A new representative on the city council took oath this week.
Clarissa Cervantes, 30, was sworn into Riverside City Council on Tuesday during a ceremony where family and friends witnessed the turning over of former Councilmember Andy Melendrez’s position, one he held for over 16 years. She is the first Latina to represent Riverside’s Ward 2 and the youngest to hold a position on the city council in the city’s history.
No stranger to the political scene, one of Cervantes’s childhood memories is of walking with her mother and sister door-to-door, conversing with the residents of Coachella Valley when her father ran for city council and then again for mayor.
“My mother is a teacher, and my father was raised in and wanted to represent that community,” Cervantes said. “They wanted people to know they cared about their community and about its future for the sake of their children.”
As a Legislative Field Representative (LFR) for Melendrez from 2013 to 2016, Cervantes experienced the same contact with Ward 2 residents, as she was responsible for consistent outreach on behalf of the councilmember.
During that time, she participated in several team projects like the development of the Riverside Arts Academy or the Spanish Town Heritage Foundation, which hosts the Riverside Tamale Festival. The Eastside HEAL Zone was another, which functioned as the catalyst that helped Ward 2 neighbors transform their community by installing 30 public murals and revitalizing rundown businesses.
Cervantes took the lead in the June election against five other hopefuls and earned her place on the dais soon before earning her master’s degree from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona in Urban and Regional Planning. She said if she did not run for council, she would have tried to influence the city from the office of planning and development.
She said when she met with constituents as an LFR, she saw the potential Riversiders have to develop their own community. “Planning gives you the tools to even realize how you can build your communities,” she said.
These are the tools she hopes to bring to the people of her ward and Riverside, so they can acquire and develop resources like improved transportation and clean and green technology.
“We want to create a vision for alternative transportation, walkable communities, places where people can walk, bike and move through their communities,” she said. “These are the things that encourage people to explore their neighborhoods.”
She added that as an elected official, she is excited to get back out into the community to greet and listen to the people of Ward 2, just like she did before.
They are the reason she says she decided to run in the election.
“It was the community, the neighborhoods. Those who live there are incredible,” she said. “I call it ‘the quilt,’ and they are what makes each thread so unique and beautiful, their stories inspired me.”
Harkening back to when she met with constituents as LFR to Melendrez, she recognizes a perspective shift in the seat of greater responsibility.
“Back then, the thought that came up when I heard a person’s struggles or concerns was how can I help them today, right now and alleviate the issue, and that’s the power of our representatives, they figure out how to tackle the day-by-day issues,” she said. “Now, being an elected official, I want to ask what I can do to make sure that issue doesn’t affect or happen to someone else in the future.”