How we work, how we play, how we live, how we get around, and how we learn, were the themes of the Riverside Strategic Planning process.
An overwhelming number of people, some hopeful, and some skeptical, came out to be a part of the solution to the orderly growth of the city.
The "community visioning" project was the brainchild of George Caravalho, Riversides new City Manager.
Citing the change in the city leadership as one of the reasons for impact on the future, Caravalho said in his message, "we elected two new Council members and appointed a new City Attorney and City Manager. By the end of 2002, we will have recruited nationally for a new Assistant City Manager, Public Works Director, Planning and Building Director, and a Museum Director." Additionally there will be a new General Plan for the city that establishes a blueprint for land use in our city.
The three-year Strategic Plan will set forth the objectives and the resources needed to meet them. But a Strategic Plan is only as good as its input. Saturday the input was made by more than 600 people who represented the roots of the community. It wasnt the same faces, but new faces added to the crowd.
The excitement of the crowd was electrifying. Damon Castillo, Deputy Superintendent of Riverside Office of Education said, "I am impressed this many people came out and their level of enthusiasm and expectations." Tanya Humphries, a long time resident and community activist and a skeptic, said that this had been a very positive experience, however the understanding of some people in the group she was in made her know that there are still people who are naive about what the city can actually do. "They just threw the Constitution out of the window," she said.
The 600 people (up from the 240 who pre-registered), talked about the issues of diversity in hiring, gangs and drugs, equal distribution of (city) resources, youth traffic and homeless programs. They looked at quality of life issues, economic development, and how to improve city government. "I thought it was wonderful to see the large turnout from the community to engage in discussing these important issues," said Caravalho.
There were 28 groups of about 25 people who, after identifying a list of their issues, broke into smaller groups. In one of those smaller groups Rev. F.D. Bullock, Cleda Givens-Bullock, Earl Tynes, and facilitator Sherry Gordon, by consensus, struck down the After School Program as one of their five recommendations because they already exist.
Although there were a number of Blacks there were not enough to make the difference that is needed to correct problems that other communities have never experienced. Nati Fuentes, a veteran of these community forums, was one of the most skeptical of the process because the stakeholders she represents were not there. She agreed that parents have to be a part of the solution but she also said, "we must improve the areas where they live and give them (youth) jobs. Redevelopment should be citywide. Where is the development for the Eastside (mostly minority, lower income)? In this meeting we shouldnt be talking about certain (affluent) areas, we should take a look at the city and the areas in the most need. Use the federal guidelines," said Fuentes.
Harry Hood, said he was concerned that with all this excitement that expectations would be too high. "The issue is we talk and do something, I fear what will happen if we dont do anything," he said.
Rev. Jesse Wall, one of the few Black Clergy in attendance said he was very optimistic about the meeting but said it would be the City Managers responsibility to keep open the channels of communication. "I think a greater effort should have been made to inform and include Black Clergy. But there was hope in the multi ethnic participation. More needs to be done to get out the Black and Hispanic community," said Wall.
Riversides only Black school board member Dana Kruckenburg said "the schools cannot do it all! We need more family oriented specific programs. For example a sports complex that will offer a full range of activities. Specific not just the popular things."
Michael Teer, the first African American to head up the Inland Valley Board of Realtors said the visioning project was exciting. "I have to commend our new city manager for a very exciting Saturday morning with lots of real community participation. It was different from the traditional. Usually we are studied by individuals for academia rather than get to the real problems. The grassroots participation gave input on real everyday problems. John Husings info is wonderful but Joe Blows reality is different. Id like to see a credit assistance program because by the time they can buy an affordable home they cant qualify (because of credit)" he said.
Tom Pevehouse, of Inland Strategies and a former city employee said he was impressed to see the youth. "They are the future of our city," said Pevehouse. One Poly High School teacher gave his students extra credit to attend.
Jim Smith, head of the Management Budget Office and the main overall coordinator, said the way they assembled the people was strategic. "We concentrated on the data base of people who interface with the city. Then we used service groups and PTAs to get the word out. On the Eastside we used the coordinating meetings, the Casa Blanca meetings, in person and any opportunity to invite people," he said. Although I never saw them, Smith says they personally invited several gang members.
Some spoke of taking back their communities, coordinating schools and churches and the barriers to grassroots participation. Many believe that the city must put its mouth where the talk is. They are waiting to see the action of the mayor and city council. Although many of the groups listed diversity as an issue in the first round, it was somehow dropped when only five issues could be brought forward for a final discussion. Maybe because many of the stakeholders were not there and those were out voted said one participant who complained she was drowned out by others in the group.
"If diversity is an issue and the mayors office, as well as key city departments have no diversity then its all talk," said one of the unidentified participants. She said "the city needs to hire more Black folks in decision making positions."
Smith said that although he would have like to have seen more diversity, that George is committed to change. "George (Caravalho) is serious and committed to bring about the change needed. When you do it, its a different story," said Smith.
Mayor Ron Loverige said he had never been more optimistic about Riversides future. "Through this process we see a common theme arising. With this input now the Council will vote on what you want to see for the entire citys quality of life. One way some of the things on the list can happen is to pass Measure A to pay for the needed infrastructure. "Without it we cannot accomplish the traffic circulation," said Loverige.
"Im not convinced that business and politics will not play a part in the outcome of this process," said Fuentes.
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