February 2, 2009 - From the Dec/Jan, 2009 issue

Ground Zero: Riverside Mayor Ron Loveridge On Inland Empire's Home Foreclosure Challenge

The Inland Empire has become ground zero of the housing bubble and the ensuing foreclosure crisis, credit crunch, and recession that it caused. With the ongoing struggles in mind, TPR recently spoke with Riverside Mayor Ron Loveridge, who discussed how Riverside and the Inland Empire region are looking to recover from the recession by building a more sustainable economy and cultivating a more sustainable environment.


Ron Loveridge

In November, The Planning Report interviewed Western Riverside Council of Governments Executive Director Rick Bishop about its "Red Team," which has been set up to assess and take action on home foreclosures (projected to grow to 350,000) in the Southland's Inland Empire. Could you update our readers on this crisis management effort?

In terms of the economy, you can simply say, "Let the marketplace rule." But, we've tried to be drivers as opposed to passengers just along for the ride. One initiative for Western Riverside County is what we call the "Red Team." We brought stakeholders together. We brought in Dr. John Husing as an all-purpose economist to give both his analysis and his recommendations. We set up a sub-committee that came up with a series of recommendations that were conceptually endorsed by the Western Riverside County Executive Committee. They will be presented to the Riverside City Council on February 10.

Dr. Husing's premise is that, essentially, there is an $8 billion hole in the Inland Empire's economy. He has particularly emphasized ways to encourage housing construction to resume again. It also has to do with how to protect neighborhoods when you have foreclosures. There is a series of recommendations that will go before our city, but it seems to me that this is an effort where the public and private sectors are looking at choices that can improve the economy. I just gave a State of the City lecture and asked a question of what we need to do in terms of the economy-the Red Team is part of that. We're looking at a strategic plan. We're looking at what is called "Buy Riverside;" we're looking at "Shop Riverside;" we're looking at the international marketplace; and we're trying to see how we can extend our green efforts to connect them to green jobs. We're working on funding arts for a better economy. There is a whole series of things.

The key premise is that with this down economy you have to work harder than you do when the economy is going well. We're trying to work two or three times as hard now.

Is waiving building fees on the table?

These are very difficult. Schools are not too interested in waiving fees. Some of the water districts are not. Some cities have delayed fees to the point of occupancy; we have done that. There are so many homes going into foreclosure that the building industry can't build a home that can compete with the homes that are going on the market due to foreclosure. Until that foreclosure inventory is reduced it's going to be very difficult to restart the building industry, even with the reduction of fees. We're looking at some of those things.

With the federal stimulus package presently being negotiated in Congress, do you expect Riverside and the Island Empire, impacted so greatly by foreclosures, to receive funding from the final package to assist with the ripple effect of foreclosure problems on communities and public budgets?

The inland area has the highest unemployment of any major metropolitan region of the country. There are more foreclosures in our two counties than any other place in the country. You'd think that should move us to the front of the line if there are programs that are need-based. The American Recovery and Reinvestment plan is not one thing. With the plan that came out of the House, you're talking about maybe 101 different programs. We're trying to position the city to compete. It goes beyond "a bridge to someplace." It looks like the energy block grants might be here, which is important. Part of the big push for the public plan is to "use it or lose it." We're working with every department in the city and have looked at the list of possible programs to see how we can be first in line.

I saw what Thomas Friedman said in one of his New York Times columns, that he thought that this next three months will be one of the most important times in the history of the United States because of the, essentially, trillion dollar stimulus package. Clearly, there is going to be a major stimulus package. The House version has been framed; the Senate plan has arrived. I don't think we've understood what is all in the plan and how it affects cities. We've focused so much on having shovel-ready projects. The stimulus package will have things that people will love, but people will also find things to dislike. One of the problems we're going through with Congress is that for every person that likes the plan, you can probably find something in it to dislike. It's going to be a political negotiation and bargaining process.

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As a VerdeXchange Green Marketmakers Conference panelist, you shared regional and local sustainability initiatives with the renewable energy entrepreneurs, manufacturers, public officials, financiers, and environmental stewards in the audience. What do you consider the most significant of the climate change initiatives in Riverside and California?

There are multiple contexts. There is the context from "thunder from below" or a "green prairie fire." Cities all across the country have provided much of the initial leadership for green public policy-whether it's the Mayor's Climate Action Agreement, the National League of Cities, the League of California Cities, ICLEI, or any number of different examples-and AB 32 and SB 375 are accelerating the role of California cities.

In the inland area we have several regional things going on. There is the Green Institute for Village Empowerment (GIVE) initiative, called the Green Valley Initiative, which is organizing green objectives. There is the "One Water One Watershed" program at the Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority, which is a systematic look at water resources for the Santa Ana Watershed. Western Riverside County has a Clean Cities Coalition, which dates back to the Clinton administration, when the Department of Energy organized clean air coalitions. Ours took off in different directions for the last eight years, but it's alive and well.

The city itself has adopted a variety of sustainable city premises. We have committed ourselves to be a model solar city in Southern California. We've created a clean and green task force. We created a community parade, and out of that came unanimous agreement and a celebration of being a clean and green city. We set up 38 action goals, of which we have met 34 of the 38.

Our utility department just signed a geothermal agreement and we're going to be at 50 percent renewables by the year 2013, ahead of any other municipal- or investor-owned utility in California. We have a variety of other green initiatives, whether it's green building, LEED standards, or green purchasing. We have planted some 100,000 trees within this last decade. We're committed to be a model clean air city. About 60 percent of our fleet vehicles are on alternative fuels. We hope to hit 100 percent. We have programs for city employees and all the university students to ride public transit for free. We have a Clean Air Element in our General Plan. Attorney General Jerry Brown has reviewed the General Plan, and we have his blessing.

Lastly, you mentioned California's recently approved legislation, SB 375. How significant is that to your city?

SB 375 addresses regional rather than city and transportation planning. I see it as part of the decision mix of Southern California. It is based on incentives instead of mandatory requirements. It asks questions of sustainability in addition to simple questions of resources. It's a good effort. I know some cities fear that it is taking land use authority away from local decision makers. You can always find, in politics, the worst-case scenario and say, "Isn't it true that..." And it's possible, but I think that SB 375 connects with AB 32, which is connected to increasing the national framework that President Obama and Congress will work on in the next several months.

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