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Re-Designing Riverside’s Future?

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By Mary Shelton

Councilman Ameal Moore took to the stage to express his feelings on the community strategic conference that took place on Oct. 26 at the Riverside Convention Center.

“I want to take an opportunity to stop and say,” he said, “George you did it.”
George being, City Manager George Caravalho, who set up this community strategic conference to give city residents the opportunity to discuss their concerns about where Riverside was headed, and where it should be heading instead.
But, was this event actually ground-breaking, or were city officials simply reinventing the wheel?
I had survived the city's attempts to heal racial tension through the implementation of its Study Circle program in 1996. Turning words into action, was the mantra for that program as well, and most of the participants worked hard at getting to that point. However, we never reached it because at the final meeting when all the groups congregated to create an action plan for change, city officials pulled the reins back, telling us it was for our own good. If we tried to create too much change, too quickly, we might become disenchanted or even worse, discouraged altogether.
We went home discouraged for another reason, denied the opportunity to discover if that were true, or if we could have actually made a difference by realizing an action plan that emerged through a process similar to this conference.
Words, simply remained words and never became action. Although the city loudly touted the "success" of that program in healing racial wounds, several years later the tragic shooting death of Tyisha Miller put that alleged success into its proper perspective.
As far as I am aware, the only action that arose out of that program was when the Riverside Police Department detective from my study circle pointed me out from a picture which showed activists praying for justice for Miller on the '91 freeway in 1999.
"I personally confirmed Mary Shelton's identification," he wrote in his report. "She was a participant in a Study Circle that discussed race relations a few years ago, where I served as a facilitator."
That experience in mind, I walked into the Riverside Convention Center along with 700 others to discuss civic issues ranging from creating affordable housing to dealing with increasing traffic congestion on city streets, to addressing gang violence in the Eastside community.
Issues which have been on the minds of many people, forever, but for which solutions have proven elusive as we have been told many times by the same people who had promised that they had all the solutions while running for office.
Today’s workshop would make the difference, city officials said, and reroute the city's future forever.
City Manager George Caravalho said that the community strategic workshop would allow the residents to visualize what the future should hold for Riverside, so that city officials could later produce a plan to realize that vision.
In order to create reality, one must see it first.
“An opportunity for all of us to take control of our destiny,” Caravalho said, “We want some strategic thinking today.”
Something that some residents say has been sorely lacking in governmental circles when faced with pressing issues from community development and redevelopment, to the unequal allocation of city funding towards the city’s different communities, particularly Arlanza, Casa Blanca and the Eastside.
People broke up into 28 smaller groups to discuss the issues that Councilwoman Nancy Hart said in her speech, "were near and dear to their hearts.”
For some, those issues involved bringing more museums to Riverside's downtown and turning the city into the cultural icon of the Inland Empire. For others, that involved rearing children who would outlive their parents and grandparents.
For at least one person, that involved creating a river that would travel through downtown.
All agreed that youth were the ticket to a better future, but most of the youth stayed away.
After the first round of speeches, we scurried off to our designated groups, the clock already ticking in terms of the time allotted for all of us to proceed through a check-list of tasks.
Disagreements arose right away, though discussion remained respectful, within our group. The time restraints irritated the participants, as if time mattered more than issues. After all, if the city had been given years enough to chew on these issues, why were these groups given only several hours on a single day?
Problems emerged when group members were asked to narrow down the issues from 18, to five issues that would be tackled as part of the city’s three-year goal plan. In order to prevent their favorite causes from falling out of contention, group members would often combine topics that had little to do with each other, such as improving air quality and creating high-tech jobs, to improve their point standings. At certain points, where politics met passion, the temperature rose.
Head facilitator Marilyn Snider walked by to help our own harried facilitator move the process along.
Throughout the process, I met many new people who amazed me with their passion even when I disagreed with its direction. Whether city officials indeed welcome this enthusiasm, or perhaps fear it as has happened too often in the past, remains to be seen in upcoming weeks when city officials design their action plan based on community input.
Councilman Frank Schiavone, in the final round of speeches, said that there were two words that popped into his mind, empowerment and inclusiveness.
“And folks, today you have empowered,” he said, before adding that he believed this should be an annual exercise.
Empowered, most definitely if people see their words become the actions used to define Riverside's future. Inclusive, perhaps if any input provided by residents actually survives this process.
Now, the ball is in the city's court and if it proves that it can actually take the words of its residents and transform them into action, then it will truly be making history.

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