Temecula mayor urges leaders, investors to ‘seize the moment’

Temecula has come “roaring back” from the Great Recession and the city is poised for another 50 years of growth and prosperity, Mayor Maryann Edwards told a large gathering of regional business, political and community leaders last week.

Edwards said there is “a palpable economic momentum in the city” as Temecula prepares to celebrate the 25th anniversary of its incorporation. As that milestone nears, Temecula is experiencing some “amazing economic trends,” Edwards said during her State of the City presentation held May 8 at the Pechanga Resort & Casino.

“Without question, now is the time to invest in Temecula,” she said.

The event, which is hosted annually by the Temecula Valley Chamber of Commerce, typically spotlights city projects and programs. It was the second time that Edwards’ anchored the presentation, and she gave an upbeat and energetic report on city issues and directions.

Edwards featured splashy video segments as she explored the city’s business, tourism, economic development and public services arenas. Some of the segments featured interviews of longtime or newly-arrived business owners and entrepreneurs.

And politics played a supporting role during the high profile event, as Edwards and at least four other participants there are currently campaigning or poised to enter a race.

As in the past, the opening of Edwards’ presentation featured an air of showmanship. Some regular attendees compared Edwards’ opening to that of Councilman Chuck Washington’s 2007 presentation.

Washington, a pilot, used an aviation theme in that presentation. A video used then first made it appear as though Washington was flying over the city in a small airplane. He followed that by scurrying onto the stage carrying a collapsed parachute as though he had just descended outside the gathering.

Edwards’ presentation opened with spotlights, smoke billowing from a tented area and a zip line suspended from the ceiling in a corner of the cavernous meeting hall. The anticipation built as a recording played Edwards’ voice alternately whispering and warbling.

The speculation was shattered when the house lights suddenly illuminated and Edwards appeared standing on stage. She then teased the crowd for wondering whether she would indeed drop from the ceiling and glide across the room.

“There’s no way I was going to do that Tinkerbell fly across-the-room thing,” she said.

About 550 people paid $40 each to attend the breakfast event. Attendance at the event has mirrored the city’s growth and economic and political clout. About 415 people took part in 2012, and last year’s attendance just fell short of 500, chamber officials said.

Edwards made her other state of the city presentation in 2009, which was her previous term as mayor. Temecula council members annually pick the mayor from within their own ranks. The post, which is largely ceremonial, generally rotates among the council


Edwards repeatedly played off that date, noting that the nation and the region were then mired in what she called “the lowest point in the worst recession in more than 60 years.” Since then, the area and its steadfast merchants and business leaders have rebounded, she said.

She offered the following benchmarks as proof of the city’s recovery:

* The city’s active business licenses have increased steadily over the past five years.

* The number of development permits has reached its highest level since 2006.

* City sales tax receipts have climbed 3.4 percent since 2012 and that trend of steadily increasing revenues is expected to continue for another five years.

* Temecula’s median home value has increased 13 percent since March 2013 to $427,000.

* The city’s unemployment rate has dropped for the fifth year in a row to 6.4 percent.

* Recent projects have brought Temecula a hospital, a Mercedes Benz dealership and a major expansion of the Promenade mall.

* Development plans now in the pipeline include 1,830 residential units spread among four locations, a 54-room motel and four new medical buildings to be clustered near the new Temecula Valley Hospital.

Edwards also touted an array of recently-completed traffic circulation projects that include the first phase of the French Valley interchange and a new bridge spanning Murrieta Creek at Main St. She noted that four companies have relocated to Temecula over the past year, numerous restaurants have opened and the 43,000-square-foot Truax Building, which will feature a residential and commercial mix, will be finished soon in Old Town.

“Pretty exciting,” Edwards extolled.

The new growth surge comes as the city prepares to celebrate its 25th anniversary on Dec. 1.

Since incorporation, the city’s population has grown from about 27,500 to approximately 105,000. And along with its commercial and residential growth, the city has seen its political influence solidify and spread throughout the region.

Edwards’ speech did not touch on upcoming political races within the city, but she gave a pair of nods to Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Stone, who served three terms on the Temecula council before being elected to his current post.

Stone is a three-time Temecula mayor who was elected to the countywide post in 2004. He became the first Temecula-area resident to win the Third District supervisorial seat that had been dominated for decades by Hemet-area political leaders.

Early in her speech, Edwards introduced the supervisor as “soon-to-be California State Senator Jeff Stone,” and she urged audience members to vote in the June 3 primary election.

Stone is locked in a six-candidate race for the Senate’s newly-created 28th district which stretches from Temecula to the Coachella Valley and is tilted toward the Republican Party in terms of voter registration.

Stone, a Republican, faces two key contenders: Indio City Councilman Glen Miller and former state Assemblywoman Bonnie Garcia. The top two vote-getters, regardless of their political affiliation, will vie for the open seat in November.

Edwards also thanked Stone for helping to craft a future growth plan that could result in a doubling of the wineries and vineyards in the unincorporated wine country east of the city.

Edwards also introduced the two council colleagues – Mike Naggar and Jeff Comerhero – who attended the presentation. The trio is expected to soon ramp up campaigns of their own.

Naggar recently announced that he will run for Stone’s county seat when it becomes vacant in November 2016. Naggar said he envisions himself following that political path rather than seek a fifth term on the Temecula council.

After her presentation, Edwards told a reporter that she plans to seek re-election in November. She and Comerchero have each filed candidate intention statements in that city race, according to Temecula records.

When questioned after the presentation, Comerchero told a reporter that he has not made a final decision whether to seek re-election. Comerchero was first elected to the council in November 1997, and Edwards has served since 2005.

“I’m leaving open the possibility that I won’t,” Comerchero said.

A third potential Temecula incumbent did not attend the State of the City presentation.

Councilman Ron Roberts, who was elected to the panel in November 1992, missed the event in order to attend his granddaughter’s college graduation.

Roberts, who has not filed a candidate’s statement of intent, said in a March 2011 newspaper interview that he did not plan to seek re-election. But some longtime political observers have noted that Roberts changed his mind in the past when faced with an approaching filing deadline.

The filing period for the council race opens July 14. It will close Aug. 8 unless one or more incumbents do not seek re-election. If that occurs, the campaign filing period will be extended until Aug. 13.

At least one prospective challenger attended Edwards’ State of the City presentation and spoke with her briefly afterward. The challenger – Matt Rahn – acknowledged that considerable politicking took place on the periphery of the event.

“A lot of it,” said Rahn, who announced his candidacy in February. Rahn rose to local prominence during the successful grassroots effort that thwarted Granite Construction Co.’s plan to open a granite mine in the hills south of


Rahn – a university educator, researcher and land use consultant – said he is assuming that Comerchero will seek re-election. Rahn said he is uncertain about Roberts’ status, but the possibility of a third incumbent in the race did not color his decision months ago. Rahn said he is planning a fund-raising gathering soon, and many business leaders and environmental activists are supporting his candidacy.

“I’m looking forward to it,” he said of the approaching campaign.

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