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
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
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
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
After only 18 months, the County emerges from bankruptcy. A year later, it
again attains investment grade rating with Moody’s Investor Service. The
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
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.