The Banning City Council decided last year that it was time to update the city’s slogan. 

“Stagecoach Town U.S.A” was out. City signage and logos were updated with a newer and more forward-looking slogan: “Endless opportunities.” 

Now Banning is the fastest-growing city in the state, and it appears as if new residents are taking up the city on that promise, especially the opportunity to buy a new home at an affordable price. 

“You can come to Banning and buy a house for cheaper than Orange County… It’s cheaper living here, it’s always been like that. You can get a nice, affordable home — that’s the endless opportunity,” said Banning Mayor Colleen Wallace.

Prior to 2019, Banning went 10 years without issuing a single new residential permit, a stark contrast to the city’s current population boom. Banning’s population grew by 3.8% in 2020, making it the fastest-growing city in California with a population over 30,000, according to data from the California Department of Finance.

Drive past windmills, the Cabazon dinosaurs, and the Morongo Casino, and Banning is the first incorporated city you’ll pass through while traveling west on Interstate 10 toward Los Angeles from the Coachella Valley. It’s about 85 miles east of downtown Los Angeles, 25 miles west of Palm Springs, and 30 miles east of Riverside. 

The city is nestled between Mount San Gorgonio to the north and Mount San Jacinto to the south, with sweeping views of two of Southern California’s tallest peaks. 

Incorporated in 1913, Banning earned its “Stagecoach Town” nickname in the 1860s, when the area was a stagecoach stop before later becoming a railroad town. Since 1957, the annual Stagecoach Days event reminds residents of the city’s frontier roots with a rodeo and a parade. 

Nowadays, the city’s main corridor of Ramsey Street, which runs parallel to the freeway, feels like many other main streets in Southern California suburbs: a sprawling scattering of local restaurants, businesses and fast-food chains.

Some hope a booming population will change that.

Wallace envisions Ramsey Street becoming more like downtown Redlands, with a concentrated and walkable main street corridor of restaurants, small businesses and bars. 

The small city nestled in a windy pass may be in a somewhat unique position compared to other areas of the state to pull off that change. Banning’s population boom comes in the same year that California’s overall population growth declined for the first time since population estimates have been recorded, with the majority of cities losing residents. A total of 305 cities lost population last year, with 171 gaining population and six experiencing no change. 

As of Jan. 1, Banning’s estimated population was 32,223, a number that city officials expect to keep growing while thousands of new homes are built over the next decade. 

Mayor wants the population to reach 60,000

Wallace said her goal is for the city’s population to reach 60,000 within the next five to 10 years. 

“My goal is to have more people here and have our city looking more like Beaumont,” Wallace said. She noted that the neighboring city of around 52,000 people boasts more jobs, homes, and businesses than Banning. 

As housing development pushes inland along the I-10 corridor, Banning surpassed its western neighbor this year as the fastest-growing city in the state, a title that Beaumont held in 2019 with a population growth of 3.7%. 

City Manager Doug Schulze attributed much of the city’s 2020 growth to Atwell by Tri Pointe Homes, a new housing development located along Highland Springs Avenue, which serves as Banning’s western border with Beaumont. Banning’s total number of housing units grew by about 4% last year, from 12,156 to 12,643.

Atwell began selling homes in April 2020, and 485 homes have sold so far. Once completed, Atwell will add nearly 4,400 new homes to Banning — a big deal for a city with around 12,000 total housing units. 

Photo Credit: Jay Calderon – The Desert Sun

Francine Wallace — no relation to Colleen — vice president of the community experience for Tri Pointe Homes, said Banning offers a developed city with amenities and affordable new homes, without feeling far-flung from other parts of Southern California. 

When Atwell began selling in April 2020, home prices started in the high $200s. The price point is now starting in the mid-$300s, “which is still extremely affordable for Southern California,” she said. 

Meanwhile, the median sales price of existing homes in California was $818,260 in May 2021, according to the California Association of Realtors. In the Inland Empire, the median price was $510,000, while the six-county Southern California region had a median sales price of $752,250. 

“We’ve got a great location and a price point that you can’t find in California, and people can live in Banning, commute to Riverside, Perris — L.A. is a little far, but people do it, and we’re close to the I-10,” said Schulze. 

‘You couldn’t touch a house this big in Chino’

While the Inland Empire has long been considered a bastion for those in search of affordable homes from Los Angeles and Orange counties, Inland Empire residents themselves are also pushing further inland.

About 80% of Atwell’s new residents are from other Inland Empire cities, such as Riverside, San Bernardino, Moreno Valley, Redlands, Rancho Cucamonga and Ontario, according to Francine Wallace. 

“You couldn’t even touch a house this big in Chino for what we paid here,” said Danitza Rave, who moved to Banning from Chino with her husband and three daughters. 

The family bought a five-bedroom home for around $390,000 in Banning. They also considered Lake Elsinore, Murrieta and Menifee, but Rave said homes in those cities were slightly more expensive and also had more local traffic. 

“Honestly, we moved out here because of the price, it is literally our dream home, and unfortunately, in Chino, we couldn’t afford it,” Rave said. 

Rave works from home, but her husband commutes to South Los Angeles. She said he might start driving to Perris and taking the commuter train from there. Still, they’re also holding out hope for the long-awaited Coachella Valley-San Gorgonio Pass rail service, which would add a new station in Banning that would connect the pass area to Los Angeles. 

Photo Credit: Jay Calderon – The Desert Sun

For the Andrade family, their new Banning home splits the difference between their commutes. Andrew Andrade works as a truck driver based out of San Bernardino, and his wife Marilu recently started a new job as a surgical technician in Palm Springs. The couple moved into Atwell with their toddler-aged son a few weeks ago from Fontana. 

“It was definitely the price and the size of the home in a new quiet community,” Andrew Andrade said. 

Jennifer Rodriguez said her family previously lived in a mobile home in Yucaipa, then rented in Redlands — her husband works in Redlands, so they wanted to stay in the area but also wanted a newer home. After their real estate agent showed them a newer home in a five-year-old development in Moreno Valley for $400,000, they started looking for more affordable options in Banning. 

“Everywhere we looked in Redlands, Moreno Valley, and Yucaipa — nothing in our price range was good,” Rodriguez said, noting their three-bedroom home in Atwell was around $300,000. 

This sentiment was echoed by other Atwell homeowners. 

“The houses we were looking at were nothing compared to this, and they were all at the very top of our budget and would have needed fixing-up projects,” said Darrien Ethier, who moved to Banning from San Bernardino.

Banning is booming

Atwell sees high demand for its new homes, which are spread out across five distinct communities. Tri Pointe Homes has “priority groups” of interested buyers who are contacted as homes are released, and Wallace said there are a few hundred people on each of the five priority lists. 

All five communities are currently “temporarily sold out,” with the priority lists temporarily closed due to high demand while Tri Pointe makes its way through the existing lists. Wallace said these lists would be reopened at a later date “after we catch up to the demand for the releases that we have.”

Demand in Banning isn’t limited to new homes. Local real estate agent Diana Harris said last year. The housing market was “hot.” This year, it’s “on fire.”

“You can’t keep a house on the market long enough,” she said.

Harris said within two or three days of putting a home on the market. She’s getting multiple offers $20,000, $30,000, and even $50,000 over the list price.

“Out here in the pass, we have affordable homes compared to places like Orange County, but also even compared to Riverside and San Bernardino, and Redlands, Loma Linda, the homes there are just more expensive, even in Yucaipa they’re higher. The more affordable homes in today’s market are in Banning and Beaumont,” she said. 

Photo Credit: Jay Calderon – The Desert Sun

Banning is the latest city along the I-10 corridor to experience a population boom. Tri Pointe Homes, formerly Pardee Homes, moved over to Banning after experiencing success with Sundance, a similarly-sized development in Beaumont that held a ribbon-cutting in 2003 and officially sold out this May. A similar build-out timeline is expected for Atwell. 

Another Tri Pointe Beaumont development, Altis, opened in September 2018 and has sold about 360 homes so far. 

“There have been decades of success of selling and building in Beaumont, and we just transferred that success over to the Banning side,” said Wallace. 

Further west along I-10, Calimesa’s population grew by 7.5% last year, from 9,522 to 10,236. That tracks with the small city’s 7.59% increase in housing units last year, ranking it third in the state for percent total housing unit growth. As of January, a total of 500 new homes have been completed in Calimesa’s Summerwind Ranch development, with a total of 3,841 single and multi-family housing units expected at build-out. 

8,500 approved new homes in Banning

In Banning, “the city went 20 years with absolutely no growth,” according to Schulze. City officials are now prioritizing growth and development after realizing that younger generations were moving out of the city and seeing the economic advantages of neighboring Beaumont’s growth. 

“Banning is the next city moving out from Los Angeles that hasn’t developed, the city council is very interested and favorable right now regarding growth and development. Creating opportunities for the young people to stay in Banning is very important, and I think a lot of people recognize that” Schulze said. 

As of 2018, the median age in Banning was 40, a few years older than Riverside County’s median age of 35. The median household income was $39,700, below the county median of $60,807. 

Banning’s approximately 5,000 students are served by the Banning Unified School District, which currently operates four elementary schools, two middle schools, one comprehensive high school, and one continuation high school. 

While the Atwell development is within Banning’s city boundaries, the majority of the 4,400 new homes will fall within the Beaumont Unified School District boundaries. Banning school district and city officials have tried to negotiate with the Beaumont Unified School District to change these boundaries so that the new students will attend Banning schools, but so far, efforts have been unsuccessful. 

This isn’t the first time the two cities have experienced tension over new development along their Highland Springs Avenue boundary. In the early 2000s, Schulze said the city had a “learning experience” when the city council turned down a proposed Wal-Mart due to concerns over traffic impacts. Instead, Wal-Mart built a new store just across Highland Springs Avenue in Beaumont, which opened in 2006. 

“Beaumont then exploded with development, both commercial and residential, and Banning still got a lot of those traffic impacts without the benefits of the tax revenue… We can say no to certain types of development, but if the development moves across the street or to the next community, we still have a lot of the negative without the positive,” he said. 

Photo Credit: Jay Calderon – The Desert Sun

Including Atwell, there are currently 8,500 approved homes going through the development process in Banning, making Mayor Wallace’s goal of 60,000 people a possibility.  

This also includes Rancho San Gorgonio, an 831-acre master-planned development by Diversified Pacific that would add up to 3,385 residential units to the south side of Banning. Plans for Rancho San Gorgonio include an elementary school site and about 9.3 acres set aside for commercial businesses. 

But with new residents moving to Banning while keeping jobs in other cities, commute times are also a concern, both for new residents sitting on the I-10 and for the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, of which transportation contributes the largest share. 

Schulze said the city is supporting transportation projects like the Coachella Valley-San Gorgonio Pass train, which would provide more sustainable ways for Banning residents to get to work in other cities. But “a higher priority” is trying to bring jobs into Banning.

Schulze and Wallace both pointed to Grandave Studios, a movie studio in development on a large swath of land near the Banning Municipal Airport that promises to bring around 8,000 new jobs to the city.

City officials expect population growth and housing development to continue in the former “Stagecoach Town, U.S.A.”

“3.8% is actually not a lot of growth for a city like Banning. In fact, I would say in the next ten years, we will experience growth much higher than that,” said Schulze. 

The article was written by Erin Rode. Erin Rode covers the western Coachella Valley cities of Palm Springs, Cathedral City, and Desert Hot Springs. Reach her at erin.rode@desertsun.com.

Article was originally published in the Palm Springs Desert Sun; the original article can be found here: https://www.desertsun.com/story/money/real-estate/2021/06/20/banning-fastest-growing-california-city-due-new-home-construction/7456703002/

Rich Huey

Ca DRE #02143123

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