services to Communities of Interest in just the three counties that we examined in more detail (14 in Stanislaus, 16 in Fresno, and 27 in Tulare). Among these 57 agencies were eleven different types of service districts.
Given the large number of possible “targets” (each with their unique histories, governance structures, and leadership) that would need to be engaged, it is not surprising that advocacy and litigation strategies to improve infrastructure supports have focused on multiple targets. For example, the recent lawsuit on behalf of residents in unincorporated Stanislaus County focused on three providers—the County, the City of Modesto, and the County Sherriff—that lawyers argued were principally responsible for providing services to residents. Meanwhile, the community-lead campaign to restore safe drinking water to Alpaugh at the beginning of the decade required the engagement of the two special districts that provide water services, the state, and several other local institutions.
According to leading researchers (Olmstead56 and Ward57) money is a key factor in the enduring infrastructure deficits in colonias. More specifically, city governments are reluctant to annex neighborhoods whose infrastructure and municipal service needs exceed the resources that can be collected through property taxes and other levies (e.g., special assessments). If this is true, it will be difficult to use annexation as a strategy to improve infrastructure support for Communities of Interest because the LAFCO processes give cities and counties virtual veto power over decisions about annexation and incorporation. For example, before the LAFCO’s executive officer will issue a certificate of filing (for special election on annexation) proponents must negotiate the allocation of property tax revenues with the city, county, and affected special districts involved. An agreement among these parties is a precondition to a LAFCO hearing on an application for annexation. As a result, although only residents of the proposed territory have a right to vote in the special election on the issue of annexation, the steps leading to this election are stacked against the residents. These policies have made it possible to block annexation proposals from unincorporated neighborhoods that are viewed as revenue drainers rather than revenue producers.
The situation with incorporation would require residents in our Communities of Interest to overcome similar hurdles, because any strategy to use incorporation presumes that the residents of the residents have the resources to support the new city’s various municipal service functions. This seems less likely, or at least less widely applicable, as an option. In fact, much of the haggling that takes place in an incorporation process is between proponents of the new city and the county that is reluctant to give up the tax revenues of an unincorporated territory made up of fairly wealthy homeowners. The requirement that incorporation of a new city be revenue neutral for the county involved provides considerable leverage to counties.