The Gem of the Saddleback Valley
Mission Viejo, located in the Saddleback Valley of southern Orange County, is considered one of the largest master-planned communities ever built under a single project in the United States, rivaled only by Highlands Ranch, Colorado in its size. The community population is just over 100,000 and was named the safest city in the United States in 2007 by Morgan Quitno Press. In 2009, the city was named the safest city in California and the third safest city in the nation, according to CQ Press.
Suburban in nature and culture, Mission Viejo features a large number of single-family homes, a community college, a manmade recreational lake, regional hospital and The Shops of Mission Viejo, in addition to other shopping and entertainment areas, although there are a number of offices and businesses within the city limits. Known for picturesque tree-lined neighborhoods, the city’s name refers to Rancho Mission Viejo, a large Spanish land grant from which the community was founded.
Living in a Land of History
Mission Viejo is immersed in tradition that dates back to the disappearing days of cattle-driving men on horses. The land upon which Mission Viejo is developed was part of the 52,000-acre Rancho Mission Viejo. The chain of title to the land dates back to July 27, 1769, when a Spaniard named Gaspar de Portola led an expedition from Mexico across the southern border of the ranch and claimed the land for Spain.
After Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821, the California missions, established to further the spread of the Christian faith, became secularized and their landholdings were granted as ranches to prominent citizens. John Forster, an English trader, married the Mexican governor’s sister and acquired the three ranchos traditionally known as El Trabuco, Mission Viejo, and Los Potreros. Unfortunately for Forster, fencing 205,000 acres drained his capital, droughts destroyed his cattle and unsuccessful efforts to attract settlers depleted his credit. When he died, his family was forced to sell the land.
In 1907, Richard O’Neill, an Irish cattleman, acquired an undivided interest in Rancho El Trabuco and Rancho Mission Viejo. When a 1963 study indicated that urbanization was spreading south from the Los Angeles area, his grandchildren, Richard O’Neill and Alice O’Neill Avery, decided to sell 10,000 acres. Donald Bren, Philip J. Reilly, and James Toepfer purchased the property and organized the Mission Viejo Company.
The Orange County Board of Supervisors approved a master plan for Mission Viejo in 1965 and families actually stood in line to pay $21,000 for homes on Forster’s former cattle range. The plan created the specifics for the community including the number of parks, homes, recreational activities and retail spaces. In April 1966, these residents moved into the new neighborhoods near the intersection of what is now La Paz Road and Chrisanta Drive. Since that time, a very limited amount of changes have been made to that initial plan.
Mission Viejo is an active community surrounded by acres of immaculate subdivisions; 43 gorgeous parks; a 41,000 square foot library; numerous California Distinguished Schools and National Blue Ribbon Schools; Mission Viejo High’s notable football team, the Diablos; a new city hall; and Lake Mission Viejo, the picturesque, manmade lake. Five freeway exits connect Mission Viejo to the rest of the Orange County and beyond. Most local businesses are conveniently situated within two miles of the freeway and are very easy to access. New business office space spans the city and Mission Viejo offers the business professional a number of options. The city’s dynamic commercial presence offers visual appeal, as well, and it’s difficult to tell a Mission Viejo industrial park from a recreational park.
Resident and visitor shopping needs are fulfilled by The Shops at Mission Viejo Mall (a popular shopping mall) and the Kaleidoscope Entertainment Center and the dozens of smaller shopping centers serving the community. City locals carry on a long-standing tradition of community involvement. The residents’ dedication and hard work continues to enrich the city and provide incentive for educational improvements and well-known public events, such as the Fourth of July Street Fair. Mission Viejo’s residents are known for their warmth and friendliness and the city is truly a shining gem among Southern California communities.