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The River District Update

The latest on our efforts to make the Santa Ana River a destination for recreation and economic development.

More than two years ago, in one of my first opinion pieces written for this newspaper, I outlined some of the early work my administration was conducting to explore the potential development alongside the Santa Ana River while maintaining preservation corridors for wildlife. Shortly after writing that piece, I convened a Working Group, with fellow councilmembers and city leaders, to determine feasible opportunities for potential public and private investment to create an attractive destination for recreation and community connection. Our goal was simple: Put the River Back in Riverside. Today, that goal remains the same, and I will make it a key economic development priority of mine over the months and years to come. 

The Riverside portion of the Santa Ana River is a sprawling landscape. Residents have enjoyed the area for decades through morning runs, long bike rides, or curious exploration. But the area surrounding the Santa Ana River has been largely neglected, and it remains a poorly frequented attraction for many of our residents and visitors. 

For years, in the private sector, and as a staffer in the state assembly, I fought for and secured lasting protection for the area from which our namesake is derived. Over the past few years, however, we have seen pollution, unlawful campsites, and other prohibited uses that have not only harmed the land and native wildlife surrounding the River but have also resulted in dangerous brush fires. This is unacceptable, and I am proud the City Council enacted an ordinance to keep Riversiders safe and protect this important habitat. 

Riverside is moving forward to continue our analysis of the land alongside the Santa Ana River to position it for economic development projects to benefit our community while respecting the natural environment. We know that when we invest in an area and make it a better place, undesirable activity lessens. Just last month, the City Council approved the conduction of the River District Feasibility Study on the creation of a “River District that will be environmentally and fiscally sustainable and better connect the community to the River.” This study will examine the development potential along the river that maintains natural habitat access and identifies opportunities to better utilize public space. It is my hope that the results of this study provide a clear roadmap for enacting a vision that bridges our commitment to the natural environment and the goal of generating transformative economic growth.

It is within our power to think big and enact bold visions as Riversiders. Having these visions does not ignore or shirk the day-to-day operational responsibilities of running a city—we can do both. Our economic development strategy should not be excluded from that mindset, and the development of the Riverside portion of the Santa Ana River represents how we can be innovative and growth. By pursuing such an undertaking, we demonstrate our strength in building a local economy poised for expansive opportunities from which everyone will benefit.