Saying their eclectic, beach communities were very much alike, the Laguna Beach City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to annex the unincorporated community of South Laguna to cheers from the area's residents who had pleaded for the move.
"It's a great victory for South Laguna," said Jim Danziger, vice chairman of the South Laguna Civic Assn. "It helps retain our local identity and character and allows for a say in our government in a way not possible through the county."
Councilman Robert F. Gentry said the decision to seek annexation of all, instead of part of South Laguna "just seemed to make logical planning sense."
Unless strong opposition were to emerge at a later date--and that is not expected--Laguna Beach City Manager Kenneth C. Frank estimated that the city could complete the annexation and begin providing services to South Laguna within six months.
The council's action came on the heels of a poll released Tuesday by the South Laguna Civic Assn., which showed that 93% of about 1,400 residents who completed a mail-in questionnaire wanted to be part of Laguna Beach.
In contrast to 1982, when South Laguna's 5,000 residents were bitterly divided over annexation to Laguna Beach with its 18,000 population, this time "in their very funky, political backwater," there was nearly undivided support for the move, Danziger said.
Leaders of the civic association came up with the proposal to become part of Laguna Beach in early March in response to a threatened annexation move by Laguna Niguel just to the south. Leaders of that sprawling and mostly inland community had included South Laguna within the boundaries of a proposed new city. Members of the county's Local Agency Formation Commission were scheduled to vote on that proposal May 6.
But many South Laguna residents were appalled at the idea, saying that they had little in common with Laguna Niguel and didn't want to be part of it. But they also feared that the county commissioners would not allow their small community to remain an "island" of unincorporated land between two cities; they suggested merging with a city they did identify with--Laguna Beach.
Strong Support in Poll
The poll, released at a press conference held on the ocean view deck of association member Lucille Stocks, suggested there was strong support for that decision.
Asked whether they preferred to be part of Laguna Beach or Laguna Niguel, "not only did (residents) check their ballot Laguna Beach, but they wrote in, 'It's about time!' and 'Hurrah!' I really felt the energy from that," Stocks said Tuesday.
All 3,468 registered voters in South Laguna were asked their preference for Laguna Beach or Laguna Niguel. Questionnaires were still coming in Tuesday morning. But of the 1,396 people who had responded, 1,294 said they preferred to be part of Laguna Beach, 43 preferred Laguna Niguel and 59 chose neither.
Danziger, a political science professor at UC Irvine, said South Laguna was similar to Laguna Beach in life styles, in its interest in protecting the coast and in its opposition to offshore oil drilling.
For all the concern about annexation, much of the debate Tuesday was not about whether it should occur, but how far it should go. City Manager Frank recommended annexation in phases.
The Partial Plan
Under Frank's plan, the city would have annexed only the portion between Laguna Beach's southern border and Aliso Creek. The remaining area from Aliso Creek south to the gate-guarded ocean-side community of Three Arch Bay would be declared within Laguna Beach's "sphere of influence," that is it could become part of the city some day.
The civic association leaders, however, had asked that all of South Laguna be annexed at one time--at the very least to Three Arch Bay, but possibly also south to Emerald Ridge and Monarch Bay, Danziger said.
"We don't want them to take us piece by piece. That would be very demoralizing, and it would leave us open to political adventurers," Danziger said, referring to efforts similar to Laguna Niguel's to gobble up the remaining areas.
Frank said earlier Tuesday that the city could not afford to take on police and fire protection and other municipal services for all of South Laguna immediately. "My recommendation . . . is that (the council) not try to do the whole thing at once," he said.
To absorb just South Laguna Village would require the city to create "a whole new police beat--it is very difficult to recruit five new police officers," Frank said. In a memorandum to the council, he estimated that it would cost $525,000 to extend city boundaries to Aliso Creek, and $1.4 million to extend them all the way to Three Arch Bay.
But by placing the southernmost area in Laguna Beach's designated "sphere of influence," Frank said, the council can help make everybody happy.
Avoiding a Risk
But after the impassioned testimony of a host of South Laguna residents Tuesday night, Gentry said council members decided to seek annexation of the whole area at one time. "I think we felt that if we're going to do it, let's proceed in doing it and not run the risk of having any changes made as we annex in stages."
As for the difference in cost, Gentry said, "it pencils out to be pretty much of a wash. The revenues (from the new area) and expenditures pretty much equal out."
Gentry added that there would be no new taxes tacked on residents by becoming part of Laguna Beach. "There are no new taxes," he said. "There would be certain fees as they would redevelop their properties, but they would have to pay fees to the county for that anyway."
The vote means that the city of Laguna Beach and South Laguna residents will go to the county agency and request the annexation.
A jubilant Danziger called the vote a "dream come true."