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[whitespace] Annexation process begins in an atmosphere of anger, hostility

Los Gatos--Los Gatos Town Council members got an earful last week from some angry neighbors who don't live in the town.

The Sept. 7 meeting was the council's first formal consideration of the pending annexations of three county pockets in the town.

"You're full of crap!" one resident, Christian Evanson, yelled at the five elected representatives he never wants to be able to vote out of office.

The council voted unanimously to begin the process.

Although it was the first time annexation came to the council, it wasn't the first time angry county residents have had a chance to spout off about what they think of the idea.

Most of the residents who showed up at a series of meetings this summer said they think annexation stinks, and vowed to fight it.

And now that the annexation process is formally under way, those residents can start gathering signatures and writing letters--but not before Sept. 15, when the protest period legally begins. The period ends when the council closes the final public hearing on the issue.

Only a handful of responses to a survey have been returned. By the end of August, 89 of the informal surveys in the county's "Annexation Answer Book" had been returned. In one of the two sections of the Blossom Hill Manor pocket, responses broke down at 17 in favor and 17 opposed.

Those at the meeting vowed to sink the proposal.

Evanson, who said he'd been canvassing the neighborhood, claimed 80 percent of the people he'd talked to were against annexation. "You're better off just to drop the whole thing right now, and give us our life back," he said. "You're going to upset this whole neighborhood until this thing is done with. But you're going to lose, I'll guarantee that."

"We have sort of a rural element out there," county resident Donald Heisman said. "We feel more free to do something with our yards, and to our houses. Our mail comes to us as addressed to Los Gatos, we shop in Los Gatos, we spend our money in Los Gatos, but as far as government goes, we want to stay in the county right now."

Residents said they didn't want to be part of the town because they feared having to deal with the red tape that can block even the simplest projects, like tree-removal or adding on to a house.

"It really ticks me off, and I get to shaking when I think about how stupid this whole system is," Evanson said.

Other residents politely advised the town not spend the money it will need to spend on the process.

According to the town's cost estimates, it would cost more than $40,000 in state and county fees if all eight annexations are approved, or about $5,190 per annexation.

A town planning department report says the town won't break even on the annexations because town service costs will be greater than the 9 cents per $100 of assessed value that the town would get from the state.

Although nobody spoke in favor of annexation, Mayor Jan Hutchins said that it wasn't the issue before the council.

"The only argument that balances against your strong testimony that this will not pass in the neighborhood is the rights of those who might want to have the option available to them to make their opinions heard, and that's what a public hearing is for," Hutchins told a woman who said the council should drop the issue then and there.

"With all due respect to the speakers," Councilwoman Linda Lubeck said, "I have to say that I've had people who live in the pockets who do want the time and the effort spent by us and do wish that they could vote. There are some who do want to be annexed, so I think we need to proceed."

County Planner Don Weden, who oversees the county's pocket annexation program, said county supervisors initiated the process because pockets drain resources from the county by stretching services across the entire county, and leave pocket residents without efficient services for everyday problems like potholes and stop signs.

"From a big-picture perspective, the county is supportive of annexation," Weden said. "It just is not an efficient way to provide government. ... There's a lot of inefficiency there, and from a standpoint of efficient, responsive government, [pockets] are an obstacle to both of those objectives."

Town officials say annexing the county pockets will make it easier for the town to provide services to the areas, which the county can't serve effectively, and put an end to squabbling over which agency has jurisdiction over those areas. Meanwhile, residents will have more of a say in local government and control over what's going on in their neighborhoods if the annexation is successful.

Although there are three main county pockets within the town boundaries (La Rinconada, Blossom Hill Manor and Shannon-Kennedy-Englewood), some pockets have been further divided along precinct lines and by neighborhood for a total of eight pockets. Town officials says that's because some areas may want to annex, while others may not.

Now that the process is under way, officials say every property owner and registered voter in the pocket areas will be mailed a notice of when the public hearing will be held and how to file a written protest.

If less than 25 percent of pocket residents file appeals, the council will be able to annex that section without a vote. If more than 50 percent object, the council will drop the issue. If between 25 and 50 percent of residents file protests, the matter goes on the ballot.

Elections would be held in March, but if the council is able to annex areas by itself, those pockets could become part of the town by Jan. 1. The county Board of Supervisors does not vote on the annexations.
Jeff Kearns

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Web extra to the September 16-22, 1999 issue of Metro.

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