Ladera Ranch

                                 Future of Local Governance Explored

The Ladera Ranch Civic Council (“LRCC”) has been working with key decision-makers at the County and the Local Agency Formation Commission (“LAFCO”) to determine what options exist for local governance of Ladera Ranch. At the regular October meeting of the LRCC, Carolyn Emery, LAFCO Executive Director, previewed findings that will be presented to the commission for formal adoption.
 Ms. Emery reported that LAFCO will find little opportunity for incorporation or annexation to bring local government to Ladera in the next five years. Timeframes remain 15 years out and are constrained by the progress of the Rancho Mission Viejo development and the absence of financial support from the state and county. Several short-term options exist, including some that have been considered and ultimately adopted by other nearby communities.

One example is the City of Laguna Hills, where community leaders faced similar challenges for establishing governance in their area. The LA Times on June 25, 1989 listed the following options which were considered at that time by residents and taxpayers in Laguna Hills. These options could also apply to Ladera Ranch:
“- Asking the County Board of Supervisors to create a Municipal Advisory Council (“MAC”) for the Laguna Hills area. Such a council has elected members from a community who function as advisers to the Board of Supervisors.

 - Petitioning the supervisors to create a community services district, which has more authority than a council. The community services district establishes a fund for property taxes that otherwise would go to county government. A district board, which is elected, allocates the funds for such things as street cleaning and lighting.

- Seeking city incorporation one more time. State law forbids the same area from seeking incorporation within two years of a failed effort at the polls. But the two-year ban does not apply if the area seeking incorporation is "substantially different."

- Doing nothing and allowing Laguna Hills to remain as it is, an unincorporated area ringed by cities or cities in the making.”

 Laguna Hills officially became a city 1991 with the help of state Vehicle License Fee (VLF) funding and subsequently annexed several adjoining areas into the city. 

Emery reported that LAFCO will find a “MAC” to be feasible for Ladera in a short timeframe. However, this would make Ladera a mere extension of the County and the benefit this would bring to Ladera residents is uncertain. The LRCC itself is on record preferring that the County form a Community Services District (CSD), which would provide greater fiscal transparency of County operations that support Ladera Ranch. Emery explained that either a MAC or CSD could be an interim step toward local government formation or annexation, but suggested that the County had less incentive to support a CSD while the surrounding areas of Rancho Mission Viejo continue to develop.

While County leaders profess a desire to be out of the municipal services business in unincorporated areas, the county government as a whole is not inclined to give anything up without compensation. There is no present path that doesn’t end with Ladera taxpayers “owing” the County for infrastructure and general services. A LAFCO staff member cited the example of Rossmoor, where 75% of voters were in favor of incorporation during the election, but 75% also voted against the tax that would have made up the shortfall necessary to fund the proposed city government. In their case the referendum failed due to the latter vote.

The shortage of tax revenue to operate a new municipality while paying off the County is an obstacle that was previously overcome by state apportionment of the Vehicle License Fee however, the state no longer provides VLF support to incorporating areas.

To further explore the options available for establishing local governance, the Civic Council put together a community outreach program, “Imagine Ladera”, to obtain input from the community in making decisions about Ladera Ranch’s collective future. For more information, visit the Ladera Ranch Civic Council’s website at: .

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