Richmond Blake manning the Idyllwild booth at Supervisor Stone’s Economic Development Forum. Photo by Marshall Smith

Third District Supervisor Jeff Stone speaks at his 7th Economic Development Forum

At his 7th Annual Economic Development Forum, Riverside County 3rd District Supervisor Jeff Stone cited figures that show the county’s unemployment rate is declining, sales taxes are increasing, and the housing market is stabilizing.

“All in all,” said Stone, “we are on the mend in Riverside County and moving forward. The future is looking brighter.” Stone noted the county unemployment rate peaked at 15.4 percent in the middle of 2010, declined slowly to 14.3 percent in 2011, and fell even more to 12.5 percent last month.

Stone said sales tax revenue is up 13.5 percent over the last two years and, according to County Assessor Larry Ward, the drop in property values is slowing and bottoming.

Even under the challenging conditions of the last three years, the county has managed to upgrade infrastructure and build new public facilities according to Stone’s summary: a new multi-million dollar library in Idyllwild; a $20,000 grant to the Idyllwild Fire Protection District for a mobile data communications system in the cabins of district vehicles that hooks to GPS and dispatch directly to transmit details and locations of incidents; the Hemet Workforce Development Center that assists job seekers in finding employment and provides services to a variety of demographic groups; and a new Glen Oaks fire station to be completed this summer.

The supervisor also previewed future initiatives that will add to the county’s economic health. They include a major expansion of the Temecula Wine Country that will add 22,200 acres of wine growing land to the existing 7,000, expand the number of vineyards from 35 to 105 and bring 1,500 to 2,000 new jobs to the 3rd District. Stone noted that with the planned expansion, the already successful wine country would become an even more attractive tourist draw.

Stone and 5th District Supervisor Marion Ashley are collaborating on two projects that will benefit residents of both districts: the Perris Valley Regional Aquatics Center that will be state of the art and serve area youth. The Perris Valley Big League Dreams ball field and stadium complex “will provide opportunities for our youth to really feel as though they are playing in a major league baseball park,” said Stone, who envisions the facility turning out some major league players with its big league feel and infrastructure.

Two highway expansion projects that would benefit southwest county commuters are also in progress, a two-phase expansion of Interstate 215 south of Riverside and a widening of Winchester Road south of Hemet.

As he has in past years, Stone, in his comments, touted Idyllwild as a “magical” tourist destination and encouraged attendees to patronize the July Lemon Lily Festival and the August Jazz in the Pines. In promoting the Lemon Lily Festival, Stone recounted that the once plentiful lily drew tourists from all over the Southland, so much so that it resulted in poaching and depletion of this indigenous flower. Stone credited the Idyllwild citizenry who are leading the education and propagation efforts around which the festival is organized.

Former Chamber President Mimi Lamp, just returned from her year-long, around-the-world tour, and current interim President Richmond Blake, at Stone’s Economic Development Forum. Photo by Marshall Smith