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FOCUS : These Hills Aren't Just for Kings

May 04, 1989|Clipboard researched by Kathie Bozanich, Dallas Jamison and Rick VanderKnyff / Los Angeles Times; Graphics by Leavett Biles, Steven Nelson, Thomas Penix, Doris Shields / Los Angeles Times

Climbing Moulton Parkway past a gleaming new office complex and shopping center up to the tree-shaded incline of Ridge Route Drive, one expects to be met at the peak by the usual cluster of pricey, single-family homes.

So it comes as a surprise to find, rather than land-hogging mansions, an assortment of modest but well-maintained condominiums and townhouses clinging to the rolling brown hills.

Once the surprise of finding such democratic housing in the middle of some very prime Orange County real estate passes, a sense of amazement at the actual prices of the units--many with views of pastoral Irvine to the west--takes over. These residences, most clad in weathered gray, brown or beige siding, are going for between $140,000 and $200,000--reasonable prices by almost any Southern California yardstick. Although they are not especially large (many measure a scant 1,300 square feet), the units are still roomy enough to accommodate as many as three bedrooms and two baths.

Another attractive feature of this semi-bucolic area of Laguna Hills is the presence of one of the better elementary schools in the county. San Joaquin Elementary School, a California Distinguished School Award winner this year, is within walking distance for most of its 540 pupils.

The award was given for overall excellence and in recognition for a significant improvement in its California Assessment Program test scores. The award, according to a faculty member, was the result of the combined efforts of the children, an energetic teaching staff and the community. And such is the level of neighborhood support for education that retirees from Leisure World nearby frequently volunteer as tutors in the classes.

When the children of this quiet neighborhood are not in school, they perhaps may be found at the shopping center at the base of Ridge Route Drive, jostling older brothers and sisters for places in front of the latest video games. Lakehills Plaza, which was completed last summer, boasts 20,000 square feet of retail stores and a restaurant, bank, chiropractor, dry-cleaning and hair-dressing establishments.

On a bluff nearby is Landmark Lakehills, a 220,000-square-foot office project, completed in 1988 at a cost of $48 million. Prominent tenants include Farmers Insurance Group, United Technologies, Chrysler Credit Corp. and the Dole Fresh Fruit Co.

Population Total: (1988 est.) 4,977 1980-88 change: +48% Median Age: 32.8

Racial/ethnic mix: White: (non-Latino) 84% Latino: 10% Black: 1% Other: 5%

By sex and age: MALES Median age: 32.7 years FEMALES Median age: 32.8 years

Income Per capita: $40,117 Median household: $103,605 Average household: $93,144

Income Distribution: Less than $25,000: 4% $25,000-49,999: 13% $50,000-74,999: 21% More than $75,000: 62%

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