First Things First in County's Newest City


Aliso Viejo, Orange County's newest city, held its inauguration and first council meeting Sunday in an outdoor plaza at a shopping mall. The first order of business?

Find a city hall.

"We took care of that first thing," said Mayor Carmen L. Vali, who, after taking the oath of office in the county's 34th city, presided over a meeting attended by about 150 people, including many county dignitaries. The mayor and City Council voted unanimously to conduct city business for now in a leased building across from an Orange County sheriff's substation at 12 Journey. But don't call just yet, they warned.

"We do have phones," said council member Greg Ficke. "They're just not turned on. But we should have them working pretty quick."

Debbie Lee, recently hired as city clerk, noted that the council had a busy first day. In addition to renting city offices, it adopted the county codes as the city's own, started police and fire departments and inaugurated a personnel system.

High-ranking county leaders including Supervisor Tom Wilson, Sheriff Mike Carona, Assistant Sheriff George Jaramillo and Fire Authority Chief Chip Prather attended.

One of the newest city symbols happened to be parked near the plaza ceremony. It was a large Orange County Fire Authority truck with a fresh sign on its front doors that read "Proudly Serving the City of Aliso Viejo."

Sheriff's cars that will patrol the area will have the county sheriff's badge removed soon, and the city's seal put in its place with the words "Aliso Viejo" on its front doors, said Sheriff's Lt. Rich Paddock, chief of police services.

While a city manager and a "solid nucleus" of municipal employees have been hired, there are still a number of officials to be hired, including a planning director, Ficke said.

Born of a desire for local control, the idea for cityhood took shape long before voters overwhelmingly approved incorporation March 7.

Among the biggest concerns is that Aliso Viejo is now in the flight path of the proposed commercial airport at El Toro, said Vali, who came to power as president of Cityhood 2000, the community group that worked for incorporation.

City leaders say traffic, parking, planning and public safety top the community's issues, in addition to having a greater say in the county's El Toro airport debate.

During public comments Sunday, Douglas Brown of Citizens for Safe and Healthy Communities, who is gathering signatures for an anti-airport initiative on the March ballot, urged the City Council to join an anti-airport coalition of nine South County cities.

"I hope our new City Council will take the lead with [the coalition] and with every opportunity be against the airport," Brown said.

But other residents who attended Sunday's meeting expressed different motivations for cityhood.

"We've always been 'that annexed area,' you know, kind of a detached thing living in an unincorporated area," said Mike Thompson, a scout leader whose Cub Scout pack from nearby Oak Grove Elementary School gave the flag salute. "Now that we're really a city, I feel that we now are actually part of Orange County."

Thompson said that his scouts were proud to be part of the city ceremony--a "once-in-a-lifetime thing," he said.

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