South County Still Holds the Secession Trump Card

Remember all that provocative talk about South County seceding from the union over the El Toro airport issue?

I sure do, having dusted off a number of Civil War analogies for future columns. I long to use them again. Why should the San Fernando Valley have all the fun?

In the interest of rabble-rousing, then, I can report the South County secession talk isn't dead.

In the interest of fair reporting, however, I must tell you it isn't exactly on anyone's front burner in South County. The Orange County union will survive, at least for the immediately foreseeable future.

It's not that South County (with more than 650,000 residents) suddenly has grown fond of a county government centered in Santa Ana and, from the Southerners' viewpoint, partial to North County interests. And as everyone around here knows, it's not as though South County and the Board of Supervisors majority are nearing consensus on the El Toro issue.

It's just that seceding is tough business.

Current Laguna Niguel Mayor Cathryn DeYoung looked into it a few years ago and decided, for a host of reasons, it wasn't feasible. Still, she says, it's hard not to worry "if you're living in South County and have the majority of the Board of Supervisors that totally ignores your needs and concerns."

The action now occurring south of the Costa Mesa Freeway is geared to getting another anti-airport initiative on the ballot next March. Backers expect the kind of ballot-box support that Measure F got in March 2000.

"The [secession] talk got really strong as we were getting signatures for Measure F," Lake Forest Councilwoman Marcia Rudolph says. "People were saying, 'What are we doing this for? Why not just secede?' "

Anti-airport leaders, however, decided secession efforts might dilute the Measure F campaign. That same thinking is in play now that the latest anti-airport initiative is still trying to get off the ground, Rudolph says.

"If we get enough of the North County Three's behavior," Rudolph said, referring to the three pro-airport county supervisors, "after we win in March, if they continue to be as pig-headed as they have been, I do believe it [secession talk] will surface. . . . And we'll pull it off."

Several years ago, Irvine Councilman Greg Smith was in the forefront of exploring secession. He helped form a group of other South County council members to look into it.

"At the time, I saw it as an option that we should have explored," he says. "I still think we should keep it on the back burner, but it also should be there as a possibility."

Smith asked the Irvine city attorney to look into the secession process. The conclusion: "While the task would be large, it was certainly not impossible."

Smith doesn't favor pursuing secession now, but neither will he let it go. "Should county government start going in an even more radical direction that's damaging to South County, it's something we may want to consider," he says.

One reason secession talk lingers, however distantly, is that the usual reasons for considering it describe how many South Countians feel about county government. That is, they feel the board majority is nonresponsive to their plight, is pushing an issue that is anathema to them and is taking more revenue out of South County than it is giving back in services.

Smith tells a story to illustrate why he won't scotch secession talk. He says he and fellow Councilman Mike Ward approached a North County supervisor 2 1/2 years ago to find a project on which to agree--specifically to allay the rancor over the airport.

"We were turned down flatly," Smith says. "The answer was that everything is an airport issue and until [that was resolved], nothing was doable."

Smith took note.

"I've got a file in my office full of information from the city attorney about how to do it," Smith says of secession. "And I haven't dumped my file."


Readers may reach Parsons by calling (714) 966-7821 or by writing to him at The Times' Orange County edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626 or by e-mail to

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