Battle lines were drawn Wednesday in the campaign for Laguna Hills cityhood as supporters and opponents of the measure beat a deadline to file ballot arguments and 15 people filed to run for what could become the proposed municipality’s city council.
Judging from the candidates and the sponsors of both sides, residents of the Leisure World retirement community are taking an active, if not dominant, role in the June 6 special election.
Another powerful faction in the cityhood battle will be Citizens to Save Laguna Hills, an organization whose leadership is concentrated in the exclusive Nellie Gail Ranch community in Laguna Hills.
Together, the two factions each are fielding a third of the 15 council candidates who filed nominating petitions by Thursday’s 5 p.m. deadline.
Must Choose Council
Laguna Hills voters will decide in the special election whether to incorporate as Orange County’s 29th city. If they choose to do so, voters will be asked to elect a five-member city council from the crowded field of candidates.
In the proposed new city of Laguna Hills, Leisure World’s 21,000 residents would make up nearly half of an estimated population of 45,000.
Many of the community’s residents are involved on both sides of the controversial cityhood issue. Leisure World residents helped write arguments for cityhood and another group wrote the arguments opposing cityhood. And five the 15 council candidates hail from Leisure World.
They are Herbert Schwartz, an accountant; Philip S. Borden, a university dean; Bea Hassel Rogatz, a producer-director; Leon A. Bosch, a retired educator-consultant, and Norman F. Garton, a retired Navy admiral.
Vowed to Work With All
Although some residents who live outside Leisure World have expressed concern that their proposed city would be dominated by the concerns of retirees, pro-cityhood leaders within the retirement community have pledged to work with young and old alike.
A second powerful faction is represented by Citizens to Save Laguna Hills, a group formed last year originally to help block an effort to incorporate Laguna Hills into a greater city of Saddleback Valley. Citizens to Save Laguna Hills was instrumental in the defeat of that incorporation proposal Nov. 8.
Now, Citizens to Save Laguna Hills will be represented on the ballot as having co-authored the argument for cityhood, along with the Leisure World Residents for Laguna Hills group.
Additionally, three of the primary leaders of Citizens to Save Laguna Hills--attorneys Craig Scott and L. Allan Songstad Jr., and community volunteer Melody P. Carruth--will be on the ballot as city council candidates.
All three live in the exclusive, hilltop Nellie Gail Ranch community in the southern part of Laguna Hills. Two other candidates running for city council, teacher Janice Graham and physician William A. Honigman, also live in the Nellie Gail development.
Other Laguna Hills city council candidates who filed nomination papers are Karl G. Schneider II, insurance adjuster; Bernard Kuai, T. Leon Berry and Jim Dukett, none of whom listed occupations, and Patricia Ann Gummeson, a property manager. All five live outside Leisure World.
Three others who filed for the city council but failed to return nominating signatures to the county registrar of voter’s office in time to qualify for the election were Jerard B. Werner, a retired engineer from Leisure World; Doyle W. Selden of Leisure World, no occupation listed, and William Gerbacia, an engineer.
Registrar officials said they had not yet had time to verify whether all signatures submitted by the candidates were from registered voters, as required in order to qualify to run for the council. At least 20 such signatures are necessary. Registrar officials said they hoped to verify all such signatures by the end of today.
In their arguments for cityhood, Citizens to Save Laguna Hills and Leisure World Residents for Laguna Hills warned that if Laguna Hills did not incorporate now, it would be forced to join a larger city at a later time.
“Residents of Laguna Hills at last have an opportunity to vote for a city which retains our community and local control,” said the statement, which was written by Citizens to Save Laguna Hills members Songstad, Carruth and Joel Lautenschleger, and Leisure World Residents for Laguna Hills members Ward O. Payne and Sherwood W. Heiser.
The proponents added that the new city would have a nearly $6-million surplus after its first year of operation, and that its residents would escape higher taxation by the financially strapped county.
“An increase in taxes can only take place if two-thirds of you, the citizens of Laguna Hills, approve it,” the proponents’ statement said.
In their opposing statement, Wallace E. Bjornson, Jack Luhring and Edward Estrin--members of Leisure World Residents Against Incorporation--argued that the city’s surplus figures are based on a population of 80,000 projected for a time when Laguna Hills builds out. For now, they said, “the city must either raise taxes or cut services to balance the budget.”
A new city, furthermore, would do nothing to aid the residents of Leisure World, whose gated community is privately maintained, the opponents’ statement said. Instead, they argued, it would add the burden of dealing with troublesome issues outside the community.
“For Leisure World, incorporation is a violation of the basic principle of a retired community, which is to minimize the amount of city turmoil that residents must deal with on a day-to-day basis,” the opponents’ statement said. " . . . Vote no on incorporation. Retain present life style.”
A public forum on Laguna Hills cityhood is scheduled for 7 p.m. April 26 at Laguna Hills High School.