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Heber on the road to becoming a city

June 14, 2001|By AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer

HEBER — With a show of hands, residents of this township voted overwhelmingly to move forward with a process that will allow residents to become citizens of the city of Heber.

Heber resident Yolanda Meija was so supportive of the idea that she shot both hands up and threw up a leg for good measure.

The informal vote in favor of cityhood from 83 percent of around 60 residents came at the end of a town hall meeting Wednesday in the cafeteria of Heber Elementary School.

George Aguilar, general manager of the Heber Public Utility District, led the meeting.

To describe the year-and-a-half process of becoming a city, Aguilar used the analogy of a man (the township of Heber) courting a woman (two separate county boards), leading to marriage (a formal vote for incorporation).

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He started the analogy with, "You first have to like someone."

He said the series of town hall meetings and upcoming surveys of Heber residents will determine if there is enough support for cityhood to move forward.

Do Heber residents like or love the idea of becoming a city?

The attorney for the utility district, Steve Walker of El Centro, told residents it is their choice and their choice alone.

Aguilar continued the analogy, "Then you get more serious."

This part of the courtship requires Heber residents, or the local utility district board, to gather the signatures of more than 25 percent of the registered voters of Heber.

Still, Walker stressed that becoming a city is the choice of the residents and not the choice of the district board.

"You can ignore the board," he said.

Whichever group collects the signatures would then fill out an application that would be sent to the Local Agency Formation Commission.

On the application the group calling for incorporation would have to specify what services a city of Heber would provide and how those services would be funded.

LAFCO is a county board that rules on county land annexations.

Walker noted that there was no representative on LAFCO from special districts or townships, although Hank Kuiper, Heber's District 2 representative on the Board of Supervisors, is on the LAFCO board.

Once LAFCO receives the application, there would be public hearings and a decision would be made, Walker said.

If LAFCO approves the application it would go to the county Board of Supervisors for approval.

This would involve more public hearings and the board would make a decision on how a city of Heber would affect the county.

If the board determines Heber could support itself as a city without affecting the county in a negative way, it could approve the application.

If the application passed the board, the idea would be put to a formal election in which Heber residents would have the final say.

Pacing before the crowd, Aguilar stressed that point, translating it from English to Spanish.

"Just like the time leading up to a marriage, you can back out at any time," he said.

There were some concerns from the audience. Some had cold feet.

John Nava, his cowboy hat sitting next to him, asked Aguilar, "Well, what happens when all of the businesses you said could come here fail. Where's the money going to come from to pay for services?"

Aguilar translated Nava's question into Spanish and answered Nava in Spanish.

"It's just like if your wife leaves," Aguilar said. Nava smiled as Aguilar continued, "You divorce her and go get a new one."

He added: "If I was a business I would choose Heber over El Centro and Calexico. Heber is virgin."

Aguilar said a number of companies have contacted him in the past month about moving into Heber's sphere of influence. The companies he mentioned included am/pm mini-mart and maybe a McDonalds.

He said it is important for Heber to become a city so local residents can capture the taxes businesses might bring in instead of sending the money to the county.

Kuiper, who attended the meeting, would not comment on whether he supports the township's incorporation plans because he is a LAFCO member and could vote on the matter.

Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419.

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