The Santa Clarita City Council will decide at a special meeting Monday whether to seek an independent legal opinion on the new city's obligation to repay Los Angeles County for millions of dollars in services.
At the request of Robert P. Lathrop, a leader of the cityhood formation committee, council members voted 4 to 1 at an emergency meeting Monday to place the item on the agenda.
During the incorporation process, the county Board of Supervisors extracted a promise from cityhood backers that Santa Clarita would pay the county's costs, estimated at $2.7 million, to provide services to the city through June 30, the end of the fiscal year.
But Acting City Atty. Carl Newton said there is "a substantial question whether incorporators can bind a city that hasn't been formed." He advised council members not to comment on the matter because he said the city may sue the county to avoid paying the fees.
Only City Councilwoman Jan Heidt voted against Lathrop's request, saying she did not believe another opinion is necessary.
After the meeting, Lathrop said several people involved in the cityhood drive believe the city's refusal to honor the agreement to repay the county is counterproductive.
"Some of us don't believe a lawsuit would be successful and that all we're going to do is make the people who supported us mad as hell," Lathrop said.
Supervisors Ed Edelman, Kenneth Hahn and Mike Antonovich voted to support a Nov. 3 cityhood election in exchange for the city's reimbursing the county for providing such services as law enforcement, fire protection and road maintenance.
Lathrop said he and other cityhood backers are concerned that they are making the supervisors who supported them "look foolish."
Edelman and Antonovich scolded Santa Clarita officials last week when Councilman Dennis Koontz asked that the county's development plan for the region be postponed for 90 days. They warned Koontz that Santa Clarita would have a difficult time persuading the county to grant favors if the commitment to pay for the services is not honored.
Supervisors agreed to postpone a decision on the plan until Dec. 29, and Koontz said that was more than he expected. "I just wanted to get a dialogue started between the city and the county," he said.
"Everything we do is going to be a battle if we don't pay our bill," Councilwoman Jo Anne Darcy said after Monday's meeting. Other council members said they wanted to wait until the next meeting to comment on the matter.
Darcy, Antonovich's Santa Clarita Valley field deputy, said she is having difficulty getting information from the county about Elsmere Canyon, where the City of Los Angeles has proposed putting a garbage dump. The canyon is in unincorporated county territory between Los Angeles and Santa Clarita.
The Elsmere Canyon matter and the county development plan, which raises population projections for the Santa Clarita Valley in the year 2010 from 165,000 to 270,000, also are on the council's agenda Monday. Some Santa Clarita officials believe that a higher projection would invite further development without adequate services.
The special meeting will be at 7:30 p.m. at William S. Hart High School.
In other business Monday, the City Council unanimously voted to lease space for a temporary city hall in an almost completed office complex at 21021 Soledad Canyon Road. The city will pay the owner, Newhall Land and Farming Co., $841.50 a month plus a maintenance fee for 1,530 square feet of office space, beginning Jan. 1.
Koontz, who negotiated the contract for the city, said a new, 15,000-square-foot building that the developer is planning next-door could become a permanent city hall. That building will be available May 1, he said.