Monday, March 17, 2008

Rialto's Citrus Grove Project Nears Completion (Press Enterprise 03062008)

Rialto's Citrus Grove project nears completion

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07:40 AM PST on Saturday, March 8, 2008
The Press-Enterprise

Video: Restoration of the Willow-Winchester area in Rialto

Change doesn't come cheap, and in Rialto's notorious Willow-Winchester neighborhood just north of Eisenhower High School, it hasn't come quickly or easily, either.

A few years ago, city officials decided the crime-infested neighborhood could be turned around if the Rialto Redevelopment Agency could purchase the dilapidated properties, gut and rebuild them, and impose stringent criteria on who could live there after the overhaul was done.

The city has a $37 million investment in the affordable housing project, renamed Citrus Grove of Rialto.

On Friday, city leaders toured Citrus Grove, marveling at its transformation from broken-down, debris-strewn slum in 2006, when work began, to the charming cluster of apartment buildings it has become. The work will be finished in June.

The heart of Citrus Grove likely will be its 7,000-square-foot community center, which will house a preschool, after-school programs, a small playground and other amenities for the residents.

National Community Renaissance, a nonprofit affordable housing organization based in Rancho Cucamonga, is renovating the neighborhood in partnership with the Rialto Redevelopment Agency. The organization also will manage Citrus Grove, which comprises 152 units on Winchester Drive, Willow Avenue, Clifford Street and Millard Avenue.

The neighborhood originally was built in 1969 as condominiums, but over the decades most of the units lapsed from owner-occupied residences to rentals. Single-family neighborhoods on Scott Street and Cascade Drive hug its northern and eastern borders, respectively, and the high school's baseball diamond is next to the complex's southern edge.

"In the 1970s and 1980s, the biggest complaint was the number of foul balls that landed here from Eisenhower High," said City Councilman Joe Baca Jr.

The climate in Willow-Winchester soured in the 1990s.

Police Chief Mark Kling said violence and crime in Willow-Winchester so monopolized Rialto officers' time that the department had to establish an office there.

"To have to put a substation in a neighborhood is totally unacceptable," he said, standing outside the Clifford Street unit police once used.

The police department's calls for service in Willow-Winchester have plummeted from 1,800 per year to 600, Kling said.

When Veada Pinkney moved to the neighborhood in 2003, she paid $750 per month in rent.

"We're from Compton. We moved here to get in a better environment, but it was bad over here," she said.

She couldn't afford to live in a safer part of town.

"So I stayed, and I prayed," said Pinkney, 35, a stay-at-home mother.

Members of a Willow Avenue congregation across the street, Rialto Church of the Nazarene, told her they, too, were praying for the neighborhood.

Now, for just $100 more in monthly rent, Pinkney lives in a renovated apartment in a complex where strict leases will screen prospective tenants and allow on-site management to evict trouble-makers.

She moved last July to her new unit, part of the first phase to be renovated. Pinkney shares the two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment with her 9-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son.

Funding to overhaul Citrus Grove came from Rialto redevelopment bonds, federal Housing and Urban Development grants secured for Rialto by the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors, and a state affordable housing ballot measure.

The agency was able to negotiate with most of the owners to purchase the units, using eminent domain to acquire two, said Redevelopment Director Robb Steel.

The Redevelopment Agency plans to expand the complex by acquiring 42 units in the adjacent Vista Avenue-Cascade Drive neighborhood, Steel said. Reconstruction at Vista Cascade is scheduled to begin in summer 2009 and be finished by summer 2010, said John Dutrey, housing preservation specialist for the Redevelopment Agency.

Reach Mary Bender at 909-806-3056 or

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