The city of Barstow’s latest effort to annex Barstow Heights is being met with solid opposition by the residents of the district who would have to approve the takeover with a vote.
The Barstow City Council, led by councilman Tim Silva, has given city manager Curt Mitchell and his administrative staff direction to explore the issue.
A formalized application to undertake the application would require a study of multiple issues by the county’s Local Agency Formation Commission, including an appraisal of existing infrastructure in the unincorporated county area, costs associated with having the city assume maintenance and/or operation of that infrastructure and the potential financial impact of the merger. Silva has indicated that by bringing Barstow Heights into incorporated Barstow, which now has a population within its city limits of 22,639, the city would qualify for more state and federal grants and revenue by virtue of the increase in population.
Silva referenced a 2008 report by the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) that recommended the dissolution of the Barstow Heights Community Services District, which was formed in 1957 for the provision of water, road maintenance and park and recreation services to the area southwest of Barstow near Rimrock Road and H Street.
The district remains in place, but its only current purpose is the maintenance of Panamint Park and H Street Park. The district’s former water and road powers are now being administered by the county’s special districts department. The county would like to get out from under that responsibility and transfer it to the city of Barstow. Additionally, the city is already partially subsidizing the park and recreation function of the Barstow Heights Community Services District by defraying the cost of any park repairs less than $200. This arrangement exists because many Barstow residents avail themselves of the parks.
Buttressed by the four-year-old LAFCO report, Silva further suggested that Barstow Heights residents would see potential benefits by coming into the city through being able to participate in the local political process through voting in city elections. Moreover, he asserted, the neighborhood, which has in many respects substandard, aging or non-existent infrastructure, would be eligible for tying into the city’s systems or have municipal services extended into the area upon annexation.
That opportunity is dual-edged, however. At present Barstow Heights homes utilize septic systems, and annexation would eventually make it possible for those homes to be connected to the municipal sewer system. Yet hook-ups to the sewer lines would cost homeowners more than $20,000 in the most likely of scenarios.
Similarly, the inclusion of Barstow Heights into street lighting and landscape maintenance districts would be of conceivable benefit to the residents and might marginally improve property values, but would also entail assessments on the homeowners within those districts.
Whatever the suggestions of Silva and other Barstow or county officials, the residents of Barstow Heights are wary of the takeover proposal. Efforts by the Sentinel to find anyone in Barstow Heights in support of the annexation were unsuccessful. Several Barstow Heights residents, however, stated opposition to the concept, with many expressing the belief that it would entail an increase in taxes and fees and little return in benefits or enhanced services. Some said they did not want to be subjected to municipal code restrictions. They said that they were aware that at least some residents of the section of Lenwood that was annexed by Barstow in 2010 are upset over the enforcement of zoning codes and restrictions that are now in effect there.
To effectuate an annexation, proponents would need to get a majority approval of the registered voters in the area to be annexed. At present, there are 1,033 voters in Barstow Heights.