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In Fullerton hills, life slows to a trot

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The north Orange County suburb of Fullerton is known for its eclectic and hip downtown and a Cal State baseball team with a penchant for winning College World Series titles. But tucked along the northern edge of town is the Sunny Hills community, a sprawling patch of ranch-style homes on large lots with equestrian trails and scenic hillsides.

Fullerton is celebrating its 100th anniversary. Founded by Edward and George Amerige, it's named after railroad executive George Fullerton, who agreed to extend the railroad there. The area was largely orange groves and oil wells before the housing booms of the mid- to late 20th century.

The original Sunny Hills development began in the early 1950s in the Valencia Mesa area, just north of downtown.


Good news, bad news Most of the city has long been built out, but among the newer developments is the Amerige Heights project at the old Hughes Aircraft site, which includes about 1,200 upscale homes and townhomes and a major shopping center.

A proposed housing development, in the adjoining Coyote Hills area, has sparked a tinderbox of controversy among many Sunny Hills residents who fear it will ruin remaining open space and clog streets with cars. The West Coyote Hills plan calls for developing the 510-acre parcel with about 760 homes and 5 acres of commercial development, while preserving 279 acres of open space and public land.


Drawing card

Like many in Orange County's suburbs, Sunny Hills' residents are proud of their local schools, which have helped attract home buyers. "The schools have always been a factor," said Realtor Winston Creel, a Sunny Hills resident since 1976.

For the last 16 years, Creel has been the mascot for the Sunny Hills High School Lancers football team, dressing up like a Lancer and riding his horse around at games.

Owning a horse is part of the reason he stays. "I moved here for that country feel, that spaciousness, that quiet, that serenity," Creel said. "You get the feeling you are in the country while in the middle of a city."


Insider's view

The city of Fullerton has about 40 parks and cultural centers and 28 miles of recreational trails, used by hikers, equestrians and mountain bikers. With St. Jude Medical Center a prominent business in town, Sunny Hills has long been home to a large number of doctors and medical professionals.

"At one point there were nine doctors living on Green Acre," Creel said of one street. "We used to call Sunny Hills Estates 'pill hill' because there were so many doctors living there."

Fullerton has a population of 130,000, of which 49% are white; 30%, Latino; 16%, Asian; 2%, African American; and 3%, other ethnicities, according to the 2000 U.S. census. The median household income is $75,000.


Stock report

The architecture of Sunny Hills homes is predominantly California ranch-style, a rambling country look that originally came with pitched gables and wood-shake roofs. Homes range in size from 2,000 to 6,500 square feet, with lots from half an acre to an acre, many big enough to accommodate horse stables.

For those thinking of buying, enlarging and changing the character of a home, Creel has this advice: "We sort of resent guys coming in with these two-story Victorian houses."

Homes range in price from $750,000 to $2.25 million. There are about 50 homes for sale in the Sunny Hills area, according to the multiple listing service.


Report card The city is served by the Fullerton Joint Union High School and Fullerton School districts, both of which have a number of high-achieving schools based on statewide test scores. The crown jewels in Sunny Hills are Laguna Road Elementary, which has won both the statewide Distinguished School and Blue Ribbon awards; Sunny Hills High School, which has won two Distinguished School Awards and was ranked by Newsweek magazine as one of the top 100 schools in the nation in 2003; and Troy High School, another Distinguished School, which some Sunny Hills students attend.

Districtwide scores for elementary schools based on the Academic Performance Index from 2003 ranged from 621 to 920. Middle schools ranged from 745 to 862. The high school scores for 2003 included 606 for Buena Park High, 783 for Sunny Hills High and 873 for Troy.


Historical values Single-family detached resales:

Year...Median Price 1990...$289,500

1995...$227,250

2000...$325,000

2002...$515,500

2004*...$670,000

*Year to date


Sources: DataQuick Information Systems; Winston Creel, http://www.winston4homes .com; Fullerton Joint Union High School District, http://www.fsd.k12.ca.us/ ; City of Fullerton website, http://www.ci.fullerton.ca.us/ ; West Coyote Hills Specific Plan, http://www.ci.fullerton.ca.us/devserv/westcoyotehills/chapter1.pdf ; Sunny Hills High School website, http://www.sunnyhills.net/SchoolDescription.pdf ; Fullerton Chamber of Commerce, http://www.fullerton.org/ .

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