Frequently Asked Questions


Where is Esencia? Describe the sort of views associated with this village.
Dramatically rising from the floor of the San Juan Valley in South Orange County and situated along some of the highest elevations in the heart of The Ranch is Esencia (Spanish translation: the essence). Esencia encompasses 890 acres of westerly-facing hills which afford both coastal views and backcountry panoramas. More specifically, Esencia is located east of the intersection of Ortega Highway and Antonio Parkway/La Pata Road, and along the first segments of Cow Camp Road — on Rancho Mission Viejo, in unincorporated South Orange County.
How many homes are planned for Esencia?
At build-out, the village of Esencia is planned to provide an integrated mix of 2,537 homes offered for sale to people of all ages and life stages including “Gavilán®” neighborhoods of primarily single-story homes for people age 55-plus. The first collection of homes offered for sale at Esencia were part of The Canyon House Neighborhoods, which introduced a new model for inter-generational living by integrating Gavilán® 55-plus neighborhoods into Esencia’s all age neighborhoods. Homes in The Canyon House Neighborhoods are currently priced from the high $400,000s to over $1 million.

The next collection of homes at Esencia, known as The Hilltop Neighborhoods, will continue this level of integration around an inter-generational recreational and social amenity called The Hilltop Club. The Hilltop Neighborhoods are slated to debut in Fall 2016.

What are the prices of homes to be offered within the first new-home collection at Esencia?
Homes in The Canyon House Neighborhoods at Esencia are currently priced from the high $400,000s to over $1 million. Home prices have not been released for The Hilltop Neighborhoods.
How can I get on a priority purchase list for the next release of homes in Esencia?
Homes are sold through the individual Esencia neighborhood homebuilders, who create and implement their own sales and purchase procedures and protocols. The best way to learn more about neighborhood homebuilder procedures and protocols as well as participate in invitation-only homeshopper events is to visit, click on “Sign Up,” and complete the simple online form. Or, visit the neighborhood of your dreams at Esencia and talk to the homebuilder.
What types and sizes of homes are offered for sale at Esencia? Who are the homebuilders?
The Canyon House Neighborhoods include both attached townhomes and single-family detached homes offering interiors ranging from approximately 1,460 to more than 3,760 square feet. Among the homebuilders offering homes in The Canyon House Neighborhoods at Esencia are CalAtlantic Homes, Meritage Homes, Shea Homes, TRIPointe Homes, Warmington Residential, and William Lyon Homes.

The homebuilders selected to construct and sell the six new Hilltop Neighborhoods at Esencia include Del Webb Homes and CalAtlantic Homes who will build new Gavilán® neighborhoods exclusive to residents age 55-plus, while Meritage Homes, MBK Homes, Warmington Residential, and William Lyon Homes will build the brand new all age neighborhoods within The Hilltop Neighborhoods. Combined, the six homebuilders will offer 522 homes for sale within six different and brand new Hilltop Neighborhoods terraced along hillsides to afford panoramic ocean and territorial views of the vast Rancho Mission Viejo.

How many apartment units are planned for Esencia? Who will build/manage/lease these apartments? When will they be ready for leasing/move-in? What are anticipated monthly rents for these apartment units?
Esencia is expected to include about 262 apartment homes. No information is currently available regarding the start of construction of the apartment homes at Esencia; and rents have not been established. Download apartment fact sheet.
Who is the master-planner and developer of Esencia and the Rancho Mission Viejo community?
Rancho Mission Viejo, LLC is a privately held, family-owned and -operated company responsible for the ranching, farming, planning, development, and financial management of the remaining 23,000 acres of Rancho Mission Viejo.

Since 1882, members of the O’Neill/Avery/Moiso family have owned and managed The Ranch which once exceeded 200,000 acres and now includes the family-developed cities and communities of Mission Viejo, Rancho Santa Margarita, Las Flores, and Ladera Ranch as well as such important places as Caspers Wilderness Regional Park, the Starr Ranch Audubon Sanctuary, O’Neill Regional Park and Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton.

Amenities and Facilities

What amenities and facilities are planned for Esencia? Will Esencia residents be able to access the amenities and facilities at Sendero and other future villages on The Ranch?
Now open at Esencia are the following recreational and social-gathering amenities:

  • The Canyon House: a Rancho Mission Viejo hall highlighted by Canyon Coffee (coffee house), multiple loggias with plenty of seating, inviting meeting and event rooms, a catering kitchen, a large activity lawn, and an expansive open air courtyard overlooking Oak Canyon, an oak-filled canyon with hiking trails and scenic look-outs. (Part of The Canyon House currently serves as the Esencia Visitors Center) – NOW OPENFound at The Canyon House are the following:
    • Indoor-Outdoor Area: a beautiful indoor-outdoor space at The Canyon House, with vaulted open-beamed ceilings and rustic barn doors creating a truly unique spot for dining and relaxing, complete with big-screen TV and fireplace.
    • The Courtyard: a partially shaded outdoor patio offers tables and comfy outdoor furniture to sit and sip on Canyon Coffee under the big oak tree, with a view of rolling hills in the distance.
    • The Studio: an ideal gathering spot for festive parties, fun events, club gathering, and more.
    • Canyon Coffee: a welcoming coffee house offering Peet’s Coffee & Tea as well as other refreshments and a selection of pre-packaged foods.
  • Esencia Farm: a small production farm with a variety of in-ground row crops and fruit trees, raised planter beds, a harvest/prep barn, greenhouse, tool shed, composting station, chicken coop, and farming demonstration/workshop courtyard area – NOW OPEN
  • Oak Canyon: an oak-filled preserve with scenic lookouts and multi-use hiking trails that lead to Esencia Farm and The Canyon House – NOW OPEN
  • The Outlook: an indoor/outdoor retreat exclusive to Gavilán® residents and includes covered outdoor great room, a resort-style lap pool with cabanas, a fire pit, and an outdoor dining area with barbeque grills – NOW OPEN
  • The South Plunge: a pool, children’s water play area, event lawn, and an outdoor grilling and dining area – NOW OPEN
  • BBQ Barn: a Gavilán®-only open air barn with BBQ/cook counters, firepit, bocce ball courts, and turf area for get-togethers – NOW OPEN

Amenities now under construction and/or slated to open soon at Esencia include the following:

  • Esencia Green: an expansive lay with covered pavilion, seating, and stage area – NOW OPEN
  • The Hilltop Club: a Ranch resident clubhouse with fitness center, group exercise room, outdoor exercise patio, swimming pool and spa with poolside cabanas, arcade, seasonal and special event bar with lounge seating, loggias with lots of patio seating, outdoor barbeque/dining area, fire pit, bocce ball courts, locker rooms with showers, and a large event lawn with an outdoor barbeque pavilion – NOW OPEN
  • South Paw Park: a dog park with dog watering and washing stations – NOW OPEN

In addition, a series of open air rooms and retreats located along scenic points are expected to open within the coming months, including:

  • Sunrise Park: a Gavilán®-only retreat with bench seating, shade umbrellas and an open expanse of turf for all kinds of outdoor activities
  • Sunset Park: a Gavilán®-only recreational park with firepit, BBQ and seating as well as shade structure
  • Creekview: an “all age” open air gathering place with firepit and surrounding seating, BBQ and ping pong table
  • The Getaway: a Gavilán®-only recreational park with firepit and indoor-outdoor area for all sorts of activities – SLATED TO OPEN IN SUMMER 2017
  • The Campout: an “all age” open air gathering place designed for resident campouts, complete with camping platforms, firepit, BBQ, shade structure and picnic tables with benches – SLATED TO OPEN IN SPRING 2017

Also planned for Esencia are the following:

  • The Pavilion: a multi-purpose building with gymnasium, tot lot, outdoor gathering “movie zone” space, and open play area with soccer field and softball backstop (adjacent to Esencia K-8) – SLATED TO OPEN MARCH 2018
  • Sports Park: a multi-use sports park with athletic fields and more
  • Miles of multi-use trails including those designated to accommodate Neighborhood Electric Vehicles (NEVs)
Sendero Amenities and Facilities Open to Residents of Esencia

The first village on The Ranch is Sendero, which celebrated its public grand opening in June 2013. Sendero’s amenities and facilities are open for use by all Ranch residents, including those living at Esencia.

These amenities/facilities include the following:

  • El Prado, the social and recreational center and heart of the village, now offering the following:
    • The Ranch House: a nearly 3,900 sq. ft. clubhouse with fitness center, great room and lounge seating, loggias with patio seating, outdoor barbeque/dining area, saltwater pool with lap lanes, wading pool, water play park, spa, and more
    • The Guest House: a Ranch community hall with a full catering kitchen, covered loggia and party garden
    • The Hacienda: an appx. 9,200 sq. ft. clubhouse with a large bar and lounge in the Palomino Room, fitness center with a massage room and locker rooms with showers, activity room for crafts, cards and more, studio for yoga and dance or exercise classes, saltwater pool and spa with poolside cabanas, large patio with a fire pit, grills, oversized chairs, bocce courts, rose and succulent gardens, and planter beds for community gardening, entry loggias, and a staffed lobby. The Hacienda is open exclusively to residents of Sendero’s and Esencia’s Gavilán® neighborhoods
    • The Village Green: a spacious event patio and great lawn highlighted by a large fire pit with ample seating
    • El Paseo: wide walkways extending north and south from El Prado to key village view stations and lined with parks, picnic areas, playgrounds, native gardens, bocce courts, a putting green, and a reception garden, now open to all residents of Sendero
  • The Outpost: another recreational amenity offering an event room with a bar, catering kitchen and outdoor dining space, a large outdoor bar adjacent to a saltwater pool and spa, cabanas, bocce ball courts, open air barbeque and dining area, a fire pit, and a hammock garden
  • Sendero Field: a 15-acre community park with sports fields and children’s play area
  • Sendero Farm: a community farm with an orchard, raised planter beds, a children’s garden, gardeners workshop, picnic area, and farm stand
  • Gavilán® Farm: a community garden situated within a Gavilán® residential neighborhood
  • Rancho Mission Viejo Fire Station #56
What retail and commercial uses are planned for Esencia?
Leasing is now underway for The Marketplace at Sendero, a 10-acre retail plaza anticipated to include a Gelson’s grocery store, RiteAid drug store, gas station, restaurants, shops and spaces for professional services.

PLUS, approximately 50 acres of commercial space is envisioned at Esencia for such uses as retail shops and services, restaurants, professional offices, and more.

CFDs/Mello-Roos/Other Fees

Will residents of Esencia be assessed CFD or Mello-Roos fees? If so, how much is the assessment?
As background, Community Facilities Districts (CFDs) are established by cities, counties and local government agencies as a means of obtaining tax-exempt funding (through the sale of bonds) for the construction/improvement of public facilities and key infrastructure including streets, water systems, sewage and drainage facilities, schools, public parks, as well as police and fire facilities which serve newly developing areas.

Today, government agencies serving the vast majority of new master-planned communities in California have found that CFD funding is beneficial to homeowners because it facilitates the early construction of essential public facilities and improvements as well as reduces home prices and down payments by financing essential public facilities and improvements at tax-exempt interest rates, over a long period of time (INSTEAD OF ADDING THE COST OF THESE IMPROVEMENTS TO THE PRICE OF EACH NEW HOME).


Prior to the passage of California Proposition 13 in 1978, Federal funding for key infrastructure was substantial AND local property taxes were commonly 2.3% and increasing as home prices skyrocketed. However, starting in 1978, Prop. 13 restricted property taxes to just 1.0% of assessed home values; and allowed only 2.0% increases in assessed value per year – just as significant population increases were occurring and Federal funding to California for new infrastructure funding was declining. As a result, cash-strapped cities, counties and government agencies were forced to find new ways to fund new schools and other public facilities and improvements to meet the needs of the state’s growing population. Led by California Senator Henry J. Mello (D-Watsonville) and California Assemblyman Mike Roos (D-Los Angeles), the Community Facilities Act (commonly called Mello-Roos) was enacted by the California State Legislature in 1982. This legislation allowed the formation of CFDs.


At Esencia on The Ranch, determination of each home’s CFD tax (aka Mello-Roos tax) is based on the type of the home and its square footage. The CFD tax formula sets the amount of the CFD tax for each home even before it’s purchased; and the tax is then included in each new home’s property tax bills or added to impound accounts. The overall total annual property tax rate paid by a new homeowner within a CFD includes the 1.0% of assessed value per Prop. 13 PLUS any existing government-issued bonds PLUS the CFD tax and all other property tax assessments. COMBINED, that total annual property tax rate is targeted to not exceed 2% of the assessed value of the property and can be adjusted upward each year by 2%.


At Esencia on The Ranch, a CFD was formed to fund a wide range of public projects including the following: the construction, purchase, modification, expansion and/or improvement of certain roadways and roadway improvements (including, without limitation, the Foothill Transportation Corridor improvements and the South County Roadway Improvement Program – SCRIP), tunnels, regional hiking and biking trails, storm drains, water and wastewater facilities (including, without limitation, domestic and non-domestic water facilities, wells, reservoirs, pipelines, storm and sewer drains and related infrastructure and improvements), wet and dry utilities, bridges and pedestrian bridges, parks, traffic signals, school facilities and equipment, sheriff’s substations and equipment and library facilities and equipment, and related infrastructure improvements, both onsite and offsite, and all appurtenances and appurtenant work in connection with the foregoing (including utility line relocations and electric, gas and cable utilities).

The overall total annual property tax rate paid by new Esencia homeowners within this CFD will be approximately 1.8% of the base home prices for owners of homes in the 55+ Gavilán® neighborhoods and approximately 2% of the base home price for all other Esencia homeowners. (Base home prices do not include any home upgrades and/or view premiums.) This total annual property tax rate will include the 1.0% base per Prop. 13 PLUS any existing government-issued bonds PLUS CFD taxes and all other property tax assessments. So, CFD taxes will be a portion of the overall annual property tax rate which is expected not to exceed 1.8% for 55+ neighborhoods or 2% for all other neighborhoods at Esencia.


That means that Esencia residents could pay as little as approximately $3,710 annually and as much as approximately $10,235 annually in CFD taxes – with the bulk of residents paying between approximately $4,000 and $6,750 annually. As a point of comparison, homebuyers in one of the newest areas of Irvine are paying an average of $8,590 annually in CFD taxes while those residing in the newest neighborhoods along the San Clemente coast are paying an average of $9,922 in CFD taxes.

Esencia neighborhood homebuilders are required to disclose to homebuyers their maximum CFD taxes prior to purchase. Neighborhood homebuilders also can provide information about how to prepay the Esencia CFD taxes. Please consult your financial advisor or CPA for all tax advice.

Are there additional fees assessed for maintenance of the village and more?
A fee is collected on initial home sales by neighborhood homebuilders and on the resale of all Ranch homes to fund an important Community Services Organization called RanchLife. RanchLife is unique to Rancho Mission Viejo and each of its villages in that it funds a full calendar of Ranch-resident recreational and educational programs (i.e., fitness classes, happy hours and personal enrichment classes), community-wide events (i.e., holiday festivities, celebrations, and concerts), Ranch resident-led clubs (i.e., biking, photography, hiking, bocce, gardening, mommy and me, wine and dine, and more), a community-wide web portal, and program collaboration with various Ranch partners.

In addition, all Rancho Mission Viejo homeowners pay a monthly master homeowners associations fee through the Ranch Master Maintenance Corporation or Rancho MCC. Rancho MMC funds the management and maintenance of Rancho Mission Viejo’s many community recreational amenities and facilities including each of the clubhouses at Sendero and those under construction and planned for Esencia as well as all the community farms, parks, common area landscaping, hardscape, lighting, trails, and monumentation as well as related staffing and administration. The monthly general Rancho MCC assessment for Esencia homeowners equals $164/mo.

Additional fees will be assessed for other purposes including attached-home sub-associations and/or “special benefit areas” (i.e., covering the maintenance of slopes, alley areas, gated neighborhoods, and more).


What school will Esencia students attend; and within what school district?
Esencia students attending public schools will attend schools within the Capistrano Unified School District (CUSD). Founded in 1965, CUSD encompasses 195 square miles in seven cities and portions of unincorporated Orange County (including Sendero, Esencia and additonal villages planned for The Ranch). Over the last few decades, CUSD has grown in both size and acclaim, earning more than 50 California Distinguished School recognitions and approximately a dozen National Blue Ribbon recognitions.

Esencia K-8

CUSD, in partnership with Rancho Mission Viejo, LLC (community planner and master developer), has already selected a site at Esencia for the new Esencia K-8 school campus. Planned to be built adjacent to the school is a community park with a joint-use multi-purpose building, open play area, a children’s playground, and a barbeque garden.

Esencia K-8 school is currently estimated to open for instruction in Fall 2018.

In the meantime, CUSD has indicated that Esencia students will attend Las Flores Elementary School, Las Flores Middle School, and Tesoro High School. For current information on attendance boundaries, please contact CUSD directly at 949-234-9200.

  • Las Flores Elementary School (K-5) 25862 Antonio Parkway, Las Flores, CA 92688. Named a CALIFORNIA DISTINQUISHED SCHOOL and listed on the California Business for Education Excellence HONOR ROLL for demonstrating consistent high levels of student academic achievement.
  • Las Flores Middle School (6-8) 25862 Antonio Parkway, Las Flores, CA 92688. Named a CALIFORNIA DISTINQUISHED SCHOOL and listed on the California Business for Education Excellence HONOR ROLL for demonstrating consistent high levels of student academic achievement.
  • Tesoro High School (9-12) 1 Tesoro Creek Rd., Las Flores, CA 92688. Named a CALIFORNIA DISTINQUISHED SCHOOL, named one of America’s Best High Schools by both NEWSWEEK and U.S. WORLD & NEWS REPORT (earning a silver medal with a ranking in the top 5% nationally and the highest in CUSD), as well as listed on the California Business for Education Excellence HONOR ROLL for demonstrating consistent high levels of student academic achievement.

In addition, to help provide a full range of educational choices, students living on The Ranch have the opportunity to select from numerous well-respected private schools as well as several colleges and universities located nearby and throughout the area, including the following:

Area K-12 Private Schools

Among those K-12 private schools now operating within the adjacent communities of San Juan Capistrano and Ladera Ranch are Capistrano Valley Christian Schools (PK-12), Capo Beach Christian School (K-8), Heart Christian Preparatory Academy (K-8), J Serra Catholic High School (9-12), Mission Basilica School (PR-8), Rancho Capistrano Christian School (K-8), Coastal Mountain Youth Academy (8-12), Saddleback Valley Christian School (K-12), St. Margaret’s Episcopal School (K-12), Umana Academy of Fine Arts (K-8) and numerous others in the South Orange County area.


Within the local area are numerous colleges and universities including the following: Brandman University, California State University at Fullerton (Irvine Campus), Concordia University, Pepperdine University – Irvine Campus, Saddleback College, SOKA University, and University of California, Irvine.

Trails and The Reserve at Rancho Mission Viejo

Describe the trails planned for Esencia. Will they lead into open spaces and connect with Regional trails?
The walking, biking and NEV (Neighborhood Electric Vehicle) trails of Esencia are part of a larger Ranch-wide trail system which provides passage throughout Esencia, links with the village of Sendero and its amenities, as well as connects with hiking/biking trails accessing select Reserve at Rancho Mission Viejo trails and a County Regional hiking and biking trails network (leading from O’Neill Regional Park into San Juan Capistrano and down to Doheny State Beach). Additional regional trails are planned. In addition, the trails of Esencia connect homes to special signature places within the village including The Canyon House and its adjacent Oak Canyon, Esencia Farm, and the future Hilltop Club (now under construction) as well as the additional amenities planned for Esencia.
How do Esencia and other Rancho Mission Viejo residents access The Reserve at Rancho Mission Viejo and its habitat reserve lands?
Approximately 75% of the 23,000-acre Rancho Mission Viejo will be preserved as part of the protected open spaces of The Reserve at Rancho Mission Viejo. Only 25% of The Ranch will be developed into the villages of Rancho Mission Viejo (starting with Sendero and now continuing with Esencia). Combined with additional open spaces already dedicated by Rancho Mission Viejo, The Reserve will grow incrementally; and over time, it’s planned to be combined with County-owned lands to form the 33,000-acre Southern Subregion Habitat Reserve, one of California’s largest and most diverse habitat reserves.

While the primary goal of The Reserve is to focus on habitat study and conservation, all sorts of programs and activities (including docent-led trail walks) are conducted year-round – with many offered exclusively to Ranch residents, including everyone living at Esencia. As Ranch residents, Esencia residents will be offered to join-in on such fun events as Knee High Naturalists activities, Rambles on the Ranch, camping, stargazing, and so much more. To learn about The Reserve, visit

Roads and Transportation

What new roads will be built to meet the transportation demands associated with Esencia and future residents on The Ranch?
The South County Road Improvement Program or SCRIP phases the funding and construction of numerous transportation improvements with new development on Rancho Mission Viejo (and possibly other development areas in South Orange County, as needed).

Under SCRIP, several new improvements have already been made to help address roadway and traffic conditions in the Sendero area, including the following:

  • Widening of sections of Ortega Highway, Antonio Parkway, and La Pata Road
  • Installation of drainage facilities, water quality improvements and additional underground utilities
  • Construction of a new 300-ft long, two-lane bridge with barrier railing over San Juan Creek
  • Stabilization of the Creek edge to secure trail and maintenance access for County use

SCRIP is administered by Orange County Public Works.

Cow Camp Road

Also included in the County of Orange-approved SCRIP plan is Cow Camp Road, designated in the County of Orange Master Plan of Arterial Highways as an east-west Major and Primary Arterial Highway. Slated to be built in two phase, Cow Camp Road will ultimately provide three lanes in each direction (for a total of six lanes) beginning at Antonio Parkway and extending four miles to the east where it will connect with Ortega Highway, near Caspers Wilderness Park. The first phase (nearly 1.5 miles) of Cow Camp Road is now open from Antonio Parkway to a location near the future intersection of Los Patrones Parkway at the eastern edge of Esencia.

Key to the first phase of Cow Camp Road has been the design, engineering and construction of the Chiquita Canyon Bridge which spans 1,420 linear feet long and rises 75 feet above the protected open spaces of Chiquita Canyon.

In addition to affording quick access to Esencia, Cow Camp Road will benefit local residents by providing alternative routes to existing arterials (including Ortega Highway and the I-5 Freeway) as well as quick access to the SR-241 toll road (aka the FTC or Foothill Toll Road/Transportation Corridor) at Oso Parkway via the future construction of Los Patrones Parkway.

Los Patrones Parkway (Connecting Cow Camp Road to the SR-241 Toll Road)

Not included in SCRIP yet identified as part of the County of Orange’s 2004-approved transportation program for Rancho Mission Viejo is Los Patrones Parkway (formerly known as “F” Street), identified as a secondary arterial linking Cow Camp Road to the current Oso Parkway terminus of the SR-241 toll road (aka FTC or Foothill Toll Road/Transportation Corridor). The Transportation Corridor Agencies has announced its intention to place a toll charge on Los Patrones Parkway, between Cow Camp Road and Oso Parkway.

Extension of La Pata Road (241 Toll Road to I-5 Freeway Connection)

The extension of La Pata Road from Ortega Highway, south to Avenida Vista Hermosa is now open. This new route will establish an important South Orange County parallel to the I-5 Freeway, allowing commuters to bypass the I-5 as they travel from as far north as Rancho Santa Margarita via Antonio Parkway, and south to La Pata and San Clemente where they can connect to the I-5 Freeway from Avenida Vista Hermosa. In addition, the future construction of Los Patrones Parkway would establish a new “toll road to freeway” network, starting from the current terminus of the SR-241 toll road, and heading south along Los Patrones Parkway, to Cow Camp Road, and then south again along Antonio Parkway/La Pata Road to Avenida Vista Hermosa.

Water Wise

As ranchers, developers, and stewards of one of the largest land reserves in the state of California, procuring a regular supply of water is essential to nearly every operation conducted on The Ranch including ranching and farming, the management of on-site leases, the protection of open spaces on the Reserve at Rancho Mission Viejo, as well as phased residential and commercial development.


In 2004, the County of Orange approved the Rancho Mission Viejo Environmental Impact Report (EIR) which includes a detailed analysis of the Ranch’s water sources, current and future projected demand from development, and water availability to demonstrate the availability of water supply for average, single dry-year and multiple dry-year rainfall conditions. In addition, analyses were conducted to determine the adequacy of water conveyance and/or storage facilities and the certainty of regulatory permitting for development-related projects yet to be implemented.

Santa Margarita Water District (SMWD) is the urban water supplier identified for Rancho Mission Viejo. SMWD is a regulated public utility which also serves various cities and the unincorporated territory in southeast Orange County. Rancho Mission Viejo is wholly within SMWD’s service area.


While today’s new homes use about 50% less water than most older homes, Rancho Mission Viejo continues to lead the housing industry in implementing programs which help reduce water demand through the use of drought tolerant landscaping along with modern irrigation techniques.

In fact, through a partnership between SMWD and the Rancho Mission Viejo family, a new comprehensive landscape water conservation program was created to reduce the water footprint at each of the villages on Rancho Mission Viejo. To date, we’ve reduced annual domestic water demand at the villages on The Ranch from 8,500 acre-feet to about 5,700 acre-feet resulting in an overall 33% reduction.

  • Approximately 93% of the common areas at the village of Sendero (and the four 55-plus neighborhoods of Gavilán®) as well as nearly 100% of all common areas at the new village of Esencia are irrigated with recycled water.
  • Due to advancements in efficiency, use of drip irrigation, and focusing on water-wise landscaping, the average residential landscape use on Rancho Mission Viejo is HALF of that for homes built 30 years ago.
  • Weather-based control timers adjust home irrigation based on local weather changes so that water use is monitored and adjusted based on climate variances and other factors. PLUS the common area irrigation system is controlled by a sophisticated computer program that communicates with onsite weather stations, control timers, and system sensors to manipulate how long and how often water is provided.
  • The use of water-wise planting on Rancho Mission Viejo has increased 166% to help reduce irrigation demand. FOR EXAMPLE, only 10% of Rancho Mission Viejo common areas use turf grass. And, the turf grass species on Rancho Mission Viejo is called PASPALUM which uses 20% less water than traditional turf, has high salt tolerance for use with recycled water, and has excellent durability for high traffic use in functional areas – such as parks and village greens.
  • Slope position and orientation also affect irrigation design and water management. For example, the north facing slopes on The Ranch use 40% less water than the south facing slopes. In addition the bottom of a slope uses 25% less water than the top of the slope. Given this, there are over 2,000 control values to manage water use for the various slope zones at Sendero.
  • All of the water used for grading is recycled or from non-potable water supplies, thereby avoiding strains on domestic water demand.


Preserving downstream water quality, protecting the stability of local creeks and watersheds, as well as promoting on-site wetlands/riparian habitat protection has been an on-going priority for the Rancho Mission Viejo family for decades.


On Earth Day, April 14, 1994, the 105-acre Gobernadora Ecological Restoration Area (GERA) was created on Ranchlands in corporation between the Ranch family and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Originally established as mitigation for the building of new roads, schools and other facilities, GERA has since become recognized as one of the most successful transformations of former farmlands into wetlands and woodlands.


In 1999, a series of scientific studies on the remaining 23,000 acres of Rancho Mission Viejo were expanded to include an U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) program to preserve and enhance wetlands, manage water run-off, and protect water quality in the San Juan and Santa Mateo creeks. This research, combined with the identification of ranchlands containing native habitat of threatened and endangered animals, became the environmental blueprint for the establishment of the Reserve at Rancho Mission Viejo and those lands identified for development. This research was expanded under leadership of the County of Orange and funded by Rancho Mission Viejo to analyze the 173 square mile watershed of the San Juan Creek to understand rainfall runoff, risk for flooding, and effects of erosion.


In the early 2000s, Rancho Mission Viejo began working in partnership with the County of Orange, SMWD, the Regional Water Quality Control Board, the CA Dept. of Fish and Game, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the ACOE on a complex “riverine” system at Ladera Ranch designed to reduce storm water runoff, preserve downstream water quality, protect the stability of Trabuco Creek, and promote on-site wetlands/riparian habitat restoration.

Through a narrow, 2.4-mile manmade seasonal creek bed or “riverine,” rain water and water from sprinklers, pools and other neighborhood sources are collected in a network of drains which are connected to the riverine. As it periodically and seasonally fills with water, the riverine carries water on a course that passes through specially planted reeds and other flora, which serve as natural filters and water purifiers. Ultimately, the water enters the Horno Basin (and the most southern end of Ladera Ranch) for further filtration.

Over its 34 acres, the Horno Basin includes a water quality control basin and wetland, a retarding basin, a “smart diversion” system, and a forebay for collecting sediment. Together, the riverine and Horno Basin serves several functions including water quality control, trash/debris collection, wetlands and habitat restoration, water reclamation, and storm water detention.


Based on the success of Ladera Ranch’s “riverine” system, Rancho Mission Viejo has collaborated with SMWD and Orange County Public Works on the new Gobernadora Multi-Purpose Basin facility. Upon completion, the Basin will include multiple storage basins which work together to capture, treat, and reuse storm water and dry weather urban water runoff from Coto de Caza once it flows into the Gobernadora Creek watershed. Water not diverted for non-potable water use will be infiltrated into the local groundwater table and sent downstream for sustaining natural riverine areas.

Key to the Gobernadora Basin facility will be its erosion control system to protect GERA and endangered bird species. Water conveyed into the Basin through a naturalized treatment system will be treated as it moves through an 11-acre wetlands which includes vegetation which filters and absorb pollutants and emits oxygen to enhance air quality. The use of this natural biological water treatment system will prevent the need for any power use in the treatment process since water will flow from one basin to the next via gravity. It also will prevent the discharge of polluted runoff into streams and important habitat areas. Plus, by controlling water flows through the Basin, excess erosion will be prevented and downstream habitat will be preserved.