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Former 'Lemon Capital' Seems Sweet to Newcomers : Corona: With its strategic location, Riverside County city is magnet to home buyers from adjacent counties.

November 19, 1989|JEANNE BOYER | Boyer is a Riverside free-lance writer.

Ron Raposa of Corona knew his hometown had an identity crisis when an entertainer failed to show up for a friend's party. Instead, she called from Corona del Mar, saying she was having trouble locating the street.

She wasn't the only out-of-towner to make the mistake. Corona residents have waited hours for their new furniture to arrive, only to learn that it had taken a detour to the beach.

So Raposa, tired of having Orange County residents assume that Corona was short for their own Corona del Mar, started a campaign to distinguish the landlocked Riverside County city from the seaside town.

"When people would ask where I was from and I'd tell them Corona, they'd say, 'Oh, Corona del Mar--what nice beaches!' The easiest way of refuting that was to respond 'No, Corona no del Mar.' "

Two years ago, Raposa, 41, a public relations/advertising agency owner, launched a line of "Corona no del Mar" bumper stickers, T-shirts and buttons.

He likes seeing commuters on California 91 with their "Corona no del Mar" bumper stickers, helping spread the word as they drive into Orange County.

These days, more and more people are commuting from Corona. The former "Lemon Capital of the World" was the fastest-growing large city in the state last year, according to the California Department of Finance.

Corona added nearly 9,000 residents last year, as the population increased 16.8% to 61,000 by the end of 1988. The population is now about 70,000 and by Jan. 1 is expected to be 73,658, said Peggy Temple, Corona's acting senior planner.

The reason? Corona may not be by the sea, but it's right by Orange County, providing a logical next step for people and businesses that can't afford the prices there. Real estate ads promise prospective buyers that their projects are only a few miles from the county line.

Although it's the most expensive real estate market in Riverside County, the prices look good to folks from Orange County. Or Los Angeles County.

Steve Gutierrez moved to Corona two years ago from Montebello because the price was right.

Gutierrez, 29, bought a 1,400-square-foot home that was several years old for $109,900. Last month his brother and sister-in-law, Fred and Carol, joined him in Corona. They had been waiting since May for their $269,900-, 2,600-square-foot-house to be finished. By the time they moved in, similar homes were selling for $310,000, Carol Gutierrez said.

New-home prices range from $126,990 to $352,900, said Steve Johnson, vice president in the Corona office of the Meyers Group research firm. Corona's median new-home price is $202,000.

That compares to an Orange County new-home median of $350,000, and $340,000 in Los Angeles County's San Gabriel Valley, where many of the newcomers are from.

Although most people associate Corona's growth with Orange County overflow, the city is attracting residents from other places as well.

Now 40% of new arrivals hail from Orange County, 38% from Los Angeles County, 12% from Riverside County and the rest more distant locations, Johnson said. Because prices are higher than communities farther inland, Corona attracts more move-up customers instead of first-time home buyers, he said.

Real estate broker Kathy Walker said many buyers are young professional couples. "You know, the yuppies," she said. "Years ago they would have turned their noses up at moving out here. Now Corona is the 'in' place to live."

Corona is popular now because people feel they aren't moving too far away from Orange County, Walker said. It also has an excellent school district and good medical care that includes two general hospitals, she said.

The school district was one of the main reasons Gale Hernandez moved to Corona two years ago with her husband, Al, and two children. Hernandez, 36, liked living in the city of Orange but found everything--including the schools--had grown too crowded there.

She is pleased with the education her children are getting in the Corona-Norco Unified School District. And she likes the fact that residents get involved in community projects.

"People here really do care," said Hernandez, who is chairman of the board of the Corona Jaycees. "We've found our home and we're not ever going to leave."

According to Walker, owner of Realty World Circle City, the average price for a three-bedroom resale home is $149,400; a four-bedroom averages $182,900.

When it comes to rentals, "you can get a good house for under $1,000 a month," Walker said. Apartments start at $400 for a modest one-bedroom and go up to $795 for a two-bedroom at a new complex with exercise room and other extras.

Besides good schools and affordable housing, Corona's small-town charm is also a big draw. "Corona has a nice homey feeling," said native Coronan Ken Calvert. "It's a good town to raise a family," said Calvert, 36, who sells commercial real estate.

Carol Gutierrez had been house hunting for three months before she drove into Corona last spring. "I loved it," she said. "The area's so nice."

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