By: Julie Hutcheson, Legislative Advocate
Most people have never heard of a Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo). Neither, you might be surprised to find out, have many of our local elected officials. Yet 57 of California’s 58 counties have one, and Santa Clara County is no exception. Santa Clara’s LAFCo has been one of the most important agencies determining the county’s landscape over the past 50 years … and is likely to be one of the most important in the next 50 years as well. When we have been unable to dissuade city councils from adopting reckless proposals to expand city limits and sprawl into open space, we’ve often successfully defeated those proposals at LAFCo.
Within the next year, the Santa Clara County LAFCo will likely make at least two major decisions that could have profound effects on the county’s farmland and open space. Both Morgan Hill and Gilroy are gearing up to bring two major expansion proposals to LAFCo commissioners. Together these proposals seek to annex over 1,000 acres of open space for residential, commercial, and intensive recreational uses. We are firmly opposed to both proposals because they will, among other things, needlessly destroy hundreds of acres of prime farmland for development that is either very premature in nature or could be accommodated within current city limits. Both cities seem determined to annex these unincorporated county lands into their jurisdictions for development, but LAFCo has the ultimate say in whether a city may expand its city limits.
It should come as no surprise that I am preparing to advocate in front of LAFCo for the denial of these destructive proposals.
What’s at stake is more than just 1,000 acres of open space. LAFCo’s denial of these expansion requests would send a clear message to cities and landowners that the agency is committed to upholding its mission, to promote the orderly growth of cities, that has served this county so well. It would signal its continuing stewardship of policies that discourage the type of destructive urban sprawl that threatened to engulf our entire valley five decades ago.
LAFCo’s approval of these expansion requests would undermine 50 years of consistent, countywide urban development policies that have been instrumental in protecting our natural resources and farmland through responsible growth. If cities and landowners believe LAFCo is prepared to overlook its mission, then speculation that acreage could be incorporated into a city for urban development will drive up land values. This in turn would spur further reckless expansion proposals and undercut efforts to acquire open space and farmland by public and private agencies.
The stakes are high and the consequences potentially grievous. The outcome will be up to the seven-member LAFCo , comprised of six elected officials appointed by various jurisdictions in the county and one member of the public appointed by the other commissioners. In the end it is the residents of Santa Clara County who will win or lose at the hands of an agency most have never heard of.
I encourage you to learn more about LAFCo and the elected officials who make up its commission by visiting their website: www.santaclara.lafco.ca.gov. If you would like more information or to get involved, feel free to email me at: [email protected].