A Catholic high school has been talked about in the South County for nearly a decade, but the Diocese of San Jose has run into a series of setbacks in getting its 40 acres of land—their preferred site of the future school—annexed to southeast Morgan Hill.
The latest of these hurdles was the denial of an annexation proposal Dec. 5 by the county commission charged with authorizing city boundary line extensions. The school site sits outside of Morgan Hill’s Urban Services Area, so it must be annexed in order to receive city services like water, sewer and public safety. The area the city attempted to annex sits north of Tennant Avenue and east of Condit Road.
Plans to annex the high school site were submitted by the city of Morgan Hill to the Local Agency Formation Committee (LAFCO) for a second time, resulting in the Dec. 5 ruling. Committee staff had recommended that LAFCO commissioners deny the city’s request, because staff believed the plans were substandard. The annexation failed in a 5-2 vote, with Santa Clara County Supervisor Mike Wasserman and Santa Clara Valley Water District Director John Varela voting to approve the city’s request.
The rejection comes as Gilroy gears up to annex land for the city’s sports park off south Monterey Street. At a Dec. 3 meeting, the Gilroy council directed staff to conduct an environmental report of the area. Gilroy Mayor Roland Velasco said the proposal would still have to go through the planning commission and then the council again before heading to LAFCO. But he and city staff attended the recent LAFCO meeting to see what commissioners expected from such a proposal.
Observing the meeting was helpful for city staff preparing the sports park plans, Velasco said. “We know what LAFCO staff is thinking, and we have to make sure that we’re addressing all of those issues,” he said.
Morgan Hill and LAFCO have a complicated history when it comes to the Catholic high school project and what is designated as the city’s “Southeast Quadrant.” Many commissioners at the recent meeting brought up past decisions to deny annexation in the area, which is mostly farmland.
LAFCO is an appointed body of citizens and elected officials from throughout the county. The committee’s mission is, “Encouraging orderly boundaries, discouraging urban sprawl, and preserving agricultural and open space lands.”
The annexation is considered critical to the success of the diocese’s plans for Catholic high school in Morgan Hill. The Morgan Hill council voted 3-2 in September to send the plans to LAFCO for approval. Council members Rich Constantine and Rene Spring voted against it. Spring has proved to be an anti-growth advocate during his council tenure. Constantine previously said he could not vote for the plan because he did not feel it had been improved since the last time it was submitted two years ago.
In 2016, LAFCO denied an annexation request—also submitted by the city of Morgan Hill—for a large portion of the Southeast Quadrant by a 5-2 vote. The city then submitted a request to annex only the land for the South County Catholic High School. The request was denied in June 2016. The original request was part of a plan to annex most of the Southeast Quadrant bound by Tennant Avenue to the south, Murphy Avenue to the west, Barrett Avenue to the north and abutting an agricultural field to the east. This land has been identified in the county’s agricultural plan as prime agricultural land.
The request presented to the committee at the Dec. 5 meeting included 66 acres of land, nearly 40 of which would be used for the high school. Committee staff recommended denying annexation based on several provisions that violated LAFCO standards.
The LAFCO staff report said there was land available within Morgan Hill city limits as an alternate site for the school; the annexation wouldn’t create logical city boundaries; there would be a significant impact to agricultural land; the city didn’t have the infrastructure to provide the public safety, sewer, water and storm drainage to the area; the plan isn’t consistent with the regional transportation plan; the city hasn’t annexed all of the unincorporated land still within the urban service area; and the plan wasn’t consistent with county policies.
The meeting was tense, with comments from LAFCO being contradicted by Morgan Hill’s presentation. Commissioner Sergio Jimenez, a San Jose councilman, before making his decision, said, “You all are viewing things much differently.”
A major topic of discussion was the designation of the parcels as “prime farmland.” Morgan Hill farmers made public comments about the quality of land in the annexation site and said it was not suitable for long-term farming use. George Chiala Jr. of Chiala Farms told the commission his family had trouble in the past farming on the land. “That land isn’t good farmland; if you need data to prove that, I can provide it,” Chiala said. “If we can’t do it, it’s going to be hard for somebody else to do it.”
Still, many commissioners said it would be against LAFCO standards to approve the annexation. Commissioner Rob Rennie said the answer wasn’t black and white, but he didn’t believe Morgan Hill had the proper plans in place.
“These kind of annexation plans would be called sprawl,” Rennie said before eventually voting against it. Morgan Hill spokeswoman Maureen Tobin said the city has no new plans in place following the latest LAFCO denial.
This article originally appeared on San Jose Inside/Metro Silicon Valley’s sister publication, the Morgan Hill Times.