Seeking a definitive divide

Times Staff Writer

Bill Yee doesn’t have far to go to cross county lines.

Sitting on the couch in his living room, he’s in Los Alamitos in Orange County. But when Yee steps into his backyard, he enters new territory: Long Beach, in Los Angeles County.

“It’s no big deal,” says Yee, 74, who pays property tax to both jurisdictions.

Not everyone straddling county boundaries agrees, citing a host of problems including confused letter carriers, entangled service providers, misdirected emergency calls, mixed-up voter registration and nightmarish school district boundaries.


Now, Orange County is considering tackling the problem head on. The county’s Local Agency Formation Commission is presenting a report today to the Board of Supervisors outlining myriad border skirmishes in the gray area where Orange and Los Angeles counties meet.

Most of the misaligned properties are along Coyote Creek, the flood control channel that forms a natural barrier between the northern edge of one jurisdiction and the southern edge of the other. Instead of following the creek, however, the counties’ boundaries zigzag, creating a hodgepodge of intersecting pockets and islands that bisect housing complexes and, in some cases, individual properties.

Cities affected on the Orange County side are Buena Park, Cypress, Fullerton, La Habra, La Palma, Placentia and Los Alamitos. Those on Los Angeles County’s end are La Mirada, Cerritos, Hawaiian Gardens, Lakewood and Long Beach.

Orange County officials hope today’s report will initiate a dialogue with their neighbors aimed at adjusting boundaries they deem nonsensical.

“These things seem to be lingering and hanging out there,” said John Moorlach, chairman of the Orange County Board of Supervisors, who said he became interested in the problem while working with residents on other issues. “Let’s see if we can clean this up; maybe we can do a little Monopoly and trade title cards.”

A spokesman for Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe, whose 4th District includes much of that county’s southern border, said the supervisor hadn’t taken a position on the matter.

“He’s not 100% against the idea and not 100% for it,” David Sommers said. “At this point, it’s kind of wait-and-see until we know more about it. We need more information before coming to a conclusion about what’s in the best interests of the residents he represents.”

Officials on both sides of the border say they’re not sure how things got so tangled.

According to the commission report, Orange County was created by an 1888 vote of the Legislature after numerous attempts by residents to secede from what was then southern L.A. County. They felt disenfranchised by perceived inadequate protection and infrastructure investment by a county government dominated by Angelenos.

Since then, according to the report, there have been only three minor Orange County boundary adjustments, two of those involving its border with Los Angeles County. Paul Hood, executive officer of the California Assn. of Local Agency Formation Commissions, says that such changes are unusual.

“It doesn’t come up very often,” he said.

Though major boundary adjustments require state approval, Hood said, changes involving less than 5% of a county’s territory and shifts of under five miles can be achieved through a vote of both county’s supervisors.

“It came up in San Luis Obispo County in 1992,” he said, “but I haven’t heard of much since then. . . . It’s not very common -- maybe five or six times in the last 20 years.”

Orange County’s report cites several possible points for adjustment.

An unincorporated island in northwestern Buena Park, for instance, is within Orange County but, because it’s bounded on one side by Coyote Creek, can be accessed only from La Mirada in Los Angeles County. As a result, the report says, most residents there identify with La Mirada even though they actually live in Orange County.

“It’s really murky,” said Robert Nelson, 53, who has lived in the area for three years. “We’ve had lots of problems with the Postal Service. I’m trying to get out of here because of the confusion.”

The Orange County city of La Palma has two parks -- Rainbow and Bettencourt -- accessible only from the Los Angeles County city of Cerritos, which maintains them by contract.

Not far away is the Del Amo Bridge adjacent to Cypress, La Palma, Cerritos and Lakewood. “Nobody knows who owns it,” commission senior project manager Carolyn Emery said. “It appears to be maintained, but we don’t know by whom.”

And residents of a small corner of the Lakewood Mobile Home Estates in Hawaiian Gardens actually live in Cypress, in Orange County. “I have lots of benefits from L.A. County,” said Jackie Summers, 65, who’s lived there since 2000. “I really don’t know what Cypress has to offer.”

If the Orange County supervisors give the go-ahead, commission officials said, they’ll take up the matter with their Los Angeles County counterparts.

Not everyone is happy about the possibility of changing county boundaries.

The Bungalows, a gated town-home community straddling the Long Beach and Los Alamitos border, isn’t mentioned in the commission’s report. Its residents are divided between the two counties: Those with odd-numbered addresses pay taxes to Los Angeles County and send their children to Long Beach schools; those in even-numbered units pay Orange County and are part of the Los Alamitos Unified School District.

Because the front gate is in Long Beach, residents have a Long Beach mailing address. That has sometimes caused confusion, especially for the Orange County residents, who register to vote in Los Angeles. Residents who pursue the matter can register in Orange County.

But there’s an advantage as well, especially for those on the Orange County side: Their units, on average, are valued at $10,000 to $15,000 more.

Should the boundary be changed, one longtime homeowner said, “our property values will go down. It’s Big Brother getting into our business. They’re not going to do that to me after a dozen years here.”