Also serving the communities of De Luz, Rainbow, Camp Pendleton, Pala and Pauma

Fire captain forges a new link between Fallbrook and Temecula

A fire captain who has one foot in Temecula and another in Fallbrook might help forge a new link between the nearby communities.

But the appointment of Gregory Mann to a key Temecula post will also help underscore the contrasts between the communities that once mirrored each other along a remote stretch of a winding, two-lane roadway.

"There are a lot of differences," Mann noted during a recent interview. "There isn’t a lot of crossover. They are different animals."

The two communities have followed different paths since the region was forever altered by the arrival of a broad, buzzing interstate highway. Mann, 46, will soon gain insights into the inner workings of both jurisdictions.

"I’m looking forward to it," said Mann, who was recently named to Temecula’s Public/Traffic Safety Commission. "It’s interesting to me."

Mann was appointed to the post on his first try. He was picked on Jan. 26 over four other applicants who included an attorney, a business controller, a retired Navy crewman, and a manufacturer’s representative. At least one of the applicants had previously applied for a city post.

Councilman Jeff Comerchero said he expects Mann will be "a great addition" to the five-member panel that advises the City Council on police, traffic and other public safety issues.

Commissioners are paid $50 for each meeting attended.

For generations, Fallbrook and Temecula were fraternal twins on a patchwork of dirt and gravel roads that was simply called California’s Inland Route.

The route was tagged with a series of local names over the years as it was paved and improved. It was designated Highway 395 in 1939 after federal legislation was passed. It was dubbed the "Three Flags Highway" because it linked three nations with Mexico and Canada serving as its bookends.

In this area, the highway threaded its way through the fledgling towns and cities of Poway, Escondido, Vista, Fallbrook, Rainbow, Temecula, Murrieta, Lake Elsinore, Perris, Val Verde, Alessandro, Riverside, and Ontario.

At that time, Fallbrook boasted a larger population than Temecula and it had more stores, restaurants and services.

But segments of the highway – including sections in Riverside and San Diego counties – began to disappear when Interstate 15 was built from the 1960s through the 1980s. Construction of the freeway fueled development booms that changed the faces of many of those communities.

I-15 was built through the heart of Temecula, creating development pressures that transformed the sleepy community. Temecula quickly staked out a position as a retailing and jobs hub, and it became a city in December 1989 with about 27,000 residents. The city maintained that regional dominance as it attracted car dealers, shopping centers and a regional mall.

Those projects generated a broad stream of sales tax revenues that spurred the construction of road and freeway improvements, parks, community centers, museums and other amenities. The population of the 37-square-mile city is nearing 110,000, and it is expected to eventually peak at about 150,000 residents.

Temecula added a hospital to its crown in October 2013. The $150 million complex at the city’s southeast corner is expected to someday grow from 140 beds to more than 300.

But the path of the freeway was located about five miles east of Fallbrook, and that isolation spared the community from the waves of growth that swept over Temecula. Efforts to form a city stalled, and Fallbrook has remained an unincorporated community that relies on county services and a patchwork of nonprofit groups.

Fallbrook’s tiny hospital closed in November 2014 after more than 50 years of serving the community.

As the trajectories of the two communities have diverged over the years, so have their emergency services systems. Mann now has a unique vantage point to observe and interact with both systems.

Mann graduated from Fallbrook High School in 1988. He and his young family moved to Temecula about a dozen years ago. Yet he remained anchored to bucolic Fallbrook via his job as a captain for the North County Fire Protection District.

The district provides fire protection and medical aid services to a 92-square-mile-area that is home to about 50,000 residents of Fallbrook, Rainbow and Bonsall. It also provides medical aid to another 40 square miles of nearby tracts.

The closure of Fallbrook Hospital has hit the district hard, Mann said, as ambulances must now drive patients to Temecula, Escondido, or Oceanside for emergency room care or hospital admissions.

That change has taken the district’s three ambulances and their crews out of service for longer periods. The extra distance can easily add an hour or more to a medical call, and the additional miles are boosting ambulance fuel, maintenance and wear-and-tear costs.

"It’s been a major challenge," Mann said. "It’s affected our delivery (of services) significantly."

Temecula’s fire services, meanwhile, are facing their own fiscal challenge.

Rapidly rising police and fire protection costs are vexing the city as development slows, revenues flatten and rising payroll, pension and other operating costs impact the budget.

The city sponsored a series of workshops that touched on a potential sales tax increase that could be placed on a future ballot. But there has been no decision on whether to schedule an election for such an increase.

Mann said those budget issues, as well as how each jurisdiction evaluates their performance, will be key issues to examine as he eases into his new role. He will also study the nuances in the way Temecula provides its police, fire and medical services.

"Obviously, customer service is number one," he said. "I’m planning to get up to speed to find out what their concerns are and what they want from a commissioner."

 

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