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It's All About the Address

The homeowners in an unincorporated area want to be annexed by Newport Beach--and the jump in home values that comes with it.

April 06, 2006|Juliet Chung | Times Staff Writer

Herbert Hirashima's address may not reflect it, but he feels like a Newport Beach resident.

He's not alone. The 64-year-old retired real estate appraiser is part of a group of address-starved residents who live in a 55-acre area of unincorporated land sandwiched between Costa Mesa and Newport Beach.

And while Costa Mesa has tried for years to annex the neighborhood, the residents prefer to live in the affluent seaside city.

In fact, some residents already claim they live there. The tricky part: making that a reality.

Annexation fights are nothing new to Southern California, where residents in neighborhoods left outside city limits fight to become a part of -- or sometimes, to stay out of -- a town. And in this case, the value residents think comes with an address in one of Southern California's hallmark coastal cities has fueled their desire.

Real estate brokers agree that a Newport Beach address can increase property values by up to $100,000, if not more.

"A Newport Beach address is what you want in Southern California," said John Cornuke, a Transwestern Commercial Services real estate broker who has worked in both cities for 20 years. "It's instantly recognizable."

Last year, the price per square foot of a home in Newport Beach was a third more than the comparable price in Costa Mesa, according to DataQuick Information Systems, a real estate research firm.

But living in Newport Beach would offer benefits beyond higher property values, said Hirashima.

"They're more consistent in terms of things like trying to curtail the airport," he said, referring to Newport Beach's stance on limiting flights out of John Wayne Airport, whose jets take off over the area. "Even though they don't formally represent us, they represent our best interests."

The neighborhood is mostly a collection of cul-de-sacs that overlook Upper Newport Bay, a picturesque environmental reserve.

A four-lane thoroughfare separates it from Newport Beach's city limits.

Bordered by Costa Mesa to the west and Newport Beach to the east, the area was left to remain county land as nearby areas incorporated.

Costa Mesa attempted to annex it in 2002 but was foiled by the protest of a majority of property owners. Costa Mesa has since made clear its continued interest.

"Why would you create an island in the city of Costa Mesa that is called Newport Beach?" asked Costa Mesa Councilwoman Katrina Foley, who works on annexation issues for the city.

"It's just about consistency of neighborhoods, about having local control of our streets," she said. "It's really about planning more than anything else."

Residents sometimes find themselves in a tug-of-war between the two cities. Some students from the neighborhood attend high school in Newport Beach. But the county libraries they use are in Costa Mesa. Some use Costa Mesa as a return address; others use Newport Beach.

Hirashima and his wife, Janet, became fans of a Newport Beach annexation when Janet, home alone one night in 1983, called Costa Mesa police to report a prowler. "They said they didn't handle it, that it was the county," she said. "Someone was trying to break into the house ... and I wasn't even transferred. They told me the phone number to call."

Though the Costa Mesa police said such a mix-up would be unlikely today if 911 were called, residents point out that Newport Beach police and fire respond to some of their calls. For that matter, Costa Mesa does, too, because of agreements with the county.

They also say Newport Beach offers more, such as its own public library system and an active senior center, and that they feel a greater affinity with it.

"My bank is right down in Newport Beach, my orthodontist is right down in Newport Beach, I throw a rock across Irvine Avenue and I'm in Newport Beach," said longtime resident Christina Olinger, 41, a homemaker whose four children will be alums of Newport Harbor High. "It feels like home."

Newport Beach resident Louise Fundenberg, 70, said she doesn't mind the would-be city residents' efforts.

"I'm not going to stand out there with picket signs and stop them," she said. "I like being in Newport Beach so if someone else wants to join me, more power to them."

The area's residents are collecting signatures and $6,600 to file an application requesting the area's annexation into Newport Beach.

A private golf club on unincorporated land nearby has joined their application. The Santa Ana Country Club also wants a Newport Beach address.

If Orange County's Local Agency Formation Commission gives its approval, Newport Beach has indicated it would be willing to work with the commission's decision.

"We are not in a situation where we're trying to start a land war or an annexation war" with Costa Mesa, said Newport Beach Mayor Don Webb. "What we're interested in doing is trying to be considerate of the desires of the people."

While it's statements like those that rile Costa Mesa, they encourage such residents as Olinger.

"We're this little pocket right here that's not Newport Beach," she said, "but with any luck, we will be soon."

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