Pamela Galera knows a thing or two about managing public operations. She spent nearly 15 years in the City of Anaheim’s Community Services Department and last month was named Director of Parks, Recreation and Community Services for the City of Riverside. Now, she is ready to put her knowledge to the test.
With 30 years of public service experience under her belt, the Cal Poly Pomona alum said she is pledging to work with lasting Riverside partners, starting with the University of California, Riverside, to propel the use of innovation. (“[I want to] bring in their knowledge about ecosystems in ecology to address some of our [most] complicated issues,” Galera said). In fact, it’s the city’s use of this strategy she is most excited about.
Galera’s exposure as a licensed landscape architect makes her equally interested in modernity as well as traditional forms of ecological sustainability. (“I will look to see if there’s an opportunity to use innovative old fashioned tools, such as goats,” Galera said). To some, this may sound like a mountainous feat, but Galera is confident in her groundwork.
We spoke with Galera – during her fourth day on the new job – to learn about why she left her former position in Anaheim, how she plans to invest in the growing Riverside community and the goals she is looking to accomplish moving forward.
This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Raincross Gazette: You spent an extensive time working in public service in Anaheim and then three years as its parks manager. Why did you decide to leave?
It was a hard decision to make. I will tell you that I was very happy in Anaheim. But the reason that I made the decision to leave is just the wonderful community in Riverside. I did a lot of amazing things in Anaheim. And the timing was right for me to go to another area where I could really do a lot of good.
Was Riverside already in your prospects?
No, not really. But I know some people here in Riverside, and I know that it’s a wonderful community. I’m familiar with a few of the things that are going on, most particularly [Mayor Patricia Lock Dawson’s] “Putting the River Back in Riverside” campaign. I worked in Anaheim on the Santa Ana River and completed two projects on the river and had that city set up very well to complete the next phase of that project. So I’m excited to come to Riverside for a number of reasons, one of which is to work on the Santa Ana River. Another thing that called me to Riverside is your strong communities and neighborhoods.
Speaking of strong communities, throughout the pandemic – and as a result of our changing economy – Riverside families widely utilized our parks and open spaces as a means to simply get outdoors as [the parks] come at no cost for entry. How will you encourage the continuation of this type of interaction between Riverside residents and public spaces?
Well, parks are more important than ever. And of course, I’ve always realized how important parks and trails are to our communities. And now, coming out of this pandemic, I do believe that everybody sees that the parks give so much to communities of the open space. We in Riverside have so many more resources than Anaheim, so many more facilities. So that’s one thing that brought me to Riverside is the opportunity to connect with families and with neighborhoods.
What aspects of your new role have you begun to see are different from that of your previous role in Anaheim?
[I’m] understanding that Riverside is the city of arts and innovation. I love that, I’m an artist myself. So for instance, in light of innovation, I’ve already been in a few meetings where I think that Riverside really tries to find innovative ways to address issues. I’m also impressed with the sustainability component here at Riverside, which I have not seen in my two other cities. I’ve already been in meetings where people are actually talking about the environment, and what we can do to improve the environment.
Can you share any specific projects that you’re working on?
I oversee the operations of parks, which means the landscape maintenance. Already we’re looking at ways for innovation. Water conservation is always on our mind, for instance, and also the establishment of the urban forest. I’m really advocating to get more funding to protect our urban forest for tree trimming and for tree care. That’s just one example.
Riverside’s park system includes nearly 3,000 acres of parkland – almost 4x that of Anaheim. What do you make of this challenge?
It’s a wonderful challenge and a wonderful opportunity. So as you know, I’m a landscape architect, I’m an environmentalist, and I am very thoughtfully addressing land management. For instance, the control of invasive plant species. This is a serious issue; it’s a fire hazard. [I also want] to establish a vibrant urban forest and advocate for native plant material (seeds, grasses, barks, etc.).
What other challenges do you hope to take on?
Well, I’m going to tackle what’s important to the community. I can imagine I will probably be tackling open space management, the use of job training in our youth and community centers, and that I’ll be working closely with our seniors to provide programs and classes. I’m very careful to not make assumptions when I walk in the door. I have some ideas of where Riverside probably needs help, but I really want to hear from the council and from our community before I start working on something.
Homelessness is another major issue in Riverside – it interferes with that public interaction with open spaces we discussed earlier. You worked to combat this problem in Anaheim. How will you help address this issue here and do you think your role has the capacity to do so?
Yeah, absolutely. Homelessness is a huge issue in Riverside. We have, obviously, issues of security and families not feeling safe. As part of the new P.A.N.S. program, we are going to be hiring 20 [unsworn] individuals who will report to the [Riverside Police Department] and will be devoted to securing our parkland, trails and neighborhoods. I’ll be working very closely with the department on this program. My understanding is that these individuals will also reach out to those who are experiencing homelessness and offer services.
You served as a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects and later as its Southern California chapter president – you’ve worn many hats, undeniably. What do you make of your experience and how it has prepared you for this role?
I’m very proud. I’m very excited about using my knowledge and my experience to bring to Riverside and address some of the many issues that we have and I’m just excited to be able to give back.
What’s next? What’s your plan moving forward?
My plan is to take about a month and just listen to find out what the issues are that I need to address. Then to allocate [Riverside’s] dwindling resources, our reduced staffing and budget – all this and address the issues that mean the most to the community. I’ve already been out to a few community centers and have been able to meet the nonprofits and the community groups that do so much good work in our neighborhoods. I’m going to be very careful not to just look at the built environment: the manicured parks, or the open space, – although that’s important – but also keep an eye on the social programs. My tagline is “My Teams Build, Maintain and Program Green and Social Infrastructure.” Green infrastructure is so important to all of our cities, but that social infrastructure is so important to our communities.