Moreno Valley is a city located in Riverside County, California and is part of the San Bernardino-Riverside Metropolitan Area. A relatively young city, its rapid growth from the 1980s to the early 2000s made it the second-largest city in Riverside County by population, and one of the Inland Empire's population centers. As of the 2010 census, the city's population was 193,365. Neighboring Riverside, California, is the county seat and largest city in the county and the two cities are closely tied. Moreno Valley is also part of the Greater Los Angeles area.
Prehistory to 1800s
The Moreno Valley area was originally inhabited by hunter-gatherer Native Americans of the Shoshone tribe. The first Europeans were Spanish scouts who were sent from New Spain to explore the area. These Spanish scouts blazed a number of trails in the area, including the Anza Trail, which runs through the Edgemont area of present-day Moreno Valley. The relatively dry portion of the city was largely ignored by Spanish settlers.
When California was admitted to the United States as a state in 1850, Americans began to move into the area. The Tucson-to-San Francisco route of John Butterfield's Overland Mail Company passed through. Some farmers began to occupy the area. They relied upon Frank E. Brown's Bear Valley Land and Water Company to provide them water, which was collected and pumped from Bear Valley, California in the San Bernardino Mountains to the north. Brown began performing this service in 1883. In 1899, the city of Redlands won a lawsuit in which the city claimed eminent domain over the Bear Valley water. The resulting loss of service forced most of the area's inhabitants to move. The area first acquired its current name, Moreno Valley, at this time. The name is derived from Frank's last name moreno which is Spanish for brunette.
The revival of the Moreno Valley area began in 1918, when the United States Air Force (then the United States Army Air Service) constructed March Field on the outskirts of Riverside as part of its World War I expansion. March Field was initially used to train fighter pilots. Although it was closed in 1922, it was reopened in 1927 and eventually became a full Air Force base. The presence of March caused the unincorporated communities of Sunnymead, Moreno, and Edgemont to develop and grow. In World War II, March again became a training ground for military pilots. On April 1, 1996, March Air Force Base (MAFB) became March Joint Air Reserve Base (MJARB) under Air Force Reserve Command (AFRC).
Riverside International Raceway
From 1957 to 1989, the Riverside International Raceway occupied the current site of the Moreno Valley Mall. The Riverside International Raceway (Sometimes known as RIR or Riverside Raceway) race track was in operation from September 22, 1957, to July 3, 1989. Races held at the Riverside International Raceway included IMSA, NASCAR, Indycar, NHRA drag racing, Go Karts, and AMA motorcycle racing. .
The area experienced explosive growth in the 1980s. By 1984, the population was 49,702 (compared to 18,871 residents in 1970). The state economic boom fueled the construction of new houses and businesses. This growth led to a push for incorporation. Although similar measures had failed in 1968 and 1983, a measure to form the city of Moreno Valley was approved by voters in 1984. On December 3, 1984, the communities of Edgemont, Sunnymead, and Moreno united with nearby areas to form the general law city of Moreno Valley. The first City Council was also elected in 1984, composed of Bob Lynn, Judith A. Nieburger, Steven Webb, J. David Horspool (first Mayor Pro Tem), and Marshall C. Scott (first Mayor). The City Seal and Motto were adopted the following year.
Bust and boom
By 1990, Moreno Valley had exploded in population growth to become the second largest city in Riverside County with a population of over 118,000. Growth continued until about 1992.
In the 1990s, the robust Moreno Valley economy deteriorated, largely due to the statewide economic downturn. Many people began to leave the city. March was also downsized to its present status as March Air Reserve Base. The surplus land was given to the March Joint Powers Authority, made up of representatives of Riverside County and the cities of Riverside, Moreno Valley, and Perris for development. The dismal economic trend began to reverse in the late part of the decade, however. Companies such as Aurora Modular, U-Haul, and Lowe's moved major operating facilities to the city or neighboring municipalities (although Aurora later filed for bankruptcy).
By the early 21st century, the arrival of so many newcomers to Riverside County and the soaring cost of living in Los Angeles and Orange County combined to make the less-developed southern half of the Inland Empire a very attractive place for industry.
On the east end of the city off Moreno Beach Drive, a new Wal-Mart was opened in early 2006 (huge for a traditional Wal-Mart) next to the Moreno Valley Auto Mall. This is also the site of the first Super Target in California and the first (and only) Best Buy store located within Moreno Valley city limits, which opened in July and October 2007, respectively. The exit off state route 60 is the main way to the Moreno Valley Ranch Golf Course, once included in Golf Magazine's Top 75 Golf Courses in the USA.
Recent proposals to turn March Joint Air Reserve Base to a major commercial airport has been debated in 2005, but the plan was rejected by the Riverside county board of supervisors, until further notice. However, the coming of quieter, more environmentally friendly aircraft and cheaper security procedures and utilities may signal a re-consideration of the plan. In May 2008 the March JPA approved opening the facility to general aircraft.
March Air Reserve base has a ball park facility, where the semi-pro baseball Inland Empire (now Rancho Belago) Rockets of the Southern California League play in the summer months season.
DHL's selected March Air Reserve Base as its Southern California hub and commenced operations in October 2005. While initial claims were that the facility would employ 250 workers in its initial stage, over 300 employees went to work daily during normal operations.
In November 2008, DHL announced it was leaving the U.S. market and would shut its operation associated with March Air Field in January 2009.
On February 13, 2007, the City Council passed, by a vote of 4–1, a controversial resolution christening the eastern half of the city (roughly from Lasselle Street to Gilman Springs Road) "Rancho Belago", a pastiche of Spanish and Italian words. The city council's resolution includes the 92555 zipcode within the boundaries of the area, as reported by the Press Enterprise newspaper.
Today, Moreno Valley is home to around 200,000 residents and once again, experienced an economic bust (the late 2000s Recession) to restart again in a new development boom. MetroLink rail transit has arrived in the area further down in Perris to the south and a proposal to erect a four-lane freeway on the site of Cajalco Road/Ramona Expressway from Interstate 215 to Interstate 15 in Corona is currently debated by the CalTrans, Riverside County and Orange County governments. Upper-middle class residents reside in newer housing developments on the eastern half of the city. Recent years have seen the rise of corporate office industrial and business parks, as well a proposal of bringing minor league baseball of the California League to town. Moreno Valley is rapidly becoming a Latino majority city (over 50+ percent) and now has a high percentage of African-Americans (18.0% according to the 2010 U.S. Census).