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[whitespace] County will team with town to start drive for annexations

Los Gatos--Those unsightly unincorporated pockets in the middle of the town will be no more, if county and town officials have their way.

The Santa Clara County Planning Office is starting a push to unload several large holes and dozens of smaller gaps inside the city limits of South Bay cities, including eight in Los Gatos, which is second only to San Jose for unincorporated parcels.

There are 1,231 parcels--or about 3,000 residents--inside the town that were never incorporated. Most of these parcels are in two large pockets just east of Los Gatos Boulevard: Blossom Hill Manor and the Shannon-Kennedy-Inglewood area. A smaller area around La Rinconada Drive is also within the town's urban service area, but still isn't part of the town.

The town tried to annex the county pockets in the early '80s, but without the county's help that effort didn't go anywhere.

As part of the county's Urban Pockets Program, Don Weden, the county's principal planner, will be sending out mailings and holding community meetings and hearings for county residents inside the town, starting with a mailing in the next week or two. The county is also in the process of printing an "Annexation Answers Book" that will be distributed by the town.

Weden says he's trying to avoid the same pitfalls of earlier efforts, including weak efforts on the part of city and county officials and inaccurate rumors about the process. "There's a lot of misinformation out there," he says.

One misconception Weden is hoping to correct is the belief that being annexed by the town will mean an increase in property taxes. According to Weden, taxes will stay about the same, but levels of service will increase.

County residents inside Los Gatos, for example, aren't served by the Los Gatos-Monte Sereno police, so 911 calls go to the Sheriff's Department, which almost invariably means a longer response time.

County residents also can't vote for Town Council members, and have to pay a non-resident fee to use the library.

And according to planning director Lee Bowman, who's been coordinating the annexation effort with Weden, the county pockets end up putting a strain on the services that serve residents of both the county and the town: "County residents don't pay town taxes, but town residents pay county taxes, so they wind up paying for any of the county's inefficiencies," Bowman said.

There are about 126 unincorporated pockets inside the county's 15 cities, stretching from Los Altos to Gilroy, and instead of being served by their local government, those residents--about 40,000 of them--are instead served by the county, which can't provide the same level of service as the cities.

"Those residents pay more tax for less services," Weden says.

Town Council members authorized planning staff to start working with the county June 7, and on June 8 the county Board of Supervisors gave Weden permission to hire two new staffers to help in the effort--even though he only asked for one.

Councilmember Randy Attaway said he supported the idea, but wanted more information about how much the annexations would cost the town.

Preliminary estimates in a staff report to the council pin the amount at a minimum of $15,000, but Weden says that the county will be helping out the town by using its own planning department to coordinate the tricky annexation procedures, instead of handing those tasks over to the already overworked Los Gatos Planning Department.

Weden said Cupertino, which recently annexed about 4,000 new residents in a county pocket, will be about $40,000 in the red for the first few years, but he added that there were a lot of justifications for the expense.

"They still concluded that those were people who were part of their community, and that they were the most efficient jurisdiction to provide urban services to it," he said.

According to the report received by the Town Council, the town will begin receiving property tax revenue from the state in the 2000-2001 tax year--but only if the approved annexations are submitted to the state before Dec. 1. If it's after that, then the town doesn't see that property tax revenue until the next tax year. And if the town loses that revenue, it still has to cover the expenses associated with the newly annexed areas until the money starts rolling into its coffers.
Jeff Kearns

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Web extra to the June 17-23, 1999 issue of Metro.

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