2017: A year in review

Kim Harris and Alex Groves

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2017 was a year of change for the Temecula Valley. From changing landscapes due to heavy rains that helped to end the yearslong drought to changing facades of local cities due to growth and expansion, the entire coverage area saw new and exciting things over the past year.

First responders also made the news in 2017, from swift water rescues to quickly knocking down wildfires that threatened thousands of homes, these local heroes went above and beyond to keep local communities safe from danger.

There were literally tens of thousands of news items that affected our coverage area last year, so take a journey with Valley News as we look back at some of the biggest news stories from 2017.


January

An onset of heavy rains throughout the region meant good news for Lake Elsinore and the Elsinore Valley Municipal Water District at the beginning of the year. The Canyon Lake Dam spilled over for the first time since 2011, bringing a new supply of freshwater to the lake.

An Army soldier from Hemet was killed in a noncombat-related incident Jan. 12. The soldier, Spc. John P Rodriguez, died while “supporting the U.S. Army Central (Command)” as a combat engineer in Kuwait as part of Operation Inherent Resolve, an army spokesman said.

Murrieta firefighters performed two swift water rescues in late January. The first incident happened on Skypark Lane near Vista Murrieta Street around 4 p.m. when a driver of a Hyundai sedan became stuck in deep, fast moving water. The second incident happened about 5 p.m. when a family of four became stuck in some fast-moving water along Monroe Avenue south of Los Alamos Road. In both incidents, people were pulled to safety from their vehicles.


February

The Murrieta City Council approved an amendment to an agreement with Fire Recovery USA to slash emergency medical fees for city residents from $48 to $24. The city began collecting the fees in January 2013 to sustain the fire department and prevent the closure of one of its stations.

Retired Claremont Police Captain and Four Seasons resident Russ Brown was selected to serve on the Hemet City Council Feb. 7 in a 3-1 vote. Brown filled a seat left by former City Councilman K. Paul Raver, who had resigned.

Retired Temecula City Manager Ron Bradley was appointed Menifee’s interim city manager Feb. 16 to fill a vacancy left by the resignation of former city manager Rob Johnson. Johnson submitted his resignation following a period of employee review where it came to light that he had signed a $12,400 check to pay the current Mayor Scott Man to attend a leadership seminar at Harvard without council approval.

Chaparral High School student Anatalia Villaranda wowed the judges of NBC’s the Voice with her performance of Bruno Mars’ “Runaway Baby,” during the first episode of the shows newest season Feb. 23.

Major General Julian “JB” Burns (retired) awards Sgt. Joseph E. Engles, age 71, the Bronze Star Medal for Valor for Gallantry in the Face of the Enemy at The Battle of Soui Tre in 1967. The ceremony took place at Town Square Park in Murrieta, Monday, March 20.   Meghan Taylor photo

March

Riverside County District Attorney Michael Hestrin held a Public Safety Town Hall meeting in Temecula’s City Hall. During the meeting, Hestrin called the county’s crime increase “troublesome,” putting the blame squarely on the 2012 prison realignment plan and the 2014 Proposition 47 releasing “non-violent” prisoners early and making thefts under $900 misdemeanors.

Robert Renzoni Vineyards & Winery won the Cilurzo Award for “Winery of the year” during the Xenia Awards at Wilson Creek Winery March 14. The award is named for the pioneering winemaking family of Vicenzo and Audrey Cilurzo, who planted the area’s first vineyards in 1968.

In late March, TVUSD sent out 21 layoff notices as a result of a resolution passed by the board decreasing particular kinds of services.


April

The city of Murrieta announced that Murrieta’s Assistant City Manager, Kim Summers, would take on the role of city manager after the current City Manager Rick Dudley announced his June retirement.

Two Riverside County sheriff’s deputies and another driver suffered minor injuries when they were involved in a two-vehicle traffic collision Friday, April 21.

Doug McAlister, executive director of the Economic Development Coalition, presented the 2017 State of the Region to a full house April 27 at The Diamond Club at Storm Stadium.

Rocio Curiel-Rivera, 2, meets folklorico dancers during the San Jacinto Cinco de Mayo Celebration, May 6. Shane Gibson photo

May

Murrieta City Council approved a resolution allowing them to explore the option of moving from at-large to a by-district election system during a special meeting Monday, May 8, in response to a letter received by the legal firm of Shenkman & Hughes claiming the city’s current voting system dilutes the ability of Latinos to elect city council candidates of their choosing.

Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation that will restore millions of dollars in revenue taken away from four cities in Riverside County and used to pay for public safety realignment programs. Eastvale, Jurupa Valley, Menifee and Wildomar all benefited from the move.

Temecula approved the “Fallen Heroes,” memorial to be placed at the city’s Duck Pond. The proposed memorial will cost about $184,000 is intended to honor Temecula residents who have been killed in action during their military service.


June

Communities of Temecula, Murrieta, Wildomar, Lake Elsinore and Menifee announced the formation of a Regional Cancer Treatment Task Force to research and address cancer-related issues.

Temecula Valley Balloon & Wine Festival was held June 2-4. Tens of thousands of people visited the annual event held at Lake Skinner.

A Powerball ticket sold at Marietta Liquor and Deli, located at 27985 Bradley Road in Sun City, successfully matched all six numbers for a $447.8 million jackpot, the California Lottery announced. It was the seventh largest jackpot in the history of the game.

The city of Temecula broke ground on the Temecula Parkway interchange project in a June 6 ceremony. Construction is set to take approximately 18 months, with completion targeted for December 2018

Visit Temecula Valley hosted its annual “State of Tourism” luncheon June 15 at Fazeli Cellars Winery. The tourism industry in the valley generated over $712 million in 2016, a 55 percent increase over the 2004 total of $459 million.

Independence Day celebrators dance to live music performed during the 4th of July Extravaganza at Ronald Reagan Sports Park in Temecula, July 4. Shane Gibson photo

July

Lake Elsinore City Council unanimously approved the planning application to develop 81 multifamily residential units known as the Mission Trails Apartment project.

Filming began in the office of Temecula Mayor Maryann Edwards for Entertainment Factory Group’s production, “Garlic and Gunpowder.”

The Wildomar City Council recognized Sheriff’s Deputy Robert Ochoa for his help in locating a stolen vehicle while off-duty in early June and Ileana Herrera, who just finished eighth grade at David Brown Middle School, for receiving a scholarship from the Carson Scholars Fund.

Prodded by a lawsuit threat and pinched by a tight deadline, the Temecula City Council finalized a shift from at-large elections to geographic districts.

The Murrieta City Council approved a switch to district council elections. The council voted 3 to 1 to approve the measure, with Mayor Pro Tem Jonathan Ingram dissenting and Councilman Randon Lane absent due to surgery.


August

A brush fire that erupted on the west end of Lake Elsinore, blackening just over 200 acres, was 100 percent contained Aug. 3. The non-injury “Rose” fire was reported at 2:20 p.m. Monday in the 14800 block of Amorose Street, near Grand Avenue, on the edge of the Cleveland National Forest.

Murrieta Police Department has begun exploring the use of police body cameras, falling in step with nearly a third of law enforcement agencies across the country.

Alex Meyerhoff resigned his position as the Hemet city manager following a Hemet City Council closed session meeting.

Dozens of people flocked to Marna O’Brien Park in Wildomar to view a partial solar eclipse Aug. 21. While the eclipse was only about 60 percent locally, a swath of the United States – from coast to coast – experienced a total eclipse for the first time in 100 years.


September

The city of Murrieta unveiled its 9-11 Memorial in a special ceremony at Town Square Park, Monday, Sept. 1.

Benjamin Matthew Whitten, 33, and his live-in girlfriend, Jeryn Christine Johnson, 25, both made their court appearances in person as they entered not guilty pleas at their arraignment hearing. The couple were charged with torture and cruelty to a child resulting in great bodily injury, as well as a slew of other charges after first responders were called about 10 a.m. to their Murrieta residence at 24001 Verdun Lane, near Mountain Pride Park, regarding a child in medical distress.

A fire broke out at Lake Elsinore’s historic Machado House Saturday, Sept. 2, causing $150,000 in damage to the 159-year-old structure. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

Murrieta resident Dino Luciano was announced as the winner of MasterChef Season 8 in the two-hour season finale. Luciano left the popular FOX television show with $250,000 and a spot as a featured chef on the MasterChef cruise departing later this year.

Three major projects – an upscale Old Town hotel, a senior living campus and a mixed-use housing tract –won a green light from the Temecula City Council. The three development plans – each in different quadrants of the city – marked the largest flurry of council planning approvals since the 2008 recession tightened its grip on Temecula and the rest of the nation.



October

Bright headlights and squealing tires announced the arrival of Lake Elsinore Mayor Bob Magee as he made a grand entrance into the large dining hall at Pins & Pockets, driving a custom dune buggy and golf cart hybrid during the city’s annual State of the City address.

Reviewing the city of San Jacinto’s recent rapid economic and residential growth was Mayor Scott Miller at the annual State of the City address breakfast, sponsored by the San Jacinto Chamber of Commerce, at the Soboba Springs Country Club

Murrieta’s Economic Development director, Bruce Coleman, was honored with a by the city. Coleman left Murrieta to take a job as director of business development with the city of McKinney’s Economic Development Corporation in McKinney, Texas.

Wildomar Mayor Tim Walker excitedly discussed where the city had been and where he sees it going Thursday night, Oct. 19, during the ninth State of the City event at the City Hall Council Chambers.

Business leaders and city officials from across the region gathered together at Temecula City Hall for a day where they could learn more about certain kinds of emergencies and prepare for them. The city of Temecula’s first Emergency Management Business Continuity Summit was an all-day event that included keynote speakers, panel discussions, informational booths and more.

Lake Elsinore residents have a new weapon in their battle against the bulge with the opening of the Lake Elsinore Fitness Trail. A first for the city, the trail features one-fifth of a mile of stations designed to help users get fit as part of the city’s Healthy LE initiative. It is conveniently located in Serenity Park making it easy for parents to hit the trail while children take advantage of the skate and BMX parks adjacent to it.

The city of Lake Elsinore held its annual Dia de los Muertos celebration Oct. 28.

November

An 850-acre fire broke out in the Cleveland National Forest a few miles southwest of Wildomar Thursday, Oct. 26, at the Wildomar Off Road Park, near the intersection of Los Alamos Truck Trail and South Main Divide.

A full house of attendees flocked to the Lake Elsinore Cultural Arts Center Nov. 2 for a frank discussion on homelessness in the city. The inaugural Homeless Outreach Community Coalition meeting featured city leaders, county officials, nonprofit groups, church leaders and interested residents, who discussed the ongoing problem in the city and what could be done to alleviate the problem.

Rancho Damacitas Children & Family Services, will be switching gears and using its residential campus to house and help mothers with young children who are in need. The nonprofit had previously used that campus to house and care for foster children since its inception 35 years ago, but organization officials cited legislation signed by Gov. Jerry Brown as the reason the organization could not continue to provide care for foster youth.

The Menifee City Council unanimously selected Armando G. Villa to fill the city manager role starting Dec. 18. Villa will be replacing interim City Manager Ronald Bradley, according to a city news release.


December

An Old Town Temecula building with historical elements was demolished in December to make way for an upscale hotel, leaving historians, longtime Temecula residents and the designer of the building saddened and wistful for a bygone era.

Temecula City Councilmember Mike Naggar and fellow Councilmember Matt Rahn invited officials from several other cities as well as representatives from the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians to Temecula City Hall for the first of multiple meetings to develop a game plan for improving traffic.

A 300-acre fire in the Murrieta area was fully contained three days after it started, but the blaze managed to destroy at least one home, prompt evacuations and to cancel school for a day. The blaze, dubbed the Liberty fire, was reported about 1:14 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 7, in the area of Los Alamos and Liberty roads and tore through heavy brush with the help of strong Santa Ana winds.

Police chiefs from as far away as Palm Springs, Hemet and San Jacinto City officials, state and county elected officials’ representatives joined with 200 other guests to honor Hemet Police Chief David M. Brown Thursday, Dec. 14, at his retirement party at the El Patron Mexican Restaurant.

Mayor Pro-Tem Natasha Johnson was voted in as Lake Elsinore’s mayor, her second time filling the role in her tenure with the council, and councilman Steve Manos was voted mayor pro-tem. Jonathan Ingram was selected as mayor of the city of Murrieta, with Alan Long being selected as Mayor pro-tem and Crystal Ruiz, was selected as mayor of San Jacinto.

The city of Murrieta approved a donation agreement with the nonprofit Holocaust Remembrance Foundation of the Valley for a Holocaust Memorial in Town Square Park.

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