October 26, 2017 - From the October, 2017 issue

Inland Empire's 21st Century Economic Goals: Jobs & 'Millennial Livability'

The population of the Inland Empire is expected to grow from 4.5 million to more than 7 million in the next 30 years, according to a recent report by the U.S. Conference of Mayors. In this TPR interview, Ron Loveridge, former Mayor of Riverside and current Director of UC Riverside’s Center for Sustainable Suburban Development, sits down to discuss efforts to build a robust economic engine that includes a partnership with Brookings Institution. Loveridge explains how mobility and accessibility are increasingly making Riverside connected to Los Angeles, as well as his Center’s focus of engraining community into new housing developments. 


Ron Loveridge

"We're beginning to see that coveted “millennial livability” taking shape in Downtown Riverside." —Ron Loveridge

Let’s dive into the state of the Inland Empire economy. Recent reports show that manufacturing jobs are growing in San Bernardino and Riverside Counties. Is manufacturing still a viable driver for the economy? How must the industry adapt to new technological and economic realities to be successful? 

Ron Loveridge: The question of the economic future of any region is at once complex, important, and profound. The inland region is taking a new look, really for the first time, at our economy—particularly at how to make it an inclusive economy with higher paid, higher skilled jobs.

We have a two-year partnership with the Brookings Institution to work on this issue. We hope to finish the research and discussion phase in December, and by April 2018, to have a set of strategies to foster inclusive growth—not simply more jobs, but more choices for higher skilled, higher paid jobs.

The number of jobs in the region has returned to the levels we had before the Great Recession. The puzzle before us—the same quest-taking place all across the country—is how to create jobs that pay a middle-class salary. And part of that puzzle is putting together a regional consensus. We’re going to have to address health, job training, and, certainly, manufacturing.

One complication particular to this region is that we are a great center of logistics, and almost all future jobs analyses suggest that robotics and automation will ultimately replace people in that industry. In fact, the Inland Empire was listed as the second most likely metropolitan region in the country to see a reduction in jobs because of robotics and automation.

One of your many civic responsibilities is as Vice President of the Ontario Airport Authority. How successful, since regaining local control of the airport, has the Airport been in rebranding itself and rethinking its role in driving Inland Empire economic growth? 

There’s agreement among economic experts here that the Ontario Airport is going to be the single most important driver of the inland economy. But it has a long way to grow. In 2016, LAX served nearly 81 million passengers, John Wayne served 10.5 million, and Ontario served 4.2 million. We’re a distance away even from John Wayne.

Now that we have local control, the new Ontario International Airport Authority is engaged in all sorts of activities to increase numbers, not only of passengers, but also of cargo, which is notably increasing. LAWA didn’t do much in the way of marketing this place, so for the first time, we’ve spent funds on advertising the airport. We have a new logo and new ad messaging: SoCal, so easy.

There are new international flights to Mexico and China. Frontier Airlines is coming to the airport with flights to Denver, San Antonio, and Austin. Southwest has a new flight to Dallas. We have a $500 million contract to improve the interior, particularly Terminal 4. Transitions from the LA staff to the Ontario staff will complete at the end of this year. We’ve got investments to do runway improvements.

One particularly distinctive feature of Ontario Airport is that it is surrounded by some 675 acres of vacant land that could be developed. We are going through a very careful assessment of the best use of that land.

In summary, we have new focus and concentration on this airport—how to brand it, how to tell its story, and how to connect with passengers and businesses. We’re going to set up an economic advisory council that will participate in telling the story and being a part of the future of this airport. For this region, the airport is front and center. It’s coming of age.

Expanded Omnitrans service now connects Ontario airport to Metrolink Fontana and the Ontario Convention Center Link, and LA Metro plans to extend the Gold Line to Pomona, Claremont, and the San Bernardino line. How do these new transit investments impact the viability of Ontario Airport and the economy of the Inland Empire?

What Southern California needs is for the inland region and the greater Los Angeles area to be connected to each other. Rail is one important way to do that; it doesn’t make any sense to have major airports that are not accessible by rail.

We look forward to that connection, but it’s not going to happen immediately. Ontario Airport is still celebrating the presence of Uber/Lyft and a $25/day valet service. But for the future—say, by 2030—we need to be connected, and not just through freeways, but also through rail.

The Planning Report last interviewed you in 2009, in the midst of the housing-led financial crash. Eight years later, how would you describe the region’s prospects for recovery with respect to housing affordability and supply?

If you’re looking for large amounts of new housing in the greater Los Angeles area—whether single-family or rental—you have to look east. That means you have to look at San Bernardino County and Riverside County.

Riverside is expected to become the second largest county in California by 2040. Housing development is increasing, and the construction industry has become major source of employment, which will certainly continue.

Prices are too high on the coasts; people are having enormous difficulty locating decent places to live. (L.A. Times columnist Steve Lopez recently wrote about a couple looking to buy a home in L.A., with an income well over $200,000, who finally ended up in a 1,2000-square-foot house in Pacoima.) The inland region is an important option for people who want homes that have the size, and the lifestyle, that they want. Another recent L.A. Times article noted that millennials, especially, are looking for suburban housing opportunities; the particular couple that was highlighted was moving to Murrieta in Riverside County.

Joel Kotkin has said that the suburbs of the inland region are the future of the greater Los Angeles area. Even here, prices are way too high compared to the national average. But compared to the coast, we’re a good place to live. It’s a question of building, not only houses, but communities, and making these attractive and interesting places to live. For example, Ontario has an enormous amount of dairy land that is going to be converted to housing. They aren’t simply putting up houses. They’re talking about how to create community dynamics with open space and connections.

For many people, the Inland Empire sometimes disappears into freeway exits. But there are 4.5 million people living here now. We have more than 50 cities, with 12 colleges and universities and more than 40 hospitals. There are points of destination in the desert and the mountains. There’s wine country. There are downtowns, such as Riverside’s. And we have clusters of different types of opportunity.

Address the role of UC Riverside as a regional economic engine and leader in building healthy communities. 

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The University of California is not just a Riverside institution; it’s an inland institution, and it’s probably the single most important institution here. It’s joined by the CSUs and community colleges, as well as colleges like Cal Baptist and La Sierra.

UCR has a new School of Medicine and School of Public Policy, both of which have regional missions. CEOs for Cities once wrote that “the bell towers of academic institutions have replaced smokestacks as the drivers of the American urban economy.” We’re trying to put together the leadership of this region, and universities have a particular commitment to place—they can’t get up and move.

A recent UC Berkeley study estimates that clean energy policies have netted the Inland Empire $9.1 billion in direct economic activity and 41,000 direct jobs since 2010. As former mayor of Riverside and a sustainability champion, elaborate on the region’s decades of investment in sustainability.

The city of Riverside has had a long commitment to being a green place, even competing with Santa Monica. We’re looking forward to the October groundbreaking of CARB’s testing facility, a $400 million state investment located on the UC Riverside campus.

Out here in the Inland Empire, we have reason—being downwind—to be champions for clean air and healthy, livable places. We understand the impact of trucks on life. There is a level of public involvement in sustainability here that you might not find elsewhere.

Days ago, Pomona College announced a target of achieving carbon neutrality by 2030. The UC and CSU systems have comparable objectives system-wide. There is great sustainability commitment and leadership at our schools. UC Riverside’s entire student parking lot, for example, is covered by solar panels.

When I was mayor of Riverside, we had a goal of generating 20 megawatts of solar energy by 2020. So far, the city is generating 33 megawatts. That illustrates to me that solar panels are not going to be a niche choice for a select few, but will be increasingly embedded in new construction. Out here, certainly, new homes are going up out with solar panels and California-friendly landscaping. New development has sustainability objectives. 

Pivoting to San Bernardino, AECOM is invested and planning to revitalize Downtown San Bernardino through a model of “patient investment”—working for quite a long time rather than looking for an instant return. What distinguishes the prospects of Riverside from those of San Bernardino?

San Bernardino just came out of bankruptcy. Some saw that as a victory in itself, but in my opinion, it’s just the start to recovery. They have a long slog ahead, and it’s going to require focus, investment, and leadership.

Riverside is a city of 320,000 people. It’s a very diverse place. It has three universities and a community college, all part of a downtown that began to take form in the 19th century. Recently, we’ve seen more investments made downtown, like the Mission Inn, the Fox Theater, and two major housing projects. We’re also beginning to see more coffee shops and small arts groups in Downtown Riverside—that coveted “millennial livability” taking shape.

Riverside also has a long history of social capital—people who care about place. Our Main Street was dedicated in 1966 as part of retail architect Victor Gruen’s effort to create landscaped shopping malls. We were one of about 80 cities that went through that process, half of which have retained the landscaping. In our case, it’s now a town square. We’re very proud of the fact that you can move from the memorial to a Medal of Honor winner on one side to memorials for Martin Luther King, César Chavez, Ahn Chang-Ho, and Mahatma Gandhi at the other end. It makes a statement about who this city is and what we’re about.

Let’s draw to a close by noting your decades of leadership as the mayor of Riverside. Talk about the way you are providing leadership now, without the mantle of electoral office.

One thing that happens when you leave office is that people say, “Now that you’re retired, can you help me out?” You suddenly have the chance to participate in a number of things. At one point, I was on 23 different advisory groups!

Now, in addition to the Ontario International Airport Authority, I serve on the Monday Morning Group and the Riverside Raincross Group. I’m president of Friends of the California Citrus State Historic Park and the Civil Rights Institute of Inland Southern California. And, I serve as program chair for the National Civic League Board of Directors.

I’m also fulltime at UC Riverside. I am the director of the Center for Sustainable Suburban Development, which Randall Lewis is funding this year. UCR’s School of Public Policy is an exciting place with all sorts of big-picture ideas. I’m teaching a course this fall with former SCAQMD Board Chair Barry Wallerstein on why regulations have been successful over the last 70 years in changing the quality of the air we breathe in Southern California.

Each quarter I instruct and supervise, an internship program for about 40 political science students. This past summer, we supported nine Loveridge Summer Fellows to take internships in Sacramento.

What’s the difference between leading from the outside and leading from the inside?

On the outside, you can be more reflective and take time to develop your ideas and proposals. It’s quite different than sitting on a dais and voting. As a result of working on public policy at UCR, I’ve become more attentive to the region as a whole rather than primarily championing the City of Riverside.

This is the 53rd academic year that I have taught at least one course in political science at UCR. In my final times around “the track,” I will continue to try to make a difference in the direction the university, the city, and the region are taking.

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© 2018 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.