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New Display Site in Mission Viejo Draws Few Faiths

Holiday: Only Bahai group applies after city abandons traditional intersection.

November 24, 2001|DAVE McKIBBEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

For three decades, there was a Nativity scene and a giant menorah displayed at a bustling Mission Viejo street corner during the holidays. Last year, a Ramadan display was squeezed in.

This year, more faiths were interested in participating in the holiday displays. Or so organizers thought.

Worried that they'd be overwhelmed by requests, members of the Mission Viejo Activities Committee pulled the plug on the whole thing, saying the intersection could no longer accommodate all the faiths interested in exhibiting there.

Members of the civic group pointed out that one corner was committed to Santa, another to a Christmas tree and a third to a large patriotic display.

In an effort to spare the religious displays, the City Council voted to move them from the busy intersection, at La Paz Road and Chrisanta Drive, to the less-traveled Florence Joyner Olympiad Park, about four miles up the road.

But by week's end, five days past the original deadline, the expected flood of applications to exhibit in the park didn't come--far from it. So far, one application, from the Bahai faith, has been submitted, though with the deadline now extended until Monday, there is hope others will come in.

Dan Joseph, Mission Viejo's city manager, said the city received the Bahai application Wednesday and was told that requests from Jewish and Islamic groups were coming.

Still, Joseph conceded, for all the talk about the number of groups that wanted in on the action, it appeared for a while that there would be no displays at all in the park.

"It would have been kind of anti-climactic if nobody had showed," he said.

In an attempt to get maximum religious representation, the city placed an ad in a community newspaper. But when the ad appeared a week later than expected, city officials extended the deadline.

"Because there was so limited time, maybe groups just didn't have time to get something together," said Gail Reavis, a city councilwoman. "Next year, maybe we can come up with an entirely different plan. But that would be up to the different faith leaders and the city."

Reavis said she believes most residents would like to see the display returned to its traditional spot.

"Almost everyone who e-mailed us and called wanted it the way it was," she said. "I think we'd all like to see things the way they were 10 years ago. But as we grow, you have to accommodate more groups."

When the street-corner display started, Mission Viejo was an unincorporated community with only a few thousand residents and a couple of churches. The city's population is now 96,000 and it has become increasingly diverse.

In the meantime, some things won't change. Santa, for instance, will arrive at his appointed corner of the intersection Sunday, just as he has for the last 30 years.

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