The expansive working ranch just east of San Juan Capistrano that runs south to San Diego County will carry on despite also serving as Orange County’s last big development with 14,000 homes planned, the first of which will be for sale summer 2013.
That was the word from Dan Kelly, senior vice president of governmental relations and corporate communications for Rancho Mission Viejo, who met with business leaders in the South Orange County Economic Coalition Friday in Aliso Viejo.
The groves we can see from San Juan Capistrano, however, will be developed, said Diane Gaynor, spokeswoman for the ranch. The ranching that will live on is carried out in nooks off the beaten path.
Upwards of 450 cattle, along with lemon groves and fields of avocado trees grace the 23,000-acre ranch, the last of a rancho that was sliced and diced as the communities of Mission Viejo, Rancho Santa Margarita, Las Flores and Ladera Ranch came online, Kelly said.
It hasn’t exactly been a profitable enterprise – the working ranch, not the development – but the O’Neill and Moiso families have always been dedicated to ranching, Kelly said. It’s their history, and it spans 130 years.
Richard O’Neill Sr. was a cattle rancher up in the Bay Area when he met James Flood, who was in the saloon business. In a quest to find gold, Flood instead found silver when he and partners gained control of the Comstock Lode’s silver deposits in Nevada, Kelly said.
Flush with cash, Flood proposed the two friends go into ranching in Southern California together, and Flood financed the purchase of the Rancho Santa Margarita y Las Flores in northern San Diego and its adjoining Rancho Mission Viejo and Rancho Trabuco in southern Orange County, Kelly said.
Flood later deeded the property to O'Neill as agreed, Kelly said. Things moved along at an old-time pace until the Interstate-5 was built, changing the entire region.
The family hired consultants to figure out where to build first. Their advice: along the freeway.
“And so started the long tradition of paying people to tell us what we already know,” Kelly joked.
As land was gobbled up quickly for development, many of the area's other founding fathers sold out and left town. But the O'Neill family members stayed put and ranched their land, building it out slowly.
Today, the company is run by Tony Moiso, president and CEO of Rancho Mission Viejo LLC and great-grandson of Richard O'Neill Sr. Moiso also owns the in town.
When all is said and done, the family will have been responsible for 54,000 homes, Kelly added.
Rancho Mission Viejo got the green light from county officials back in 2004. A lawsuit by five environmental groups delayed it a bit, but was settled in 2005, giving the founding families the right to continue their ranching ways, Kelly said.
The Moiso family “really wanted to draw the map so that activity on the ranch would be allowed in perpetuity,” Kelly said.
Flash-forward to early 2007. Officials could have started building then, but they had a hunch, Kelly said.
" 'Things are slowing down. Maybe we ought to wait and see where this goes,’ " they said. “Maybe that was the best decision since O’Neill started hanging out with Flood,” Kelly said.
Dennis O’Connor, chairman of Local Government Relations for the Orange County Association of Realtors, agreed that the real estate market is finally waking up. Sales planned for summer 2013 sound just about right to him. By then, most of the distressed properties will have sold, he said.
“It’s been a long, ugly cycle,” he said, adding that Realtors who sell existing homes have nothing to fear from Rancho Mission Viejo. “We’re not in competition with new homes,” he said. Instead, new developments bring excitement to the area.
Of the 14,000 homes, 6,000 will be for residents 55 or older, Kelly said. Targeting that market serves two needs: One, the baby boomer generation that’s retiring; and two, it keeps traffic demands lower.
Passers-by the intersection of Antonio Parkway and Ortega Highway have seen the development’s first of several villages to be built. To be called Sendero (it means “path” in Spanish), it includes:
- Approximately 940 attached and detached homes and 200 apartment homes
- The gated active adult enclave of Gavilan, providing 285 single-level residences adjacent to a private clubhouse and recreational facilities
- A community hall,clubhouse and recreational core for all Sendero residents
- A 15-acre community park with sports fields and children’s play area
- Several neighborhood parks and hiking/biking trails with direct access to trails and a trails network leading to downtown San Juan Capistrano, the and south to
- A 10-acre retail plaza, office space, fire station, and child daycare center
Of the space that won’t be developed, approximately 75 percent of the family ranchlands will be preserved as part of a larger habitat conservation area known as The Reserve at Rancho Mission Viejo, according to the Rancho Mission Viejo website.
Combined with additional open spaces already dedicated by the Rancho Mission Viejo family, The Reserve will grow to nearly 21,000 acres. Ultimately, The Reserve will be combined with county-owned lands to form the 33,000-acre Southern Subregion Habitat Reserve, one of California’s largest and most diverse habitat reserves, the website says.
Meanwhile, Ortega Highway has already been widened near the project and will eventually be widened through town, Kelly said.
A list of road-plan expansions, funded partially by Rancho MissionViejo, can be found here.