News Details

County supervisor may hold the wildcard in ongoing standoff between Newport, Costa Mesa over which city gets what.

By ALICIA ROBINSON
May 3, 2007

Years of arguing and months of negotiations over unincorporated areas between Costa Mesa and Newport Beach may come to a head Wednesday, when the commission that decides annexations in Orange County meets.

On Thursday, staff members of the Orange County Local Agency Formation Commission released a recommendation that included options for West Santa Ana Heights, one of four large unincorporated areas the two cities have battled over.

But what may be more interesting than the staff suggestion is a "global solution," which Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach plans to announce at the meeting. The plan would result in annexation of the four areas — West Santa Ana Heights, the Santa Ana Country Club, a neighborhood south of Mesa Drive, and the largely undeveloped Banning Ranch. But it's unclear which city would annex each area.

It also could include other issues officials have been haggling over, such as control of parks that are now county-owned.

On Thursday, Moorlach was keeping quiet about his proposal, but he did say which of the commission staff's suggestions he's supporting for West Santa Ana Heights.

He's backing an option that would divide West Santa Ana Heights into three pieces that would be annexed to Newport Beach in phases: the first when Newport seeks to also bring in a tiny unincorporated island known as the Emerson tract, the second when the city agrees to give up pieces of a one-foot-wide strip of its property that surrounds Banning Ranch, and the third when Costa Mesa and the Santa Ana Country Club come to some sort of agreement on the club's future.

Country club members have petitioned to join Newport Beach, but Costa Mesa dug in its heels because it has the first right to try to annex the club property.

Costa Mesa has applied to have 357 acres of 412-acre Banning Ranch brought into its sphere of influence — a prelude to annexation — but commission staffers said any decision on that should be postponed for six months.

Costa Mesa City Councilman Eric Bever on Thursday declined to comment on annexation issues because discussions are ongoing.

Moorlach's attempt to tie the annexations and more with a neat bow may not go over with Newport, which has resisted efforts to take land away.

Newport Beach Mayor Steve Rosansky said Moorlach is trying to resolve too many issues at once.

"To the extent that any of that involves us giving up any of the one-foot strip or any of our sphere of influence over Banning Ranch, I don't know that we would be in favor of that," he said.