Annexation Try Triggers Cityhood Move by Capistrano Beach Group

Times Staff Writer

The Capistrano Beach Community Assn. has voted overwhelmingly to pursue incorporation, either as an independent city, or together with Dana Point.

The 58-4 vote reversed an earlier decision by the association to pursue annexation to San Juan Capistrano, just north of the unincorporated oceanside community of 13,000. The community group numbers a couple hundred but has no official status.

Many Capistrano Beach residents said they soured on the idea of joining San Juan Capistrano when the city moved to annex a 12.4-acre parcel where a shopping center is scheduled to be built.

"We feel like if we lose that piece of property, that's the last big commercial property we have left," said Terry Lucarelli, a Capistrano Beach real estate agent and leader of the latest incorporation effort. "We just want time to find out if we can incorporate on our own or with Dana Point."

Not the First Choice

Judy Curreri, who heads a group in Dana Point studying that community's incorporation prospects, said forming a city with Capistrano Beach is not the first choice of about 200 residents recently surveyed. Details of the survey would be made public July 2, she said.

But Curreri said this latest development could influence the Dana Point group to include Capistrano Beach in its proposal to the Local Agency Formation Commission. "LAFCO does not like (unincorporated) islands, and now that Capistrano Beach is heading away from San Juan Capistrano, that changes the picture," she said.

Capistrano Beach should "do a good study, get the numbers, and get unity" in the community, Curreri said. "That has been lacking."

The last time that Dana Point and Capistrano Beach tried to form one city was 16 years ago. The cityhood committee even drew up a logo, replete with oranges, rolling hills, a sea gull, the San Juan Capistrano Mission (in the background), the Dana Point Harbor and a sailboat and a surfer in the ocean.

LAFCO quashed the incorporation idea in 1970.

Not much was heard about the Dana Point-Capistrano Beach city until last year, when many south Orange County communities, including Capistrano Beach, began considering their local government alternatives: annexation, incorporation or forming a community services district, a governmental structure sometimes referred to as a "junior city."

Should Capistrano Beach unify itself with Dana Point, the new city of about 33,000 would encompass about seven miles of prime coastline with hundreds of expensive homes and draw its revenues from the multimillion-dollar tourist and retail development surrounding Dana Point Harbor, including a 350-bed hotel now under construction.

As a separate, unincorporated community, Capistrano Beach had been able to do little to stop San Clemente and San Juan Capistrano from nibbling away dozens of acres of potential tax base.

Capistrano Beach once claimed territory as far east as the now-closed Capistrano Airport that now belongs to San Juan Capistrano. "And San Clemente has annexed parts of our community 18 times," Lucarelli said.

San Clemente, the booming city to the south, was considered by most residents to be the more grievous land-grabber, so it was no surprise when the community association voted 39 to 18 last February to pursue annexation to San Juan Capistrano. About 300 signatures were gathered petitioning San Juan Capistrano to annex Capistrano Beach, and the San Juan Capistrano City Council said it would put the matter to a citywide vote, provided the annexation were economically feasible.

Then word of the shopping center plan got out. Great Western Savings owns a 22.4-acre parcel that straddles the San Juan Capistrano-Capistrano Beach boundary along Camino Capistrano. To facilitate development of the property, and with San Juan Capistrano's blessing, Great Western initiated annexation proceedings for the 12.4 acres of unincorporated land.

Capistrano Beach residents began to wonder if they weren't better off pursuing incorporation by themselves.

"That seems to be the final straw in what the residents there saw as a continuing series of actions by San Juan Capistrano and San Clemente whittling away at their prime tax areas," said Jim Colangelo, assistant executive officer of the Local Agency Formation Commission. "It has taken a long time, but they are really getting fed up with that."

Must Show Intent

But if Capistrano Beach is to block the proposed annexation of the Great Western parcel, it must show a serious intent to incorporate--alone or with Dana Point--before July 9. That is when LAFCO is scheduled to consider Great Western's proposed annexation of its land by San Juan Capistrano.

"The commission would be much more impressed if they brought in a petition, something that shows a broad base of support (for incorporation)," Colangelo said. "The commissioners will want to know if they are really serious, or if this is just a straw vote."

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