05:21 PM PDT on Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Press-Enterprise

Temecula City Manager Shawn Nelson on Wednesday announced his intention to retire at the end of the year, capping a 21-year career that saw the city grow from a rural outpost with few amenities to a relatively wealthy city of more than 100,000.

Nelson, 51, will step down Dec. 31. He has been Temecula’s chief day-to-day administrator since December 1998.

“The thing I am most proud of is that I gave the City of Temecula 100% of my best efforts every day for more than 20 years,” Nelson said in a city-issued statement. “I am truly honored and grateful to have the opportunity to finish my career in the place that I love … Temecula.”

In a phone interview, Nelson described his retirement as “a quality-of-life decision for me and my family.” He said he was healthy, but “the extreme amount of effort and energy it takes to do the job, over time it takes an impact on me.”

With the city’s budget adopted Tuesday and its finances stable, Nelson said it was a good time to begin the transition to a new manager.

In the release, Mayor Ron Roberts called Nelson “the finest City Manager I have ever worked with. His fiscal conservative nature and aggressive approach to dealing with community issues has positioned the City to be successful for the next decade and beyond.”

Reached by phone, Roberts, a council member since 1992, said one of Nelson’s biggest strengths is his ability to analyze things clearly.

“I think he always got better,” Roberts said. “If you could see his evaluations every year, he just got better.”

Nelson came from Twentynine Palms’ recreation department to Temecula in 1990 to become the new city’s first director of community services. He left to become Corona’s deputy city manager in May 1998 before returning to Temecula as acting city manager at the end of the year.

Nelson got the job permanently in July 1999. He oversees more than 150 employees and a $53.2 million operating budget.

When Nelson first arrived in Temecula, the city had one park. Today it has 39, a sign of the city’s growth. During Nelson’s tenure, the city’s population quadrupled as the housing boom fueled a wave of subdivisions, stores and restaurants.

When the economy cooled, Nelson’s challenge shifted from keeping up with growth to making up for falling tax revenues. Using long-term forecasts of revenue and expenses, Nelson and his staff crafted budgets that maintained city services and kept more than $20 million in reserve.

Economic development was a top priority for Nelson. With the city’s help, The Promenade mall completed a $100 million expansion that includes an upscale, outdoor shopping center. A city deal secured a $50 million expansion for Professional Hospital Supply, one of Temecula’s top employers and sales tax generators.

Old Town Temecula also grew during Nelson’s career. The biggest addition was a $73 million complex that includes a three-story, mission-style City Hall, a public parking garage and a town square with a fountain.

Karel Lindemans, a member of Temecula’s inaugural City Council, said the Overland Road Bridge over Interstate 215 — which had to be built before The Promenade was finished — was completed months early because of Nelson’s leadership.

“He was just a doer,” Lindemans said. “Nothing was too little, nothing was too big.”

As Nelson’s tenure grew, so did his paycheck. By 2009, he earned more than $336,000 a year. Just five city managers in California made more.

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