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Get to Know Steven Lawson, Candidate for Ward 1

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

Steven Lawson 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 Steven Lawson

I am an everyday resident of Ward One. My great-grandparents settled in Ward One 120 years ago, and today, I live with my wife, Rebecca, in the house my grandfather built in 1936. As a child, I visited Riverside. I counted ducks at Fairmount Park and helped my Aunt Clara Shaver feed the homeless.

At UCLA, I studied history and communications. I have worked in media—newspapers, television, magazines, books, radio, Internet, podcasts, speeches, fundraising, etc. My roles have been varied: reporter, writer, marketer, editor, teacher, project manager, publisher, etc. My work has taken me from the Vietnamese boat refugees in Singapore to human rights needs in Romania, to the deep South with justice hero John Perkins, and eventually to hosting a Dodgers Stadium book release press conference with Clayton Kershaw.

For several years, I reported city hall news for a local newspaper—always digging deep into all aspects of a story as it impacted residents. Today, I am a self-employed writer and editor. I also feed our rescue cats, Piper and Percy.

Why are you running for office?

A number of my neighbors and Ward 1 friends nudged me.

What is Riverside's city government currently doing well?

Many things, of course. Each of us would have our own list. It's not necessarily at the top of the list, but personally, I have used and been very satisfied with the 3-1-1 call center operators and operations. Riverside also knows how to throw a downtown event that will pull visitors into the city.

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

Every day, we face challenges, small and large: Homelessness. Utility taxes and the fallout. Measure Z expenditures. Safety. Schools. Lawsuits. Retaining quality staff. The Mission Inn Museum challenge. Mental health treatment. Maintaining streets. Improved deaf services (a personal passion). Racial unity. Parking. Senior services. Robust youth services. Reasonable ecological standards. Fruitflies. Business development for all. Staying focused on Riverside's needs, issues, growth, progress, and strengths. The list goes on and on and changes by the day, week, and month. Selecting the greatest challenge would be impossible. As I talk with residents, probably the most often mentioned "challenge" is the gap in or lack of communications from city hall. People often feel ignored and their needs neglected. If elected, listening to residents—all residents—would be a top priority. Listening, however, is only the first step. There needs to be action and a response, whether the issue involves a city-wide budget deficit or a street light problem on 4th and Brockton.

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

It comes down to listening to all the people and taking each other seriously. Putting aside our own agendas and becoming servant leaders and servant residents. By this, I simply mean putting others before ourselves.

I had the privilege of ghostwriting the memoirs of civil rights leader John M. Perkins, who also consulted three presidents. Perkins was beaten by police in Mississippi, almost to the point of death. When in recovery, the truth came to him: no one should be on the giving or receiving end of the deep, heinous hate he had experienced. He resolved that love is the final fight, even when the one whom we need to love has done us harm. This doesn't mean there are not consequences of oppression, just that fighting for love to prevail is worth the effort if we are to come together. Perkins lamented that opposite sides of the political aisle do not talk to each other today. Instead left must hate right, and right must hate left. He fears for a nation and a people who have chosen hate over serving each other.

We must also keep Riverside's focus local. We have a fabulous history, a vibrant mix of residents, and huge potential.

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

I have been humbled to work on various human rights projects, including combatting human trafficking and providing affordable housing to single mothers. While not a risk or compromise, I am proud (1) to have worked on a China Human Rights briefing for the White House under Ronald Reagan, (2) to have been on former President Jimmy Carter's Habitat for Humanity work crew (President Carter taught me how to put siding on a house), and (3) to have interviewed then-senator Barack Obama on the HIV-AIDS crisis.

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 am a self-employed writer and editor. I also have no monthly mortgage to pay. Therefore, I am in a good position to make the City of Riverside and Ward 1 a full-time priority.

A former councilman told me that service to the city was like a full-time job. I would be able and glad to treat it as such—essentially whatever it takes. Except I do need date nights with my wife—she is the priority of my life! I will listen and respond promptly. John Wooden once said, "Be quick, but do not hurry." I will follow his lead. My responses will be with substance, not a continual "I will get back to you" or "I appreciate your input."

Residents will have my email and personal phone number. I will create a Ward 1 website with regular updates and explore how to best use other social media. I will attend local neighborhood meetings, as I have already been doing. I will explore how to have regular forums for residents to participate in, such as potlucks in the park or coffee gatherings. A major focus will be on communication with residents. Your voice will be heard.

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

First, I ask a question: by homelessness challenges, do we simply mean "clear the streets," or do we mean to address the deeper issues on the often faceless, dehumanized homeless on our streets?

If it is the first, that is simple; we can institute policy that will remove the homeless from the streets—temporarily. But the homeless will be right back sooner or later, and the real problems will not be solved.

For nearly two decades, I have worked on media projects with inner-city missions across the country, including Atlanta, Chicago, Palo Alto, Santa Ana, Victoria (Texas), Seattle, Memphis, and more. Bob Lupton of Atlanta sums it up best: he breaks the homeless into five basic groups and says there is no one-size-fits-all answer. The newly homeless single mother with two children wants help, and there are programs for her (which need to be fully supported). Those who suffer with mental illness need another kind of help. The criminal homeless need to be detained when the situation calls for it but not simply categorized as a criminal—it depends on the person and the circumstances. Then, of course, there is the flummoxing situation of those who choose to be homeless.

If there was an answer that "solved" homelessness, then someone would already have found it. But there is not just one answer. Some of what we are doing in Riverside now is helping, but we need to do much more.

So, I would start with better education about homelessness and an all-out effort to see the homeless as individuals, as someone's daughter or son or brother or sister. Then, as California laws allow, tap the best minds around the nation to see what they have done that works that would fit in Riverside.

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

My apologies. I did not have time to answer all of the questions thoughtfully and meet the Raincross Gazette's deadline. My personal thanks to The Gazette for this opportunity to communicate with residents.

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

Lawson did not answer this question.

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


Lawson did not answer this question.

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?

Lawson did not answer this question.

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

Lawson did not answer this question.

What is your position on the Riverside Transmission Reliability Project?

Lawson did not answer this question.