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Get to Know Hass Ratnayake, Candidate for Ward 1

Hasaranga Ratnayake, candidate for Ward 1 City Council in the March 2024 election, answers 14 questions about why he is running for election.

Hass Ratnayake is running for the open Ward 1 City Council Seat in the 2024 election.

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 Hass Ratnayake

My parents emigrated from Sri Lanka when I was five months old. My sister and I were raised in a single, working-parent household in Riverside and attended Montessori, Pachappa, Gage, and Poly. After high school, I created my own company, harvesting and re-selling produce at farmers' markets. Three years later, I decided to pursue my passion for real estate. After a decade, I manage rental properties throughout Southern California. I love my City, State, and Country, and I believe my story is not atypical for those who work hard, stay out of trouble, and pursue their dreams relentlessly.

Why are you running for office?

Riverside has been great to me, and I want to make it even better for you. That is why I am running for Ward 1 City Council: to give back to my community through public service. As an elected representative, my job will be to hear your concerns and work to resolve them by leaning on my practical experience in the business world.

Over the course of the last four years, it seemed at times as if some of our current councilmembers were pushing more of their own agendas and forgetting about the people they serve and their needs. Many residents, as well as business owners, felt they were not being heard, which is causing frustration for lack of representation. I plan on returning the City back to focusing on the basics - public safety, maintaining our roads, picking up the trash on time, etc. - which have taken second stage recently to the detriment of the overall quality of life of the people who live, work, and play here.

What is Riverside's city government currently doing well?

We have great employees who continue to do their jobs admirably despite a lack of focused leadership at the elected level, which is straining their ability to deliver excellence in the core municipal services people expect.

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

We cannot continue to lose our neighborhoods, street by street, to criminals and vagrants, nor to monied special-interest developers. We must provide our law enforcement branches with the ability and resources to remove criminals from our community. I believe in alternatives to strict sentencing, but for some, jail and prison time must be a threat to deter their actions and perhaps give them time for reflection on their anti-social deeds. My answer on homelessness is further below.

Growing up here, I appreciate the distinct character of each of Riverside's neighborhoods. Riverside provides something for just about everyone. Ward 1 neighborhoods are some of the oldest in the City, and each has its own unique look, history, and culture. I promise to do my best to preserve those traits that we love while working with property owners and developers to ensure community interests are heard and addressed so that infill projects are seen as win-win propositions.

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

Instead of attacking those on the dais and in the public who do not 100% agree with me, I plan on actively listening to them and trying to find common ground upon which to build relationships and trust.

I will also strive towards more and better community engagement: increased transparency and opportunities to participate with the public will lead to higher quality decision-making on all City policies, programs, and projects. Adding these perspectives early on in the process will pay dividends in the long term for all Riversiders.

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

My long-time business partner recently chose to move out of state. We were able, because of our solid relationship, to figure out how to unwind his involvement in the company without any impact on our clients or the business itself. I believe that with hard work, proper planning, creativity, and perhaps most of all–maturity, collaborations are possible where all parties can get what they need and move the proverbial ball forward if they stop demanding everything they want

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

Speaking with stakeholders in Ward 1, it's apparent they value responsiveness. To that end, I have the endorsement of former Ward 1 City Councilmember Mike Gardner, who was well-respected for his availability. My goal is to field and respond to inquiries within 48 hours, either directly from me personally or from my staff. Just like in my business, I plan to spend as many hours as it takes to get the job done and done well. I am willing to make the personal sacrifices necessary to better serve my community.

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

We must start by eliminating the housing first model and disincentivizing other parties from bringing their homeless to our City. The City of Riverside should not be the epicenter of housing the homeless for the area, state, or nation. If that means not applying for grants or subsidized loans from the County, State, and Federal government that require such "gifts of white elephants," then so be it.

Further, we should quickly identify those who are recently homeless (e.g., aged-out foster youth, those who have recently lost jobs or had family troubles) and offer temporary housing, job training, and placement, etc., which should lead them back to self-sufficiency and with that, the pride of being independent in the most cost-effective manner. We need to empower individuals, not enable them.

For the longer-term homeless, we must be able to get this population mental health and drug treatment services, which means having adequate facilities within Riverside to do so and a system with due process protecting civil liberties, by which these programs are mandatory. It is inhumane to allow people to suffer on the streets, as we have witnessed for too many years now. For those who have made a living through criminal actions while being homeless, my answer is further below.

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

Let me start by saying, "I love seniors!" As a society, we should embrace the wisdom that comes with their diverse experiences. Senior needs start with focusing on housing, transportation, and the cost of living. We should be working with developers to help them understand that need and locate the spaces appropriate for senior living. We should be meeting with our senior population on an ongoing basis to better understand gaps in our transportation and other services. Lastly, we cannot continue to raise taxes, fees, and utility rates at levels considerably above inflation or implement burdensome policies that have overly negative impacts on our fixed-income residents.

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

Right now, as I'm typing my response to this question, I can see my blue trashcan left outside on the street. Trash was supposed to have been picked up on Thursdays, and now it's Monday, and it's still there. With no driveways or garages in my area, this conflicts with my neighbors and their visitors' ability to park. It's time to re-evaluate whether outsourcing our refuse services to third party companies works better for the needs of our residents and businesses if these problems cannot be remedied internally through better management.

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

I believe that City Council should continue to be a part-time position. Going to full-time roles will encourage some people to seek the position for the wrong reason: money instead of public service. My belief is that higher salaries will also encourage those seeking to be career politicians. The City Council recently approved a new part-time position on their staff to complement the full-time one already in place, and we should allow time to evaluate how that is working before taking any additional steps.

Cannabis has been with us since the voters of California legalized it in 2016. If taxed accordingly, I could see an increase in revenue for the City to help pay for its direct and indirect impacts and, perhaps one day, additional infrastructure and other general city services.

Residents are driving outside the city now to purchase their cannabis, which brings no benefits to the community. Of course, we should be listening to our city staff, particularly our public safety departments, on how we fine-tune these regulations as this relatively new industry evolves. However, and without question, I am diametrically opposed to the marketing of recreational drugs to minors.

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?

The Parada vs. City of Riverside electricity transfer lawsuit has been settled, so the immediate 14% reduction is temporarily not on the table. However, an amount equal to approximately a quarter of that is at risk through the Simpson et al. vs. City of Riverside water transfer lawsuit.

In general, before we start cutting programs or look for new revenue measures to replace this funding, we need to stop needless spending on vanity items our constituents are not overwhelmingly demanding. I encourage constituents to visit, as I am certain you will find dozens of such expenditures in the last year alone.

To increase our tax base, we also need high-paying, quality jobs within the city's limits, not in LA or Orange County. As a small business owner, I know how to market Riverside's strengths (our universities, low-cost utilities, etc.) to attract and retain companies and entrepreneurs who will, in turn, provide better economic opportunities for all of us.

As someone who signs the front of checks, I know how to stretch a dollar: we will achieve efficiency in our City operations and not continue to take the easy way out by asking the tax, rate, and fee-payers for more money every few years.

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

We need to increase our police presence. It is my understanding that the Police Department is currently understaffed by 57 officers. Filling those positions needs to be our #1 priority. We could help with recruitment and retention efforts by increasing morale by showing Council and community support. I would also favor increasing the number of neighborhood watches within our City. This effort would help towards efficient response times to crime-related incidents. We should also continue to work with our State representatives on repealing the worst parts of recently passed laws that hinder some of law enforcement's efforts: some of these experiments have clearly failed.

What is your position on the Riverside Transmission Reliability Project?

After visiting several neighborhood groups in our city, such as NOWS (Neighbors of the Wood Streets) and RRR (Residents for Responsible Representation on the westside), the issue is not wanting a second connection to the wholesale transmission grid for the city but having it traverse above-ground. The residents only want the transmission lines to be below ground, which I agree with wholeheartedly and is commonly done throughout other parts of California. The cost would be socialized throughout the State, not bourn alone by RPU ratepayers, and is in no comparison to the obstruction of views, safety concerns of increased fire risks, depreciation of property values, and other externalities we are being asked by outsiders (private and public entities) to accommodate needlessly.