Oh, To Be County-less
By DARRYL MANZER.
Published in The Signal, 1-15-2006.
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Attempting to complete an online survey by a federal government agency the other day, I discovered that I could not participate because I couldn't complete the form. It required me to fill in a block marked, "County."
In this part of Virginia, we don't have counties. We do have what are called, "independent cities." There is no county level of government for about 3 million of us Virginians. The only place similar in California is the city-county of San Francisco. So, no county to put in the block; no participation in the survey.
It is a much streamlined system of government. Imagine not having to worry about what the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors was going to do to the Santa Clarita Valley outside of the Santa Clarita city limits. No interference from those pesky folks in downtown Los Angeles.
The seven independent cities in Southeast Virginia "report" directly to the commonwealth (state) of Virginia. No middle man. Like that insurance commercial, the cities have done away with the middleman. I don't know, or for that matter care, what happened to him (or her). Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Norfolk, Suffolk, Portsmouth, Hampton and Newport News have had the heavy yoke of county interference removed.
As a city, Santa Clarita still has to work with Los Angeles County. It is the county that provides health services, and the county Sheriff's Department and Fire Department that provide police and fire service to Santa Clarita under contract. It is also the county that wants to allow more home building on the hillsides and ridges surrounding the SCV.
Besides the contracted services that Santa Clarita pays for, what other benefits do you get? For those of you who live in the Santa Clarita Valley but outside of the city of Santa Clarita, you've got to ask yourself the same question. "Are my tax dollars heading downtown and not being returned to the SCV in county services?" It appears that they are not.
In the not too distant past, cities and counties in the former Confederacy had a really bad habit of passing laws that limited or eliminated the civil rights of much of the population. Those "Jim Crow" laws relegated the non-white population primarily African-Americans and Hispanics, at the time to second-class status, or worse. So along came a federal judge to enforce the federal civil rights laws with a ruling that said, no city or county can enact a law unless there is "enabling legislation" at the state level. For those of us here in Virginia, it means Richmond became our county seat.
Imagine, if you will, that Santa Clarita could not control growth unless Los Angeles County and the state of California had a law permitting such a city ordinance. Strange but true.
In large measure, you do have a similar problem. By not having local control of much of the Santa Clarita Valley, you wait on the benevolence of your county of Los Angeles to bestow upon you the growth-control and land-use measures you'd like to have. More open space. More park lands. More road improvements and infrastructure planning that benefits the whole SCV.
Now figure the odds of that happening. The chances of Los Angeles County limiting growth have about the same odds as me winning the Mega-Million lottery. It ain't gonna happen.
All seven independent cities of Southeast Virginia approve a legislative package that they would like the state to pass each year. Since 1989, when I moved here, every one of those proposed laws sent to Richmond from the seven cities has included a request for "growth control laws." Every year, when the Virginia House of Delegates meets, those proposals get rejected once again. Our "county" won't listen.
It isn't that the delegates aren't hearing what the cities have to say. It is that a louder voice that of real estate developers is being heard first. Laws enabling the cities to control growth in Virginia will never be passed as long as the developers fund the political campaigns of the delegates.
The same is happening in your county. As long as the developers are building homes that send lots of tax dollars to downtown Los Angeles, the county can only respond by allowing more building.
More homes equal more tax revenue for the county. Most of those tax dollars won't be spent in the SCV, and Heaven forbid that anyone kills the goose laying those golden eggs.
OK. I've outlined the problem and can see only one direction for y'all to move to resolve the problem.
It is really quite simple. The whole SCV has to become one city.
I know in Castaic that isn't a popular choice. The developers will fight it at every level of government, too. But it is your only choice. You are being taxed and not represented if you live outside of Santa Clarita city limits.
I can see that happening to you all the way from Virginia. Why can't you?
Darryl Manzer lived in the Santa Clarita Valley oil town of Mentryville in the 1960s as a teenager. He now lives in Virginia.