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Rossmoor voters strongly reject bid for cityhood

Rosenblatt is a Times staff writer.

Residents of the quiet, leafy corner of Orange County called Rossmoor declared loud and clear Tuesday that they like things just the way they are.

Voters in Rossmoor, the county’s would-be 35th city near Seal Beach and Los Alamitos, crushed a measure to incorporate by a margin of more than 2 to 1.

“The slogan that we use: ‘If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it,’ ” said Phil Wyels, part of the Rossmoor Preservation Committee against cityhood and a resident for more than four decades.

The committee argued that the community’s one small shopping center wasn’t enough to sustain Rossmoor financially -- the limited tax base would have had to be supplemented by a new 7% or 9% utility tax.

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Cityhood supporters had hoped that incorporation would improve local services such as law enforcement for Rossmoor’s 10,500 residents. The tiny patch of former beet fields, known for good schools and bordered by a brick wall, was created by Leisure World developer Ross Cortese in the late 1950s.

“We wanted to have a voice for ourselves,” said Mike Bullock, a member of the Committee for Rossmoor Incorporation Now who has lived in the community since 1981. “All I can say is, I hope you call me up in a year from now and I can happily tell you I’m wrong, that we aren’t going to have diminishing services.”

He attributes the rout in part to the faltering economy heightening worries about the new city’s fiscal future.

Advocates from both sides expressed surprise that the tally -- nearly 72% of votes cast were against cityhood -- was so lopsided. Voters also shot down the two utility tax increase options.

Locals, Bullock said, “just didn’t see anything that was attractive enough for them to take a risk.” It didn’t help that the Assn. of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs poured thousands of dollars into phone calls and mailers against Rossmoor becoming a city.

“The only thing that caught us by complete surprise was that it was an overwhelming no,” said Shawn Wilson, president of the Rossmoor Community Services District board of directors, which has five elected members. The board, which initiated the incorporation process, unanimously backed the cityhood measure.

Measure U’s resounding defeat calls into question how county officials can best manage these patches of unincorporated land, said Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairman John Moorlach, who supported the cityhood bid.

Since going bankrupt in 1994, the county has tried to divest itself of islands of county land to focus on regional, rather than local, planning.

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The county paid $600,000 in the last fiscal year to help subsidize Rossmoor, according to an analysis by the Orange County Local Agency Formation Commission, which approves incorporation efforts. Some cityhood opponents, however, dispute that figure.

Moorlach plans to work with county officials in the next few weeks to develop a policy for how best to deal with these small areas.

The cityhood defeat isn’t likely to leave lasting scars in Rossmoor, Bullock said. Unlike the height limit measure next door in Seal Beach that polarized locals, folks in Rossmoor, he said, pretty much get along.

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susannah.rosenblatt@latimes.com


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