Residents in an unincorporated area of Orange County have defeated Anaheim's bid to annex their 495-acre island that the city nearly surrounds.
The annexation of the area's 8,000 residents would have made Anaheim the county's most populous city, with more than 350,000 residents, surpassing Santa Ana.
Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle said he believed the city could have provided the area with improved police and fire protection and greater code enforcement.
"I'm surprised and very disappointed," Pringle said. "For the county to provide services right in the middle of our city doesn't make any sense."
The county registrar of voters office on Monday verified 1,944 signatures on petitions opposing the annexation, about 100 more than were necessary to stop the plan during the 30-day protest period. Signatures of more than 50% of an area's registered voters are needed to kill annexation. If 25% to 50% of voters had signed the petitions, the annexation would have gone to a vote. Otherwise, the annexation would have gone through without a vote.
Officials with the county's Local Agency Formation Commission said the large annexation attempt was the first to be defeated outright by voter protest in five years. Annexations of unincorporated county islands of 75 acres or less are common. Anaheim has annexed four such areas over the last two years. The county has had a harder time shedding larger areas.
The defeat was orchestrated by six members of West Islands Neighbors, who met weekly for six months, canvassed door-to-door, put up signs and worked the phones.
"Some people thought our mission was hopeless, that annexation was inevitable and that we were wasting our time," said Nancy Francis, leader of the group. "We didn't twist anybody's arm. We just got their opinion, and people just didn't think there was any benefit to being part of Anaheim."
Francis said many residents didn't believe police service would be better under Anaheim, and others weren't in favor of stricter code enforcement because they had farm animals or RVs in their yards.
Supervisor Chris Norby, who represents the area, supported the annexation plan for the community, which includes a haphazard mix of stately homes and lots strewn with discarded cars. The island has three regions -- La Colonia, Sherwood Forest and Thistle.
"In the long run, the area's destiny is to be with Anaheim," Norby said. "I think the city can better serve the residents than the county [can]. But a lot of people don't ask much or expect much from government. They just want to be left alone. I guess one man's lifestyle is another man's nuisance."
Pringle said there wasn't much advantage for the city to absorb the area because it was mostly residential and there was little tax revenue to cover services residents used.