"I (love) Mission Viejo" stickers are pasted proudly on the bumpers of cars that wind through this orderly community carved out of the Santa Ana foothills.
The innocuous slogan is being used as a rallying cry for both sides of a battle that's been raging in Mission Viejo for years. Should it become a city?
Residents agree on one thing: they like their community the way it is. They just can't agree on how to keep it that way.
Voters in the community of about 64,000 will take to the polls Nov. 3 to decide if they want to become the 27th city in Orange County and the first to incorporate since Irvine did in 1971.
They also will cast votes for their first city council members, who would take over March 31, 1988, should incorporation measure Proposition M pass with a simple majority of the vote. Twelve candidates are running for five seats on the council.
Fear of Higher Taxes
Backers of incorporation--an idea that has been floating around Mission Viejo for years--cite the enhanced prestige cityhood would bring, along with the belief it will provide a more responsive form of government.
The opposition believes incorporation is a costly vanity, that creating a municipal structure on such a narrow base will inevitably lead to higher taxes.
Incorporation and annexation are on the minds of many south county residents whose communities are seeking independence from county government, including Saddleback Valley to the north, and Capistrano Beach, Dana Point and Laguna Niguel to the west.
If incorporation in Mission Viejo succeeds, proponents believe it will set a precedent for other south county communities.
The proposed city of Mission Viejo would be in the boundaries of the planned community, which covers about 18 square miles. It stretches east from Interstate 5 to El Toro Road, west to O'Neill Regional Park, north to the Rancho Trabuco Grant line, and south to San Juan Capistrano.
The Mission Viejo Co. has been carving out this community since the county approved its development plan in 1965. It is expected to be completed by the mid-1990s.
"When the build-out comes, the population will rise to about 90,000 people, so it's inevitable that this area is going to be incorporated and if they think it isn't then somebody's smoking grass," said George Kopf, a member of Mission Viejo Citizens for Cityhood.
But others believe that Mission Viejo would be better off incorporating into a larger Saddleback Valley city, or not incorporating at all.
"Most people move to Mission Viejo to get away from cities. I know I did," said Val Secarea, of the No City Committee.
Secarea and other members of the No City Committee have charged that Mission Viejo Community Services District board members spearheaded the incorporation drive and are making false promises for personal political benefit. Four of the five board members are running for city council.
The No City Committee contends that the CSD board should have petitioned residents, rather than proposing incorporation through a board resolution.
Mission Viejans voted in 1985 to form the Mission Viejo Community Services District, which took over some services formerly provided by the county. The district received a share of Mission Viejo property taxes to operate and maintain parks and recreation, street lighting, roadway slopes and medians, street sweeping, streets, and undergrounding of public utilities.
The incorporation resolution was one of the CSD board's first actions at the request of the Mission Viejo Incorporation Feasibility Study Committee, a private group of citizens who paid about $8,000 for an independent study to determine if incorporation was viable for the planned community.
The consulting firm of Christensen and Wallace Inc. of Oceanside concluded that incorporation would be "imminently feasible." So with study in hand, the CSD brought its proposal to the county's Local Agency Formation Commission, the agency that reviews and recommends proposals for incorporation. The commission and the Board of Supervisors subsequently approved the proposal--now known as Proposition M--for the Nov. 3 ballot.
Under state law, a community can seek incorporation either by a governing board resolution or by petition. The cityhood group sought the faster process of a board resolution because filing for incorporation by March 1, 1987, would save the new city money.
On Jan. 1, a new state law went into effect that essentially puts a double burden on new cities by having them reimburse the county for municipal services while not receiving the property tax to pay for these services.
The Board of Supervisors voted to waive the law for two months to give communities a chance to file for incorporation before allowing the law to take effect.
But those opposed to cityhood contend that there was not enough community input for the incorporation proposal.