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A bit of backcountry in the Empire

September 09, 2007|Jessica Lee | Special to The Times

Riverside County's El Cerrito is an oasis in the urban desert. Residents call it the Inland Empire's country hideaway, where roosters serve as alarm clocks and nature abounds. They also wonder -- and worry -- whether future development will spoil the community aura of a "throwback to a simpler time."


El Cerrito was known for its citrus groves and tin and gravel mines in the late 1800s. The community, which was made up mostly of citrus and mine workers, also became a popular stagecoach stop for weary travelers venturing between what is now Orange and Riverside counties.

Orange and lemon trees can still be found around several neighborhoods, and there is one gravel mine still operating. El Cerrito is five miles southeast of downtown Corona and about 15 miles southwest of Riverside.

What it's about

Mountains, open space and dusty roads characterize El Cerrito's landscape. Neighborhoods are lined with citrus and palm trees, and houses rest on large lots big enough to accommodate horse stables and ranches.

El Cerrito has maintained a sleepy, rural atmosphere while neighboring cities have had a development boom in the last 10 years, said John Field, who works for County Supervisor John Tavaglione, whose district covers the community and neighboring areas.

What does the future hold?

El Cerrito could be incorporated into Corona within a few years, Field said, adding that despite planned road improvements and other developments, the community would likely keep its rustic essence.

The county also is planning to build a 26-acre park in the next few years that will feature baseball and soccer fields and other amenities, Field said. It will be El Cerrito's first such site.

"There hasn't been much development in El Cerrito, but the road project and the sports park will make it more appealing for its current and future residents," he said.

Insider's view

Residents see El Cerrito as a rustic retreat from the Inland Empire's typical cookie-cutter lifestyle.

"Living here feels like being in the country," said Beth Wuest.

Wuest and her family moved to El Cerrito from Lake Arrowhead nine years ago. She chose the community over others nearby because of its bucolic feel.

When people ask Wuest what she likes most about El Cerrito, she points to the surrounding mountains, the trees and the small farm in her backyard, which is where she keeps the family's pet goat and chickens.

"It's nice waking up in the morning to the sound of a rooster crowing or going outside and seeing your neighbor horseback riding," she said.

"You just can't get that in other places anymore."

That's the sort of thing that Wuest and others fear will be lost should El Cerrito succumb to suburbia's homogeneity.

Housing stock

Home seekers can expect a mix of the old and the new in El Cerrito, said real estate agent Craig Yace of Corona Realty. There are generous-sized yards too: Homes sit on lots that span anywhere from a quarter of an acre to 2 acres.

The community also is more reasonably priced than many locations in the Inland Empire. It's become a hot spot for people looking to tear down older homes and replace them with custom-built ones, he said.

On the market now is a 1,176-square-foot ranch-style home on a quarter-acre lot. This house was built in 1976 and is listed at $399,900. It has three bedrooms and two bathrooms.

For $700,000, buyers can purchase a 2,400-square-foot house on an acre lot. This ranch-style home was built in 1963 and has three bedrooms, three bathrooms, a pool, a spa and hardwood floors.

A 6,130-square-foot home with five bedrooms, seven bathrooms, a swimming pool and views of city lights is priced at $2.5 million. This custom-built home was constructed in 1998 and sits on a gated, 1-acre lot.

Report card

El Cerrito is part of Corona-Norco Unified School District. Kindergarten through sixth grade attend Orange Elementary, which scored 834 out of 1,000 on the 2006 Academic Performance Index Base Report. El Cerrito Middle School and Centennial High School scored 722 and 691, respectively.


Sources:; Craig Yace,

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