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Santa Rosa’s plan to annex Roseland and four other unincorporated island areas won enthusiastic approval Wednesday from the agency that determines local government boundaries, setting the stage for the largest such expansion in city history unless enough residents protest the move.

The seven-member board of Sonoma Local Agency Formation Commission unanimously approved the city’s request, calling it a historic decision decades in the making.

“We knew — the business community, the residents, the government — all of us knew that this day had to come,” said Supervisor Susan Gorin, who sits on the LAFCO board, “that annexation was the only solution in moving forward.”

If the move is not blocked by residents opposed to annexation — and there are some — then about 7,400 people will officially become citizens of the city by the end of the year.

Supporters of annexation, including former Supervisor Efren Carrillo and Mayor Chris Coursey, said the residents of Roseland, many of whom are poor and Latino, deserve to have the improved services and political voice that being city residents will offer.

“This is a bill that we owe to the people of Roseland, and it’s a bill that’s long past due,” Coursey said.

But a handful of residents told the board they neither wanted to be nor saw the benefit in becoming Santa Rosa residents, preferring their semi-rural existence in pockets of the county surrounded by city limits.

“For me there is no upside to being annexed into the city,” said Tom Schneider, who said he has lived on Hearn Avenue for 28 years. “I’m very happy with the county fees, requirements and county services that I presently receive.”

Schneider said all he sees is the higher taxes and fees and more restrictions.

He cited the 5 percent tax on utility bills that city residents pay. According to the city that amounts to about $10 per month. He also cited an annual storm water fee, which the city says is about $31 per year. Then there’s the need for him to pay for city garbage and recycling service, which is mandatory within city limits. That’s about $17 per month. His sewer rates will likely go up slightly over time.

Schneider also expressed concerns about not being able to have as much livestock under city zoning rules, but city officials say existing livestock owners will be grandfathered out of such restrictions. The West Hearn Avenue neighborhood also lobbied for and received special rules aimed at preserving the rural character of the area.

In addition to the 620-acre Roseland neighborhood, the annexation includes three other smaller areas in the southwest: 34-acres along West Hearn Avenue, 19 acres along Victoria Drive and 17 acres of Brittain Lane. It also includes a 23-acre area in the northwest along West Third Street.

Agency executive officer Mark Bramfitt called the annexation “probably the most anticipated proposal that Sonoma LAFCO has ever encountered.”

Gorin addressed what she called “the elephant in the room” without actually saying it. She asked why Standish and Moorland avenues, areas farther south of city limits, were not included in the annexation, as she had hoped.

The current annexation effort is widely viewed as having gained momentum only after the death of Andy Lopez, the 13-year-old resident of Moorland Avenue who was shot and killed by a deputy as he carried a toy gun designed to look like an assault rifle.

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In addition to sparking community outrage that led to law enforcement changes including greater civilian oversight, Lopez’s death for many symbolized the inequities in public services between incorporated and unincorporated areas.

Carrillo, who sat on the joint city-county committee and is credited with helping the two sides hammer out a long-elusive funding deal, said the city was hesitant to absorb all the unincorporated areas in the southwest in one go.

Coursey agreed. “The annexation of these islands has been a large bite, and it’s taken us a while to chew on it,” Coursey said. “We plan to take further bites.”

He said he wanted to see the Moorland Avenue area annexed “soon.” Gorin noted that the annexation of the neighboring Standish Avenue industrial area could have resulted in greater tax revenue for the city and made the negotiations over costs go more smoothly.

A 30-day reconsideration period is now in effect through Sept. 1, and on Sept. 4 a 30-day formal protest period will begin. If fewer than 25 percent of the registered voters or fewer than 25 percent of property owners who own at least 25 percent of the total assessed value of the parcels being annexed protest, the annexation is approved.

In that case, the board would sign off on annexation at its Oct. 4, meeting, and the 714 acres of property would officially become incorporated into the city by the end of the year.

In the unlikely event that more than 50 percent of the registered voters residing within the area protest, the annexation is blocked. If in the also unlikely event that somewhere between 25 and 50 percent of voters or property owners protest, then an election will be held, with annexation being decided by a majority vote of residents.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 707-521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @srcitybeat.

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