(March 10, 9:30 a.m.) The megalopolis known as southern California is dotted with one tourist attraction after another. Those amusement parks and other tourist dollar-luring attractions are vital to the region’s economy, for they replaced what was once the Southland’s No. 1 industry, agriculture.

The city of Redlands, an hour’s drive from Los Angeles and nestled at the base of the San Bernardino mountains, refuses to cast aside its farming heritage.

There are more than a few distinctly non-urban entries found among the chart of accounts that make up the city’s annual budget. There are expenses for the rental of bee hives and their pollinating residents, for fertilizer, for a variety of chemicals such as dormant sprays, anti-fungal sprays and pesticides and labor costs for harvest. On the revenue side of the ledger, there’s the projected income from Sunkist Growers Inc., Sherman Oaks, Calif.

Redlands and its 70,000 residents represent the nation’s No. 1 citrus producer within city limits, and its citrus acreage is growing.

“We’re the only municipality in the country that has a commercial citrus operation,” said Mayor John Harrison. “It’s part of our community values, our lifestyle and the character of our community.”

It was in 1882 that the first citrus growing roots were planted in what was then the rural community of Redlands, according to city records. For the next 75 years, it would be at the heart of the world’s largest navel orange producing region and home to more than 30 citrus packinghouses. Through the years, freeways, subdivisions and shopping malls supplanted most of the citrus groves, a trend the city’s residents were willing to tolerate — but with conditions.

A combination of citizen donations and federal grants enabled the city to purchase its first orange grove in 1968. More city-owned groves were added during the 1970s. That citrus would remain a part of the fabric of Redlands became official in 1979 when members of the city council passed an ordinance calling for …the historical preservation of citrus.”

The city’s voters added an exclamation point to the ordinance in 1986, Harrison said, when they approved using taxpayer dollars to purchase land to be maintained in perpetuity for open space and citrus groves. A decade later, the city’s Citrus Preservation Commission was established, he said.

The seven member commission, several of them current or retired citrus grower-shippers, oversees the city’s citrus operations. There are now 15 groves covering more than 190 acres with another grove soon to be planted, said Todd Housley, the city’s utilities project manager and staff liaison to the commission.

“The commission determines what varieties we plant based on their experience as farmers and what they see in the industry,” Housley said.

Navels remain the city’s dominant variety, but there are valencia and grapefruit groves, too.

Two grapefruit varieties, ruby star and rio, are to be planted in the city’s newest grove, a 20-acre parcel donated by Bixby Land Co., an Irvine, Calif.-based real estate investment and development firm. The donation was a condition of city approval for the company’s development of a warehouse project, said Gary Van Dorst, interim director of the city’s quality of life department. Bixby Land Co. will also foot the bill for the planting of the grove’s 1,800 trees and an irrigation system, a total of more than $250,000, he said.

The city’s citrus groves are not concentrated in one area but are distributed throughout the city, Harrison said. Some of the groves are as small as three acres.

“Developers of subdivisions have planted citrus in lieu of traditional open space,” he said. “Some of them are not terribly efficient for farming, but they accomplish the visual benefit.”

The community’s close-knit atmosphere reaches all phases of the city’s citrus operation. Two Redlands growers, Larry Jacinto Farming and Redlands Farming, share the day-to-day pre-and-post-harvest tasks at the citrus groves, Housley said. Another local firm, Redlands Foothill Groves packinghouse, oversees the harvest and packs the fruit, which is then marketed by Sunkist Growers.

“One of our goals is to keep enough citrus in the area to keep the packinghouse operating,” Harrison said. “We try to generate enough that it (the city) breaks even.”

Profits from the citrus groves are held in reserve for years when the citrus revenues are down, Harrison said. So far, the program has been self-funding, he said.

Even with the January 2007 freeze, the city realized more than $18,000 from its citrus groves last season.

Whether the citrus groves make a profit appears to be immaterial to city residents. There has been not a single word of opposition to the city’s grower-shipper role, Harrison said.

“We have strong ties to our roots and our heritage,” he said.

Driven by skyrocketing land costs and sprawling developments, the bulk of California’s navel and valencia orange grower-shippers moved north to the San Joaquin Valley during the second half of the 20th century. That’s just fine with Redlands.

“We’re the only game in town that is mandated to continue farming and to do so where it pays for itself,” Housley said. “The city is probably going to be the only farmer in town when it comes to citrus in the future.”