News and Articles

November 22, 2011

Community Water Coalition Loses Bid to Halt U.C. Santa Cruz Housing Expansion Based on LAFCO Process

Community Water Coalition Loses Bid to Halt U.C. Santa Cruz Housing Expansion Based on LAFCO Process  

Community Water Coalition v. Santa Cruz County Local Agency Formation Commission [Sixth Appellate District No. H036616, filed November 18, 2011]

By Andrea A. Matarazzo

The University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC) filed an application with the Santa Cruz Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO), requesting approval of an agreement between it and the City of Santa Cruz (City).  Under the agreement, the City would extend water and sewer services to UCSC’s north campus to serve a proposed housing expansion project in an area outside City’s jurisdictional boundaries.  LAFCO’s approval of the city’s willingness to provide 100 million gallons more water to the campus through 2020 is a key component of a 2008 settlement agreement between the city, UCSC and other parties concerning university growth. UCSC, which is allowed about 200 million gallons of water per year now, agreed to house two-thirds of new students in buildings to be constructed on the north end of campus as a way to reduce traffic and housing impacts in town.

The Community Water Coalition, concerned about the expansion’s effect on overall water shortages driving a controversial seawater desalination plant, challenged LAFCO’s jurisdiction to consider UCSC’s application.  According to the Coalition, LAFCO lacked jurisdiction to consider the application since the prospective recipient of the services (UCSC), rather than the service provider (the city), had filed it.  Even though the city was a party to the agreement for which UCSC sought LAFCO approval, and even though the city had submitted a letter to LAFCO stating that it was willing to provide the services if LAFCO approved, the Coalition maintained that under Government Code section 561333.1, LAFCO was required to dismiss the matter because the city had not filed the application in its own name.


City officials supported UCSC and agreed that LAFCO’s jurisdiction over the application was consistent with the statutory scheme, and took the position that water shortfalls are driven by environmental conditions and federally mandated provisions for fish, not an increase in university use.  The trial court sustained a demurrer without leave to amend, concluding that the operative subdivision of section 56133 does not specify which party must request LAFCO’s approval.

Although the Sixth District Court of Appeal disagreed with the trial court’s statutory interpretation, it affirmed the judgment.  The appellate court reasoned that under section 56133, the city or district proposing to provide services outside its jurisdictional boundaries must request and receive approval from its local LAFCO.  The LAFCO’s jurisdiction does not depend, however, upon the identity of the person who filled out the application.  The Legislature has given the LAFCOs power to decide whether to allow an extraterritorial extension of urban services.  The fact that the prospective recipient of the services filed the application does not prevent the LAFCO from acting upon the request, the court explained, so long as the city or district that will provide the services is a party to the agreement for which LAFCO approval is sought and joins the request by affirmatively indicating its willingness to provide the services.

On November 15, 2011, LAFCO staff recommended approval of UCSC’s application, but only under several conditions.  The staff report issued early last week recommends expanding service to 240 acres in the north campus, which is an area smaller than requested but one that still covers development plans.  The recommendation is contingent upon the city and UCSC establishing conservation offsets, and city also must commit to increasing water supply for endangered fish habitat.  LAFCO will consider the staff recommendations on December 7, 2011, over three years after the city and university filed expansion applications outlined in the 2008 settlement agreement.

Authored by:

Andrea A. Matarazzo

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