Last month we sent property owners in the Santiago Hills Assessment District a survey asking questions about the fee homeowners pay the City to maintain the landscape features in your District. We received some good comments and questions. Over the next few weeks, we hope to answer some of them here.
Q: “Why don’t you plant drought tolerant landscaping to save water and money?”
A: That is a very good idea. In fact, it is one we are actively exploring. The City is committed to water conservation, passing an ordinance several years ago addressing water efficient landscape for new construction, and our recent water conservation ordinance. At the moment, however, the fees the homeowners currently pay to the City is well below the cost of maintaining the landscape at the standard expected. We know it sounds easy – take out the dead shrubs and put in drought tolerant plants, however there is more to it than that. There are initial capital costs related to replacing the current landscape with drought tolerant plant materials. These include:
· Removing the current plant materials
· Having a landscape designer plan the new landscape and irrigation
· Assessing bids and hiring the contractor
· Installing the new landscape and irrigation
Unfortunately, the District does not have the capital funds to make this happen at this time. Having said that, we are trying to find grant money to fund a small demonstration section of drought tolerant landscaping which could serve as a model for the future should the residents in the District vote to increase the fee paid for maintenance. The proposed assessment will include some funds to move this effort forward without requiring grant funds and to further expand this effort over time.
Q: “Why are you coming to us for an increase now? Why did you wait until the District was in bad shape?”
A: The City asked for a modest increase in 2007, when we took a vote of the property owners. The ballot also included a provision to make increases to the Assessment based on the Consumer Price Index which would allowed the fee to stay in line with costs. Out of the 30% of those owners who returned ballots, 70% voted against approving the measure. Had the vote approved the increase, we would not have had to cut back maintenance and services to the point they are today. The City was able to keep up with some of the rising costs within the funds provided by the homeowners through these service reductions for several years. However, the rising costs of water and service contracts, as well as the repair costs for an aging infrastructure have forced us to again ask the property owners if they are willing to pay an increased fee to keep up with these costs.
Q: “I already pay taxes, why should I pay an additional fee?”
A: No City taxes go to pay for the maintenance of your Assessment District properties. The Santiago Hills Assessment District occupies a very unique position in Orange. Other developments like yours in the City are covered by a Master Home Owners Association which collects fees and contracts for the maintenance and management of the development’s common landscape and hardscape areas. HOA Fees pay for the upkeep of these areas, not property taxes. Instead of paying into a Master HOA you are paying into an Assessment District.
Q: “I already pay Mello Roos, doesn’t that cover maintenance? Why should I pay an additional fee?”
A: Mello Roos is a payment made on the bonds issued to construct the infrastructure for a development. This can include roads, sidewalks, sewer and water service, or anything else that was required of the developer. Mello Roos DOES NOT go towards the upkeep, maintenance, and rehabilitation work of the development infrastructure, and is retired once the bonds, plus interest, are paid-off. The Assessment District was established to then pay for the ongoing maintenance of these improvements.
Q: “Why should I pay an assessment for the park? Homeowners elsewhere in Orange don’t pay fees for parks.”
A: None of your Assessment fees go towards maintaining the park. The City maintains the park with General Fund dollars. For that matter, you are also not paying to maintain the grounds of Santiago Canyon College or Chapman Hills Elementary School. Your fees are only used to maintain Assessment District properties which mainly include the walkways, paseos, medians and parkways.
Q: “How do we know you’re not just wasting our money?”
A: The City is financially audited every year. Every dollar you pay into the Assessment is kept in a dedicated account, everything that is spent is accounted for, and the funds you pay are never comingled with the General Fund of the City. The City releases an audit report of how it spends money, in which the funds of your Assessment District are also accounted for. An Engineers report is also prepared each year outlining both the District Budget and Revenues. Both of these documents are available for public review, are approved at City Council meetings and public hearings, and can be downloaded from the City’s website.
Q: “What happens if we vote no?”
A: You will see your common area and paseo landscaping deteriorate further. Prices continue to increase, and your District cannot spend more than you have. This means cutting back even further to continue living within your current means.
Q: “What happens if we vote yes?”
A: There will be a gradual return of service levels to where they are supposed to be. Watering will also return to appropriate maintenance levels. There is also a 10-year capital improvement plan to bring your District back to where it should be. Why 10-years? Because there is a lot of work to do to restore the landscape and infrastructure back to the levels that existed before we were forced to cut back services, and asking you to pay for it all at once was not reasonable because it would require a much larger increase.
UPDATED 1/23/2015 ASSESSMENT DISTRICT SURVEY
It has come to our attention that there may be some confusion over the Assessment District Survey that was sent out to property owners last week. We apologize for that confusion, and would like to offer some clarification to the information presented in the survey.
First, we would like to make it clear that the amount on the survey you received is meant to be in addition to your existing Annual Assessment. Currently, single family homes pay $369.44 per year and condo owners pay $221.66 per year. This maximum assessment rate has not been increased in over 25 years - since 1987 - because the District was formed with no mechanism for ’cost of living’ adjustments while water, electricity, and other costs have risen significantly during this time. During the past 10 years, the District’s inadequate yearly assessment has needed to be supplemented with reserves. As those reserves were depleted, the City systematically cut back on maintenance, watering, and landscaping to stretch the dollars as much as possible.
The City is considering a local ballot measure which would allow the restoration of landscape maintenance back to levels seen before the City was forced to cut back services in 2007. It would also allow for some capital improvements
We have also been asked why there are different Assessment increase amounts on the surveys that have been received. In order to understand the priorities of the community, different versions of the survey were randomly sent to different property owners. The variations from survey-to-survey in these increased amounts are due to several factors, including:
1. The location of the property. Assessments take into account the amount of direct benefit a property receives. For example, properties located in closer proximity to the trails or larger landscaped areas would be assessed larger amounts, as they receive larger direct benefits from those areas.
2. Single family homes and larger properties are assessed more than condos.
3. Owners of multiple properties will see a combined assessment.
4. There are different rates that correspond with different levels of capital improvements. Higher-rate surveys may also include an increase to fund a major capital project to update to Water Wise landscaping
Once completed, the survey will help the City make decisions on the maintenance services most desired by the Santiago Hills neighborhood.
We appreciate your participation in this survey.
UPDATED 1/22/2015 PROPERTY OWNER SURVEY
If you are a property owner in the District, you will be receiving a survey in the mail asking your opinion on several matters related to the upkeep of the district's landscaping, irrigation, and lighting.
Last year, we informed you that we engaged a consultant to evaluate the District revenues and expenses to provide us with a recommendation for increasing the assessment that would allow us to bring the landscape back to standard condition, and allow for maintaining the District for the next 10 years. The survey you will be asked to complete is an integral part of this process.
If you have any others, please feel free to call (714) 744-5594 . This is an automated line, and messages left will be responded to within 24 hours.
We need your input, and urge you to fill-out and return your survey as soon as possible. You can also complete your survey on-line through the link provided at the bottom of the survey you will receive in the mail.
UPDATED 10/13/2014: VANDALISM ON PASEO ALONG DEEP SPRINGS ROAD
On Saturday, October 4, 2014, eleven light poles were vandalized on the paseo along Deep Springs Road. The damage consisted of cover plates which were smashed and removed, extensive damage to the underground conduit housing copper wire providing electricity to the light poles, and theft of the copper wire. A significant amount of conduit was damaged and needed to be replaced, requiring excavation to dig up, locate and repair damaged sections, and then to pull new wire.
As of Monday, October 13, 2014 the work has been complete, and lighting has been restored to this area. Unfortunately, the damage was extensive and costly to repair.
We appreciate your patience and ask for your assistance in preventing vandalism of public property. If you should observe suspicious behavior or hear unusual noise in any of the public areas in your neighborhood, please call the Orange Police Department at (714)744-7444 immediately. Vandalism is very costly, requires the use of limited resources, and interferes with the public’s enjoyment of public spaces.
If you have any questions regarding the Santiago Hills Assessment District please contact Dana Robertson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
For a map click here
The purpose of this page is to provide the homeowners in the Santiago Hills Assessment District information on the background as well as current conditions in the District and answer questions that have been posed recently to the City.
Q. What is the Assessment District, how many properties are in the District and why does the City maintain it?
A. Landscape Maintenance Assessment District 86-2, Santiago Hills (District) was established in 1987 to maintain the common area landscape improvements constructed by Assessment District 86-1 which created the residential development. The District is comprised of single-family, multi-family, and mixed use properties. Each property, or parcel, is assessed based on an established calculation of benefit derived from the common landscape area. The assessment for a single-family parcel is $369.44, multi-family is $221.67 and mixed-use parcels are $4,063.84. The total assessment collected for all parcels in the District generates $533,281.33 per year.
The reason the City maintains the landscapes and related appurtenances within the District is that when the District was created, the development agreement did not include the creation of a Master Home Owner’s Association (HOA) that could have funded and managed the improvements through fees they would assess the property owners like many other developments. Therefore, the District was established to levy assessments on the properties that benefit from the common area improvements within the District and to fund the ongoing maintenance and management of these improvements.
Q. What are the funds collected used for?
A. The funds collected through the levies of assessments on each property are used to maintain, repair, replace and pay for:
· Landscape turf, shrubs, ground cover and trees
· Irrigation infrastructure
· Concrete walkways and stairs and railing in the common areas
· Lighting along the walks and paths
· Electrical infrastructure
· Utility Costs (Water and Electricity)
Funds to maintain the District are budgeted based on the cost of ongoing maintenance and anticipated costs of repairs and utility costs. The breakdown of how the funding is allocated in the current budget is as follows:
Salaries - 4.8%
Water - 25.6%
Electricity - 3.5%
Landscape Maint. - 46.3%
Tree Trimming - 7.3%
Electrical Maint. & Repair - 2.4%
Misc Contractual Services - 1.9%
Misc Costs - 0.3%
General & Admin. Allocation - 7.9%
Q. What was the 2007 ballot vote – why was it needed and what was the outcome?
A. In 2007, a vote of the property owners was conducted to raise the amount of the assessment. The need for the vote was based on the fact that assessment revenues were no longer enough to fund the maintenance of the District improvements due to the continued increasing costs of utilities, and maintenance and repair services. The majority of the property owners voted not to increase the assessment and therefore the assessment has remained at the maximum originally allowed regardless of the costs to maintain the District.
Q. What were the measures proposed and taken since the “no” vote?
A. Leading up to the 2007 vote, the City identified reductions in services that would occur if a “No” vote was returned by the property owners. Since a “No” vote was returned, the reductions that were enacted included:
1. A reduction of man-power in the landscape services contract from 7 men to 5 men from 2007 to 2010. This reduction resulted in:
a. More time required to complete maintenance cycles that includes mowing operations, ground cover/shrub trimming and the removal of weeds.
b. Longer response times to correct landscape problems as they occur at the District.
c. The frequency of trash and leaf litter removal in the landscaping being reduced.
d. Limited funding available for replacement of plant material.
2. The two-year tree pruning cycle was extended to a three-year pruning program.
In 2010, a new landscape maintenance contract went into effect eliminating minimum man-power requirements. The contract is now based purely on performance and on the extended frequencies for trimming and irrigation repairs.
Q. If service levels were reduced after 2007, why is it just recently that we have noticed a significant impact to the landscape in the District?
A. Since 2007, reductions in service have been made incrementally and reserve funds have been used in an effort to mitigate the impact of the funding shortfall. However, the significant rise in the cost of water since 2007 (33%), coupled with the increasing cost of services to maintain an aging infrastructure (repair and replacement of electrical systems, etc), resulted in a need for further service reductions.
In 2013, further reductions were made as costs continued to rise. These reductions included:
1. Reduction of water use.
2. Elimination of fertilizer, turf aerification, herbicides, & other commodities normally applied to the landscape.
3. Elimination of the replacement of dead or missing plants and trees.
In 2014, during a winter that provided little rain, when we would normally use very little irrigation water, the landscape still required irrigation. This led to an additional use of resources not typically expended during winter months. Because of this, irrigation use has been drastically reduced leading into summer and beyond. This has resulted in a stressed landscape and the loss of more turf and shrubs. In addition, in 2014 several major repairs to the electrical infrastructure of the District needed to be made as well. These increased expenditures all have to come out of the same fixed amount of money received every year by the assessments levied in the District.
Q. Why does the landscape appear not to be getting watered enough?
A. The amount of water being delivered to the landscape through the irrigation system has been reduced significantly due to an effort to reduce overall costs that are exceeding revenues within the District.
Q. Why are plants dying in some areas and not others?
A. Some plant material has died as a result of significant reductions to watering of the landscape. Though the reductions of water have been consistent throughout the District, all areas are do not share the same conditions, whether it is differences in terrain, plant type, age of the plants, sun exposure, or other conditions. Varying conditions may result in some areas showing more signs of stress than others. Efforts are being made daily to adjust and balance the delivery of water to avoid plant loss whenever possible.
Plans were also just approved by the City Council to install a weather based irrigation system that will also help us manage the irrigation in the District more efficiently. The installation of this system is anticipated to begin in late summer or early fall and be completed by late fall.
Q. Will the missing plants be replaced?
A. No, as stated in 2007, unless the residents voted to increase the assessment, the funding would not be and currently is not available to replace plant material.
Q. Why are the plants and trees not trimmed as frequently as they used to be?
A. Shrub and tree trimming frequencies were reduced after 2007 when revenues from property assessments were no longer enough to sustain the level of services provided prior to 2007.
Q. Why weren’t the property owners made aware of the reductions in service?
A. The property owners were advised prior to the 2007 vote that if a NO vote for an increase in the assessments was returned, that services would be reduced. An explanation of the types of service reductions was presented to property owners in several public meetings leading up to the vote and provided in mailers.
Q. I pay a lot of taxes and I don’t see other areas of the City’s landscapes suffering like our neighborhood. Why is that?
A. The funding to maintain the Santiago Hills Assessment District comes solely from the revenue generated by the assessment of each parcel of land in the District. This was a system that the developer of the Santiago Hills Community chose rather than establishing an HOA to maintain the common areas. In other neighborhoods and subdivisions in the city, the common landscape areas are maintained by HOA’s which are supported by association fees paid by the homeowners. City General Fund revenues are not used in those locations just as they are not used in the District area. Unfortunately, there is no master HOA in the District to assume the maintenance responsibilities.
Q. Why have the assessments of properties in the District not been increased?
A. Proposition 218, which was passed into law in 1996, requires that any increase in assessments be voted on by the property owners in the District. In 2007, the property owners in the District were asked to vote on an assessment increase. The property owners in the District voted NO, rejecting the increased assessment.
Q. Are there plans to conduct another Ballot Vote to increase the assessment we pay?
A. Yes, currently we have engaged a consultant to evaluate the District revenues and expenses and provide us with a recommendation for a benchmark for an increased assessment that will allow us to both bring the landscape back to standard conditions, and maintain the District for the next 10 years.
Once we have that information we will be conducting a series of community information and outreach meetings and activities in the winter of 2014/15 to inform the residents of the District of the proposed new assessment.
Another Ballot Vote will be scheduled for the spring of 2015. If again the residents vote “No” on that ballot, drastic reductions will continue in this area.
Q. How can I help?
A. Prior to launching the community outreach effort, we will be looking for residents of the District to help canvas the neighborhoods to educate your neighbors on the need to vote “Yes” on the 2015 ballot. If you are interested in assisting in this effort, please email Dana Robertson at email@example.com