TEMECULA — Horse lovers and cattle ranchers once were drawn to this remote valley for its leisurely pace and lush hills.
Now, Californians fed up with the urbanization of their suburbs are filling the pastures with stucco strip malls and Spanish tile-topped tract homes.
Road crews struggle to keep pace with the rapid housing and commercial construction, leaving drivers stuck on dead-end streets or congested, unfinished thoroughfares.
Road signs directing travelers to innumerable housing developments mark the city’s entrances, and the smell of construction dust and the constant sound of power tools fill the air.
Suburbanites from cities near Los Angeles and San Francisco are flocking to outlying counties like Riverside in the south and San Benito in the north.
They come in search of affordable housing, better schools and less crime.
They bring with them traffic, pollution and crime, longtime residents say.
“People wanted a more country place and then look what happened to it,” said Irene Hotchkiss, a 67-year-old resident who brought her five children to live here 30 years ago. “It’s terrible.”
Hotchkiss and her husband, Tommy Hotchkiss, moved out of the city’s core when they saw the population boom on the horizon and realized the days of riding horses around town and knowing everyone by name were over.
Tommy Hotchkiss, 71, has lived here since the 1940s when he left Los Angeles some 90 miles to the northwest and came to work as a ranch hand.
Temecula’s population has grown 113 percent from 27,099 in 1990 to 57,716 in 2000, according to the census figures released this week.
Nearby Murrieta grew 2,620 percent from 1,628 in 1990 to 44,282 in 2000.
Placer County just east of Sacramento grew by 43 percent for similar reasons, and San Benito County, south of Jan Jose, grew by 45 percent.
Los Angeles County and San Francisco grew by only 7 percent, which is about half of the state’s average growth rate over the past decade.
Residents have been moving away from the urban core since the 1980s, state demographers say, but as the suburbs have become increasingly crowded residents have begun to move even farther.
That search has led them to once remote areas previously known more for agriculture than for their low cost of living.
Some Temecula residents commute to jobs in places like San Diego, about 60 miles to the south, or Orange County to the east, although many have found work locally as the area has grown.
New schools and parks have sprung up alongside avocado groves and vineyards across Temecula as part of developers’ master plans.