Election 2011: The Games Begin and a School Board Votes
[The neighborhood close to my sister's after the Feb. 22 quake in Christchurch, New Zealand when soil liquification flooded the streets with mud and water]
[Concerned community members left standing room only at the Riverside Unified School District meeting]
The Riverside Unified School Board voted at its Feb. 22 meeting in front of a packed house to proceed with its upgrade plans including for John W. North High School.
Over a dozen city residents and former North High School alumni spoke on this issue and about how they feel that North High School is given the short shift compared to other high schools in the district including Martin Luther King, Jr. High School, which is much newer than North which along with Arlington High School and Riverside Poly are apparently older facilities. But North High School which has a record of academic excellence (and its athletes boast the highest average GPA in the district) was the last high school to have sprinklers installed, once hadn't had its sprinklers working for several months and the student athletes have to leave the gymnasium and walk outside to reach the shower facilities. Not to mention one speaker said there were so many holes in the field (from gophers) that it look like a bombing run.
Money had been raised privately to improve the entrance of North High and speakers countered one board member's assertions that the students didn't take care of their facilities. Many people have worked hard to upkeep the facilities that are aging at the high school named originally for the area of the city it's in and then later for Riverside's founder, abolitionist John W. North.
Many students from the Eastside and University neighborhoods attend or have attended North High School including many well known people in Riverside. But it's not news that the Eastside gets short shift in many decisions made by representative bodies left to make decisions that determine the future of the residents in this neighborhood. Former School Board member Ofelia Valdez-Yeager talked about how it's an exercise in regards to the "have and have nots" and that was apparent when some school board members talked about how it was important to stick to a budget...after ensuring that other high schools got larger pieces of the pie.
North High School students often have to travel farther at their own expense to play football games and for the time being, they will be using the football facility at Riverside Community College. Contrast that with Riverside Poly getting a swim facility and not being told to use the RCC Aquatic Center for its home swim meets.
The bond measure which was passed by the voters which earmarks money specifically facilities should be used in a way that benefits all of Riverside's schools in this case athletic facilities for its high schools but there should be parity between the schools in what they obtain so that Valdez-Yeager's words don't come to pass.
School Board Member Kathy Allavie came up with the compromise motion that was passed and includes the creation of a blue ribbon panel which will be free of the influence or participation of the school board which will determine how the extra funding will be used. The slight majority of the board including Gayle Cloud who provided the swing vote (thus reversing her earlier position on the issue) passed this motion to the applause of those in attendance.
Mayor Ron Loveridge when he teaches at the university used to assign papers to his students asking them to write about the Eastside, what they thought about it and any recommendations they would have for how to address the issues there. Sounds like a pretty interesting and educational assignment but what would be a much better one is the history of interactions and interrelationships between this neighborhood and City Hall.
And how often the Eastside gets brushed when it comes to how the city government does its business. Councilman Andrew Melendrez who represents the Eastside said that no Riverside Renaissance money went to that neighborhood. Whether that's the case, well it would be shocking if that were actually so. But what was really shocking or not was a recent vote taken that had to do with the Perris Valley addition to Metrolink which included the issue of creating "quiet zones" in areas of Riverside. Most of the expansion of Metrolink is taking place outside of Los Angeles due to the costly negotiations that would be required for rail access with freight train companies including Union Pacific, which is as the adage goes, once warned twice shy when it comes to making future deals.
But what wasn't discussed was what was in the fine print. The Eastside neighborhood naturally didn't get any "quiet zones" but what disturbed some folks was the fact that the money that had been allocated to install the long-needed grade separation on Third Street was apparently funneled elsewhere. This grade separation which was once fourth on the priority list for putting these grade separations in is apparently now up in the air even as trains have long blocked Third Street and often either Seventh Street or Spruce Street as well.
If that's the case, then one can only look at the actions taken and say wow, what backroom dealing led to this action as well as the provision which pretty much disqualifies City Hall from ever complaining or being involved in any legal action against the Perris Valley line. The lack of public hearings, and one councilman called a city council meeting on the final vote an adequate public hearing has marred this process in terms of the fine print items. Because many people know by the time anything gets to the city council, it's pretty much past the point of discussion and to the point of pushing a shiny button the console to cast a vote.
Besides has anyone looked at the length of the city council agenda...quite slight in content lately.
But Councilman Steve Adams who heads the Transportation Committee for the city council has been asked to look into the lack of public hearings and notice for public hearings as well as the mystery of the disappearing allocation for the Third Street grade separation project that many residents in the Eastside had hoped would be on the horizon.
[Councilman Steve Adams who chairs the Transportation Committee has said he'll look into the lack of public hearings held before the city council before the alleged movement of grade separation money for Third Street]
Hopeful Adams can get to the bottom of it if he's not there already to determine whether or not the funding for the grade separation in the Eastside got reallocated elsewhere. And why there were no public hearings held on some of these fine print items.
But while many people left the RUSD board meeting content that at least some progress has been made, it's clear that in the larger scheme of things, it's still business as usual in Riverside.
Only in Riverside is it major news when a city manager visits the downtown public library. In this case, Brad Hudson who's been employed by Riverside since June 2005 took a trip off the well beaten path and wandered into the downtown public library which is as stated in a state of disrepair especially in the past year. Coming up will be a photo gallery of exactly how the public library now looks. It's no news to this blog as it's reported on the situation in the downtown library and its deterioration and Hudson's a pretty faithful reader.
But it's kind of funny that Hudson appeared to be so much in the dark about the library's condition given that the library department is under his own and that he had his former assistant city manager Tom DeSantis in charge of it. DeSantis had allegedly been very diligent in his micromanagement of the facility to the point of telling librarians where to shelve books but DeSantis apparently missed what had been going on. Not surprising because he was very busy doing other activities while working for Riverside including some that might or might not have played a role in his abrupt departure last year.
Apparently he was alerted by Councilman Mike Gardner who oversees the downtown where the library resides. Gardner himself is up for reelection and an unkempt library facility doesn't help his cause. But then again, the rest of the city council should view the situation of the library as not really helping their respective causes either.
Among the issues that it faces are leaking roofs when it rains and sometimes when it doesn't, and a second floor in which half of its public service area is cordoned off. There used to be a children's center which was quite nice and a teen space area that was also quiet nice but for some unexplained reason, the children center had to move all its books, equipment and furniture out of its space and then it got crammed in the already small teen space area.
Contrast that with the fact that about half of the shelving space left in the second floor has been vacated including the shelves. The one remaining public elevator is pretty scary and noisy when it is in use. It's not clear whether it's been upgraded with the latest safety features including equipment that detects anything including body limbs that would get caught in between the closing doors. Let alone whether it has safety features preventing the elevator from moving up or down if something including someone's arm or leg is stuck in the doors.
The woman's bathroom has had a sulfur odor (indicated sewer gases backing up through the toilet's traps) for years now and many times one or both bathrooms are closed for repairs. Recently when a public event was held downtown in that area, the restrooms were used by many people in attendance. It only took an hour for the women's restroom to be out of order and even before that, the fecal odor was so noxious, people felt like they were going to pass out.
On one occasion, when the women's restroom was closed (due to a broken light), a woman who had to use the restroom was told to go to the Mission Inn or City Hall and use the toilets there. When the employees were reminded about equal access to facilities regardless of gender, they opened up the employee restroom to women and expedited the repair order for repairs. When the men's bathroom has been out of order, women have walked into the bathroom and found men inside it.
Brad might have been shocked about the state of the downtown library, the main hub of the entire system where there are branch libraries including newer facilities that look much cleaner and nicer than that downtown. And as already stated, DeSantis while here was a busy, busy bee including engaging in long meaningful visits to other nearby city owned facilities like Fairmount Park but surely he would have reported back any deficiencies or problems to Hudson or perhaps he did, but nothing happened.
It's odd considering that the city management put restrictions through its library director that gagged employees in the library department from speaking to people including the media. If the management had the energy and time to do that, why didn't they have time to address the growing deterioration of the library? And remember when Hudson and the city government were talking about demolishing the library and rebuilding it, some seemed to think that shouldn't be done yet. But that's Hudson's modus of operation is that when he's confronted with an embarrassment or a problem under his watch, he tends to say, I had no idea...I'll go check it out...oh my gosh...I really had no idea.
But what of the Riverside City Council's reaction to the topic at a recent city council meeting?
[If former Asst. City Manager Tom DeSantis micromanaged the downtown library during his tenure, how did it reach its current state on his watch?]
[Councilman Mike Gardner (l.) may find that the state of the downtown library might come up during the upcoming city council elections]
Press Enterprise Columnist Dan Bernstein updates on the library situation and he provided that information that he gleaned from a recording taken of the city council meeting including the joking done about the library.
I blame myself for putting Hudson in such an awkward position. If I'd known that Councilman Mike Gardner would suggest that the city's top administrator walk through this pigsty, I would have written about the wonders of the navel orange instead.
But maybe the city manager and his bosses should occasionally be reminded that they are the stewards of an open sore that is such an embarrassment that it has become a punch line.
During that same meeting, which consisted mainly of mutual back patting and virtual group hugs in celebration of the city's supposedly chipper finances, Gardner said: "The downtown library itself needs a little spiffing up."
That's when laughter rippled through the council chambers. If Gardner were a stand-up pro, he would have quickly added, "Take my blight. Please."
Instead, he said what everyone except the council has known for years: The library "has slipped to the point where it is not adequately functional now."
Even MayorLuv briefly paused from seizing the city's destiny to muse, "If you parachuted into the city and only landed at the library and walked around, I'm not sure what judgment you'd have of the place." (I am. "Beam me up! Now!")
The city manager said his walk-through inspired him to "come up with some improvements that won't be too costly."
Gardner told me later new carpeting, painting, better lighting and fully functional restroom fans will improve "a really depressing, ugly smelly place." Library visitors should see "significant change" by mid-April. Exactly how much the city plans to spend remains foggy.
The library might be a punchline for the city government at a meeting but it's probably going to be a thorn in the side of some of those currently on the election trail much like the neglected city parks haunted his predecessor Dom Betro (who naturally has decided to run again) and helped launch Gardner's own political campaign. And it remains to be seen when or if these improvements cited by the city manager who suddenly had the inkling to visit the downtown library will bear fruit or not before Election 2011 reaches its preliminary (and possibly final) round at the time of the mail in ballot election in early June.
Speaking of political campaigns for Election 2011, there's this curious campaign going on Inland Empire's Craiglist. Councilman Mike Gardner's "fan" is back hitting photo shop and posting enigmatic political advertisements online, this time stumping for Marisa Valdez, actually Marisa Yeager who's running for election in Ward One.
Not sure what the point of it is, and on what basis this person is endorsing Yeager. But if I were Yeager, I'd be a little bit leery of this guy. He's never backed a winning campaign yet.
In other city council news, questions have arisen about its bidding process on contracts. Okay, it's a bit late in the game but at least it's being done. Too many questions have arisen for years about how the city contracts out its business and engages in the bidding process. Attempts to find the legal contracts with the city's outside law firms including Best, Best and Krieger have been futile and questions have been raised about fluctuations in the so-called discretionary spending ($50,000 per item) by Hudson's office.
Now is the city council finally asking questions? If so that would be refreshing indeed.
Stronghold Engineering got the contract but lost an employee to electrocution at UC Riverside in some type of industrial accident. Several years ago an employee from that same company was working in a man hole at 10th and Main just next to City Hall and accidentally cut into a live wire (which was to have been shut off by the city) and was badly injured in the resultant explosion. The accident also knocked out power to the downtown pedestrian mall area.
[Three members of the Riverside Police Department's management team including Chief Sergio Diaz (l.) have decided to suspend the progression of the Strategic Plan for now]
The Riverside Police Department has an interesting but roller coaster history with its Strategic Plans. The expired one that was instituted through the stipulated judgment imposed by the State Attorney's General started strong and then ran aground not long after the dissolution of the judgment in March 2006. Then when it expired, a new one was proposed, then stalled, then restarted, researched, reported on, designed and written into draft form by May 2010.
Even while all hell was breaking loose around it, it continued on forward, but when new Chief Sergio Diaz came in, it started anew. Asst. Chief Chris Vicino with an extensive background in strategic planning from his stint at Pasadena Police Department took a large role in the process bringing back then Sgt. Jaybee Brennan to serve an instrumental role in its progression. Brennan had been one of the surviving members of the Audit and Compliance Panel which had as one of its focus the creation and writing of the Strategic Plan.
More public forums in addition to those done earlier in 2010 (not to mention an online survey) were done in the autumn of 2010, in different neighborhoods inside the four neighborhood policing centers of the city. After soliciting and receiving input from the public at community forums and running an in house survey of its own employees (which generated some interesting result including about the management team), the department was to hold an ambitious working meeting among its command staff to decide how to proceed next with the design of the plan before going to the Public Safety Committee. The meeting was to take place in November but the tragic killing of Officer Ryan Bonaminio caused it to be postponed until just recently.
But what happened after that is that the department suspended the further development of the Strategic Plan pending the completion of the rewriting of its own mission statement and purposes. It turned out that members of the department's leadership had attended a retreat and had discussed the necessity of this task, saying that it was long overdue. The whole retreat and rewriting mission statements, objectives and goals seems to be taking the city by wildfire lately, beginning with some of its boards and commissions. But the department's been busy meeting with and soliciting input from its employees on what its mission statement and objectives should look like.
It's not clear at this point when the Strategic Plan first planned in early 2010 will see its completion let alone its implementation but it's hoped that it doesn't fall by the wayside...once again.
[CPRC Commissioner Peter Hubbard was one of the incumbents ousted by the city council earlier this month]
The Community Police Review Commission said goodbye to three of its commissioners though only two of them were in attendance. Chair Brian Pearcy termed out after eight years and Chani Beeman along with Peter Hubbard were not reappointed by the city council and mayor earlier this month.
They became the first two commissioners to ever be denied reappointed and coincidentally or not they became the first two ever called in to be reinterviewed before being considered for reappointment. Hubbard failed to be reappointed when he fell one requisite vote short in the first round of "city-wide" voting.
Beeman who despite a nearly perfect attendance record, a fairly strong work ethic and giving the most comprehensive if frank interview failed to come even close. One councilman defended his voting record to people unhappy with her ouster by claiming truthfully that he had voted for her in each round where she was in contention. The voting record of another councilman sparked some immediate dynamic changes in his respective council race.
Manager Frank Hauptmann took a very strong role in areas of the commission's operation including the training that commissioners will receive including when they are appointed as well as averring that the annual report will be done next time in accordance to guidelines that place its completion at the end of each March. His stance on issues is a counterpoint to his predecessor Kevin Rogan and was noticeable immediately as he's been given open access to the police department by Diaz as well. Not to mention new D.A. Paul Zellerbach's receptiveness to meet with key players involved in addressing the delayed investigations and reviews of all parties tied to officer-involved deaths.
Still Hauptmann got a taste of the continued dysfunction of the CPRC during some agenda items last meeting when the commission spun its wheels further on some basic issues.
But challenges await for the commission which recently celebrated its 10th year anniversary not through a planned workshop that was aborted and put on ice in January but with the awareness that many problems still plague it, not to mention the intrigue surrounding one commissioner that may or may not erupt in 2011. Also it remains to be seen what's the future of Commissioner John Brandriff as that won't be known until Election 2011 is over for the seventh ward.
All three new members of the CPRC pending live scans of course attended the most recent meeting, all sitting together so someone's been working in the background because that's never happened before in the commission's history.
This week was marred by the sudden series of severe quakes that struck Christchurch, New Zealand during the lunch hour on Feb. 22. The major quake, an aftershock of a 7.1 quake in September was 6.3 but only six miles away from the center of the city, two miles deep and it generated a ground acceleration force of 2 G, which makes it one of the strongest quakes ever recorded in terms of those forces. It's believed to be from a newly discovered fault that experienced increased stress buildup stemming from the September quake and an aftershock pattern that migrated eastward from that quake's epicenter (about 20-30 miles away) closer to Christchurch. But it's very worrisome to scientists including those in California due to the sequencing of major earthquakes on separate faults (as in the 1992 Landers/Big Bear quake and the 1992 Ferndale/Cape Mendocino/Petrolia, California sequence) and the fact that it's clear that even many modern "earthquake safe" buildings weren't designed to withstand G forces in the 2.0 range.
It's not clear if Christchurch has seen the end or even the worst of its current seismic activity given that there might be many unmapped fault lines under the city stemming from the collision of two tectonic plates. So much remains to be discovered and figured out about the relationships between different faults and fault zones but what is now known is that relieving stress on one fault might dangerously increase it on another.
Christchurch is a city on the South Island near the Eastern coast of the Pacific Ocean. It's about the size of Riverside, with 350,000 people now and it's followed a similar population pattern as Riverside in the past 10-20 years. It's an older city and about half of the buildings are of unreinforced masonry which is usually destroyed easily by earthquakes. Many buildings were new as New Zealand has increased its building standards and is third in the world behind the United States and Japan in earthquake safety. An older sister lives in Christchurch, raised her family there and still resides in a suburb of Christchurch near the beach. I've been there several times and am familiar with the city's layout so it's been jarring to see the photos and news coverage of heavily damaged or demolished buildings and streets in Christchurch, Lytteleton and Sumner where I've been.
The first quake caused major damage mostly to the city's older interior and the infrastructure particularly water and sewer systems. The city had been in the process of demolishing buildings and rebuilding but had opted to wait until the worst of the aftershock sequences had passed. The aftershocks associated with the original Christchurch quake have been atypically numerous and violent. My sister and her family live in a custom built house less than 20 years old and it survived the September quake with some cracks. Many buildings in Riverside including the masonry frontage downtown wouldn't survive a 7.1 earthquake as faced by Christchurch and they won't survive a quake similar to the one that struck on Feb. 22. In fact, when red, orange and green ratings were assigned to various areas of Riverside, downtown's was mostly red and that was for a quake in the 6-7 point range.
If a similar quake with similar dimensions and G forces hit Riverside, would it fare any better? Downtown probably would be severely damaged and the aforementioned library, probably reduced to rubble as would perhaps be the museum, the police administrative headquarters including the communications center in the basement (though it's being relocated to the Magnolia Police Station) and other buildings might be damaged there. Two buildings collapsed after the 1992 Landers earthquake about 80 miles away after all. Something to definitely think about, especially in light of the damage after a series of severe rain storms in December.
But no one died, because although it was strong, it was 30 miles away, four miles deep and struck during a time few people were out and about. In contrast the 6.3 (followed by two aftershocks in the 5-6 range) hit six miles away from the center of the city, was only two miles deep and hit at the tail end of the lunch hour. A strong enough force to knock my brother in law right out of his chair and not enough time for many people to get to safety. Many people died when two buildings collapsed including that of the local television station. People who were in a 28 story hotel next door were able to jump off the top floor to the ground when the building leaned. But 2o people died while sightseeing in the spire of the well-known Cathedral and having climbed those steps myself, not much to be able to do if an earthquake strikes suddenly.
Others died on buses from masonry falling and turning them and cars into crumpled metal with people inside. International students at a language school were buried alive in the television building and others were crushed inside restaurants in the malls. Christchurch has malls that stretch for blocks with walkways through the middle of them, with multi-level shops and eateries inside and outside.
Over one-third of the city's buildings face demolition this time around. Many were damaged last September. The death toll is about 145 but that's a conservative estimate as many buildings including the CTV (Canterbury Television) suffered many losses of life. Texts were sent out of many downed buildings including that one asking for help by people buried but most of the texting stopped before rescue operations reached those buildings.
The 6.3 leveled buildings that had previous damage and those that hadn't. My sister's home and those of most of her relatives and friends were severely damaged this time around and many people's houses will have to be rebuilt. My sister's home was built in 1991 including during the harsh winter (and the seasons are reversed) when she was nine months pregnant and I had gone there to help her before and after my niece's birth with her two kids. One of the biggest topics was the fate of custom ordered floor tiles and whether they were the right color but eventually that got all sorted out.
Electricity has been restore fairly quickly in both quakes but the restoration of water and sewer lines takes quite a bit longer. Last time out, trains brought in tankers filled with water for city residents. But in some areas including where my sister's family live, flooding hit the streets as a result of water from broken pipes and sewer lines and other sources, along with silt was forced up to the surface by the quake's movement.
No drinking water around but plenty on the streets. Students from University of Canterbury showed up enmasse to clean up some of the affected streets even as raw sewage spewed into the Avon River that goes through the area by the university where crew teams practice.
Many more people wanted to leave the city this time soon after it happened as the future on what the prime minister called "New Zealand's darkest day" seems uncertain. In Christchurch, hubs were set off housing offices to process paperwork and disperse financial aid and compensation for rebuilding houses but it's a bit disconcerting to be processing what's similar to FEMA funding for moderate damage and then have a quake that wipes out your house...and that's what happened to many people this time. Those hubs provided jobs for city residents in an economy that like most of the rest of the world's had been in recession.
But people rallied together to help each other as Christchurch residents tend to be easy going, resilient and very generous in spirit.
My sister was actually visiting my nephew in Australia close to the region hit by devastating flooding recently so wasn't there when it happened. She had family that had moved there after missing the September quake. After finding out she and her family were safe, thanks to Facebook and other resources for finding out what happened to my friends there including those who worked and ate in the severely damaged areas. It's sad to see the destruction of the buildings especially coming on the heels of the September quake and when people in the city were starting to get their feet back on the ground only to have the ground knocked out from them again even worse.
But it's clear that the damage of quakes will impact Christchurch for quite a period of time, spurring the economy by offering construction jobs as was seen in areas of the southern United States after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Also in danger, is the hosting of the World Cup later this year for Rugby in stadiums that weren't heavily damaged but face heavy soil liquidification. Of course talk of relocating the World Cup is a fighting word to most people in Christchurch so never say never.
[Bridge Street after the 7.1 Christchurch quake]
[Suburb flooded through water and silt being forced to the surface by force of the earthquake. My sister's area looks a lot like this.]
Epicenter: 6 miles away from the center of Christchurch
Depth: 2-3 miles beneath the surface
Ground acceleration forces: 2G (1994 Northridge quake: 1.7G, Haiti, 0.5 G)
The hidden danger of even the most modern buildings in earthquakes given that at many of the buildings that collapsed in the Christchurch were modern buildings.
Portions of South Brighton, an outer neighborhood near the coastline and the estuary were under water.
Tuesday, March 1 at 2pm and 6:30 pm, the Riverside City Council will meet to discuss this agenda. As you might notice, the agendas have been getting a bit shorter lately.
The danger of solar flares is getting more attention from scientists due to things like computers, satellites and cell phones.