Murrieta cites past achievements, new approaches at city presentation

Murrieta Mayor Rick Gibbs peered back at the past, gave a spot-on assessment of the present and examined the region’s future prospects during a packed State of the City breakfast presentation on Tuesday, Feb. 26.

“For Murrieta and the region, all the ingredients for success are here,” Gibbs told a rapt audience of about 130 business, government and community leaders at Bear Creek Country Club.

He touted the achievements of his fast-growing city of about 104,000 residents, but also noted the need for teamwork in reaping the benefits that a four-year university or a range of prospective technology or biomedicine companies would bring to southwest Riverside County.

“I am not parochial,” Gibbs said as he detailed efforts to attract a university and a cross-section of cutting-edge industries to the area.

That “unique municipal attitude,” as well as costly investments in infrastructure and workforce education, has dramatically transformed an area where many longtime residents can still recall when just one or two traffic signals dotted sleepy intersections in the rural community that once proclaimed itself “the Gem of the Valley.”

“What did Temecula, Lake Elsinore and Murrieta look like 30 years ago?” Gibbs inquired of his listeners. “There were more cows and sheep than people. We have done the groundbreaking over the last 30 years and we will continue to do that.”

The task today, he said, is to reshape the region into “an entrepreneurial machine.” He said the role of city government is to listen, help where it can and then step aside as businesses, industry leaders and international and domestic investors discover the area’s charms and eventually make it a home for themselves and their workers.

“We have a very light touch,” he said.

In a rapid-fire manner, Gibbs spotlighted many of the new companies that have moved to or opened in Murrieta in recent years. He cited investor interest or visits by contingents from China, Indonesia, Iraq, Singapore, Korea and other exotic locations.

He said Murrieta has already tasted success in attracting the “targeted industries” of medical device manufacturers, national security contractors and bioscience and pharmaceutical firms.

“This is the technology that exists in Murrieta today,” he said.

Gibbs praised Murrieta’s quality of life and noted that federal law enforcement agencies have repeatedly ranked the city as one of the safest in the nation. He noted the dozens of city parks and popular amenities that include the area’s only municipal equestrian center.

He reported that Murrieta trimmed more than 70 city jobs and cut spending by $11 million a year when the recent recession siphoned away large chunks of its sales and property tax revenues.

“We are operating very lean at City Hall,” he said.

Gibbs highlighted Murrieta’s role in the nation’s biggest bicycle race, the Amgen Tour of California, which will come to the city in May. The tour will run May 12 through 19, and Murrieta will host the start of the second stage of the race. Tour promoters estimate 3,000 to 5,000 racers, fans, family members, organizers and spectators will participate or attend.

The second stage of the 750-mile race will stretch from Murrieta to Palm Springs. Neither Murrieta nor Palm Springs has ever participated in the race, which will also make a big splash this year in Escondido.

Gibbs also touched on the behind-the-scenes investment opportunities created by the USA Continental Regional Center, which sponsored the $49 per person breakfast event. The company has tapped a federal program, which is known as EB-5, which awards green cards to foreigners who make job-creating investments.

USA Continental is offering foreign investors a stake in a Murrieta medical plaza and a pair of assisted living and skilled nursing developments that have been approved on seven-acre sites in Murrieta and Moreno Valley.

The mushrooming of medical facilities and services in Murrieta and elsewhere in the region was another key focus of Gibbs’ presentation. He used Loma Linda Murrieta, which will soon celebrate its second anniversary, as a jumping-off point for his medical remarks.

That $230 million medical complex was dubbed the “Murrieta miracle” when it opened alongside Interstate 215 north of Clinton Keith Road. It now anchors the city’s northeast technology corridor. Murrieta officials hope the hospital and its offices will become a magnet for a range of support services, medical groups, device manufacturers and other new businesses.

The facility was dubbed a local “miracle” because construction took about 26 months, a short span given the painstaking state reviews and approvals needed to open and operate a hospital.

The 106-bed hospital and emergency room are flanked by a medical office building on a 50-acre site that hugs the east side of the freeway. Future plans for the site include the construction of two additional medical towers and another office building.

Since it opened, Loma Linda Murrieta has brought open heart surgery to the region and introduced new cancer and childbirth strategies. It has also added specialized wound care and bariatric surgery to its offerings.

Gibbs also praised efforts by Southwest Healthcare System to improve and expand its hospital and medical offerings in Murrieta and throughout the region. Southwest currently operates hospitals in Murrieta and Wildomar, and a yet-to-open facility is helping reshape Temecula’s medical landscape.

Temecula’s first hospital is taking shape at the city’s southeast corner. Southwest is building the 140-bed, five-story hospital that is racing toward completion. The hospital is expected to cost the parent company, Pennsylvania-based Universal Health Services, about $150 million when it opens, which is anticipated to occur late this year.

Gibbs also praised efforts by Southwest to join forces with Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego in opening the first neonatal care unit in the Temecula Valley. That 11-bed unit – the first in a vast area from Escondido to Orange County – recently opened at Rancho Springs Medical Center in Murrieta. The neonatal unit is located in a $53 million annex that opened alongside Rancho Springs in February 2011.

Gibbs used the words “absolutely phenomenal” when he described the medical services advances that have unfolded at Rancho Springs since a series of state concerns eased and that annex finally opened.

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