Grand Jury: LAFCO should not have deleted guidelines before SP expansion vote

July 08, 2000
Santa Paula News
The Grand Jury is used to criticism from some quarters for its findings, and the latest interim report issued by the watchdog group is turning out to be no different. The Local Agency Formation Commission - LAFCO - came under fire from the Grand Jury for the timing of changing its guidelines, just in time for the controversial hearing on Santa Paula’s sphere of influence hearing.The February LAFCO hearing that had commissioners split 4-3 to grant the sphere of influence request was attended by members of the Grand Jury, its report noted. It was during a January meeting where certain sections of the guidelines were depleted after some highly critical public comments followed by a request from Santa Paula city officials that the decision on the sphere of influence be delayed until February.The close LAFCO vote increased Santa Paula’s sphere of influence by about 7,730 acres, including Adams Canyon, the area most targeted by critics.Titled “LAFCO and the Santa Paula Expanded Sphere of Influence”, the Grand Jury report takes LAFCO to task for weakening its own power by diluting the guidelines, which it recommended be reinstated, including requested detailed land-use studies by cities and developers are a requirement of defining future growth boundaries.A Grand Jury slap was given to the LAFCO commission by a suggestion that the members - culled from special districts and elected officials - was not fully informed when it voted to expand Santa Paula’s sphere of influence.Guideline deletions “suggest that a majority of the Ventura County LAFCO commissioners do not understand and appreciate their mandate under the Cortese-Knox legislation establishing their agency,” according to the Grand Jury report, signed by foreman Marvin J. Reeber.
The Ventura County Counsel was criticized for his role in the guideline deletions for erring on the side of trying to sidestep potential litigation: the guideline deletions came on the heels of a court decision throwing out a LAFCO decision that opened the way for a Moorpark residential development.The Grand Jury’s investigation included interviews with the LAFCO executive officer; reviewing related documents including Santa Paula’s White Paper created after LAFCO had excluded Adams Canyon from the sphere of influence application in late 1998; and the Santa Paula crafted EIR and Statement of Overriding Considerations, among other evidence.The Grand Jury recommended that LAFCO should “tighten its minimum standards for sphere of influence expansion, one of them being that needed government services can be provided efficiently”; that LAFCO should require detailed land use specific plans for sphere of influence expansion application; and that LAFCO should create an ad-hoc committee of all interested parties to determine, “which, if any, deleted notebook standards should be reincorporated to adequately preserve the original mandate of the Cortese-Knox legislation.”LAFCO and the County Counsel are required to respond.

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