Residents of Mission Viejo voted solidly Tuesday to turn their 21-year-old planned community of 64,000 into Orange County's 27th city.
The orderly, upper-middle-class community in the southern part of the county had long contemplated incorporating itself. Tuesday's vote margin of 57% to 43% capped an intense campaign to bring the community local control.
"We made history," said John Ben, member of the Citizens for Cityhood. "I've traveled all over, and people have always thought Mission Viejo was a city, and now it's a fact."
Ben and about 50 other cityhood proponents had gathered to await returns at the Stuft Pizza in Mission Viejo. When all but one precinct had reported, cityhood consultant Jim Hayes said, "Get your beer, gang!" and read the results to cheers and whoops.
There was a nearly 40% voter turnout.
Although the cityhood vote had generated intense interest within Mission Viejo, the vote was also being carefully watched by other south county communities looking to break away from county jurisdiction and get control of local property and sales taxes.
Mission Viejo will officially cut the county's apron strings on March 31, when its newly elected City Council will take over administration of its 18-square-mile city just north of San Juan Capistrano. High on the agenda will be the election of a mayor from among the five council members elected from a pool of 12 candidates.
The winners were: William S. Craycraft, 44, a sales and marketing manager; Robert A. Curtis, 32, an attorney; Christian W. Keena, 40, attorney; Victoria C. Jaffe, 40, an insurance company executive, and Norman P. Murray, 69, a businessman.
The Mission Viejo Co. began carving the community out of the Santa Ana foothills in 1965, promoting the area as the "California Promise." According to recent estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau, the community reflects just that: The median annual income tops $45,000 and two-thirds of the residents are college-educated. Ninety per cent of the adults are married.
The new city of Mission Viejo is expected to have a budget of no more than $35 million at its present size.
Throughout the campaign, incorporation backers promoted cityhood as a way of bringing "home rule" to the community. Becoming a city would mean no longer having to rely on one person--the county supervisor representing the area, now Gaddi H. Vasquez--as a voice for its growing population, they said.
Of those opposed to incorporation, some were angered that residents were not consulted first; others believed that a larger city, incorporating some of the surrounding communities as well, would be more economically viable; still others contended that Mission Viejo should remain under county jurisdiction.
Effort Began in '86
Although the idea of incorporating has been floating around Mission Viejo for several years, the movement to make it a ballot measure began in 1986 when a group of citizens paid for a feasibility study.
The committee gathered $8,000 in donations to pay the consulting firm of Christensen and Wallace Inc. of Oceanside, which determined that cityhood was "eminently feasible." The citizens group then took these results to the Mission Viejo Community Services District Board of Directors, which two years ago had taken over from the county some of the local municipal services, such as street cleaning and street lighting.
Under state law, a community can seek incorporation either by a local governing board's resolution or by petition of residents. As it was getting near the end of 1986, the cityhood group sought the faster process of requesting the Community Services District Board to sponsor a resolution.
They did this because they wanted to be incorporated before a new state law took effect that would have required the new city, during an interim three-month period in which it could not collect property taxes, to pay for municipal services now provided by the county.
Larger City Proposed
The new law also speeded other incorporation efforts in south county communities, including those surrounding Mission Viejo, which proposed a larger Saddleback Valley city. This would have included Mission Viejo, El Toro, Laguna Hills, Aegean Hills and Lake Forest.
Organizers believed a larger city would provide a better tax base. But they were unable to get the 17,000 signatures needed for a formal challenge to the Mission Viejo cityhood effort and could not convince the Local Agency Formation Commission that their proposal was viable even without a financial feasibility study.
Meanwhile, the Mission Viejo feasibility study and board resolution convinced commissioners that incorporation was possible for the 21-year-old planned community. The Board of Supervisors subsequently agreed that the community's 32,980 registered voters should decide the question.
Several people spoke out against the cityhood proposal, but it would have taken a petition drive to stop the election, and none was mounted.