The city of Murrieta will move ahead in exploring a sister city partnership with Shaoxing County, China, with the intent of improving the local economy.
The vote was 5-0 during a regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday night, and means a committee of two council members will be nominated to study the feasibility of the partnership.
The decision followed Councilman Rick Gibbs' recount of a 12-day trip he recently took to China. Gibbs was invited on the trip by Ron Darling, of Irvine-based American Redevelopment Solutions, LLC. Darling helped secure $12 million for the Olivewood project on Kalmia and Jefferson through foreign investors--many of them from China--and is now seeking the same for the development of the Murrieta Education Center.
"While the developer will fund one-fourth of that, there still needs about three-fourths of that from foreign investment," Gibbs said about the education center project.
"Three years ago the Olivewood project was approved by this Council and low and behold the bank market collapsed," Gibbs said. "...the money did not come from a U.S. bank; it came from the EB5 program."
The EB5 program allows foreign investors to bring their families to live in the U.S. if they invest at least $500,000 that can create at least 10 jobs. This can be enticing because the U.S. has the university system the Chinese seek for their families, Gibbs said.
So Gibbs agreed to go on the trip. His fare was funded by the city of Murrieta as part of its economic development goals of attracting commerce, he said. While there, he gave four presentations and spoke to more than 100 investors.
He also met with the county magistrate of Shaoxing County, which is the birthplace of silk and continues to be a leader in the textile industry.
In May, visited Murrieta as part of a visit to Southern California.
Tuesday's City Council approval means a memorandum of understanding about the potential partnership will be translated and sent to Shaoxing. If accepted, there will be a signing ceremony. Gibbs said the U.S. Department of Commerce would likely arrange an ambassador to be on hand at the ceremony in China.
Each of the council members spoke in support of the budding partnership, with Councilman Alan Long also bringing up the subject of other sister city relationships. Some months ago, Long mentioned forming sister cities with Bad Vöslau, Austria, the hometown of the Juan Murrieta's wife. The city is a spa town with natural hot springs, much like Murrieta was in the early days. It also boasts a wine industry.
Long supports the partnership with Shaoxing, but said, "It is not all about the money with me when we start to talk about sister cities...I just ask that these factors be considered when we get there.
"There are many other reasons to have sister cities and Bad Vöslau really mimics us. In addition to all the history, it is a different aspect; it is certainly not the economic aspect."
Councilwoman Kelly Bennett said traditional sister city relationships are not as useful in this economic climate.
"They (traditional ones) seem to be almost Rotarian," Bennett said. "The identification of additional sister cities should be filtered through (on the basis of economic impact)."
City Manager Rick Dudley said identifying other sister cities could come as part of the committee work.
"My recommendation would be (that) our first focus be Shaoxing, but then as we explore it, it can be open to other options," Dudley said.
Temecula-based manufacturer Roy Paulson spoke on behalf of the Chinese partnership.
"I hear a lot of people get nervous when they hear China, that they are going to take away jobs," Paulson said. "...I think what you have been talking about tonight is (establishing) faith with them, an equal partnership."
Paulson said Honeywell is one of his biggest customers and that they export at least 30 percent of what they buy from him.
"All of my products are made in the U.S.A.," he said. "Around the world, the made in the U.S.A. label is the best possible advertisement you can have."
Councilman Doug McAllister said he supports the MOU and would nominate Gibbs and Bennett to be on the committee, which would also be tasked with getting a group of citizens together to form a sister city foundation separate from the city.
"Folks say well 'what is he (Gibbs) doing in China?'" McAllister said. "Well what he is doing is working on jobs so we don't have to do the commute...a job is a job is a job. I'm all for that. If a job is in Temecula, I'm all for that. If it is in Wildomar or Menifee, then we've done our job. I'd love to see that signing ceremony happen."
Mayor Randon Lane also believes it has the potential to enrich the local economy.
"I see no reason why we would not move forward with this," Lane said.