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 Philip Falcone
Philip Falcone is an educator, policy advisor, and county commissioner who has nearly a decade of experience in public service, having worked in two Riverside mayoral administrations. His portfolio of work includes architecture, historic preservation, public art, infrastructure, and environmental protection.
Relocating to Riverside from New Orleans following the loss of their family home in Hurricane Katrina, Philip found the outpouring of goodwill shown to his family as uniquely Riverside. He felt called to public service to repay this kindness. Philip is a product of Riverside schools; a graduate of RCC, UCR, and CBU. He resides in Downtown Riverside.
Why are you running for office?
In August 2005, my family lost our home and all our belongings in Hurricane Katrina. We moved from New Orleans to Riverside with five days-worth of clothing in our suitcases and nothing else—we were all but homeless. In Riverside, we lived with relatives, and an immediate outpouring of goodwill and charity for my family from the Riverside community ensured we had clothing, household items, gift cards for food, and more.
I have never forgotten how Riverside welcomed my family—people who were strangers to them—with warmth and kindness. It is now my life’s mission to repay the goodwill shown to my family by dedicating myself to public service. And this public service takes shape as working for the people of Riverside on the City Council by being a responsive representative who is focused on getting the job done for Riversiders—addressing homelessness, attracting jobs, repaving the roads, improving the parks, and ensuring a safe city for all.
What is Riverside's city government currently doing well?
The 311 app and call center is a Riverside success story that continues to be effective. While working for Mayor Lock Dawson, our team conducted a citywide listening tour that went to every neighborhood, and the common positive thread was that Riversiders loved 311.
As a city staffer, I saw firsthand the hundreds of calls and service requests that were received each day—admittedly, I was often the one sending in dozens of requests a day as I walked and drove around the city snapping pictures of graffiti, potholes, and landscaping needs, I was later made aware that I had reported over 800 requests in a couple of months which was a record. The Public Works, RPU, and General Services workers who quickly respond to 311 requests are the reason for this program’s success. Job well done!
What is Riverside's greatest challenge, and how will you approach it if elected?
Both homelessness and public safety are Riverside’s greatest challenges, but since there are questions later in this questionnaire specifically about homelessness and public safety, I will use this space to discuss another great challenge—aging infrastructure and city services.
I have said before that I am a self-proclaimed infrastructure wonk, and it’s true. I can talk about roads, sidewalks, sewer lines, parks, trees, and more that I categorize under the infrastructure umbrella all day long. Riverside’s roads are in very poor condition. Our roads are rated 58/100—while I may be a professor, you do not need to be a professor to know that’s a failing score. One of my commitments to Riversiders is to improve our road scoring by ten points to 68/100. A score of 68/100 is not a place of victory; however, it is an improvement from 58/100 and is heading in the right direction.
Similarly, our parks, community centers, street medians, and more received upgrades fifteen years ago during the Riverside Renaissance and are now facing significant deferred maintenance issues. In these areas, the city must get back to the basic, foundational responsibility of local government before we can have large, luxurious visions for all our town can be. By doing the day-to-day work well, Riverside will show itself as a desirable city and thus make the large visions more attainable.
These improvements can be funded through Measure Z, which was approved by the voters in 2016 for public safety and quality of life projects. Measure Z has seen greater than expected revenues; therefore, additional funds can be allocated for roads and infrastructure projects, for example. If you want your roads repaved, parks improved, and make Riverside more walkable, bikeable, and safe—and want someone who knows how to get the job done at City Hall—then I am your candidate.
If elected, how will you improve the political discourse in Riverside?
The role of City Councilmember is largely one of a facilitator. I see myself as someone who is uniquely able to bring differing people together and facilitate conversations on complex issues. Politically, I am a moderate person—something that may seem uncommon today, but I believe is more common than many people realize—who can represent, work with, and get stuff done with people of all beliefs. The way this improves the political discourse is by turning down the heat and getting to work.
Someone recently told me, “Philip, you are a workhorse—you’re always out in the field plowing away.” I see this as a good analogy for my character and work ethic. I am here to serve all the people of Ward 1 and Riverside—with a focus on getting stuff done irrespective of your or my political party. The discourse is improved when we focus on what we all want: a city that works, that is committed to the quality of life of all its residents. I am committed to a discourse that is productive, respectful, and welcoming of all viewpoints.
What past personal collaboration that demonstrates risk and compromise are you most proud of?
Having worked in the public, private, and non-profit sectors, I have seen risk and compromise in each. Knowing the push and pull of risk and compromise in the governmental and legislative sense is more valuable for a City Councilmember than the non-profit and private sectors because it cuts more to the knowledge of how municipal government operates. After nearly a decade in this sector, I can get to work on day one without the steep learning curve for those who have not served in a municipality before. I believe in compromise, and there are occasions where compromise can even be risky, especially in politics and government.
The example that I believe is most conducive to the role of City Councilmember is my work through the Mayor’s Office on CARE Court legislation. CARE Court is the first substantial change to California’s mental health laws since 1967. The legislation has aspects of required mental healthcare treatment for those suffering from mental illness on the streets. There was risk in changing a decades-long approach that allowed people to refuse help and suffer on the streets, even if they lacked the capacity to legitimately make that decision for themselves. The nature of the topic is sensitive and risky, but we knew that with necessary compromises and guardrails, the risk of a positive impact on the lives of people across California was worth it. Riverside, under the direction of Mayor Lock Dawson, was bullish in getting Inland Empire cities, bipartisan groups, and others on board with the changes—the risk was worth it. Through our efforts, Riverside became one of the first seven counties in California to implement this law on October 1, 2023.
How many hours a week do you expect to put into serving as a councilmember, and what is your commitment to responding to constituents?
I will be a full-time Councilmember, dedicating well over forty hours a week to the job. During my previous service in City Hall, my work week averaged seventy hours a week, and I am prepared to continue that service in this role. I will respond to constituents within 24 hours, as I have done in the past.
What will you do to address the City's homelessness challenges?
Riverside’s greatest challenge is the local (and statewide) homelessness crisis. There are many facets to this complex issue and if it was not so complex, it would have been solved years ago.
The first thing to know is that we are at a tipping point that has resulted from decades of poor legislative decisions from Sacramento all the way down to cities. The homeless population is not a monolithic population, and it is not exaggerating to say each homeless person has a unique situation. However, for the sake of simplicity in this format, I divide the population into two main categories—the first category is the population who is down on their luck, lost a job and are newly on the streets, living in their car, or couch surfing; the second category is the population who has mental health challenges or drug addictions.
For the first category, Riverside has ample job training services and pathways to affordable housing—both of which remain the foundation for addressing this challenge. I will continue to advocate for high-quality, affordable housing development—both to lease and own. These services and housing options are often brushed aside as the government enabling the situation, but that view is overly simplistic. The purpose of these services is to prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place or getting them back on their feet again before chronic homelessness sets in after several months of living on the streets.
The second category is a particular passion of mine as the topic of mental health and the decades-long poor approach to mental health California has taken is having real-world ramifications before our eyes. While the City does not have a health department, I pledge to use my existing partnerships to collaborate with our county and state leaders to focus on mental and behavioral health issues through the implementation of new state laws such as CARE Court and others, which will require those deemed “severely disabled” to accept mental and/or behavioral health treatment. (The construction of mental healthcare facilities will also be on the ballot in March as the state’s Proposition 1.)
Allowing people to live and die on our streets is inhumane and unacceptable. Riverside cannot allow people to live this way. One can accept services from the city or county and get in a better situation, but they cannot camp on our streets or in our parks, victimizing others or being victimized themselves. I pledge to be a strong advocate for Ward 1 quality of life by ensuring our county and state uphold their role of providing mental and behavioral health services.
What are your plans to help Riverside's growing senior population?
Riverside has a vibrant senior population. I have toured all our city’s senior centers, and they are always bustling with activity. This programming will remain and can be expanded as each center needs. Current population numbers show Riverside is short on senior center access per senior compared to cities of similar size. The Eastside neighborhood, for example, lacks a senior center facility, and I will advocate for the construction of this facility on the City Council.
Ward 1 has a large senior population but limited senior housing and affordable housing options. First, Riverside must focus on more affordable housing across the board. Second, it must identify specific sites close to public transportation, medical resources, and shopping that can be developed for senior housing.
Having safe and affordable public transportation is also important for seniors who do not have a car or are unable to drive. This is done in partnership with RTA and the city to keep our bus stops and transportation hubs clean and safe. Ensuring life is more affordable for seniors on fixed incomes or Social Security can be done through RPU customer aid, which was recently expanded to offer more financial assistance to those with fixed or lower incomes. All these aspects can be done to ensure our seniors feel valued and respected in a community that deeply cares for our elders and their contributions.
How do you plan to deal with the trash collection issues Riversiders have been contending with since early 2020?
The solid waste collection disruptions over the last few years underscore the importance of Riverside's government's need to return to the basic responsibility of local government, as I have previously discussed. It should not take a year and multiple calls to receive a new trashcan after yours was damaged. Similarly, it should not take three or more days to collect waste from three bins.
Solid waste rates were recently increased by the City Council with a pledge that the additional funding will get the staffing and equipment up to par following years of kicking the can down the road with deferred maintenance and neglecting the imbalances in the refuse fund. In the coming months, as these additional funds go into effect and new equipment arrives, Riversiders will be able to judge the effectiveness of these actions.
I am committed to doing what it takes to get the solid waste collection back on track—everything from a deep dive examination into why staffing numbers cannot seem to catch up, ensuring our pay is commensurate with companies like Amazon and others who have lured away many of our drivers, and reassigning staff to drive solid waste collection vehicles as necessary.
Would you support making City Council roles full-time jobs?
Yes, in a city of our size—the 12th largest in California—the role of the City Council has grown exponentially in recent years, and the residents deserve a full-time City Councilmember.
I often say this is a full-time job with part-time pay. I am putting forward my name for this job at its current pay scale, and I am doing so in earnest. At this stage in my life, I do not have a family to support and am able to work on the City Council full-time, teach part-time, and survive, but that is not the case for many people. Therefore, a whole sector of Riversiders are being boxed out of public service because the pay is too low.
How do you see legal cannabis sales in Riverside affecting our budgets and community culture?
The short answer on how the hard numbers on cannabis sales for Riverside will come in remains to be seen as the program is not yet fully implemented. Other cities have seen financial benefits through tax revenue, and the question of how that tax revenue will look will be asked in greater detail on the March ballot through a city measure.
I personally do not use cannabis and do not support its promotion or sale near schools, parks, or other locales with high numbers of families and children. With necessary measures in place, there will not be insurmountable cultural shifts with the recreational sale of marijuana in Riverside. Following the legalization of its recreational use statewide, it was used in Riverside and purchased in other cities without significant criminal or negative community cultural ties to its usage.
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 city cannot cut its way out of a 14% operating budget shortfall. There must be a mixture of cuts to spending where we can and new revenue generation through economic development, new businesses, and more people coming to and spending money in Riverside. This will be a difficult financial time for Riverside if this occurs, especially since the voters have repeatedly approved the General Fund Transfer over the course of the last several decades.
What would help reduce crime in town, and how do you plan to advocate for safe communities?
Public safety is another one of the foundational city services I have mentioned throughout these questions. People feeling safe to go to the park, grocery store, or even their front yard is critical to having a strong quality of life in Riverside. I support our Riverside Police Department—I have toured all our city police stations, been on several ride-alongs, and have strong working relationships with employees at every level of the department. In many ways, state laws—not local ordinances—have created frustrating and unsafe situations for both police and residents. Voters have approved ballot measures that have lessened consequences for criminal activity. With the county jail in Downtown Riverside, those booked into jail across our county are released into downtown after several hours of served time.
In a larger approach, I am committed to advocating for changes to state laws and measures that require consequences for criminal behavior, and locally, I am committed to ensuring our first responders have the funding and necessary support to do their job well—from staffing to training. As a whole, Riverside must continue to build stronger relationships between the community and law enforcement to ensure mutual respect is established.
What is your position on the Riverside Transmission Reliability Project?
The second connection to the state electrical grid is an absolute necessity—all seem to agree on that topic. As an environmental person who is passionate about the preservation of unobscured open space, I prefer the lines to be undergrounded. However, if the state rejects this request and there is not ample funding from other sources to do so, we cannot wait for another several years—the project must then move forward as previously planned and approved.
The ball is in the court of the state Public Utilities Commission at this time, and more will evolve as word is received from them on the next steps. I refer to an earlier question about risk and compromise. There is documented risk for both above-ground and underground wires; the greatest risk, in my view, is not having a second connection to the grid in a region where natural disasters are becoming more and more common.