincorporated territory,” Carrillo said.

Chuck Regalia, Santa Rosa’s director of community development, pushed back against the “entire island annexations” proposal. He contended that policy would have the opposite of its intended effect because it would impose so many additional costs on property owners that they wouldn’t seek annexation.

“When a single applicant is responsible for doing a significant or sophisticated environmental review, it’s very expensive,” Regalia said.

The city can initiate annexations on its own, but that is a costly, time-consuming proposition that city leaders historically have avoided, he said.

“Numerous councils have not wanted to force annexation on people that weren’t committed to it,” Regalia said.

Carrillo expressed frustration with that position, suggesting the city should do more than just “sit on it’s laurels and wait for folks to request annexation.”

The 5th District supervisor, who represents parts of the city’s west side, said the city needs to do more than just have a policy supporting annexations — it needs to have a plan.

“I don’t think the city has done an honest job in at least identifying what their long-term trajectory is,” Carrillo said.

Supervisor David Rabbitt, who encouraged commission staff to craft a compromise, called it a “middle ground” that would provide an incentive to cities to “nip around the edges” of more annexations while also keeping costs down.

The costs of the smaller annexations are lower because they don’t require environmental review, and because they don’t trigger elections, Bottarini said.

For islands with fewer than 12 registered voters, only property owners get a say in the annexation, not residents. Such small annexations are harder to block because opponents have to represent more than 50 percent of the assessed value of the land proposed for annexation.

Carrillo expressed disappointment that discussion has stalled between the county and the city about how to transition Roseland from county to city control.

“It feels like its Groundhog Day,” he said.

Regalia said the only realistic way such a large annexation is going to happen is if the two agencies work closely together and share planning and environmental costs he estimated at $500,000.

“At this stage of life in California, we don’t have that kind of money floating around,” Regalia said.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com. OnTwitter @citybeater.

9 Responses to “Santa Rosa nudged to eliminate unincorporated ‘islands’”

  1. Reality Check says:

    The suggestion that Santa Rosa subcontract its police services to the county got too many recommendations for comfort. Does the county have a good record of efficiently spending public money? Do they like how the county maintains its infrastructure, especially roads?

    If some of these quick spending fixes sound too good to be true, they probably are.

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  2. Let's be Reasonable says:

    Vinyl – “Annex Roseland immediately and end the racist sham that is the current situation. This excuse about property owners not wanting it to be annexed is a distraction from the real reason; Roseland is mostly poor and brown.”

    Actually, it is about money. Other mostly rural pockets when they get annexed will have developers pay to put in infrastructure like roads and sidewalks and sewers and street lights. Roseland for the most part is already built out, but with substandard infrastructure. Much of Roseland is single family housing, and the percent living in poverty is actually much higher in other areas of Santa Rosa. Likewise, the rest of Santa Rosa is over 40% minority. It will cost millions to upgrade the infrastructure in Roseland, and without redevelopment funds, the City just can’t afford it.

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  3. Joseph says:

    The other option is to of course sub-contract out police services to the Sonoma County Sheriff Department and shut down the Santa Rosa Police Department. This will unify law enforcement activities and improve response times and eliminate the conflicts between jurisdiction that currently exist. In these tough economic times it is just too expensive to maintain dual services in the same geographic areas.

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  4. James Bennett says:

    Kirstin: I don’t just throw around the word perfect, but. PERFECT.

    Does anyone think a small reprise, or hesitation will be realized in tax enslavement from the increased revenue base?


    That’s not part of the Agenda.

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  5. Snarky says:

    Potholes everywhere.

    Street lights intentionally turned off to save money for public employee pensions.

    Street traffic lines worn out to nearly bare pavement. Bicycle “lanes” nearly gone and full of glass & debris & weeds.

    “Public safety” types making more in wages than the average working Californian… all without anything more than On-the-job-training… often straight out of the military.

    A governor who threatens your kids with shorter public school years if you refuse to hand over more of YOUR $$$$.
    The same governor who has three public employee pensions under his belt and which pay to his survivor even if he dies.

    I’m just so impressed with the so called “authority” of government who pretend to be so important.

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  6. Vinyl Rules says:

    Annex Roseland immediately and end the racist sham that is the current situation. This excuse about property owners not wanting it to be annexed is a distraction from the real reason; Roseland is mostly poor and brown.

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  7. bear says:

    Just how is it “democratic” for the city to do piecemeal annexations that greatly affect adjoining residents in unincorporated areas? Those who have NO vote for council members who cater to the whims of development interests?

    I’ve got a few adjectives that describe that process, but “democratic” is not one of them.

    Better to leave everything unchanged, than impose impacts on those who have no vote?

    The city could continue to evade responsibility for it’s actions by pulling back it’s “sphere of influence” to the existing city limits.

    That way no new development could occur, and those unrepresented property owners outside city limits could continue to enjoy their “freedom,” while continuing to pollute the water table with septic systems on small lots that are doomed to fail. That way they could continue to drink their own sewage.

    The Local Agency Formation Commission could just go away, even though they’re comprised of elected officials and public representatives.

    All of the above is just fine with me.

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  8. Steveguy says:

    Some Agency ? Nudged ? Do they want to over-ride the CITIZEN’S votes ? Forced ?

    Hey folks, I can safely say that being in an unincorporated area will save you hundreds if not THOUSANDS annually.

    They want to apply the FUTURE annexation benefits to taking existing residents and bleeding more money from them. Do not fall for the scam ! City taxes are atrocious, and the regulations restrictive !.

    How do you ” nudge” a homeowner or property owner into voting themselves a tremendous liability ? How ? BY FORCE

    Beware the Agencies…

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  9. Kirstin says:

    This is another unnecessary agency that is not directly responsible to the people! It’s another layer of government to obfuscate and confuse the rightful, direct power structure; it dilutes the power of the voters. This “Sonoma County Local Agency Formation Commission” should not exist. An agency/commission should not be telling cities and their unincorporated islands when they must merge. That is for the cities and the islands to decide in their own times and between themselves.

    Let’s demand that all politicians at every level of government work to eliminate — not proliferate — these unelected agencies, this regionalism. We need more tranparent and clearer routes of accountability between the sovereign voter and decisions made here, not more complicated, less responsive ones. This commission (and all like it) is NOT an acceptable form of governance.

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