A county agency Wednesday decided that it had better start learning what the residents want before it carves more cities out of the rapidly developing south county frontier.
The Local Agency Formation Commission--faced with its fourth south county incorporation proposal in two years--postponed action on a proposed city of Saddleback Valley until commissioners have fully examined the ramifications.
The vote was unanimous, with all five commissioners attending.
"We need to take a look at the bigger picture and get a better grasp of what impact all these various (proposals) will have on the south county," LAFCO Chairman Donald Holt told the commission and the audience of more than 100 people.
LAFCO--the agency that reviews incorporation proposals--scheduled a study session for April 13 and continued the public hearing on the Saddleback incorporation until April 20.
"We're saying, 'Hey friends, whoa, let's wait a minute, sit back and see if we're addressing all the issues,' " Holt said after the meeting.
The Saddleback proposal calls for a city with a population of about 77,000, between Irvine and Mission Viejo, that would include the communities of El Toro, Lake Forest, Laguna Hills, Laguna Terrace and Aegean Hills.
Commissioners stressed that their action was not in opposition to the Saddleback proposal but that they needed to gauge the intentions of other communities and cities in the south county, to see who wants to incorporate and who wants to annex the vast acres of unincorporated land.
LAFCO executive director Richard Turner presented the commission with stacks of letters he had received about the Saddleback incorporation, including those from a group of Laguna Hills residents who would prefer to incorporate on their own and a group from Aegean Hills that wants to annex to Mission Viejo when it becomes a city March 31.
But Saddleback city proponents said it was unfair for LAFCO to postpone their proposal, when the agency has already approved the cityhood proposal of Mission Viejo and the combination of Dana Point/Capistrano Beach with Laguna Niguel's coastal strip, all without south county study sessions.
'Your Timing Was Bad'
"The Saddleback (proposal) should be voted, up or down, today," said Fred Christensen, of Christensen & Wallace Inc., the consulting firm that conducted Saddleback's financial feasibility study.
Christensen said his clients should not be punished for bad timing: "There should have been a study session for Dana Point and Laguna Niguel. It would more logically have occurred in 1986. . . . And now you're saying to us, 'Hey fellas, your timing was bad.' "
He was referring to the incorporation dispute that erupted when voters in Laguna Niguel's coastal strip voted to join Dana Point's cityhood effort.
"I don't think your timing is bad, or that the Saddleback Valley incorporation proposal is bad," Holt told Christensen and the audience.
"I think the commission's timing is unfortunately bad. We should have done this study a year ago, and for whatever reason, we didn't."
'Process Needs to be Slowed'
Commissioners also said they voted to postpone the Saddleback decision because the LAFCO staff members said they need more time to review all the issues.
"By slowing the process, careful, considerate analysis and planning can replace emotionalism and reactionary responses," executive director Turner said in his report to the commission. "The entire process needs to be slowed down in the Saddleback Valley to ensure that whatever boundaries are approved by your commission will be met with the support of the residents."
The Saddleback group needed LAFCO's approval Wednesday to have the incorporation issue on the June ballot.
"A continuation will not settle anything," Saddleback chairman Clyde Childress told the commission, adding that the best way to see what the residents want is to put it to a vote.
However, the commission maintained that there are many different incorporation and annexation possibilities in the disputed area that need to be discussed.
Commissioner Phillip Schwartze said: "There are dozens of options to look at in all those generalized bedroom areas. . . . And what you have are randomly placed malls that are the cash generators. The issues out there are far-reaching beyond this (Saddleback) petition."
Schwartze said if LAFCO isn't careful, the agency could create "islands that will have no way of manifesting their destiny."
Also discussed Wednesday was the possibility of joining together as one city the communities of Laguna Hills and inland Laguna Niguel, whose proposal to incorporate with its coastal strip was rejected last week during a LAFCO meeting.
The Dana Point-Laguna Niguel fight drew to LAFCO meetings more than 400 residents concerned about keeping their historic communities intact.
LAFCO has also been criticized lately in light of county supervisors' reluctance to serve on the agency, which is required by state law to have two representatives from the Board of Supervisors. The two newest commissioners--Supervisors Don R. Roth and Gaddi H. Vasquez--attended Wednesday's meeting, marking the first time LAFCO has had a quorum in nearly three months.