How one SoCal city rose above with the courage to move forward and the leadership to make it happen
For the past year, cities throughout the U.S. have been forced to shut down and reduce community services, many small businesses have closed forever, residents were isolated inside their homes and people had to adapt to a new normal due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thanks to the City of Eastvale’s forward-thinking COVID-19 strategy, the City successfully balanced the priority of following important health and safety precautions, as well as supporting businesses to safely remain open, staying accessible to the public and encouraging a healthy mindset for residents through uniting the community.
While caution and safety were necessary during this fluid situation, the ripple effects of the damage from the abrupt changes were devastating to communities. The City of Eastvale, one of Southern California’s fastest-growing and newest cities, made an intentional choice to adapt to the situation differently and quickly pivoted its operational strategies to meet the needs of its communities using creative approaches that reflected its entrepreneurial spirit.
“We had never operated all of our services virtually, but the City Hall Team, with direction from City Council, made it possible with courageous, creative, collaborative results and unconventional thinking that’s not generally seen in a government agency; we couldn’t afford to operate how it’s always been without resulting in a devastating impact on our community, who rely on our services,” said Bryan Jones, City Manager.
“At Eastvale, we champion experiences that engage, excite and elevate our commUNITY; this creates an empowered and engaged team at City Hall to think critically and more importantly take action to serve their commUNITY, with an emphasis in ‘unity.’ And, this Strength-Based Leadership, Purpose-Values Driven and People-Serving approach was a promise to our community, which influenced and inspired us to continue providing essential services by adapting in uncertain times.”
In FY 2019/2020 compared to FY 2020/2021 City of Eastvale has witnessed the following growth:
- FY 2020/2021 32.26% increase in new business applications and renewals
- FY 2020/2021 5.95% increase in property taxes
- FY 2020/2021 7.69% increase in sales & use tax
- FY 2020/2021 6.49 % increase in franchise fee
Eastvale has always prided itself in operating a mid-size city with a lean team of professionals. The Eastvale team is small but purpose-driven and approaches solving challenges in non-conventional ways and turning them into opportunities, something that truly sets the organization apart.
As you walk into the storefront City Hall in the Eastvale Gateway shopping center, one of the top 100 shopping centers in the nation, ‘Exceeding Eastvale’s Expectations Every Day’ sign boldly greats visitors in the lobby.
“We’ve always valued doing more with less and allowing our team to provide an exceptional level of service within our streamlined operational structure of 32 teammates,” said City Manager Bryan Jones. “It’s not uncommon to see cities of our size with much larger teams.”
This lean, can-do team structure proved to be a critical game-changer when it came to quickly developing an all-virtual City Hall just 48 hours after the lockdowns happened in March 2020 with the 14-day flatten the curve request. City Council/Commission meetings immediately went virtual. Instead of cancelling events that were normally held in-person, Eastvale moved forward with hosting virtual events for its 2020 State of the City, Veteran’s Day and 9/11 ceremonies.
Within a few weeks, the City team worked collaboratively to install safety measures at City Hall to enhance safety for employees and the public alike, so its team could continue to provide in-person services to residents and businesses. Installing plexiglass throughout City Hall, utilizing A & B shifts for the City’s team members to achieve proper social distancing and installing electronic temperature readers “Wall-E” at each entrance of City Hall were just a few of the many ways the City adapted to serve the Eastvale community.
“We did government different, and as a result, we had successes serving the community, residents, businesses and our team at City Hall,” added Bryan Jones. “We continue to elevate and strive to exceed Eastvale’s expectations every day. We didn’t have all the answers, yet we have a saying, ‘Some days we WIN, some days we LEARN, yet we always give and try our BEST.’ And this learning-growing-trying-working environment and approach allowed us to be more vision-focused than fear-based when it came to making decisions.”
It’s not just the team at City Hall that makes Eastvale a one-of-a-kind place, it’s the community. During COVID-19, the community was able to come together and support each other through approaching the pandemic with empathy.
Early on, when the grocery store shelves were empty, Eastvale’s Neighborhood Watch Program repurposed its social media pages to serve as a collaborative giving platform. The community took care of each other and gave generously to each other, resulting in over one thousand different exchanges in the first couple of weeks.
The Move Through Motivation non-profit launched its “Just Move Campaign,” as Parks and Recreation Districts closed parks and program offerings, they were encouraging people to get out and be physically healthy and connect with masks and social distancing. Local resident Matt Olson, a veteran and cancer survivor, and his team understood the important need in the community to provide physical and mental health solutions. As the program grew to serve several hundred residents were able to keep active and motivated because of the campaign.
Early during the pandemic, the Eastvale Chamber of Commerce and City combined to bring in tens of thousands of donations to create the “Restaurant Relief Fund.” The donations were used to create gift certificates for local restaurants forced to close. Gift certificates were purchased from each restaurant (often creating the certificates for many of the local restaurants) to infuse money into their businesses to help pay their employees and rent. A generous donation of $10,000 was received and was used to give each graduating senior at Eleanor Roosevelt High School a $10 gift certificate to a restaurant in Eastvale with their virtual graduation diploma. In total nearly $40,000 was generously donated from within the community to help our restaurants.
“Quickly, our team realized that they were part of something bigger, too. Of course, many of them had their own challenges – children home from school, a sick family member or someone who had lost a job – but seeing how they were able to come together and help out their community through immediately creating innovative ways to do business and keep our City on track inspired them to elevate their game during this time,” added Bryan Jones.
The City also moved forward and launched several online community engagement opportunities:
- Empowering residents through Engage Eastvale, allowing Eastvale residents, businesses and community partners the opportunity to become more involved with City decision making and goal setting
- Updating the City’s general plan through the Eastvale 2040 project
- Launching the Clear Vision Speaker Series to Eastvale: a series of virtual presentations by national, best practice experts in the fields of urban planning, mobility, housing, art/placemaking, community design, diversity/inclusion and economic strategy
“We knew that the way we were going to do business moving forward would forever change, and we didn’t want to idly wait for things to go ‘back to normal’,” shared Bryan Jones. “Continuing to implement these online opportunities during the pandemic allowed our community to provide valuable input and help us move forward with creating goals and policies that reflected our community’s ideas.”
As a business-friendly City, Eastvale was able to support local businesses that were struggling due to the State of California shut down by awarding 27 business grants through the Eastvale Emergency Enterprise Grant Program. Each business received between $10,000 to $12,000 in grant funding.
Additionally, Eastvale’s “Biz Support Program” was born and provided resources to assist local businesses to stay open during the pandemic. The program includes a simplified, no fee temporary-use permit process for outdoor dining and tents, in addition to free signage, social media content, and 6-feet apart stickers.
“The City has shown a tremendous amount of support for local businesses during this past year,” said Leticia Davila, owner of EastBrew Café. “Not only did they provide financial support through the grant program, but also they frequently highlight our business and other local businesses in their outreach efforts over social media reminding the residents to Love Eastvale, Shop Eastvale, Dine Eastvale.”
And they aren’t the only business choosing Eastvale to open a business during the pandemic.
“The process of establishing a business in Eastvale was not typical of local government,” said Paul Deppe, representative for Dutch Bros Coffee. “The City staff has a streamlined process in place to make it easy for businesses to get up and running as soon as possible. As a result, Dutch Bros chose the City of Eastvale to sign a lease and do new construction for one of its first locations in Southern California.
Economic development continues to be a top priority. During the lockdown, Eastvale celebrated numerous grand openings, made progress on construction, and signed leases and letters of intent on many diverse, unique, exciting and new businesses.
In 2019, 12 new retail businesses opened. In 2020, there were eight, and currently for 2021, two have opened, with 23 expected over the current year.
The growth and attraction of restaurants during this time was originally a direct result of Eastvale’s City Council Strategic Plan Focus Area to enhance dining and choices for our residents in 2018 and was reaffirmed at the 2021 Strategic Plan workshop. The City is trying to make a dent in the $72 million in revenue leakage for food and beverage from the City. The City of Eastvale desires to become ‘Destination Eastvale’ known for its amazing dining options and experiences. Eastvale did not let COVID-19 halt its momentum on economic development.
“Working with the team at the City of Eastvale has been crucial to our success in delivering grand openings like Sprouts and attracting amazing new restaurants and businesses during the pandemic”, said Grant Ross, Partner with Orbis Real Estate Partners (The Merge). “They are responsive, solutions-driven, and they truly align their actions with their words ‘your success is our success’ when they talk with businesses. The Merge is a prime example of what comes from a local government that does government differently and works closely with developers and listen to each other’s perspectives to elevate the product and focus on performance. The level of trust that was built on both sides is such a critical component to being successful and taking calculated and strategic risks.
“We value our small business community and wanted to support them every step of the way,” said Bryan Jones. “Small businesses are the backbone of the economy. At every turn, we thought, ‘How can we make this easier and help our local businesses thrive during tough times?’ And that guided our mission to streamline and innovate.”
Another example of Eastvale’s nimbleness during the middle of the pandemic, when most hotels were closed and the tourism industry was shut down, was when the City partnered with two of its residents to break ground on what will become the nicest hotel along the Interstate 15 corridor in the Inland Empire. A four-story, 4.5 star hotel with a rooftop bar and restaurant along with a conference and event center overlooking the beautiful Silver Lakes Sports and Equestrian Complex.
In October 2020, the City approved a new franchise agreement with Waste Management to be the City’s exclusive waste hauler for the next 20 years. As part of the agreement, Waste Management is providing a one-time franchise retention of $8 million dollars, to be paid to the City in two equal payments by January 2, 2021, and July 1, 2022.
The City Council has always made public safety a top priority for the community. As there is currently no police sub-station in Eastvale, the City Council is looking to earmark these one-time Waste Management franchise retention funds for the first police substation in the City. Once just a dream, can now become a reality.
Despite a nationwide slow-down of arts and culture with closures of theaters, museums and concerts, Eastvale’s culture scene has flourished. As a newer city, Eastvale took foundational steps of becoming a City of arts and culture by debuting a City Hall mural, entitled: Eastvale: We Built this City to celebrate and document its 10th Anniversary of incorporation. The mural tells the story of the City’s rich history and bright future. The mural was commissioned by artist and long-time Eastvale resident Rosemary Vasquez Tuthill, daughter of famed Chicano Emigdio Vasquez.
“As a resident and member of the community, I was proud to see Eastvale set an example in the region by remaining open to the community with safety measures put in place,” said Vasquez-Tuthill. “It’s vital to the community that we have the option to access our local government by being able to walk into City Hall or attend a City Council meeting in-person or use many of the virtual options that have been put in place.” There is now more publicly and privately funded murals and art coming to the city.
The Eastvale community, in response to the protests in June, created the community leader Inclusionary Task Force. Eastvale didn’t want to settle on being one of the most diverse cities in California, they strived to be a leading example of an inclusive city where everyone’s face is seen, everyone’s voice is heard, and everyone feels welcome and safe.
For Black History Month in 2021, the City organized a zoom Black Experience cultural awareness City-wide training. Where community leaders and City Hall teammates, who are black, shared their stories with the City Hall team and community. Hundreds of community members and city hall teams attended this event to listen to their colleagues, peers and neighbors. Eastvale believes if we seek to understand first we can bring more ‘unity’ in the community.
In conjunction with the Roadway Adoption Program, the City started Community Clean-Up Days, where community volunteers were invited to help keep the City clean. More than 200 volunteers gathered together safely, with COVID precautions in mind, helped pick up trash and bulky items off City streets. The first clean-up occurred on Martin Luther King Jr Day of Service followed by Presidents’ Day weekend and next will be Earth Day.
Currently, City services are operating at 100 percent. The front counter at City Hall is open half of the day in the mornings for walk-ins with QR check-in outside (so as to not overwhelm the lobby and provide social distancing) and by appointment in the afternoon. Check-in with the QR and the City texts you when you are next so that you can enjoy shopping, dining at the nearby storefronts or take a call in your car. The City of Eastvale has always been ready to serve its community, and the result has created momentum for the City’s growth both economically and culturally.
“If the past year has taught us anything, it’s that our Eastvale community has an unbreakable spirit,” said Jones. “We’ll continue to handle whatever comes next as a community so we can thrive with resiliency and courage.”