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Rancho Ortega Blog discusses matters of public interest in South Orange County, including the communities of San Juan Capistrano, Ladera Ranch and Rancho Mission Viejo.

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Ladera Ranch Civic Council’s Roadmap for Cityhood

For the last few days, we’ve been discussing the issue of cityhood in detail.  Yesterday, we used the Ladera Ranch Civic Council’s letter to Supervisor Patricia Bates as an opportunity to discuss LAFCO – a little-known independent regulatory commission that holds supreme power over issues related to cityhood.  Because that discussion was so important, we didn’t get past the first paragraph of the Civic Council’s letter.  Let’s continue that analysis now.  As a reminder, the full text of the letter and attachments is available here.

Below is the first paragraph of the Civic Council’s letter:

We’ve already discussed the first paragraph, identifying LAFCO’s role in the incorporation process and explaining how the formation of a County Service Area (CSA) is a first step towards the comprehensive fiscal analysis required for cityhood.  We haven’t discussed the Civic Council’s proposed name for the CSA: Los Ranchos Amigos.

That’s clever.  Hey, the name of the CSA is meaningless.  My understanding is that most counties named their CSAs “County Service Area #1,” and so on.  This is certainly more creative, even if it does remind us of tenth grade Spanish class.

Donde esta la biblioteca?

Or a Steve Martin movie.  Now that we think about it, perhaps we should include Las Flores if only to name our CSA “The Three Amigos!

Just kidding!

The second paragraph reads as follows:

Just as cityhood requires the support of LAFCO, cityhood (at least any city that includes the Ranch Plan within its borders between now and the completion of the development) will require the support of Rancho Mission Viejo Company.  Good for the Ladera Ranch Civic Council for recognizing that Rancho Mission Viejo Company must be involved, particularly if the cityhood discussion is going to start now.

Just as we can surmise that LAFCO is going to be sympathetic to local cityhood (subject to revenue neutrality), we can also surmise that under the right conditions, Rancho Mission Viejo Company will support local cityhood (or at least not object to it). Why?  Because a development with a tax base sufficient to sustain local government was negotiated into the Ranch Plan Development Agreement, as approved by the County Board of Supervisors.

In addition, this ain’t Rancho Mission Viejo’s first rodeo.  Both Mission Viejo and Rancho Santa Margarita eventually went the incorporation route, without any objections from Rancho Mission Viejo Company.  (And to complete the picture with respect to developments on Rancho Mission Viejo land, Las Flores currently sits in Rancho Santa Margarita’s sphere of influence, while Talega – sometimes known as Rancho San Clemente – was annexed by the City of San Clemente.)

We should be clear about something.  Residents should not expect Rancho Mission Viejo Company to do this for us.  Historically, while Rancho Mission Viejo Company has designed and built the communities, it has taken the position that the movement for cityhood must come from the people.  This is our water to carry.  RMVC must be supportive for us to be successful, but we will do the work.

That’s not to say that Rancho Mission Viejo Company won’t have opinions about cityhood.  In particular, incorporation of any portion of the Ranch Plan poses one overriding issue for the Ranch.  Rancho Mission Viejo Company spent decades planning, negotiating with stakeholders, conducting environmental assessments and litigating (and settling) the Ranch Plan, for which it obtained final Board of Supervisor approval.  Then, as it was ready to start development, Rancho Mission Viejo watched while the entire real estate market crumbled, shelving the start of the Ranch Plan for several more years.  Now that “sticks are in the air,” as they say, in Planning Area 1, there is no way Rancho Mission Viejo Company is going to accept the introduction of new project risk into the Ranch Plan – and adding a layer of municipal government between the Ranch Plan and the County poses risk.  Thus, we would imagine (and rightly so) that Rancho Mission Viejo Company’s support of cityhood will be conditioned on the new city having no ability to renegotiate or add additional requirements to the Ranch Plan.  Just ask San Juan (behind the paywall, but the title of the article should give you the idea).

While it is more of a footnote to this discussion, one also wonders whether Rancho Mission Viejo Company would mind lending its name (and perhaps its iconic brand – literally) to the new city.  Given that we are likely not going to be naming the new city Los Rancho Amigos, Rancho Mission Viejo is as good a candidate as any for the name of the new city (and believe us, names are something we will discuss in the future).  Again, this doesn’t seem likely to be a problem, as Rancho Mission Viejo Company has been willing to lend its name and brand to the annual rodeo, among other things.  It’s worth discussing, though, as the residents of Laguna Woods found out the hard way that developers are not always willing to lend their name to the new community, or more frequently, to the ancillary businesses and for-profit uses that will inevitably spring up around it.

The third paragraph of the Civic Council letter addresses the issue I raised above, but promising that the CSA would not change any land use designations, including with respect to the Ranch Plan.

This paragraph is also written with LAFCO in mind, demonstrating that attention has been paid to the incorporation process and LAFCO’s mission of efficient delivery of public services.  This is forward thinking by the Ladera Ranch Civic Council.  Well done.

Finally, the fourth paragraph:

If you read this fourth paragraph and immediately thought that there is a lot of important stuff being proposed here, you are not alone.  Who is going to play a role “in the future planning and governance” for the area is a critical question, possibly the critical question.  The Ladera Ranch Civic Council is claiming a seat at the table for itself and Rancho Mission Viejo Company, yet also suggests that Supervisor Bates establish a “Municipal Advisory Council” that was “locally elected,” potentially by district or at-large.  Each of these concepts is packed with possibilities.  Equally important are some of the assumptions and possibilities that went unmentioned.  There’s more to discuss here than we can handle in this already lengthy article, so we’ll make a note to return to this issue at a later date.

Who will play a role in the future planning and governance of Ladera Ranch and Rancho Mission Viejo?

Make no mistake — this is important.  If you do not pay attention to anything else about cityhood, at least do your best to ensure that the people entrusted with the issue are the right people for the job.

Thank you for reading.  We suspect you might be a little burned out on cityhood, so we may take a short break before returning to this topic.  However, given that things are happening at the local and county level on cityhood, we wanted to introduce the topic here on the blog, too.  There will certainly be more to come.

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