19 OCTOBER 2002: THE



Swallowed by Urban Sprawl

Relocating to Inland Empire
puts people in the midst of what they fled,

researchers find.

By Scott Gold and Massie
Ritsch, Times Staff Writers

RIVERSIDE — The Inland Empire,
overwhelmed by unchecked growth and plagued by

helter-skelter development,
is by far the nation’s worst example of urban

sprawl, a team of researchers
said Thursday.

    For 20
years, the price of homes closer to the coast has skyrocketed, forcing

hundreds of thousands of
families to search inland for affordable housing. Many

landed ˜ in Riverside or
San Bernardino, Corona or Ontario ˜ with the hope that

they had left behind the
ills of urban life.

Instead, the study says, they have found themselves in a far-flung dystopia,

region whose schools
and roads cannot keep up with the number of new residents,

a sea of strip malls
and chain restaurants, all surrounded by just as much

traffic, pollution and
congestion as they confronted in the city.

    The three-year
study was conducted by researchers from Rutgers and Cornell

universities and released
by a Washington coalition of organizations interested

in growth, known as Smart
Growth America.

    The report
faulted the Inland Empire for everything from its lack of economic

and social cores ˜ two-thirds
of the massive region lives at least 10 miles from

a central business district
˜ to a haphazard, poorly connected road system that

makes walking and bicycling

the region’s high number of traffic fatalities ˜ 49 of every 100,000 people

die each year in car crashes
˜ is due to endless hours spent negotiating

highways and packed, high-speed
arterials, the study concluded.

McCann, a spokeswoman for Smart Growth America, said the Inland Empire

fits the dreaded metropolitan
tag: “There is no ‘there’ there.”

building and economic development organizations, which have defeated

several recent attempts
to limit growth in the Inland Empire, disputed the

study’s results.

    “I would
call it a blatant joke,” said Borre Winckel, executive director of the

Building Industry Assn.’s
Riverside County chapter. “I am not impressed by it.”

    On Thursday
afternoon in Chino Hills, on the western rim of San Bernardino

County, scores of people
were having lunch at tables assembled in front of what

passes for a central gathering
place ˜ a giant strip mall called Crossroads

Marketplace. It features
a Costco, a Sport Chalet, a mattress store and an

enormous Lowe’s Home Improvement
Warehouse emblazoned with a slogan: “More of


    At one
of the tables, Clysta Keller, 57, sat reading a book. Keller said she and

her family moved from Orange
County to nearby Mira Loma 20 years ago after her

husband retired from the
military, largely because they could afford a nice home

there on a third of an acre.
Back then, it was a quaint country home. Now it is

in the midst of perpetual
construction and giant warehouse operations.

    The Inland
Empire, weary of being a dormitory for the rest of Southern

California, has tried to
create more local jobs, and Keller has one of them, in

Lowe’s administration office.
It still takes her at least 35 minutes to drive 17

miles to work.

many others, she said she found it difficult to reconcile how there can

so much stuff in the Inland
Empire, yet so little to do. Even a highly

anticipated soccer academy
that was built near her home failed because of a lack

of attendance, she said.

feel most sorry for the children growing up here,” she said, recalling

difficulty she had finding
things for her children to do when they were younger.

politicians like the idea of more people moving here. But they aren’t

taking care of the schools,
or the traffic ˜ or even thinking of things for the

children to do.”

Using a ‘Sprawlometer’

The Oxnard-Ventura region
ranks ninth in urban sprawl, according to the study.

    The Los
Angeles-Long Beach, San Diego and Sacramento metropolitan regions all

registered slightly better
than 100, or average, on the “sprawlometer.”

growth is difficult to measure, the researchers pointed out. It is akin,

they said, to former U.S.
Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s famous view on

pornography ˜ it’s hard
to define, but we know it when we see it. Previous

studies have typically used
limited and subjective data to analyze it, often

relying almost entirely
on density as their primary yardstick.

    In the
new study, researchers spent three years developing a four-category

measure of sprawl.

    In 83
metropolitan regions representing half of the nation’s population, the

researchers used 22 demographic
databases to calibrate density of development;

the blend of homes, jobs
and services; the accessibility of streets; and the

strength of downtown areas
and other “activity centers.”

    To the
cynic, it might seem that each category was devised atop a bluff in

Temecula, where the population
doubled between 1990 and 2000, or along

California 71, home to rows
and rows of Spanish-tile-roofed homes built with

stunning efficiency.

    The Riverside-San
Bernardino region scored poorly in every category except

density of development,
in which the region was below average ˜ a vestige of

older developments that
featured larger lots.

result: Riverside-San Bernardino scored 14.2 on the sprawlometer. A score

100 is average, researchers
said, and the lower the score, the worse the

attendant problems are.

Inland Empire was the only metropolitan area that scored lower than 45.

far outpaced the second-
and third-place finishers, both in North Carolina.

a pretty bad commentary,” said Philip Lohman, executive director of the

Los Angeles-based Endangered
Habitats League, an environmental organization that

helped with the study. Lohman
spent his teenage years in Redlands, in San

Bernardino County, then
earned three degrees at UC Riverside before moving to

Lakewood. “We can’t undo
the damage that’s been done. All we can do is protect

what remains,” he said.

Looking for Solutions

Riverside County Supervisor
Tom Mullen said such an effort is well underway. For

three years, Mullen and
other Inland Empire leaders have pieced together what

they say is the nation’s
most ambitious metropolitan development plan. It

includes, Mullen said, a
$13-billion plan for four new highways, including a new

connector to Orange County,
and a proposal to set aside 550,000 acres of open

space and animal habitat
in western Riverside County.

important thing is that we recognized that there was a serious problem

that we needed to find an
innovative way to deal with it,” Mullen said. “We know

it is out there. And we
are trying to fix it.”

Smethers, a retired nurse practitioner in Mira Loma, doesn’t buy it. She

said the Inland Empire is
being built backward ˜ houses first, then stores, then

infrastructure such as roads
and schools.

call it the blueprint for the future,”
Smethers said. “They think we

so stupid that we believe
it. That’s the part that’s so hard to swallow. We live

here in this little country
place, supposedly out of the city. And we have big

rig traffic on my street….
We are choking out here.”

    In Oxnard,
a primary section of the metropolitan area that ranked ninth in the

study, several residents
defended their lifestyle Thursday ˜ and the “small

town” atmosphere they say
exists in their community.

in front of the home that he and his wife bought last year in Oxnard’s

Aldea del Mar tract, Jeff
Starr, a critical-care nurse, cited the positive side

of growth: People have some
elbow room, some distance between themselves and

other people, droning freeways
and belching buses.

work in a high-stress job and you come home and you don’t want to be

bothered by noise and commotion
outside,” Starr said.

mother lives in Riverside County, and “every time we drive somewhere, we

see stuff that wasn’t there
the time before,” he said.

he asked, “What are you going to do? People gotta live somewhere.”