A long-planned annexation of more than 4,000 acres of mostly open space, something the city has tried to do for 40 years, finally happened in December. Plans call for some single-family homes and light commercial development on the property, but mostly city officials want to preserve the area’s rural feel.
Last fall, Rancho Cucamonga got larger. Not by population, but by geography.
In November, San Bernardino County’s Local Agency Formation Commission approved the annexation of 4,085 acres from the county to Rancho Cucamonga, something the city has been trying to make happen since the early 1980s.
“It was part of the city’s first general plan, and it’s always been a primary goal to preserve that land, and keep it a semi-rural environment,” said Deputy City Manager Matthew Burris. “It has steep hillsides, a canyon and some flood plains. The whole area has a rural feel to it, and the city wants to keep it that way.
“But we also need houses, and we’re glad that we can build some there.”
The mostly untouched land -formal name Etiwanda Heights – officially became part of the city in December, when Rancho Cucamonga accepted it and made it part of District Four. The rectangular parcel – which has been within the city’s sphere of influence since it incorporated in 1977 – is covered by chaparral and includes flood control infrastructure installed years ago by the county.
The property is bordered by San Bernardino National Forest, Fontana, and Los Osos High School. The annexation extends Rancho Cucamonga’s boundaries by 6.3 miles, making the city nearly 47 square miles in size.
Its population is about 180,000, according to the most recent census figures.
Aside from a scattering of houses, there is no development on the annexed land but that will change. The Etiwanda Heights Neighborhood and Conservation Plan sets aside 790 acres for development that will include:
- Between 2,700-3,000 single-family homes. Home and lot sizes will be mixed, and there will be no multi-family.
- 85 acres of parks.
- 11 miles of recreation trails.
- Shops, retail, and a community center, all of which would cover approximately 180,000 square feet.
- A buffer between homes on the west end of the property. A wide buffer between existing homes on the west edge of the Neighborhood area.
- An additional east-west trail, which would connect to trails already on the property.
- A K-8 school.
- Roundabout intersections to improve traffic flow and reduce speeds in neighborhoods.
The city council approved the Etiwanda Heights plan in November 2019. One year later, the San Bernardino County Local Agency Formation Commission also gave its stamp of approval, officially making the land part of Rancho Cucamonga.
In assembling the plan, Rancho Cucamonga officials spoke with more than 200,000 people online and approximately 1,500 people in workshops, meetings, and an open house.
Implementing the entire plan, especially the residential development, could take 15 to 20 years, Burris said.
Rancho Cucamonga wants to annex that land for several reasons, including building some much-needed houses while preserving the property’s natural habitat. To do that it must have the final say in what is built there, said Councilwoman Lynne Kennedy.
“We want local control most of all,” said Kennedy, who represents District Four. “That’s a lot of land, and it’s right up against the city. Why shouldn’t we have control over it?”
In effect, Rancho Cucamonga will oversee the annexed property like a homeowners association oversees a community: it doesn’t own any of the houses, but it has the final say in how they’re upgraded and what they look like.
San Bernardino County, which owns much of the land set aside for development, has indicated it’s willing to sell whatever land is necessary to make that happen, according to Burris.
“By itself, the city can’t do anything with that land,” Burris said. “San Bernardino County is the major landowner, and it’s the only one that can do anything with it. But they’ve given us every indication that they want to sell it so it can be developed.”
Eventually, a master developer will have to be found to get the project off the ground.
“The county knows exactly what we want,” Burris said. “We want development, but we want it to be low key.”
Terry Thompson, San Bernardino County’s director of real estate services, could not be reached for comment.
Much of the flood control apparatus on the property is no longer needed, so it won’t be an obstacle to development, said Sam Martinez, executive officer with San Bernardino County LAFCO.
“There’s been some opposition among a few property owners, but not enough to block anything,” said Martinez, whose agency is responsible for establishing, and redrawing, municipal boundaries throughout California.
A 4,000-acre annexation is large, but not unprecedented, for this part of the state, according to Martinez.
“For Rancho Cucamonga that’s a big acquisition, but in the Victor Valley they’ve had larger,” Martinez said. “It all depends on the market.”