Cityhood for Saddleback Valley appeared headed for defeat Tuesday as early returns showed voters making a rare rejection of an Orange County incorporation proposal.
With more than 10% of precincts reporting late Tuesday, voters were rejecting Measure R by a margin of 58% to 42%.
“We’re all delighted. This proves that this proposal is a flawed plan. . . . Clearly the voters have chosen to use their better judgment,” said Melody Carruth, co-chairman of Citizens to Save Laguna Hills. She was attending an election night party of about 50 cityhood opponents in Laguna Hills.
“Obviously we are pleased. We hope this is indicative of the final vote,” said Allan Songstad, co-chairman of Citizens to Save Laguna Hills. “We’d like to see the margin a little wider, but we’re certainly encouraged.”
Cityhood proponents, attending another party in Laguna Hills, said they were discouraged by the early returns but hoped that they would eventually prevail.
“It’s a tragedy,” Dale White, chairman of Yes! for Cityhood, said of the possibility of defeat. But, he added, “this doesn’t mean any kind of lessening of concern of the good people who worked on this campaign. All the people who love their community, who live in the community and many who work in this community, all will continue to do so.”
At stake is whether voters should create Orange County’s 29th city--77,000 residents in a 16-square-mile area encompassing the five communities of El Toro, Lake Forest, Aegean Hills, Portola Hills and Laguna Hills.
The last time an incorporation vote failed in Orange County was in 1930, when voters turned down a cityhood proposal for Garden Grove, according to Orange County historian Jim Sleeper. Garden Grove finally incorporated in 1956.
Tuesday’s election capped a 9-year, grass-roots campaign to give the unincorporated valley control over its own affairs, rather than having to go through county government officials in Santa Ana for such matters as street repair and police protection.
The campaign was plagued with controversy almost from the outset. Initially, the valleywide proposal included then-unincorporated Mission Viejo and the community of Laguna Niguel. But Mission Viejo opted out of the plan, incorporating as Orange County’s 27th city last year. And Laguna Niguel is pursuing its own incorporation process.
A bitter fight ensued between a pro-cityhood force of about 300 volunteers and an anti-cityhood faction of about 150. The anti-cityhood sentiment was concentrated in Aegean Hills, where most residents preferred to be annexed by neigboring Mission Viejo, and Laguna Hills, where many residents wanted their own city of Laguna Hills.
In recent months, emotions had become so charged that shouting matches erupted in public forums, accusations were traded over fund-raising practices and anti-cityhood pickets walked outside the Laguna Hills headquarters of the group favoring incorporation
Voters Tuesday were also choosing among three possible names for the new municipality--Saddleback Valley, Laguna Hills or Rancho Viejo--and selecting a five-member City Council that would serve if cityhood were approved. There were 18 council candidates. If cityhood fails, the questions would be moot.