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For Moreno Valley, Promise, Problems Mark Rapid Growth : The Inland Empire's Newest City Struggles to Get a Handle on Things

The Inland Empire: Last in a Series.

August 16, 1985|WILLIAM TROMBLEY | Times Urban Affairs Writer

There is no official post office designation and the telephone information operator probably will tell you there is no such place, but 10 miles east of Riverside, along U.S. 60, lies the newly incorporated city of Moreno Valley.

This booming new city, with a population already pushing 60,000, illustrates many of the prospects and problems of the Inland Empire--the valley portions of Riverside and San Bernardino counties, extending from the Los Angeles and Orange County lines on the west to Moreno Valley and Redlands on the east.

Moreno Valley--a 42-square-mile city that includes the former communities of Edgemont, Moreno and Sunnymead--offers young families what they cannot find in Orange and Los Angeles counties--affordable housing in reasonably safe neighborhoods.

In exchange, however, they must put up with long commutes, inadequate public services, poor planning and other problems.

Moreno Valley became the second-largest city in Riverside County (behind Riverside itself) when it was incorporated last December, and population continues to climb rapidly.

The Chamber of Commerce says there are between 60,000 and 67,000 people in the city. County officials use a more conservative figure of 56,000, but they say this could double in 15 years.

City Manager David F. Dixon jokes that the population was 45,000 when he was interviewed for the job last winter, 50,000 when he accepted the position in March and 55,000 when he started work in April.

The city is suffering acute growing pains as a result of this rapid expansion.

Schools are badly crowded. About a third of the district's students are bused from neighborhood schools miles away that have no space.

Roads are congested and sometimes dangerous, because there are not yet enough traffic signals and some rural speed limits have not been changed to reflect the increased population.

New housing tracts, with strange street names, pop up so fast that the Fire Department sometimes cannot find the address of a reported blaze.

There are four different postal ZIP codes. Telephone books still carry listings for Edgemont, Moreno and Sunnymead but none for Moreno Valley. Information operators sometimes tell callers there is no such place.

An estimated 50% to 60% of Moreno Valley's working residents commute long distances to jobs in Los Angeles and Orange counties.

"We keep hearing horror stories about guys who can just barely meet their house payments riding motorcycles to work in Long Beach," said Todd Beeler, deputy director of the Riverside County Planning Department.

The new city already has a problem with "latch-key" children, youngsters left unsupervised by working parents.

The Eastern Municipal Water District is working furiously to keep up with requests for water and sewer service. In the last year, Eastern Municipal has installed 3,200 new hookups in Moreno Valley.

"It can't last forever," Jim Bunts, deputy general manager of the agency, said optimistically. "They're bound to run out of land."

Real estate flags fly over Moreno Valley housing tracts like banners over medieval castles. A thicket of property-available signs grows at every major intersection.

From time to time an outraged citizen takes a chain saw to these signs, but a few days later they sprout anew.

To add to the confusion, a campaign has been launched to recall three of the five City Council members only eight months after they took office. All three were supported by builders and developers and are accused by recall supporters of, among other things, failing to control the city's growth.

"People are impatient," sighed Marshall Scott, a State Farm insurance agent who is the city's first mayor and one of the recall targets. "Everything should have been done yesterday."

Uncontrolled growth was a major reason for incorporating Moreno Valley.

"We had to take control of our own future," said Timothy J. Cooney, who was chairman of United Citizens For Cityhood, the main supporters of incorporation. "The community was just exploding and it seemed to be an uncontrolled explosion."

There was also a feeling that Riverside County government was "not responsive to local needs," Mayor Scott said.

He said the Moreno Valley area generated $1.7 million more in tax revenue than it received in county services in the year before incorporation.

Earlier Failures

Four earlier incorporation efforts had failed--the last one in 1982, when Woodhaven Developers Inc., the largest home builder in the area, contributed heavily to defeat the proposal.

"We opposed it because everybody who wanted to run (for City Council) seemed to want to stop growth," said Bill Scarborough, Woodhaven's marketing director.

But last fall Woodhaven joined other builders and developers in putting up more than $120,000 to support incorporation and to elect a pro-growth council majority. This time, cityhood was approved by 75% of the voters.

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