Pocket People: The Politics Of Annexation

Citizenship means that people collectively accept the rights and obligations within a certain political jurisdiction. Anyone born in the United States or accepted through the naturalization process is a citizen. With one exception —election to the presidency — citizens share the same traits. It’s similarly the case in California, where citizens live under the same governing conditions. Thus, we all obey the same traffic rules, and we all have access to the roads.

Yet there are two kinds of citizens in Los Gatos: those who live within the town’s boundaries and those who, despite residing within the same boundaries, are governed by Santa Clara County. That’s because over the years, areas commonly known as pockets have not been included. There are many reasons for such anomalies, including subdivisions of once-agricultural areas, which required no services from the town government. The pockets number from a single lot to more than 500 where I live in Blossom Manor, but they are excluded nonetheless.

So much for history. The fact is, “Pocket People” are not officially part of Los Gatos. Pocket People must pay to park in Vasona Park, a minor inconvenience. Pocket People don’t have the superior garbage collection contracts negotiated by the town, perhaps another minor inconvenience. But some distinctions aren’t so minor. For example, Pocket People can’t run for town council or serve on commissions. More significantly, Pocket People are protected by the stretched out County Sheriff’s Department even though the Los Gatos Police Operations Center is a block away from Blossom Manor. Meanwhile, Pocket People pay their property taxes to the county treasury, rather than to the town, which receives no income from folks who commonly partake in town activities.

Under recent state law, the town may annex areas not larger than 150 acres. That takes care of small areas, but the Manor has more than 170 acres. So the only way Pocket People can join the town is if their homes are contiguous with one in the town. That, along with a fee of several thousand dollars, will gain admittance. A few years ago, when some Manor dwellers talked with town officials about joining en masse, they were offered a one-time deal of a few hundred dollars per home, assuming at least majority agreement. An election was held in 2004 and the effort failed.

Why?

Some residents cited the comparative ease of home additions under the county’s rules compared to the town’s, but those differences have been reduced over recent years. Others claimed that they didn’t want to be suffocated by Big Government, quite a title for a town of 29,000 people. Still others fretted that annexation would bring street lights and sidewalks, thereby diminishing the area’s rural appeal, even though town officials repeatedly said they had no such intentions, much less the funds. But in the end, it boiled down to citizenship. Those who wanted to stay out just didn’t think it was worth being part of the town. Worse yet, they wanted the town’s benefits without paying for them.

Maybe it’s time to reconsider the stalemate. Town officials need to find a much less expensive route for incorporation, thereby removing excessive financial burdens. For their part, Pocket People need to think about the benefits of citizenship in the town. Part of the charm of Los Gatos lies in its sense of belonging to a community, as demonstrated in so many ways from the annual Holiday Parade to the many summer music series’, and town council meetings that draw crowds on contentious issues. It’s a joy to share all that, but much more so for those who truly live in the town than those who remain on the outside looking in. Second class citizenship should end.
A Los Gatos resident since 1990, Larry N. Gerston teaches political science at San Jose State University and is the political analyst at NBC Bay Area. He has authored 11 books, including Not So Golden After All: The Rise and Fall of California.

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