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Big plans in Neenach

Shortly after the attractions of wind, sun and nearby highpower transmission lines were discovered in the Western Antelope Valley, ‘green energy’ developers began purchasing land for solar and wind turbine farms. There was one inconvenience: people were already living there.

Some of those people are represented by the Oso Town Council, comprised largely of farmers and ranchers who meet only when there is a serious issue to consider. Wednesday, June 29 was one of those meetings. An estimated 90 residents packed into tiny WeeVill Market and Grill. Many others were unable to find parking, underscoring the need for a local community center.

A top issue on the agenda was the Oso Town Council’s boundaries. Nearby Antelope Acres Town Council claims a western border at 100th Street, which coincides with Oso Town Council’s eastern border. That has been designated since 1992, Oso Town Council President Richard Skaggs said.

The Fairmont Town Council (formed in October 2010) was granted the territory of 100th Street to 140th Street by Supervisor Michael Antonovich’s office, which appeared to not recall Oso Town Council’s already well-established borders, although those were acknowledged in 1992 correspondence from Supervisor Antonovich.

The question put to the Oso Town Council was whether they should revise their borders westward to 140th, or leave the borders as they’ve been since 1992, allowing Fairmont Town Council to overlap into Oso’s area.

A vote by show of hands favored leaving the Oso Town Council borders in place, while allowing Fairmont Town Council to overlap to 140th Street, or beyond if needed.

The future of Neenach School is also a priority. Much of the property for the school was donated by Bill Barnes and his wife over ten years ago. A state-of-the-art school was built, then quickly shut down due to lack of students. The facility stands empty, except for a caretaker paid by Los Angeles County.

There is now community interest to resurrect the school property as a multiuse facility to serve as a sheriff’s substation, a community center and an athletic training center.

Oso Town Council (OTC) President Richard Skaggs pointed out to Antonovich’s field deputy Norm Hickling that OTC had outgrown WeeVill as its meeting venue. Residents had to turn away due to lack of parking. He said OTC would be willing to rent Neenach School once a month if necessary.

Bobby Plumlee said that the local sheriff’s deputies lost their lease for their facility in Gorman and need a place to do paperwork. Neenach School would be a terrific place for a sheriff’s substation, Plumlee said.

There is also support for using the facility as an athletic training center. Four-time Super Bowl competitor Eric Wright (a San Francisco 49ers alumnus) and Gino Grajeda, Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) board member (from Manhattan Beach) came to pledge their participation in this project.

Also on the agenda was the suggestion that Oso Town Council apply to incorporate as a city. Today, Western Antelope Valley is vulnerable to zoning changes imposed by L.A. County, residents said. Virtually all of the area is currently zoned as A1 (agricultural). L.A. County Regional Planning intends to rezone the area (except for energy company lands) as rural residential, which will reduce housing density and require residents to request permission and pay for permits to raise livestock, chickens or do significant farming, the council reported.

A city could do its own zoning without oversight from the county, council members said. This would also allow the area to zone for light industrial or commercial, options not currently available, the Oso Town Council said. Another advantage of cityhood would be return of a significant amount of the taxes the area pays to the county.

Ray Horsepool, CPA and consultant to the Oso Town Council, stated that applying for cityhood is “relatively simple and straightforward.” He said it must be economically feasible (which should not be a problem for OTC, he said).

Incorporation must be approved by the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO). Fire and sheriff coverage must be arranged and the plan must be voted upon by residents.

Decisions made by the city at the front end, such as zoning decisions, would be difficult to undo by the county or a larger city (like Centennial) that could later establish itself nearby.

Unlike most meetings of this type, in which the majority of the meeting is devoted to public commentary, only two public comments were voiced here.

But Oso Town Council members noted that enthusiasm was demonstrated as residents signed up to participate on various committees. It appeared that attendees were clear about the issues and were eager to participate. “It looks like democracy is thriving in Oso Town Council,” resident Karl Humphreys said.