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June 27, 2022

LAFCO, Gilroy at odds over park

Annexation agency retaliates for city’s move to place

660

in General Plan
The Gilroy City Council’s controversial move to place 660 acres
of prime farmland east of the Gilroy Premium Outlets into the
city’s 20-year planning boundary-without Local Agency Formation
Commission approval-has come back to haunt them.
Annexation agency retaliates for city’s move to place “660” in General Plan

The Gilroy City Council’s controversial move to place 660 acres of prime farmland east of the Gilroy Premium Outlets into the city’s 20-year planning boundary-without Local Agency Formation Commission approval-has come back to haunt them.

Now the countywide agency charged with protecting farmland and open space as it decides annexation issues is holding hostage the city’s proposed 78-acre sports park to be located near the corner of Luchessa Avenue and Monterey Road.

LAFCO won’t agree to allow the city to annex the land until Gilroy completes an explicit plan to protect ag land and open space in the future.

The council instead withdrew the annexation application and on Monday decided to move forward with the sports complex as it sits in unincorporated county territory, despite the fact that it will be more expensive to provide services. Mayor Tom Springer and Councilman Al Pinheiro were the dissenting votes. Councilman Roland Velasco was absent.

“What if they don’t like the plan?” said City Administrator Jay Baksa. “The real danger is that they want to review and approve a locally controlled decision. We have tried every which way to play by the rules on this and done everything we can, but we are not successful with them.”

Even with an ag plan, LAFCO will agree to only partial annexation of the land. The commission will let Gilroy annex 35 acres of adjacent private land that separates the sports park from current city boundaries. The commission has indicated it will do it in the future, however, if members like the direction the city is headed.

The city has wanted the property to be annexed to make it easier to provide services to the area. But now, it just wants to see the complex built.

“This has been in the LAFCO process for three and a half years,” said Baksa of the sports complex. “Our involvement now should be to focus on our youth.”

Councilman Charles Morales wasn’t happy either, but he understood LAFCO’s role.

“They’re forcing us to create our own mitigation plan because we stated that we would in our General Plan when the 660 acres were accepted into the General Plan,” said Morales. “They’re making us work on the mitigations to preserve open space because they want to see that we’re serious about it and to create policy to ensure it.”

LAFCO made its move, Morales said, because it forces the city to jump-start the land-preservation process in order to get the entire sports complex built. Many on the council see LAFCO’s action as a slap by an agency that has ultimate jurisdiction.

Under LAFCO law, areas that are annexed into a city’s boundaries are to be done so in a manner that avoids the creation of city “islands” surrounded by unincorporated county land. That is what would be created if LAFCO allows the complex to be annexed without including the adjacent property, which was earmarked for future residential and commercial development.

In years past, annexing a similar piece of land might have been a formality. But a tug-of-war has been going on between the city and LAFCO since the city earmarked the 660 acres of prime farmland east of the outlets for future industrial development by adding it to its General Plan without LAFCO’s consent.

Opponents of the 660 argued that the city already has 1,500 acres of undeveloped industrial land within its city limits, which has concerned some LAFCO representatives.

Since that time, LAFCO staff has stated that no annexations would be approved until the agency approves the city’s 20-year boundary.

“We were already hit over the head over the 660; now we’re getting hit over the head with this (sports complex),” said Pinheiro. “We need to stand up and fight for our rights, which is the right to govern ourselves.”

At the present time, the city is putting together a taskforce to work on the agricultural mitigation plans that city officials say will help preserve the area’s ever-shrinking agricultural space. In the 1990s, the Gilroy City Council was part of the Santa Clara County Agricultural Preservation taskforce.

While everything is still up in the air, Pinheiro and Springer voted against pulling out of the application process because it hurts the city’s case in the event the two parties meet in court.

“I do think we ought to challenge LAFCO on this,” said Springer.

But Morales saw things otherwise and commented further on Wednesday.

“The city wants to move to litigation,” said Morales. “They want to include the adjacent properties and litigate to avoid an island. It comes down to who has control, local jurisdiction or the agency? But litigation is the last thing I want to see. We need to work to rebuild our relationship with LAFCO rather than alienate it.”

LAFCO’s denial to modify the city’s existing boundaries to incorporate the park was shot down on October 9.

One of the dissenting votes on the LAFCO Board came from South County Supervisor Don Gage.

Gage believed that the entire site should be annexed and that it was foolish to think that the adjacent 35 acres would ever be farmed on again. In addition, he pointed out that a useless island would be created in the process.

Formed in the 1960s to combat urban sprawl in California, LAFCO is an independent agency with the authority to reject municipal or private annexation requests.

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