Orange County Branch Newsletter

October 2015

History and Heritage

A Continuation: Recollections of Orange County’s Ebb and Flow of Infrastructure Development

By Carl Nelson, PE (retired)   Photo credits: OC Archives

Part 2 of my recollections is sparked by the following headline and full page story from the OC Register on August 14, 2015:

“Kissing the War Goodbye…Changing California”

After the war Orange County’s population had doubled in the 1950s and would double again in the 1960s while world tensions continued to be chilled by the ongoing nuclear “cold war”. After the opening of I-5 Freeway, and concurrent with the previously described breakup of the Moulton Ranch, developers began acquiring portions of the other ranchos adjacent El Toro Road, the only cross road penetrating the South County between Laguna Beach and Orange (linked with Santiago Canyon Road).

El Toro Road interchange with I-5 Freeway, looking south in 1958. Old El Toro community to left; Moulton Ranch Home at upper right.
Since before turn of the twentieth century the old El Toro community had been a small island of farming along Aliso Creek, bounded by four large single-owner, former Mexican Land Grant ranchos (San Joaquin, Canada de Los Alisos, Niguel and Trabuco). Community water supply was from groundwater wells and surface diversions from the relatively small watershed of Aliso Creek. In 1960 the Municipal Water District of Orange County had completed the first aqueduct for delivery of imported water to newly formed South County water districts (Los Alisos, El Toro, Moulton Niguel). El Toro Water District  established itself as a water-recycling pioneer in 1963 with the completion of a Water Recycling Treatment Plant serving Laguna Woods along with near future subdivisions of Laguna Hills and the old El Toro community.
Subdividing Old El Toro mid-60s
Soon, the orchards along El Toro Road would disappear; my family was among the first to occupy a 1964 subdivision given the unlikely name of Laguna North…detached by about five miles from the well-known beach town. Grocery shopping was a mile-long walk to the old El Toro Country Store, located adjacent the El Toro Rd. crossing of the Santa Fe RR tracks. Quoting from Joe Osterman’s book, The El Toro Reader, “shoppers go to many stores [but] in the country town, there was only one store. The general store had all kinds of goods. Food for family, chickens and rabbits . . . all kinds of clothing  . . . hardware, harness, and horse collars. Nuts, bolts, and nails . . . stoves and furniture could be ordered through [a] catalog. Gas for the car, kerosene for the household lamps. Ice cream and penny candies.”
El Toro Country Store, circa 1965
The nearest school was Irvine Elementary at Sand Canyon Rd. 6 miles north. The nearest shopping mall was in Buena Park about 25 miles north via I-5.
I-5 Looking north toward El Toro Road. Moulton gate to left, Prothero orchards to right.
South of El Toro Road the next I-5 interchange was at La Paz Rd. completed with only dead-end access to rancho frontage roads. A new development group, The Mission Viejo Company, in 1963 purchased a 10,000 acre segment of the O’Neill Ranch for a new town to be named Mission Viejo.
I-5 Freeway La Paz Road interchange in 1959. Moulton Ranch lies left of Santa Fe Tracks and O’Neill Ranch lies right (east).
The Santa Fe railroad tracks, nominally the western boundary of the O’Neill Ranch, isolated the future town of Mission Viejo from the La Paz Rd. freeway interchange. In a continuation of prior policies for arterial highway extensions, the County Road Department extended La Paz Rd. east with a bridge over the railroad providing freeway access to the undeveloped ranch land.
La Paz Road bridge over Santa Fe railroad tracks, 1965.

During my career with the county, the Mission Viejo Company was recognized as one of the most congenial and cooperative of developers. Rather than awaiting Planning Department and Commission requirements, the Mission Viejo Company’s engineers (Jack Raub Co.) would lay out the subdivisions and access roads…then invite county planners to meetings for discussion. After review the company would refine their plans before submittal to the Planning Commission for approval. All infrastructure, would be completed without further County expenditures. By the early 1970s the company would rightfully advertise themselves as “America’s Most Successful New Town”.

Eventually with population growth, greater freeway access was needed. During the 1970s the Mission Viejo Company would initiate and participate financially in the construction of new freeway interchanges at Alicia parkway and Oso Parkway.

I-5 Interchange @ Oso Parkway (note free right on-ramp and commercial use of off-ramp loop).

After formation of the Environmental Management Agency in 1975, the first County Road funding need in Mission Viejo of which I have recollection was for a widening of Marguerite Parkway near Saddleback College. Although the arterial road had been pioneered entirely at private expense from Avery Parkway in the south to Portola Parkway in the north (a distance of 10 miles) there remained a half-width portion of Marguerite near the burgeoning Saddleback College campus where no housing developments were impending. Hence, the Board of supervisors agreed with expending county road funds for the arterial widening to Primary Highway Standards from Crown Valley Parkway to Oso Parkway.

Regional rush hour traffic continued to grow despite Caltrans widening of I-5 and the 405 interchange in Lake Forest. In the 1980s, a new political solution to regional transportation needs came with the formation of the Transportation Corridor Agency (TCA). This was a partial remedy of the problem created by deletion of the Coastal Freeway (CA-1) from the State Highway Plan as requested by the cities of Laguna Beach and Newport Beach.  Financed with Revenue Bonds that would be repaid with user tolls, the TCA constructed the San Joaquin Hills Toll Road running south from I-405 in Costa Mesa through Irvine and Laguna Niguel to a junction with I-5 in San Juan Capistrano and bypassing the city of Mission Viejo. Since completion of construction Caltrans has provided Toll Road maintenance.

For a much more detailed history of Mission Viejo’s development, ASCE members might enjoy reading; Mission Viejo: The Ageless Land From Prehistory to Present by Doris Walker, 2005; available in Orange County’s local libraries.

The ASCE OC Branch History & Hertiage and Student Night is November 19th at a FABULOUS new venue - the Heritage Museum of Orange County! Please click here for details and registration information.

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