Finding middle ground

Sunset Pointe resident Tetsu Matsuo describes the maintenance trees and irrigation system of the hillside behind his home and the water drainage ditch that runs through his property in Stevenson Ranch on Wednesday, 112322. Dan Watson/The Signal
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Sunset Pointe residents, county look for solutions regarding potential 1000% landscaping fee increase 

A group of residents in the community of Sunset Pointe in Stevenson Ranch are working with Los Angeles County personnel toward a solution regarding a possible 1,000% increase to their landscaping fees — and residents say they may pursue legal action if they are unable to come to an agreement. 

The neighborhood of Sunset Pointe, just off The Old Road, has had landscaping for certain portions of the 269-parcel community, such as trimming, brush clearance and irrigation management, provided by the L.A. County Department of Public Works since 1986. 

However, since 2007-2008, the rate for these services was at $750 per unit, per year, without a Consumer Price Index adjustment. But that’s no longer the case as Public Works proposed to increase the rate by 1,000% in 2021 to include new factors and inflation adjustment.  

“In 2021, at a meeting, they informed us that they were going to move from $750 to $8,000,” said Kathy Gonzales, a resident of Sunset Pointe of 20 years, who is a member of a group of neighbors on this issue. “It was sort of pay up or get out.” 

The proposed rate would be adjusted based on acreage, multi-family/single family, undeveloped, etc. In total, the adjustments, which include contractor costs, utilities and projected replacement of the aging irrigation equipment, drainage system and foliage, would be approximately $2.5 million per year, or $7,965 per customer.  

Twenty-two-year Sunset Pointe resident Kathy Gonzales points out damage to a water drainage ditch that runs down a hillside on Sagecrest Circle in Stevenson Ranch on Wednesday, 112322. Dan Watson/The Signal

“We have people up here who are retirees, we are a middle-class neighborhood, and right now with the cost of inflation, etc., to make a 1,000% from $750 to $8,000 in taxes without notification in the last 14 years doesn’t make sense,” Gonzales said.  

At the beginning of November, Public Works held a community meeting at College of the Canyons to “restart the process” of discussing the future of the Landscape Maintenance District — Zone 21, or Sunset Pointe, according to Steven Frasher, community engagement liaison and public information officer for Public Works. 

Frasher said Public Works contracted with a neutral outside facilitator who was brought in at the direction of L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, whose 5th District includes the Santa Clarita Valley.  

“This is an important issue for homeowners at Sunset Pointe,” Frasher wrote in an email. “This process of determining a new direction, working together with the homeowners, will be taking place over the coming months, to develop options for homeowners to consider.” 

In addition, Public Works officials noted an increase in landscape fees is due to a “cost of living increase, wage increase and new regulation in chemical use for weeding control.” 

Gonzales said Barger’s office has been “incredibly helpful” in leveraging her resources to help residents of Sunset Pointe.  

According to Anish Saraiya, planning and public works deputy for Barger’s office, her office became aware of some funding issues related to the LMD zoned for Sunset Pointe in late 2021. The supervisor decided to step in and believed that the proposed rate increase was “simply not tenable,” he added. 

With direction from Barger’s office, the county hired MIG, an engagement consulting firm, to lead community outreach efforts. According to Saraiya, the meeting in early November was positive and community members voiced a lot of their concerns.  

“Moving forward, our office is going to be working with the consultants to help navigate questions for the community, and to put forward some solutions that are going to actually be a bit more feasible and a bit more well received from the community itself,” Saraiya said. 

Sunset Pointe resident Tetsu Matsuo describes the maintenance trees and irrigation system of the hillside behind his home and the water drainage ditch that runs through his property in Stevenson Ranch on Wednesday, 112322. Dan Watson/The Signal

In addition, Gonzales along with a few residents formed a group advocating on behalf of Sunset Pointe homeowners.  

According to Barger’s office, there will be four to five more meetings between stakeholders to share information, concerns and create solutions. After all that, then, homeowners will take a vote on options the working group comes up with. 

“We’re going to be attending some meetings as a working group, make sure that we come up with some plan to hopefully bring that number down from a 1,000% increase to something that most people can live with,” Gonzalez said. 

Prior to this last meeting in November, Gonzalez said residents were extremely frustrated with Public Works’ approach to the situation.  

Public Works had informed property owners about a community meeting in December 2021 discussing the potential landscape fee increase. According to Gonzales, many residents had little to no advance warning of the potential rate increase.  

Residents received postcard-looking notifications, which could have been perceived as junk mail, she added.  

After that December meeting, Public Works would have mailed ballots to all affected property owners, and they would have had the ability to vote yes or no to the rate increase.  

If residents voted no, according to Public Works, Sunset Pointe would receive reduced services until detachment on July 1, 2023. Homeowners would have to build their own irrigation lines, and homeowners would have to assume maintenance responsibility for all vacated (Landscape Maintenance District) areas, including paying for utility usage.  

However, with assistance from Barger’s office, Sunset Pointe residents and county personnel are working to create solutions to fund the Landscape Maintenance District of Sunset Pointe. 

Another issue Gonzalez hopes to understand is why Public Works reduced its services while residents were paying $750 a year.  

“I paid my taxes at the beginning of this year, and we have yet to see them out here doing anything,” Gonzales said. “So, for $750, at least they can do is, for this year, trim a tree or two, or rake, or do something.” 

According to Gonzales, the topography of Sunset Pointe is unique with hills, open spaces and a lot of vegetation. Without proper maintenance there are a lot of hazards homeowners may face — the biggest concerns being fires and hillside erosion.  

“We just need to see where we’re going forward and I’m hoping for a resolution. That would be great that the county is actually working for the people and not other way around,” Gonzales said.

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