Stockton officials are leaning toward recirculating a plan to expand the city's boundaries in order to avoid a potential lawsuit from the city of Lodi.
Lodi accused Stockton in a July 9 letter of failing to provide the necessary 30-day public review for its request to expand its sphere of influence into more than 6,000 unincorporated acres, including more than 4,000 acres near Lodi's White Slough water treatment plant above Eight Mile Road. The request was submitted June 9 and the review period ended July 8, leaving only 29 days for public comment.
A decision on whether to recirculate a report on the request is likely to be made either today or Thursday, said Jim Glaser, Stockton's community development director. The request had been tentatively scheduled to be heard by Stockton's Planning Commission and City Council before the end of the month, but both hearings could be delayed.
"If we don't recirculate it, it will go before the planning commission next week," Glaser said. "But I suspect that it won't be (on the commission's agenda)."
The shortened review period was one of three issues Lodi has brought up against the Stockton sphere request. The other two contest Stockton's use of a negative declaration instead of a more comprehensive review of future environmental impacts on the land tracts.
Stockton officials maintain an environmental study isn't necessary since there are no proposed projects that would impact the environment.
Even if Stockton recirculates the negative declaration, Lodi officials say a lawsuit could be filed. Konradt Bartlam, Glaser's counterpart in Lodi, said that unless a full Environmental Impact Report is done for the three parcels - the 4,000-acre Bishop Tract, the 2,000-acre Shima Tract and a 360-acre parcel at Eight Mile Road and West Lane - the request will be incomplete.
"(Recirculating the request) doesn't eliminate our concerns," Bartlam said. "It's not the biggest issue we have with the request. Nevertheless, it certainly goes toward that notion that they're fasttracking this thing."
Opponents of the expansion plan claim Stockton is attempting to push the sphere requests through approval with the Local Agency Formation Commission before the November election. At that time, a slow-growth ballot initiative will give voters the chance to set an urban growth limit for that city at Eight Mile Road.
Even if the request goes out for another 30-day review, Glaser is confident it will reach LAFCO - which has final authority to grant land to cities - before November.
"Clearly we can meet that schedule," Glaser said. "It has no material effect on the sequence of events. It would just be delayed by a few weeks."
The Lodi City Council discussed the sphere request and its impact on the city's White Slough Wastewater Treatment Facility at its Tuesday morning study session. The Bishop Tract request overlaps Lodi's future plans for expanding the wastewater plant at Interstate 5 near Eight Mile Road.
Lodi recently completed its review period for an Environmental Impact Report for the White Slough expansion. There is a chance both requests will be before LAFCO within months of one another.
"It's a race," Bartlam said at the meeting. "Credit to their creativity."
Councilwoman Susan Hitchcock called Stockton's approach "politics at its worst." She feels it usurps good planning measures and the process that would allow voters to decide how Stockton grows.
When it comes to its influence on Lodi, Hitchcock said she is ready to battle the issue in court. Mayor Larry Hansen agreed, even mentioning that it seems Lodi keeps going to court to settle differences.
"I'm afraid we've got to stand up to the plate once again," Hansen said.
Lodi representatives are expected to attend both the July 22 Stockton Planning Commission and the July 27 Stockton City Council meetings. It is not clear whether they will attend if the hearings are postponed.
• If approved, Stockton's amended sphere of influence could affect Lodi's wastewater treatment plant.
• The General Plan, which includes an open space buffer, aims to add more than 700,000 residents to Stockton's population.
• Lodi plans to attend July 22 Stockton Planning Commission and July 27 Stockton City Council meetings.
• Special LAFCO meeting scheduled for Oct. 29 to approve the amended land agreement.
- News-Sentinel staff
Bartlam has publicly criticized Stockton for moving at such a brisk pace. It is unusual, he said, for cities to amend their sphere of influence before completing a General Plan.
"It's a little backwards," Bartlam added at Tuesday's meeting. "We may be making that argument to LAFCO."
The board that makes annexation decisions is taking up the matter at a special meeting Oct. 29. Lodi Councilman Keith Land is a member. It's not clear whether this date would change if the request is recirculated.
Stockton is also working on updating its General Plan. It covers the next 50 years, as opposed to the 20 years most cities plan for.
The land closest to Lodi will be built using a "village" concept where residents are self-sufficient with both leisure and commercial options within walking distance, Bartlam said. Stockton plans to add more than 700,000 residents in the next 50 years.
News-Sentinel staff writer Jennifer Pearson Bonnett contributed to this report.