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Rural Enclave Controls Fate of Crucial Expansion Sought by City

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Riverside County’s Local Agency Formation Commission approved the annexation of about 2,600 acres to Corona that will extend the city’s boundaries well to the southeast.

But the annexation of Eagle Valley will go into effect only when the unincorporated community of El Cerrito files an annexation petition of its own, a process that could take six months. El Cerrito is sandwiched between Corona and Eagle Valley, and residents in the rural enclave appear divided on whether to become part of the city.

The city must also complete an agreement with the California Department of Forestry to provide wildfire protection to the area.

Still, the commission’s 6-1 decision was a victory for Corona officials, who see Eagle Valley as a key link toward expansion. If the annexation goes forward, the city would gain a contiguous border to expand to the east toward Lake Mathews and farther south in the Temescal Valley.

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“We are anticipating there will be somewhat of a domino effect down the (Temescal) Canyon when this goes forward, and in particular if El Cerrito is annexed into the city,” City Manager Bill Garrett said.

The city of Corona, with a population of 76,000, would pick up about 3,000 new residents if El Cerrito is annexed.

An Orange-based developer is planning to build 3,000 homes, apartments and condominiums on 1,100 acres in Eagle Valley, an isolated area southeast of Corona dotted with citrus groves. The commission had refused to approve the annexation of Eagle Valley twice before until disputes over traffic, fire protection and water delivery were settled.

The County Board of Supervisors recently approved plans to widen roads in the area. In addition, an agreement was worked out in which the Western Municipal Water District would provide water for the area while Corona would be in charge of sewage.

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Even so, several rock mining companies in the area say that residents of homes built so close to their sites could encroach upon their operations. One company argued that new residents would raise objections to their blasting and force them out of the area.

“Mining can be a very noisy business,” said David Saunders, an attorney for 3M, which has a 1,200-acre site west of Eagle Valley. “There’s an old saying in the mining business, and that is that rocks don’t vote. . . . Mining companies often lose.”

City officials say that Eagle Valley is isolated by ridgelines and that developments elsewhere have been built close to mining sites with little disruption.

Two pieces of property just north of El Cerrito will be included in the annexation even though the property owners oppose the move. The land is the main link between Corona and Eagle Valley, and without it the annexation could not go forward.

Some El Cerrito residents fear that annexation would lead to urban sprawl and create heavy burdens on traffic through their rural area.

“I could live in Corona if I wanted to,” said Betty Altenburger, an El Cerrito resident. “But I don’t want to live there. I like living in the county atmosphere.”

Still, El Cerrito Citizens for Annexation is moving forward with its plans, saying that the area will benefit from better services and will have more control on development of the surrounding region.


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