A Doug's Life: Controlled Development

From what I can tell in the six weeks I've been here, Menifee offers an attractive mix of modern comfort and rural charm.

I've said that before. Now the question is, will it stay that way?

According to census data, Menifee's population in 2010 was 77,519. That's considerably more than the mere hundreds who were living here on ranches before Sun City was first developed in the early 1960s. It's a dramatic increase from the approximately 9,000 who lived here in 1990. It's even a lot more than the 42,064 reported in the 2000 census, after the great migration began.

It's also roughly the crowd count in the left-turn lane from Newport Road to Haun during rush hour -- or so it seems.

Is that growth? You bet it is. Is that good for the local economy? Of course. Why do you think new businesses keep popping up in local marketplaces, while a renewed housing market spurs plans for more housing construction?

I'm not saying that's bad. It's part of what brought me here. By joining the mass exodus east from the Los Angeles suburbs, I'm as guilty as anyone of taking advantage of more affordable housing and a lot more open space.

Let's just make sure some of that open space remains.

In his last public appearance here before leaving Menifee's Third District because of recent redistricting actions, Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Stone predicted that "Menifee will be the next future economic powerhouse in Riverside County. It has the potential to grow twice the size of Murrieta or Temecula."

The prospect of such growth is thrilling in some ways and frightening in others. Pardon me for being a bit selfish, but can you hold off just a few more years before you turn Menifee into the next Rancho Cucamonga? I haven't hit retirement age yet.

I'm not proud to admit this, but I want it all. I want to live somewhere I can sit out at night under a blanket of stars, but I don't want to be elbow-to-elbow with my neighbors to do it. I want to get up in the morning and breathe the fresh air -- and I actually like it when it's mixed with the smell of horses.

I like having somewhere like the Countryside Marketplace to serve my every shopping need. I would rather not have one on every other corner, however. I love the floor plans and yard space of these nearly new houses, but I also like the peaceful feeling of a walk past open pastures.

The way I look at it, Menifee is in an envious, yet challenging, position. To loosely quote that famous line from the movie Field of Dreams: "If you build it, they will come." We know the area will continue to attract new residents, and of course they will all be as nice as I am, so the old-timers should welcome them. But when is enough really enough?

Fortunately, there are wise and dedicated people in the community who are working to ensure things don't get out of hand.

City council member Tom Fuhrman speaks about the importance of controlled development -- in other words, legislation and ordinances to ensure that all the "little people" aren't pushed off their ranches to turn every square inch of land into houses and condominiums.

Local rancher Lynn Mattocks, a member of the Riverside County Trails Committee, works with other concerned citizens to preserve the natural beauty of the area and identify multi-purpose trails for responsible recreational use.

When I wrote a couple weeks ago about the serenity and open spaces of Menifee, a former co-worker of mine responded to say that, since he moved to Temecula in 2000, the population had more than doubled, to more than 100,000. "It won't take long for Menifee to join the party," he quipped.

Maybe he's right. Perhaps you can't stop progress. But maybe we can throw a lasso around it and rein it in a bit. There's got to be a happy medium there somewhere.

A Doug's Life: A Time for Thanks

In November of 1621, a group of Pilgrims and Native Americans gathered for a three-day "autumn feast" to celebrate the colonists' first harvest of crops.

In 1863, after more than two centuries of "thanksgiving" observances on various dates at the state and local levels, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the final Thursday of November as a national Thanksgiving holiday.

Sometime in the 1970s, the day after Thanksgiving was designated Black Friday, recognizing the extreme efforts retailers were making to cash in on Christmas shopping mere hours after the last turkey plate was scraped clean.

And every year since then, the beginning of Christmas season has crept closer to Halloween.

Thanksgiving, it seems, is becoming the forgotten holiday.

When I was a kid, my mother refused to recognize the Christmas season until the day after Thanksgiving. None of the Christmas record albums -- including my favorite, an "Alvin and the Chipmunks" album on red vinyl -- were placed on the turntable of the stereo console. The flocked Christmas tree with the red bulbs and the color wheel spotlight was still at least two weeks away.

And Christmas shopping? Well, the lists were made, but no gifts had been purchased. And there certainly was no Thanksgiving night strategy session to discuss Black Friday survival techniques -- because there was no Black Friday.

Nope, we spent Thanksgiving night doing the things we were most thankful for. Mostly, that was spending time with the family.

What a novel concept.

I still look forward to Thanksgiving. We still gather around the dinner table, spend most of the day together and take at least a few minutes to discuss what we're thankful for. But there is that planning session to determine which store sales to hit at 6 a.m., or 4 a.m., or midnight, or -- gulp -- 10 p.m. that very evening.

For some family members, it's hard to resist because of the marketing efforts of retailers. How can one not be tempted to camp outside a store front for two days if it guarantees you a bargain on the latest Wii game or a Dora the Explorer kitchen?

Thanksgiving is easily forgotten when the witches' hats and skeleton costumes are replaced on the store shelves by twinkle lights and stuffed Santas. It's almost like November doesn't exist. Would it be so bad if we had four weeks of normalcy between "Trick or Treat" and "Jingle Bells"?

Now I'm not so naive as to think things will change. I know some of the Christmas gifts have already been bought, and a whole lot more will be purchased on a very hectic Friday.

But in the meantime, just let me have my Thanksgiving, with some time to relax and remember the reasons I have to give thanks.

Happy holidays, everyone. You'll notice that's "holidays" with an "S".

Yes, there really is more than one. Please don't let the other be forgotten.

Menifee 24/7 Enters It's Eighth Year of Publication This Month

It's been seven full years since Menifee 24/7 launched as of this month, and now we're beginning our eighth.

This past year has thus far been the biggest for Menifee 24/7. We brought on a dedicated sales and marketing person in the beginning of the year, and thus far added a couple more sales and marketing people. We've also hired several more writers.

And it looks like we'll publish 600 articles this year. The next biggest output we had was 349 articles in 2008.

On top of all that, our sales staff has signed up several advertisers, making it possible to hire all those writers. We actually created jobs here in Menifee.

In some ways, we could argue that Menifee 24/7 has had a successful year. I know we've gained many more readers. More people and businesses know about us now than ever before. But it seems like we're still struggling.

In a town like Menifee, where there's a large population of seniors, people still turn to print for their news. A lot of them don't even have computers.

But where we've made great gains is with the mobile demographic. Right now, 20% of our readers access our content via some kind of mobile device, be it a smartphone or tablet computer. That figure grows by about 1-2% each month.

We also launched an app for Android devices, though we're still working out some kinks.

And I continue to meet more people throughout Menifee that rely on their smartphones and tablets for all of their news and information. All across the country there is a growing demographic that just doesn't read paper anymore.

So many people these days keep track of one another through Facebook. Earlier this year we launched our Facebook Page. And today with over 5,500 fans, we have the largest, and the most active Facebook community in all Southwest Riverside County.

Menifee 24/7 represents a readership who'd rather tap on their phones while sitting at the bar instead of opening up a newspaper. Sure, Menifee still has a demand for paper-based media, but if you're a business that wants to reach the younger, the more tech savvy demographic, we're the only game in town.

Albeit, Menifee is still a city that wants its paper, things are starting to turn around now. With home building starting back up again, young families from Orange and San Diego Counties will come to Menifee. As Supervisor Jeff Stone said in a recent meeting here in town, "Menifee will be the next future economic powerhouse in Riverside County, it has the potential the grow twice the size of Murrieta or Temecula".

We're going to spend the next year championing those people who make the shift from paper to digital.

A Doug's Life: Is This Too Good to be True?

They've probably done studies on this, but I firmly believe that one's environment has a lot to do with one's state of mind.

A couple of columns ago, I wrote about the appeal of the relaxed, rural atmosphere here in Menifee. A reader commented on that post, writing that she and her husband have lived here 23 years and that whenever she mentions moving back to "the city," he refuses to listen.

"He loves it here," she wrote. "He says it's his getaway from the craziness of the city."

I feel that way too, and I've been here only about a month. Which makes me wonder: How many of you feel the same?

My guess is, many of you do. At least that's the way it appears to us newcomers. Our whole family has been impressed with just how darn happy and courteous everyone seems to be in these parts.

Oh, I'm sure I'll see the other side of things eventually. You drive the Newport Road bridge between Antelope and Haun in rush hour often enough, you're bound to get the "California salute" from a stressed-out motorist sooner or later, right?

And I'm sure there's that grouchy old rancher out there somewhere, just waiting to give me an earful the first time I wander onto his property while innocently looking for a lost mine.

So far, so good, however. For five weeks, people have pretty much been all smiles. That's great, but it's kinda scary for a guy who, like the previously mentioned reader's husband, is used to the "craziness of the city."

I mean, can this be real? Is there something in the water or what?

I always considered my old neighborhood in the San Gabriel Valley to be fairly peaceful and friendly, but that was measured by a whole different standard. I'm used to a society where you keep your head down when you pass someone on the street. Not that I'm a big fan of that kind of behavior, but it becomes second nature when everyone is doing it.

Here, you can start a friendly conversation with the person behind you in the supermarket checkout line without fear for your safety.

In the "big city," teenagers laugh at us middle-aged folk and try to run us over with skateboards. Here, they smile and hold the door open for you. When the store clerks back home greet each person who comes through the door, you know it's because they have to. Here, it seems like they really mean it.

So what is it? The clean air? The wide-open spaces?

Frankly, I kind of expected to see more animosity between the old-time ranch dwellers and the young families who have moved into the new housing developments in the last few years. Naturally, there are differences of opinion regarding how much land development should continue. Even so, there appears to be a genuine effort to maintain controlled land development that is satisfactory to all.

If the rest of the "newcomers" are like me, they're happy and nice to each other because, for the first time in a while, they have room to breathe. Sure, they live in close quarters, but in new, affordable, roomy houses in neighborhoods where block parties and community pride are the norm.

And in most cases, there's a sprawling ranch, placid lake or pleasant hiking trail within a few minutes' walk.

As for the old-timers? Obviously, I can't speak for them. Perhaps some will write in and let me know. So far, the local business people, city officials and even the cowboys who've been here a while have been more than hospitable to this here city slicker.

For this, I thank you, one and all. Whatever your secret to happiness is, I'd like the recipe. Thanks for the warm welcome, and for being kind to one another. It makes a person want to stay a while.

Sooner or later, I will offend someone with one of these columns, or violate an equestrian right of way, or trespass on someone's south 40 because I can't read a map. When it happens, I'll keep my cool. As a longtime journalist, you come to expect adversity.

I just haven't found it yet.

A Doug's Life: Hook, Line and Sinker

In the month I've been here, it's become clear to me that Menifee and the surrounding areas have a thing about lakes.

There are the bigger lakes even I had heard about before moving here: Lake Elsinore, Lake Perris, Lake Matthews. There's that big lake out east I've heard tell about -- Diamond Valley Lake.

There's Canyon Lake, the center of a gated community west of here. Then there's those smaller bodies of water adding beauty and atmosphere to the housing developments surrounding me: Menifee Lakes, Tres Lagos, Heritage Lake...

Why couldn't it be July instead of the middle of November?

No one will ever call me an outdoorsman, but I'd like to learn. My experience with watersports and fishing is limited, but it seems there are some great possibilities around here.

Whether it's paddle boats on Heritage Lake, boating on Lake Elsinore or fishing on Diamond Valley Lake, they certainly are more challenging and manly pursuits than the water attractions I'm used to. You know, like the Log Ride at Knott's Berry Farm.

My parents were not campers, fishermen or anything of that sort, so my exposure to things like this was primarily through my uncle and cousin, who were really into it. I tagged along with them on some fascinating deep-sea fishing trips. They even caught a six-foot blue shark off Catalina once.

Of course, I was standing back at the time, trying not to get tangled in my fishing line.

My fresh water boating adventures also have been limited. I've thrown more than a few fish hooks into Big Bear Lake, but most of the time, we ended up at the Trout Farm up the hill. I actually have a couple fishing poles and a tackle box full of stuff. I just don't use it very well.

But never mind all that. Never mind that my first wife lost her wedding ring overboard in Lake Isabella. Never mind that my current wife took a turn too sharp on a jet ski with me sitting behind her, giving me an "up close and personal" view of the fish in the bay at Cabo San Lucas.

Despite all this, I'm ready to search for greater adventures in the lakes around here. To that end, I am open to suggestions.

Let's focus on fishing. I saw a sign for a trout farm off the 215 on the way to Murrieta, but I don't want to take the easy way out. Maybe later, to show off for the grandkids, but not yet.

Where's the best place to go for an unskilled angler to catch something -- anything -- in less than eight hours? Moreover, what do you suggest for bait, lures, sinkers and all that good stuff?

I notice there's a Kids Trout Derby scheduled for Sunday at Diamond Valley Lake. The age limit is 3-12, and kids must be accompanied by a parent. Sounds like fun.

Now all I need is a 12-year-old who can teach me how to reel in the big ones.

Maybe Diamond Valley Lake isn't the place to start. If not there, where? And do you recommend fishing from the shore, off a dock, from a boat or what?

As a fisherman, I may be all thumbs, but right now I'm all ears. Tell me your fish stories and give me some tips. I can taste that trout already.

I'm not big on cleaning fish, but as a necessary evil, I can handle it. I'd rather deal with that than this whole "catch and release" concept. I've never really understood that.

If somebody spent several minutes reeling me in by a hook through my cheek, I think I would prefer they just put me out of my misery. Why throw me back, traumatized and in serious need of oral surgery? But that's just me.

So maybe I'm rather naive about the whole subject, but I can learn. I'll give it a shot. Look out, whoppers, I'm coming to get you.

As always, your input is appreciated. Reply with your fish stories and I'll tell you mine as they happen. Just one rule: No tall tales.

A Doug's Life: Sittin' 'Round the Campfire

Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam, where the deer and the antelope play...

So I've been in town almost a month now and I'm starting to get what the old cowboy song is talking about.

OK, so I was a bit too late to check out the buffalo. The bison that used to entertain visitors to city councilman Tom Fuhrman's ranch passed on a few months before I got here. And although I've discovered the relatively traffic-free route along Antelope Road, I have seen neither deer nor antelope here, playing or otherwise.

Even so, in just the few weeks I have been a Menifee resident, I have begun to feel a sense of peace in a "new housing development, old-time rural atmosphere" kind of way.

Remember those episodes from the last season of "I Love Lucy," when the Ricardos and Mertzes moved out of New York City and into a ranch house in the country? That's kind of what it feels like. Country living, but with modern conveniences when you need them.

Sure, we had some open fields and a few horses in the San Gabriel Valley, where I come from, but you had to drive at least a few miles to find them. Otherwise, it was pretty much wall-to-wall homes that cost a mint and had relatively little space. Out here, you can find a modern, affordable, five-bedroom house in a development less than 10 years old -- and have to walk maybe two blocks to find the nearest cow pasture.

I envy those of you who are retired here or who work in town. Fortunately, I get to work at home a few days a week. The rest of the time, I make the 50-minute drive to Cal Poly Pomona, where I teach journalism.

Believe me, it's worth the drive to live out here. Any stress I have accumulated during the drive into the "big city" evaporates on the way home, about the time I cruise past the wooly mammoth -- or whatever that thing is -- at the top of that hill overlooking the 60 Freeway at the Pyrite Street exit.

(By the way, is that place worth visiting? I love roadside attractions).

The rural atmosphere really begins to soak in as I head south on the 215, past open fields toward Menifee. Then comes the really enjoyable part: I can exit the freeway, pull through Wendy's for a quick bite, pick up any supplies I need from one of several modern shopping centers, and still be within walking distance of the prairie.

(OK, so maybe it's a desert prairie, but I find it relaxing).

I know, I know. I haven't yet experienced the cold of winter here, nor the sizzling heat of summer. Maybe it won't end up being the paradise I see and feel now. But don't burst my bubble just yet.

Let me find out for myself if I've really found the "country home" I've always dreamed about.

During one of my several trips to rural North Carolina to research my family history, I discovered an old farm house on 300 acres of land, owned by distant relatives since the early 1800s. The place has no central air or heat, an old hand water pump at the kitchen sink and a model T Ford sitting in the barn. Now that's what I call a country home.

But considering that it would cost me a divorce to move there, I am happy to settle in Menifee with the little woman, the dog, our daughter and granddaughter. Maybe a horse in the back 40.

OK, maybe a rental horse down the street. I'll take that.

It would've been nice to see the buffalo, though.

A Doug's Life: Those Furtive Felines

OK, I admit it. I am not a cat person.

I've always been a dog guy. You know, the whole loyalty thing and all that. A dog will give you all the affection you want and come back for more.

If a cat feels you have rubbed it the wrong way -- literally or otherwise -- it's gone over the fence in two seconds. Cats can disappear for hours, days or weeks. But when they show up again, you'd better have the food ready, or else.

Maybe I'm not being fair to the furry little creatures. It's just that cats and I have never hit it off, despite our many encounters.

I really should have more compassion for them, considering what I've seen some of them go through.

Years ago, the family cat had a litter of kittens. In the beginning, we kept them in a cardboard box. Our little nephew came over for a visit and wanted to see the kittens. When we weren't looking, he strangled one.

It was an accident, of course. Just like it was an accident when the kitten we were holding for a friend escaped from the front porch before she could get there to pick it up. Who knew it could squeeze through the narrow bars of the front gate?

We've tried over and over with cats through the years -- usually to appease the kids. My daughter had a cute kitten when she was in third grade. Then one day, a neighborhood dog broke through the back-yard hedge, chased down the kitten and murdered it, right in front of the kid.

Even though I'm not a big fan of theirs, cats seem to like me. Once, I was confined to bed following foot surgery when my wife asked me to keep an eye on our very pregnant cat. The cat was placed next to me on the bed in a cozy cardboard box with warm blanket and all.

No sooner had my wife left on an errand than the cat let out a blood-curdling scream, leaped out of the box onto my chest, and proceeded to deliver her litter all over me.

Yeah, I can do without cats.

Here's my problem. The rest of my family seems to like them. So here I am again, with two felines I'm not thrilled with, but about which I have a certain amount of compassion.

The dilemma: What to do with them?

For now, they are still at our previous home in the San Gabriel Valley. We're still there often enough, packing up the rest of our stuff, to keep them fed and watered. Neighbors keep an eye out for them. The cats don't really seem to care if we're there or not. In fact, they've pretty much taken over the place.

We have plenty of room for them in our new place here in Menifee, but we also have more family members living here now and cats don't really fit into the picture. Besides, we're renting and we only have approval for the family dog. So the challenge is to find other homes for Angel (a female about 10) and Cosmo (an 8-year-old male).

So far, we have no takers for these creatures in our old neighborhood. If we don't bring the cats with us, a visit to the local animal shelter might be our only option. That might not end well, if you know what I mean.

If we bring them out here, we need someone to take them or somewhere to place them. You all know the area better than I do. What are our options?

I know of the great work being done by the Sun City K9 Adoptions group, which is featured regularly on this site. It appears they take cats as well. I know there are also other animal rescue groups in the area.

I know cats are very territorial. What would you do? I feel sorry for the little critters and they are well-behaved. It's just time for them to move on -- either out here or somewhere else in the San Gabriel Valley.

At least if they end up somewhere out here, I will feel like we did more than simply walk out on them or take them to a cat death chamber back home. On the other hand, they may hate us for yanking them out of their familiar surroundings and take off somewhere out here, only to be eaten by a coyote.

Let me know if you have any ideas. I really want my next cat story to have a happy ending.

A Doug's Life: Halloween Hijinks

Jeff Ortiz paused during an impromptu interview on his darkened front porch to get back to business.

"Somebody's coming," he mumbled through his Michael Myers fright mask.

Two teenage girls approached, hesitating as the mist from Ortiz's fog machine returned and the creepy music -- complete with moans and screams -- gradually increased. They gave me a strange look, as if a guy in jeans and a polo shirt was not who they were expecting.

"Go ahead," I told them. "It's not my house."

Stepping aside, I watched in amusement as Ortiz crept out of the shadows, candy bowl in his outstretched hands, saying nothing to the frightened girls as he stood there menacingly in the trench coat and mask made famous by the villainous character of the movie series whose title says it all:


Just as Ortiz put a scare into the neighborhood kids on Shadow Hills Court, residents all around Menifee enjoyed some good old-fashioned trick or treating Monday night. By 6 p.m., with dusk barely settling over the hills, little creatures had taken to the streets. Everywhere you looked, there they were: zombies, barnyard animals, princesses, Spongebob, Peter Pan...

And although doorbells went unanswered at some homes, most area residents in our unofficial survey in the Hidden Meadows community welcomed trick or treaters with scary yet safe surroundings and snacks.

Community involvement all around town helped make this a fun and family-centered time of year. Halloween events were held in several places throughout the last several days.

There was the Halloween Harvest Festival all weekend at Wickerd Farms; a "Halloween Fun" event Friday night at Lazy Creek Park; a "Zumballoween" party Saturday night at the Marion V. Ashley Community Center; "trunk or treat" parties at many area churches; and much more.

But when it comes right down to it, the real treasures of Halloween are the sights of little children marching up and down local streets, proudly wearing their costumes, parents at their side, sharing smiles with neighbors they know -- and some they've never met.

My escorts for the evening were three of my grandchildren, who along with me are fairly recent residents of Menifee. Kaylee, age 5 and Dorothy from the "Wizard of Oz" for the night, and her brother Cameron -- age 2 and safely tucked into a cow costume -- have lived here for a little more than a year. Riley, age 3 and dressed up like a "lady doctor," arrived in town about three weeks ago, with the rest of us.

Where we come from, Halloween has changed a bit over the decades. I'm not saying our section of the San Gabriel Valley has become too dangerous for night-time walks, but the emphasis on a "safer Halloween environment" has certainly resulted in fewer little kids knocking on neighborhood doors. Instead, parents are urged to take their children to public places where large crowds gather for trick or treating.

This trend has become popular in many towns across the country. But at least on this night in this town, the kids were out in force on the local streets and the residents were loving it.

"This is the way I remember Halloween, growing up as a kid," said Ortiz, who previously lived in South El Monte. "You'd be scared to go up to a house, but you'd do it anyway because you wanted the candy. It was fun.

"Now they tell the kids to go to churches for trunk or treating or to the mall. We're losing that small-town appeal of Halloween neighborhoods. I'm just trying to do my part to bring it back."

Ortiz, president of the Hidden Meadows Home Owners Association, advertised his "haunted house" on the community Facebook page. His neighborhood wasn't unique in this regard. In the Heritage Lake community, residents were asked to tour "haunted houses" in the neighborhood and vote on their favorite.

In Hidden Meadows, Halloween was a lot more fun than a stroll through the local mall would've been. Cameron the cow had a little trouble keeping up with Dorothy and the lady doctor, but the look on his face as he approached each door was precious. Kaylee's exclamation of "Look, now I got five Nerds" was worth the long walk. And Riley's enthusiastic runs up each walkway were reminiscent of the childhood each adult re-lived for a few moments as we exchanged greetings on the sidewalks.

The residents of Highland Court, a quiet cul-de-sac, get together each year on this night for fellowship, food and fun for the kiddies. Dorothy, Dr. Riley and the cute little cow collected candy from a well-stocked table on the driveway of Tony Aguirre, host of this year's block party, as introductions were made.

"We take turns hosting this," Aguirre said. "Somebody said, 'Hey we need a bigger driveway.' So this year, it's our turn."

Flames from a small portable firepit lit up the faces of the neighbors seated in a circle, joining trick or treaters in enjoying not only candy, but treats from another table stocked with sushi, chili, chips and other delights.

The firepit was well supervised because Dave, from down the street, is a firefighter. Mike, another neighbor, traded jokes with Louie Moreno, proclaimed the "mayor" of Highland Court by the others.

"We've been here five, six years, since the beginning," Moreno said. "Everybody on the block gets involved and contributes to the food and candy."

When, I asked, is Moreno's term as "mayor" up?

"You can't vote him out," shouted Mike from the other side of the driveway. "He's got the pool."

Yep, I think I'm gonna like this place.