Corona, once nicknamed "the lemon capital of the world," seems poised to add a new citrus title: Orange County East. This city on the western edge of Riverside County is being transformed by an influx of émigrés from coastal communities who want more square footage for their housing dollar.
Most of the city's 7,500 acres of citrus groves have been uprooted. In their place on the fertile alluvial plain at the base of the Cleveland National Forest have sprouted more than 10,000 homes in the last dozen years, with several thousand more on the drawing board.
South Corona and its affluent newcomers have attracted developers with plans to create an upscale, mixed-use community called Dos Lagos, a 543-acre, pedestrian-oriented project combining neighborhoods with resort hotels, a golf course, a business park and high-end retailers such as those found in Newport Beach's Fashion Island.
Corona's allure lies in the large new and nearly new houses that seem affordable to the many Orange County homeowners who continue to cash out their equity in pricey coastal communities and move east, according to Michael Baker, owner of One Source Real Estate & Funding in Corona.
Many of Baker's clients have moved from Orange and San Diego counties to get more house for their money or to cut housing costs so that one parent can stay home with the children, he said.
South Corona is booming. Starter homes a few years old with 1,200 square feet are selling for $325,000 to $350,000, according to Baker. New homes in south Corona can range from the high $400,000s for 2,000 square feet to the mid $600,000s for 3,000 square feet, he said.
Elsewhere in the city, four-bedroom, 2,100-square-foot homes on Corona's western edge in Sierra del Oro are selling for about $450,000, according to Candi Choumas of Re/Max Partners.
As Corona has boomed, housing developments have spilled down Interstate 15 through Temescal Canyon, where four-bedroom homes in Horsethief Canyon Ranch are selling from $285,000, Choumas said.
Corona's public schools are part of the Corona-Norco Unified School District. Scores on the 2002 Academic Performance Index for schools serving the Corona area ranged from 551 to 801 at the elementary level, from 616 to 772 at the middle school level, and from 604 to 652 at the high school level.
Corona can't claim the cultural amenities of Orange County. However, its strip-mall-clad North Main Street is getting a face-lift with new restaurants, vibrant streetscaping and the new Fender Museum of Music and the Arts.
And just south of the city, the natural hot springs frequented by the region's original inhabitants, the Luiseño Indians, are now the site of Glen Ivy Hot Springs, a lush day spa tucked against the eastern flank of the Cleveland National Forest.
Nearby Tom's Farms has expanded from its fruit and vegetable beginnings to sell everything from wine and cheese to home furnishings. The farmer's market is in the process of adding a carousel and steam engine ride to its restaurants and duck pond.
Good news, bad news
The good news is the bad news. Corona, with its 137,000 residents, is within commuting distance of Orange County.
The 91 Freeway, through the winding Santa Ana Canyon, is perennially clogged with commuters.
Alternatives are the toll lanes on the 91, which can cost as much as $5.50 during evening rush hour, and Metrolink commuter trains to Orange and Los Angeles counties.
Corona has 31,275 single-family housing units, 9,812 multi-family units and 1,282 mobile homes. In early August there were 256 listings on the market, ranging in price from $57,000 for a two-bedroom mobile home to $2.2 million for a 5,800-square-foot home on 5 acres with a private lake.