Five before Midnight

This site is dedicated to the continuous oversight of the Riverside(CA)Police Department, which was formerly overseen by the state attorney general. This blog will hopefully play that role being free of City Hall's micromanagement.
"The horror of that moment," the King went on, "I shall never, never forget." "You will though," the Queen said, "if you don't make a memorandum of it." --Lewis Carroll


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Location: RiverCity, Inland Empire

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Another Monday morning in the sun

When Mayor Ron Loveridge talks about the high percentage of rental housing in Riverside, you can hear the distaste in his voice, but he may want to get the latest news on how higher density housing is feeling some love in the midst of the collapse of the housing market.

Of course, condo projects have long been welcome in Riverside and are a favorite of some out-of-town developers who also like to drop financial donations in local political campaigns. Including Mark Rubin.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

In built-out Riverside, the city has long been more receptive to in-fill and dense housing projects than in other parts of the county, where cities have spent the last decade expanding.

Condominium and apartment buildings are the only major housing projects under construction in the city, and those are mostly the last phases of projects that were initiated during the housing boom.

Mark Rubin, chief executive and principal shareholder in Regional Properties, is forging ahead with a more than $50 million project to build 282 condominiums in downtown Riverside between Second and Third streets at Market and Main streets.

This week he begins pouring the concrete on 141 units. He hopes to sell them as condominiums, but is prepared to lease them as apartments if the market is too soft.

"I guess I am the only one building anything of this size," said Rubin. "There is just simply no money around. You can't get loans to build single-family homes or condos anymore. You can get money for apartments, but that's all."

It's interesting how when people were concerned that few people would actually buy into this mixed-housing project downtown, they were said to be too cynical and party poopers on Riverside's renaissance parade, but if demand were so high at this point in the development of condo housing, Rubin would not be mentioning the "L" word, which is leasing, a softer version of that dreaded "R" word mentioned above. Remember how some home buyers for another housing project near downtown got in trouble with the city when they violated its no-rent provision and started advertising "homes for rent" in different venues? Now leasing these condos (actually mixed use lofts on top, businesses on the bottom) may be the only way to fill them up.

If you build it, they definitely won't be coming right now. Unless they can rent.

How things have changed.

The Riverside City Council will be taking time off of its summer vacation to hold another meeting which won't be very long and will definitely end before the happy hours do at many of the local watering holes. Unless crowds of people show up of course which is a possibility this week if you look at the discussion calendar.

One item up at the evening session is the proposed agreement involving public utilities as recommended by the Board of Public Utilities. That of course involves construction of the power plant that City Hall says Riverside needs by 2009 to avoid those dreaded rolling blackouts that Californians already know and don't love.

This issue has been vigorously debated by different parties including at the city council's Land Use Committee meeting. The labor agreement doesn't require the use of unionized labor but will treat whatever employees it does hire with the same rights, according to City Hall. It also requires "preference" given to hiring workers within a 50 mile radius of the city limits. Of course, that doesn't mean that they still won't be driving in from Arizona, a state which contributes many a building contracting firm to a city project.

Several city council members spoke on this issue and one, Chris MacArthur opposed it. Ultimately, the committee didn't vote on the issue because the Board of Public Utilities hadn't discussed it yet by the time that meeting took place.


Not signing the project labor agreement could delay the project until 2011 because of union threats to force a prolonged state environmental approval process, which also could add up to $9 million to the project's cost, Wright said.

The labor agreement would not add significantly to the cost of the project, but the city would have to make a $50,000 payment to the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperation Trust to compensate the unions for their time spent working on the agreement, Wright said.

Councilman Chris Mac Arthur expressed opposition to anything other than a fully competitive bidding process for the project and also said the $50,000 payment bothered him.

"I cannot support it," he said of the project labor agreement.

Councilman Frank Schiavone, a custom home builder who does not use unionized labor, said the council would need to focus on "what will keep the lights on for the people who elected us."

Given the emails circulating around on this issue, expect a packed city council chambers on Tuesday as a very real possibility. As for rolling blackouts, we shall have to wait and see. Of course for many people, they are facing blackouts of a different kind given that about 10,000 shutoff notices are mailed out in Riverside alone each month.

More surveillance cameras are coming to Riverside.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

A series of smart cameras and the ability to tie into the city's new Wi-Fi system are bringing such high-tech tools to the fingertips of police on the street.

The portable cameras, the same ones the city uses to monitor traffic at intersections, can be implanted with motion-detector chips programmed to pick up specific activities.

City spokesman Steve Reneker said that Riverside has nearly 200 of the $3,000 cameras, most of which are dedicated to traffic. Just five have been used by the police department over the past year.

"I think they're extremely effective," Reneker said. "We're able to capture the evidence we need to actually pursue individuals."

In fact, that hasn't really happened yet, but officials are hopeful that it will. The most recent incident where video surveillance cameras produced evidence was in a double shooting at Riverside's Central Middle School in April. One of the shooting victims died in the incident.

Police officials said cameras captured the shooting on tape and helped identify a suspect who was arrested. The cameras were not the newer motion-detecting kind.

Reneker said the software in the newer cameras is sophisticated enough to respond to certain types of motion related to specific crimes.

In other news, Riverside's filibuster over installing digital video cameras into the entire fleet of police squad cars might be over. The department has been discussing the installation of its new cameras at some meetings and has attributed the credit for their installation to Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis. But if the installation of these cameras has finally been done, it's been a long, arduous road to get to that point.

If you'll recall, the department had installed 10 cameras by 2003 as required by its consent decree with the state attorney general's office then the process stalled with only three more cameras being purchased and installed by the eve of the dissolution of the decree. On that eve, the city council voted to allot $500,000 for the purchase of enough cameras to equip the fleet. It took over two years but apparently that's been done to the tune of about $1.5 million.

The cameras are set up to record traffic stops which occur in front of the squad car. Someone asked whether they also recorded what went on inside a squad car. Interesting question. In some departments that have recording equipment they do, in others they don't.

A councilman in Murrieta is about to prove that he's not going to let some pesky felony charges get him down but is going to toss his hat in to run for another term. But will the voters turn out and pull the lever for him?

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

In January 2006, Murrieta police arrested Enochs after a lengthy investigation by the district attorney's office. According to court documents, the district attorney's office says Enochs tried to devalue the price of his new home on Trilogy Trail Lane to save about $40,000 in a divorce settlement.

Prosecutors also state in court papers that Enochs forged the name of a Murrieta police officer on a boating fix-it ticket.

Former Planning Commissioner Kassen Klein said Enochs' decision to stay on the City Council for his entire four-year term was right, but that his decision to run again should concern the residents.

"It's really not fair to the community to have that thing hanging over his head," Klein said. "That whole thing is going to play out right in the public. We don't need to revisit that particularly since the city has done so well to put all of that in the past."

Hemet used to have its very own courthouse. Now it wants it back so that its law enforcement officers don't have to commute long distances to make court appearances. But one Riverside County supervisor said they might have to wait a while, according to the Press Enterprise.


It's really inconvenient not just for the officers but for all the residents of the valley," Hemet police Chief Richard Dana said.

Apart from officers spending up to an hour driving to Southwest Justice Center, he said, victims, witnesses and jurors from the Hemet area also must figure ways to go long distance to court.

"Many of our victims are lower income and they don't even have cars," said Hemet police Lt. Jeff Pinney. "It can be problematic."

Third District County Supervisor Jeff Stone said now is not the right time to think about reopening a courtroom in Hemet.

"I certainly understand the fiscal constraints of Hemet; the county is faced with the same escalating expenses," Stone said.

But someone in the comment section of the article offers one solution for the civic leaders to consider.

Press Enterprise columnist, Cassie MacDuff has some ideas for more San Bernardino County Grand Jury investigations in the wake of the scandal involving the county assessor's office. That county seems to be lining them up at the gate right now but then that's part of its rich history of corruption.

Now here's some news that might shake the core of many a local politician. Some cities are thinking about placing limits on campaign contributions.

Several cities have placed some pretty tight restrictions.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

"These laws, while not perfect, were a step in the right direction," said Bob Stern, the author of the Political Reform Act of 1974.

In Pasadena, the laws prohibit individuals or businesses that have done more than $25,000 worth of business with the city from making campaign contributions to local officials, including City Council and commission members. The rules apply to public officials for a year after they leave office and for five years after they approve a contract.

The laws would apply to home builders and land developers, said Carmen Balber of the Santa Monica-based Consumer Watchdogs, which sponsored the taxpayer initiatives.

"The laws limit the receipt of contributions from anyone the City Council has been responsible for awarding a public benefit," Balber said.

Lake Elsinore has somewhat more liberal requirements for campaign funding limits and it's what is going on there during this election cycle which has brought this discussion back to the forefront of politics.

Prepare to be shocked at the news that there's some correlation between contributions to elected officials by private development firms and how those firms are treated by these officials when their projects come forward and there's plenty of examples that have been cited.

(excerpt, Press Enterprise)

Mayor Daryl Hickman and Councilmen Thomas Buckley and Robert Magee collected the contributions during their annual fundraising events: Buckley holds a golf tournament in May; Magee sells tickets for a Super Bowl-viewing fundraiser; and Hickman sells $1,110 suite tickets for a San Diego Chargers football game in September.

In March 2006 and 2007, Buckley and Hickman also sold $1,000-per-person tickets to a suite for an Anaheim Ducks hockey game. Use of the suite was donated by the city's contract waste-hauling company, CR&R.

The three councilmen and developers say the timing of the contributions and the votes is a coincidence.

"My vote had nothing to do with contributions," Hickman said. "My concern is to move the city ahead and do what's right for the city."

"Everyone knows when I raise money," Buckley said. "It's the same time each year."

"The reason I have my event annually is specifically to avoid the appearance of conflict," Magee said. "I believe my record speaks for itself."

But the head of the California First Amendment Coalition seemed to think it was all in the timing of this curious chain of events. He had some words of warning.


For elected officials, receiving contributions around key votes is not illegal. But political-reform experts said the contributions' timing raises ethical questions.

"It's not considered a conflict of interest, yet it is a step away from a felony offense: bribery," said Peter Scheer of the California First Amendment Coalition, a nonprofit group dedicated to advancing free speech and open government. The Press-Enterprise is a coalition member.

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