May 15, 2006 - From the May, 2006 issue

Riverside Emerges as Inland Empire's ‘Economic Powerhouse'

Long a commuter outpost on the eastern fringe of L.A. region, the city of Riverside now anchors a bustling, expanding urban area whose demographics, economy, and civic identity are becoming ever more distinct from Southern California's other sub-regions. Now nearly built-out, Riverside is figuring out how to grow smartly and to serve as the hub for the region's booming logistics and goods movement industry. TPR was pleased to speak with Riverside Mayor Ron Loveridge about his vision for the maturation and continued growth of Southern California's newest metropolis.

Ron Loveridge

In last month's Metro Investment Report, Rick Bishop, of the Western Riverside Council of Governments, described the transportation challenges facing Riverside County, especially along the corridor that links it to Orange County. With the potential for $37 billion in infrastructure bonds, have we begun to take steps towards meeting the challenges of Riverside County?

"Begun" is the correct word. Simply looking at goods movement, the SCAG estimates are $26 billion for the infrastructure and $10 billion for environmental improvement. You can quibble about the specific projects, but it underscores the fact that if we are going to move goods and people in Southern California, we're going to have to spend big bucks to do it. I also think that at some point, we have to try to encourage more dense development along transportation corridors, as SCAG has recommended with its Compass 2 Percent plan, and I also think that at some point there has to be a kind of technological breakthrough. You can't put 6 million more people here driving more and expect to get around.

The governor, in his statements on the $37 billion set of bond measures said, "We have a state with infrastructure for a maximum of 25 million people and a state of 37 million, growing by 5 or 6 million before we notice it." What needs to happen, both from funding, and strategically, to meet the challenges, especially in the fastest growing county in the state, Riverside?

We have money as a self-help county through a sales tax measure that passed overwhelmingly. And we have money through an extraordinary assessment TUMF fee, close to $9,000 for example for single family housing units. But it is time for the state and federal governments to join the local efforts.

Goods movement is one of our biggest challenges, but part of the problem with goods movement is that locals are attempting to sort out what makes sense in terms of national policy. I think one step would be to mimic the interstate freeway system. There needs to be a national look at freight routes and goods movement and how we can have what one conference recently called, "faster freight and cleaner air." I know the state is attempting to address some of this, but traffic doesn't stop at state borders; it really is a national question.

Do you see anything in these four infrastructure bonds in transportation and levees and housing, etc., that is a high priority for the city and county?

The bond that encourages transit oriented development, and for Riverside and its projects it would be very helpful to two of our areas that are looking to be transit affiliated, particularly one in the downtown area. Again, we don't have greenfields here, so we're dealing with older areas. The infrastructure all helps, but we're a long way away from being able to move around Southern California. It's helpful, but for the future of Southern California this down payment on goods movement is necessary but not sufficient.

As someone who has been very active in the California League of Cities, do we have the proper governmental architecture to solve the regional challenges that transportation and infrastructure present?

We don't have particularly good regional governance. We have what one textbook called a "fractured metropolis," with many jurisdictions that pursue their own interest. We've patchworked those. We get into governmental agreements and have set up joint powers authorities, but there is a maze of local government that makes it difficult to focus priorities on the region. Yet, our future in Los Angeles is going to depend not only on how well Riverside works, but how well the region in which Riverside is located works.

How do we create the architecture to deal with these challenges? You are one of the most thoughtful elected officials in California-how do you conceive of a way to grapple with the growth challenges?

The only regional forum is SCAG, and it largely is a conversational forum. It provides information and recommendations, but it has difficulty moving towards action. Initiated by the Western Riverside Council of Governments, we're going to bring to an Inland Empire summit every council of governments, major economic groups, and some specific organizations, such as the Inland Empire Transportation Council, to focus on where we are and where we should go in terms of goods movement. We're going to get a collective judgment out of this region of some 4 million people.

I've been puzzling about the goods movement, and one idea would be to have the big-city mayors, including the mayors of L.A., Long Beach, San Bernardino, Riverside, Santa Ana, etc., to convene a summit on how to move forward on how to get across the finish line. The most difficult challenge now before us is crossing the finish line. State bonds are helpful and federal monies are helpful, but I think we have to do it ourselves.

What do you think of the Southern California Leadership Council, an offshoot of the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation, which has San Bernardino, Riverside, Los Angeles, Orange County, and San Diego representatives on it, including Robert Wolf, who has represented the Inland Empire on the California State Transportation Commission for a long time? Does that promise a vehicle to help move ideas across the finish line in partnership with elected officials?

Yes, I think so. It's one of the most important efforts that I've seen to bring together private groups across this region. We no longer have what we used to have 30 or 40 years ago, where Security Pacific or a handful of interest groups called the region to order. Now authority and influence is much more dispersed. Solutions are not terribly complex: you're talking about tax bonds, you're talking about container fees, you're talking about custom fees, or you're talking about some kind of a toll. You have to find a way to fund the improvements that are required for Southern California and for the inland area.

How should the challenge be framed to get both the private and public on the same wavelength to move the ball?


It used to be: what is the problem? We now know what the problem is. Next step is, what are the solutions? We now know what the solutions are. I was reading an interview with one of these national firms that essentially said that if Southern California doesn't get its act together, other choices to move goods around this country will emerge and Southern California over time will lose its preeminence.

I think there is a call for public and private leadership in this region to take a look at what seems to be the major solutions and then collectively make them happen. Nationally, if we could ask Senators Feinstein and Boxer to run with the custom fees and the infrastructure bonds I think they'd be willing to do it. The more difficult one-and I don't fully understand how you work this-is the fee concept on containers. Sen. Alan Lowenthal has a bill up in Sacramento that gets beaten up every time he tries to move, and there is a lot of background noise saying that if we put fees on containers we'd get taken into court and it would be five to seven years before it emerges again. I think we should try something like voluntary fees like those on the Alameda Corridor.

In your State of the City address you referred to the City of Riverside as the county's "economic powerhouse." As a the county moves away from being a bedroom commuter community and towards being a vibrant economic region in its own right, what has to happen to realize the full extent of that economic powerhouse dream?

In many ways it's here now. We're the fastest growing county of any size in California. The Sacramento Bee had an article titled, "The Inland Empire: the National Hub of Population, the Economic Engine of California." Economic growth is here. You come to the inland area, you come to our city hall to other city halls-I've described it like popcorn-there are people filling up the elevators with plans for development. Our time has arrived in the inland counties.

Rick Bishop commented on the fact that multi-family housing is not favored in Riverside County. What are the consequences of the political challenge and what's the future for housing in Riverside?

We may be different from other cities in the region. We accept and practice smart growth. We have mixed projects along major corridors. We have a number of places where we have moved away from the four houses on an acre to different kinds of housing forms. I think we understand Riverside in terms of the household-20 to 25 percent are single family with children at home; you need a number of different products. We're committed to a couple of major, transit-oriented villages. We have two of the 54 Metrolink stops in Southern California. Riverside has two of the six largest, and around these stops we hope to have fairly dense housing, some of which will be rentals.

Is this vision of sustainable smart growth popularly embraced?

It is. Riverside has essentially come of age. The questions of growth and no-growth and so-forth are being particularly contested further east of us in Temecula and Murrieta, Hemet, and San Jacinto, maybe even over the pass in Banning and Beaumont. But we're more or less built out. There is still some space in our sphere, but the divide between those that support single family and those that support multi-family is not as firm here in Riverside.

In last month's TPR, Randall Lewis described his company's efforts to partner with government agencies to promote community health in their new communities. What can cities achieve through partnerships with builders like Lewis, and how can those partnerships be encouraged?

I am a fan of Randall Lewis and admire and respect his work, but his work is primarily in new communities. The puzzle we have in Riverside as an older city is how do you maintain housing and also revitalize older areas, take advantage of in-fill, and try to create mixed-use projects. We don't have the hundreds of acres that you need to develop a new community; we take the structure that is here and begin to work and modify it.

For readers who live outside of Riverside, could you paint a portrait of Riverside so they have a better sense of the city, Riverside County, and the Inland Empire in terms of economy, land use, character, and infrastructure?

Riverside is a city of 300,000, and the inland area that is now the two counties of Riverside and San Bernardino has a total population closing in on four million people. In the past, Riverside was a citrus town; Kevin Starr referred to us as "the quintessential citrus town." We are now a university community; we have three universities including the University of California Riverside, California Baptist University, La Sierra University and a major community college, Riverside Community College. Our downtown is best known for its Mission Inn, and it's a walkable downtown. We're also recently becoming the regional center for the arts. You can no longer get in a car and drive to anyplace you want to in this basin.

By way of summary, this is a major place out here now – we're not the back woods. I always say that in life you spend too much time driving down freeways and don't get off on Main Street; we'd welcome all your readers to get off on Main Street and see our downtown and see both a city that has a past in the 19th century but also really looks towards and embraces the 21st century.


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