SANTA ANA — Newport Beach will get bigger, and residents of West Santa Ana Heights will realize their dream of being inside city boundaries.
The Orange County Local Agency Formation Commission on Wednesday voted unanimously to annex West Santa Ana Heights to Newport, something residents have pursued for years. The annexation likely will become official in July 2008, the beginning of the city's next fiscal year.
Robert Hanley, who has been working for nine years to get his neighborhood annexed, was quietly pleased with the vote Wednesday and expects to show his jubilance later. "I'm sure there'll be some popping of corks," he said.
Newport Beach City Manager Homer Bludau said he's happy for Santa Ana Heights residents because the two halves of their neighborhood will be reunited.
"They said all along that they were one community," he said.
No decision was made regarding Banning Ranch, the other unincorporated area up for discussion. It will be revisited in six months.
The debate over four unincorporated areas — West Santa Ana Heights, Banning Ranch, the Santa Ana Country Club and an area south of Mesa Drive — has gone on for years. Orange County has been pushing to get all its unincorporated land annexed into cities, but Newport and Costa Mesa leaders have quibbled over who should get what, particularly when it comes to the largely undeveloped, 412-acre Banning Ranch.
While Costa Mesa officials agreed it makes sense to get West Santa Ana Heights annexed, they may not be so happy with Newport's new city limits, which will run south along Santa Ana Avenue and west along Mesa Drive.
That means the country club and south Mesa Drive parcel essentially abut Newport Beach, with public streets as the only buffer. Costa Mesa worries that will make it easier for those parcels to annex to Newport someday.
Costa Mesa would have preferred more protective boundaries, City Manager Allan Roeder said, but "I think that everybody's kind of given it their best effort, and we'll accept this decision and move forward and keep working on it."
But issues surrounding the other unincorporated areas aren't likely to be resolved soon and may reach a stalemate. Both cities want Banning Ranch, and Cosa Mesa has the first right to annex the other two areas, but they want to join Newport.