Rancho Cucamonga originally was a small agricultural community of 50,000 tucked into Southern California’s San Bernardino County. Today, after several decades of rapid growth, it is an ethnically and racially diverse suburban community of 175,000. Vineyards and citrus groves have been replaced by sprawling housing and retail development, including an abundance of unhealthy food outlets.
These environmental changes have helped to create a perfect storm for obesity and related health problems, particularly in the southwest section of the city.
Southwest Cucamonga, as it is known, is a predominantly Latino community with higher rates of poverty, deteriorated housing stock and few neighborhood amenities. There are no grocery stores selling fresh produce, so residents must go elsewhere to shop. Because many rely on public transportation, they can buy only as much fresh food as they can carry home on the bus. In addition, there is only one local park, and most streets lack curbs and bike lanes as well as sidewalks. Crime and gang activity can keep residents from exercising and playing outdoors.
The City of Rancho Cucamonga recently launched an initiative called Healthy RC to further policies and programs that promote healthy minds, healthy bodies and a healthy earth. Its leaders envisioned a multi-pronged approach that aims to make active living and healthy eating “the easy choice.”
With funding through Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities, the city will continue this work as the Healthy RC Kids project. Its expanded effort will implement the earlier initiative’s action plan by extending the Pacific Electric Trail, planned as a 21-mile multi-use path on the site of an old rail line, and constructing a bike trail as part of the Safe Routes to School program.
Beyond that, it will push to increase healthy food options in schools and child-care settings, forge joint-use agreements to make school facilities available outside of school hours and explore opportunities to develop community gardens and farmers' markets. Leaders aim to attract fresh food outlets and modify zoning regulations to allow “edible front yards.”
Healthy RC Kids has the backing of partners such as the San Bernardino County Healthy Communities Program, San Antonio Community Hospital, Inland Empire United Way, Rancho Cucamonga Family YMCA, Northtown Housing Development Corp. and the Cucamonga, Central, Etiwanda and Chaffey School Districts. Though the project will focus on the entire community, the southwest area will receive special attention because its residents are at greatest risk for obesity and have the fewest resources for effecting change on their own.
“This is the right time for our community to take on this project and succeed,” said project director James R. Troyer. “We’ve got the right partners in place, and we have the political will and the support of our community, including the City Council, the school district and the health department.”