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Island Annexation Program

The California Legislature enacted special legislation in 2001 (Government Code Section 56375.3) that made it easier for cities to annex certain unincorporated islands. The law allows cities to annex islands through a streamlined process that does not require protest proceedings or elections, provided the island meets special criteria and is 150 acres or less in size. In Santa Clara County, unincorporated land that is located within a city’s urban service area is considered an “island” (also sometimes referred to as a “pocket”).

Despite the fact that these islands are completely or substantially surrounded by a city, they remain under the land use authority of the County. The continued existence of these islands creates problems for cities, the County, island residents, adjacent city residents, and various agencies and special districts responsible for providing them with urban services and facilities.

The 2005 Santa Clara LAFCO publication Making Your City Whole: Taking Advantage of the Current Opportunity to Annex Unincorporated Pockets provides information and advice to community and local government leaders and local agency staff involved in annexation of islands.

As an incentive for cities to actively pursue the annexation of entire unincorporated islands, LAFCO is waiving its filing fees for island annexations and the County has agreed to:

  • Cover annexation mapping costs, Surveyor’s review costs, Assessor’s review costs,
  • Pay State Board of Equalization filing costs, and
  • Budget for needed road improvements in unincorporated islands approved for annexation.

Since the start of this program, approximately 82 unincorporated islands, consisting of nearly 2,000 acres and containing over 18,000 persons, have been annexed into their respective cities. However, many islands still remain. LAFCO has committed to collaborating with the County and the cities in facilitating annexation of the remaining islands.

Island Maps

Maps (February 2020) of the remaining unincorporated islands, by city: 

“The existence of scattered, unincorporated pockets in the midst of cities is inherently inefficient both to the city and to the County… most city officials simply feel that annexing pockets and bringing their residents into the social fabric and political life of the city that surrounds them is the right thing to do.”

Making Cities Whole