FOCUS : Home on the Ranch, Irvine-style

Clipboard researched by Elena Brunet / Los Angeles Times; Graphics by Doris Shields / Los Angeles Times

What were previously lima bean fields belonging to the Irvine family's own ranch are now the Ranch planned community, completed in 1973 and fortuitously fitting what would become the newly incorporated city of Irvine's residential ideal.

Bicycles, basketball hoops and flowers today characterize the Ranch neighborhood. Trees, just saplings along some streets, betray its youth even though this community is one of the oldest of Irvine's planned areas. A child with a teddy bear as big as himself stands in a driveway with two teen-agers deciding how to spend a glorious afternoon. A car progressing along Normandie Avenue toward Gascogne Avenue takes a man home. His terrier, standing fully erect with his paws on the open window, enjoys the breeze blowing the fur from his face. A woman tends her own garden. But the only sign of gardeners and their noisy leaf-blowing devices in this modest residential community is at the outside edge along Irvine Center Drive.

A few front lawns are graced with trees and bushes, but for the most part, concrete has a stronger hold than greenery. Roofs on the homes are predominantly wood shingles, with occasional terra cotta tiles. Flocks of children ride their bicycles, and care is taken to meet individual residents' needs: A street sign along Chateau Circle warns: "Deaf Children Near."

The Ranch is an enclosed neighborhood. Access is available only on four streets: Lorraine and Fontaine avenues along Irvine Center Drive; from Jeffrey Road, at Triomphe Avenue along the edge of the Irvine Village Center complex, and from Yale Avenue at Deerfield Avenue. The majority of the streets within are cul-de-sacs, each with a single outlet.

This maze-like street configuration would seem to be a hindrance to burglars. Jerry Rudheisen, a civilian working with the Neighborhood Watch program of the Irvine Police Department, puts it this way: "If someone calls about a burglary, (the police) can block off the entire neighborhood."

Within the community, there are about 25 Neighborhood Watch groups, organized by the Police Department on a street-by-street basis, which inform neighbors about the potential danger of leaving windows open or doors unlocked. These Police Department workers "encourage people to put enough roadblocks, deterrents, in the way of the burglar," Rudheisen says. "What (these) mean is security, peace of mind." Neighborhood Watches "preach the gospel of home security."

But the street layout "can be a problem as well and (may) promote crime, not discourage it," says Andy Hedden, another spokesman with the Neighborhood Watch. "Burglars can get lost (in there), and patrol units have a harder time getting in and out."

A recent police study (April 30, 1988-March 31, 1989) shows there were 19 burglaries in the 828 residential units in the community, one of every 44 homes. This ranks the Ranch's burglary rate as the second highest in the city of Irvine, the highest being in Irvine's University Park.

Along Irvine Center Drive, the characteristic retaining walls enclosing this community are interrupted by a medical and dental center and the Gerber Preschool Center. At the corner of Yale Avenue stands Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, a fellowship hall and a sanctuary, and a preschool, with doors painted bright green, orange, lilac and blue, and a playground. The retaining walls along Yale Avenue are infrequently interrupted by the half-hearted growth of moss making little inroads on an unreceptive concrete surface. Jeffrey Road's retaining walls are obscured by bushes.

The Irvine Village Center, at the corner of Jeffrey Road and Irvine Center Drive, is the neighborhood's commercial matrix, holding a diversity of offerings beyond the stores' uniform exteriors of brown wood siding and gold-hued store labels lettered in uniform type face.

The essentials are there: the Southern California Savings Bank, Antone's Italian Market, a dry cleaners, video and gift store, a post office. For adults, the Clay Oven restaurant offers Indian delicacies; the Christian Science Reading Room a certain respite, and Dermatology and Plastic Surgery (more discreetly located around the corner) provides subtle physical amendments. Other signs designate travel, dentistry, real estate, and insurance--yes, like the good neighbor it claims to be, State Farm is also there.

The complex also features a welcome number of cultural offerings in the Irvine Dance Academy and the Yamaha Music Education Center. The latter can accommodate those desiring lessons in piano, guitar, voice, organ, orchestral instruments, even composition. One course is indicative of the area's family interests, "Music, Mommy and Me" for children age 3, as well as Kids Are People, Too--that is, haircuts for kids. Karate lessons will also keep the youngsters occupied, as will the pizza parlor and the store called Let's Party.

The soccer field and tennis courts on Hoeptner Street are part of the Los Naranjos Elementary School on Smoketree Lane. Smoketree Lane marks the border between the Ranch and the Smoketree neighborhood, which is made up of condominiums in two-story edifices along tree-lined streets. Parking is confined to group parking lots. Beyond the neighborhood there is open grassland and trees, suitable for picnicking and lounging.

The theme running through these planned neighborhoods seems to be enclosure, re-routing of unwelcome elements. The street sign at the Smoketree entryway on Cambium Place warns against unauthorized parking, not exactly a welcome mat for strangers. Children are free from external dangers here, and there won't be any threat of new buildings as potential eyesores.

There won't be much variety within this controlled, uniform environment, but there is a sense of safety. Population Total: (1989 est.) 2,934 1980-89 change: +0.6% Median Age: 36.3 Racial/ethnic mix: White (non-Latino), 87%; Latino, 6%; Black, 1%; Other, 6% By sex and age: MALES Median age: 35.5 years FEMALES Median age: 36.9 years Income Per capita: $16,549 Median household: $52,352 Average household: $53,361 Income Distribution: Less than $25,000: 12% $25,000-49,999: 35% $50,000-74,999: 37% More than $75,000: 16%

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