Thursday, August 07, 2014

125 years of L.A./O.C. sibling rivalry

Southern California citrus, as shown in Sunset Magazine, March 1911
The rumors are true. We were part of Los Angeles County until we split off, 125 years ago this month, to become Orange County.

We seceded for the usual reasons: It was too hard to get to the county seat to do business, all our tax money was spent in the “big city,” we had a strong enough economy to survive on our own, and we wanted the right of self-determination. L.A. wanted to hang onto us, not out of love and affection, but out of financial and political expediency. We’ve been wary of L.A. ever since.

Asked if he got to Los Angeles very often, Orange County’s “last rustic,” historian Jim Sleeper, once told a reporter, “Hell! I wouldn’t drive up there to watch Jesus Christ wrestle a grizzly bear!” (An L.A. newspaper printed the comment on their front page.)

For their part, Angelenos have invented an imaginary “Orange Curtain” dividing our counties, which I suppose explains why so many of them think they can’t venture south of Coyote Creek. Many also cling to the claim that there’s “no culture” down here, and therefore no reason to visit.
The old plaza in Los Angeles, circa 1869 -- our previous county seat.
For all our sibling rivalry, sometimes we're more like our older sister, Los Angeles, than we (or they) would like to admit. Still, there are plenty of reasons to celebrate the fact that, 125 years ago, Mom and Dad gave us separate rooms.

Unlike Los Angeles, with its delusions of adequacy, we're not accustomed to gloating and bragging. But since this month marks our 125th birthday, perhaps a bit of comparison is in order,...

Let me start by pointing out that the "HAPPIEST PLACE ON EARTH" is in Orange County! Really!

Also, Orange County is friendlier, cleaner, and less cramped than Los Angeles. We have better governance, air quality, public safety, school districts, parking, and water conservation. We enjoy cheaper gas, better drivers, a more user-friendly airport, and even a more interesting Spanish Mission. We have lower taxes and less violent crime. We call it a riot when kids get unruly and knock over trashcans in Huntington Beach.
Early 1920s Southern California postcard. (Images courtesy O. C. Archives)
Our freeways and streets are better designed, better maintained, and less congested than those in L.A. Our beaches are cleaner and more accessible. And with the exception of now-ubiquitous Home Owners Associations, we have a long tradition of defending the freedom of the individual.

And if that wasn’t enough, Sacramento clearly hates us – Which is perhaps the ultimate proof that we’re doing things right!

Feliz cumpleaños, Orange County. ¡Viva la independencia!

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Orange County's 125th birthday continues

This eagle (sans color) appeared in the Santa Ana Standard in 1889, to mark county secession.
Although Orange County’s birthday was last Friday, the Board of Supervisors hosted a reception this morning and had some historical presentations at their regular meeting. It was, after all, exactly 125 years ago today - on Aug. 5, 1889 - that the very first Orange County Board of Supervisors meeting was held.
A scene from this morning's pre-meeting birthday reception.
Today, Phil Brigandi gave a talk on the politics of county separation, I gave a talk about our secession and our 125 years of progress, and Supervisor John Moorlach discussed the way in which California’s counties evolved. Moorlach, who’s been the biggest proponent of the “Quasquicentennial” celebration, also presented a birthday proclamation to the rest of the board.
I was graciously asked to speak at this morning's meeting by Orange County Clerk-Recorder Hugh Nguyen.
Back at that first meeting, in 1889, the board met in a room above the Beatty Brothers Store, at Fourth St. and Sycamore, in Santa Ana. (I believe the Spurgeon Building now sits on that site.) It was ridiculously hot, and the men sweltered in their wool suits. That day, they arranged to buy supplies, rent office space, and have copies of relevant L.A. County assessments made. They also approved an official county seal. Supervisor Sheldon Littlefield, from Anaheim, wanted a bunch of (sour) grapes on the seal, but an orange with three leaves won out.
The chosen county seal design did not honor Anaheim's vintners.
Today’s event, by contrast, was delightfully well air-conditioned, dealt with the sorts of issues you'd expect in a county of 3.1 million residents, and was run as if they'd had 125 years of practice. I was glad to have been asked to be a small part of it. Watch for more “OC125” events in September and October.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Happy 125th Birthday, Orange County!

Created by County Surveyor S. H. Finley in Aug. 1889, this was the first official map of Orange County. (Courtesy the Library of Congress)
One hundred and twenty five years ago today, on Aug. 1, 1889, the southern portion of Los Angeles County broke away to become Orange County. This is our quasquicentennial -- an event marked by County government this afternoon with a small ceremony and birthday cupcakes at the Orange County Fair.

On the day Orange County separated, we had about 15,000 residents, three incorporated cities, and no paved roads. Our growth was slow and steady, reaching only 34,000 by 1910. But in the following decade, our population nearly doubled. In the roaring '20s, it doubled again, to 120,000.

Prior to WWII, Orange County was centered on agriculture. Many crops would do well and bring prosperity, taking advantage of our ideal climate and soil, until a disease would wipe them out and force us to find something new, beginning the cycle again. Along the way, we had enormous success with grapes, apricots, walnuts, celery, sugar beets, chili peppers, avocados, strawberries, beans, lemons, and, of course, the once-ubiquitous Valencia orange.

The manpower behind all that bounty was provided by a diverse population, including Americans, Mexicans, Germans, English, Japanese, Chinese, Basques, Indians, and the descendants of the Spanish Californios.

Our first half-century brought the Pacific Electric Railway, colleges, new cities,  highways, parks, floods, earthquakes, multiple oil booms, an airport, Knott's Berry Farm, and the aviation innovations of Glen Martin and others. Those decades saw the growth and development of our schools districts, churches, civic organizations, water management and other infrastructure.

With the Depression and the war, growth slowed, and it took more than two decades to double our population again. World War II brought us military bases, most notably at El Toro, Tustin, Los Alamitos, Seal Beach and Costa Mesa.

Things went bananas in the postwar boom, and the population more than tripled between 1950 and 1960, reaching 700,000 - a number which was more than doubled just a decade later. A combination of the "quick decline" disease, new tax structures that crippled agriculture, and demand for more housing brought an end to the age of orange groves and changed our landscape forever. The massive growth and development never stopped.

The last half of the 20th Century brought us Angels, Rams, Ducks, and Mickey Mouse. We became the home of megachurches, freeways, universities, modern venues for the arts, major tourism and aerospace industries, planned communities, a brush with municipal bankruptcy, and waves of immigrants from Mexico, Vietnam and elsewhere.

Today we have 34 incorporated cities and a population of 3.1 million - a more than 22,000% increase since our founding. Orange County also has a cohesive sense of place, identity and community that our older sibling, Los Angeles, never will. Whether we're from San Clemente or La Habra, we're Orange Countians first, and we're proud of our home. We have done well with our independence.

Happy 125th Birthday, Orange County! You don't look a day over 100!