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Island Annexations

Unincorporated urban pockets (County islands) that are either completely or substantially surrounded by cities are a byproduct of the land use policies that existed in Fresno County and other California Counties during the 1950s and 1960s.  Little forethought was given by local governments as to the actual costs to the County that would result from maintaining these County islands.   

The inefficient land use patterns that were developed over several decades have proven to be extremely expensive to maintain and to provide an acceptable level of urban services to.  They have also created public confusion over jurisdictional boundaries and service responsibilities.  The attached map shows the many County islands that exist within the Fresno Area (City of Fresno Map).  

It has been the experience of cities and counties throughout California that annexation of County islands have resulted in a more efficient urban service delivery system comprised of sewer; water; trash collection; police protection; fire protection; groundwater recharge; code enforcement; etc.  Allowing islands to become part of a city has allowed residents to participate in the decisions that impact not only their immediate neighborhoods, but their communities.   

While the County of Fresno, special districts, and the private sector have historically been able to provide a variety of services to unincorporated islands, services provided by the County in unincorporated areas are more typical of limited services to rural areas and do not cover the full range or level of services that many urban dwellers have come to expect.  The County has indicated that it is becoming more difficult to maintain an acceptable level of services in view of the fiscal constraints that it continues to face.  

Recognizing the problems associated with the proliferation of County islands throughout the State, the California Legislature enacted special legislation in 2001 that allowed cities the ability to annex County islands that were 75 acres in size or less, without protest or election.  The law (Government Code 56375.3) was changed in 2005 to increase the size of islands that could be annexed by a city, without formal protest, to 150 acres.  

Basic Provisions of Government Code 56375.3  

The law provides that an "island annexation" initiated by a City may not be disapproved by the LAFCo Commission if the following requirements are met:

  • Annexation is proposed by resolution of the annexing city.

  • The island is 150 acres or less in size.

  • The island is surrounded or substantially surrounded by the annexing city or by the annexing city and adjacent cities.

  • The island is not a gated community where services are currently provided by a community services district.

  • The island is substantially developed or developing based on the availability of public utilities, presence of public improvements or the presence of physical improvements on the parcels within the area.

  • The island is not prime agricultural land as defined in Government Code Section 56064.

  • The island is receiving benefits from the annexing city or will benefit from the city.

  • The island was not created after January 1, 2000.  

Why Cities Annex Islands and Counties Support Such Action  

There are a number of reasons why cities throughout California desire to annex County islands that are located within their "Sphere of Influence" and urban service area.  These include:

Consistent With City/County Land Use Policies  

Cities realize that island annexations are consistent with long-standing city and county land use regulations and policies that encourage growth and development to take place within cities where urban levels of services and facilities already exist and can be easily provided.  Counties are not in the business of providing urban levels of services to urban areas.  That is the role of the cities.  Adopted City/County Annexation Referral Policies and Tax Sharing Agreements have helped reduce potential conflicts between local governments.  

It's the "Right Thing to Do"

Most city officials feel that annexing islands that result in bringing new residents into the social fabric and political life of the city recognize that the island is in many ways already a part of the city, and annexation is basically the "right thing to do".  It is consistent with a basic desire to "improve" the city.  

Inherent Inefficiencies of County Islands  

Scattered unincorporated "pockets" within the midst of cities have proven to be inefficient.  Such inefficiencies are evident when two different departments, one city and one county, provide the same service to different portions of the same neighborhood and crisscross each other's territory on their way to provide such service(s).  This is especially true for police and fire protection services where it becomes difficult for the County Sheriff's Department or County Fire Protection District to travel great distances in order to respond to County island calls.  Significant effort is also often required in determining whether calls seeking assistance are coming from "city" as opposed to "county" residents.   

County Island Impacts to Surrounding City Neighborhoods  

Often times Fresno County islands are comprised of older residential neighborhoods that maintain aging infrastructure, housing stock in need of rehabilitation, and other problems.  Since counties do not provide the same level and diversity of services for these residents, problems that may arise may not receive the same level of attention that a city may offer.  Such neighborhood problems often have the potential for becoming worse rather than better.  Cities realize that the best way to deal with such situations is by annexing the lands and dealing with problems through existing city programs.   

Island Residents Use City Facilities But Often Don't Pay City Taxes  

Cities are often times concerned that County residents who live within island areas may be utilizing city streets and parks without paying for their use and upkeep.  Also, cities may not receive the full benefit of additional state and federal funds that are allocated to cities on a per capita basis as long as residents reside within County islands.  

Benefits of Annexing to a City  

Experience has proven that people just don't like change.  They may ask "Why should we annex and what is to be gained by annexing that we don't currently have?"  Good questions and here is some food for thought:  

Better Neighborhood Services  

One of the primary reasons for a city's existence is to provide neighborhood services and programs to persons living in urban areas.  By comparison, counties were created to provide county-wide services including:  public health and human services; law and justice services; assessor and tax collector services, voter services, library services; public administrator/guardian services; etc.  Counties were never envisioned to compete with cities in providing urban services to residential neighborhoods.   

While it may be pointed out that counties do provide some urban level services to island areas, counties do not provide the same level or variety of neighborhood services as currently provided by cities.  Also, counties throughout California indicate that they do not have the means to increase the level of services to existing County islands given current financial constraints placed upon them.  

Political Empowerment  

An incentive to annexation is that residents will gain a greater ability to influence decisions related directly to their "quality of life" through working through their elected city representatives.  As long as they continue to reside in a County island, they remain disenfranchised from those decisions.  County residents do not have the right to vote in city council elections and other city elections.  Consequently, when county residents attend city council meetings, their voices and opinions do not carry the same weight as if they were city residents.

Dispelling Annexation Myths  

Myth #1:  Annexation Triggers Reassessment of Property (FALSE)  

Some people believe that if their property is annexed from the County into a city that the Assessor will automatically reassess its value for property tax purposes and that, as a result, their property taxes may increase dramatically.  This is not true.  

Proposition 13 determines the conditions under which a property may be reassessed for property tax purposes, and annexation is not one of them.  The assessed value of property remains the same following annexation.  

Myth #2:  City Taxes Are Much Higher than County Taxes (FALSE)  

Another common annexation myth is that taxes in a city are much higher than taxes in the unincorporated area.  This is not true.  

The total taxes that a residential property owner would pay if their property were annexed are generally very similar to those they are already paying in the County.  

The most common difference between city and county taxes is that most cities have a utility tax and a county does not.  

The City of Fresno has indicated that there may be a very slight increase in property taxes as a result of Police and Fire Employee Pension overrides that are in place.  The City indicates, however, that overall costs to new city residents may be less due to lower solid waste disposal fees charged to city residents that offset the override taxes.  

Myth #3:  Annexation Triggers Requirements to Install Sidewalks, Curbs, and Gutters (FALSE)

Some island property owners believe that they will have to install sidewalks, curbs, and/or gutters, and other improvements if they annex.  This is not true.  

Most cities require that such facilities be installed only when there is substantial redevelopment of the property, and even then it may not be required if the property is not along a designated safe route to school or if it is in a neighborhood that generally does not have such facilities.  

Myth #4:  Annexation Affects School District Boundaries (FALSE)  

Some people believe that if they are annexed into a city that may change the school district they are in and the schools their children attend.  This is not true.  

Annexation of property from a county into a city has no impact on school district boundaries or the schools that children in the annexed area attend.  

Note:  Special recognition is extended to CALAFCO, Santa Clara County LAFCO, the Fresno County Administrative Office, the Fresno City Manager's Office, the Fresno County Planning and Public Works Department, and the City of Fresno Planning and Development Department in aiding in the preparation of this report.