This morning I attended a ‘Murrieta State of the Community’ address by Mayor Rick Gibbs. Today is Mayor Gibbs last day on the job as he will hand over the gavel to Gary Thomasian at tonights City Council Meeting. Rick has done an outstanding job for us this year, bringing a high level of decorum to the office, a professional reserve and a business-like attitude. His tenure helped heal many of the remaining rifts our city suffered as the result of our council recall from a few years ago.
Rick served as my Vice-Chair a few years back when we worked on the General Plan Review Committee. With his election to the council, he has seen to the implementation and/or revision of many of the Land Use Elements of that plan, a focus on the Housing Element and especially the Economic Development Element which was then, and remains, one of the pre-eminent goals of our city. Incoming Mayor Thomasian also served on that committee as did newly elected council member Randon Lane. As such, all three probably have a better understanding of land use issues than most other citys enjoy and that’s good news for us.
Mayor Gibbs’ address this morning summarized a successful year in the life of a city. Considering that Murrieta is at the center of the foreclosure tsunami in Southern California and has attracted an outsize share of fraudsters and scam artists, the news out of Murrieta is surprisingly positive. Where other cities in the region are deciding how many people to lay off and which services to cut, Murrieta proposed a 2008 budget that took into account the declining property tax and sales tax revenues and eliminated some $5 million in spending without cutting people or essential services (are you listening Sacramento?).
Additional income from a couple of windfalls resulted in resurrection of some projects and the ability of the City to launch or complete about $112 million in infrastructure improvements, bridges, overpasses, etc. These Capitol Improvement Projects (CIP’s) are ideal targets for these windfall funds because they represent one-time expenditures and don’t commit the City to future expenditures when the money may not be available. (Again, unlike Sacramento where one-time windfalls are used to fund jobs and projects that require future money even when none is available).
The key question asked by Mayor Gibbs was “Does this sound like…?” Meaning, do the plans for the future of Murrieta sound like…Irvine, Rancho Bernardo, industrial El Segundo? If you were to have a vision for the city in 5, 10, 20 years, which of those areas would Murrieta most closely resemble? Stressing the old real estate axiom – location, location, location, Gibbs suggested that Murrieta occupies an enviable place in the region with the confluence of the I-15 and I-215. There are 250,000 cars a day through that area providing exposure and access to nearly 600,000 people in our regional trade area with that number growing to nearly 793,000 in just 3 years. Gibbs also lauded the amount of land still available in our city for development including over 650 acres of prime freeway frontage land not available elsewhere.
Gibbs believes that Southwest County will lead the economic resurgence not only in our region but in the state as well given our reputation for Safety (#1 city in Riverside County); the growth in available health care opportunities; improved infrastructure; the availability of a wide spectrum of housing from low-income to estate level; and the expansion of educational offerings from our excellent local school districts to new venues for higher education. Fueled by a 400% growth in sales tax revenue and a similar increase in property tax revenues between 2000 and 2007, prudent budgeting should enable the city to weather the current recession and emerge a stronger entity in “take you pick, 1, 2 or 3 years” down the road, according to the Mayor. But it’s inevitable.
The City will continue to do its job to keep infrastructure ahead of demand, to keep new business and development fees and rates competitive and to expand their “Red Team’ approach to constantly evaluate permitting and other requirements to try to make Murrieta more business friendly and attract quality job growth to the area.
While the presentation is not yet available on-line, I will post a link to it as soon as the City makes it available.