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May 11, 2007

A Tale of Two Cities

Rich City vs Poor City

Photo Credit: Andrew Hetherington

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What grown-ups may not want to talk about, children are happy to fill in. Debbie Beran, the owner of Beran's Jewelers, a store on the town's main drag, considered pulling her kids out of the Ranch's grammar school after her daughter, then 5, asked for a Hummer for her birthday. "I don't want my kids growing up with those values," she says. The clincher came while driving her son to football practice one afternoon and listening to his two 12-year-old teammates compare the cost of their houses, and their fathers' cars and salaries. Beran, one of the rare divorced single mothers in town, cringed at the oneupmanship. After that incident, she transferred her children to a Catholic school in the next town over, where the students come from a mix of socioeconomic backgrounds.

The bubble effect at the Ranch is obvious: 93 percent of the population is white, and everyone except the help--nannies, chefs, housecleaners, gardeners -- is affluent. (The predominantly Hispanic workers tend to live 30 minutes inland, where real-estate prices are a fraction of what they are here.) Giving back is big -- women spend hours planning charity fashion shows and philanthropic luncheons, and they regularly make appearances at $500-a-plate benefits. At last year's Kids Korps benefit, an organization for children and teenage volunteers, Larry King was the emcee and the best seats cost $1000 each.

If the Rancho lifestyle seems out of the realm of possibility for most Americans, it may be surprising to learn that at the end of the day, America's richest women want the same things as women everywhere: good health, happy children, peace of mind. Burdick, who grew up in a middle-class neighborhood in Los Angeles before launching her highly successful kinesiology practice, says life today isn't much different than it was during her childhood--although vacations in the family camper have been replaced by four-star hotels, and today she is more likely to shop at Nordstrom than Sears. "Having money makes things easier, but it doesn't necessarily make them better," she says. "I may be more comfortable, but I'm not any happier than I was growing up, and I didn't have any of this."

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