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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.)

Ask the folks who live south of Caulfield Lane, between St. Francis Drive and South McDowell Boulevard, what their neighborhood is like, and there?s a recurring response: ?Stable.?

Whether they live on Lombardi Avenue, Glenwood or Berrydale drives or one of the side streets, residents of the neighborhood offer similar observations ? many longtime families, leading to a shift from younger to older children, and a general feeling that they?ve found a place to call home in Petaluma.

?I love it here,? said Glenwood Drive?s Jo Ann Rinaldo. ?It?s an attractive area. We have long-term neighbors all around us and I don?t ever plan to move again.?

Ray Handyside, who lives on Lombardi, remembers he was initially unsure about buying a home there.

?When I first came here with my wife, I told her, ?There?s no way we?ll have a family in this funky little town,? he said.

That was 45 years ago.

?Now you couldn?t blow me out of here with dynamite,? he said.

In fact, the retired engineer has found his own way to put an imprint on his neighborhood ? he?s the man responsible for the topiary of shaped shrubbery in the median strip on Lombardi.

Handyside said he started the whimsical landscaping project ? featuring bushes trimmed into the shape of various animals ? years ago because the city didn?t want to put any money into maintaining the Lombardi median.

?It?s right in front of my home and it?s a creative thing to do,? he said. ?I opted to give it a shot and it worked out fairly well.?

Handyside said City Hall ?has been very cooperative? in allowing him to continue the eye-catching work, which has become a point of pride in the neighborhood.

?Everybody knows about the topiary,? said Kathy Matt, who lives on nearby Pacific Avenue.

The first homes in the neighborhood, known as the Monarch subdivision, were built in the early 1960s. Others followed a few years later.

Longtime residents remember sharing their part of east Petaluma with a lot more four-legged neighbors in those days.

?When we first moved in, our back yard was a farm,? said Donald Petro, a retired general contractor who with his wife, Gwen, and their first child moved into their Glenwood Drive home 40 years ago.

?There was only one traffic light in the whole city,? he recalled. ?That?s a world of difference from the way it is now.?

Handyside, too, remembers the neighborhood had much different surroundings when he bought his home in the early ?60s.

?Weeds were all around us and Caulfield Lane was basically a ditch,? he said.

Kathy Matt?s home on Pacific Avenue was adjacent to pastureland when she and her husband, George, moved there in 1966.

?You could just throw the grass cuttings over the fence and the cows ate them,? she said. ?The next thing I knew there were two-story homes in the pasture.?

But while the surrounding area developed rapidly, much of the neighborhood itself has remained fairly consistent. Many residents know of several neighbors who are original owners and said that adds to the feeling of stability there.

?When we first moved in, we were surrounded by original owners,? said Misty Dardis, who moved to her home on Berrydale 12 years ago.

?What is really nice is that three of the original owners are still nearby,? Matt said. ?When our kids were growing up, everyone looked out for everyone and the children in the neighborhood.?

Several parents who raised children in the neighborhood cited nearby Miwok School as a selling point.

Elizabeth Couden said when she was looking to buy a house 13 years ago, ?I wanted my children to stay in the school they were in, which was Miwok.?

Her family bought a home on Berrydale, where she, her husband and two grown children still live today.

?I liked this area,? Couden said. ?It seemed established.?

Miwok was also a draw for Dardis, whose three children were all under age 5 when her family moved in.

?I was able to walk my kids to school and work in their classrooms,? she said.

One effect of the area?s long-term ownership is a change in the number of children in the neighborhood, several residents said ? and demographic trends confirm their sense of a dwindling number of youngsters.

The population has dropped from 520 residents in 1990 to 484 in 2007, and is projected to continue falling in future years, according to figures from DemographicsNow.com.

And while residents under the age of 20 made up more than 31 percent of the neighborhood population in 1990, that percentage fell to 28 percent last year. By 2012, it is project to fall to 26 percent.

In 1990, people over 55 made up about 16 percent of the neighborhood?s population. Last year, that figure increased to 25 percent.

?There aren?t as many children as there were,? said Cindy Thomas, who moved to the neighborhood 11 years ago and remembers it feeling like a family-friendly area.

Since there was little turnover among residents, families got to know the children in the neighborhood well, she said.

?We watched the kids grow up,? Thomas said.

One of her neighbors, City Councilmember Karen Nau, said she is still surprised by how the neighborhood children have grown.

?Kids have come around and sold me Girl Scout cookies and magazine subscriptions, and now I look at them and I can?t believe how old they are,? said Nau, a preschool teachers who moved to the neighborhood 23 years ago.

?There aren?t so many little children anymore,? she said. ?I don?t have as many trick-or-treaters.?

Paul Manchester, a Pacific Avenue resident, moved to the neighborhood 10 years ago with his wife and son, who is now 11.

?I have to say there aren?t a lot of kids his age in the neighborhood,? Manchester said. ?There are a few infants, but no one his age.?

As the neighborhood?s children grow into teenagers, residents say the number of cars has jumped, and curbside parking is getting tighter.

?Everybody?s kids have gotten older, so they have cars, too,? Dardis said.

Thomas said that on-street parking became an issue in the neighborhood, so a few years ago the police department cracked down on motorhomes and boat trailers parked at the curb.

?It was the big buzz on the street at the time,? she said. ?But it was a positive thing because it created a safer situation for the kids on the street.?

Even with an increase in cars, however, most residents said no significant traffic problems have developed.

Couden said traffic seemed worse when Kenilworth Junior High was located on East Washington Street, and parents would sometimes take shortcuts through the neighborhood to avoid busy intersections.

Others said the short street segments in the neighborhood help discourage speeding drivers.

?We don?t have a lot of cars racing through,? said Carol Weisker, who lives on a corner of Glenwood Drive.

But occasionally, drivers do speed down Berrydale, Nau said.

?Sometimes my kids did ? and I?d get a phone call,? she said.

From time to time, crime incidents have cropped up ? Nau said a television news crew once visited the neighborhood after a thief stole all the Christmas wreaths hanging on front doors, and more recently an argument between roommates over a vacuum cleaner escalated into an assault on Ponderosa Drive.

Some neighbors said graffiti has increased in recent years. Couden said her fence has been tagged twice in recent years.

?It?s certainly something I look out for now,? she said.

However, neighborhood residents said they?re happy with their decisions to move into the area, whether it?s been 45 years or just a few.

?It was beautiful and quiet, and definitely a good place for kids,? said Dolores Marlena, who bought her Glenwood Drive home in 1966.

Manchester, whose 10 years in the neighborhood make him a relative rookie, joked that the calm is only interrupted at certain times.

?For the most part it is pretty quiet, except for one neighbor who gets a little boisterous when the 49ers or Giants or playing ? but sometimes I join him,? he said.

(Staff writers John Jackson and Dan Johnson contributed to this story. Contact Corey Young at corey.young@argus courier.com)

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