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Mountain House is now a city

Group of people cutting a red ribbon, suggesting a ceremonial event or opening.
Mountain House's elected officials cut the ribbon at the start of their new city. {Photo Credit: Mike Kai Chen for Jonathan Wolfe, "Some Californians Found Dream Homes Inland. But It Sure Is Hot There." (NY Times, July 3, 2024)

Last March 91% of the residents of unincorporated Mountain House voted that their community should incorporate. And last Monday, July 1, 2024, the new city was born. The first city council meeting was a lengthy affair that required all kinds of official paperwork - things like swearing in the council members and adopting ordinances about how to run the city. The news media was out in force, with reports on the initial day filed by KCRA3, ABC7, CBS13 and Telemundo33. Tracy Press's story went into some depth about the City Council's first day. That article also has a lot of photos of the elected officials being sworn in and the audience there to cheer them on.

Even the New York Times ran a story about Mountain House becoming a city (behind a paywall). For some reason the NY Times felt it was important to also focus on the high temperatures on the Central Valley side of the Diablo Range. Still, the  article acknowledged Mountain House and its role as place where people want to live. Redfin says the median price of homes there has effectively doubled from 5 years ago. Redfin has characterized the residential real estate market in Mountain House as being extremely competitive, saying:

The median sale price of a home in Mountain House was $1.2M last month, up 24.3% since last year. The median sale price per square foot in Mountain House is $421, up 1.1% since last year. Most homes get multiple offers, often with waived contingencies.The average homes sell for about 5% above list price and go pending in around 7 days.Hot homes can sell for about 8% above list price and go pending in around 6 days.

The opening day planners knew the first council meeting would be chock full of official requirements, with precious little time left to engage the full community in a celebration. So they scheduled an event for residents and their families for the 4th of July.  Alas, the heat wave intervened and shortened the Independence Day ceremonies to some brief speeches and the city's first 4th of July parade.

California (un)Incorporated had a delegation cued up to attend Mountain House's Independence Day celebration, but did not attend due to the heat emergency. We are working on a Plan B to present our remarks to the new city council at a future meeting. It is significant that Mountain House has become California's first new city in 13 years, particularly given the overwhelming sentiment of residents in favor of self-determination. Clearly, they cherish their community; we applaud the people of Mountain House for that! Mountain House is special to California (un)Incorporated, too. It was one of our founding communities and it is now the first of our alumni. We wish happiness and prosperity for the new city, its residents, and its businesses!

Some thoughts going forward:

  • Mountain House was planned by San Joaquin County from Day 1 to become an incorporated city. The County worked with developers to create a livable city with its own municipal government. The County helped set up and run the Community Services District to oversee the community's infrastructure and services. Orange County has also supported the formation of new cities, at least post-bankruptcy, though they have not been as active in recent years. Can more counties follow the example set by San Joaquin County (and Orange County) at helping unincorporated communities gain local control?
  • San Joaquin County did not play power games nor try to restrain local control. Instead it fostered a fully-capable community that was intended to handle its municipal affairs. In some other counties, local communities are held back by dominant Boards of Supervisors who seem to value their authority more than the concept of municipal self-government. What does it take for those Boards to empower local communities to control their own municipal affairs?
  • Mountain House took 30 years from inception to incorporation. Slow and steady won the race for this start-from-scratch community. Should the process be as arduous and lengthy for existing urbanized, unincorporated communities?
  • The state's official process for forming a new city is the Cortese-Knox-Hertzberg Act, also known as the  LAFCO law. The process was somewhat streamlined and inexpensive for Mountain House because the County was supportive. That's not necessarily the case elsewhere. It has been 24 years since the LAFCO Law was updated. Over time the process of municipal incorporation has become unduly cumbersome and expensive, to the point where the formation of a new municipality is an extreme rarity. Is the state willing to change the way new cities are formed, to make the process easier and less expensive?
  • Among the inherent problems with the process is the inability of new cities to access a revenue stream from the property tax component of motor vehicle registrations - a revenue stream enjoyed by 482 cities, but not Mountain House. That is a budget impairment for new cities. Will the state revise its inappropriate and unfair policy that deprives new cities of a revenue source available to other cities?
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