‘Jewel of Inland Empire’ Is Not Cherished by All
In a region known more for high pollution than highfalutin, Redlands is home to the Fortnightly Club, a century-old literary group that debates everything from affirmative action to the cultural contributions of Van Gogh’s sister-in-law.
In a sea of adolescent communities starving for jobs, growth and money, Redlands is an island of blue-blood stability. While the Inland Empire’s population has ballooned, it is a tidy 63,000, fighting the sprawl consuming the region.
But the pedigree of this San Bernardino County college town, sprinkled with citrus groves and grand Victorian houses, has only landed it in the spotlight of controversy:
Should Redlands be seen as the Inland Empire’s model for aging with grace?
Or is it an emblem of greed and isolation?
“Around here, Redlands is thought of as an absolute pariah,” said John Husing, an Inland Empire economist and consultant. “It’s a very nice place to live. And it is terribly willing to maintain that at the expense of everybody else.”
Named for the red adobe clay it rests on, the town’s reputation as a ritzy getaway was cemented by the twin Smiley brothers, Albert and Alfred. After building the town’s stately public library in 1898, the New York resort owners became known as Redlands’ “patron saints.”
The town sold itself as being home to more millionaires per capita than any other city in America, luring wealthy Easterners with a lucrative citrus industry and the promise that they could gaze at nearby snow-capped peaks while enjoying warm weather. Soon, Redlands became a haven for people who use “winter” as a verb, as in, “We live in New York, but we winter in Redlands.”
And though it has its seedy areas, the city that pitched itself as the “jewel of the Inland Empire” never really changed.
Though many Inland Empire cities seem to view the past as something to escape, Redlands embraces its history with an unusual reverence. Each year on the Smiley twins’ birthday, pansies--their favorite flowers--are planted outside the library.
And though many inland communities can’t find enough parents to fill out PTAs, Redlands boasts an army of volunteers--so many that some are trained to assist police with everything from investigations to traffic control.
And while even unabashed boosters of the Inland Empire such as Husing admit that they have to leave the area for culture--"It just isn’t here,” he said--Redlands offers theaters, museums and a well-regarded civic symphony orchestra.
Mayor Patricia Gilbreath moved to Redlands in 1988 because its close-knit community and healthy downtown reminded her of her hometown of Fargo, N.D. She watched in 1997 as city voters--while neighboring towns were enmeshed in a fierce struggle to lure new development--approved a ballot initiative limiting residential construction to 400 units a year. Since the 1970s, the city has consistently grown at two-thirds the rate of surrounding communities.
“In many respects it has been an island unto itself,” she said. “And it is a wonderful place to live.”
But many of the town’s neighbors resent what they see as smug self-satisfaction that threatens regional efforts to cope with growth and attract jobs.
Critics offer two examples: Redlands has boycotted an effort by nearby cities to turn the defunct Norton Air Force Base--which closed in 1994, eliminating more than 10,000 jobs--into an airport and business park.
And Redlands has heatedly opposed expansion of San Timoteo Canyon Road--which meanders south toward the booming young city of Moreno Valley--to create a more practical route for truck and commuter traffic.
Officials in the Inland Empire hope to increase traffic flow between Riverside and San Bernardino counties--which could make the region more self-sufficient and reduce commutes. Redlands doesn’t want the increased traffic.
“Redlands would die first,” Husing said. “They would have an armed rebellion.”
Gilbreath acknowledges that Redlands has been “parochial in nature” in the past, but she says that’s changing as new members of the City Council take a more regional approach to planning. Meanwhile, she said, Redlands will stick to its guns on issues such as San Timoteo Canyon Road, which remains popular with hikers, horseback riders and nature lovers.
“It is pristine. It is wonderful,” the mayor said. “And it would be very difficult to run a freeway down the middle of it without totally changing the character of the city.”
Judith Valles, mayor of neighboring San Bernardino and a leader of efforts to redevelop the former Air Force base, says Redlands has made some good decisions over the years to protect itself.
But she said the Inland Empire has changed, and has made Redlands not just an anomaly but an anachronism.
“We are a region,” she said. “We can no longer be isolated. That may have been OK a few years ago, but it’s not OK now. We’d better get off our little parochial buggies and join the train because it’s coming our way.”