Congressmember visits Soboba Crossroads site

Rep. Dr. Raul Ruiz of California’s 36th congressional district visits with Soboba Tribal Council members Kelli Hurtado, middle, and Monica Herrera at the Soboba Crossroads development Wednesday, Aug. 17. Valley News/Robert A. Whitehead photo

Rep. Dr. Raul Ruiz of California’s 36th congressional district paid a visit to San Jacinto Wednesday, Aug. 17, getting an up close and personal look at the Soboba Crossroads retail center being built less than a mile from the Soboba Casino Resort. The center is at the southeast corner of Main Street and Ramona Expressway, which generates lots of traffic. With the offsite funding appropriated by Ruiz, surrounding roads will be widened and a traffic signal will be added at Donna Way to accommodate visitors to the retail destination.

Soboba Tribal Council Secretary Monica Herrera and Sergeant-at-Arms Kelli Hurtado attended the informal site visit, which gave them an opportunity to thank Ruiz for his most recent support of the project. They presented him with a Pendleton blanket and a white sage bundle.

“It is a thank you from our people for everything he’s done and everything he is doing,” Hurtado said. “We really appreciate his support whenever we ask for it. I’m glad we have the opportunity to work with him.”

Ruiz helped secure funding for local infrastructure projects, and in March, the House passed an omnibus appropriations package that will bring federal funding directly to California’s 36th District, which he represents. The package included $10 million secured by Ruiz to drive economic growth in the 36th District as well as other critical resources.

Among the 10 projects to directly benefit residents due to this funding is $1 million for the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians to fund construction of public facilities required to facilitate construction of the 10-acre Soboba Crossroads shopping center in San Jacinto. The project is expected to create an estimated 100 permanent jobs, enhance local services, increase tax revenues and provide new opportunities for business growth.

“The allocated funds for off site improvements allowed us to be able to lease the buildings,” Ali Sahabi, president of Optimum Group, said.

He and his group have worked closely with the Tribe for the past decade bringing many major projects to fruition such as the Soboba Tribal Preschool and the Soboba Indian Reservation’s solar plant that provides power to all its governmental entities.

After the House passed the Ruiz-secured funding in March, Soboba Tribal Chairman Isaiah Vivanco said, “On behalf of Soboba, I’d like to thank Dr. Ruiz and all others who worked tirelessly to secure funding for this all-important infrastructure project. The benefits to our local communities will be reaped for many years to come.”

Sahabi told Ruiz when he arrived that he is honored to be Soboba’s owner representative for the past 10 years.

“They’ve taken on some really groundbreaking projects,” he said, adding that because of the strong leadership of Soboba’s Tribal Council and administration, projects are moving forward at a steady pace.

“That is why I was enthusiastically in support of this,” Ruiz said. “Not just because it was a Soboba project but because it has rippling effects throughout the whole region. I’m looking at creating jobs that can provide good wages for workers and provide strong commerce in their community. This was key for me, and I think this is a win-win project.”

Soboba Crossroads initially broke ground in early 2020, shortly before COVID-19 shutdowns put almost every construction project on hold for more than seven months. More recently, supply chain issues have continued to affect the cost of materials and labor. Staying within the allotted budget, Sahabi and his group had to make modifications to be discussed with and decided on by Tribal Council.

“For instance, our HVAC order was divided into three different shipments with each air conditioning unit being delivered separately,” he said. “Delays cost money and the cost of everything – labor, materials and energy – has gone up.”

Another change of plans was to add a patio area along the front of all the businesses in case outdoor seating becomes necessary as it did during the pandemic.

Optimum Group provides innovative real estate development and construction management services to government agencies, public and private companies as well as nonprofit organizations. Decades of experience provides comprehensive oversight for a wide variety of projects, with intense attention to detail.

There has been tremendous interest from potential tenants for the center that will have space for several commercial businesses. Soboba Tribal Executive Officer Steven Estrada said Tribal Council is carefully considering all lessees to bring diverse and much-needed services and resources to the area.

While curious residents and those that drive by the construction site have seen the exterior rise for quite some time, Sahabi said there is much horizontal work being done underground that is not visible to the public. He said when the vertical work is completed it gives the impression that the project is almost finished but the project is targeting a completion date for late spring 2023.

Herrera said she thought Ruiz taking time out of his busy schedule to see the project at this stage of its development was really special.

“We appreciate his support. He comes in person, he doesn’t just send staff,” she said. “He took the time to come here for a small and informal meeting like this. I feel the love.”

She added that she likes seeing Soboba, and many other tribes, diversifying.

“We can’t have all our eggs in one basket,” Herrera said. “The time for more economic development is now and we are starting to see the fruits of our labor.”

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Diane A. Rhodes