Ultimately, we believe the right call was made by the Orcutt area voters who OK’d San Luis Obispo’s annexation of 231 acres at the south end of town. The city needs room to grow, and this is a logical location.
But the eleventh-hour annexation election — called after a handful of property owners filed petitions opposing the change — raises some serious questions about the process.
That such a small number of people could force an election and potentially undo years of careful planning is frustrating in itself. Of equal concern is the potential to sway the results of the election by padding voter registration rolls.
As reported by Tribune writer AnnMarie Cornejo, of the 55 voters in the Orcutt area, nearly half — 27 — had registered since June.
If that’s not enough of a red flag, we also learned that while the election was limited to area residents — both renters and property owners — registrants didn’t have to live in the area to be eligible to vote. As long as they intended to make it their permanent domicile someday, they could still register.
Granted, political parities and nonpartisan candidates push to sign up voters in every election.
But an annexation election isn’t the same as a city council or school board race. For one thing, the effects last far beyond the four years that are the typical term for an elected official. And for another, when decision-making power is placed in the hands of as small a number of voters, the potential for even a few questionable registrations to determine the outcome is much greater.
In the Orcutt area annexation, both sides gained some recent registrants, so it’s hard to say whether one group or the other benefited. But it does point to the need for statewide reform of this part of the annexation process.
It’s simply too easy to stack the deck under the current system. We believe it would make more sense to limit the vote to the property owners of record. That way, neither side could gain an unfair advantage by encouraging friends and relatives to change their addresses for the express purpose of gaining more votes.
Annexations should rest on careful planning, thorough analysis and public input — not on the ability of one side or the other to deliver new voters.