Happy Birthday Mission Viejo


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Happy Birthday MV

Happy Birthday MV

 

 

On March 31, 1988 the Master Planned community of Mission Viejo became the 27th city in Orange County.
Our first election, with a dozen candidates, was held on Nov 3,1987. The initial council members elected in Mission Viejo were Bill Craycraft, Robert Curtis, Christian Kenna, Victoria Jaffe and Norm Murray. At that date we had 32,307 registered voters. We have surely grown in the past 23 years. MV had 62,493 registered voters in the Nov 2, 2010 election.
 
 According to the 2010 census we are on the cusp of exceeding 100,000 population in this bedroom community that has been acknowledged as the “safest city” of our size in the state.
 
In no particular order let me share some of our history beginning with declaring the lower half of our city blighted in 1992. Specifically all of the commercial properties south of Oso Parkway to the San Juan Capistrano city line and the Freeway Center on the west side of Interstate 5.
 
 With governor Jerry Brown’s valiant effort to shut down redevelopment agencies, RDAs, I thought addressing that topic in our city would be a good place to begin this post.
 
Reading from a 1998 city brochure entitled “A World Class Community.”
 
“Mission Viejo, one of America’s most successful masterplanned communities, is renown for its beautiful parks and tree lined boulevards, modern business and commercial centers and the exceptional quality of life offered to its residents. From the natural splendor of its wilderness areas, to the serenity of a sunset on Lake Mission Viejo, or the sleek contemporary lines of its modern business parks, Mission Viejo was designed from inception to be a well-balanced community. Evolving from a simple idea in 1965, Mission Viejo became a vibrant hometown in less than ten years. The city is one of the pioneers of the physical, social, recreational and commercial concepts that are commonplace in today’s new residential communities. Mission Viejo’s success gained recognition in 1986 when it became the first American city to be honored  as a “World Class Community” at The First International New Town Conference. More recently, Mission Viejo received the Award for Excellence in 1992 from the prestigious Urban Land Institute which stated that Mission Viejo “stands as one of the most successful American new towns ever realized.”
 
In 1992, the same year we received that prestigious award, we created our redevelopment agency. Also detailed in that brochure it states “foremost among the city’s shopping centers is M.V. mall with its fine shops” yet in July 1992 our RDA declared this mall, and the surrounding area as being “blighted.”
 
 At the request of Tom McClintock I testified before the Housing and Community Development committee in 1998 where I pointed out this abuse of our RDA. Chairman Tom Torlakson and Kenneth Emanuels both told me that with passage of AB1290 (Eisenberg) the year prior to Mission Viejo’s RDA creation, we could not have reverted to the blight designation after that bill became law.
 
In his Jan 28,1999 editorial  entitled “City Hall Handouts” Register Editorial writer Stephen Greenhut  addressed “what happens when a government tinkers with the market. In discussing redevelopment projects in the non-blighted city of Mission Viejo, former City Manager Dan Joseph is quoted to say “fault the law, but don’t fault cities” for taking advantage of it. Steve adds that Redevelopment laws certainly deserve more scrutiny. Note: Several state elected officials have echoed that same comment.
 
Mission Viejo’s bogus RDA was not included in the 18 agencies recently audited by the State Controller.
Former Dana Point council member Jim Lacy recently wrote an editorial supporting shutting down RDAs in which he referenced the bogus Mission Viejo RDA.
One final comment on our RDA. Our power of eminent domain, that was never implemented, ended in July 2004 (12 years after Plan adoption).
Over the past four plus years blogging for the Juice I have written numerous stories of our city.
 
One of the contentious issues I covered was the decision to celebrate our 20th birthday in 2008 by spending over $300,000 of taxpayer funds to have a city float in the Tournaments of Roses Parade. It warrants mention that our city manager is a member of the Tournament staff. While the founders of our city, the Mission Viejo Company, (Philip Morris Co.), did in fact enter many floats before cityhood it was a marketing plan to promote the “California Promise” and sell thousands of newly built homes as we competed with Irvine and other neighboring cities. For a private firm that was a proper decision. However to justify this expenditure during the recession was unconscionable. I love the answer from our city council in which they justify it stating “we budgeted for the float in the prior year” so it was OK to move forward with the project. And they call themselves “fiscal conservatives.”
 
One decision from the initial 1988 council, that I fully support, was the decision to be a contract city and not have our own police and fire departments as found in northern OC cities. At that time pensions was not even an issue of discussion. While having city police departments in beach cities of Laguna Beach and Newport Beach may require different support, we do not.
 
In Sept 1995, during the County bankruptcy, we made a decision to break away from the County library system and received BOS approval. That decision was driven by proposed cutback in hours of operation. If I am not mistaken the County transferred around $one million dollars of library tax dollars for library services to the city. Since our grand opening on Oct 25,1997 we boast of having cardholders from every city in OC and beyond which is a double edged sword. If I recall the librarian we have more card holders than residents. Local taxpayers and students often have to hike from the far corners of the parking lot to reach the library only to find out of towners on our computers or taking out books and tapes that they were looking for. Overhead for the city library far exceeds the revenue to fund this ever expanding function. Some have suggested transferring the library operations back to the county.
 
I would be remise not to include the non-partisan Mission Viejo Committee for Integrity in Government, CIG, that was the brain child of (D) Milt Jacobson and (R) Brad Morton. CIG was formed Jan 23,1997 by a group of concerned citizens who were tired of receiving incomplete or inaccurate information from city staff and council about significant local issues. One illustration was breaking the housing cap in Oct 1996 even after a Petition containing 7,00 signatures of residents opposed to building 741 apartments near Crown Valley Parkway was submitted to the city.
 
CIG was an effective grass roots watchdog group which stayed united for over six years. One of our major  achievements was removal of a sitting mayor and mayor-pro-tem, Susan Withrow and Sherri Butterfield, in the Nov 2002 General election where they were soundly trounced. Shortly thereafter our city manager Dan Joseph and city clerk Ivy Joseph departed. One expression that will stand out in my watching city council interaction with city managers was taught to me by former City Manager Dan Joseph when he said he only had to “count to three.” I guess that was his undoing after we booted out two of his major supporters.
 
Every few years the city manager retains the services of a facilitator to conduct an off site “team building” workshop attended by senior staff and council. In the May 2003 workshop addressing perception/opinion of Mission Viejo former assistant city manger Rick Howard listed threats. On top of his list was the Committee for Integrity in Government calling us a “negative” group. Newly elected council member Trish Kelley responded that “CIG is a  asset.”
 
In our 23 years of cityhood we have lost two of our council members, Norman P. Murray and Tom Potocki.
As I reflect on the changing faces in our city government, especially city council members, CIG members were very active in the initial election of every new member in the past five elections with one exception, current member Dave Leckness.
 
Mission Viejo has held two recall elections. While I covered the removal of Mayor Lance MacLean in Feb. 2010 there was an earlier attempt to remove councilman Robert Curtis that failed. That recall election took place on Feb 27, 1990. Sixty nine percent of the voters in that special election said NO.
 
Included in our Nov 1992 Ballot was Measure L in which 86% of the voters supported that we vote on the “location, size & estimated cost” of a project to build a city hall, town center complex or city administrative office building.” There was a key word that was included which cost me a court challenge. The word was “advisory.” On March 7, 2000 we held an advisory vote special election for providing municipal office space, a council chamber and an EOC. The three options changed to “lease, purchase the building we were leasing or build” a new city hall. That is not what we voted for in 1992. When challenging the change in options from the prior election the court told me that while understanding the difference the key word found in the prior vote was “advisory” and that the city could seek advise on a variety of issues.
 
In the early years of our community residents of Mission Viejo had a live Nativity Scene every Christmas at the intersection of La Paz and Chrisanta. During one holiday season former City Manager Joseph said “we are getting out of the religion business.” Yes, there are many stories I could list in this city of 100,000 people.
 
Let me close on a positive note by mentioning the major expansion of Mission Hospital including the new state-of-the-art equipped Tower II that I recently visited to see a stroke victim.

  


About Larry Gilbert