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

Friday, January 22, 2010

"We don't have a deficit, because we have a reserve..."

After The Rains

[The golfing greens at Victoria Country Club are getting their regular manicures to keep them in tip top shape...]

[While the blocked stream continues to flood Arroyo Street going into the third post-rain day.]

The city has recovered after five days of continuous rains hit the state, as part of an El Nino fueled storming spree and is now enjoying some fair weather with the Naughty Boy always waiting in the wings. The city's roads for the most part are clear and service with the Wi FI system was restored by Friday night, thank to the city's IT division (a strong advocate) and the AT&T Network and Operations Team. The network reported numerous outages after the storms started as some Bell 200s experienced problems. Over several days, crews went out and fixed them to get everything back up and running again.

And so the city awaits to see what surprises the winter will bring...

In Sunday’s newspaper, a reporter wrote this article soliciting opinion on Mayor Ron Loveridge’s annual state of the city address. I had the reporter, Alicia Robinson contact me for a comment. Alicia’s a pretty astute reporter who took over the beat after its last reporter left the newspaper and she has a fairly good understanding of the city even as the newspaper has cut its staff of reporters and editors down to a bare skeleton crew making that task somewhat harder.

The problem with the address given by the mayor is that the city’s so preoccupied with constantly reinventing itself with creating catchy slogans and logos like it’s a brand product, rather than a city of over 300,000 people that's been around for a while. Every six months, it seems as if there’s a new strategic plan (even as that involving the police department was at one point blocked by City Hall) and that as often as not, the city doles out more money to finance a “study” or hire a consultant (despite already having a talented workforce of its own) to facilitate this process. With all the resources in this town including the twin business organizations that have the closest ties to City Hall, you think this process could be done without spending so much of the tax payers' money, which then could be spent on protecting basic services and the city's infrastructure.

Most of the public input on these plans seems to come from the same people, most namely the Greater Chamber of Commerce leadership and that of the Riverside Downtown Partnership even though neither come close to representing even most of the city’s small businesses, many of which have no advocacy representation. One can argue too that these organizations have been harmful to many businesses because they have aligned themselves so closely with city council and/or Redevelopment Agency votes which have threatened the use of Eminent Domain on private businesses so that the city can act as a middle man to help several development firms (including those like Mark Rubin, Doug Jacobs and others who are generous donors to political reelection campaigns).

For instance, both the Chamber and Partnership came out and publicly voiced support for the use of Eminent Domain on businesses, many owned by people of color and/or immigrating families in the downtown area. They have supported user fee increases that will greatly impact businesses that are not members of their associations. In fact, both organizations (though the Partnership also seems beholden to the Mission Inn which is why it was set up in the first place years ago) seem to be greater advocates and spokespeople for the city’s interests rather than that for the majority of the city’s businesses including the majority of them that aren’t members of either group. But maybe that's the way to represent business interests in this city, advocate for some by selling others down the river like the businesses on Market Street for example who spent years paying taxes into the RDP without really getting much in the way of representation. Then the lack of attention by the RDP on spending any of the tax collected on exterior improvements on Market Street (instead putting all the money into the Pedestrian Mall which then got renovated again for about $12 million more) was used against them including by the RDP.

Many businesses apparently have been left to fend for themselves including many outside the downtown area by the organizations which claim to speak for businesses in Riverside. Both organizations could use an injection of new leadership in their ranks because the longer a leader of an organization stays in place, the more their priorities shift. But there definitely needs to be more advocacy organizations to represent the interests of businesses not receiving that from the Chamber or RDP. Some businesses like those who organized over the Market Street property seizures or the situation involving the closure of traffic to part of Merrill Street during the grade separation project nearby have already begun that process. The former had no choice because the RDP and Chamber essentially endorsed their ousters from the downtown where they had been in business for in some cases, many years.

"We don't have a deficit because we have a reserve..."

One elected official allegedly said this in response to the budget that Riverside has no deficit because it has a reserve fund. It's probably not going to be all that difficult for most individuals to figure out which person on the dais made this ignorant comment. It was allegedly refuted by another elected official who said that you can't exactly go exhausting the reserve fund. But one of the biggest mysteries in this city to most people involves this so-called reserve fund and its fluctuating (mostly downward) figure.

Indeed the figure cited for this rather elusive but much talked about contingency financial account has changed considerably in the past two years. Not too long ago, one former city council member said that the reserve fund was around $45 million. Then the next year, which was 2008 it was allegedly about $40 million. A recent independent audit placed the reserve fund which was buried inside the lengthy report at between $30-33 million. There's been statements made by an elected official or two that the city will be spending some of the reserve money to offset more budget cuts and even layoffs. That would then change the estimated figure of the reserve fund even further.

But back to the elected official who allegedly made the comment about there not being a deficit because of the reserve fund. Talk about someone who doesn't seem to know what he's talking about. Unlike myself or any city resident, he's being paid tax payer money every year to if not be an "authority", at least to act as one based on information he receives from other city employees including those who work directly for the city council. But anyway, according to this elected official, there's no deficit. Which begs a series of questions in response to that statement, not that this individual has shown much tolerance for questions that he doesn't want to answer or even address even as he prepares for yet another reelection campaign in a ward that barely knows him.

The questions are if there's indeed no deficit, why are the city departments including the police department facing another round of extensive cuts? Why have employees been laid off if the city's so flush? Maybe it's because the city government's not receiving the lion share of the budget cuts is why individuals like this one are so in the dark about what's been going on the past year or so.

Some have said that the city needs different strategic plans to boost its image as an economic power because you need to make money to spend money. That might be true but considering the economy's built almost entirely on being overdependent on credit and in accumulating debt(hence the big crash that took place last year), not entirely true. But these strategic plans usually wind up in more money spent especially on consultants and by the time they really see their implementation, the neglect of the city's infrastructure and services might have created enough problems several years down the road to impact whether people will even want to do business here, live here and work here. No matter how great or clever this plan turns out to be, it won't matter if people don't want to come out here because the main incentive, cheap real estate, isn't there anymore.

Take crime for example, as the drop in serious crimes was cited by Loveridge in his speech. Will that trend continue if the police department sees up to a 20% vacancy? Will the police department be seen as being the best it can be if short-sighted decision making like what is taking place now leads to some serious critical incidents or other problems, including more money paid out to "settle" lawsuits? That's what is meant by investing on infrastructure to keep the city such that it attracts people because even the best (and the most costly) strategic plans will fail if this isn't done.

Just like they'll fail if City Hall doesn't become more user-friendly for those starting new businesses or relocating current ones. Improving in this one area could do more to boost the city's economy in the long run than a half-dozen "studies" or "conceptual" economic plans could ever do.

Last Week for the Strategic Plan Survey

You have until Jan. 31 to fill in and submit your survey for the police department's new strategic plan which will cover the 2010-2015 period, given that the original plan mandated by the State Attorney General's office expired last month. The survey allows people to rate the department, police services and offer suggestions to the Plan. I tried to keep mine under 50 words but alas, that didn't work out well. At any rate, it's important to participate in this process if you couldn't attend one of the public forums.

What's left of the Audit and Compliance Bureau will take the input and create a draft of the plan which will go hopefully to the Public Safety Committee first and then to the larger city council by March. Originally the plan was to have been implemented on the heels of the expiration of the last one but some forces at City Hall unfortunately roadblocked the Plan's development for a period of time until late autumn, several city council members when made aware of this looked into the issue. As is often the case when council members get involved in a situation, it changes as certain forces have their energies redirected like turning the rudder of a ship that's gone off course. Still, there needs to be a great deal of vigilance in this process because even as these words are being written, the Plan is allegedly currently being edited or revised by the same forces in City Hall that blocked it in the first place. It's unfortunate that these things happen, and it's unfortunate that the police department has been greatly impacted in a negative way by short-minded and short-sighted decision making by City Hall, which may be using language in the city's charter to rationalize micromanaging the law enforcement agency.

But then unfortunately, it's risky to put the strategic plans back in the hands of those who didn't want it in the first place, of those who are only going forward with it because some city council members asked why they weren't. Even as more short-sighted decision making involving the police department and its present and future operations continues into the new year.

I love ignorant comments like the following one that showed up by the not so anonymous individual going on a bash fest against Councilman Mike Gardner. Okay, who out there understands that the Riverside City Council has very little control or even influence over the city's school districts, both of which have their own legislative oversight of boards comprised of individuals elected by the district's voters. Anyone who has an issue with the 173 layoffs and it's awful when teachers are laid off, then the superintendent's office and the school board's would be a better venue to redress these issues. Just like if you had concerns about the city's layoffs of its own employees, you would 't address a school board about it.


There are 173 teachers now unemployed, more Homeless, More desperation, More business left Ward one

Mike Gardner is the worst Councilman Ward One ever had, WORST than Betro.

Mike Gardner's reply: It is not my Ward they are talking about, the most recent one: "I AM GETTING MORE

Lets see some of Mike Gardner's supporters:

The stinking bunch, The old bat from the dark , Jackson Daniel's Fan Club, The ones against the World, The Coco's
Restaurant meeting club and adding to Mike Gardner's supporters will be more than 100 criminals just released from
the Los Angeles Jails. Remember 5940 convicts were releasead recently. More than 250 are comming to Riverside
to increase crime, drugs, rapes, GTA, and other bad conduct.

No actually, what got Gardner elected is the majority of those who voted in the Ward One Election. His win was very narrow and unlike his counterpart, Steve Adams who also very narrowly won reelection, Gardner's smart enough to realize he was elected without a mandate but hopefully he's learned from his predecessor, Dom Betro's mistakes and is reaching out to his entire ward behind the downtown area. It's up to the Ward One voters to decide whether to elect him for a second term in 2011 or to give someone else a chance.

That's how the election process works. Wearing out shoe leather through an organized effort and getting your message out to all corners of the ward is what usually gets elected officials in office. Raising money is very important but raising a lot of money might actually be less important than it has been given the recent elections of Gardner and Ward Four Councilman Paul Davis. Both engaged in fund raising but both were outraised and outspent by their competition. However, they weren't outwalked and in the end, they weren't outvoted. It's kind of nice to see it work out that way, that the voters decide and not which elected official receives the most dais endorsements or development money.

This anonymous ranter on the other hand was heavily involved in the campaign of former councilman, Frank Schiavone and his antics didn't exactly help Schiavone get reelected so maybe being the target of his rants though unpleasant will show that an anti-endorsement by him might be more helpful than an endorsement would be. But this ranting is just personal attacks based on false information and it's not addressing the problems in a responsible way or even identifying them properly.

The issue involving people getting released from jail or prisons is largely under county and state jurisdiction as the local authorities of a city have nothing to do with this. What the city can do is to insure that it doesn't make short-sighted decisions by dismantling the mechanisms it has to address with an increasing parolee population including the police department's Police and Correction Team (PACT) which happened about a month ago. If this issue concerns you including the dismantling of PACT, then it's appropriate to address the police chief, the city manager's office and the city government on this issue.

As for the CoCo's restaurant club, at least they're shopping Riverside. It's kind of funny to listen to Loveridge urge people to shop Riverside when he bought his election campaign materials from Orange County.

The Fox Theater does have the Press Enterprise Editorial Board's blessing. But there were some people that I encountered who have been questioning the $32 million price tag not to mention the proposed loan of $25 million for the hotel. That's $57 million being invested in a very small area of downtown.

The article about the Sheryl Crow concert live at the downtown Fox Theater began with a curious introduction about how the newspaper was initially denied press credentials and had to get them through City Hall.

It's still a bit odd to get past the idea that the city's the one issuing press credentials for an entertainment venue but this is Riverside.

Meetings and Events

Tuesday, Jan. 26 at 3 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. The Riverside City Council will conduct meetings and discuss or rather run through this agenda.

Wednesday, Jan. 27 at 5:30 p.m.
The Community Police Review Commission holds its general meeting

Thursday, Feb. 4 at 5:30-8 p.m. Fundraiser for Frank Robles for Sheriff in 2010 at Councilman Paul Davis' house

Thursday, Feb. 11 at 6:30 p.m. - ? Ward Four Community Forum at Orange Terrace Community Center

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