April 11, 2009

Town files for mesa annexation

by Rebecca Unger
Hi-Desert Star

The proposed Yucca Mesa annexation area is shown in dark green. The current northern Yucca Vally town boundary is shown in light green.

YUCCA MESA — Tensions have been running high for months in the unincorporated community of Yucca Mesa, as some folks brace for what they call a takeover by their neighbor to the south, the Town of Yucca Valley.

On March 30, the Town filed an application with the county Local Agency Formation Commission to expand its sphere of influence to shadow that of the Hi-Desert Water District.

It was the formal move toward annexation that Yucca Mesa residents have been bracing for for months.

The annexation would place 14,348 acres of the mesa into the Town’s sphere of influence in a boundary extending east to Sunny Vista Road in the unincorporated area more associated with Joshua Tree.

Andy Takata, Yucca Valley’s town manager, reminded the citizens of the mesa that physical annexation into Yucca Valley is ultimately up to them. Should things ever progress that far, Yucca Mesa would have to vote to approve the annexation.

“It could make sense in 20 years,” observed Takata, reaffirming the expense of taking on the service needs of the mesa, “but fiscally, it doesn’t make sense right now.”

Kathleen Rollings-McDonald is the executive director of LAFCO, and confirmed this week that the wheels of municipal review grind slowly.

“We don’t expect a hearing anytime before the next four months,” she said.

A Yucca Valley review last August figured the annexation would add approximately 1,148 households in the mesa to the Town Council’s sphere of influence.

According to the county, adding an area into a sphere of influence indicates a government plans at some point in the future to fully annex that area into its boundaries.

The annexation of the mesa would represent a 14.2 percent increase in Yucca Valley’s population and a 56.3 percent increase in land area.

Suggestion began with fire study

The sphere of influence annexation process started in August of 2005 when San Bernardino County sought to consolidate some fire districts and sent that request to the Local Agency Formation Commission. LAFCO recommended that the Yucca Valley Fire Protection District included expansion.

At the same time, the commission recommended the Town of Yucca Valley annex Yucca Mesa, which is in the Yucca Valley fire district, into the Town sphere of influence.

When mesa residents first got wind of the plan last August, the Yucca Mesa Improvement Association sent Jim Sammons to the Town Council. To many on the mesa, the initial process signaled intent by Yucca Valley to physically annex the area.

“We don’t want to be involved with the Town if we can help it,” said Sammons.

“I’m not sure Yucca Valley wants Yucca Mesa,” Councilman Chad Mayes said in humor. Mayes was referring to findings that the Town would have to pony up about $600,000 a year to take over services for the mesa that are currently provided by the county.

Mayes made it a point to go on record with Yucca Valley’s position: “We don’t see annexation in the near future.”

However, the independent firm that studied annexation for the Town was “unequivocal” in its assessment that the Town could extend and improve the level and quality of municipal services to the mesa.

The review envisioned the creation of a district to collect special assessments and maintain roads.

‘We don’t want to be destroyed’

Since the council meeting of Aug. 28, the citizens of the mesa have mobilized.

During the November elections, petitions against the annexation were available for signature at Yucca Mesa’s polling site, and thanks to that and other petition events, the signature count is now up to 2,200.

Their impassioned protests for independence have reached a broad audience, garnering support from fellow Homestead Valley Community Council members from Flamingo Heights, Landers and Johnson Valley. They’ve also shared their concerns with the Morongo Basin Conservation Association.

Elizabeth Karman is the new voice for the recently formed Stop Yucca Mesa Annexation Coalition.

“It feels like a train is about to run over us,” stated Karman. “They’re trying to do this very sneaky. They think we’re stupid and they can just take us over. We’re not stupid, we’re hard-working people, and we don’t want to be destroyed by Yucca Valley.”

The coalition’s fears, as articulated on its Web site, are that LAFCO may require the Town to pre-zone the sphere of influence area, “which could include industrialization and tract homes on small lots.”

The nightmare scenario continues with paving over of dirt roads and mandatory sewer connections “at the residents’ expense,” bright street lights, signs and traffic signals polluting the dark skies, and a prohibition against keeping horses and other ranch animals.