September 1, 2009

Council halts annexation bid

By Rebecca Unger
Hi-Desert Star

Jim Harvey, president of the Homestead Valley Community Council, speaks for the member associations.

YUCCA VALLEY — The Yucca Valley Town Council voted 4-0-1, Mayor Frank Luckino recusing himself, to withdraw its application to include unincorporated Yucca Mesa in its sphere of influence Tuesday night.

For the past year, the Town has faced increasing criticism by Yucca Mesa residents for what they perceived as Yucca Valley’s secrecy in filing the application with the San Bernardino County Local Agency Formation Commission.

Mesa resident Elizabeth Karman formed the Stop Yucca Mesa Annexation Coalition and peppered the countryside with red “Stop” signs. She urged the mesa and surrounding communities to fight the application process, winning hearts and minds with images of towering streetlights, cheek-to-jowl housing developments and lanes of 18 wheelers where the two-lane blacktop of Old Woman Springs Road fades into the horizon.

Karman said five years ago she and her husband moved to the mesa to avoid the “urbanization” of Yucca Valley.

“In 2008 we were startled to discover that an effort to extend a sphere of influence on the mesa was already under way,” she told the Town Council. “We were offended that relatively few people knew about this.”

The grassroots organizer told of collecting 2,400 signatures against the application and conducting a survey. Karman stated that per the survey, 99.5 percent of the mesa’s residents do not want to be part of the Town of Yucca Valley.

“We don’t want to share your problems by being forced to help solve them,” Karman said.

“We will never want to be a part of you, and we will always reject you as our government. We love our mesa!” she declared.

Her sentiments were expressed by the next several speakers.

The Homestead Valley Community Council, the umbrella organization for citizens of Yucca Mesa, Flamingo Heights, Landers and Johnson Valley, took up the cause, and President Jim Harvey spoke on their behalf Tuesday.

“We believe that putting Yucca Mesa into the Town of Yucca Valley’s designated sphere of influence would have a far-reaching detrimental effect on the collective interests of the four HVCC communities, and on the established effectiveness and cohesiveness of the council that represents them,” said Harvey.

Local Agency Formation Commission Executive Officer Kathleen Rollings-McDonald gave a presentation explaining the effects of a sphere of influence before the meeting was opened for public comment. She stayed to answer technical questions from the council members when public comment closed.

She gave councilman Bill Neeb the details of the complicated voting process that would have to take place before a true annexation of borders would be possible.

“If Yucca Valley removes its application for sphere of influence, does that mean that LAFCO will stop working in that area?” asked Neeb.

“We have to complete the service review and we are mandated by law to do so. We will evaluate that sphere of influence,” Rollings-McDonald replied.

The Town’s involvement in the sphere of influence began when the county consolidated fire districts and county officials suggested Yucca Valley annex the mesa into its sphere of influence to follow other districts’ boundaries.

The council followed the suggestion, much to some mesa residents’ dismay.

“I believe that quality of life has to do with our relationships with our neighbors,” said councilwoman Lori Herbel.

“I’m hopeful that whatever happens, we will all continue to be neighbors, because we don’t know when we’re going to need each other.”

However, Herbel also understood the Yucca Mesa residents want to be left alone. “With that, I would support the withdrawal of the sphere of influence,” she said.

Sympathizing with the public’s general mistrust of government, Mayor Pro Tem Chad Mayes admitted the Town “didn’t do a very good job” of meeting with Yucca Mesa residents to explain the sphere-of-influence process.

“I think it is appropriate at this time for the Town of Yucca Valley to withdraw its application,” Mayes said in agreement with Herbel.

Luckino was absent from the proceedings, calling it a “perceived conflict of interest.” He is the chief financial officer of the Hi-Desert Water District, and the Town’s sphere of influence would have included the area currently serviced by the water district.

“It’s not illegal; it’s more how it’s perceived,” Luckino said.