An interview with Temecula Mayor Jeff Stone

I’ve lived here since 1983, so it’s been about twenty-two years. I actually moved here to open my first pharmacy, which was called Temecula Pharmacy. It was next door to the first Stater Brothers that was on Jefferson. Then three years after we opened, Payless Drug Store came into the shopping center and ended up buying us out. So, it was kind of a scary situation to begin with but it turned out to a good situation for us.How did you get involved in City Government?I was driving down Jefferson Avenue one day to go to my Pharmacy. I noticed that on the Bianchi Leather store on Jefferson, somebody had strewn graffiti all over the walls. I said to acquaintance of mine, that’s not what I want to see in the city of Temecula. I moved away from the urban blight, to get here to this nice clean, pristine, safe area. An acquaintance of mine said, \\"Why don’t you run for city counsel?\\" About three weeks later, I was reminded about the deadline to sign up for city counsel. I was thinking, we always are quick to blame other people and other governmental agencies for things that we don’t like and, sometimes, if you want to change things you have to motivate yourself to get involved and do it yourself. I had a little bit of prior experience with politics in high school and was senior class president. I said to myself, Why not give it a shot and I threw my hat in the ring.I was running against two incumbents and a traffic and safety commissioner for three seats in the city counsel that were up. On election night at about twelve o’clock at night, I was running neck and neck with the Mayor Pro-Tem Carl Linderman. At about one o’clock I started taking off in the lead. Then I was kind of praying that I would lose because, while I thought it was kind of cool to be city counsel member it kind of scared me. I’d never done it before and here I am unseating an incumbent. Ultimately the following morning, I was at my Pharmacy being interviewed by newspapers that never gave me much of a prayer of getting elected and I got elected. I ran on the issue of graffiti.One the first things I did was to get the school district and some community leaders from other organizations to get together. We collectively sat and thought about how we could develop an ordinance that would stand the will of time and legal challenges. We came up with committee called \\"Get a grip\\". At that time it stood for gang enforcement team and graffiti removal intervention program. As a result of the ordinance, you don’t see any graffiti in the city of Temecula. Any graffiti is down with in twenty-four hours of going up. We have a graffiti removal truck that has paint matching chips and can go on private or public property to mitigate graffiti on walls or fences. We have a reward system in place. If you catch anybody putting graffiti up, we have cooperation with the district attorney and we will fine them. We will require them to do public service in the presence of their parents. The parents will have to take off work and participate in public service, with their child.We are now in the process of going through all of our retailers that sell wide-angled markers and spray bombs to ensure their compliance with the ordinance. They must keep those items under lock and key. There are many new retailers that have open displays. It was about a month ago, we revisited these stores and gave them a warning.As we started coming out of the recession, Temecula became a destination point for a lot of young families that could have not otherwise afford a home in San Diego or Orange Counties. We brought a lot of commercial development to the city and conditioned developers to provide certain infrastructure. As an example, we wouldn’t have the Overland Bridge. We would not have the widening of Margarita Roads or the ultimate widening of Winchester Roads, the extension of Overland Drive if it were not for the Mall. We wouldn’t have about six million dollars with these improvements without the Mall coming to fruition. We have probably more sales tax revenue per capita than any other city in the State of California. We have been able to parlay that into getting federal grants and providing infrastructure in anticipation of growth. We didn’t want to get behind the eight ball like we were when we inherited the city from the county.Why did Temecula Incorporate?The county basically was sucking all the taxes out of this area and not investing anything back. So we were devoid of roads, devoid of parks and devoid of libraries, that’s why we incorporated. We have seen an inordinate amount of growth and traffic concerns. We have stressed our highways but it hasn’t been because of what the city has built. We never anticipated in our wildest dreams that we would see the explosion of growth the way we have. The county has been basically stamping their approval on just about anything that goes in French Valley without requiring adequate mitigation to offset the traffic impacts, that are inherent. As a result of that we had to sue the county. We have a couple of lawsuits against them right now. One of which potentially could halt them issuing any building permits in the county altogether, if they lose. So we’re taking it seriously. It’s unfortunate because we, as a counsel, get along with the Board of Supervisors on a personal level. But as a collective group, we have to do what we have to do to protect our residents from any further impacts that would be borne on them.How many more developments are to be built in the City?We have three large developments left to be built in the city. Otherwise, everything is pretty much built out with the exception of some commercial and custom lots and the Wolf Creek project. We are going approve the funding for a park master plan that’s been in the works for a couple of years. It’s for a thirty or forty-acre Sports Park with four soccer fields and four baseball diamonds. It’s on the south side of the city, across from the casino, which is an area of the city that needs some sports facilities.Then we have the Harveston project on the northwestern part of the city along Margarita Road, between Winchester and Murrieta Hot Springs Road, extending all the way to the freeway. It’s going to have a twelve-acre lake and then homes all the way around the lake. It’s going to be a very nice development. We’ll probably have models ready in the spring and will begin selling homes in the fall of 2003. On the south side of the city in Wolf Creek, there’s another two thousand dwelling units that have been approved. We recently got out of the litigation with some legal fights over some issues on that project. Then we have the Roripaugh Ranch, to be an annexation to the city, a panhandle that is already in the city and has been approved. Those are the last big developments that are probably come into the city unless the city aggressively seeks annexation with other lands.Growth has been a big issue for us. The growth within the city we have been able to deal with. It’s the growth outside the city that has been become the problem for us and in response to that we have been filing lawsuits.Will we ever get a college campus in Temecula?Yes, we’re looking at bringing in a college campus to Temecula in a confidential location, so that we can have residents improve their education.Is the City planning to build a new library?We have a new library planned on the corner of Pauba and Magarita Road, on city owned land. We’ve been trying to have the State allocate funds to us, based on the issue of the library initiative. We missed the funding for the first round; they didn’t approve us. But, on the second round coming in March, we’re hoping that our self-ready project will get approved so that we can start construction of our new library.How will the city deal with traffic concerns in the near future?We have a lot of important planning that we need to do. We have an eastern bypass and a western bypass planned. Both will provide some north/south corridors other than using the 15 freeway or some of our present arterials. But in order to do that, we need funds and the cooperation from other capital agencies such as,Because of the shortfalls in the California’s budget, how will that impact us?We’re actually having our finance director evaluate the proposed cuts and responsibilities that are going to be required of local government in the future. Of course, the immediate impact to our citizens is going to be the increase in sales tax of one percent. It doesn’t seem like much but when you go buy a car or a high-ticket type of an item you’ll be looking at spending a lot more money. It’s going to make Temecula on the same par as the rest of California as far as sales tax expenditures, but it’s going to make us non competitive as compared to other states in buying big purchases. If you own any income property, when you sell it you have to pay a 3 and 1/3 tax to the State of California. So, you’re going to have a lot of people divesting them of investment in California and move, so they don’t have to pay these large taxes.Then the wealthiest of Californians are going to have their income taxes raised to levels that were in existence about a decade ago. We’re going to drive away people that invest in California, that create jobs and create revenue for our State. So, the State shoots itself right in foot as far as I’m concerned. I worry about that and that the State is going to be imposing some mandates on local government. Especially with respect to providing health care for your residents. That is going to be a potential hit and it’s not something that we have had to invest heavily in the past . We may have to assume some of that responsibility based on what the Governor was saying. I really can’t quantify what the effects are going to be yet but the counsel will get a report to me of what the potential problems will be. Whatever it is, the city of Temecula is going to be able to weather it, because were very fortunate that we are a revenue rich City. That’s because of our strong sales in our Auto park and our strong sales in our commercial area’s plus sales in the mall.What’s your vision for this year?The vision for this year is to work cooperatively with the County, to settle our differences and to be on the same pathway to building a better southwest Riverside County. I think with the resources of time and with the vision of the counties new general plan and the cities revising our general plan, we are going to be able to put our heads together and come up with cooperative ideas. Together, we will deal with the issues that the State will be imposing on us and we’ll be in a position where we can build a new library this year. By getting the funds from the State of California that the citizens voted in, by initiative. Completing our parks and keeping our budget balanced.Vision for the future?A vision for the future is to preserve our economic base and to ensure we have the revenue necessary to continue on with the services, we provide our residents. We have what’s called a REST Program, revenue excess sharing in Temecula, whereby we actually discount the one city tax that maintains all of our parks. We subsidize right now about twenty percent of that tax, to the tune of around four million dollars a year, out of our general fund. We want to continue to do that and we also want to buy open space. We have a reserve that is the equivalent of about thirty percent of our annual budget. It’s about ten million dollars that is going to be frozen. Anything above the ten million dollars, we are going to be using to buy open space. It is our goal to buy as much open space, not just for parks but to have a delineated boundary between us and other cities – through some type of a landscape buffer area. We will take our other revenue, our capitol improvement plan, and plan for the infrastructure to meet our needs as a growing community.What about business growth?Business is going to come where they feel that they can make a profit. It’s no surprise that probably ninety percent of all the restaurants in this Valley, are in Temecula. The Mall certainly has been a big attraction to bring other industries here. There are still a lot commercial areas on the south side of the city that will contribute a tax base and help our traffic problems. By keeping people that live on the south side of the city, shopping on the south side of the city. They won’t have to venture into town as often and will help our traffic congestion.Our challenges are going to be trying to overcome the State’s anti-business atmosphere by increasing taxes and stifling investment, to bring business and industries here. We had that problem in the early nineties when businesses and people were leaving California in droves. You couldn’t even find a u-haul truck one-way to get out of California. There was no way to get them back. So we could return to those times if we aren’t careful in trying to compete with other states for keeping businesses here. Murrieta in the past has not been real cooperative in joining our efforts in connecting certain roads into their city. I’m hoping that there will be more of a spirit of cooperation in the future.

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