Murrieta embodies the theme of being ‘Strengthened by Community’ in 2020 State of the City event

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Mayor Gene Wunderlich, right, and Patrick Ellis, president of the Murrieta/Wildomar Chamber of Commerce, talk during a filming of the virtual Murrieta State of the City address. Valley News/Courtesy photo

Murrieta’s virtual 2020 State of the City highlighted the city’s accomplishments, while discussing some of the challenges they have faced this year due to COVID-19.

In partnership with the Murrieta Wildomar Chamber of Commerce, Patrick Ellis, chamber president and CEO, sat down with Mayor Gene Wunderlich to discuss what’s been going on in the city.

The theme for this year, “Strengthened by Community,” was chosen to highlight the people that have helped keep the city running and extending that into the community.

“It’s really all of you who have kept our city running,” Wunderlich said. “You’ve helped; you’ve been supportive. It’s not always been smooth; some of you like masks, some of you don’t like masks. There’s all that going on, but overall, as a community we’ve come together, and I think once we’re through this we will be strengthened by community, we will come out of this stronger than we were before.”

One aspect that has been important during this crucial year has been Murrieta’s Back to Business Grant Program, which allowed the city to get money from the county through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, to be able to support small businesses during COVID-19.

The city has currently given out 15 awards – $150,000 to small businesses.

“We had some money sitting there in CDBG, some block grant funds, that we were able to repurpose,” Wunderlich said. “And so $250,000 we were able to repurpose through the county; we came up with this Back to Business Grant Program. It’s just a thrill to be able to walk into somebody’s small business and present them a check for $10,000.

“It’s no strings attached, they can do whatever they want with it; personnel, expansion, meeting payroll, paying the rent, whatever they need to do,” Wunderlich said.

While the city has currently awarded 15, Wunderlich also added that they have 10 more to go.

“I think we’re going to be opening the process up again this coming week to solicit some new members to come in to apply for that,” Wunderlich said.

While 2020 has had its challenges, the city has continued working through two closures, whether it was telecommuting, in the office or out in the community, according to Wunderlich. This created some unique ways as well for still getting tasks done.

Ivan Holler, assistant city manager, discussed how they were able to continue to review plans for projects during COVID-19.

The “Contact List Plan Drop Off” was a way to provide “a secure process for developers to submit and retrieve plans without missing a beat,” Holler said.

One of the key projects, Costco Wholesale, was recently approved by the planning commission.

According to Holler, the city is also currently working on bringing a new permitting system online which will help to streamline the review and permitting process.

In the next few weeks, Holler said that the city will be “bringing forward a proposed ordinance to better regulate short-term rentals.”

Several new parks have also been unveiled this year, according to Wunderlich.

“In the next few months we’ll wrap up construction of Town Square Park Amphitheater,” he said.

Stacey Stevenson, deputy city manager, said that the city is proud of their park system as it continues to grow.

“This site will not only provide a regional arts and entertainment venue, it will anchor downtown Murrieta and provide a central gathering place for residents and visitors,” Stevenson said of the Town Square Park Amphitheater project. “While seating for 750 and overall space for more than 7,000, the state-of-the-art theater fills a regional gap and addresses a community priority.”

Town Square Park is one of several deferred projects the city launched this year,” Bob Moehling, director of public works, said. “The capacity of the city’s Measure T 1-cent sales tax has helped us to revisit projects like this one to connect the community and to move forward on essential work that preserves infrastructure and contributes to the long-term health of our city.”

Further in successes, the Murrieta Police Department has added 10 new Measure T hires this year, according to police chief Sean Hadden.

“It’s been a big year,” Hadden said. “We wrapped up our first full year of the body-worn camera program with great success and kicked off an innovative partnership with our neighbors to the east, by providing dispatch services to the new Menifee Police Department.

“This meant hiring 12 new dispatchers and upgrading our communications center, which had the added benefit of enhancing local resources,” Hadden said. “We also implemented a county behavioral health assessment team, which pairs a police officer with a mental health clinician to provide outreach and resources to those suffering from behavioral health issues.”

Measure T has also helped the Murrieta Fire Department.

They’re adding several new additions, including two medic control squads and a new fire engine.

They also launched PulsePoint, “an innovative program that notifies CPR trained citizens when a cardiac arrest takes place nearby, fire Chief David Lantzer said.

“Just last month, we launched our optimized 911 emergency medical dispatch system, or EMD,” Lantzer said. “Our dispatchers will all be trained and certified as EMD dispatchers by nationally recognized standards.”

The city has several other exciting things in the works as well, including expansion projects and new businesses.

To find out more about these projects, including the $ 2 million SAFER grant that was recently awarded to the Murrieta Fire Department, visit https://www.facebook.com/pg/CityofMurrieta/videos/?ref=page_internal and see “2020 State of the City.”

Lexington Howe can be reached by email at lhowe@reedermedia.com.