With riding trails in place of sidewalks, animal-friendly municipal codes and an eclectic mix of houses, Norco is a funky cow town sprawled along the south bank of the Santa Ana River in western Riverside County. Here, half-acre horse property runs from $250,000 to $600,000, and more than 90% of the residential area in this city of 25,000 is zoned for animals.
Animal keeping is not only allowed in Norco, it is strongly encouraged. City regulations require new home developers to include horse stalls, paddocks or barns with their model homes and to preserve 3,300 square feet of every half-acre lot for animal-keeping facilities.
In service of this horsy lifestyle, there are 93 miles of riding trails in place of sidewalks, hitching posts at the fast-food restaurants, markets and saloons on Western-themed 6th Street and oleander, a poisonous landscaping shrub, is banned throughout the city to protect horses that nosh as they amble.
Interstate 15 cleaves the city, with newer housing to the west and a mix of older ranch-style homes, custom homes and more ramshackle properties to the east. The older side of Norco draws cowboy purists with its easy access to river-bottom and hillside riding trails and to Ingalls Park, the city's major equestrian facility.
Norco is a cow town at heart, and among its annual shindigs are several major rodeo competitions as well as Norco Horse Week in late April and the Norco Valley Fair from late August to Labor Day. Such community groups as the Saddle Sore Riders and the Norco Horsemen's Assn. hold riding events year-round, from mounted poker games to progressive dinners to caroling on horseback, said Candi Choumas, a Realtor with Re/Max Partners.
Community spirit runs deep, especially in times of crisis. When a wildfire whipped through the river bottom earlier this month, horse owners appeared with trailers, handing out slips of paper with their telephone numbers and addresses as they ferried stranded animals to safety.
Good news, bad news
With the joys of country living come the noisy squawks of peacocks and roosters, lots of dust and a fair number of flies. The wide open spaces are also shared with the California Rehabilitation Center, a medium-security state prison for drug felons just south of Norco's Bluffs neighborhood.
Norco's residential areas are idiosyncratic, with custom homes amid small, older properties. The city's most uniformly developed neighborhood is the Bluffs area, roughly bounded by the Santa Ana River to the north, Hamner Avenue to the east, Norco Drive to the south and River Road to the west. Here, homes built from the mid-1970s to the early 1990s on half-acre lots cost $325,000 to $600,000, depending on amenities and size, said Judy Morris of Century 21 King.
Elsewhere, half-acre horse property can be found as low as $230,000, and new custom homes east of Interstate 15 are selling in the $500,000 to $750,000 range.
Norco is part of the Corona-Norco Unified School District and has five elementary schools, a middle school, a high school and a special-education school. Most parents send their children to these public schools. The district's elementary schools ranged from 553 to 809 in the 2002 Academic Performance Index. Norco Intermediate scored 690 and Norco High scored 662.
Single-family detached home prices:
On the market
In mid-January, there were 88 homes on the market, priced from $205,000 to $1.8 million.
Norco has 6,638 dwelling units; all but about 200 are single-family homes.
Sources: DataQuick Information Services, www.ci.norco.ca.us, www.norcochamber.com, www.cnusd.k12.ca.us, Re/Max Partners, Century 21 King Realtors, Home Center Realty and the City of Norco Community Development Department.