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Rancho Bernardo: More Than a Passing Thought


Just in case you think the American Dream is dead, head for Rancho Bernardo.

There, among the red-tile roofs and wide streets with green islands, in the grocery stores that offer everything from cola to caviar and in the eyes of the children in polo shirts, you'll see that the American Dream is alive and well.

That's part of what Harry Daley had in mind when he looked over his cattle ranch in 1961 and decided to turn himself into a West Coast version of New York's William Levitt. Levitt built Levittown, in Pennsylvania, after World War II, putting thousands of families into homes they could afford in a fully planned community. Daley wanted to do the same thing here, only do it better, with more class.

He teamed up with his brother Don, H. R. (Fritz) Hahn of Dallas and another Texan, Harry Summers. They sank $22 million into the planning and early construction of a completely thought-out town.

In 1968, corporate giant Avco bought out the Daleys and formed a subsidiary to build the rest of what had become Rancho Bernardo. By 1971, there were 8,200 people living in the new community. Avco folded its operations in 1984, but other builders kept building and people kept coming. Now, according to the Rancho Bernardo Chamber of Commerce, there are 38,000 people in the community, and, by 1992, when Rancho Bernardo will be fully built, planners expect 42,000.

Technically, all those thousands live in the city of San Diego, but, in reality, they have made their home in a separate world--one where crime is low, most of the buildings look the same and homes cost from $200,000 to more than $1 million.

Just to be sure things stay that way, nearly the whole community lives under binding CC&Rs--the covenants, conditions and restrictions that dictate how houses can look, where vehicles can be parked, and what can be put in yards.

These CC&Rs are so tough, said Dustin Creason, a Merrill Lynch/Prudential real estate agent, that she sometimes has "people cancel their escrows when they get a copy of the CCRs."

Over the years, there have been moves to institute a building moratorium in Rancho Bernardo. Residents once wanted to start their own crime patrols, but were discouraged by the San Diego Police Department, which didn't think there was much of a need.

Rancho Bernardo, like all of North County, is changing.

The community used to be known as a retirement neighborhood and a refuge for U. S. and Canadian snowbirds; now it is becoming home to more families. The median age is 37. Only about 17% of the residents are 60 or older, and 28% are under 18.

Sony, NCR and Hewlett-Packard all have large plants in Rancho Bernardo that together employ nearly 5,000. In all, there are 1,200 businesses in the community.

"Rancho Bernardo is developing as a hub of the North County area," said Thomas Lathrop, 30, who is building an office complex called the Millenium Center. Lathrop hasn't broken ground on the project, but the building is already 43% leased.

"With traffic getting worse, this is an area where you can hit North County, Riverside County and the coast with a satellite of a company that is headquartered downtown," said Lathrop.

But, Rancho Bernardo isn't likely to become all work and no play. Even those who work in the new corporate buildings don't want to see that. They like stealing away for a few holes of golf after work or a game of lunchtime tennis.

For many of its residents, the former cattle range that is now dotted with driving ranges is a symbol of the good life.

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