The Mayor's State of the Union in River City...Sponsored by the Chamber
[The Fireworks display in downtown Riverside during the first annual Lunar Festival which though very successful received no sponsorship from the Chamber of Commerce organization...though some of its businesses did break from the pack]
[Mayor Ron Loveridge took time from his busy duties as president of the League of Cities to give his state of the city address but this year, no standing ovation]
The Riverside City Council passed a resolution to oppose the proposal of Governor Jerry Brown to disband city and county redevelopment agencies and a bunch of speakers including those who have received funding for projects associated with Riverside's Redevelopment Agency lined up to praise it. Even former Assemblyman Ted Weggeland showed up to perform "sweep" duties for the entourage of speakers. The presentation was put on by City Manager Brad Hudson, the guru of Redevelopment hired away from Riverside County's Economic Development Agency and it impressed many people but some of the facts regarding some of the "successes" including the University Village (which is allegedly in receivership) were somewhat overstated.
Redevelopment in itself isn't a bad thing and can be very necessary but what's needed is more outside oversight especially since the city council also functions as the Redevelopment Agency board and Hudson had such harsh words for Sacramento's announcement that it will audit 18 redevelopment agencies labeling it essentially a smear campaign against the agencies. Well if you're satisfied that your process is what it should be involving your own redevelopment agency then why not volunteer to have it audited? But that's not going to be happening in Riverside any time soon at least not voluntarily.
That kind of talk towards any form of outside oversight on an insulated process where the numbers put out by the city, as Karen Renfro and others have pointed out, don't seem to match those the city provides to the state is actually quite disturbing. What's just as disturbing is how the majority of the city council drank from the same Koolaid that Hudson served in terms of the evil state taking away "our" money and how the state has a "little budget" problem. Sacramento has serious budget issues including money coming in and its spending habits, so does the United States Government, so does Riverside County and yes, even Riverside City where Mayor Ron Loveridge claimed in his State of the City Address is this oft-repeated $40 million reserve fund that appears to be parceled out and essentially not easily discoverable in the city's budget. And that's a worrisome situation for more reasons that the public's inability to understand how the city does its accounting and the city's inability or unwillingness to explain it. But no, asking serious questions about what's going on with a redevelopment agency (including the merging of "zones" which have nothing to do with other simply so money can be siphoned out of one area in the zone to another) doesn't make a person against redevelopment even as several elected officials appear to paint it that way.
And remember what firm was auditing Riverside's finances for the last five years again? Hoffman, Mayer and McCann, the one under investigation by the State Comptroller's office. The one that some factions of City Hall said during a Finance Committee that they'd be open to hiring other "interests" within that firm to audit the city's books until a council member or two including Paul Davis, said whoa, isn't going to happen. That's a good step but what the city needs to do is to have at least the last couple of audits done by that troubled firm reviewed.
But some elected officials clearly believed that pushing for greater accountability and transparency over these agencies means that you oppose redevelopment, affordable housing (at very unaffordable rents), community centers, daycare centers and other things including probably Santa Claus. The only real convenient straw man argument that city officials can use to try to ward off any concerns that the Redevelopment Agency in Riverside should be audited.
But some individuals including Councilman Steve Adams said that Redevelopment is the biggest provider of jobs, an assertion that is contradicted by the filings provided by cities and counties to Sacramento. It makes sense that there's not that many jobs if you've followed what's been going on with some of these projects. The city seems to hire construction and contracting companies from outside the county and even the state, i.e. Arizona and many businesses that come into these areas bring their own labor forces with them and don't do much hiring or only offer a few positions. Many of those offered out in the endangered University Village were part-time jobs for students including at the two movie theaters that were housed there. Starbucks and other chains transferred employees in from other places. And people lost jobs, and some people lost businesses including on Market Street in downtown Riverside because they didn't own the buildings that were seized by the redevelopment agency under threat of eminent domain, they leased it which means that the city paid them zero compensation or relocation fees which only went to the property owners. So some individuals' life-long dreams of owning businesses were crushed by redevelopment including its rather way too broad and often very opportunistic definition of "blight".
Hudson also claimed that the redevelopment agency was responsibly for the demolition of motels on University Avenue but actually what happened in several cases including the well knowned University Lodge was that the city paid huge amounts of money to negligent property owners or in the case of the Lodge, a well-known slumlord from Menlo Park, Orange County (in that case an excess of $400,000) to leave town. The slumlord received much more in compensation for mishandling his property than those who lived in those squalid conditions to relocate. Why would any absentee property owner have any incentive to be responsible if they were simply negiligent or slum lords and were paid off rather than held accountable? Many people had questions about how that was handled, which weren't answered. Because if you did, then you were against getting rid of a problem property but wait a minute, what can be more pro-slumlord than allowing one to essentially win the lottery before going off to be a slumlord some place else? Most people in similar circumstances would have been told to pay fines to the city for code violations not paid huge sums of money to leave town.
Adams also said that the state took no budget cuts of its own and that educational institutions like the two university systems and the community college system didn't experience cuts but just increased fees. The same night that a summit was taking place at UC Riverside to discuss what else? Budget cuts. Adams is just so incredible to listen to some times, one wishes he'd return to sitting in his seat during public comment so that the city residents could further benefit from his colorful insights.
State Comptroller John Chiang has announced plans to review 18 redevelopment agencies including that in Riverside County. And what about Riverside, city? Well given that the agencies in both the city and county share a common thread if anything problematic is found in the county review, then perhaps that might lead to a city review. Stranger things have happened after all.
Riverside's city government was asked at the city council meeting to volunteer its own redevelopment agency for the Chiang's office to review among the 18 chosen but so far hasn't done that. Though with Riverside County being one of them, again who knows but that could lead to a review of Riverside the city if something doesn't smell right in the county because of a common thread.
Redevelopment Agencies annual reports to Sacramento, for people who are interested in researching them.
The Press Enterprise did this interesting article which includes a history of when city residents lost the ability to pull items from the consent calendar. Marjorie Von Pohle protested this action every week at city council meetings while she attended but although a couple of current city council members promised to revisit the issue during their campaigns, that never happened. Cities like Corona still allow people to pull consent calendar items for discussion but not Riverside.
Mayor Ron Loveridge did his annual state of the city address deal at the Riverside Convention Center and again, it's sponsored by the Greater Chamber of Commerce which makes a bundle from sponsorship and from the paying audience off of an event which should be non-profit given that it's an annual speech made by an elected official voted into office by many other city residents besides members of the Chamber. Some folks who attended and didn't pay the big bucks for tables and for catered food felt as if they were definitely second tier or were treated rudely with one individual being told that she would be "allowed" to go into the city vendor display room.
The mayor shouldn't be giving an annual address in front of a paying audience nor should it be a venue for an organization even a business one to rake in the bucks. It should be in a venue where it's open to everyone on equal footing. Especially since the city residents' sales tax money is paying for quite a few of the tables in that room. It's an opportunity for people to hob nob and feel great rather than an opportunity for the public to witness a mayoral address.
As one newcomer to this city in the cheap seats aptly put it, it's really an example of the difference between the "haves" and the "have nots", not the best welcoming lesson for people moving into this city.
Loveridge had a busy week because he also made comments that ticked off the Alvord Unified School District.
The Press Enterprise published this article about the reaction by some of the city's bargaining units to the announcement that the Riverside Fire Fighters' Association and Loveridge applauded the actions of this union in his State of the City's address as being visionary and a necessary part of pension reform. But in actuality, the RFA didn't vote to lessen its members pension plans but those who haven't been hired by the department yet, hence the full meaning of "two-tiered" plans. It's easier to vote away a portion of a future employee's pension than your own and at least the incoming fire fighter applicants will be aware of this happening before they are hired but that brings up the issues of how this "pension reform" will impact the recruitment pools, not just for fire fighters but for employees in other city bargaining units. Will the city still attract the top quality applicants to the fire department if they have a lesser retirement than that offered by other cities? Will they want to work in an agency alongside employees while taking the same risks of the job and get a lesser pension when they retire? Will it foster division within the ranks of a city department?
What if police officers took a similar plan? Would the Riverside Police Department still attract top candidates who might base their decisions on which agency they work for and pick one offering 3% at 50 over one that offers 3% at 55, for example. And pensions do factor majorly into where people decide to work in the public sector and in fact, one of the main attractions of the public sector have been the pension plans. But most city employees in Riverside aren't wading in excess and wealth when they collect retirement, in fact quite a few are barely surviving and keeping their homes because of the dramatic drop in income and the economy in this region in general.
These are questions that have been asked by city workers whose unions are facing similar issues and some say pressure to fall in line behind the RFA. This is a complicated issue but the two-tier plan doesn't really address it, in terms of whether employee retirement funds are invested in the best way possible with the least risk and most return, an issue that's been discussed quite a bit, especially when the stock markets take serious hits. And oversight of the retirement process in ways that protect employees as well as taxpayers.
But the one issue that really seems to be not explored here in these discussions is that there's a lot about sacrifices made to "reform" pensions and save money but not one peep about the pensions enjoyed by upper management at City Hall as well as the very generous life-long benefits given to elected officials who serve a certain length of time in office. In fact, the management level at City Hall has been very good at advocating for its own step increases even as other employee bargaining units have worked without contracts or increase in salaries or benefits for several years now. Some management members might be talking about deferring compensation but will they be engaged in this reform as well?
Unfortunately, there can't be any serious dialogue from elected officials who are so eager to hang on to what they get (and they don't have to work 20-30 years either!) and ask or even pressure other employees to "reform" their pensions so it's hard to take them seriously when it comes to talking about being the leader in pension reform.
Like Loveridge, before you run off and champion that cause as like your legacy or something, what are you doing about the life-time packages for elected officials including yourself? Is that something to look forward to in the next State of the City Address? Will Loveridge be able to announce that he engaged in pension reform in his own backyard?
[The Community Police Review Commission shown at an earlier meeting discussed a workshop to be held Feb. 22]
On Jan. 26, the Community Police Review Commission held its first meeting with its newest manager, Frank Hauptmann. Outgoing Chair Brian Pearcy proposed a workshop to explain to elected officials, new police management employees and Hauptmann the institutional history of the CPRC. Former Councilwoman Maureen Kane who chaired an exploratory committee investigating civilian oversight back in 2000 has been invited and Pearcy was working on finding another guest speaker. Suggestions to have representatives from the community and the police associations were not surprisingly denied by Pearcy and objected to by other commissioners.
After all, the commission in the past few years hasn't been exactly community friendly and Pearcy perhaps didn't get the reaction to his workshop idea that he had hoped for. Commissioner Ken Rotker said he had a difficult time accepting it without an outline and then went into this long monologue on the differences between an agenda and an outline. Art Santore not surprisingly thought it should be closed to public participation at all including public comments. The final product that was approved by the commissioners in attendance will take place on Tuesday, Feb. 22 at noon. With a time like that, I don't think individuals like Santore don't have to worry too much about city residents showing up and ruining their fun.
Apparently the proposed settlement between Riverside and former Riverside Police Department Officer Jose Luis Nazario, Jr. fell through and the case is going to trial. Possibly as early as April. Nazario was fired by the department as a probationary officer after the NCIS began investigating him for alleged war crimes in Fallujah, Iraq in 2005. He was indicted by a federal grand jury and was acquitted of manslaughter charges at trial in the U.S. District Court in dowtown Riverside, the first discharged military serviceman to be tried for war crime allegations in a civil court system.
Information on the criminal proceedings in the Nazario case are here.
After his acquittal, Nazario who has his own Wikipedia page then reapplied online to get rehired by the police department but was not rehired by the city.
And really what appears to be the legal issues here regarding his employment with the police department are twofold. First there's the issue behind his original firing but there's a separate issue behind the city's rejection of his reapplication. Nazario and his attorney in the lawsuit apparently are focusing on the second issue rather than the first. But the difference between the two involves the process of undergoing potential screening by the police department which would include a background exam for the period of time between his firing and his reapplication for his job back as essentially a new hire.
In a Wall St. Journal article, it was revealed that Nazario on a phone call to one of his friends from the Marines that was taped by NCIS had made controversial comments about his stint as a police officer. The police department was put in the defensive position of having to respond to them.
During his time in Riverside, Navy investigators arranged a surreptitiously taped phone call between Mr. Nelson and Mr. Nazario, during which Mr. Nazario described his work. Saying his job was much like the television show "Cops," he told Mr. Nelson that he regularly would "beat the s- out of" a criminal, finding "a reason to take him to jail" later, according to a transcript of the conversation.
In court filings, prosecutors say the conversation shows the two men discussing the killings in Fallujah. "Who gave us the orders though?" asks Mr. Nelson. Mr. Nazario replies: "I did." But Mr. Nazario then says the order to kill the men came via radio from someone higher up.
On Aug. 7, 2007, Mr. Nazario was finishing night patrol in Riverside, when ordered to return to headquarters. NCIS personnel were there and told him he was under arrest.
Asked in an interview about the statements that led to his arrest, Mr. Nazario says he didn't understand that Mr. Nelson was referring to a particular incident in Fallujah and that he wasn't acknowledging any crime. He defends his record at the Riverside Police Department, and says he may have been drinking during the call; he describes the conversation as "two guys" who were "talking tough" about "untrue stories."
A police spokesman said state law prevents him from commenting on Mr. Nazario's personnel record, but that he was aware of no criminal charges against Mr. Nazario during his time on the force.
So these statements made by Nazario caused issues for the police department and the city because after all, that's not exactly what the department would want said about it and have it wind up in one of the nation's top selling newspapers.
But apparently, this didn't cause the department not to hire him back either. During the rehiring process, the department allegedly found a disqualifying factor and took it. Whether or not that part of the episode will play out in U.S. District Court at trial remains to be seen.
Jurupa Valley is preparing to receive ballot information and sample ballots as it prepares to vote for cityhood.
Should the residents of San Bernardino County pay for former Assessor Bill Postmus' legal expenses? Um no.
Tuesday, Feb. 1 at 3 pm and 6:30 p.m. The Riverside City Council is holding its weekly meeting and discussing this agenda. First up, is the biennial exercise in deciding whether or not to increase the salaries and benefits packages of elected officials. This report is must reading if only to find out how much the mayor currently makes.