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ORANGE COUNTY PERSPECTIVE : Unwittingly Stoking Cityhood Fires

There’s been a lot of hand-wringing in county government about what happens when cities break off on their own, leaving the county with fewer dollars and more headaches. But have some county decisions actually provoked the locals by preempting them on routine matters?

County officials who are inclined to such soul-searching might consider two decisions made in the days leading up to next week’s cityhood votes in El Toro and Laguna Hills. One involved a routine matter, the designation of who will pick up the trash, and the other involved the transfer of a parcel of land.

Officials at the county level have been lamenting the continued trend toward incorporation because it means fewer dollars for the public coffers to meet increased regional responsibilities. And the splintering off of cities seems to encourage a parochial view of government at a time when common problems increasingly transcend boundaries.

But with only days remaining until the vote, the Board of Supervisors approved a set of long-term trash collection contracts affecting the areas that are now under county jurisdiction. Residents in El Toro and Laguna Hills questioned the county’s decision to conclude such agreements. That was because the agreements were awarded without competitive bids and because existing contracts didn’t expire right away. There would have been time for the leadership of new cities to get involved in the decision.

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Supervisor Thomas F. Riley, with a bit of in loco parentis philosophizing, said that new cities would have enough to worry about in their early days, and that the county was only looking out for their best interests. He was right to a point, but this decision might have been put off at least until new city officials could participate. The decision on who picks up the trash is a symbolic local one for those wanting to manage their own affairs.

Then there was the land transfer that the county also approved, giving to the city of Mission Viejo a 4-acre parcel inside the proposed boundary of Laguna Hills.

A piece of land can be a potent symbol for the issue of county control versus local control in planning and development. Laguna Hills residents are mainly worried about increased traffic of any project on a track zoned “highway commercial.” But their say over its future was preempted.

In deciding who gets land and who gets to pick up trash, the county may unwittingly put a log on the fire of municipal independence.

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