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Villa Park: To Be or Not to Be?

A land agency suggests the minuscule city isn't self-sufficient enough--and that technically, it should disincorporate.

August 22, 2005|Jean O. Pasco | Times Staff Writer

Villa Park, Orange County's smallest city but one of its wealthiest, doesn't like the idea of being called a zero.

The City Council on Tuesday is expected to protest an Orange County land agency's suggestion that it would be more efficient if Villa Park were given a "zero sphere of influence." As a practical matter, the designation would mean the city shouldn't exist.

No other Orange County city has been so slighted.

State law established local agency formation commissions to oversee the orderly creation and expansion of cities. In 2000, the Legislature asked the LAFCOs to examine government services in their counties and determine if those services were being delivered efficiently.

But the commissions cannot order a city dissolved -- only city voters can do that. In the case of Villa Park, a zero designation means it would make sense for the city to be absorbed by Orange, which surrounds it.

A city's sphere of influence refers partly to the degree to which it is self-sufficient. Most city services in Villa Park are contracted through outside agencies, including the Orange County Sheriff's Department and the Orange County Fire Authority. Other factors include adjacent land that can be annexed. One goal of the Orange County Local Agency Formation Commission is to annex pockets of unincorporated land into a city, or, in this case, a city that's surrounded by another city.

The idea of disincorporation doesn't sit well with Bill Campbell, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, a LAFCO commissioner and a proud Villa Park resident.

"This came out of left field," he said Friday of the suggestion made last week by LAFCO staff.

The agency is scheduled to discuss the issue Sept. 14. A report on the issue has not yet been prepared, and Campbell has asked that the discussion be delayed a month.

"I'm afraid that what it means is that every time someone sells a home, they're going to have to disclose that LAFCO thinks the city shouldn't exist," Campbell said. "I'm very upset by it, but I want to be balanced. We need to look at what it really means."

Not much, said Joyce Crosthwaite, executive director of O.C. LAFCO, which has jurisdiction over special district boundaries and resolves border disputes among cities. "LAFCO can't touch cities. It's important for everyone to know that nothing's going to happen to their city."

But the zero designation may cause problems, which is why Villa Park Mayor Richard A. Freschi says he wants an explanation. The issue will be aired at the council meeting Tuesday at the request of City Manager Ken Domer, who wants the council to send a letter to LAFCO protesting the label suggestion.

"We're not going anywhere," Domer said. "The reason we're a city and will be a city is because people call this place home."

Villa Park incorporated in 1962 because residents didn't want to live in Orange, Freschi said. Villa Park's 6,500 residents are spread out over 2.1 square miles, compared with Orange's nearly 140,000 residents over 23.6 square miles.

To keep a rural feel, the city was designed with no street lights and few sidewalks. Most of the homes are on at least half-acre lots. The annual budget of $3.9 million includes the salaries of Domer and four staff members -- two maintenance workers, a deputy city clerk and a finance administrator.

Villa Park has the third-highest median home price among Orange County cities, after Newport Beach and Laguna Beach. Its motto is "Villa Park, the Hidden Jewel."

The Orange-Villa Park study was the first one conducted by LAFCO, raising the specter that other cities could receive their own "zero" recommendations. No one's naming names, but Laguna Woods has struggled financially since its 1999 incorporation and is bordered on three sides by Laguna Hills.

Ultimately, the commission's 11 members would have to vote before any designation change was made.

"I just don't think staff really thought this through," Campbell said. "Every other city has a sphere."

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