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Coto de Caza, California is a census-designated place and guard-gated private community in the unincorporated Trabuco Canyon area of Orange County, California. As of the 2000 census, the CDP had a total population of 13,057

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Lawless, Values-less, Spiritual-less Coto de Caza

January 11, 2006  

When we first moved to Coto de Caza over 12 years ago, we really thought there was No Place Like Coto.   Shortly thereafter CNN/Money discovered Coto as well and included it in their list of One of the Best Places to Live/Best Places to Retire.

When the real estate market started to heat up and the Coto population started to turn, and we began to see a different Coto:  A good number of adults with over-inflated egos.  We heard of a case where an individual got angry and simply mooned his neighbors.  In yet another case, an individual followed a district delegate collecting signatures stating the delegate had dropped out.  Then there was the conversation of former board members who reminisced about how easy it was to settle an issue:  simply lie – residents could then not do anything about settling grievances.

 Then things started to escalate:  We heard board candidates declare that if elected, they would never hold dual seats:  As delegates and as board members.  The LID (lie, ignore or deny) has now been mastered even by service providers.    Then, not wanting to be a police state, law enforcement was practically banned from Coto de Caza for the last three years.  Consequences?  The line between adult and children behavior around Coto de Caza has been blurred, rule of law no longer applies, accident rates has multiplied, as has vandalism and CNN/Money has dropped Coto de Caza from their Best Places to Live/Best Places to Retire.  

Lawrence Kohlberg's Theory of Moral Reasoning: ( 

Kohlberg’s basic premise was that human beings go through stages in their moral development that are tied to their cognitive development.  The stages progress from very simplistic thinking about right and wrong to very complex and differentiated thinking including moral relativism.  He was less interested in the choices that people make than he was in their reasons for making those choices.  The reasons behind the actions are crucial to understanding individuals’ levels of moral reasoning. 

Kohlberg described three main levels of moral development with two stages in each level:


Stage One:            Punishment and Obedience Orientation. Children in this stage of reasoning equate right and wrong with the dictates of authority and the punishment associated with a given action.

Stage Two: Instrumental Relativist Orientation. Children in this stage of reasoning begin to factor their own wants and needs in their choices.  If something satisfies the child’s own needs, then it is worth the risk of punishment.


Stage Three: Interpersonal Concordance Orientation. Children in this stage of reasoning are often entering adolescence, and become concerned with what is good for others.  There is a pre-occupation with being a “good” girl or boy.  They have a larger perspective, and see themselves as part of a society with its rules and regulations.

Stage Four: Law and Order Orientation. Individuals in this stage of reasoning have an increased sense of social order.  They tend to rely more on “the rules” as laid out by the society to make their moral choices.  Maintaining social order and doing one’s duty are important.


Stage Five: Social Contract-Legalistic Orientation. Individuals in this stage maintain their emphasis on social order, but they see it less as a black-and-white set of rules and more as mutually-agreed-upon standards.  They also factor in the individual’s rights when making moral choices.  They don’t see the social system as perfect, but believe that it is still necessary to avoid chaos.

Stage Six: Universal Ethical-Principle Orientation. Kohlberg’s final (and most controversial) stage is meant to represent the epitome of human moral reasoning.  Individuals in this stage realize that sometimes what is chosen democratically is not necessarily in the best interest of the society.  They make their moral choices based on their internal ethical standards, which take into account the universal good (Dworezky & Davis, 1989).

Kohlberg claims that most adults are functioning somewhere within the conventional level.   What about Coto de Caza adults?  What is the level Coto de Caza residents typically function at?  

Moral Reasoning in Corporate America:

One of the questions we like to ask is to review the list below and try to figure out a common denominator based on stories by the Wall Street Journal.  To date, no one has gotten it:


  • Krispy Kreme Doughnuts
  • CocaCola
  • Tyson Chicken
  • KPMG
  • Charity Companies
  • Class Action Law Firm Milberg Weiss
  • HealthSouth
  • eToys caretaker CEO, Paul Traub of Taub, Bonacquist & Fox
  • Sony BMG
  • Harvard University, Andrei Shleifer, (economics professor), Jonathan Hay (attorney), Russian Aid
  • Cornell, Northwest, Harvard, John Hopkins, and the University of Alabama.
  • MassMutual’s CEO’s Angry Wife

According to the Wall Street Journal, either individuals or their respective companies listed above have been involved in some sort of ethical lapse in the last three years.

Given the diversity of the companies and individuals involved, one could argue then that Coto de Caza is simply a microcosm of what goes on around the rest of the nation.  Perhaps this is a good research question for another time.  Meanwhile, paraphrasing an old politician: 


  Poor Coto de Caza, so close to Hollywood and so far away from God!



Source:  CHP





























NOTE:  The CHP was fired in early 2003 by the current Coto de Caza  board of directors without a suitable alternative for traffic patrol.  Then the board refused to take calls from the CHP and refused to allow board meeting time for traffic prevention awareness - but readily turned over a meeting to producers of Reality TV Show.  Has been unable to provide evidence of due diligence when it fired the largest private security company and replaced it with one of the smallest ones in the region ($1,700,000/year), but is haggling with the CHP for a 40 hour/week patrol service for measly $110,000/year!


2002-2005 the Primary Collision Factors By Percentage as reported by the CHP are as follows:


35% Private property location (other than driver)

28%  Signs, lane changes, unsafe turns, center lane, etc.

22% DUI

13% Speeding



As of November 2004, three Orange County cities were ranked among the safest cities in the country, according to an annual ranking based on the FBI's 2003 crime statistics.  Mission Viejo and Lake Forest were ranked the fourth- and sixth-safest cities, respectively. Irvine ranked 11th.   Coto de Caza did poorly in comparison – see below

SOURCE: CNN/MONEY Nov. 6, 2004






Rank (out of 1260)




Personal crime risk





















Personal crime risk


















Lake Forest



Personal crime risk












As of December 2005, CNN/Money has dropped Coto de Caza out of its Best Places to Live with population under 100,000.



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