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Whiting: In Yorba Linda, the hills are alive – with building

Whiting: In Yorba Linda, the hills are alive – with building

Sources: U.S. Census, CoreLogic

This is part of an ongoing series highlighting every Orange County city.

From a household median income in the six figures to an average home price of nearly $ 1 million, big numbers describe Yorba Linda. But the most surprising thing is that the city’s about to get even bigger.

That’s right. Yorba Linda, north of the 91, is no fixer-upper. It’s bristling with building. Construction includes more than 1,200 units, ranging from affordable apartments to luxury homes.

Additionally, this 20-square-mile city is looking to annex nearly a square mile of hillside open land slated for hundreds more homes.

If you think Villa Park’s half-acre spreads are palatial, think again. On what is now wilderness south of Chino Hills State Park, plans include 83 of those homes on 83 acres with prices expected up to $ 2.5 million.

Still, hundreds of new homes – plus a new high school – are only a fraction of the big changes in this half-century-old city.

Within a few years, residents and visitors to the Nixon Presidential Library & Museum will have the option of visiting a 21st century downtown.

Yes, the city’s come a long way from the citrus trees and avocado seedlings that grew when our 37th president was born here in the house his father built.

But not everyone’s thrilled. Massive destruction from a wildfire seven years ago still lingers.


Driving Yorba Linda’s main thoroughfares such as Bastanchury Road, Imperial Highway and Yorba Linda Boulevard is both a treat and a breeze.

In the past when I visited, traffic flowed, speeds were high and on many streets the landscape was lush green.

Traffic still flows. But water doesn’t. To drop to state-mandated water-use levels, much of the city’s shrubs and grasses are dead.

“Yorba Linda’s known for vast areas of green and its trees,” City Manager Mark Pulone tells me. “Call it golden or call it brown, a lot of Yorba Linda is no longer as green as people want it to be.”

Like many city managers I’ve talked to, Pulone hopes for a wet El Niño winter. Still, he expects the drought’s effects to continue unless there is a series of wet winters.

In the near future, the city will turn toward drought-tolerant landscaping.

But for now, the focus is on managing development and creating more places for community connections. Major redevelopment of the area near Yorba Linda Boulevard and Imperial Highway called Town Center is key.

After two decades of community input, planning, flush times, recession times and $ 3.5 million in street improvements, Pulone reports, “Town Center is finally taking off.”

A developer is in escrow to build a 114,000-square-foot shopping center, and construction is scheduled to start next year.

Plans include a Bristol Farms, a movie theater complex and a series of upscale shops and restaurants.

Pulone smiles when he talks about what the impact will mean to residents. He explains plans also include relocating the city’s central library and creating a central square for public events. He notes that the footprint will be designed to flow into Main Street just a block away.

When I visited, Main Street offered a big sign, a few quaint shops and too many empty parking spots to feel like a destination. Pulone predicts that will change.

The Nixon museum will soon get a $ 15 million makeover, the city manager reports, likely bringing in more visitors.

And Packing House Square just south of Town Center is expected to evolve as well.

“Town Center’s being designed,” Pulone says, “as we speak.”


Pointing to a small spot on a big city map, Pulone asks if I’ve checked out Savi Ranch. The area is adjacent to the 91, just west of the 241. I’ve driven by it dozens of times, but never noticed Savi Ranch.

I shake my head, hoping it’s new. Pulone reports the light industrial and retail complex has been there for a quarter-century. Oops.

But in a way, my problem is a city problem. Currently, Yorba Linda relies mostly on property tax revenue and has no true sales tax engine such as Brea Mall or Tustin Auto Center. Like Yorba Linda’s Town Center, Savi Ranch needs more, well, everything to attract more customers – and more sales tax.

A city report states Savi Ranch is responsible for 60 percent of the city’s sales revenues. It calls the area “an eclectic mixture of industrial, retail, and automotive land uses.”

The report also admits, “Due to limited access points, and a lack of nightlife, entertainment and family attractions, future economic gains … are limited.”

“We don’t have the big revenue producers,” Pulone laments. But a new 30-year plan for Savi Ranch hopes to turn that around.

Proposals include more shops to accompany the Costco, Kohl’s, Best Buy, Home Depot and other stores already there; more light industrial; more hotels to join two relatively new ones; and adding affordable apartments.

The city manager allows, “I’d love for it to be a destination.”


As we talk and look at the map, I mention historical wildfire corridors and the discussion turns toward the 2008 Freeway Complex fire that destroyed 120 homes.

All but eight of those homes have been rebuilt. Still, some residents remain wary, especially in the face of new construction and drought.

An organization called Hills for Everyone was founded in 1977. It warns that in the area Yorba Linda expects to annex, Esperanza Hills, there is both limited access and fire danger.

Pulone is quick to acknowledge the concerns. “It was only six and a half years ago. It put people on edge.” He maintains that significant steps have been taken to mitigate wildfires. “A lot of good things came out of that fire.”

Changes include, the city manager says, implementing among the strictest building codes in California, requiring fire-safe perimeters, covered beams and eaves, tight mesh over vents and fire-retardant patios.

The city also switched from contracting with Brea police to contracting with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. Fire safety isn’t just about fighting fires, Pulone allows; it’s also about evacuating people.

During the Freeway Complex fire, some streets saw gridlock. Sheriff’s deputies have more resources, Pulone explains, and should be able to move people to safety with efficiency and speed should a worst-case scenario occur.


As the city manager and I pore over the map, he points out equestrian areas I didn’t know existed in south Yorba Linda. I mention running, biking and seeing kayaks on the Santa Ana River that meanders just north of the 91.

“We also have great hiking opportunities,” Pulone offers. He asks if I’ve been to the highest point in Chino Hills State Park, which lies just north of Yorba Linda. I smile and nod. The view takes in the Santa Ana, San Gabriel and Santa Monica mountain ranges as well as everything from Yorba Linda to Santa Catalina Island.

It is a view of promise.

Contact the writer: dwhiting@ocregister.com

The Orange County Register – News Headlines : Real Estate News