By C. Jayden Smith
There’s no opportunity for the City of San Clemente to annex one of Rancho Mission Viejo’s next planning areas at this time, Jennifer Savage, assistant to the city manager, told councilmembers during their Feb. 1 meeting.
In her agenda report to the council regarding the feasibility of incorporating Planning Area 5, Savage explained that the city would need RMV’s consent for an annexation application, but that it “does not wish to annex until complete buildout of the Ranch Plan, which is several years out.”
The City Council’s discussion comes months after Mayor Gene James asked city staff to come back with a report on the feasibility of annexing RMV’s Planning Area 5—where roughly 2,400 new homes are planned to be built within the 1,350-acre area near San Clemente’s northeastern border in the coming decade.
James explained that annexation was not a priority of his, but he stressed the importance of having a dialogue between the city and RMV—colloquially referred to as The Ranch. He also reaffirmed his belief that the eventual PA5 residents would use San Clemente’s public facilities, which necessitated the city’s preparation.
“I want to open a dialogue with RMV, understand what they’re doing, (and) when they’re going to do it,” James said. “The other thing that makes it unattractive for me—to annex Planning Area 5—would be (that) there’s no retail there, so there would be no sales tax (revenue). There will only be property taxes.”
When complete, The Ranch, a master-planned community and unincorporated area comprising 23,000 acres, will have added roughly 14,000 new homes to South Orange County. PA5 is one of six total planning areas, or villages, that is years away from development.
So far, The Ranch has opened the Villages of Sendero and Esencia, and is constructing the Village of Rienda, or Planning Area 3, which is slated to begin selling homes this year. PA5 is expected to include about 2,440 housing units, including senior housing, commercial centers, public facilities and 159 acres of open space, as well as a 200-acre golf course.
The Orange County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) was represented during last week’s discussion by Executive Officer Carolyn Emery. Emery said that LAFCO continues to keep an eye on what future governance for unincorporated communities such as The Ranch will look like, in that the issue is included on the agency’s current work plan.
“We continue to make ourselves available to the communities if they want to explore governance options, but in terms of a strategic approach, our commission has decided to look at South Orange County as a whole, as opposed to individual areas,” Emery said.
She affirmed James’ suggestion that LAFCO’s mission is to transition unincorporated areas into cities, or look into other options at the very least, and said it believes cities can provide better services to an area than the county can.
“I don’t think it’s any secret, either, that the county also has worked with LAFCO to transition unincorporated areas,” Emery added. “In addition to that, one of our jobs is to make sure that any type of governance is feasible, and as you all know, that also includes community resident support, as well as landowners.”
While Councilmember Steve Knoblock commented that it would be impossible to begin the process of annexation without RMV’s cooperation, he emphasized the importance of understanding what is coming toward the city’s borders.
He suggested the council invite representatives from The Ranch to speak with them, possibly in a public setting, as they plan to build out the remaining thousands of homes within its planning areas.
“It’d be nice to know what exactly those impacts are going to be and how we’re going to incorporate that in the future,” Knoblock said.
With RMV’s knowledge that the council would discuss the feasibility on Feb. 1, James said that could be the start of conversations between the two entities.
“Again, I just want to make it clear, I am not particularly fond of the idea of annexation, and I don’t think RMV is, either,” he said.
In an email to The Capistrano Dispatch, Mike Balsamo, senior vice president of governmental relations for RMV, said The Ranch’s primary focus is opening the new Village of Rienda “and delivering much-needed attainable housing in the coming year.”
“As we have done historically, we look forward to maintaining an open line of communication with the City (of San Clemente) regarding our development plans within the County,” he said.
Councilmember Kathy Ward said she was still concerned about Planning Area 8, which is located near the southeast part of San Clemente, and stressed that The Ranch has a “great degree” of flexibility to construct any number of homes in each area that it desires to build.
Ward also supported the potential meeting and the chance to hear updates from RMV, as that would allow the city to create ideas for how to adjust within its own borders.
“I’m not saying we’re changing Rancho Mission Viejo; I’m just saying that how we connect everything, where all these homes go, we need to understand how that’s going to work in our city,” she said. “That’s how we plan. We have to plan for (Avenida) Pico and (Avenida) Vista Hermosa, and (Avenida) La Pata.”
The council voted to receive and file the staff report.
C. Jayden Smith graduated from Dana Hills High in 2018 before pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in digital and broadcast journalism from the University of North Texas. After graduating in December 2020, he reported for the Salina Journal in Salina, Kansas. Jayden loves college football and bothering his black lab named Shadow.