March 28, 2008
Seventeen years ago, when the fledgling city of Canyon Lake was undertaking a mandated sphere of influence study, Jeff Butzlaff, then City Manager, was quoted in The Friday Flyer as saying, “We never want to be placed in the position of having to say someday ‘Oh, if we’d only known’ or ‘If we hadn’t been so short-sighted.’”
It seems that day has come, and the current City Council is bemoaning the fact that its counterpart in 1991 voted against establishing a sphere of influence outside its original boundaries.
Never one to mince words, Councilmember Frank Kessler has pronounced the former Council’s decision “a stupid move,” and says that no other city in Riverside County exists without a sphere of influence.
“If we’d established a sphere we’d have been given the opportunity to play a role in what’s happening on our boundaries,” he contends. “We could have prevented the situation at the Campground and the nearby neighborhoods where houses in an outside development look down on our residents.”
So what was the 1991 City Council thinking? A Sphere of Influence Committee, spearheaded by Councilmembers John Giardinelli and Jack Wamsley and consisting of residents Chuck Bryant, Joanna Spiller, Tom Wysocki, P.D. Lippert and Steve Graff conducted an investigation of the pros and cons of a such a sphere. Beginning in August and continuing throughout the summer and early fall, the Committee studied the concept and held workshops to solicit input from property owners.
The Committee first needed to identify what a sphere of influence was and what effect it could or could not have on the surrounding boundaries of the City. A sphere of influence, according to the Government Code, is “a plan for the probable ultimate physical boundaries and service area of a local agency,” in this case the City of Canyon Lake.
Committee members placed most weight studying two issues – the fiscal and political concerns. It is important to point out that the areas being considered as a sphere of influence at that time basically included Quail Valley and the proposed Audie Murphy development.
Quoting the final report: “The major question that needed to be addressed is ‘What did the voters of Canyon Lake have in mind when 92 percent of them voted yes on incorporation in November 1990?’ Did they want the ultimate boundaries of their City expanded a year later simply to have a larger city, or possibly to gain a few tax dollars?
“It is the Committee’s recollection that the boundary in the original report submitted by the incorporation consultants was not financially feasible because it included Audie Murphy. A second look without Audie Murphy proved to be a little more feasible, not producing a rich city but a city that could survive, especially considering the limited services to be provided. The boundaries of the second study are the boundaries submitted to the voters.”
The report went on to say, “While it appears that inclusion of Audie Murphy would make geographic sense, it is the Committee’s responsibility to assure fiscal stability and political security. Audie Murphy, according to studies and verification from the City’s consultant would be a fiscal drain on existing and new resources. Relative to the political security, it is possible that the Audie Murphy project could, at buildout, produce 7,000 registered voters. This is to compare with the 9,600 maximum within the gated area of Canyon Lake. While the probability of a 100 percent registration is unlikely, it is relatively certain that the percent of registered voters in Audie Murphy could be higher than Canyon Lake simply because of the high absentee ownership percentage in Canyon Lake (thus giving the neighboring community more political clout.)
“(And) why would the City of Canyon Lake annex Quail Valley when there is no outward or apparent advantage to the residents of Canyon Lake?” the report asked.
The 1991 Sphere of Influence Committee also was concerned about required new services and exposure to public liability through outside forces. Seventeen years ago the Committee could foresee having to provide some of the services normally provided by a municipality, such as recreation, parks and public works, all of which carry a high exposure to public liability. “Expanding the sphere of influence and ultimately annexing that expanded area would place the City in the position of high exposure, without any significant benefit to the residents living within the existing boundaries,” concluded the report.
It also was the Committee’s opinion that the territory around Canyon Lake had already been either placed in neighboring cities’ boundaries and/or spheres or already reached a level of planning through the County of Riverside that would preclude any major changes.
Also, none of the study area’s commercially zoned sections seem to be of the high end of sales tax producers. Thus, not worth the fiscal and political risk, said the report.
“After reviewing the information available and analyzing the political and fiscal pluses and minuses, it is the Committee’s recommendation that the sphere of influence of the City remain as it is, and that the City Council direct staff to continue to work closely with the developers and staffs of the surrounding cities to insure that they are aware of any concerns of the City of Canyon Lake.”
Today, Frank Kessler says Canyon Lake is fortunate that the developers of Audie Murphy have worked closely with the City to complete infrastructure, such as the realignment of Railroad Canyon Rd., Newport Rd. and the development of a bridge over Salt Creek.
And, while a sphere of influence including Audie Murphy and Quail Valley is no longer an option because those communities are now teaming with Menifee to incorporate their own city, the area outside the North Gate is still a possibility.
Though the current sphere of influence study is in very early stages, the Council is now looking at the property off Greenwald and both sides of Hwy. 74, including the area known as Meadowbrook. Having a sphere of influence and annexing the area are two different propositions, however.
According to City Manager Lori Moss, the City would be interested in annexing about 183 acres outside the North Gate, a reduction from the 400 acres initially discussed, as a possible school site. The Lake Elsinore Unified School District sees this as a strong possibility and would even consider both an elementary school and a middle school on that land, says LEUSD Trustee Jeanie Corral.
In recent news reports, however, it was announced that a portion of that land, which is now in the Lake Elsinore sphere of influence, could be developed into a shopping center and office buildings, which could leave Canyon Lake out of the equation all together, since a sales tax-producing center would be financially attractive to Lake Elsinore and one the municipality might not want to pass on to Canyon Lake.
As for the expanse of land outside the 183 acres, Lori Moss says, if a sphere is established, there are no immediate plans for annexation. In fact, the area would remain as is, probably for generations. However, at some time in the distant future, it would be to Canyon Lake’s advantage to have a say in its planning, Lori says.
That way, Jeff Butzlaff’s prophetic words would not continue to haunt the community.
At next week’s City Council meeting, one of the items to be considered is whether to submit an application to Riverside County Local Agency Formation Committee (LAFCO) to increase Canyon Lake City boundaries through annexing approximately 183 acres of the unincorporated community of Meadowbrook as well as expanding the City’s sphere of influence.
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