The City of Menifee is a young city in Southwest Riverside County. Menifee is one of the few communities in Southern California with available land in an economic development corridor. Armando G. Villa has led the City as city manager since December 2017. He previously served as the city manager for the City of Calexico, the assistant county executive officer and planning director for Imperial County as well as the community development director for the City of Temecula.
Could you give us some background on the City of Menifee for those not familiar with the City?
Menifee was incorporated in 2008 and is a vibrant, growing city of more than 100,000 residents situated in the heart of Southwest Riverside County, along Interstate 215. We are known for our pleasant year-round climate, great recreational offerings, reasonably priced housing and convenient proximity to some of Southern California’s premier attractions and employment centers. Within its nearly 50 square miles, Menifee’s business, retail and entertainment outlets shape the community’s character, and this growing economic base is contributing favorably to the City’s strong financial position. Menifee’s growing family-oriented population (median age is 36) values the City’s ongoing commitment to public safety, community events and smart growth for the future. All of these elements are working together to support the City’s strategic vision to make Menifee a safe, thriving and premier place to be.
Where is your favorite place in the City?
Fortunately, Menifee is a very diverse city with many interesting communities such as Sun City, Quail Valley, Romoland, Menifee Lakes and Heritage Lake. I am fortunate to have a variety of choices based on my mood and appetite for good food.
How has your extensive planning and urban planning background informed your goals for Menifee, especially as a growing City with available land?
Menifee is such an exciting place to be as a planner. My background as a planner is one of the things that attracted me to Menifee. There is an incredible amount of opportunity here. Since incorporation, our housing market in Menifee has been relatively strong. The population growth over the past 12 months has continued a years-long upward trend that has resulted in major changes in the retail sector of Menifee, as well as the expansion of housing development, mainly due to its affordability, cost of land and reduced fee structure.
Menifee has seen a population growth of 28.60% since 2010. Menifee continues to be one of the fastest-growing cities in Southwest Riverside County. One of the things I love is working with the various parties involved in land development to ensure we are creating the kind of environment our residents want. We have extensive parks and walking paths, an approved Active Transportation Plan, and retail that fosters engagement with open spaces and art installations. All of this builds upon the desirability of the area, which will support our future success. It has been very rewarding to be a part of Menifee’s story during this time.
Menifee is one of the few communities in Southern California with available land in an economic development corridor but also has an $850 million retail/dining/amenity leakage gap. How is Menifee investing in economic development or infrastructure to grow and put money into the City?
The Menifee City Council has identified Economic Development as a priority of the City in their Strategic Visioning. They collectively recognize that infrastructure, parks, education, healthcare, amenities and public safety are all part of this life cycle for a New. Better. Best. (Menifee’s tagline) quality of life. The Council is investing nearly $500 million in infrastructure, the most ever committed in the City’s history. That investment in infrastructure is setting up the foundation for incoming businesses making it easier to do business.
The City Council also created Menifee’s own Police Department in 2019 (which went into service in July 2020), adding additional patrol hours to the force, and the city is proud to be recognized as one of the safest cities in California.
Furthermore, the City developed our first Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS), a master blueprint plan to diversify our local economy. We are the first Southwest Riverside County to develop this plan and have been working in overdrive with our stakeholders, community partners and education partners to create jobs locally, develop local industry clusters and grow our amenity opportunities for residents to work closer to home and enhance their quality of life, while at the same time generating necessary revenue to provide the best services possible for the Menifee community.
This comes alongside with developing the City’s first Jobs Blueprint plan for target job creation, a Smart Cities Initiative investing in innovation such as broadband, streetlight conversions and technology advancements like with our Streamline Menifee Initiative—a new zero-stop shop process to get projects in and out of City Hall to get businesses and development up and moving quicker than ever. This is only the tip of the iceberg on the types of programming and projects on which our team is working to address the sales leakage quicker than ever. We ALL recognize it’s a collaborative effort as ONE Team!
How is Menifee able to accommodate the City’s ongoing growth and ensure the population is supported by City services?
As mentioned above, the City Council collectively recognizes the importance of balanced amenities including infrastructure, parks, education, healthcare and public safety. As new development is proposed, our team ensures that we are creating a community of places where people want to be and have amenities to enjoy. We focus on balanced developments and master-planned communities that provide amenities within. As we continue to grow, we are excited for additional commercial and office developments to offer further create amenities for our residents. The key to private development is ensuring that the infrastructure required to support the project is constructed concurrently.
How has the City’s available land played a role in the City’s own housing requirements?
Menifee, like all other California cities, is required by state law to accommodate opportunities for new housing. The City’s 2021-2029 Regional Housing Needs Allocation is 6,609 units. Our community has the benefit of being the fourth fastest-growing in the State and the residential builders are very active in Menifee. We also have the benefit of vacant land to accommodate the housing need. We are analyzing higher-density housing to ensure a variety of housing types are included. In addition, our team is developing a set of “permit-ready” plans and a handbook for Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) to facilitate and streamline the permit process for ADUs.
You were awarded the Municipal Management Association of Southern California’s (MMASC) 2020 Excellence in Government award, which credited your “open door policy” for creating a Top Workplace for three consecutive years. How does this policy facilitate a work culture that people enjoy and want to stay at?
First, I was very honored to receive the Excellence in Government Award. It really highlighted that this belief I’ve had for a long time resonated with others in this field. To me, the open-door policy is really about feeling strongly that the best ideas don’t have to come from the top. I can recount story after story of when some of the best improvements to an organization or innovation has come from someone who may not have typically been given the chance to share their idea. I want my team to come to me with ideas. I give them the freedom to try things out. If they can identify a problem and present reasoning for their proposed solution, I want them to know we are here to support that. Menifee is all about innovation. You can’t grow the way we are growing without it. And to be innovative, we need ideas.
One of the best parts of my job is supporting my staff and seeing their ideas flourish. It is very rewarding and is without a doubt one of the reasons our organization is able to serve the community the way we do. This is only the beginning. We are growing exponentially in Menifee and I am excited for all the innovation to come with the great workforce we are attracting.
You’ve said before that you try to lead Menifee with a priority of connection and innovation. Why are these components important to a successful City? How do they go hand-in-hand?
You can’t innovate without new ideas. Ideas aren’t fostered in a place without good communication. I’ve always said I want to operate a government agency like a for-profit business in the sense that we should be serving our residents in the most effective and innovative ways possible. I don’t want us to rest on our laurels or have a system that is working well enough and stop there. This is where communication comes in. I want to foster an environment where people talk between departments and share ideas and pain points so we can improve. We have multiple cross-departmental teams, including our Development Team, Analysts Group, and a bi-weekly All-Management Meeting to name a few. Some of our best, new practices have come from these groups.
What initiatives or programs are you focusing the City’s efforts on going into FY 21-22? What are you hoping to accomplish this year?
This year the City of Menifee is focused on building both the infrastructure and community resources important to create a thriving city. We are investing in bridges and transportation projects that will make getting around Menifee easier and accommodate its additional growth. We are presenting a Capital Improvement Program (CIP) that contains just under $28 million in projects in the upcoming fiscal year alone. Over the next five years, we are looking at nearly $500 million to build the kind of community our residents want and need.
But our City Council knows that a community is more than infrastructure. We are renovating and expanding our recreation center; building new parks and activities like bike pump tracks. We are also investing in our team. We overhauled and relaunched our Menifee University—a four-pronged employee development program—to give back to the employees who are making Menifee the place it is and also ensure that we are prepared for all the growth we will foster in the future.
What was something odd you’ve had to do that you didn’t realize was part of the city manager job?
I would agree that nothing is off the table when you become a city manager. However, COVID-19 and its restrictions on social gathering coupled with the increased use of video communication platforms such as Zoom, Teams, etc., and the rapid evolution and popularity of social media, has made virtually connecting and keeping residents informed 24/7 a necessity. Adapting to becoming a media personality and feeling comfortable with becoming a cyber city manager to connect with residents is something I never expected to do.
What is some advice you’d give to other city managers or someone aspiring to be a city manager?
Unequivocally, I would tell them to enable a working environment that encourages open communication at every level, innovation, collaboration and idea exchange and most importantly, celebrates employee personal and professional achievements. Continued and constant support and encouragement is paramount to creating a collaborative and productive work culture. Finally, challenging employees to innovate and use technology to work smarter are leadership strategies that have yielded the greatest return on organizational investment for me.
If you’re a city manager in California and are interested in being featured in a PublicCEO Q&A, please reach out to PublicCEO Editor Alexandra Applegate at alex[at]publicceo.com.