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Originally built for first-time home owners, subdivision is close to schools, shopping, park

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(Editor?s note: This is one in a series of monthly stories taking a close-up look at neighborhoods in Petaluma.)

They?re known for cleverly utilizing whatever support they find to rapidly scale great heights, and their blossoming along the way is beautiful to behold.

So perhaps it?s no coincidence that one of the subdivisions offered by Burbank Housing and the City of Petaluma for first-time home owners ambitiously moving ahead in their careers bears the name of this popular vine, wisteria.

When the Wisteria subdivision was created in 1996, a trellis made of the plant fronted each home, and most of them remain. As in the adjoining Americana subdivision created a few years earlier, many families with young children moved in, and they quickly bonded with each other.

?When the homes on Wisteria Street were being built, priority was given to people who had kids, and who either worked in Petaluma or had a business here. This helped to build a very family-oriented, friendly neighborhood,? said Susan Ortiz, who moved with her family to the neighborhood from Mill Valley because the housing was more affordable.

?We all have seen our kids growing up together ? the 2-year-old kid down the street now is 13,? said Julie Sherman, who lives on Wisteria Circle with her husband, Jeff, and their 14-year-old twins, Camille and Emily. ?And we all know each other?s cars.?

Children faced a dilemma as the neighborhood grew, though.

?Homes took over the open fields, so kids would hang out on the curbs with each other. But when Leghorns Park opened, they had somewhere else to go,? Sherman said.

A walkway across Riesling Road now connects the neighborhood to Leghorns Park and the Parkway Plaza shopping center.

As the children have grown, so have many of their parents? incomes. The median income per household has risen from $91,195 in 2000 to an estimated $107,396 in 2006, and is expected to reach $117,070 in 2011.

One successful home owner, Jose Becerra, owner of J.G. Becerra Landscaping, was living in Novato in 1996 when he found out about the Wisteria homes.

?I didn?t want to leave, but I discovered that I could afford to buy a home on Wisteria. Now I?m glad we?re here,? said Becerra, who lives with his wife, Griselda, and their children, Vanessa, 17, Samantha, 15, and Kevin, 2.

Tucked away on the northeast end of Petaluma near Leghorns Park and Kenilworth Junior High School, the Americana-Wisteria neighborhood offers the desired combination of safety and privacy as well as accessibility to schools and businesses.

?I like being near to Leghorns and G & G Supermarket,? Becerra said. ?Basically, everything we need is within walking distance, and we don?t hear freeway noise or have a lot of traffic. It?s a very good location.?

One of the main draws for Ortiz was the proximity to schools and to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Petaluma?s Corona Ranch Clubhouse, which her son, Ry, joined.

?I grew up walking to school, and wanted my son to be able to do the same thing,? she said.

Ry, 14, was able to walk to Corona Creek Elementary School at 1851 Hartman Lane, and then to the new Kenilworth Junior High School when it opened at 800 Riesling Road last year. He now takes a bus to Casa Grande High School, but finds that this has its dividends.

?He?s met a whole new group of friends there,? Ortiz said.

She feels that the layout of the neighborhood has been conducive to child raising.

?It?s very enclosed, so I?ve been able to see Ry playing outside,? she said.

Some families have moved out of the neighborhood during the past several years.

?We have too many strangers here now. It seems as if I see a new face every other day,? said Norma Jones, a retired bookkeeper who moved from Clydesdale Way on Petaluma?s west side, and has lived on Lexington Street for the past five years.

?A lot of families moved from our neighborhood because California is so much more expensive than other states,? Ortiz said.

The Hispanic population rose from 8.6 percent in 2000 to an estimated 11.6 percent in 2006 ? and is expected to reach 15.2 percent by 2011.

Ortiz says that as families moved away, the neighborhood ? a mixture of blue- and white-collar families ? became less tightly knit, but she feels it has retained a friendly spirit.

?One rainy night, my potato bush feel right in front my door, and blocked it. A neighbor immediately came over with a chain saw to remove it,? she said. ?And one day when I was out shoveling rocks, a neighbor came by and asked if he could help.

?We help each other out.?

Initially, large groups of families on Wisteria Circle had garage sales together, and some signs of this cohesiveness remain. Sherman still bakes Christmas cookies for neighbors, and virtually the entire neighborhood recently showed up at a Corona Creek School benefit to support the family of a young husband who had died.

Becerra, who lives on the 1800 block of Wisteria, said that certain parts of the neighborhood socialize together more than others.

?People in our particular area mind their own business, but people on the other part of our street seem to come tog-ether and party more,? he said.

As the neighborhood reached adolescence, so did many of its children.

?As in any other neighborhood, as kids have grown up, they?ve wanted their own cars or wanted to use their parents? cars, so the neighborhood has become more congested,? Ortiz said.

Several residents of the neighborhood complained about speeding cars.

?Sometimes, they come around corners too fast,? Sherman said.

The building of the homes also has created crowding, some residents feel.

?They were built very close to each other, so sometimes I wish it wasn?t so crowded,? Sherman said.

One welcomed change has been the remodeling done on many homes.

?When you walk into the houses on our street, every one looks different now,? Sherman said. Some have new kitchens and table tops and others have large, heavy doors with stained-glass windows. People have built up their homes beautifully.

?And they also maintain their outside property very well.?

Despite the many outstanding qualities of the neighborhood, a decidedly undesirable feature once emerged.

?About three or four years ago, it seemed like everyone living around me was getting divorced,? Becerra said. ?It was very strange, but it?s not happening any more.?

(Contact Dan Johnson at dan.johnson@arguscourier.com)