New tactic in battle over store proposal
Union Tribune (2008-02-07) Liz Neely
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City seeks state law easing annexation
By Liz Neely
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
February 7, 2008
EL CAJON – The feud between El Cajon and the county over a Home Depot proposed for land east of the city is heating up again.
City officials have asked Assemblyman Joel Anderson
, a La Mesa Republican, to introduce legislation that in some instances would make it easier for cities to annex county land. If it were to become law, it could clear the way for Home Depot to build on 14 acres it owns on East Main Street. The project has been tied up in a lawsuit over whether the land belongs in the city or the county. The proposed store is controversial because the county has designated the property for residential use while the city has zoned it commercial.
“I think (the bill is) going to be introduced,” Anderson said this week from Sacramento. “I just don't know who's going to do it and what the final language would be.”
The deadline to submit legislation to the Assembly is Feb. 22.
Some people are upset El Cajon is pushing the legislation while the issue is still in the courts.
“This is just the latest in a long line of questionable tactics designed to jam through an inappropriate project that the residents don't want, and it's wrong,” said county Supervisor Dianne Jacob
Jacob said El Cajon is trying to “circumvent the process already in place.”
The city is only trying to clarify the law, City Manager Kathi Henry said.
“This property should have been annexed a long time ago,” Henry said.
The El Cajon City Council approved the project in 2005, but a year later it was rejected by the San Diego Local Agency Formation Commission, or LAFCO, which rules on annexations and sets city boundaries. The state agency is made up of representatives from the county and jurisdictions within it.
Even though Home Depot's land is located in the county, it's within El Cajon's sphere of influence, a planning term for how the city is expected to grow.
Home Depot can't build on the site without LAFCO's approval, and the commission's no-vote prompted El Cajon to sue. A judge is expected to rule on the case this year, possibly in the spring.
LAFCO's annexation decisions are based in part on whether cities can provide services such as police and fire protection. In this case, the commission also had to determine whether the land was substantially surrounded by the city. The land is bordered by El Cajon on three sides and Interstate 8 on the fourth.
The city and Home Depot say the commission wrongly denied the request because the land is an island and is only accessble through the city.
Michael Ott, the commission's executive officer, said state law allows discretion in determining whether land is substantially surrounded. Even though the Home Depot property is 68 percent surrounded by the city, the commission can take into account the effects the project would have on on the community, such as whether it would alter the neighborhood's community character or burden fire districts.
Ott said the Legislature defers to the state's 58 LAFCOs to implement the law.
“Every circumstance is unique in each of the counties, and the law accommodates that uniqueness,” Ott said.
State law encourages the elimination of islands when annexing land but doesn't specify what substantially surrounded means. In part, the law describes islands as land that is “surrounded by the city to which annexation is proposed or by the city and a county boundary or the Pacific Ocean.”
The legislation proposed by El Cajon would add natural barriers, such as freeways, interstates and national parks, to the law. If the bill is introduced and approved, it would mean automatic approval of Home Depot's proposal and others like it.
“There would be no local input into the decision-making process,” Ott said.
Liz Neely: (619) 593-4961; firstname.lastname@example.org