Ladera Ranch

                                                           Cityhood or Annexation?

                                                                             by Larry Gilbert

Last month the OC Register questioned consolidating our 34 Orange County cities into one large, rather than 34 smaller, cities in order to have clout both statewide as well as for national assistance. There are surely arguments to be made for either concept. This report will slice this topic a little closer to home.
As the south Orange County planned community of Ladera Ranch is basically built out, should they form the 35th city in Orange County? Currently they are served as one of the unincorporated communities in our County. In speaking to members of the Board of Supervisors over the years I've been told they (the county) would prefer giving up these "islands" of responsibility.

At this point the residents of Ladera Ranch have optional approaches to consider should they prefer getting out from under county rule. One such approach is annexation.
Annexation is how an unincorporated area is incorporated into an adjacent city. The annexing city is required to extend public services to the citizens of the newly annexed area. These services typically include police, fire and emergency services, utilities, infrastructure and maintenance.

Cities usually collect a greater percentage of tax revenue from retail and commercial sales than they do from residential property taxes. Thus, due to the high cost of providing services to newly annexed areas, it is financially prudent to annex retail/commercial development along with residential to offset the cost of service to the new community. 

Back in 2000, Mission Viejo was approached by LAFCO, the Local Agency Formation Commission of Orange County which oversees annexations, with a request for Mission Viejo to consider amending its "sphere of influence" by adding its southern neighbor Ladera Ranch, and its eastern neighbor Las Flores, into the City of Mission Viejo. After an extensive evaluation, and acknowledging a lack of a retail/commercial base to cover the costs of providing public services for those additions, Mission Viejo declined.

In Mission Viejo’s case, the City did agree to annex some County land off El Toro Road north of the 241 Toll Road for the proposed 85-home Skyridge development. To offset some of the required public services, the developer agreed to provide some cost offsets such as in-lieu park fees, police and library fees as well as school fees payable to the Saddleback Valley Unified School District.

Setting the annexation option aside, should the 23,000 residents of Ladera Ranch, sandwiched between the cities of San Juan Capistrano and Mission Viejo, request obtaining approval to form their own city?

Since initial development in 1999, Ladera has created nine housing villages, inside 4.9 square miles, with five of these villages having clubhouses. This is a rather young community with only 1,000 residents listed as being over the age of 65. On the other end of the age spectrum is the City of Laguna Woods where the average age of their 19,000 residents is 78 in that city of 3.1 square miles.

There are some serious issues that will impact the newer community of Ladera Ranch. With their main arterial being Antonio Parkway, will Ladera residents have any voice in the massive increase in traffic that will be generated by the 14,000 homes and up to 5 million sf of commercial/retail development planned by the Rancho Mission Viejo Company? Antonio is a major arterial parallel to I-5 with cut throughs to the freeway on Oso Parkway and Crown Valley Parkway. I have heard that when completed, the new Ranch development may generate up to 180,000 car trips daily. Whatever the final number, many of these vehicles will likely utilize Ladera's Antonio Parkway as a cut through to the I-5 and 405 freeways.

In addition, we have read that the TCA is endeavoring to extend the 241 Toll Road from its current terminus at Oso Parkway in Wagon Wheel, 5.5 miles south to Cow Camp Road near Ortega Highway in San Juan Capistrano. Should this 241 extension occur it will also impact San Juan Capistrano by funneling even more traffic onto Ortega on its way to the I-5 freeway.

All politics is local. Not to take anything away from the current Ladera Ranch Civic Council and HOA volunteers who love their community and serve the interests of all, but would the residents of Ladera be better served by elected City Council members who they can address during an evening city council meeting when airing concerns rather than having to drive to a Board of Supervisors meeting in Santa Ana during the daytime to address county supervisors who represent multiple cities?

Ladera residents have decisions to make regarding their future governance and how it impacts their quality of life. The best place to start is with education about their options.

Larry Gilbert, a retired electronics industry executive, has lived in Mission Viejo since 1977. He is an elected Board member of the California Alliance to Protect Private Property Rights.

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