ORANGE COUNTY IN BANKRUPTCY : REPORTER'S NOTEBOOK : Crisis Stirs New Talk of Split County

Compiled by Shelby Grad with contributions from staff writers and correspondents

North vs. South?: The financial crisis has helped revive an old idea: South County secession.

Soon after the county declared bankruptcy Dec. 6, Laguna Niguel Mayor Mark Goodman asked City Atty. Terry Dixon to investigate the possibility of splitting the county in two.

South County residents have long complained about lacking a strong voice in county politics, especially during the debate over the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station.

"But it is the bankruptcy that has brought the idea of secession to the forefront," said Goodman, who has been conducting informal discussions with county leaders, south and north. "It brings up the whole matter of county efficiency and representation. The stimulus has been the opportunity the bankruptcy presents to reform government."

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Do the lawyers need to attend? The county's bankruptcy will be the subject of a prayer meeting Jan. 26 at the Santa Ana Civic Center.

The event is called "Praying for the Orange County Crisis" and is sponsored by Victory Outreach in Santa Ana.

Outreach leaders expect more than 100 people to attend the event, including several elected officials.

"Any time there is desperation and disaster--and this is a financial disaster--the church needs to come to the forefront and say we are here to be supportive," said Gregory Yalch, assistant administrator for Victory Outreach. "We want to set a tone of unity in the county."

The prayer meeting will take place from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the Plaza of the Flags near the county Hall of Administration.

Seating is limited, so those interested in attending are asked to make reservations by calling (714) 554-2171.

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Sacred cows--and pigskin: Newport Beach developer Buck Johns, a prominent Republican activist, said the county bankruptcy hasn't hit most residents where it hurts--yet.

He expects real outrage if the crisis forces school districts to cut sports events and other extracurricular activities.

"The first impact we're going to receive is when the school kids are impacted as a result of taking out programs," Johns said recently. "When that impact hits, people are going to go . . . nuts."

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Taking it to the Hall: Three parents from the Santa Ana Unified School District kept a quiet vigil at last week's Board of Supervisors meeting.

The parents--members of the group Padres y Maestros Unidos--carried a placard that read: "We Want All Funds Released to Santa Ana Schools. Now."

"This is our children's education at stake. They are our future," said Jessie Hernandez, president of the group. "We want (the supervisors) to know we are here."

The parents haven't succeeded in getting the district's funds released from the frozen county pool, but they vowed to keep trying. "We just want to try to make a difference," Hernandez said.

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