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Get to Know Patricia Lock Dawson, Candidate for Mayor in the 2024 Election

Patricia Lock Dawson, current Mayor of Riverside, answers 14 questions about why she is running for reelection.

Patricia Lock Dawson is running for a second term as Riverside’s mayor (Courtesy of Patricia Lock Dawson).

As a part of our mission to publish news helpful to Riversiders, The Raincross Gazette is expanding our 2024 Election Guide with a series of interviews with each candidate running for a city office in the March 5, 2024 election.

Each candidate had several weeks to answer the same questions written in response to the nearly 500 questions Gazette readers submitted in a survey about their priorities for Riverside in the coming election. These answers have only been edited to fix minor grammar or spelling errors to ensure a fair representation of each candidate.

Get to Know Patricia Lock Dawson

Patricia Lock Dawson is a Riverside native, small business owner, and community leader who has served our city for over 20 years. She currently serves as Mayor of the City of Riverside, having first been elected in 2020. Her election made history as the first UCR graduate and only second woman to become Mayor in the city’s 150-year history.

Patricia has long been an active leader in the community, serving on the RUSD Board of Education and Riverside City Planning Commission, and was a 3-time gubernatorial appointee to the state Board of Behavioral Sciences. She’s advocated for and secured millions in state and federal funds to expand parks and recreational opportunities for Inland Southern Californians.

Patricia has her Bachelor of Science in biology from the University of California, Riverside, a Master of Science in wildlife ecology from the University of Washington in Seattle, and a Master in Business Administration from Claremont Graduate School. She and her husband, Scott, have three children.

Why are you running for office?

I was honored to become Mayor in 2020 and want to continue the good work we’ve begun in my first term. Riverside is my hometown, and I care deeply about my community. As the youngest of 5 children, I am the only one of my brothers and sisters who stayed in Riverside. They all left because they did not have the opportunities to pursue their dreams here. I vowed that if I stayed here, I would work for a community where no one would need to leave, providing opportunities for all.

As Mayor, I’ve put our residents’ needs first and delivered results for Riverside: I’ve revamped the city’s federal and state advocacy efforts, resulting in historic levels of funding for infrastructure; launched a comprehensive strategy to address homelessness that focuses on prevention, housing, services, and enforcement; and worked to balance the city’s budget.

I want to continue delivering results in my next term by attracting new high-paying jobs and career opportunities for residents and students, tackling homelessness, using data to guarantee our programs are effective and our money is used wisely, and ensuring our residents’ security by funding our public safety programs.

What is Riverside's city government currently doing well?

As Mayor, I have the privilege to meet mayors from across the country, hear what other cities are doing, and draw on best practices, bringing proven solutions back to address issues in Riverside. I also get to share what we are doing here and am consistently pleased with how we stack up:

Our public safety teams are some of the best in the country.

When the rest of the country was grappling with police accountability, other cities looked to the Riverside Police Department for guidance on transparency and responsiveness. We’ve learned a lot since the tragic incident in 1998 that resulted in the death of Tyeisha Miller, and the practices we’ve put in place in the last 25 years are just now being adopted in other cities. And our crime rates are low. We are one of the safest big cities of our size.

Our Fire Department is one of the most highly trained and sought-after departments in the country for national and international incidents. They’ve received one of the highest levels of accreditation for their professionalism. We are the envy of other cities.

Our Riverside Public Utilities is run incredibly well. We own our own public utility, which allows us to provide some of the lowest electricity and water rates in the state. This is important as an incentive for business attraction and affordability for our residents. We’ve managed to hit our water conservation targets ahead of schedule and are planning to ensure our water quality and quantity are sufficient for decades into the future.

We listen to our residents. We provide opportunities for public comment and involvement through our city council, boards and commissions, Mayor’s office, and many other efforts, such as our quality-of-life survey. No other city has relationships with their community like Riverside.

We’re addressing homelessness through creative partnerships. On a per capita basis, Riverside’s homeless population is minor compared to other cities of our size. That is because we have been effective in advocating for funding for shelters of all kinds and making historic changes in mental health legislation to get more people off the streets. We also launched our Public Safety Engagement Team program that combines law enforcement, social workers, and code enforcement to help dismantle and clean up encampments and connect people with the services they need.

We have revamped our state and federal advocacy. We’ve been incredibly successful in bringing much-needed federal and state dollars to the city to make historic investments in our infrastructure, housing, and various programs. We’ve repaved more roads in the last year than in the previous ten years combined!

What is Riverside's greatest challenge, and how will you approach it if elected?

Homelessness is one of our greatest challenges because it is such a complex problem that requires a multi-pronged strategy to address, and it is so visible. The “homeless population” is actually many different populations: mentally ill, those suffering from substance abuse, transitional-aged youth, seniors, the formerly incarcerated, and others, which means they all need a different approach.

I will continue the strategy that I’ve implemented in my first term, that has already shown to be effective. This multi-pronged strategy includes equal parts prevention, intervention, and enforcement.

One of the best ways to stop homelessness is to prevent it in the first place. Two of the most vulnerable populations are aged-out foster youth and the formerly incarcerated.

Foster youth who age out of the system are particularly vulnerable, with approximately 80% at risk of becoming homeless. To address this, I’ve launched my Initiative to End Youth Homelessness, where we bring together all our partners (city, county, non-profits) to hold weekly case conferences to get youth connected with housing, services, and jobs. We’ve already seen an almost 20% reduction in 2023 alone.

Those coming out of our prisons and jails are also very vulnerable. I’ve launched Project Connect with our non-profit partner Victory Outreach to connect those coming out of our county jail to get them back to the communities that can support them or provide them with job training and housing.

Intervention is critical. We’ve also worked with our state legislators to change our mental health laws to help those struggling with addiction and mental illness. We’ve created new pathways to conservatorship, treatment, and potential funding for supportive housing and psychiatric facilities.

Enforcement is an essential component of any strategy. While being homeless is not a crime, those breaking the law will be held accountable. We will ensure adequate funding for public safety and ongoing funding for innovative solutions such as our Wildlands Public Safety Engagement team to clear encampments in the river bottom and elsewhere.

And finally, I will continue to advocate and secure funding for housing, programs, and services. Since taking office in 2020, I successfully garnered almost $20 million in state homeless and housing funds.

And I will continue to demand that we use data to determine the efficacy of all programs and dollars spent. We must ensure that we are accountable and our money is used effectively.

If elected, how will you improve the political discourse in Riverside?

As an elected official, it is easy to serve those who think like you. But a true leader serves those who don’t. That has been my approach to leadership since entering politics over 20 years ago. I surround myself with people who don’t look, think, or act like me. I model civility on the dais and in all my interactions with the public. All are welcome in my office, and all viewpoints are valid. It’s my job to bring people together to listen to others’ viewpoints.

And I’ve done just that with my Mayor’s Bipartisan Forum. The Bipartisan Forum, first convened in 2021, consists of 14 individuals with different political ideologies: 7 Democrats and 7 Republicans. We meet bimonthly to take up difficult problems such as homelessness, mental health reform, and public safety. The group has been incredibly effective in helping get legislation, such as CARE Court, enacted by focusing on problems, not partisanship and ideas, not ideologies. My goal with this group was singular: Show the world what can be done even if Washington and Sacramento can’t get it together. I’ve been very grateful to the individuals who have contributed their time to illustrating how powerful we can be when we work with, not against, each other.

This approach has become even more urgent in this era of constant outrage and the 24/7 “public square” that is social media. We must reject the partisan politics and division pushing down into our non-partisan local space. Riversiders know how to get along because we’ve had to in order to get things done. We can continue to do as we have always done: roll up our sleeves and stand shoulder-to-shoulder to work for good things in our city.

My proven record and approach have earned me bipartisan endorsements from elected officials, unions, businesses, and community leaders. Riverside residents need a bold leader, but one who is solution-oriented and respectful.

I was not elected to represent any political party. I was elected to represent Riverside! And I intend to continue doing just that.

What past personal collaboration that demonstrates risk and compromise are you most proud of?

Running for Mayor was a huge risk, but one I am proud to have taken. Filling this role has required personal and professional compromise, not the least of which is a pay cut!

But compromise is a funny term to an elected official because you compromise every day as you put aside your own ego to collaborate with community partners and ensure residents are being served. Being a successful leader requires equal parts hubris and humility–you need to be confident enough to forge ahead when difficult decisions must be made but humble enough to know when to ask for help.

As my friend Pete Benavidez, Director of Blindness Support Services and winner of this year's Spirit of the Entrepreneur award, likes to say: It’s better to get it right than to be right. Such wisdom in so few words. I wish more politicians would follow that advice.

How many hours a week do you expect to put into serving as a councilmember, and what is your commitment to responding to constituents?

As Mayor, I am entrusted by our residents to serve them and do so in a timely and respectful manner. My staff and I regularly put in 12-hour days and work weekends as well. I pretty much have something to do every day, and I am conscientious about making sure our constituents' concerns are addressed or, at the very least, heard. We have a rule in our office to endeavor as much as possible to get back to constituents within 24 hours of being contacted.

We’ve been keeping track of how many constituent requests we respond to. Here’s a snapshot of what we’ve done in the Mayor’s office in the last two years:

  • 9,201,364 people reached via social media
  • 40,000+ emails
  • 9,920 calls for service
  • 1204 certificates signed
  • 352 speaking engagements
  • 201 proclamations issued.

We are here to serve!

What will you do to address the City's homelessness challenges?

See my previous response regarding the city's largest challenge.

What are your plans to help Riverside's growing senior population?

First, we need to ask our seniors that question! We have ample opportunity to conduct listening sessions with our seniors throughout the city at centers such as Dales Senior Center. Our Commission on Aging also provides us with vital input on ideas to support our growing senior population.

Second, we can look to existing successful programs like the Janet Goeske Center. They offer a huge variety of activities and services, and they are always full. We can replicate such programs across the city at all our senior centers. We can also explore offering activities in non-traditional settings such as parks and schools.

Third, we must combat the loneliness and isolation many seniors feel when their mobility becomes limited. Positive social support is important for keeping people healthy, particularly as they age. I’d like to explore combined youth and senior facilities where children who could benefit from a mature friend can be matched with seniors who would enjoy their friendship. Other cities have created such programs with great success, resulting in supportive, healthier communities for all.

Fourth, we need to ensure basic needs such as housing, food, and general affordability of living are addressed. One of the largest growing populations experiencing homelessness is single women over the age of 50. We need to make sure we work with developers and non-profit organizations to build and maintain an adequate supply of senior housing. We must also work with community partners such as DoorDash to connect those who need food assistance delivery. In 2022, I launched ProjectDash, a collaboration with DoorDash, the first of its kind in the country, to provide food delivery to homebound individuals for free.

We need to ensure the city we are growing old into is supportive and meets all of our needs. We can do that by working together.

How do you plan to deal with the trash collection issues Riversiders have been contending with since early 2020?

This is another issue I hear about from other mayors across the country. Since Covid, every city is struggling with this! Cities everywhere cannot hire enough refuse collection staff or the equipment they need to do their jobs.

In Riverside, we must do everything we can to retain the employees we have while aggressively pursuing new employees. We have seen promise this past year implementing hiring and retention bonuses which have allowed us to keep seasoned employees while attracting new hires. We must also ensure we have the most up-to-date equipment that complies with new state laws for green fleets. Our aging trash truck fleet needs to be replaced in order to have enough trucks on the road to provide service. And finally, we can continue to use contractors on a limited and negotiated basis to help fill gaps in staffing and service.

Would you support making City Council roles full-time jobs?

I think that is a question for the voters of Riverside to answer. They must ask themselves: am I currently being adequately served by my councilmember? If not, what isn’t being addressed, and would making the councilmember full-time solve the problem? Or is it a different question, such as: do council members need additional staff? A bigger budget? More support from the City Manager?

I think asking whether a councilmember should be full-time is actually the wrong question. I would ask if councilmembers were full-time, what problem would that solve, and how would the city improve? I think once you determine that, then you can identify solutions. Making city council roles full-time may or may not be the right answer to the problems we feel need to be addressed.

Now that the city council has voted to legalize retail cannabis, Riverside residents can design a program that fits Riverside’s culture under our local control. Had this been a ballot initiative written by an outside group, Riversiders could be stuck with a program designed by outside interests with no say over how it was implemented. For example, a ballot initiative may have had no limit on the number of available licenses, but the ordinance passed by council limits licenses to 14 citywide.

Riversiders now have the control to make rules and design decisions through their councilmembers and public input. We don’t have to tolerate an unwelcome system.

Retail cannabis will result in increased revenues to the city coffers. The amount remains to be seen, but initial analysis indicates a net positive inflow of funds.

Pending General Fund Transfer lawsuits may reduce the City’s annual budget by over $40 million; if elected, how would you respond to a 14% reduction of the City’s operating budget?

Working with the city council and City Manager, I will bring my business experience to address Riverside’s budget crisis with a three-pronged approach:

  1. Refinance existing city debt so that what we have borrowed does not cost so much.
  2. Assemble a budget stabilization committee composed of business, labor, residents, department heads, and others to determine which programs could be scaled back and which services are essential and must stay funded at current levels.
  3. Increase revenues with new sources because we will not cut our way out of this crisis, but we can grow our way out: not through taxes, but by attracting outside investment and fostering business growth. I would explore tax increment financing instruments such as an Enhanced Infrastructure Finance District (EIFD) and/or Community Revitalization Investment Authority (CRIA), which could add value to the city’s Opportunity Zone, making it more attractive to investors. We must market the city to outside investors, touting our low utility costs, relatively low cost of commercial and residential real estate, trained labor force, and ease of doing business in Riverside.

What would help reduce crime in town, and how do you plan to advocate for safe communities?

Riverside actually has a low crime rate compared to cities of our size across the country. However, we can always do better, so I would continue to invest in our public safety teams, particularly law enforcement. Ensuring our police department is sufficiently funded and staffed is key to ensuring a safe community.

Hiring police officers has been difficult, so we will continue to add non-sworn personnel, such as our Parks and Neighborhood Specialists, who patrol our parks and are the first on the scene when an issue occurs. They address the issue if possible or call in sworn officers when needed. We will continue to invest and potentially grow our private security in places such as the downtown mall to deter crime and help respond to problems as they arise. We will also continue to invest in adding behavioral health staff to our outreach teams to ensure that those individuals who are a danger to themselves or others are given services.

And lastly, I would encourage our residents to get involved! Be engaged and willing to form and join neighborhood watch groups to keep our communities safe. We can all be part of a healthy, vibrant, and secure city.

What is your position on the Riverside Transmission Reliability Project?

I am in favor of getting this project started and completed as quickly as possible, whatever that may look like.