Orange County – Rancho Santa Margarita

On the road to Orange County

Bright and early this morning we set off south of LA to Orange County and spent the whole day in the city of Rancho Santa Margarita (RSM). RSM is a young city and the first incorporated city of the millennium in the USA. Orange County has benefited from significant economic growth since the mid-1960s in part driven by defence spending that in turn funded a burgeoning IT sector. More recently biotechnology and finance corporations have also begun to make significant contributions to the local economy. RSM is a product of this economic growth but also of the wider trend of peripheral urbanisation that is occurring throughout the region. Some geographers call these types of settlement ‘edge cities’ and they are often, like RSM, contract cities which tender for most of their services and have a very small permanent administrative staff.

Melissa Data welcomes us

Our first stop was at Melissa Data a software engineering company focused on address verification that was amongst the first to set up in RSM 27 years ago. We were welcomed by the founder and CEO Ray Melissa and Human Resources Manager Bette Hagerty before Lauren Sveen, Admound Chou and Michael Johnson took over. Lauren took the students through the dynamics of how the company works and then Michael talked more broadly about working and living in RSM, ending with a really entertaining game of Jeopardy the questions for which were based on the presentations that we’d just heard. Most of the students acquitted themselves well although the winning team could do with a lesson in humility.

Playing Jeopardy in the training room at Melissa Data

The City Center at RSM



The people of RSM always give us a warm welcome and Melissa Data are no exception as they laid on a great Panera lunch for all of the students and lots of chocolate eggs throughout our stay.

We then had a free hour in which to explore the Town Center where the students enjoyed the shops (mostly Target).





Our afternoon was spent in City Hall. Once again, we received a fantastic welcome and a number of people who were immensely generous with their time.

Mayor Gamble talks to the group at RSM

We began with a great talk by the Mayor of RSM Carol Gamble. She was one of the main movers in establishing RSM as a city some 17 years ago and has since worked for the council running the place. She and her colleagues are all part-time politicians working full-time in other professions – Carol for instance is helping to manage the construction of the new LA Rams stadium – and give up their spare time to administer the city. They all work to uphold the original vision which Wendy Starks, Principle Planner and Laura Lopez, PIO/Management Analyst, then discussed with us. This vision at its core celebrates the values of small town American life but designed to counter the problems of urbanity – over-reliance on the car, lack of recreational space, lack of social mixing and so on. There’s an interesting video on YouTube that we were shown that helps elaborate.

Wendy Starks and Laura Lopez discuss the RSM vision

In both visits today the students asked some excellent, engaged questions. I was immensely proud of the way they represented our department today.


Group photo at the end of the day in the Council Chamber at RSM

The quality of navigation was not so consistently excellent however. First navigator in the lead van was Joey. His map reading was slightly out of synch with the road we were on, usually by about one junction. In the second van Ghaleb was navigating and was more able to work out where he was. The Ferdinand Magellan prize for navigation however goes to Matt L who managed to get Martin out of a pickle when he managed to follow the wrong van out of the car park – not for the first time.

Posted in LA
5 comments on “Orange County – Rancho Santa Margarita
  1. Courtney O'Dwyer says:

    Today was a really interesting day. It was fascinating to experience such a unique kind of city, and hearing about Melissa Data moving to RSM because of the nature of the technology/ industrial area contrasted with the image of the safe residential neighbourhoods presented by the Mayor showed the diverse range of land uses. Land use planning was the main issue that Mayor Gamble highlighted as a point of controversy.
    Wendy and Mayor Gamble were both very passionate about RSM so no matter what your opinion of the city itself (boring? remote? contrived?) you can at least admire their passion for creating the best, safest city environment for their residents 🙂 Every city should have a Mayor Gamble of sorts.

  2. Zoe Tozer says:

    I was excited about visiting RSM as I’m interested in town planning. It was so different from Brighton where I am used to as it lacked character and individuality; instead consisting of chain shops and modern architecture but I could still imagine living there as its a place where every single part is planned for the residents, attempting to be the ‘perfect community’ although it consists of very specific rules such as painting your house from a certain palette of colours and not leaving bins in sight. The mayor emphasised how much the community are involved in planning decisions, even requesting specific amenities such as In N Out Burger and it’s interesting to see how the city council treat residents as clients and running the city like a business. This technique seems to work though as it is the 5th happiest place to live in the US!

  3. Olivia Falconer says:

    I really enjoyed my day at Rancho Santa Margarita. I particularly enjoyed the second half of the day. The talk was very interesting and the people were so friendly. I think that RSM has been so “successful” in terms of it’s safety and resident happiness because it attracts the kind of people who want such a unique lifestyle (compared to other areas on LA and America). I wouldn’t want to live in RSM at this age, but I could see the appeal for young families. Also the lake was lovely.

  4. Nadia says:

    Visting Rancho Santa Margarita in Orange County was a great experience. Although I felt mixed emotions/opinions, it highlighted to me the secluded lifestyle that some Angelenos live. Often bounded near their home and work with little sepration. It was particularly interesting to find out from the mayor how the town was structured and uniquely funded through the income gneerated by local buisness, almost run like a buisness, as oposed to other cities in the state that run on income gneerated from property taxes. Great day in sunshine too! 🙂

  5. Maddie Oldfield says:

    A really interesting day – really informative talks and always a bonus to have some healthy competition in a game of jeopardy with great prizes from both talks! RSM itself was fascinating and so different to anything else we’ve yet experienced in LA and we felt mixed emotions about living there so it was an eye opening experience and an excellent day in the sunshine !

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *