Monday, November 15, 2004
Who owns Rancho Mission Viejo?
Columnist, The Orange County Register
I'm pleased that the Orange County Board of Supervisors acted
sensibly and approved, by a unanimous vote, a plan by the Rancho
Mission Viejo Co. to build 14,000 homes and 5.2 million square feet of
commercial space on a 23,000-acre property.
Many of the
die-hard "don't build anything" environmentalists and the NIMBYs (Not
In My Back Yarders) put up a fuss, but to no avail. So now the first
part of a long, costly and detailed approval process will move forward.
We're 12 years into the process and someday the company will get all
the necessary permits to begin building homes on the property.
What a relief.
think about it. Several hundred people showed up at the public hearing
at the Hall of Administration in Santa Ana on Monday to put in their
two cents about what a private company can do with its privately owned
land. Everyone seemed to have a different idea about what would be
best, and few of the activist groups, council members from surrounding
cities and members of the public even acknowledged that they were
yammering about Someone Else's Land.
We've reached the point in
America where everyone is a "stakeholder," which means that everyone
has an equal say in everyone else's business. There were some pretty
strange moments at the public hearing that illustrate how much the
public and politicians have lost any concept about the importance of
property rights in guaranteeing the essential freedoms sought by the
Here are some of my favorite moments:
A member of an environmental group
took the podium and explained a much better alternative for the Rancho
Mission Viejo Co. It's called the Wildlife Heritage Plan, and it
provides for far more contiguous open space, he said. It's such a good
plan that one of the other speakers changed her view in midstream. She
said she had come to the dais to denounce the RMV development, but
after hearing this alternative plan, she decided instead to throw her
support behind it. Only problem: This wonderful new plan doesn't allow
any significant development. It would be, in essence, a giant park,
although its proponent was generous enough to allow the Rancho Mission
Viejo Co. to build a wildlife center there!
A representative of the Natural Resources Defense Council
said he preferred the same alternative plan. He proceeded to "debunk"
criticism of this alternative. You see, opponents of the wilderness
plan didn't like it because it would require the government to purchase
property from the Rancho Mission Viejo Co. Don't worry, he said. "The
county can request land to be set aside without funding." In other
words, the county can simply take the property and set aside the
property as open space, without paying the family anything. It's called
stealing, isn't it? I believe I was the only person who laughed out
Brittany McKee of Friends of the Foothills and the Sierra Club
argued that it's too early in the process to act. "Why rush and vote?"
she asked. "Each week goes by, new improvements are offered." Well, I
suppose one could argue that 12 years into the process is early,
provided one is using the length of an ice age as a standard. Those
"improvements" she refers to are not really improvements but ransom
demandedby environmentalists and others who are attempting to hold up
the project or leverage goodies out of the O'Neill/Moiso family under
threat of legal action. How would you like your project to sit there
for years on end while "stakeholders" - i.e., any moron with an opinion
- decide a better way to develop the property?
When a property is put up for public debate
with no concern about ownership, then everyone has an idea, and
oftentimes those ideas conflict with other ideas. Environmentalists
argued that the plan has insufficient open space. Then advocates for
government-funded low-income housing would argue that the plan doesn't
incorporate enough new buildings. So, it's too dense, or not dense
enough - depending on whose priorities you share. Sometimes the same
speaker expressed those two diametrically opposed views in the same
three-minute diatribe. One San Clemente resident strongly opposed the
plan because it would destroy open space, then went on and on about the
lack of affordable housing for young and old people. As Emmett Tyrrell
of the American Spectator once wrote (referring to certain angry
feminists), they don't know what they want, but they want it very badly.
had an angle. Seniors groups wanted more senior housing, wilderness
groups wanted more trails, San Clemente officials complained that new
people meant more crowded beaches, Friends of the Sea Otters wanted a
salmon run (just kidding). My advice: Don't become a developer, lest
you want to spend your life dealing with this Alice in Wonderland
San Clemente Councilman Wayne Eggleston argued
that the Rancho Mission Viejo design is outmoded, based on 20th-century
suburban ideals. Instead, Eggleston demanded that Rancho Mission Viejo
build a "new millennium development" of the sort imagined by ...
himself, I guess. Eggleston reflected the views of the "new urbanists,"
urban planners who want to replace suburbia with a new idea that seems
a lot like an old idea - high-rise livingdevoid of the dreadful
automobile. Think midtown Manhattan. Other planners echoed these views.
I wanted to say: "Great. Buy your own damn property and develop it in
any way you choose." Of course, the new urbanists don't actually buy
things and develop them to meet the public's needs. They prefer to tell
other people what to do with their property, using the force of
government if possible.
My biggest disappointment came
from the Mission Viejo City Council. Four of the members who attended
the meeting came to power with the help of a property-rights-supporting
organization known as the Committee for Integrity in Government.
Unfortunately, the Gang of Four wanted to deprive Rancho Mission Viejo
of its property rights, although the council members dressed up their
concerns in the language of traffic mitigation.
Trish Kelley said the plan was $212 million shy of needed road
improvements in neighboring Mission Viejo, even though county staff
explained that the ranch is paying far more than its share of
mitigation dollars. Councilman Lance MacLean attacked the plan, as did
Mayor Gail Reavis. I hate to say this, but that behavior made me pine
for the days of former Mayor Sherri Butterfield who - despite my many
disagreements with her - has stuck up for the rights of the Rancho
Mission Viejo Co., and for the needs of the new generation of Orange
County residents who desire their piece of the American dream.
public property, everyone gets a say. The loudest and most politically
savvy voices win. But Rancho Mission Viejo is private property. The
land has been owned by the same family for 122 years. The family has
tended to it, planned for the future, and now has proposed an
environmentally sensitive development that should be unobjectionable to
anyone with a modicum of respect for private property. It will pay far
more than its proper share of costs associated with the project.
Two-thirds of the land will be set aside as open space. Yet it's never
enough to thosewho have other preferences for the use of the land, or
who don't want additional traffic or more people.
project has to deal with real impacts on the roads and surrounding
communities, but most of the complainers at the meeting were trying to
impose their preferences on the land, not deal with legitimate issues.
It's a big piece of property, but that doesn't give every wannabe planner the right to dictate how it will be developed.