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Rancho Mission Viejo is an active 23,000 acres ranch and farm, habitat reserve, and community in the unincorporated areas of South Orange County, California. Rancho Mission Viejo originated as a series of land grants to John Forster in 1845. The remaining part of Rancho Mission Viejo consists of a nearly 17,000-acre nature reserve (The Reserve at Rancho Mission Viejo) and multiple residential communities slated to open in phases between 2010 and 2030. As of 2017, the Sendero village and the Gavilan senior housing developments have been completed. The larger Esencia village is currently under construction with a K-8 school to be opened in fall of 2018. Sendero Marketplace, a shopping center built as part of the community is also under construction.
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The ranch’s history can be traced back to 1845 when John (Don Juan) Forster acquired Rancho La Paz and Mission San Juan Capistrano. Forster added these properties to Rancho Trabuco, which he had purchased in 1843. Forster’s brother-in-law was Pío Pico, governor of then-Mexican-held California. In 1864, Forster added Rancho Santa Margarita y Las Flores to his holdings, which then totaled about 200,000 acres (81,000 ha), making him one of the largest landowners in the state.
After Forster died in 1882, Irish immigrants Richard O’Neill Sr. and James Flood acquired the ranch, taking equal ownership of the Rancho Santa Margarita y las Flores, Rancho Mission Viejo and Rancho Trabuco lands. Flood provided the money to purchase the ranches; O’Neill, offering his skills as a cattleman as sweat equity, agreed to work out his half as resident manager. Under O’Neill, the cattle herd was expanded, the land was improved, row crops were introduced, and the ranch became Orange County’s largest producer of wheat.
In 1907, James L. Flood, son of the original owner, made good on his late father’s promise and conveyed an undivided half interest to O’Neill, Sr. Four months later, declining health caused O’Neill to deed his interest to his son, Jerome. In 1923, the sons of Flood and O’Neill consolidated their partnership with the Santa Margarita Company. Shortly thereafter, both men died.
The Santa Margarita Co. was dissolved in 1939 when the ranch was split in two. Richard O’Neill Jr. retained the portion of the ranch located in Orange County (Rancho Mission Viejo and Rancho Trabuco) and the Flood family took the Rancho Santa Margarita y las Flores property in San Diego County. In 1942, the United States Marine Corps acquired the entire San Diego portion of 123,620 acres (500.3 km2) for $4,239,062 to expand Camp Pendleton. After the war, what remained of the historic Ranch now encompassed two Orange County parcels, united under the name Rancho Mission Viejo, and totaling 52,000 acres (210 km2).
O’Neill died in 1943 and his widow, Marguerite, led the family and kept the family business intact. In June 1950, with the establishment of the 278-acre (1.13 km2) O’Neill Regional Park, the O’Neill family made the first of thousands of acres of open space dedications to Orange County.
Despite the ranch’s intent to be a master planned community, in the 1990’s, detractors of the area reported concern over the legal water rights, which led to court challenges. In 2018, multiple residents spoke out about Rancho Mission Viejo’s restrictive policy of not allowing lower income apartment dwellers to use the community app, which alerts them of events. Apartment dwellers felt this policy was discriminatory and intended to keep them from attending events, through limiting access to location and event details. In 2019, residents banded together with social media groups on Facebook, to eliminate the plan for the ranch to install cell phone towers (5G) near resident’s homes. As of July 2019, compromises on the cell phone towers were still being reach.
In 1963, the O’Neill family and its partners established the Mission Viejo Company and embarked on its first residential development, the 11,000 acres (45 km2) planned community of Mission Viejo. Marguerite had three grandsons, Anthony Moiso, Jerome Moiso, and Douglas Avery. The oldest, Anthony “Tony” Moiso, newly graduated from college and fresh out of the U.S. Army, took over operations.
In 1972, Mission Viejo Co. and its remaining undeveloped area in Mission Viejo were sold to Philip Morris. The Mission Viejo Company was acquired by Shea Properties in August 1997. After the initial sale, Moiso began managing the remaining 40,000 acres (160 km2) of Rancho Mission Viejo, while his brothers Jerome Moiso and Douglas Avery continued to oversee operations as owners. The three brothers and their uncle, Richard O’Neill, have preserved more than 20,000 acres (81 km2) of open space and moved forward with additional development of the former Rancho. Rancho Mission Viejo is still a working ranch with 600 head of cattle and has more than 500 acres (2.0 km2) of citrus trees, as well as crops of avocados, beans and barley.
Rancho Mission Viejo is today home to four master-planned communities: the City of Mission Viejo, City of Rancho Santa Margarita, Las Flores, and Ladera Ranch. A new community called Rancho Mission Viejo, celebrated its grand opening in 2013 with the debut of its first village called Sendero. In Fall 2015, the new village of Esencia is slated to celebrate the grand opening of its first 12 neighborhoods as well as host of community amenities.
In 2000, the Ranch family created a comprehensive open space preservation and land use plan for the remaining 23,000 acres of Rancho Mission Viejo. In 2004, the Ranch Plan was approved by the Orange County Board of Supervisors. Today, that plan has resulted in the creation of The Reserve at Rancho Mission Viejo (a nearly 17,000-acre habitat reserve on the Ranch) and the plan for a new community called Rancho Mission Viejo.
In May of 2019, Reata Glen a senior living community opened in Rancho Mission Viejo and received its first residents. It is described in the typology of the architectural specifications as 55+ Service Enriched | Independent Living | Assisted Living | Memory Care | Skilled Nursing | Life Plan Community (CCRC) See (Continuing Care Retirement Communities).