In her first State of the City Address, Mayor Patricia Lock Dawson acknowledged the grief caused by COVID-19 but called for the people of Riverside to be encouraged by the future and prepare for life after the pandemic.
“For us, a post COVID Riverside will be shaped by, not defined by the pandemic,” she said.
The broadcast on the 28th centered on the theme, Together Towards Tomorrow, and highlighted priorities she said the city faces. Stable finances were at the top of the list.
Riverside faces a structural deficit of $14.5 million and a pension debt crisis. In response, city officials created a tightened spending plan, suspended scheduled raises and halted recruitment for 137 empty city staff positions. She said this resulted in $21 million in savings last year.
“The city is also implementing priority-based budgeting, which will direct funding to city programs and departments deemed most critical by you, the residents and taxpayers,” Lock Dawson said.
Her three-pronged approach to address the city’s financial challenges are to: Refinance existing city debt, create a budget stabilization effort and generate new forms of revenue by fostering existing businesses’ growth and attracting new investment.
The mayor also addressed the need for racial equality in the city. “While Riverside values diversity, it doesn’t mean we are immune to racism,” she said.
She mentioned a proposal to measure equity in the city by completing an audit of its departments, boards and commissions. “And where necessary, we must ramp up our outreach to underrepresented communities,” she continued.
Lock Dawson said Riverside constituents must also be able to live where they work. “We must work towards a city where anyone who needs housing can afford to live here instead of spending hours on the freeway each day.”
California’s Regional Housing Needs Allocation sets the amount of available housing its cities’ must provide by 2029. “Riverside’s share will be approximately 24,000 housing units … The city is currently identifying locations for these homes as we update our housing element plan.”
She also outlined a strategy to put the ‘river’ back in ‘Riverside.’
“I was pleased to have played a role in securing funding for the Santa Ana River Gateway Project, which will provide almost three million dollars for 10 projects along the river,” Lock Dawson said.
Her regional action to address homelessness in the river bottom includes more access to mental health services, greater emergency shelter programs and job training services.
To conclude her speech, the mayor gave a message of hope.
“As Americans, as Riversiders, we are uniquely positioned to rise to this challenge and emerge a stronger, more prosperous community … We are resilient, we’re innovative, we’re creative, we’re strong and we’re in this together.”