http://www.pe.com/articles/norco-697182-riverside-city.html 07.05.2014 Press Enterprise
NORCO: Horsetown USA in fight of rural life
Residents and city leaders of tiny Horsetown USA are building on Riverside neighbors’ grassroots efforts to stop La Sierra open space development
BY SUZANNE HURT / STAFF WRITER KURT MILLER / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Driving Norco’s two-lane roads in a horse-drawn cart, Jim Kirkpatrick waves and nods to friends passing by on foot, on horseback and in cars.
The last thing Jim Kirkpatrick and his wife, Patricia, want to worry about while pleasure riding is getting hit by a car.
In Horsetown USA, where horseback riders and horse-drawn wagons are part of a protected culture, horse owners – which includes many city officials – are part of a growing group who oppose a Riverside ballot measure to allow 1,950 houses to be built in protected open space just over the border in that city’s La Sierra neighborhood.
Norconians fear the nearby subdivision would bombard streets with an overwhelming number of commuters cutting through to I-15, endanger people and animals and destroy their semirural way of life.
“If this thing goes through, we’re in real trouble,” said Norco City Councilman Kevin Bash. “The problem is, there’s very little we can do. It’s not our city.”
Two cities, one set of hills
The ballot initiative battle involves a set of hills that separates Norco, population 27,063, from the northwestern edge of Riverside, a city of nearly 314,000.
The measure offers on its face to protect at least 650 acres in those hills from development while lifting the 35-year-old development restrictions from open space next to the Hidden Valley Wildlife Area between the two cities. That would allow Las Vegas developer Terry Manley to build houses on 400 acres. Manley could not be reached for comment.
Proponents, including former Riverside Mayor Ron Loveridge and former Riverside Councilwoman Nancy Hart, highlight the promise to forever keep open the hilly space for hiking and horseback riding.
A petition drive campaign financed by Manley gathered enough signatures, and Riverside voters on Nov. 4 will decide whether to lift the protections they set by Proposition R in 1979 and Measure C in 1987. The Riverside City Council voted last month to put the measure on the ballot.
The Norco City Council voted unanimously in May to oppose the measure. But after City Attorney John Harper advised Norco not to spend city funds to fight an initiative headed for a ballot, residents and individual council members began mounting a campaign of their own to try to stop it.
Some, including Norco Councilman Bash, are working with a grassroots opposition group led by former Riverside City Councilwoman Laura Densmore and other La Sierra residents who believe the subdivision would also decimate that semirural community.
Norconians are trying to let Riverside residents know they think the ballot measure and the development wouldn’t be good for either city.
“Our big campaign is if you know someone in Riverside, tell them to vote ‘no,’” Bash said.
‘Disregard for equestrian lifestyle’
Norco horse owners are especially worried about traffic impacts in a town whose narrow streets, low speed limits and more than 100 miles of bridle paths were designed to allow people to ride horses and drive buggies and wagons.
Jim Kirkpatrick, president of the Saddle and Harness Association in Norco, said increased numbers of drivers hurrying to work would pose a danger to horses and people. He and others said they’d be afraid to take horses on the streets or even bridle paths.
“I don’t really want to become a hood ornament,” he said. “There’s a lot of people out there who feel they have a right to rule the road.”
Riverside residents and some younger Norco drivers are speeding through horse-friendly Old Town Norco during commuting hours, Norco residents say.
They cut through town from Riverside’s northwest corner in a virtual caravan down California Avenue and Sixth Street, or smaller residential streets, said Councilman Greg Newton, ignoring stop signs and stop lights and blasting their horns, which can scare horses and cause accidents.
Police cited 44 speeders in one eight-hour day in mid-June, but the town has no money for a dedicated motorcycle traffic officer, Newton said.
Speeding and reckless driving through intersections is also harming neighborhoods, he said.
“There’s a disregard for the equestrian lifestyle. A disregard for people’s and animals’ safety,” he said.
Old Town, which sits between La Sierra and I-15, would be impacted most by speeding and traffic problems from people cutting through town who aren’t familiar with horse communities, said Glenn Hedges, president of the Norco Horsemen’s Association.
“People aren’t going to be riding horses if it’s going to be unsafe, if they’re driving at a high rate of speed, if they’re going to get hit,” he said. “It’s our whole way of life.”
Hedges said he will ask the horsemen’s association board if they want to fight the initiative.
“The influx is going to ruin our city,” he said, adding Norco doesn’t have funds to repair streets used by more cars from Riverside.
Misleading ballot campaign
More than half a dozen Norco leaders and residents said they also oppose the ballot measure because they think the campaign is misleading.
“We feel what is being presented is smoke and mirrors. An illusion for people who are not informed,” said Denise Sutherland, a city Historic Preservation Commission member.
Norco council members and residents say the promise to save the hills is empty, since a developer would much rather build on flat, open land. Building in the hills would be costly, they say. Besides, opponents say, the hills are already protected by Prop. R and Measure C.
Norco Councilman Bash warned if Riverside residents pass the ballot measure, developers will be free to pursue building on other protected open spaces, including land in the greenbelt along the Santa Ana River.
That could decimate birds and animals – and a way of life Norconians and many other locals have fought hard to keep, he said.
“Why do we have to cover every damn square inch with a house?” Bash asked. “We don’t in Norco.”
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