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Editorials : A New Interest in Cityhood

March 31, 1985

The loss of local tax revenues that came with the passage of Proposition 13 made it much harder for existing cities to raise money they need. It would have been reasonable therefore to assume that the tax initiative would discourage the creation of new cities.

But after the Orange County Board of Supervisors' recent action to stop paying for services like street sweeping and park maintenance to 15 south county communities, it became clear that Proposition 13, and the supervisors' reaction to money problems, might well turn out to be the spark for a wave of incorporation.

The board action at least has some communities, like Mission Viejo, considering cityhood. That in itself is not new. Annexation tremors have been rumbling for years through the Saddleback Valley communities of Leisure World, El Toro, Lake Forest and Laguna Niguel. Some people have even suggested that the entire valley incorporate into one giant city.

By putting 15 unincorporated communities on notice that the county would no longer be paying for certain municipal services, the supervisors have given their residents a new reason to consider whether it would be better to live with less service, pay more taxes to a special district to get additional services or form their own cities.

Cities traditionally have incorporated during boom growth periods to maintain greater control over zoning and other land-use decisions, or out of the fear of being gobbled up by other cities aggressively pursuing annexation or incorporation programs.

One of the key factors in cityhood is the tax base: Can the new city generate enough income to pay for the level of municipal services that residents want?

Incorporation has a countywide impact, too. And residents in communities choosing to incorporate must recognize their regional responsibilities. Traffic congestion, the availability and cost of housing and its effect on the labor market, and the location of regional services cannot be contained by arbitrary boundary lines.

If a new city incorporates with the intent of slowing down or speeding up growth, or ignoring its responsibility to provide its fair share of balanced housing, its policies directly affect other communities and the county as a whole.

There is no doubt that Orange County will one day have its 27th city, and maybe more. And it will probably come from the south--the county's last frontier of growth. In studying whether to incorporate, however, there are issues to consider other than how many times to sweep the streets.

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