Murrieta while nearing buildout continues to show growth in housing, drops in the crime rate, more emphasis on technical education in its schools, expanded health care opportunities and rising business license applications, according to the report given by panelists at the Nov. 15 Murrieta Chamber of Commerce Economic Outlook breakfast.
The yearly economic outlook, sponsored by the Murrieta Chamber of Commerce, brought five top panelists from the city, health care community, school district, real estate government affairs and area business enterprises to give reports on the city’s economic health for 2017. The breakfast meeting was held at Azusa Pacific University’s Murrieta Regional Center on Murrieta Hot Springs Road.
The panelists, heard by more than 150 guests in attendance, included Gene Wunderlich, the government affairs director of Southwest Riverside County Association of Realtors; Patrick Kelley, the superintendent of Murrieta Valley Unified School District; Brad Neet, CEO of Southwest Healthcare System; Capt. Rob Firmes of the police department support division and Scott Agajanian, the city of Murrieta’s business development manager. After giving their reports, the panelists fielded a question-and-answer period.
The $40 a plate breakfast was designed to inform guests about what industries are driving the local economy; what the vision is for business development and new business opportunities for companies and entrepreneurs; and what what is needed to be done as a community to support, grow and sustain business innovation.
Gene Wunderlich began the economic reports, saying Murrieta’s housing development is still up and the “market remains healthy and sustainable.” He said the number of houses being built is close to the number the city saw in 2010 with home prices in the area up six to 7 percent.
“We are still in pretty good shape but still down 17 percent under our peak prices,” he said.
He said the average three- to four-bedroom home in the city is selling in the range of $435,000. He added there has been a “slight increase” in housing sales in the city, but it is still below what it has been in past years.
He noted Murrieta’s dwelling unit availability is still low with more homes needed, but there are not enough affordable homes for the average worker as only 26 percent of those are able to afford to buy a home. However, even fewer can afford homes in Orange and San Diego counties and as a result they are moving into Murrieta. The problem with building affordable homes in the city is the state and federal regulations that cost builders almost $100,000 for a lot before a home can be even built.
On the positive side, he said, mortgage rates still remain low in the area and will likely only slightly increase in coming years. He said what the government does with future interest rates is still unknown.
Wunderlich said the legislative goals for SRCAR and the Murrieta business community are to help bring about meaningful tax reform, re-establish a bipartisan legislature in Sacramento if possible and not to create a “bubble” in the housing market.
“Now is the time to buy a home in Murrieta,” Wunderlich said.
Kelley went next, reporting that Murrieta schools now have approximately 23,000 students enrolled and employ 2,000 teachers and classified employees. He said the student enrollment remains “flat and stable” and is not likely to change in the coming years. And as a result, “We probably will not be building a new school,” he said.
He said he was proud to report the school district has the “highest graduation rate in Riverside County” and has 12 California Distinguished Schools. It is also rated one of the best 10 school districts in the state. He said one of the goals of the district is to attract more quality students and to make the district a “destination of choice” for parents who seek to move from their current districts.
Helping the district to become a district of destination is the report that MVUSD is the eighth safest school district of the 72 school districts in the state. The district has also gained recognition for its work with public and private partnerships with local businesses, giving the students opportunity to learn and train on the job in needed trade and industrial fields.
Kelley said another goal for the district is to provide more technical education courses for students, and forwarding this goal is a new technical school being built on the Murrieta Vista High School grounds. A part of the new technical education effort is working close with area colleges and universities.
Kelley pointed to the districts’ many arts, athletic and activities programs that have proven beneficial for student education are growing and “robust.” He said half of all the students in the district are active in athletic programs.
Neet, the CEO of Southwest Healthcare Systems, said they are counting 100,000 emergency room visits a year in the Southwest Healthcare Systems Inland Valley Medical Center and Rancho Springs Medical Center. The system has 1,400 employees and works with 500 physicians in the area. He said the system is particularly proud of a new partnership with Rady Children’s Medical Center, nearing completion in the city.
He listed some of the Southwest Healthcare Systems’ newer medical equipment and telemedical systems that have been installed and are greatly assisting doctors and improving patient care. He pointed out that neighboring Loma Linda University Medical Center Murrieta serves more than 100,000 insured residents in the general area and has 850 employees and many doctors.
Yet he said, the Murrieta Valley area is still short 95 physicians and recruiting efforts are underway to fill the gap.
Neet said the cost of health care is continuing to rise with one in three residents using Medicare or Medicaid that barely covers their costs. He said the country could become what he calls a “Medicaid Nation” and will remain that way unless there is tax and health care program reform.
He cited a possible multimillion-dollar reduction in federal health care funding coming that will create even more problems for California residents depending on Medicare and Medicaid.
He left the discussion suggesting that every family should make plans for their long term medical care or what they are going to do at the end of life for their members. He notes that 50 percent of all health care costs are incurred in the last six months of life.
Firmes spoke on behalf of Police Chief Sean Hadden, who could not attend the outlook.
“I’m here with a little good news,” Firmes said citing the most recent FBI crime statistics. “This year Murrieta experienced its lowest violent crime status in the past 22 years of its history.”
He said for the first time Murrieta also experienced the lowest violent crime rate in the nation and eighth for property crimes in cities over 100,000 in population.
He said the department’s success in lowering the crime rates is not only due to the officers’ work in the field but to the community partnership the department has experienced.
In a Power Point presentation, he gave this recipe for success: “This is an incredible accomplishment and is a direct result of the hard work of the police department employees, as well as partnerships we have with other city departments, the Murrieta Valley Unified School District, community groups, the business community and most importantly, our community as a whole,” Firmes said.
The goals for the department in 2018 as set by Chief Hadden are threefold, Firmes said. The first is the complete implementation of the CAD/RMS systems that streamline the collection of reports and information about criminals and crime that can be used to determine tactical courses of action and relayed faster to officers on patrol.
The department will continue to expand its “footprint on the social media,” said Firmes. Crime prevention ideas and other information from the department will be relayed to the public via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
The police department’s third goal will be to create a “Teen Summer Academy” for youth who can learn about law enforcement, how they can help in crime preventions and encourage them to enter the law enforcement field.
Agajanian reported the city has received 1,163 business license applications and seen a 4.7 percent increase in jobs since last year.
“We are becoming a job center,” Agajanian said. “Across the board, jobs are getting better across the city.”
He said Murrieta is considered the “fun city” and needs to promote businesses to serve its 114,982 residents. New city business startups are up 38 percent and still rising, but still many residents are still commuting out of town to their work, suggesting that needs to change.
Helping improve the business interest in the city, the development director said, is the Murrieta Innovation Center that gives help and guidance to prospective business owners and entrepreneurs an opportunity to show their goods and services. Those business promotion events have increased to 300 events from 165 last year.
However, he said the city has “more retail vacancies then we ought to, and we need ways to fill those spaces.” He said Murrieta also needs larger industrial buildings.
The panel discussion that followed the presentations included questions about how the city is going to cope with the opioid epidemic sweeping the nation, whether the mortgage rate deduction will be taken away from homeowners under the new federal tax reform bill, how the state-mandated reduction in felony crimes and new marijuana laws are going to affect law enforcement in the city.
Most responses suggested the residents look to the state for answers to the questions.