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Drive Time Is Big in Moreno Valley

Third in a series dealing with Southland communities experiencing rapid growth.

August 23, 1987|DANIEL PEREZ | Special to The Times and Perez is an East Los Angeles free-lance writer

When the story ends, Moreno Valley might go down as the city built on mileage and money--well, perhaps lack of money.

Many of the people living in the area, formerly known as Sunnymead, went there because they could buy a single-family home for as little as $70,000.

That's about half what they'd pay for a median-priced house 63 miles west in Los Angeles, and an even bigger discount off the cost of a home in Orange County.

The city's population now stands at about 80,000, nearly four times what it was just six years ago.

But while home prices there are low, so are the wages. As a result, the bulk of Moreno Valley's residents have to spend hours each day commuting to jobs in far-away locales.

Larry Alexander, his wife and three children moved into their $83,500 home, located 45 miles away from their jobs, two years ago. The couple commuted together to Orange County daily for 18 months until the miles led to marital woes.

The Anaheim print shop worker said that his wife, Nikki, requested a job transfer from the Santa Ana to the Riverside branch of the Automobile Club of Southern California, about 10 miles from their home, after little things became amplified over months in their car, he explained.

"The commute was physically and mentally taxing on us. There was a lot of hostility and anger between us," Alexander said.

That situation is in the past, but the miles continue to wear on him. He has put 9,000 miles on his brand-new Chevrolet Sprint in three months.

"There are days when I come home mad at the world because of the traffic and I don't want to be bothered by anything," he said.

Like many other Moreno Valley residents, the 35-year-old Alexander wants to hang up his wheels, but can't find the right salary locally to support a family.

That could soon change. Several proposed commercial and business developments promise to liven the city's economy and employment situation in the next few years.

Three of the larger proposed projects are the mixed-use Canyon Springs and TownGate developments of 400 and 596 acres, respectively, and the Moreno International Trade Center, a planned 2,600-acre business park. The trade center--the first designed especially for the aerospace industry--would include an airport.

The first phase of the TownGate project, developed by the Fritz Duda Co. and Homart Construction Co., is expected to break ground this fall. The infrastructure (streets, sewers, sidewalks, curbs, gutters) and grading work will begin in about a month, according to John Jay, Duda's vice president.

The first phase calls for the construction of 485 single-family units and a community shopping center on 166 acres southeast of where the Pomona (60) and 215 freeways meet. The center will include a Mervyn's department store, a home improvement store, and an eight-plex movie house. It is scheduled to open next July.

Moreno Valley Mayor Judy Nieburger expects a hearing for the Duda/Homart project in November, during which the City Council, sitting as a redevelopment agency, could give $14 million to the project for the infrastructure.

Canyon Springs, located directly across the street from TownGate and southwest of the freeway interchange, is being developed by Riverside's T. & S. Development Inc. and Ohio-based Edward J. DeBartolo Corp.

Project spokesman Richard Lemire said construction has already begun on a shopping center that will include a National Lumber and SoCal Cinemas movie complex. He also expects to announce the signing of two major tenants for an even larger project--a sprawling regional mall of about 1 million square feet--within 60 days.

But the Duda/Homart partnership plans to build a mall about the same size on a site across the street from the proposed T. &S./DeBartolo mall. Both developers agree that the community, although flourishing, can't support two malls of that size. Whichever company fails to break ground first will probably be forced to use the land for another purpose.

The future of the proposed trade center is also up in the air.

Benzeevi Cohen Corp., the Los Angeles-based group that wants to build the center, recently received Federal Aviation Administration approval to incorporate a 10,000-foot airplane runway in its proposed business park. The runway is a key component of the park because it could accommodate large planes and would create thousands of jobs for Moreno Valley residents.

Oppose Airstrip

Many residents oppose construction of the airstrip, and so do officials at March and Norton Air Force bases. The residents are concerned about potential problems with noise, pollution and the possible destruction of the area's rural life style.

The military is concerned about the air traffic mix of the center's cargo flights with those from the bases and airfields in Hemet and Ontario.

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