One small group of coastal residents had to go and spoil Laguna Niguel's planned cityhood party. At least, that's how some people in Laguna Niguel see it after an advisory election two weeks ago confirmed that residents of Laguna Niguel's coastal strip would prefer to join Dana Point's incorporation drive rather than be part of the proposed City of Laguna Niguel.
Proponents of cityhood in Laguna Niguel, a large area that extends from the San Diego Freeway to the Pacific Ocean, are baffled by the coastline residents' voting behavior.
"Look at Corona del Mar. They're part of Newport Beach, but they still have their own identity," said Richard A. Christman, a member of the Laguna Niguel Community Council, an advisory group that reports to the Orange County Board of Supervisors.
But that argument, among others, did not convince the registered voters of the 13 subdivisions and exclusive, gated communities of the coastal strip.
Of 3,444 registered voters in the strip, 2,188 went to the polls, and 61.2% sided with joining Dana Point. Only residents in or near the strip were allowed to voice their preference; Laguna Niguel has about 16,000 other residents.
Laguna Niguel partisans, who had promised to act as coastal protectors, were left crestfallen by the coastal vote.
A group called Citizens for a United Laguna Niguel contended throughout the campaign that the coast is part of Laguna Niguel's identity. After all, they said, the posh, beach-front Ritz-Carlton hotel, which sits within the area of the advisory election, is advertised as a Laguna Niguel resort.
But 1,341 voters didn't buy it, largely because of a grass-roots, door-to-door campaign launched by the Coastal Taxpayers Committee, its spokesman, Jack Hollingsworth, said. Coastal residents were persuaded that their tax dollars are more likely to be used to preserve the coast if they are part of a beach city--Dana Point, he said.
However, the Nov. 3 vote was only an advisory measure. The actual matter of which proposed city the coastal strip will join still must be taken under consideration by the county's Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFC), which recommends proposed cities to the Board of Supervisors. (The commission called for the advisory election earlier this year, when some coastal residents protested about being included as part of the proposed City of Laguna Niguel.)
"LAFC took it upon itself to segregate a small area," Christman said, referring to the fact that the advisory election only involved a small section of the unincorporated area known as Laguna Niguel.
"It already had been voted on by the people that the CSD (Community Services District) boundaries would be the city boundaries. That was the concept that was proposed (to the agency formation commission)."
Forming a community services district is a popular method for communities to ease into incorporation. By forming such a district, often called a junior city, the community can take a portion of the property taxes from the county and use the revenue for such services as street lighting and cleaning.
Laguna Niguel's service-district boundaries extend from the Santa Ana Freeway to the coast, with South Laguna (now annexed to Laguna Beach) to the north and Dana Point to the south.
But Hollingsworth pointed out that Laguna Niguel's cityhood proponents also ignored the service-district boundaries in attempts to include Dana Point and South Laguna in its cityhood efforts.
"We saw nothing sacred about the CSD boundary, nor did LAFC, nor did Laguna Niguel for that matter," Hollingsworth said.
The agency formation commission has scheduled a special meeting Wednesday to determine the boundaries for both proposed cities--Dana Point and Laguna Niguel. But cityhood elections will not take place until next spring.
"I personally feel that by changing the boundary lines, what is left over is not viable as a city," said Christman, referring to the Laguna Niguel's probable loss of the coastal strip.
He added that Citizens for a United Laguna Niguel is planning to fight the advisory vote and may even decide to drop its incorporation effort.
"I really don't know what's gone wrong," Christman said. "It started out as a fairly simple process and then a small element (on the coast) pulled out and made it an inland vs. coastal issue."
Hollingsworth, who advocates joining Dana Point, said some coastal residents will attend the agency formation commission meeting Wednesday, but only as interested observers.
"Each (Dana Point and Laguna Niguel) has the job now of forming a good city--two good cities. But to go on bickering and be involved in sour grapes remarks from their side, or vindictive, 'I told you so' remarks from us, is not going to do anybody any good."