After several failed attempts in previous sessions, the California legislature passed a bill authorizing the portion of Los Angeles County south of Coyote Creek to hold a referendum on whether to remain part of Los Angeles County or to secede and form a new county to be named “Orange” as directed by the legislature. Such referendum required a 2/3 vote for secession to take place, and subsequently on June 4, 1889, the residents south of Coyote Creek voted 2,509 to 500 in favor of secession. After such referendum, Los Angeles County filed three lawsuits in the courts to stall and stop the secession from occurring, but such attempts were futile. On July 17, 1889, a second referendum was held south of the Coyote Creek to determine if the county seat of the to-be county to be in either Anaheim or Santa Ana, along with an election for every county officer. In the end, Santa Ana defeated Anaheim in such referendum. With the referendum taken place, the County of Orange was officially incorporated on August 1, 1889, as prescribed by state law. Since the date of the incorporation of the county, the only geographical changes to have occurred which affected Orange County was when the County and Los Angeles County agreed to trade land around Coyote Creek to adjust the border of the two counties to conform with city blocks.
The county is said to have been named for the citrus fruit in an attempt to promote immigration by suggesting a semi-tropical paradise – a place where anything could grow.
One of the few remaining farms near the ocean, 1975. Photo by Charles O'Rear.
In the 1980s, Orange County had become the second most populous county in California as the population topped two million for the first time.
In 1994, an investment fund meltdown led to the criminal prosecution of treasurer Robert Citron. The county lost at least $1.5 billion through high-risk investments in bonds. The loss was blamed on derivatives by some media reports. On December 6, 1994, the County of Orange declared Chapter 9 bankruptcy, from which it emerged on June 12, 1996. The Orange County bankruptcy was at the time the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.
In recent years, land use conflicts have arisen between established areas in the north and less developed areas in the south. These conflicts have regarded issues such as construction of new toll roads and the repurposing of a decommissioned air base. El Toro Marine Corps Air Station was designated by a voter measure in 1994 to be developed into an international airport to complement the existing John Wayne Airport. But subsequent voter initiatives and court actions have caused the airport plan to be permanently shelved. Instead, it became the Orange County Great Park.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 948 square miles (2,460 km2), of which 791 square miles (2,050 km2) is land and 157 square miles (410 km2) (16.6%) is water. It is the smallest county by area in Southern California. The average annual temperature is about 68 °F (20 °C).
The northwestern part of the county lies on the coastal plain of the Los Angeles Basin, while the southeastern end rises into the foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains. Most of Orange County's population reside in one of two shallow coastal valleys that lie in the basin, the Santa Ana Valley and the Saddleback Valley. The Santa Ana Mountains lie within the eastern boundaries of the county and of the Cleveland National Forest. The high point is Santiago Peak (5,689 feet (1,734 m)), about 20 mi (32 km) east of Santa Ana. Santiago Peak and nearby Modjeska Peak, just 200 feet (60 m) shorter, form a ridge known as Saddleback, visible from almost everywhere in the county. The Peralta Hills extend westward from the Santa Ana Mountains through the communities of Anaheim Hills, Orange, and ending in Olive. The Loma Ridge is another prominent feature, running parallel to the Santa Ana Mountains through the central part of the county, separated from the taller mountains to the east by Santiago Canyon.
The Santa Ana River is the county's principal watercourse, flowing through the middle of the county from northeast to southwest. Its major tributary to the south and east is Santiago Creek. Other watercourses within the county include Aliso Creek, San Juan Creek, and Horsethief Creek. In the North, the San Gabriel River also briefly crosses into Orange County and exits into the Pacific on the Los Angeles-Orange County line between the cities of Long Beach and Seal Beach. Laguna Beach is home to the county's only natural lakes, Laguna Lakes, which are formed by water rising up against an underground fault.
Regions of Orange County
Huntington Beach and Fountain Valley from over Costa Mesa
Orange County is sometimes divided into northern and southern regions. There are significant political, demographic, economic and cultural distinctions between North and South Orange County. A popular dividing line between the two regions is the Costa Mesa Freeway.
North Orange County, including Anaheim, Fullerton and Santa Ana, was the first part of the county to be developed and is culturally closer to neighboring Los Angeles County. This region is more Hispanic (mostly Mexican) and Asian (predominantly Vietnamese and Korean), more densely populated (Santa Ana is the fifth most densely-populated city in the United States with a population of over 200,000), younger, less wealthy and with higher unemployment. It has more renters, fewer homeowners and more registered Democrats as opposed to Republicans. There are notable exceptions to these general trends, such as strongly Republican Yorba Linda and affluent Anaheim Hills and Villa Park. North Orange County is predominantly flat, giving way to the Santa Ana Mountains in the Northeast.
South Orange County is more residential, wealthier, more Republican, less racially diverse and more recently developed. Irvine, the largest city in the region, is an exception to some of these trends, being a major employment center and having an Asian plurality (although Irvine's Asian population tends to be East Asian rather than Southeast Asian). South Orange County almost always includes Irvine,Newport Beach, and the cities to their southeast, including Laguna Beach, Mission Viejo, and San Clemente. Costa Mesa is sometimes included in South County, although it is located predominantly to the west of the Costa Mesa Freeway. Irvine is located in a valley defined by the Santa Ana Mountains and the San Joaquin Hills, while much of South Orange County is very hilly.
Older cities like Santa Ana, Anaheim, and Fullerton have traditional downtowns dating back to the 19th century, with Downtown Santa Ana being the home of the county, state and federal institutions. However, far more commercial activity is concentrated in clusters of newer commercial development are found in the county's edge cities, the three largest being
Major hotels line Harbor Boulevard from Disneyland south to Garden Grove: Grand Legacy at the Park, Hilton, Marriott, Courtyard, DoubleTree Suites, Hampton Inn, Hilton Garden Inn, Homewood Suites, Embassy Suites, Residence Inn, Hyatt Regency, Marriott Suites, Sheraton, and the Great Wolf Lodge. The Orange County Transit Authority studied the corridor as the possible route for a streetcar, a proposal that was dropped in 2018 due to opposition from Anaheim and other city governments.
In addition to suburban-style apartment complexes, Anaheim's Platinum Triangle is undergoing transformation from a low-density commercial and industrial zone into a more urban environment with high-density housing, commercial office towers, and retail space. Anaheim envisions it as a "downtown for Orange County". The 820 acres (330 ha) area undergoing this large-scale redevelopment includes the city's two major sports venues, the Honda Center and Angel Stadium of Anaheim.
The Hispanic and Latino population is predominantly of Mexican origin; this group accounts for 28.5% of the county's population, followed by Salvadorans (0.8%), Guatemalans (0.5%), Puerto Ricans (0.4%), Cubans (0.3%), Colombians (0.3%), and Peruvians (0.3%).Santa Ana with its population reportedly 75 percent Hispanic/Latino, is among the most Hispanic/Latino percentage cities in both California and the U.S., esp. of Mexican-American descent.
Among the Asian population, 6.1% are Vietnamese, followed by Koreans (2.9%), Chinese (2.7%), Filipinos (2.4%), Indians (1.4%), Japanese (1.1%), Cambodians (0.2%) Pakistanis (0.2%), Thais (0.1%), Indonesians (0.1%), and Laotians (0.1%). According to KPCC in 2014, Orange County has the largest proportion of Asian Americans in Southern California, where one in five residents are Asian American. There is also a significant Muslim population in the county.
Out of 935,287 households, 37.0% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 55.9% married couples were living together, 10.7% had a female householder with no husband present, and 28.6% were non-families. 21.1% of all households were made up of individuals, and 7.2% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 3.00 and the average family size was 3.48.
Ethnic change has been transforming the population. By 2009, nearly 45 percent of the residents spoke a language other than English at home. Whites now comprise only 45 percent of the population, while the numbers of Hispanics grow steadily, along with Vietnamese, Korean and Chinese families. The percentage of foreign-born residents jumped to 30 percent in 2008 from 6 percent in 1970. The mayor of Irvine, Sukhee Kang, was born in Korea, making him the first Korean-American to run a major American city. “We have 35 languages spoken in our city,” Kang observed. The population is diverse age-wise, with 27.0% under the age of 18, 9.4% from 18 to 24, 33.2% from 25 to 44, 20.6% from 45 to 64, and 9.9% 65 years of age or older. The median age is 33 years. For every 100 females, there were 99.0 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 96.7 males.
The median income for a household in the county was $61,899, and the median income for a family was $75,700 (these figures had risen to $71,601 and $81,260 respectively as of a 2007 estimate). Males had a median income of $45,059 versus $34,026 for females. The per capita income for the county was $25,826. About 7.0% of families and 10.3% of the population were below the poverty line, including 13.2% of those under age 18 and 6.2% of those age 65 or over.
Residents of Orange County are known as "Orange Countians".
In 2014, the county had 1,075 religious organizations, the sixth most out of all US counties.
Orange County is the base for several religious organizations:
Each of the five members of the Board of Supervisors is elected from a regional district, and together, the board oversees the activities of the county's agencies and departments and sets policy on development, public improvements, and county services. At the beginning of each calendar year, the Supervisors select a Chair and Vice Chair amongst themselves. The Chair presides over board meetings, and the Vice Chair presides when the Chair is not present. The Board appoints the Clerk of the Board of Supervisors, the County Counsel, the Performance Audit Director, and the Director of the Office of Independent Review. The Board also appoints the County Executive Officer to act as the chief administrative officer of the county and the manager of all agencies and departments not under the sole jurisdiction of an elected county official nor the sole jurisdiction of one of the four aforementioned officers appointed by the Board.
District 4: Doug Chaffee, Democrat (since January 7, 2019)
District 5: Lisa Bartlett, Republican (since December 2, 2014)
Department of Education
The County Department of Education is wholly separate from the County government and is jointly overseen by the elected County Superintendent of Schools and the five-member Orange County Board of Education, whose trustees are popularly elected from five separate trustee areas.
As of January 2019, the six elected officials overseeing the Orange County Department of Education are:
On July 12, 2010, it was revealed that former Sheriff Mike Carona received over $215,000 in pension checks in 2009, despite his felony conviction. A 2005 state law denied a public pension to public officials convicted of wrongdoing in office, however, that law only applied to benefits accrued after December 2005. Carona became eligible for his pension at age 50, and is also entitled, by law, to medical and dental benefits. It was noted that the county's retirement system faces a massive shortfall totaling $3.7 billion unfunded liabilities, and Carona was one of approximately 400 retired Orange County public servants who received more than $100,000 in benefits in 2009. Also on the list of those receiving extra-large pension checks is former treasurer-tax collector Robert Citron, whose investments, which were made while consulting psychics and astrologers, led Orange County into bankruptcy in 1994.
Citron, a Democrat, funneled billions of public dollars into questionable investments, and at first the returns were high and cities, schools and special districts borrowed millions to join in the investments. But the strategy backfired, and Citron's investment pool lost $1.64 billion. Nearly $200 million had to be slashed from the county budget and more than 1,000 jobs were cut. The county was forced to borrow $1 billion.
The California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility filed a lawsuit against the pension system to get the list. The agency had claimed that pensioner privacy would be compromised by the release. A judge approved the release and the documents were released late June 2010. The release of the documents has reopened debate on the pension plan for retired public safety workers approved in 2001 when Carona was sheriff.
Called "3 percent at 50," it lets deputies retire at age 50 with 3 percent of their highest year's pay for every year of service. Before it was approved and applied retroactively, employees received 2 percent. "It was right after Sept. 11," said Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach. "All of a sudden, public safety people became elevated to god status. The Board of Supervisors were tripping over themselves to make the motion." He called it "one of the biggest shifts of money from the private sector to the public sector." Moorlach, who was not on the board when the plan was approved, led the fight to repeal the benefit. A lawsuit, which said the benefit should go before voters, was rejected in Los Angeles County Superior Court in 2009 and is now under appeal. Carona opposed the lawsuit when it was filed, likening its filing to a "nuclear bomb" for deputies.
During most of the 20th century and up until 2016, Orange County was known for its political conservatism and for being a bastion for the Republican Party, with a 2005 academic study listing three Orange County cities as among America's 25 most conservative. However, the county's changing demographics have coincided with a shift in political alignments. In 2016, Hillary Clinton became the first Democrat since 1936 to carry Orange County in a presidential election and in the 2018 midterm elections the Democratic Party gained control of every Congressional seat in the county. Although Democrats control all congressional districts in Orange County, Republicans maintained a lead in voter registration numbers, although it shrunk to less than a percentage point as of February 10, 2019, as compared with over 10% on February 10, 2013. The number of registered Democrats surpassed the number of registered Republicans in the county in August 2019. As the number of Democrats increased, the number of voters not aligned with a political party increased to comprise 27.4% of the county's voters in 2019. Republicans hold a 4-1 majority on the county Board of Supervisors. Seven out of the 12 state legislators from Orange County are also Republicans.
Orange County has long been known as a Republican stronghold and has consistently sent Republican representatives to the state and federal legislatures — so strongly so, that Ronald Reagan described it as the place that "all the good Republicans go to die." Republican majorities in Orange County helped deliver California's electoral votes to Republican nominees Richard Nixon in 1960, 1968, and 1972; Gerald Ford in 1976; Reagan in 1980 and 1984; and George H. W. Bush in 1988. It was one of five counties in the state that voted for Barry Goldwater in 1964.
In 1936 Orange County gave Franklin D. Roosevelt a majority of its presidential vote. The Republican nominee won Orange County in the next 19 presidential elections, until Hillary Clinton won the county with a majority in 2016.
The Republican margin began to narrow in the 1990s and 2000s as the state trended Democratic until the mid to late 2010s when it voted for the Democratic Party in 2016 and the Democratic Party managed to gain all seven Congressional districts in the county, including all four districts anchored in the county, in the 2018. This prompted media outlets to declare Orange County's Republican leanings "dead", with the
Los Angeles Times running an op-ed titled, "An obituary to old Orange County, dead at age 129."
Presidential election results
Orange County vote by party in presidential elections
According to the California Secretary of State, as of February 10, 2019, Orange County has 1,591,543 registered voters. Of these, 34% (541,711) are registered Republicans, and 33.3% (529,651) are registered Democrats. An additional 28.5% (453,343) declined to state a political party.
While the growth of the county's Hispanic and Asian populations in recent decades has significantly influenced Orange County's culture, its conservative reputation has remained largely intact. Partisan voter registration patterns of Hispanics, Asians and other ethnic minorities in the county have tended to reflect the surrounding demographics, with resultant Republican majorities in all but the central portion of the county. When Loretta Sanchez, a Blue Dog Democrat, defeated veteran Republican Bob Dornan in 1996, she was continuing a trend of Democratic representation of that district that had been interrupted by Dornan's 1984 upset of former Congressman Jerry Patterson. Until 1992, Sanchez herself was a moderate Republican, and she is viewed as somewhat more moderate than other Democrats from Southern California.
In 2004, George W. Bush captured 60% of the county's vote, up from 56% in 2000 despite a higher Democratic popular vote statewide. Although Barbara Boxer won statewide, and fared better in Orange County than she did in 1998, Republican Bill Jones defeated her in the county, 51% to 43%. While the 39% that John Kerry received is higher than the percentage Bill Clinton won in 1992 or 1996, the percentage of the vote George W. Bush received in 2004 (60%) is the highest any presidential candidate has received since 1988, showing a still-dominant GOP presence in the county. In 2006, Senator Dianne Feinstein won 45% of the vote in the county, the best showing of a Democrat in a Senate race in over four decades, but Orange was nevertheless the only Coastal California county to vote for her Republican opponent, Dick Mountjoy.
The county is featured prominently in Lisa McGirr's book Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right. She argues that its conservative political orientation in the 20th century owed much to its settlement by farmers from the Great Plains, who reacted strongly to communist sympathies, the civil rights movement, and the turmoil of the 1960s in nearby Los Angeles — across the "Orange Curtain".
In the 1970s and 1980s, Orange County was one of California's leading Republican voting blocs and a subculture of residents with "Middle American" values that emphasized capitalist religious morality[clarification needed] in contrast to West coast liberalism.
Orange County has many Republican voters from culturally conservative Asian-American, Middle Eastern and Latino immigrant groups. The large Vietnamese-American communities in Garden Grove and Westminster are predominantly Republican; Vietnamese Americans registered Republicans outnumber those registered as Democrats, 55% to 22% as of 2007, while as of 2017 that figure is 42% to 36%. Republican Assemblyman Van Tran was the first Vietnamese-American elected to a state legislature and joined with Texan Hubert Vo as the highest-ranking elected Vietnamese-American in the United States until the 2008 election of Joseph Cao in Louisiana's 2nd congressional district. In the 2007 special election for the vacant county supervisor seat following Democrat Lou Correa's election to the state senate, two Vietnamese-American Republican candidates topped the list of 10 candidates, separated from each other by only seven votes, making the Orange County Board of Supervisors entirely Republican; Correa is first of only two Democrats to have served on the Board since 1987 and only the fifth since 1963.
Even with the Democratic sweep of Orange County's congressional seats in 2018, as well as a steady trend of Democratic gains in voter registration, the county remains very Republican downballot. In much of the county, the district's congressperson is the only elected Democrat above the county level, and in some cases the only elected Democrat above the municipal level. Generally, larger cities–those with a population over 100,000, such as Anaheim, Santa Ana, and Irvine - feature a registration advantage for Democrats, while the other municipalities still have a Republican voter registration advantage. This is especially true in Newport Beach, Yorba Linda, and Villa Park, the three cities where the Republican advantage is largest. As of February 10, 2019, the only exceptions to the former are Huntington Beach and Orange, while exceptions to the latter include Buena Park, Laguna Beach and Stanton.
Tourism remains a vital aspect of Orange County's economy. Anaheim is the main tourist hub, with the Disneyland Resort's Disneyland being the second most visited theme park in the world. Also, Knotts Berry Farm gets about 7 million visitors annually and is located in the city of Buena Park. The Anaheim Convention Center holds many major conventions throughout the year. Resorts within the Beach Cities receive visitors throughout the year due to their close proximity to the beach, biking paths, mountain hiking trails, golf courses, shopping and dining.
As recently as the 1990s, award-winning restaurants in Orange County consisted mostly of national chain restaurants with traditional American or Tex-Mex comfort food. In the late 1990s, Tim and Liza Goodell with chef , and David Wilhelm, established culinary restaurant groups featuring nouvelle cuisine, gourmet burgers and more. The Orange County Register states that the "tipping point" came in 2007 when Marneaus founded Marché Moderne (since moved to Crystal Cove), and Top Chef chef opened a branch of Charlie Palmer (closed 2015), both at South Coast Plaza. Santana followed opening restaurants Broadway and Vaca. Other Top Chef chefs followed with their own restaurants including Brian Huskey (Tackle Box), (Twenty Eight), of Cutthroat Kitchen, and from The Great Food Truck Race, Jason Quinn (Playground), who also opened three stands at the 4th Street Marketfood hall in Downtown Santa Ana in 2016.
Orange County is served by media in Los Angeles, including its TV and radio stations. Two television stations—KOCE-TV, the main PBS station in the Southland and KDOC-TV, an independent—are located in Orange County.
There are a few radio stations that are actually located in Orange County. KYLA 92.7 FM has a Christian format. KSBR 88.5 FM airs a jazz music format branded as "Jazz-FM" along with news programming. KUCI 88.9 FM is a free form college radio station that broadcasts from UC Irvine. KWIZ 96.7 FM, located in Santa Ana, airs a regional Mexican music format branded as "La Rockola 96.7". KWVE-FM 107.9 is owned by the Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa. KWVE-FM is also the primary Emergency Alert System station for the county. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim also own and operate a sports-only radio station from Orange, KLAA. KX 93.5 FM broadcasts out of Laguna Beach and features an eclectic mix of mostly alternative rock.
County-wide politics and government coverage is primarily provided by The Orange County Register and Voice of OC. OC Weekly is an alternative weekly publication, and Excélsior is a Spanish-language newspaper. A few communities are served by the Los Angeles Times' publication of the Daily Pilot. Orange Coast was established in 1974 and is the oldest continuously published lifestyle magazine in the region. OC Music Magazine is also based out of Orange County, serving local musicians and artists.
The bus network comprises 6,542 stops on 77 lines, running along most major streets, and accounts for 210,000 boardings a day. The fleet of 817 buses is gradually being replaced by CNG (Compressed natural gas)-powered vehicles, which already represent over 40% of the total fleet. Service is operated by OCTA employees and First Transit under contract. OCTA operates one bus rapid transit service, Bravo, on Harbor Boulevard. In addition, OCTA offers paratransit service for the disabled, also operated by MV.
Since 1992, Metrolink has operated three commuter rail lines through Orange County, and has also maintained Rail-to-Rail service with parallel Amtrak service. On a typical weekday, over 40 trains run along the Orange County Line, the 91 Line and the Inland Empire-Orange County Line. Along with Metrolink riders on parallel Amtrak lines, these lines generate approximately 15,000 boardings per weekday. Metrolink also began offering weekend service on the Orange County Line and the Inland Empire-Orange County line in the summer of 2006. As ridership has steadily increased in the region, new stations have opened at Anaheim Canyon, Buena Park, Tustin, and Laguna Niguel/Mission Viejo. Plans for a future station in Placentia are underway and is expected to be completed by 2020.
The Santa Ana/Garden Grove Fixed Guideway Project plans a streetcar line connecting Downtown Santa Ana to the Depot at Santa Ana has completed the environmental document and is entering the design phase. OCTA has also proposed connecting the two systems via Harbor Boulevard and the West Santa Ana Branch corridor. Plans for a streetcar for Harbor Boulevard in Fullerton, Anaheim, and Garden Grove — the Anaheim Rapid Connection — were shelved in 2018.
Orange County's only major airport is John Wayne Airport; its abbreviation (SNA) refers to Santa Ana, the closest large town in the early 20th century. The airport is located in unincorporated territory surrounded by Newport Beach, Costa Mesa, and Irvine. On destination monitors with flights to SNA, the airport is usually described as "Orange County, CA". In 2014, its Thomas F. Riley Terminal handled over 9 million passengers annually and as of 2019, seven airline brands provide scheduled service.
Arts and culture
Points of interest
1965 aerial photo of Anaheim Disneyland, Disneyland Hotel with its Monorail Station. The Disneyland Heliport, surrounding orange groves, Santa Ana Freeway (now I-5) and the Melodyland Theater "in the round," and part of the City of Anaheim. Anaheim Stadium can be seen under construction near the upper left.
The area's warm Mediterranean climate and 42 miles (68 km) of year-round beaches attract millions of tourists annually. Huntington Beach is a hot spot for sunbathing and surfing; nicknamed "Surf City, U.S.A.", it is home to many surfing competitions. "The Wedge", at the tip of The Balboa Peninsula in Newport Beach, is one of the most famous body surfing spots in the world. Southern California surf culture is prominent in Orange County's beach cities. Another one of these beach cities being Laguna Beach, just south of Newport Beach. A few popular beaches include A Thousand Steps on 9th Street, Main Street Beach, and The Montage. Other "local" beaches that are worth a visit are Tablerock Beach and West Street Beach, both located in South Laguna Beach.
Little Saigon is another tourist destination, home to the largest concentration of Vietnamese people outside Vietnam. There are also sizable Taiwanese, Chinese, and Korean communities, particularly in western Orange County. This is evident in several Asian-influenced shopping centers in Asian American hubs like Irvine. Popular food festival 626 Night Market has a location at OC Fair & Event Center in Costa Mesa and is a popular attraction for Asian and fusion food, as well as an Art Walk and live entertainment.
Street banners promoting the county's two major league teams, the Ducks and the Angels.
The Major League Baseball team in Orange County is the Los Angeles Angels. The team won the World Series under manager Mike Scioscia in 2002. In 2005, new owner Arte Moreno wanted to change the name to "Los Angeles Angels" in order to better tap into the Los Angeles media market, the second largest in the country. However, the standing agreement with the city of Anaheim demanded that they have "Anaheim" in the name, so they became the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. This name change was hotly disputed by the city of Anaheim, but the change stood and still stands today, which prompted a lawsuit by the city of Anaheim against Arte Moreno, won by the latter.
The Toshiba Classic, the only PGA Champions Tour event in the area, is held each March at The Newport Beach Country Club. Past champions include Fred Couples (2010), Hale Irwin (1998 and 2002), Nick Price (2011), Bernhard Langer (2008) and Jay Haas (2007). The tournament benefits the Hoag Hospital Foundation and has raised over $16 million in its first 16 years.