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A CRUCIAL DAY : Mission Viejo District to Take Up Question of Whether It Should Apply to the County for Cityhood

February 23, 1987|BOB SCHWARTZ | Times Staff Writer

With just a few days left before a new law hikes the cost of becoming a city, the Mission Viejo Community Services District is due to decide tonight whether to apply for reorganization as a city.

Most of the district's directors favor creating a city in Mission Viejo, a planned community that has grown to more than 65,000 residents since the first homes were sold 20 years ago.

A consultant's study shows that the new city would reap a considerable surplus: In 1985-86, the city would have had a total income of nearly $12.7 million, outpacing expenditures for the area by $5.6 million.

"Those numbers are very compelling," said district board member Chris Keena. "They suggest that we should at least put it on the ballot so the people in the community can make a decision."

Could Save Up to $2 Million

If the district files incorporation papers with the Local Agency Formation Commission before March 1, it could save the community up to $2 million in locally generated property taxes. After that date, new state legislation allows the county to seek reimbursement from new cities for services provided in their start-up year. Under the old law, the county had to provide those services at no cost.

The law actually went into effect statewide Jan. 1, but the Orange County Board of Supervisors voted to give communities an extra two months to prepare their incorporation applications. So far, Laguna Niguel, Dana Point and Capistrano Beach have taken advantage of the extension and have applied to become cities.

In those communities, groups gathered thousands of signatures on petitions to qualify their effort for consideration by LAFC and, eventually, by voters.

In Mission Viejo, however, no petition drive was ever begun. Instead, supporters of incorporation have placed their hopes in the year-old community services district, sometimes called a "junior city" because it provides some local services. State law allows any independent government body--a water or parks district, for example, to apply for incorporation.

But the Mission Viejo district's decision is complicated by a group representing the surrounding communities of the Saddleback Valley: El Toro, Laguna Hills, Aegean Hills and Lake Forest. The group's leaders, who contend that one valley-wide city would be more profitable and politically powerful than two or more smaller cities, are pressuring the board to include their communities in the new city's proposed boundaries.

Such a city would have a population of about 135,000, making it the county's fourth largest and an instant political force on south county issues such as growth control and freeway construction.

"We could form two cities . . . but does that get the job done?" asked Richard Anderson, a Laguna Hills resident and chairman of the Saddleback Valley incorporation group. "Everyone shops together. We share the same frustration on the freeway. The social and economic makeup is close to the same. . . . We feel the valley has a great deal to offer in terms of cohesiveness."

The Catalyst Community

A city taking in the entire valley would have a budget surplus of about 80%, Anderson says, and would "spotlight" Mission Viejo as the catalyst community. "They have the opportunity of a lifetime to take the lead in forming a major city in Southern California," he said.

The services district's directors, however, who were installed in office just a year ago and who are wary of overstepping their mandates, have been cool to the idea of trying to create a "super city."

"There is some pretty strong sentiment in the community to take things in a more incremental fashion and not take any quantum leaps," said board member Denis Horn. "There is some wisdom in making progress in smaller steps; just look at the smaller community initially, and let the public deal with that."

The option of annexing other communities to the new city would always be there in later years, Horn says, adding that he is still undecided as to what the proposed boundaries of the city should be.

Keena, however, says the services district should not undertake the creation of a valley-wide city. "I was elected by Mission Viejo to be a trustee of their money," he said. "You have to take things by the numbers."

Bob Curtis, vice chairman of the Saddleback Valley group, says Keena's position, which appears to reflect the thinking of the board's majority, is based on "narrow vision" and is a "disservice to their own constituency."

Foreclosing That Option

"They (Mission Viejo residents) ought to have a right to forge the most feasible city possible," Curtis said. "It would appear that (the board) is foreclosing that option."

Last year, Curtis began an independent drive to annex his own community of Aegean Hills--which has a Mission Viejo mailing address but is not part of the original planned community--to Mission Viejo. That move angered leaders of some of the other Saddleback Valley communities, who viewed Aegean Hills as a crucial hub area for their own city.

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