Thursday, August 01, 2019

Happy 130th birthday, Orange County!

How do we cut this cake into 3.18 million slices?
The recorded history of what’s now Orange County dates back to 1769 (we just celebrated the 250th anniversary of Portola’s arrival here last week), and this land was home to Indian people for many thousands of years prior to that. But Orange County itself is a more recent invention.

On August 1, 1889, the southern portion of Los Angeles County (itself founded in 1850) broke away to become Orange County. On the day we separated, we had about 15,000 residents, three incorporated cities, and no paved roads.

Map from the year of Orange County's birth. (Courtesy Orange County Archives)
Our struggle to separate from L.A. began in 1870 with Anaheim mayor Max Strobel’s proposal for “Anaheim County.” It would be the first of many attempts to separate from L.A. over the next nineteen years. We had the traditional American desire for self-determination. We thought our taxes were mostly going to the “big city” and that our voices weren’t being heard. And we were certainly tired of interminable treks up the unpaved El Camino Real to conduct government business in Los Angeles. We no longer wanted or needed to be L.A.’s “red-headed step child.”

Generally, Sacramento shot down our separation bills because the new state constitution had no provision for creating new counties. This let opponents claim that creating a new county was unconstitutional. This, in turn, made our fight for succession the bellwether for determining if new counties could be formed anywhere. If we succeeded, many other regions of the state would follow.
O.C. Supervisors Don Wagner and Lisa Bartlett sign a birthday card, while Supervisor Michelle Steele looks on.
Various bills drew our proposed physical border at different points, from Coyote Creek to the Rio Hondo. Anaheim supported bills that drew the line farther north, making them the center and logical seat of the new county. Santa Ana supported the bills that drew the line farther south, for the same reasons. And each opposed the bills supported by the other. The two towns developed a heated rivalry.

The name Orange County was first proposed in 1872, before we had any commercial citrus. Oranges were still a rarity and were associated with sunny Spain and a coastal Mediterranean climate. The name was simply a ploy to draw people here.
Lisa Bartlett, Chair of the Board of Supervisors, MCed a small, brief 130th birthday remembrance before this week's meeting.
By the late 1880s our booming economy -- spurred largely by the arrival of the railroads – finally set the stage for our liberation. We finally had enough money and power to do some arm-twisting.

Leading local Democrats and Republicans finally joined forces for a serious lobbying effort, and with the support of San Francisco – which, even then, encouraged “sticking it” to Los Angeles – a bill was finally passed allowing a vote to create a new county. Anaheim was unhappy that the border was drawn a Coyote Creek. But the public still ratified the bill in the June election. On August 1st we became a separate county. On August 5th the Board of Supervisors met for the first time, organizing our county's government.
Today, we have 34 incorporated cities and a population of 3.18 million - a more than 22,000% increase since our founding. Sorry, L.A.,… You can’t have us back.


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