This year saw many changes throughout the Temecula Valley and surrounding communities. From the first new sheriff at the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department in more than a decade to continued growth and changes throughout the communities Valley News serves, there was no shortage of news in 2019 reflecting change.
Valley News invites you to join us as we take a look back at some of the top stories for 2019.
The shortest day of the year led to no shortage of fun for those in attendance at the inaugural Winter Solstice event hosted by the city of Temecula at Sam Hicks Monument Park Saturday, Dec. 22. Complete with performances, horse-drawn carriage rides from the Temecula Carriage Company and visits with Santa Claus, the event was a hit for those looking to add some fun to their holiday celebrations.
Murrieta Fire & Rescue responded to the 28000 block of Via Princesa during the overnight hours, Wednesday, Dec. 26, for a report of a car fire. Upon their arrival, firefighters found the carport fully engulfed in flames with embers falling down from the sky onto nearby apartment buildings. Four vehicles were destroyed and two more were damaged in the blaze. No injuries were reported.
A man accused of igniting the Holy Fire that blackened 23,000 acres in Orange and Riverside counties was ordered Thursday, Dec. 27, to stand trial on arson charges. Forrest Gordon Clark, 51, was scheduled to be arraigned in Santa Ana, Jan. 8. At the end of a two-day preliminary hearing, Orange County Superior Court Judge Gregg Prickett ruled that there was enough evidence for Clark to stand trial on felony charges of aggravated arson damaging at least five inhabited structures, arson of inhabited property, arson of forest and making criminal threats.
Opening statements began Monday, Jan. 7, in the trial of Charles Ray Merritt, 61, of Homeland who was accused of murdering Joseph and Summer McStay as well as the couple’s two young sons in Fallbrook in 2010 and burying their bodies in a San Bernardino desert. Merritt pleaded not guilty to four murder counts and was present Monday at the Superior Court of California in San Bernardino County where a jury of eight women, four men and six alternates heard the case.
Family fun was everywhere at Temecula’s annual Grape Drop, Monday, Dec. 31. The city paid homage to the New Year using its favorite fruit as a focal point for the family-friendly event, where live music, dancing, a giant slide and ice skating made the night complete.
Oak Grove Center opened its new Culinary Creations bakery and coffee shop inside the Truax Building in Old Town Temecula. The idea for the bakery came from the guy who is in charge of the building – Bernie Truax, president and CEO of Truax Development who suggested to Oak Grove Center CEO Tammy Wilson that the culinary program at the school could make a go of it.
The Murrieta Police Department won the approval of the city council for new body-worn cameras to be worn by their patrol officers Jan. 15 as a test to improve the department’s community policing efforts and public transparency. The department chose Axon/Evidence.com body-worn cameras among others they had experimented with in the field earlier. The results of the test would come back to the council after a few months.
With the swearing in of Chad Bianco to his newly elected position, Riverside County has its first new sheriff in more than a decade. Bianco, who defeated longtime Sheriff Stan Sniff in the November 2018, election, took office with an official swearing-in ceremony, Tuesday, Jan. 8, on the steps of the Riverside County Historic Courthouse in downtown Riverside.
Residents in Murrieta’s French Valley community were treated to a rare spectacle when a hot air balloon launched from Temecula Valley Wine Country was forced to land in the industrial area along Winchester Road due to fog, Sunday, Jan. 13. As the balloon made its way across the morning sky along Sky Canyon Drive, people began to line the streets and pull off to the side of the road where they took cellphone photos and video of the unusual sight.
A set of winter storms that moved into the area, Monday, Jan. 14, brought flooding to the Temecula Valley and surrounding communities. As of press time, minor flooding was reported at the Holy Fire burn scar in Lake Elsinore, but no debris flows had occurred. Flash flood watches were issued throughout the area, as many braced for what would be a wet week.
Hundreds of residents and visitors to Murrieta’s historic downtown gathered along the sidewalks to enjoy a parade and barbecue celebrating the life of famed Civil Rights champion Martin Luther King Jr. and the holiday he inspired, Monday, Jan. 21.
Water was flowing over the Canyon Lake Dam for the first time in two years, something that could potentially be good news for Lake Elsinore, the largest natural freshwater lake in Southern California. The spill from the dam began thanks to an overabundance of rainfall that dumped nearly 4 inches of rain in Lake Elsinore and the surrounding communities.
The Temecula community and those from surrounding cities mourned the loss of Drake Charles, the former head of school for Linfield Christian Schools. Charles, who has been a prominent member of the school and church at Linfield Christian for many years, suffered from Lou Gehrig’s disease or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
The city of Menifee moved one step closer to its goal of creating a police force Wednesday, Jan. 16, with its first town hall meeting for Menifee and surrounding community members to seek input on the formation of the department and the characteristics desired in the city’s first police chief.
Menifee health care professionals and school administrators were invited to meet with the Menifee City Council and staff for a frank roundtable discussion on the city’s future health care needs Jan. 24. The meeting was called by Menifee Mayor Bill Zimmerman as one of his Mayor’s Stakeholders Roundtable discussions.
Capt. Michael Lujan was announced as Lake Elsinore’s new chief of police for the city, from Capt. Daniel Anne who has moved to the Cois M. Byrd Detention Center in Murrieta. Lujan was introduced to residents during the Jan. 22 city council meeting.
Lake Elsinore City Council, along with a roomful of interested residents, heard an update from the Riverside County Transportation Commission on changes to the often-congested Railroad Canyon Road, Interstate 15, interchange during the Jan. 22 council meeting. Marlin Feenstra, a project delivery director with the RCTC gave a presentation outlining the changes that would be coming to the interchange when construction begins in summer 2020.
Deputies from the Riverside County sheriff’s and the Temecula police departments converged upon a Temecula business Thursday, Jan. 31, for an early morning raid. According to a press release from the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office, 10 businesses, including the one in Temecula, were served search warrants following a monthslong investigation.
Murrieta City Councilmember Randon Lane after Thursday, Jan. 24, when he did something no one else may have done; he completed his bus journey and goal to ride each of the 48 Riverside Transportation Agency buses that crisscross the county and even into San Diego, Orange and San Bernardino counties in a year.
Rock the Oaks, the popular fundraiser for Oak Grove Center for the Arts, took to the stage at Temecula Valley High School Feb. 1 and 2. The music event featured country, classic rock, gospel and Broadway music by some of the hottest artists, along with some comic relief and benefits the art and autism spectrum disorder programs at Oak Grove.
Ron Roberts, 78, the retired California Highway Patrol sergeant who served the city of Temecula since 1990 and spent 24 years on the Temecula City Council, died Monday, Feb. 4.
Hemet residents were happy to hear that the city’s police department, using Measure U sales tax money, would have seven new fully equipment police cars on the city streets. The city council Tuesday, Feb. 12, authorized the purchase of the vehicles that would replace other high mileage units, with those auctioned out or placed in reserve. The cost was estimated at $685, 177 for the new Ford police interceptors.
Sacramento announced that a new Virulent Newcastle disease outbreak was occurring in Riverside County and warned all chicken ranchers and other domestic bird owners the disease may result in widespread contamination and the destruction of many bird flocks before it comes under control.
More than 60 people gathered at the corner of Rancho California and Ynez roads Monday, Feb. 18, to protest President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency. During a news conference Friday, Feb. 15, Trump announced his intent to sign a declaration of a National Emergency at the southern border of the U.S. to reallocate funds intended for other uses and put that money toward building a wall at the southern border.
The most powerful storm to hit southwest Riverside County this season battered the region Wednesday night through Friday evening, wreaking havoc on area roads and communities and drenching the area with more than 3 inches of rain, and in some places, more than 5 inches.
More than 100 family members, friends and colleagues gathered Friday, Feb. 15, for the memorial service of Ronald H. Roberts, one of Temecula’s most impactful public servants, at Rancho Community Church. The former Temecula mayor and city councilman died peacefully, Feb. 4. Roberts is survived by his wife Jeanne; son Ron Jr. and his wife Kara; daughter Wendy and her husband Sam and five grandchildren.
The Hemet City Council reviewed its midyear budget report with a $425,375 expenditure adjustment to the general and non-general fund budget and an increase of $17,000 in revenues during their Tuesday, Feb. 28, meeting. The staff reported the increases were mainly due to midyear police salary increases that were taken from the Measure U tax revenues and more money from property taxes had come to the city.
Yet another storm system brought rain, hail and even snow to unexpected areas throughout Riverside County. Snow flurries were reported in parts of Menifee, Hemet and La Cresta during the evening hours Thursday, Feb. 21, but with the above freezing temperatures, it melted just as quickly as it landed on the ground. Hail was reported throughout the region.
As Murrieta Public Works crews were located and repairing recently formed potholes thanks to the recent rain storms that soaked the region, a crew noticed a depression in the pavement around 2 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 20. As crews were inspecting the site of the apparent depression at around 3:30 p.m. – located at Alta Murrieta Drive, north of Murrieta Hot Springs Road – the roadway gave way, creating a sinkhole in the middle of the street.
Jodie Gray was named Temecula Fire Department division chief, marking a first for the city, as it was the first time a female was named to the top position. Gray joined Temecula Police Chief Lisa McConnell and Capt. Karyn Mentink of California Highway Patrol Temecula Area office in a trio of females leading the way in public safety for the city, which many theorized was a first for the state of California.
Nancy Grenier had been enjoying her “mini” celebrity status ever since the Fallbrook woman appeared on the Ellen DeGeneres show, Friday, Feb. 22. Dressed in a yellow blouse, the Murrieta first grade teacher was shown in a YouTube video that attracted more than 3 million views excitedly jumping up and down and screaming as she is called out from the audience and brought onstage to meet Ellen.
The Exchange Club of Hemet San Jacinto and the Friends of Valley-Wide Foundation announced the city’s historic Farmers Fair his would be featured at the upcoming Farmers Fair Memories Weekend fundraiser at the Valley-Wide Regional Park on Esplanade Avenue in San Jacinto.
The San Jacinto City Council after hearing a report from the Department of Power, Water and Public Works March 5, decided to make a major heavy equipment purchase of two vacuum and hydro-jetting vehicles to replace their aging and out of compliance. The purchase cost the city more than $1 million but resulted in cleaning out many of the city’s debris-clogged storm and sewer drains in the coming months, much to the pleasure of city crews.
Hidden in a secluded area of unincorporated Temecula in French Valley lies a wonder of nature. Nestled in a quiet field surrounded by homes, fences and plenty of open space is Skunk Hollow, home to a variety of waterfowl, mammals and many endangered species of plants and animals and Valley News was invited to step inside to explore the delicate ecosystem, which is not open to the public.
More than 22 inches of rain for the 2018-2019 season led to what officials called a “Super Bloom” in the Lake Elsinore poppy fields located right off Interstate 15. The bloom was so significant that www.Forbes.com even listed the city as one of the “Top 16 Most Beautiful Places to Travel to This Spring.”
Southwest Traders Inc., one of Temecula’s oldest businesses, began hiring for the first time in a decade due to the landing of a $650 million five-year contract with Panera Bread.
The Hemet City Council, March 12, came out of closed session to announce it was placing City Manager Allen Parker on paid administrative leave. At that time no reason was given by City Attorney Eric Vail for his leave, but in previous weeks several of the sitting council members voiced their concern that he had not performed his duties in a timely fashion and was not living up to his promise when first being hired by the city in August 2017.
The city of Lake Elsinore reopened Walker Canyon for poppy viewing following a harrowing weekend when drivers parked on Interstate 15 to get to the canyon which was overfilled with eager visitors. Walker Canyon was open Monday, March 18, after the super bloom of poppies brought an estimated 100,000 people to the city to view the state flower in its natural environment the previous weekend.
U.S. Border Patrol agents arrested two men Thursday, March 14, who had more than $600,000 in methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin inside the back of their vehicle.
In March, Valley News profiled a Temecula resident, Eric Kincheloe, who had complained that flooding during Valentine’s Day a month earlier had ripped apart the creek that previously flowed gently behind his home in unincorporated Temecula.
San Jacinto Mayor Russ Utz called upon his fellow councilman at their March 19 meeting to list their personal goals for the year that would be combined in a “Consensus Priorities List” and presented to the public. He suggested City Manager Rob Johnson then use the top five on the list to determine what would best benefit the residents of the community in the next year and place them into a strategic plan. Many of the goals were reached by the end of the calendar year.
Chaparral High School Navy JROTC dedicated a memorial plaque to Chaparral alumnus Carlos Sibayan, March 21. A fire controlman and Petty Officer 2nd Class, Sibayan was a 2012 graduate of the school and member of Chaparral’s Navy JROTC. He was killed while serving in the U.S. Navy onboard the USS Fitzgerald in a collision with the ACX Crystal, a container ship flagged in the Phillipines, off Japan’s Izu Peninsula June 17, 2017. He was 23.
Late Thursday, March 28, officials from the city of Wildomar were informed by Philip Serghini, Walmart’s director of government and public affairs, the retailer planned to sell the 22-acre parcel they have owned for more than a decade.
Western Science Museum scientists were surprised that the 15,000-year-old mastodon fossil named “Max” found in the Domenigoni Dam excavation was actually a new species of ice age elephant. The paleontologists, including museum director Dr. Alton Dooley, named it “Mammut pacificus.” A news conference was held March 27 to announce the find.
Vietnam veterans and their families converged upon the Temecula Civic Center for the inaugural Vietnam Veterans Recognition Day event, Saturday, March 30. Guest speakers, including U.S. Army Medal of Honor recipient John Baca, took to the stage to discuss their experiences with the hundreds gathered for the event, which was followed by a reception and other activities.
The city of Temecula began work on a road widening project on Pechanga Parkway that will take the bottlenecked portion of the road that is currently two lanes to a full three lanes. Once the work is done on the eastern side of the road in front of the casino, the contractor will come back and reposition the center median to make the road three lanes in both directions.
A new hotel, senior apartment complex and medical unit was proposed on the northeast corner of the Ramona Expressway and Main Street during a San Jacinto City Council meeting April 2.
The Ramona Spring Festival kicked off the “Ramona” pageant season Saturday, April 6. Visitors to Hemet’s Harvard Street were treated to many activities including shopping, classic cars and live entertainment.
A fun-filled weekend of family entertainment, tastes of Temecula wines, food and other activities were announced for the April 26-27 Taste of Temecula Festival, which was presented to raise money for the Temecula Valley Unified School District.
In front of a packed house, Lake Elsinore City Council went on record as opposing Nevada Hydro’s proposed Lake Elsinore Advanced Pump Storage project, or LEAPS, during its Tuesday, April 9, meeting in a unanimous vote with all council members present. Following more than 60 minutes of public comments, the council acted on the staff recommendation to oppose LEAPS.
Fourteen top-rated bluegrass bands and the same number of local individual musicians took the stage at the third annual Temecula Bluegrass Festival at Tucalota Creek Ranch in Temecula, April 12-14. The musicians on two stages gathered from across the country to raise money to further music education programs in the Valley’s school music programs through the nonprofit Tim Moyer Entertainment group.
Ballast Point Brewing Temecula, which opened in 2016 at the corner of Rancho California Road and Vincent Moraga Drive, closed its doors Tuesday, April 16. “The Temecula brewpub will be closing its doors today,” according to a post on the business’ Facebook page. “We’re proud to have been a part of the community and appreciate your support!”
The Murrieta City fathers resolved to give the city a new nickname, branding itself “Connected by Community,” during its April 19 meeting. The change shows a large blue scripted letter “M” with a golden yellow sun over it an arched lettering saying Murrieta with southern California below. It soon appeared on banners and T-shirts for the rest of the year. The “Gem of the City” logo remains the same.
Under the guidance and direction of recently elected Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco, officials from multiple agencies conducted a coordinated marijuana eradication operation throughout the Anza Valley April 20, the day that annual cannabis-oriented celebrations that take place worldwide.
The Temecula City Council ultimately decided not to pursue the passage of a resolution, written by Mayor Mike Naggar and Councilmember Matt Rahn, which was brought in front of the council during a four-hour meeting Tuesday, April 23. The resolution was described on the agenda as “A resolution of the city council of the city of Temecula reaffirming the principals outlined in the Constitution of the United States of America.”
The Lambs Fellowship announced their annual Car and Motorcycle Show, May 10, which brought dozens of tricked out motorcycles, custom and classic cars, and top fuel dragsters to the church parking lot. The car show benefited children’s charities in Lake Elsinore and the churches Vacation Bible School. The “Fabulous Nomads” band entertained guests.
Juniper Street in historic downtown Murrieta was lined with vendors and hundreds of residents and visitors Sunday morning, April 28, with a crowd gathering in front of the new Murrieta Museum at 41810 Juniper Street leased from the city by the Murrieta Valley Historical Society, for the grand opening.
Holocaust Remembrance Foundation of the Valley’s held its sixth annual March of Remembrance Sunday, April 28. While those gathered at Murrieta Mesa High School for the event were there to honor victims and survivors of the holocaust, the shooting at Chabad of Poway Synagogue shooting the day before the march, weighed heavy on some minds.
The eighth annual 3-day Reality Rally, featuring reality television stars was held held at various locations in Temecula Thursday, May 2, through Saturday, May 4.
Hemet’s Sierra Dawn and Four Seasons community artists showed off their works May 4 at the local artist reception at the Diamond Valley Arts center on historic Harvard Street in downtown Hemet. The artists talked and showed the best artwork while enjoying wines and treats. The works remained in the art gallery for weeks afterward with some sales as a result.
Some startling facts and a warning to parents of teens were relayed during a frank discussion on the growing menace of human trafficking plaguing the local communities and most of the world, May 2, in a Mt. San Jacinto College campus in Menifee.
A fire that broke out Friday, May 3, along the main east-west corridor through Hemet was contained before threatening any structures. The non-injury blaze was reported about 12:15 p.m. adjacent to Florida Avenue, near Myers Street.
Very proud parents, grandparents and friends crowded the Hans Christensen Middle School multipurpose room in May the for Menifee’s Got Talent Show. The artist presentations including readings, music scores, instrument playing, dancing and other performing arts. Menifee’s Mayor Bill Zimmerman and a group of local singers presented new city song with his friends much to the delight of the audience. The top performers won ribbons and prizes.
After nearly a month of testimony, both the defense and prosecution rested Thursday, May 9, in the trial of an ex-convict accused of killing two Palm Springs police officers who responded to a domestic disturbance call at his family’s home. Family members and surviving police officers all testified in the trial of 28-year-old John Hernandez Felix, who was accused of firing an AR-15 rifle at veteran Officer Jose Gilbert Vega, 63, and rookie Officer Lesley Zerebny, 27, from inside the Felix family home in the 2700 block of Cypress Avenue Oct. 8, 2016, killing both officers. Felix was found guilty.
Southern California cities continued to dominate the rankings of SafeWise’s annual list of the 50 safest cities in California. Murrieta, Temecula, Menifee and Wildomar all made the list.
The Santa Rosa Plateau Nature Education Foundation and the city of Wildomar hosted its first successful Roots of Nature Craft Brew Festival at Wildomar’s Marna O’Brien Park. More than 30 local breweries offered guests some of their finest beers while children played games, danced on the stage and had fun.
Five veterans from southwest Riverside County were recognized by Sen. Jeff Stone, R-Riverside County, Saturday, May 4. U.S. Air Force veterans Lt. Col. Dr. Guilherme R. Carvalho of Temecula, Sgt. Bob Davies and Airman 3rd Class Tom Hicks, both of Murrieta, along with U.S. Army veterans Sgt. Pete “Pedro” Ramos and Sgt. Terry A. Gilmore, both of Temecula, were honored by Stone during his 2019 Veterans Service Awards presentation in Wildomar.
The latest information about Hemet’s homeless population, now estimated at 983 people with 83 homeless living on the streets, was relayed to the Hemet City Council Tuesday, May 14, by Paul Webster, vice president of Vista’s Solutions Enterprises.
Members of the community, veterans, relatives, family members and descendants of those that served in the United States military gathered on Memorial Day, Monday, May 27, at the new Fallen Heroes Memorial at Temecula Duck Pond.
A policy that allows the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department to decline a concealed firearms permit based on a resident’s immigration status is unenforceable, according to Los Angeles-based U.S. District Judge Dean Pregerson. He ruled Friday, May 24, issuing a permanent injunction against the sheriff’s department’s non-issuance policy in response to a lawsuit filed by civil rights groups in October, naming former Sheriff Stan Sniff as a defendant.
A group of Murrieta residents once again brought national attention to the city following the news that an overwhelmed immigration system in Texas and San Diego have led to immigrants being brought to the city for processing. Residents were concerned that those immigrants, once processed, would be released into the city and surrounding communities was reminiscent to 2014, when Murrieta made national news after forcing the Border Patrol to turn around busloads of immigrants.
Exposure to an unknown substance caused five students at a Temecula charter school to become ill Wednesday, May 29, prompting authorities to evacuate the entire campus. The potential hazardous material exposure was reported about 2:35 p.m. at River Springs Charter School in the 42000 block of Lyndie Lane, near Rancho California Road. Crews were sent to the location to investigate the source of an unidentified odor, which appeared to emanate from a single classroom.
The California Highway Patrol announced a high-speed traffic accident Saturday, June 1, that claimed the life of a 15-year-old girl was caused by the erratic driving of a 19-year-old Fallbrook man who has been charged with felony driving under the influence of alcohol and felony vehicular manslaughter. Lily Kelly Harrison, 15, of Temecula and a student at Calvary Murrieta High School, was killed in the crash.
Temecula Mayor Mike Naggar gave his fifth State of the City address. “We have a lot of love happening here in the city – this city is a city full of love,” Naggar said. “Ladies and gentlemen, let me tell you, it is perfect.”
Elsinore High School graduate and Temecula resident Kodi Lee’s video of his debut performance on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” Tuesday, May 28, was viewed more than 25 million times. His social media accounts exploded with more than 47,000 people following him on Twitter and more than 266,000 on Facebook. His performance made such an impact on judge Gabrielle Union that the actress awarded Lee with the Golden Buzzer, which sends him directly to the live shows in Hollywood.
Upward of 700 law enforcement personnel from multiple agencies descended on the communities of Anza, Aguanga and Sage, Wednesday, June 5, to perform an illegal marijuana cultivation operation conducted by the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department and spearheaded by the Hemet Sheriff’s Station. When it was all said and done, the operation resulted in the confiscation of more than 140,877 marijuana plants worth an estimated $189 million on the street and the arrest of eight people on a variety of charges.
After more than six months of testimony and deliberation and more than nine years since Joseph and Summer McStay and their two young sons disappeared from their Fallbrook home, Charles “Chase” Ray Merritt was found guilty of murdering the family Monday, June 10, by a jury in San Bernardino.
Caltrans engineers and contractors met with Hemet city council members, staff, businessmen and residents June 6, to announce the Highway 74 Raised Curb Median Safety project was to begin July 8. The project that will place raised medians from Mountain Avenue in Valle Vista to Interstate 15 came with great criticism from the communities along the way seeing how it would block off many smaller streets and businesses on the route.
Following multiple rain delays and after just over six months of work, the Railroad Canyon Road Widening project was completed in the city of Lake Elsinore. Cost of the project was estimated to be $4,678,065.
More than 100 concerned residents, family members of those killed by drunk or drugged drivers and a panel of law enforcement and prosecuting office agency representatives, elected politicians and experts gathered Thursday, June 13, to find solutions to a rash of driving under the influence crashes that have claimed the lives of several local people.
Nighttime closures of Gilman Springs Road from Sanderson Avenue (Highway 79) in San Jacinto to Highway 60 in Moreno Valley were announced by Caltrans to mitigate potential traffic tie-ups from construction to build truck lanes on Highway 60 from Beaumont to Moreno Valley.
Faced with a pile of cheeseburgers and a cup of water each, five people nervously sat down at a table to find out who could eat the most in a 10-minute time period at the first Mad Madeline’s Grill Cheeseburger Eating Contest in front of the restaurant in Old Town Temecula Friday, June 14. When it was all said and done, the judges said Phil Rubino of Temecula had consumed the most – seven cheeseburgers in total – winning $500 in gift certificates to the restaurant and other prizes.
According to Murrieta Mayor Kelly Seyarto, there was nothing wrong with what the city had been using as its logo the last several years, nor was there anything wrong with the city’s motto. On Monday, June 17, Seyarto unveiled and explained the new logo and slogan – “Connected by Community” – at the State of the City at The Spectrum.
Hemet Hospital was renamed KPC Health Hemet Global Medical Center by the hospital owner and founder Dr. Kali Chaudhury during special ceremonies. He announced more capital improvements would be coming to the hospital and its Menifee sister hospital.
Amongst the accomplishments of the past year lauded by the speakers during Visit Temecula Valley’s State of Tourism meeting Thursday, June 20, none were more powerful than the announcement indicating that Temecula Valley had reached the $1 billion mark in tourism economic impact.
With skateboards and helmets in hand, dozens of skaters, BMX riders and skate part enthusiasts converged upon Lake Elsinore’s newly remodeled McVicker Canyon Skate Park Tuesday, June 18, to celebrate the opening of the “most extreme” of the city’s three skate parks.
Temecula Valley Unified School District governing board member Adam Skumawitz turned in a letter of resignation to the district Wednesday, June 26. Skumawitz, who represents District 4 and assumed the seat after being elected in 2018, made the decision to resign his seat after learning he could be found in violation of government code after his wife, Jen, was offered a full-time position.
Hemet city officials, businessmen and members of the Hemet San Jacinto Chamber of Commerce joined the Gosch Ford Hyundai dealership teams for their re-grand opening at the Hemet Auto Mall.
Whether they were there to connect with local businesses and nonprofit organizations, catch up with old friends or just mingle with some of the area’s top business people, the several hundred people that came to the All Chamber Megamixer Thursday, June 27, 2019, got exactly what they were looking for.
Hemet City Council joined other city councils in southwest Riverside County supporting what is called “balanced energy solutions” that would allow residents to choose electric or gas for their homes although the state is mandating all solar, water and electric powered equipment be in use in the next 30 years eliminating all fossil fuels. The council agreed the plan to go all electric by the state in that time will be too costly for the average consumer and small businesses. The Southern California Gas Co. pointed out it is a major customer of the state’s electrical generation companies.
The Murrieta Wildomar Chamber of Commerce announced the nominees for its annual awards Tuesday, July 2.
The Menifee Union School District announced that it was been named to the 2018-2019 Educational Results Partnership honor roll for its high achievement in student success. The program, sponsored by the Campaign for Business and Education Excellence, is part of a national effort to identify higher-performing schools and districts that are improving student outcomes. The Menifee Union School District was one of only 26 public school districts in California to be recognized.
A Southern California Gas Co. technician was killed and 15 people were injured Monday, July 15, in a natural gas line explosion that leveled a home in a Murrieta residential neighborhood. Among the injured in the blast were three Murrieta Fire & Rescue firefighters who were at the scene at the time of the explosion.
A Temecula man reported missing in the hours following a trip to Pechanga Resort Casino Sunday, July 7, sparked communitywide concern and speculation regarding his whereabouts until Riverside County Sheriff’s Department detectives announced late Friday, July 12, that he was found safe. No further details were shared as to where 47-year-old Temecula resident and Rancon Real Estate Realtor Richard Tyrrell was during the four days he was considered missing, but according to investigators, Tyrrell had voluntarily left the area.
Michelle’s Place Cancer Resource Center officially found its new permanent home as the nonprofit organization recently closed escrow on a building three times the size of their old home. That meant it was time to celebrate – and thank the community that helped the group raise almost $1 million in nine months to make it happen.
Rep. Ken Calvert announced that the city of Temecula received a $50 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to improve the Interstate 15 freeway and the French Valley Parkway Interchange. Temecula Mayor Mike Naggar expressed his appreciation for Calvert’s support and to Elaine Chao, secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation who moved the project forward. The freeway work had long been desired by the city.
Targeting areas known to have been inhabited by the homeless population within the city of Temecula recently, the city’s Homeless Outreach Team and more than 75 volunteers spent the morning of Saturday, July 20, cleaning up with the help of Riverside County Sheriff HOT officers and the Social Work Action Group.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission announced it accepted Nevada Hydro’s Lake Elsinore Advanced Pump Storage Project, more commonly known as LEAPS, for filing. A notice issued by FERC stated that while the application has been accepted for filing, it is not ready for environmental analysis at the time. The move allowed for LEAPS, proposed to be located on Lake Elsinore and the San Juan Creek near the city of Lake Elsinore and occupying roughly 845 acres of federal land in the Cleveland National Forest to move forward in the application process.
The U.S. Department of Transportation Thursday, July 25, announced $855,950,000 in proposed grants through the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America discretionary grant program – of which $50 million was proposed to the city of Temecula to construct a two-lane northbound collector and distributor system along Interstate 15 – known as Interstate 15/French Valley Parkway – Phase II.
The Lake Elsinore City Council approved the relocation of a public park in a planned 452 single-family residential lot 150.8 acre development on the north side of Lakeshore Drive between Dryden Street and Terra Cotta Road. The relocation was deemed necessary because of an existing 30-inch water main located under the originally planned 5.1-acre park site.
In the wake of a second recent occurrence of an arrest involving a youth pastor accused of sexually molesting teenage girls at Faith Baptist Church, victims and critics of the Independent Fundamental Baptist Church in Wildomar came forward to talk about the culture and practices that they said are dangerous in a three-part series.
San Jacinto’s Kool August Nights began with a concert Aug. 7 that filled the lawn of the historic Estudillo Mansion and promised to fill it every Friday night through the month. Adding to the entertainment this month was a booth set up by the Mason Jar Ranch Brew and Bistro one of the city’s newest restaurants and first craft brew lounge. Mayor Russ Utz presided over the special event.
In the wake of the arrest of Laverne Paul Fox, 60, a youth pastor who was accused of sexually molesting teenage girls at Faith Baptist Church, victims and critics of the Independent Fundamental Baptist Church in Wildomar came forward to talk about the culture and practices that they said are dangerous.
Jodie Gray, the city of Temecula’s first female fire chief, pleaded not guilty to two misdemeanor counts – battery on a spouse or person whom she is cohabitating with and exhibiting a firearm, not in self-defense – at her arraignment in Riverside Wednesday, Aug. 7.
The San Jacinto City Council extended its industrial hemp moratorium another 45 days in an urgency ordinance until the federal and state government better defined the allowed production and testing of the product used for external pain medicine, rope, bags and clothing items. Hemp is related to the marijuana plant and needs to be tested to be sure it does not have the same cannabis toxicity and hallucinogenic properties. It must be much lower.
Murrieta Mayor Pro Tem Randon Lane announced Tuesday, Aug. 6, that he would be resigning from the city council effective Aug. 31, to accept a presidential appointment within the U.S. Department of Transportation in Washington.
Hundreds of residents converged on the Temecula Duck Pond Friday, Aug. 9, for a candlelight vigil remembering the victims of the rash of mass shootings that have struck the country. United Church of the Valley, along with other area faith communities, joined forces to stand in solidarity against the sale and possession of assault weapons and to remember those killed in senseless acts of violence.
Chief David Lantzer was named fire chief for Murrieta Fire & Rescue, taking over for Chief Scott Ferguson who accepted a position helping to build the city of Placentia’s new, independent fire department, set to open in 2020.
Bernie Truax had the look of a man both relieved and excited to be embarking on construction of the $135 million Truax Hotel that will be located on the southern end of Old Town Temecula when it opens sometime in the year 2021.
Murrieta’s Mayor Pro Tem Randon Lane announced he was stepping down from his position to take a job in Washington with the U.S. Department of Transportation. He was offered the appointment by President Donald Trump and will be serving in that capacity as long as Trump remains in office. The council, soon after Lane’s departure, appointed civic leader Gene Wunderlich to fill the position until the end or Lane’s term.
Roughly 500 city and business leaders, as well as community stakeholders, attended the 2019 Southwest Regional Economic Forecast Thursday, Aug. 15, at South Coast Winery Resort & Spa to listen to economic reports and projections of southwest Riverside County from expert speakers.
A brush fire scorching nearly 80 acres near Interstate 15 and Temescal Canyon Road in Lake Elsinore was quickly contained by firefighters Sunday, Aug. 25. The Ivy Fire was first reported just before 11 a.m. and brought on an aggressive response by firefighters, including both ground and air attacks in response to the blaze.
Murrieta Fire & Rescue hosted its annual citizens’ academy, with more than two dozen residents attending. They attendees were grouped into six teams who went through the challenging training and education program. They learned department operations and training, emergency medical services, fire communications and fire prevention, all while learning all about Murrieta Fire & Rescue.
During a Thursday, Aug. 29, tour of the $57.8 million Scott Road and Interstate 15 interchange project Menifee city officials and others learned about the project and how its completion would help to ease traffic for commuters and residents alike.
After serving up Mexican food to locals and tourists in Old Town Temecula for more than 28 years, Rosa’s Cantina announced it was closing its doors Sunday, Aug. 25. The news was announced on a Facebook post on the restaurant’s page. The restaurant was established in 1991 by Mike Theising, his wife Rosa and son, Mike Junior, and promised to serve “only the highest quality authentic Mexican food available for their customers at reasonable prices.”
Valley News announced the addition of both a regional and national news section to the paper utilizing a variety of sources including The Associated Press.
Hemet Valley Mall was filled with happy Hemet and San Jacinto residents learning about the many different businesses, restaurants and public service agencies available in the communities at the “biggest ever”’ Business Expo.
A wildfire that broke out just before 4 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 4, was fully contained but not before charring 1,926 acres. The Tenaja Fire ripped through the La Cresta area burning parts of the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve, threatening more than 1,200 homes and causing evacuations of hundreds of homes. Due to the location of the fire, firefighters were hampered by difficult terrain while battling the blaze.
Granite construction crews this week began work on the $20 million Caltrans Raised Curb Median Safety Project from Hemet to the Interstate 215 in Menifee.
The raised medians are being constructed from Valle Vista west down Florida Avenue to Acacia and from there to the 215 freeway. Granite Construction has the latter project and Autobahn had the Hemet portion that began a few weeks earlier. The project, according to Caltrans, will reduce the number of crossover traffic accidents on the roadway.
Soon after classes started at Temecula Valley High School in August, a student who painted a Confederate flag on his senior parking space received at least two complaints to school administrators. The flag was in place almost three weeks before the student’s parents agreed to have it painted over. This story marked the first time 17-year-old Solona Husband, one of the students who complained about the flag, appeared in the news, but it wouldn’t be the last – Husband’s activism on social media began to gain attention after the incident.
Temecula city councilmember Matt Rahn told the Valley News that he has chosen not to run for California’s 50th Congressional District seat currently held by embattled Rep. Duncan Hunter. In December, Rahn announced he was forming exploratory committees to consider a challenge to Hunter, who stands accused of using $250,000 in campaign funds for personal expenses, including dental work and trips to Italy and Hawaii.
Several dozen members of the community, public safety and law enforcement gathered Wednesday, Sept. 11, for the city’s annual 9-11 Remembrance event at the Temecula Duck Pond.
Soap box cars raced in the annual Soap Box Derby in Menifee, which the Valley-Wide Recreation and Park District has put on annually since 2012.
Kodi Lee, a 22-year old blind and autistic musical prodigious savant, who attended Elsinore High was named the winner of NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.”
Menifee Mayor Bill Zimmerman gave a glowing report, Sept. 19, on the city’s growth and progress in his State of the City address in the Menifee Lakes Country Clubhouse. The event was sponsored by the Menifee Chamber of Commerce and brought nearly 200 guests to hear Zimmerman including state and county officials. He said the city was close to 95,000 residents at this time.
A note was found Sept. 24, written in permanent marker on a bathroom wall at Great Oak High School threatening a shooting two days later, Sept. 26. School officials the next day were able to identify the student responsible and determine the threat not to be credible, but it sparked two apparent copycat threats at Temecula Middle School and Temecula Valley High School, Sept. 26. Neither of those incidents were determined to be credible, either.
Dozens of protesters from all over southwest Riverside County – many of them high school and college students – joined the Friday, Sept. 20, global climate protests for a local demonstration in front of Old Town Temecula.
DUI crash suspect enters “not guilty” plea. Javier Caldera, 26, suspected of causing a June crash on Interstate 15 that killed a Murrieta woman and left others with injuries – including a driver whose pickup was launched into the side of the Temecula Civic Center’s parking structure – pleaded not guilty to murder and other felony charges Oct. 4.
A fish survey in Lake Elsinore consisting of three fish-capturing events, was held to help Lake Elsinore and San Jacinto Watersheds Authority identify both short and long-term projects improve water quality in the sometimes-troubled lake. The surveys helped researchers to update information on the aquatic communities within Lake Elsinore. All of which will be used to develop a list of recommendations to improve the lake’s fisheries and habitat to support a healthier Lake Elsinore.
San Jacinto Mayor Russ Utz gave his “San Jacinto State of City” address at the Soboba Casino Resort Event Center Sept. 26. He praised the Soboba Band of Luiseno Indians for helping the city reach its goals for the year.
Southern California Edison, San Diego Gas and Electric and other power companies throughout California announced they would shut down power to fire-prone areas when there are potentially dangerous weather conditions. Fire danger areas at either elevated or extreme risk include much of western Riverside County.
The theater and dance community raised more than $12,000 for the family of choreographer and dance teacher, Brooke Morris, who died Oct. 1 from complications from a “brain bleed,” according to friends. Morris had been involved in musical theater since she was a young child, according to friends and more recently had been a dance teacher at many studios in town.
Hemet City Council agreed to charge customers a 67-cent recycling material fee as requested by the city contracted trash collector CR&R. CR&R requested the increase because China is no longer buying American recyclables and the country’s warehouses are brimming full of plastics and paper with nowhere to sell it now
Dozens of high school culinary students and professional chefs battled for recognition of their cooking talent at the third annual “Battle of the Burgers” at Pechanga Resort Casino Oct. 19.
A sea of pink-clad cancer survivors, caregivers and cancer warriors took to the streets of Murrieta Sunday, Oct. 13, for the Susan G. Komen Inland Empire “More Than Pink” walk to raise money for breast cancer treatment, research and advocacy for those battling the disease.
Thousands of car aficionados flocked to historic downtown Murrieta for the seventh annual Murrieta Rod Run Friday, Oct. 11, and Saturday, Oct. 12. Featuring music, entertainment, food, vendors and the always popular classic cars, the event hosted by the Drifters Car Club of Southern California, benefited Murrieta’s Oak Grove Center.
Hemet City Council announced that interim city manager Christopher Lopez was their first choice to take over as the city’s latest city manager. Still to be determined was Lopez’s employment contract leaving the final decision to the next regular meeting. Lopez took over as interim city manager in April 2018 after the last city manager Allen Parker was terminated without cause.
The Temecula City Council approved a new ordinance that would restrict overnight parking at city parks and facilities while also prohibiting parking before 8 a.m. in a portion Ronald Reagan Sports Park, a move specifically aimed at stopping Temecula Valley High School students from parking there.
Executive director and president of the Temecula Valley Pride Festival Jaimee Flores was nervous heading into Saturday, Oct. 19’s first-ever Temecula Pride Festival at Lake Elsinore Storm Stadium. But soon after the gates opened, his fears subsided. More than a thousand people came to the inclusive, free event that featured live entertainment and more than 60 vendors.
The Hemet Salvation Army Family Services Center was gearing up for the Christmas holidays with a number of new help programs available to needy residents. The center’s food distribution program was expanding and offering one-day bus passes with RTA to help those needing transportation for medical services and public service centers.
Solona Husband, one of the Temecula Valley High School students who complained about the Confederate flag parking spot in September, created the hashtag #TVHSNeedsChange for students to speak out about issues they said they have experienced at the high school. Dozens of responses detailed stories of racial and other discrimination.
Thousands of children and their parents were in attendance at San Jacinto’s Police/Sheriff’s Truck or Treat Fest held Oct. 23 on the streets outside of the sheriff’s substation on Sixth Street in the downtown area.
Drivers won’t be allowed to park overnight at any Temecula city facilities or parks thanks to a request from the city’s Parks, Recreation and Community Services subcommittee to explore ways to increase safety and security at local parks, according to Mike Wooten, senior management analyst for community services department.
The city of Lake Elsinore ramped up efforts to combat the homelessness problem thanks to a new $1.5 million HEAP grant awarded by the Homeless Emergency Aid Program.
Temecula city leaders, along with state and congressional representatives, were on hand at Temecula City Hall, Nov. 8, to kick off the second phase of the French Valley Parkway/Interstate 15 interchange project.
After California’s 28th District Sen. Jeff Stone announced Wednesday, Oct. 30, that he would be vacating his seat in order to accept a presidential appointment to serve as western regional director of the U.S. Department of Labor. He quickly endorsed Temecula city councilmember Matt Rahn, who announced his candidacy the week prior, however he made the decision to not enter the race and put his support behind Melissa Melendez,’ after the California State Assemblywoman announced her candidacy.
Menifee officially opened the doors to its new city hall at 29714 Haun Road to a standing room only crowd as the city council announced the appointment of two new police department captains for the new Municipal Police Department that will start up in July.
Thousands flocked to historic downtown Murrieta for the city’s Veterans Day Parade Monday, Nov. 11. The annual event which stepped off at 10 a.m. at the intersection of Ivy Street and Washington Avenue recognized the city’s hometown heroes and all veterans.
Parents frustrated with what they said is inaction on the part of the Temecula Valley Unified School District regarding bullying met at a west Temecula business to discuss their concerns and come up with recommendations to bring to the school district. Several parents at the meeting said they have attempted to address bullying directed at their children, who attend various Temecula Valley Unified schools, for years with little success.
Sheriff’s deputies shot a man to death while responding to a call Nov. 16 in Lake Elsinore. A report came in just after 5:20 p.m. that day about a man brandishing a weapon in the 3000 block of Ash Street, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department said via Twitter. Deputies headed to the scene, where they gave the man commands to drop his weapon. When the man refused, they opened fire, the sheriff’s department said.
A 26-year-old San Jacinto man who had recently asked for help with behavioral difficulties after leaving the U.S. Navy in July threatened Mt. San Jacinto College students with a gun before fleeing the campus Wednesday, Nov. 6. Gregory Joshua Abejon was charged Friday, Nov. 8, with multiple counts of making criminal threats and assault with a firearm following his arrest two days earlier while trying to flee the country through Los Angeles International Airport.
Racist graffiti referencing activist and TVHS senior Solona Husband was found on gym doors at the school, prompting officials to launch an investigation Nov. 21. The graffiti, which used the racist epithet usually referred to as the “N-word,” was removed by school officials after they became aware of it. The story was later reported by NBC Los Angeles and the Press-Enterprise days after it was published in Valley News.
Hemet City Council was particularly pleased to head their fiscal year 2018-2019 revenues had increased and the city’s expenditures were down. The council for years faced declining revenues and increasing expenditures, but the report this year was optimistic. The improvements were made on the brighter economic future predicted and good use of Measure U sales tax revenues. Several positions budgeted but were not filled helping decrease the expenditures.
Gov. Gavin Newsom proclaimed May 12 as the special general election date to fill the 28th Senate District seat vacated two weeks ago by Sen. Jeff Stone, R-La Quinta. The governor’s proclamation provides that the primary for the race will coincide with the statewide primary March 3.
The Murrieta Valley Unified School District board of trustees voted unanimously to deny a request made by a group of community activists and parents to become a sanctuary district during its Nov. 14 meeting. Should it have been approved by the district, the sanctuary school district status would have allowed for the protection of parental rights to make decisions for their children regarding sexual education, whether or not to vaccinate children and keeping students from leaving school for undisclosed doctor appointments without a parent’s knowledge.
Murrieta Fire & Rescue Friday, Nov. 22, announced the death of firefighter Dean Hale following a long battle with job-related cancer. Hale served in the city of Murrieta since 2007 after working 17 years for the city of Alhambra Fire Department. Hale was memorialized at services Saturday, Dec. 7, at The Bridge Church in Murrieta.
Menifee city swore in its new police chief and two captains Nov. 20 who will command the city’s first municipal police department beginning July 1, 2020. Police Chief Pat Walsh will be the first commander with Captains Christoper Karrer and David Guiterrez backing him up. The officers will be hiring the 35 or more regular patrol officers and civilian staff. The Murrieta Police Department is offering dispatch services to the new department.
The Murrieta Valley Unified School District Board of Education at its Nov. 14 meeting approved a new tentative agreement with the union represents the district’s classified employees. The agreement with California School Employees Association Chapter 223, which was reached Oct. 1, grants a 3% raise to all classified non-management staff – a category that includes cafeteria workers, bus drivers and other non-teaching staff. Employees will also be granted an additional 0.26% by 2022 to ensure that all employees meet the $15 per hour statewide minimum wage that will go into effect Jan. 1 of that year.
The Riverside County Transportation Commission last month allocated $3.5 million of Measure A revenue to the city of Wildomar for the widening of Bundy Canyon Road from two lanes to four lanes and construction is slated to begin in July 2020.
Valley-Wide Recreation and Park District begins a series of holiday events at its San Jacinto Regional Park and three community centers with Santa or the Grinch expected to arrive to entertain the children. The annual Christmas tree lighting at the regional park at Esplanade and State Street in San Jacinto took place on this date, kicking off all the weeklong events.
A student at Great Oak High School was arrested after a fight that occurred in a classroom. The fight took place during a third-period sophomore English class, according to an email sent out to parents by GOHS Principal Aimee Ricken. A teacher who tried to break up the scuffle was treated at a hospital though he was not seriously injured. Students had to be moved while the classroom underwent cleaning to remove bloodstains, and one student involved in the fight was facing a battery charge.
A motion to terminate Hemet’s city attorney was defeated in a 3 to 2 vote at the city’s Dec. 10 meeting Several council members saw the increasing retainer and court cost as to high, but the attorney offered the city has one of the highest number of litigations than many others in the region. The city attorney is retained for another six months when their contract will be reviewed.
It was cold and rainy Wednesday, Dec. 4, but the dreary weather didn’t stop employees from Temecula Creek Inn from bringing smiles to the faces of hundreds of commuters with everyone’s favorite sweet treat, cookies. The Temecula hotel, in conjunction with its on-site restaurant, Cork Fire Kitchen, took to Rainbow Canyon Road to hand out hundreds of cookies to weary commuters on National Cookie Day, bringing about smiles and laughter in spite of the dreary weather.
Traffic in much of the area surrounding the Promenade Temecula shopping mall was shut down Dec. 14 while sheriff’s deputies responded to what turned out to be a suicidal man outside the mall. After a standoff, deputies found the man dead and cleared the scene.
Staff at local homeless outreach organization Social Work Action Group, or SWAG, encountered an unwelcome surprise when staff opened up their office one day in early December. Burglars made off with $7,000 worth of equipment and donated items from the group’s Lake Elsinore office.
Volunteers from Wreaths Across America descended upon Temecula Public Cemetery laying remembrance wreathes on the graves of veterans Friday, Dec. 13. The group laid 278 wreaths on the graves of veterans who fought in wars that took place in the last 150 years. This is the second year that Temecula Public Cemetery participated in the event.
The Temecula city council conducted its annual reorganization at its Dec. 10 meeting, naming a new mayor and mayor pro tempore. James “Stew” Stewart will serve as mayor in 2020, along with Maryann Edwards as mayor pro tem.
Murrieta City Council voted at its Dec. 17 meeting to put recently appointed Councilmember Gene Wunderlich in the mayor’s seat for the next year. Councilmember Christi White made the surprise motion to choose Wunderlich, who was appointed just two months ago by the rest of the city council to fill the spot vacated by Randon Lane, for mayor. Lane , who left to accept a presidential appointment, was due to become mayor before he resigned his seat, leaving the city council to consider how it would choose next year’s mayor. Councilmembers Kelly Seyarto and Jonathan Ingram, caught off-guard by the motion, voted “no” on selecting Wunderlich, but he was appointed anyway in a 3-2 vote.
EJ Twyman formed Gotcha Predators in Wildomar. Twyman made an account on some social media sites, posing as an underage girl. Twyman said, “Within the first, I think, 30 minutes I had like 20 messages.” The three-man crew now works to expose adults looking to prey upon minor children in the community.
Yoko Isaac, 43, of Temecula entered a plea of “not guilty” to 14 felony charges of abuse Friday, Dec. 14. She was arraigned following an investigation by Riverside County Sheriff’s Department ending in her arrest for abuse of her foster children Wednesday, Dec. 18.