EL TORO : Coalition Revives Incorporation Effort

As voters in Laguna Niguel cast their ballots for cityhood today, a group of residents here is quietly reviving a once-controversial plan to carve a city out of a wide county-controlled area in the Saddleback Valley.

Encouraged by a survey that suggests there may be strong interest in incorporating El Toro, Lake Forest and Portola Hills, some residents have formed the Community Coalition and hope to take their case to the county's Local Agency Formation Commission in January.

Helen Wilson, president of the new pro-city group and a leader of last year's unsuccessful Saddleback Valley cityhood effort, said the informal survey, conducted by a private market research firm, was completed in August.

The survey showed that more than 50% of 202 people surveyed in random interviews at local shopping centers favored incorporation, Wilson said. Another 30% said they were undecided.

Last November's measure, which would have incorporated El Toro, Lake Forest, Laguna Hills and Aegean Hills, was rejected 2 to 1, largely because of campaigning by Laguna Hills community leaders who wanted to form their own city.

But Wilson and other residents of the El Toro and Lake Forest communities said in recent interviews that excluding Laguna Hills from the new cityhood plan may give them the edge they need.

"We felt real comfortable that this (result) was a good representation of the (El Toro-Lake Forest) community," said Wilson, who campaigned for a council seat during the Saddleback Valley election. "We were just looking to see what the community sentiment was."

The new city also would encompass the yet-to-be-built Foothills Ranch Planned Community, which would include 2,200 homes, an industrial complex and a commercial center between Portola Hills and El Toro.

The Community Coalition has paid an Oceanside accounting firm $7,500 for a financial report to determine whether the new city could survive, Wilson said. The report is required by LAFCO as part of a cityhood application.

The group also must gather signatures from 25% of the 28,000 registered voters in the proposed city boundaries. Wilson said the group plans to collect 8,000 signatures in the petition drive, expected to begin in January.

The group, she said, hopes to have the cityhood question on the November, 1990, ballot.

Fred Christiansen, who is conducting the financial study, said he hasn't reached a conclusion on the financial viability of the proposed city. Christiansen also conducted the feasibility study for Laguna Niguel.

But Wilson said informal studies have suggested that the city could collect $3.5 million in sales tax revenue.

The incorporation effort may be hardest fought by residents of Portola Hills, an isolated neighborhood that often affiliates itself more with rural Trabuco Canyon than with El Toro.

Wilson and other pro-city leaders met strong opposition at an Oct. 23 meeting with members of the Portola Hills Homeowners Assn. The level of opposition, Wilson said, could match the fervor of Laguna Hills residents in the previous incorporation effort.

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