In case you’ve been in a post-holiday siesta or simply water-logged, you’re already aware that four of our six cities in Southwest California have women Mayors this year, joining six other cities throughout the Inland Empire. Media outlets have had a field day dubbing our area ‘Estrogen Alley’ and talking about ‘Women Taking Charge’. But the fact is that in most cases our Mayors are not elected to that post, they’re simply chosen by their fellow council members, typically in a set rotation schedule. As Lake Elsinore Mayor Melissa Melendez characterized the situation, “… it’s not some staged take-over, it’s just a unique set of circumstances. It’s more indicative of the fact that women in general are getting more involved in the political process, being elected to city councils in
greater numbers and being elevated to this position with more frequency than we’ve seen in the past.”
Indeed while some, including Murrieta Mayor Kelly Bennett and Wildomar’s Bridgette Moore are serving their first term on the council, Temecula had Mayor Pat Birdsall as far back as 1992 (& 1997) and Mary Ann Edwards in 2009. Canyon Lake’s Nancy Horton follows Mary Craton into the seat and Corona Mayor Karen Spiegel served that city previously in 2006.
The Valley Business Journal recently spoke with some of these ladies about the job and what they plan to bring to the business community and economic development during their tenure. The overwhelming response was that Southwest California cities are ‘Open For Business’.
Mayor of one of Southwest California’s newest cities, Wildomar, Bridgette Moore said their new City Manager Frank Oviedo has been tasked with economic development and growth as a priority. According to Moore, Wildomar has more undeveloped land that many of their neighboring cities along with a real need for business growth in the area. “We recently surveyed our citizens and found that bringing restaurants to the city was first on a lot of lists. We are also encouraging other retail partners, technology firms and medical manufacturers to locate here not just for the tax revenue but to serve the needs of our residents.” …and a hotel.
Moore’s Arizona family had to stay in another city when they came over to attend her inaugural meeting. “Yes, a hotel would be very welcomed here.”
“We’ve also reduced some of our developer fees in line with WRCOG recommendation and we’re streamlining our application and permitting process so there’s no surprises and no delays. You’ll find a real ‘make it happen’ attitude in Wildomar. If it’s a good business, it’s good for Wildomar.”
Lake Elsinore Mayor Melissa Melendez emphasizes the unique attraction of the lake to their community. They currently have a very aggressive specific plan to develop the area around Diamond Stadium and another marina and resort plan for further up the lake. “Unfortunately those plans are on hold right now due to the economy but they’re still solidly in place.”
“We need jobs for our residents right now – that’s our priority. We love the CostCo’s and Target’s, our auto dealers have been terrific but we need an Abbott, somebody with hundreds of jobs to keep our people off the freeways to Orange County every day.” To accomplish that, the city has worked with a corporate recruiter to introduce Lake Elsinore to prospective businesses. The Mayor is also instituting monthly ‘Coffee with the Mayor’ meetings. One series will be in conjunction with the Chamber of Commerce focusing on existing businesses – what they need to succeed and grow and how the city can help. Another series will join city staff and planners with developers and prospective business targets to talk about planning issue, fee structures and what the city can do to make Lake Elsinore a more attractive destination.
“I know we compete, to a degree, with the established master plan communities like Temecula, Murrieta and Corona,” says Melendez, “but we can all work together. We share more than boundaries, we share goals and we share our successes throughout the region. Lake Elsinore is a very different city than it was just 10 or 15 years ago. I would encourage businesses to take a second look at us through new eyes.”
In nearly 20 years as a city, Kelly Bennett is the first women to be elected to the Murrieta city council, thus its first Mayor as well, although she hesitates to put much significance to that. “It simply allows me the opportunity to represent my city in what for me, is extraordinarily important – the attraction and support of viable businesses in the city.”
“I have the opportunity to work very closely with several great groups that help us get the word out. City Staff, including Economic Development Director, Bruce Coleman, the Chamber of Commerce, the EDC and WRCOG. We also attend conferences like the ICSC (International Council of Shopping Centers) and the World Trade Center, San Diego, a group that positions San Diego and regional businesses for international recognition and global market success.’ Bennett noted that Murrieta is focused on three objectives: manufacturing, including nourishing ‘green’ companies; expanding education opportunities, including establishing a local 4 year under-graduate curriculum; and health care. The new physician-owned-Loma Linda healthcare campus, under construction in North Murrieta, is an endangered species under the current federal healthcare proposal. Yet we desperately need medical services and the professional and ancillary jobs it will create. The City is also aggressive in creating outreach programs for businesses. Their Broker Work Group regularly attracts 100 or more local commercial and residential Brokers, developers and planners to its meetings. The City recently introduced the Business Roundtable, and Visionary Workshops to solicit comments on the new general plan review.
“One thing I’m particularly excited about is the potential under AB 811, the Energy Efficiency for Cities and Counties Act. We are developing a program to attract green tech manufacturers providing energy efficient/cost effective products for our homeowners. You’ll be hearing a lot more about that this year.”
While the Mayors readily acknowledge they don’t have any ‘special powers’, they do get to conduct council meetings, sign mountains of paperwork, spend a lot more time on the job, and generally be the public face of city government at numerous events throughout the region and state. One Mayor I spoke to was picking up children from school while another was grabbing late evening dinner at a local (healthful) drive-thru. As with any Mayor, male or female, there’s a delicate balance.
Our Mayors are also united in hoping the state recovers soon, without ‘borrowing’ any more City cash. They are all facing constrained budgets while maintaining services. They are similarly committed to bringing jobs to the region, to retain and grow our existing business base and to keep more of our citizens off the freeway. And they all have a huge ‘Open House’ sign in front of their cities.
Southwest California appears to be off to a good beginning as we enter this second decade of a new century, and in capable hands.