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O.C. Foothill Communities Explore Plan for Cityhood : Government: Leaders cite fear of losing county services, desire to block El Toro airport. Bergeson offers assistance.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Nine communities in the southeastern foothills of Orange County are exploring whether to form the county’s 32nd city, partly in an attempt to avert major cuts in county services caused by the bankruptcy.

The residents who have formed the Foothill Communities Incorporation Committee also cited the passage of Measure A, which calls for developing a controversial commercial airport at the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, as prompting the cityhood drive.

“Measure A shook us up and the bankruptcy made us say, ‘Enough is enough!’ ” said Ron Greek, 56, an insurance salesman and committee chairman, on Tuesday. “We need to get control of this (cityhood issue).

“We feel that compared to our incorporated neighbors, such as Mission Viejo, Lake Forest and Laguna Hills, their service levels are substantially higher, yet we pay the same amount of high taxes,” said Greek, a nine-year resident of Coto de Caza. “And, the bankruptcy essentially means our services level will be reduced even more.”

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The 35-member committee is opposed to transforming El Toro into a commercial airport after the military vacates the base, fearing noise from increased air traffic.

Making up the proposed city would be 40,000 residents living in the communities of Coto de Caza, Dove Canyon, Robinson Ranch, Rancho Cielo, Trabuco Highlands, Trabuco Canyon, Rancho Santa Margarita, Portola Hills and Foothill Ranch.

Committee members represent a wide range of living styles, from rural Trabuco Canyon to upscale Coto de Caza, a gated community. Roughly, the area being studied for incorporation is bordered by Lake Forest on the south, Mission Viejo on the west, parts of Orange and Modjeska Canyon on the north and Cleveland National Forest on the east.

Greek and several other committee members met with the Local Agency Formation Commission, which reviews applications to create cities, and were advised what steps must be taken in the approximately two-year incorporation process.

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After hearing of their plans, County Supervisor Marian Bergeson told the members she would give them “whatever assistance” they needed, said David Kiff, a spokesman for Bergeson, whose district includes part of the incorporation study area.

“Marian has said that she expects that those areas will be incorporated at some point in time,” Kiff said, “and that whatever assistance our office can be to get the paperwork done in time, she’s happy to do that.

As for the group’s motivation, Kiff said, “it’s an understandable reaction.”

Jeffrey S. DuBowe, 45, the committee’s committee executive director, said the group was formed last weekend to test the feasibility of cityhood and not to stir up anti-county sentiment.

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“We’re not here to make life more difficult for the county,” DuBowe said. “There are nine communities that are very concerned about the proposed commercial airport, and by being in unincorporated territory, we feel there’s a distinct possibility that we will suffer the brunt that may occur” as the county cuts programs to deal with its financial crisis.

Greek said: “We do not feel we are getting money back into the community for youth, youth activities and for ballparks. We’re a group of communities with younger families primarily, and desperately need the services and support that a city can provide.”

The committee’s next public meeting will be Feb. 11 at 8:30 a.m. at the Dove Canyon Clubhouse.

DuBowe said the committee has notified the county, LAFCO, major developers and a number of area businesses about its plans.

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Diane Gaynor, a spokeswoman for the Santa Margarita Co., the main developer for Rancho Santa Margarita, said incorporation is up to area residents.

“The implementation of the master plan of Rancho Santa Margarita is already in place,” Gaynor said. “The issue of incorporation is one for the citizens collectively to decide upon.”

The population of Rancho Santa Margarita is now 22,500, and when completed in another decade can reach up to 40,000, she said. Foothill committee members said that by the year 2000, population estimates are 85,000 to 100,000 residents for the nine communities.

The last Orange County incorporation was Lake Forest, which became the county’s 31st city on Dec. 20, 1991.

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Foothill committee members must first apply for incorporation through LAFCO, pay a $5,000 processing fee and have a petition signed with 25% of the area’s registered voters, said Dana Smith, LAFCO’s assistant executive officer.

The committee also must submit a financial forecasting budget to help determine what revenue will be available to pay for community services, Smith said. LAFCO then conducts a hearing to discuss what impact incorporation will have on neighboring cities, special districts and the county.

Incorporation then proceeds to the Board of Supervisors, which calls an election to pick a city council and a city name, Smith said.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

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City Plan

Nine South County communities, seeking to protect themselves from county decisions and the ongoing bankruptcy fallout, might incorporate into one city. About 40,000 people live in the communities.

1) Foothill Ranch

2) Portola Hills

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3) Trabuco Canyon

4) Rancho Santa Margarita

5) Dove Canyon

6) Coto De Caza

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7) Robinson Ranch

8) Rancho Cielo

9) Trabuco Highlands


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