A three-year campaign for cityhood in Calabasas collapsed Thursday when a governmental agency ruled that the 10-square-mile community cannot afford independence.
The Local Agency Formation Commission voted 5 to 2 to deny incorporation after being told that the proposed city would be $450,000 in debt after its first year in existence.
Cityhood boosters argued unsuccessfully that commission staff estimates of $3.4 million in expenses are inaccurate, saying the proposed city actually would end its first year with money in the bank.
"Solvency is not in the cards," said Los Angeles County Supervisor Pete Schabarum, a commission member who led the argument against cityhood. "It would be in significant financial trouble from day one."
Boosters Vow to Start Over
Angry and dejected members of the Calabasas Cityhood Study Committee vowed to start from scratch with a new incorporation petition--probably after the 1988-89 fiscal year begins July 1 and when updated tax-revenue reports are available.
Thursday's rejection was a bitter climax to an incorporation drive that took cityhood leaders from makeshift trailer offices at a Calabasas car dealership to the paneled chambers of a Los Angeles Superior Court judge.
Cityhood committee leaders met at the new dealership last year to obtain their own estimates of potential sales-tax revenues to show incorporation would be financially viable.
They were in court this week hoping to hang onto a $675,800 reduction in brush-fire protection costs that would have resulted in a balanced first-year operating budget for the proposed city.
Developer Challenges Estimates
The fire-fee waiver--authorized by a recently enacted law authored by state Sen. Ed Davis (R-Valencia)--was challenged by a lawsuit filed on behalf of developer James Baldwin. The builder sought to keep his 1,300-acre tract out of the new city to avoid any future construction moratorium.
On Monday, Superior Court Judge Miriam Vogel ordered LAFCO to count the $675,800 as a city expense until the constitutionality of the law is determined.
The suit was filed Feb. 5 by Rita Noel Humphry, a Whittier resident who claimed that she is a personal friend and house-buying client of Baldwin. Humphry said she acted after hearing Baldwin complain at a party that the Davis law was a "gift of public funds" to Calabasas.
After Thursday's LAFCO hearing, Baldwin acknowledged that Humphry is his sister.
Asked why Humphry had denied that she was related to Baldwin when questioned about it earlier this month, Baldwin replied: "I guess she made a mistake. She's my sister."
Cityhood backers, who had hoped for a June 7 incorportion election for their community's 18,600 residents, blamed Baldwin for killing their campaign.
"He's really made a lot of enemies in the area," said Robert Hill, president of the cityhood committee.
"I'm not sure he's going to recover from that. If his sister filed the lawsuit, residents of the area are not going to have a good feeling about the guy who wants to come in and add 1,500 new homes to the area."
Moments before deciding to reject the entire cityhood request, LAFCO members voted 4 to 3 to exclude Baldwin's proposed project site from tentative city boundaries. Commissioners acted even though they were told Baldwin only has an option to buy the land--and that its exclusion would force the elimination of thousands of homes in western Calabasas from the new city.
"I don't think we should force people to be somewhere where they don't want to belong," said Commissioner Thomas E. Jackson, referring to Baldwin.
Commissioner Henri F. Pellissier agreed. "They're very concerned about their investments," he said. "I think the objections are valid."
Support for incorporation came from commission member Hal Bernson, a Los Angeles city councilman. He said Calabasas voters should have the chance to decide whether "they want to take the chance of becoming a city and being responsible" for any future financial shortfall.
Similar support came from Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, who does not sit on the LAFCO panel but whose district includes the Calabasas area.
"I feel it's important that citizens . . . have the right to vote in favor of incorporation or the opportunity of rejecting incorporation," he told LAFCO members. "It's only fair."
Cityhood committee members--who said they had reserved a supply of champagne for a victory party--may wait a while to regroup, they said.
"I feel bloodied and battered right now," said committee director Arnold Sank.