More than 700 Laguna Niguel residents rallied Sunday, girding for a battle to preserve their claim to a disputed coastline at a Wednesday hearing over its cityhood proposal.
Organizers of Laguna Niguel Citizens Task Force for Incorporation told supporters--who jammed the bleachers and gymnasium floor at their YMCA--of two alternative plans that would enable their proposed city to keep all, or part of, a string of exclusive gated coastal communities and subdivisions that have historically been considered part of the unincorporated Laguna Niguel area.
One plan would combine Laguna Niguel and its disputed coastline with a city of Dana Point/Laguna Niguel, task force chairman Bruce Rasner said. The other would split a portion of the coastal area with Dana Point.
Plans Sent to Lafco
The task force last week sent those plans to the Local Agency Formation Commission, the county agency that studies and rules on incorporation issues and boundaries, Rasner said.
On Wednesday, Lafco is scheduled to reconsider its December decision to give the coastal strip to the proposed city of Dana Point/Capistrano Beach, after a majority of voters in the disputed territory last November stated their preference to be a part of Dana Point.
Lafco's December decision came as a surprise to task force members who had not expected any final action on the Laguna Niguel incorporation issue and had not turned out in force.
But Wednesday will be different, task force organizers vowed Sunday.
"They (Lafco commissioners) are going to have to contend with an audience who won't stand for anything but a Laguna Niguel with a coastal indentity," Rasner told the audience. "The reason for tonight is to show our solidarity."
Many inland Laguna Niguel residents see Wednesday's meeting as their last chance to keep their coastline. Although task force officials have already filed a lawsuit against Lafco for alleged violations of the state code in awarding the disputed area to the proposed city of Dana Point, they said they would rather settle the matter out of court, Rasner said.
Laguna Niguel resident Mike Padilla said he sacrificed his Sunday night because he thought Lafco's previous decision was unfair. The only way, he said, to change the minds of the commissioners is to show community support for keeping the coastline.
Padilla and several other residents said they plan to take off work Wednesday to attend the afternoon meeting.
In addition to the current incorporation proposals for Laguna Niguel and Dana Point/Capistrano Beach, Rasner said Laguna Niguel's cityhood leaders on Wednesday will ask Lafco to address:
- A combined city called Dana Niguel, comprised of Laguna Niguel, its coast, Dana Point and Capistrano Beach.
- An abridged Laguna Niguel, dividing up the Niguel coast so that everything southeast of Niguel Road would go to Dana Point, and the area northwest of Niguel Road would go to Laguna Niguel.
The original Laguna Niguel cityhood proposal called for a city that would stretch from South Laguna to Dana Point bounded by the San Diego Freeway and the ocean.
Those who attended Sunday night's meeting made donations to Laguna Niguel's legal fund and were given bumper stickers that read "Save Sea Country." Developers have long promoted Laguna Niguel as "Sea Country," stretching from the San Diego Freeway to the ocean.
Dec. 2 Vote
But Lafco--which recommends incorporation proposals to the county Board of Supervisors--voted Dec. 2 to give the coastal strip to Dana Point, following a Nov. 2 advisory election in which 61% of the coastal-area residents voted to incorporate with Dana Point rather than remain in Laguna Niguel's proposed boundaries.
But Padilla and other residents argued Sunday that the boundaries for the advisory election were arbitrarily decided and that the entire Laguna Niguel community should have been allowed to vote.
"This really upsets me," Padilla said. "I have an ocean view from my house, but I didn't get to vote. They established boundaries that don't even include all of the coastal area."
"We feel a lot has gone on without the public knowing," added resident Pam Adams. "The people are going to have to become more involved. Otherwise, we'd be isolated and there would be no way we'd have our own city. We'd be nothing but homes and a few, teeny, tiny shopping centers."
Some residents at the rally said it took the sudden decision by Lafco to motivate them.
Phil and Dru Engle were making their first appearance at a communitywide meeting, although they were familiar with the issue from their homeowners' association meetings. They decided it was time to get involved to keep the coastal strip in Laguna Niguel.
"We've got our two ("Save Sea Country") bumper stickers now," Phil Engle said. "We've been aware, but we've been lazy."
"We've read leaflets," Dru Engle said. "We were somewhat aware of what's going on. . . . But we did not become active until we realized that Lafco did this cute little number."