Life outside city limits

So, you’ve recently moved into your brand new suburban tract home in what the developer has cheerfully marketed as “The Corona Valley.” It’s a 5-bedroom, mini-mansion complete with 4 large bathrooms, a second-floor “landing,” built-in multimedia/entertainment centers, Sub-Zero appliances, walk-in closets galore, and a large backyard with lush landscaping to boot.

The schools are new, the streets newly-paved, your neighbors seem great, a “proposed park site” is beginning to take shape across the street, and a Home Depot and Best Buy are nearing completion at a newly built shopping center nearby.

The Corona Valley was designed for you to enjoy the relaxation that comes from country living, yet place you conveniently close to job centers, schools, recreation, and vibrant shopping. In fact, the new Clara Barton Elementary School and McCune Family Neighborhood Park are just steps from your door.

Trimark Pacific Homes marketing for Corona Valley tract

But now, you find yourself needing to inquire about certain city services. So naturally, you pull out the local “Corona-Norco” phone book and proceed to call Corona City Hall. Only there’s a problem — you don’t actually live within the city of Corona. In fact, you’re well over 5 miles from the Corona city limit.

Welcome to Inland Southern California’s burgeoning, unincorporated communities.

For a recent arrival to The Corona Valley — or any of its nearby sibling housing tracts — the first notion that they live not within an actual city itself, but in an unincorporated area of the county, may come as a bit of a surprise, particularly when the developer’s marketing techniques tend to indicate otherwise (or at least downplay this aspect). (2024 Update: The housing tract marketed as “The Corona Valley” in an unincorporated portion of northwest Riverside County became part of Eastvale upon that city’s incorporation in 2010.)

On the surface, many of these newly built, master-planned, “unincorporated” communities springing up all across Inland Southern California do not appear much different than their counterparts within nearby cities. But underneath, the funding and governing mechanisms can be quite different, if not quite up to the service standards found — or expected — within most incorporated cities:

With state laws limiting their ability to impose new taxes and assessments, Inland counties are struggling to provide the city-style services coastal transplants expect.

Riverside Press-Enterprise – March 20. 2005

In the post-Prop 13 era of California, rooftops rarely foot the bills for the services required and/or provided. Thus, many cities are much more reluctant these days to annex freshly-built housing tracts, especially those without any significant business and/or commercial tax base potential. And yet, such developments on the fringe of a city’s borders can greatly impact a city’s parks and libraries as many new arrivals often look to adjacent cities for these services and amenities.

Likewise, the same property tax limits of Prop 13 that keeps many cities from gobbling up rooftops, also hinders many newly-developing areas from incorporating into cities as well. In the majority of cases, there simply is not a large enough — or diverse enough — tax base to support city-style government for these primarily residential developments. Thus, the duties of servicing these unincorporated communities are left to county government, which often finds itself spreading tax dollars over an increasingly wider area, thereby compromising overall service levels.

Supervisor Buster said (Riverside) county collects $2.1 million in annual revenues from (unincorporated) Wildomar and spends about $2.75 million on services, mostly law enforcement.

An economy of scale allows revenues generated in other parts of the county to help cover the spending gap in places like Wildomar.

Riverside Press-Enterprise – March 20, 2005

Without a doubt, some good has in fact come from Prop 13 (such as limiting property taxes). However, it’s no surprise many leading economists agree that a structural reform of the nation’s most recognized — and most sacred — initiative is indeed due, else the “fiscalization of land” will remain unabated as cities continue to favor annexing commercial interests over residential.


  • Riverside Press-Enterprise – Unincorporated areas: Lack of services spark cityhood drives (March 20)
  • Riverside Press-Enterprise – Police, fire services questioned in unincorporated Temescal Valley (March 26)
  • The Corona Valley – Trimark Pacific

Sources: Riverside Press-Enterprise (PE-20050320, PE-20050326)

2024 PAGE UPDATE: Added newspaper citation/insert; added minor clarification; removed outdated links to newspaper articles and Corona Valley housing tract developer.

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