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Will Mountain House incorporate?

As reported in the Tracy Press, the San Joaquin Local Agency Formation Commission (SJLAFCO) has authorized Mountain House residents to vote in the March 2024 primary election as to whether their community should become incorporated. If approved by the voters, Mountain House will become California's 483rd city and the first new city to be established since 2011. Mountain House participates in the California (un)Incorporated coalition. Obviously, we wish the community will gain local control.

Mountain House was deliberately formed by San Joaquin County in 1994 as a planned community. Developers began building the first houses there in 2001. The County established the Mountain House Community Services District (MHCSD) in 1996 as a subordinate entity of county government, with the County Supervisors serving as the governing body. The MHCSD was given authority to provide a wide range of municipal services, primarily associated with operation and maintenance of infrastructure. In 2008 the residents approved having the MHCSD Board members elected locally. Development of the community continued according to the master plan, though at a somewhat slow pace thanks to broad economic conditions like the "Great Recession" of 2008. Still, those factors were overwhelmed by the pressures of growth in the Bay Area such that the county's original 30-year plan has been carried out. Additional details about the incorporation process are available from the MHCSD.

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MHCSD's chart of what would change if Mountain House became a city

Mountain House is something of a special case as a new city. It was started from open rangeland. It was intended to become a city from Day One, pursuant to a master plan. Though it had all the hallmarks of typical California sprawl, it differed in that governance of the new community was deliberately included, with self-determination in mind. Being part of the Bay Area's bleeding edge of growth, property values have been so strong that the new city is anticipated to be financially stable without vehicle license fee (VLF) revenues. And it appears that the County is not insisting on shackling the new city with unreasonable alimony payments - the proposed city budget includes a 5% fee for some countywide functions like tax collection and human resource support (those fees are not necessarily charged to the county's existing cities).

Our coalition includes several communities that have Community Services Districts. In the case of Mountain House, the SJLAFCO has been supportive of following through with the county's intent. That's not necessarily the situation elsewhere in the state. This matters because of the inherent conflicts within state laws that pertain to municipal incorporation. Though the CSD Act intends for CSDs to transition into cities, implementation of the LAFCO Act and the denial of VLF revenues have made it nearly impossible for new cities to be formed. Further, not all LAFCOs are supportive like SJLAFCO is. Our coalition seeks consistency among the state's 57 LAFCOs. And, while we applaud counties like San Joaquin for deliberately steering a new self-determined city into being, our coalition is also concerned about the snail's pace by which local residents eventually gain local control. Ladera Ranch, another of our coalition participants, is a similar planned community is Orange County that began 5 years after Mountain House and experiences similar growth pressures and property value increases. Orange County, with its history of supporting the formation of new cities, nevertheless continues to have County Supervisors in charge of municipal governance and the delivery of community services - there is no CSD there to move the ball forward.

The benefits of incorporation come down to local control, with unincorporated areas
wishing to craft services to meet the needs of local residents.
Nami Sumida, "One of California’s fastest-growing areas may become a city. Charts show how rare that is" (S.F. Chronicle, Nov. 13, 2023)

Finally, it is well past time to let new cities be formed again. Most of our coalition's communities are long-established communities. We remain disquieted by the state's overall pattern of slowing down municipal incorporations to a mere trickle or stopping them altogether, with the effect of unfairly perpetuating the denial of rights and privileges of local control to the state's unincorporated area residents. The San Francisco Chronicle recently wrote about that phenomenon. The Chronicle's article is behind a paywall; thanks to Mountain House CSD, we are able to provide the article (below), albeit without the interactive features of the article's graphics. Among those graphics is a chart of the state's 40 largest unincorporated communities (pop. 23K - 119K) that includes 10 of our coalition's participating communities. It also lists 10 unincorporated communities in Sacramento County, 2 of which are in our coalition. Mountain House is also on that list, hopefully not for long!

chronicle article on incorporation.pdf


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