Martinez City Hall has had its eye on the Alhambra Valley for many, many years now. It's a prestigious community with a lot of wealth and power. Its rural, even pastoral landscape is something the city would be proud to claim for its own.
Yesterday (Wednesday, Sept. 12), the county agency charged with determining local boundaries handed the city a small, and possibly temporary, victory in its bid to annex at least a portion of the valley. The Local Area Formation Commission (LAFCO) voted to approve the city's amended request to annex four subdivisions in the valley (Stonehurst, Alhambra Valley Ranch, Deer Creek and Valley Orchard) for a total of 316 acres. The original request to annex 400 acres fell through after the city apparently misplaced, or failed to locate, some deferred annexation agreements (DAAs).
And what are those, exactly? In exchange for providing city water to the valley residents, including those of the then-new subdivisions, they had the homeowners or developers, as the case may be, sign agreements saying that they would at some point in the future agree to be annexed into the city. Part of the agreement was that they would not be able to vote against annexation. State law says that if 25 percent of the homeowners or residents of an area protest a proposed annexation, it will go to a vote, and a simple majority will win. Unless they have signed an agreement not to vote.
In this instance, many valley residents are saying they never signed such an agreement, and were never made aware of one by their title company or realtor. But LAFCO commissioner Mary Piepho advised them Wednesday that state law now requires municipalities to provide services only to those within its boundaries, and the city could legally turn off their water service should they decide not to be annexed. LAFCO commissioner and Martinez mayor Rob Schroder quickly assured the audience that the city would not consider turning off their water.
Though LAFCO approved the city's reduced annexation request, a protest hearing can be held within 35 days of the decision, and it is a solid bet that such a hearing will be requested, since the vast majority of valley residents strongly oppose annexation, fearing that city policies will ultimately reverse their pastoral paradise.
Meanwhile, the city's bid to annex a portion of North Pacheco also fell through last month, by one vote. The reasons for that annexation were all business - it was felt that the commercial development potential of the properties being annexed would ultimately be good for the city.
But the residents there - all 79 who voted - decided by 40 to 39 that the city would not give them a better deal than the county. There were concerns from some Martinez residents that the tax revenue received from the new properties would not be enough to cover the costs of expanded city services.
Both of these annexations would have been big wins for the council, all of whom are still reeling from the state's death blow to redevelopment, the one thing everyone on this council supported, and the one shining hope they all had for the future of downtown. With various big-ticket items like the deteriorating marina, a sluggish local economy and stalled developments hanging over their heads and two seats coming up for election, the loss of these two annexation bids cannot feel very good.
It must feel like the kid in the school yard no one wants to play with.