Calimesa

Friendly Calimesa Mayor Bill Davis attends the State of the City. 

Viewing what’s behind while focusing on what’s ahead, Calimesa held its annual State of the City luncheon last week for the first time in three years.

“At times the road has been winding, at times the road has been smooth and, at times, the road has been very bumpy,” said keynote speaker and City Manager Bonnie Johnson at the Aug. 24 luncheon. “But through it all, we have been managing to make great strides and accomplish great things.”

Many local dignitaries and officials from Calimesa and nearby cities packed the conference room at the Calimesa Event Center. They included the Calimesa City Council – Mayor Bill Davis, Mayor Pro Tem Jeff Cervantez and Councilwomen Wynona Duvall, Wendy Hewitt and Linda Molina. Also in attendance was Yucaipa Mayor David Avila, Councilman Greg Bogh and City Manager Ray Casey, Superintendent Cali Binks and school district board president Patty Ingram, Yucaipa Valley Water District board members Lonni Granlund and Joyce McIntire, and officials from Banning and Beaumont.

Fifth District Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Hewitt, a Calimesa resident, briefly spoke on how he did not really get involved in what was going on in the city until someone asked him to represent them on the planning commission in 2004. From there, Hewitt was elected to council in 2010 for two terms before winning his 2018 bid for supervisor.

“This staff has had a consistency. It's had a stability,” he said. “Over the last four years, as I have been county supervisor, I have watched it mature in a way that I was so proud of.”

Yet, he said, the city has remained innovative even though it’s part of the fastest growing county in the state.

“It’s a tough one to be consistent and stable and innovative at the same time,” Hewitt said.

Johnson spoke about Calimesa’s growth since its incorporation as a city in 1990. At that time, Calimesa had a population of 6,600, she said. By 2018 it had grown to approximately 9,100, and currently it is just under 11,000.

“Our population is increasing steadily every day,” Johnson said. “This recent growth has brought with it many quality-of-life improvements … and increased public safety resources, increased infrastructure improvements and so much more.

“All of this has been achieved while focusing on the commitment to maintain open spaces and to maintain this small-town community feel.”

To highlight Calimesa’s more recent accomplishments and current and upcoming projects, staff prepared a series of short videos, emphasizing four areas: Public safety; its library expansion; development and infrastructure; and an overview.

“None of this would have been possible without the direction, commitment and vision of the current council and councils before them,” Johnson said. “I thank you so much.”

“In addition,” she said as she introduced the videos, “the city enjoys a collaborative relationship with Riverside County, the city of Beaumont, the city of Banning, the city of Yucaipa, the two school districts that service our city, the utility providers and so many more. It’s all about collaboration. That’s what we use to get the job done.”

Police and fire services

The first video focused on public safety, specifically the city-run Calimesa Fire Depart-ment and police services, which are provided by the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department out of the Cabazon Station.

“I always tell everybody being a first responder is an awesome feeling to come out every day and make a difference in your community, contribute,” said Capt. Timothy Salas, commander of the Cabazon Station who serves as Calimesa’s police chief.

In September 2021, the city added a Problem Oriented Policing, or POP, officer who focuses on issues such as speed enforcement in residential and school zone areas, homelessness and improving community relationships.

“Now we have a police officer that doesn’t handle calls,” Salas said, “not that he can’t, but his job is to deal with problems.”

POP officer Juan Cedano, who works out of the Cabazon Station as well as the Citizens on Patrol office in the Norton Younglove Senior Center on Park Avenue, likes to drive around Calimesa, stop and talk to citizens about issues and concerns they might have.

“Have you got a problem?” he asked. “I am going to take my focus to that problem and do my best to solve it right there and if we can’t solve that issue, whatever it is … let’s figure this out.”

“I love my job,” he said, continuing. “That’s what makes me happy at the end of the day, helping someone who needs my help and vice versa … We got to take care of each other.”

Since its beginnings in January 2018, the Calimesa Fire Department has transitioned from a large contract service, with rotating personnel and volunteer fire group, to a professional, locally governed fire suppression agency that focuses on the citizens that it serves, Fire Chief Tim O’Connell said.

The Sandalwood Fire in October 2019, O’Connell said, served as a catalyst for Calimesa to strengthen its fire prevention. For example, the positions of deputy fire marshal and fire apparatus engineer were approved by the city council.

The fire department has also been trying to connect to the community, sometimes through its hires.

“That community involvement and that community connection is so very important,” O’Connell said. “The firefighters that live in the community know the community. They know what’s right. They know what’s wrong. They know when something’s amiss. They know when something needs to be changed … They get a better sense of what’s going to better serve the community.”

Library expansion

The Calimesa Library has always been a welcoming place and favorite hangout for the community.

“There is something about our library here in Calimesa,” Deputy City Manager/City Clerk Darlene Gerdes said. “People want to come here. They want to check out books, you know, the old-fashioned way.”

Working with Riverside County, Calimesa will expand its library on the adjacent lot on Calimesa Boulevard that the city owns. It will be an approximate 5,500-square-foot modular building, more than double the existing size of 2,520 square feet.

The design will include a community or meeting room – something that has long been desired at the Calimesa Library – a children’s center, more storage, additional bathrooms and a larger parking lot.

“The goal is that we provide a space where the community can get together, where the county is going to provide the management administration on the project,” said Erik Sydow, principal development specialist for the Riverside County Office of Economic Develop-ment.

Riverside County will fund about $2.5 million, while Calimesa’s share is approximately $1.4 million.

“Libraries communicate what the community wants and we try to make everything available to the community,” said Linda Sailor, a library associate. “If we can provide the services the community needs, then libraries will never go out of style.”

Development and infrastructure

When it comes to development in Calimesa, Summerwind Ranch is by far the largest current project.

Summerwind Ranch in-cludes the Summerwind Trails residential development of about 3,500 homes, plus a 5-acre lake and new city hall and fire department sites, and commercial development such as the Marketplace at Calimesa and Summerwind Commons. Together they provide more than 200,000 square feet of commercial space.

“It is a very well-balanced project because it includes over 60% of open space,” said Planning Manager Kelly Lucia, who called it “a really important project to the city of Calimesa.”

Besides development, Cali-mesa is working on improving its infrastructure, with a repaving project to repair city streets and the County Line Road Transportation Corridor Improvements Project, with the city of Yucaipa. The project addresses traffic congestion and drainage issues, and adds five roundabouts along County Line Road. The project is expected to take about one year to complete and cost approximately $13.57 million.

Also, Calimesa will upgrade its interchanges at County Line Road, Singleton Road and Cherry Valley Boulevard.

“Calimesa will be an absolute fantastic place to live because of the investments we’re making today for those in the future,” said City Engineer Mike Thornton.

Overview

Despite bumps and turns in the road, like the COVID-19 pandemic, Calimesa has continued to move in a positive direction.

“The city’s leadership is committed to its vision of remaining a community that honors its beautiful natural setting through open space preservation, wildlife corridors and extensive trail systems, as well as enriching the quality of life for Calimesa through sensitive planning that creates increased business activity, local jobs, new parks and schools,” the video narrator said.

Over the past three years, the city has issued more than 800 building permits for homes as well as for several new commercial and retail uses. It has also added support staff such as an administrative position, POP officer and a public works job.

Finally, it was announced that in the California State Auditor’s annual rankings on the fiscal health of California cities that Calimesa was rated No. 1 in its most recent report for fiscal year 2019-2020.

Criteria includes general fund reserves, debt burden, liquidity, revenue trends, pension obligations and related funding, and post-employment benefits and related funding.

Calimesa scored 98.39 out of possible 100 points, noting “that is quite the accomplishment.”

“You’ve seen just how much is happening in Calimesa,” Johnson said at the conclusion of the videos. “None of this would be possible without the extreme dedication of our staff … Thank you so much. I couldn’t have a more awesome team.”

In true fashion, Mayor Davis kept his closing remarks brief and to the point.

“I want to thank all of you coming today,” he said. “You can see … the city works together, staff works together, the council works together. We all have our differences, but we discuss and we work towards something. I am proud to be here.”

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