Orange County, California


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Orange County
1980 to 1999


The U.S. Census puts the population of OC at 1,931,570. The $18 million Crystal Cathedral opens in Garden Grove as the largest religious structure in the state. It is the largest religious structure in the state. The Los Angeles Rams NFL team moves to Anaheim Stadium. Three rafters die in a rafting accident on the Santa Ana River. Floodwaters at the beginning of the year and the 30,000-acre Indian fire later in the year seriously damage the Trabuco-Holy Jim area.


The first Nuclear Emergency test is held in OC. Due to a persistent Mediterranean Fruit Fly (Medfly) infestation, California, along with OC, finds itself facing quarantine restrictions by other states that threatens to cause considerable damage to the agricultural industry. Authorities launch an aerial spraying assault on infected areas across the state. An Air California Boeing 737 crashes upon landing and bursts into flames 600 feet from one of the airport fire stations. All 109 passengers and crew survive. Irvine Meadows opens. The estimated population of OC exceeds 2 million. State Senator John Schmitz is censured for making racist remarks. Walter Knott dies. Newport Beach files a lawsuit challenging the county environmental impact report that would lead to expansion at John Wayne Airport. The master plan for John Wayne Orange County Airport is approved.


Downed by extreme Santa Ana winds, a power line fire ignites the Ball-Euclid Fire in Anaheim, destroying 50 structures and making 1,500 people homeless. The Rancho Mission Viejo Company donates 935 acres of land, known as the Arroyo Trabuco, to OC to add to O’Neill Regional Park.


Donald Bren becomes sole owner of the Irvine Company. The landmark Holly Sugar Factory in Santa Ana is demolished. Restoration begins on the old OC Courthouse, built in 1901. The Airport Working Group is founded to oppose expansion of John Wayne Airport.


The Olympic torch passes through OC to Los Angeles for the XXIII Olympiad. To the lament of many, Lion Country Safari closes when the owners sell off their "Lion Country" properties around the country. The Ritz Carlton luxury hotel opens above the ocean bluffs in Laguna Niguel. Kim Stanley Robinson writes the first of the Three Californias Trilogy (also known as the Orange County Trilogy) titled The Wild Shore. The other two titles, The Gold Coast (1988) and Pacific Edge (1990) follow. The books fictionally depict three different possible futures for OC.


The Center Tower Building is completed in Costa Mesa. At 21 stories, it is the tallest building in OC. OC’s first freeway commuter lane opens on the Costa Mesa Freeway (55). The Irvine Company ends its involvement in the cattle business. The Register newspaper is renamed Orange County Register. The newspaper wins a Pulitzer Prize for its photographic coverage of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. Seeking to end years of litigation, the Airport Settlement Agreement between the County, the City of Newport Beach with the Airport Working Group and Stop Polluting Our Newport is approved by the U.S. District Court stipulating mutually acceptable regulations for the development of John Wayne Orange County Airport. The so-called "Night Stalker" commits a series of heinous murders across Los Angeles and Orange Counties. After 13 murders, he is apprehended in East Los Angeles after being beaten by a mob. He currently awaits execution.


The OC Performing Arts Center opens in Costa Mesa. Construction begins on the Rancho Santa Margarita master-planned community. The new version of the original stone church at the Mission San Juan Capistrano is completed. An earthquake destroyed the original church in 1812. After a 25-year absence, buffalo are reintroduced to the Buffalo Ranch in Newport Beach.


The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) forms its new District 12 to administer transportation construction and maintenance projects in OC. American Airlines acquires OC-based Air California. OC Airport expansion is completed. Irvine family member Joan Irvine Smith goes to trial in a lawsuit against Donald Bren and The Irvine Company over the value of the Irvine property. The suit is settled in 1991 when Bren pays $256 million to Smith and her mother to settle.


Huntington Beach begins renovating its downtown. Mission Viejo, with a population of 70,293, incorporates as a city. An accidental fire at an obscure TRW test facility hidden in the hills behind San Juan Capistrano reveals its involvement in the government’s secretive "Star Wars" antimissile defense research project.


Dana Point (population 29,972) and Laguna Niguel (population 42,998) incorporate as cities. The Orange County Register newspaper wins its second Pulitzer Prize for specialized reporting in 1989.


The U.S. Census puts the population of OC at 2,410,556. Voters agree to a half-cent sales tax increase for freeway expansion.


Laguna Hills (population 22,938) and Lake Forest (population 56,065) incorporate as cities. Chapman College in Orange is renamed Chapman University. The OC Transportation District is merged into the OC Transportation Authority (OCTA). Movieland of the Air closes at OC Airport, along with its operator, Tallmantz Aviation. The lawsuit filed by Joan Irvine Smith against Donald Bren is settled when Bren pays $256 million to Smith.


Restoration is completed on the old OC Courthouse, built in 1901.


The Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim opens and becomes home to the new Mighty Ducks hockey team. The Laguna fire, started by arson, burns 14,437 acres and destroys 441 structures. Christ College Irvine is renamed Concordia University. The U.S. government announces base closures, including El Toro Marine Corps Air Station. The first segment of the Foothill Toll Road (Route 241) opens.


It comes to light that OC Treasurer Robert Citron had been speculating in stock derivatives with the county’s investment pool and lost a total of $1.6 billion invested by almost every public agency in OC and a few outside the county. OC files for Chapter 9 Bankruptcy, becoming the largest public entity in U.S. history to do so. Artists begin moving into artist’s studios in the refurbished Santora Building in downtown Santa Ana. The building becomes the center of Artists Village. Ground is broken for the new Ronald Reagan Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse. An OC ad hoc group launches the "Save Our State" campaign for State Proposition 187. OC U.S. Congressman Dana Rohrabacher is author of the proposition. The proposition proves to be one of the most divisive propositions in state history. World leaders converge on Yorba Linda to attend the funeral and burial of former U.S. President Richard Nixon at the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace. An estimated 42,000 people line up to pay their respects as the former president lay in state at the library. Murder suspect O.J. Simpson leads police on a televised car chase from Tustin to his home in Brentwood. The International Surfing Museum opens in Huntington Beach.


One of the largest settlements ever presented to a bankruptcy court, the OC Comprehensive Pool Settlement, is approved to settle approximately $7.4 billion in claims against the County. The Irvine Spectrum Center, a themed entertainment/dining/shopping complex, opens. The OC Board of Supervisors is designated as the re-use authority for the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station when it closes in 1999. The old OC Courthouse is designated a California Historical Landmark (No. 837). It is the oldest existing county courthouse in Southern California.


After only 18 months, the County emerges from bankruptcy. A year later, it again attains investment grade rating with Moody’s Investor Service. The completed San Joaquin Hills Transportation Corridor (Highway 73) and tollway opens, having created controversy by cutting through environmentally sensitive areas of OC. The OC Board of Supervisors approves a plan for a 38 million annual passenger airport at the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station. Anaheim Stadium is renovated to change it back to a "baseball-only" stadium. San Juan Capistrano becomes the first city in the nation to adopt a Rodeo Ordinance to ensure humane treatment of rodeo animals. The Orange County Register newspaper wins its third Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting. St. Joseph Hospital in Orange opens the first pediatric emergency room in OC. Nine-term Republican U.S. Congressman Robert "B-1 Bob" Dornan is narrowly defeated by Democrat Loretta Sanchez in the 46th Congressional District in 1996. Dornan was reputed to be one of the most incendiary ultra-conservatives in congress, especially when it came to making controversial statements. Dornan charged that illegal immigrants had voted in the election, a charge found to be without basis. Donald Bren becomes sole shareholder of the Irvine Company. The OC Grand Jury indicts Republican Assemblyman Scott Baugh of Huntington Beach on four felony and 18 misdemeanor counts of misreporting campaign contributions in 1995. All charges were later dismissed due to how the District Attorney handled the case after California Attorney General Bill Lockyer had to step in and take over the investigation. After several years of litigation, Baugh ended up being fined by the Fair Political Practices Commission. Voter registration records reveal the fastest-growing party in OC to be "none of the above." A Vietnamese art exhibit at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana brings a torrent of protest from local Vietnamese Americans.


From a peak of almost 68,000 acres in 1938, OC acreage devoted to commercial oranges is down to 500 acres. Anaheim Stadium is renamed Edison International Field under a $50 million, 20-year sponsorship deal.


The Eastern Transportation Corridor and tollway opens. The Block at Orange "shoppertainment" complex opens, replacing an outdated shopping center called "The City." In order to respond to protests by communities in the El Toro area, the County alters its airport plan for the former El Toro Marine base to change take-off patterns. Pilots oppose the plan for safety reasons. The 59,000-square-foot Discovery Science Center opens just off Interstate 5 in Santa Ana. Newly elected OC District Attorney Tony Rackauckas hires a full-time public relations manager. This is a first for the OC District Attorney’s office. Robert Dornan attempts to win back his former 46th Congressional District seat from Democrat Loretta Sanchez who unseated him two years earlier after his nine terms in congress. The new 11-story Ronald Reagan Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse opens. Republican Robert Dornan attempts to reclaim the 46th Congressional District seat he lost to Democrat Loretta Sanchez in 1996 only to be defeated by an even wider margin. Anaheim Stadium receives the new name "Edison International Field of Anaheim." Voters in the Buena Park School District approve a $13.8 million bond measure, the first in Orange County in 20 years.


Both El Toro and Tustin Marine Corps Air Stations close. Laguna Woods (population 16,000) incorporates as the only "over 55" city in California. In partnership with the City of Santa Ana, California State University Fullerton opens the satellite arts facility, Grand Central Art Center, in downtown Santa Ana Artists Village. A Westminster video-shop owner in Little Saigon hangs a North Vietnamese flag and poster of Ho Chi Minh inside his store, drawing throngs of anti-Communist protesters outside his store for seven weeks. The western leg of the Eastern Toll Road (Route 261) opens.



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