By Jennipher Vasquez
Riverside’s Ward 2 City Council candidates were cross examined by potential constituents during a live forum.
The League of Women Voters hosted the virtual platform April 27, allowing five of the hopefuls an opportunity to respond to residents’ direct questions. Candidate Clarissa Cervantes, former union organizer and legislative representative for Councilman Andy Melendrez, advocated for a diversification of community involvement. She stressed that decisions about pandemic relief funding, police reform and possible housing additions should be discussed with constituents.
She aims to implement regular community meetings that allow Ward 2 residents to deliberate and keep decisions from being based solely on the City Council’s judgment.
“I am here to ensure, as we look to the future design of our community, that it is socially equitable, that it is inclusive and that it is diverse.” Cervantes said. “I am ultimately here to ensure that the voices of the Ward 2 residents are heard.”
The state-mandated Regional Housing Needs Assessment projects that 3,700 new housing units will be built in Ward 2 by October 2029.
Candidate Aram Ayra, UC Riverside alumni and Riverside city commissioner, emphasized that current residents must be taken into consideration before moving forward with creating new housing.
“My focus, first and foremost, is ensuring full participation from our residents in this housing discussion, focusing on creating permanently affordable housing through community land trusts.” Ayra said. “Additionally, I want to focus on missing middle income housing.”
According to Ayra, this focus entails providing secure housing for young professionals, recent graduates and renters in order to create a more diverse community.
Candidate Austin Skipper, a member of the Riverside branch of the NAACP and who has served with the Black Chamber of Commerce, shared a similar stance on the proposal and said he does not want to push out any current residents for the sake of implementing new housing.
“Hopefully this does not displace anyone else,” Skipper said about the assessment. “That’s what I really hope for. If there’s backlash that means there are people that are already here that are going to leave.”
Candidate Joe Paredes, commercial real estate developing executive, emphasized encouraging Riverside’s other wards to also focus on providing affordable housing, especially to improve homelessness. He claimed Ward 2 has already done so significantly in comparison to the rest of the city.
“In these numbers, we should include student housing,” he said. “We want to ensure that our children are able to grow up and afford homes in the city that they lived in, went to school in, graduated from college in and work in. We need to figure out a good policy to move forward and make sure that Ward 2 isn’t the only one that’s shouldering the burden of that issue.”
Candidate Anthony Tyson, Riverside real estate agent, also discussed the importance of including the community in decision-making and working with the rest of the wards in Riverside to improve the city as a whole.
He addressed a situation in which a family of tenants living in downtown was displaced due to an upcoming homeless housing project. Tyson said the community is not well aware of the project yet, but certain residents received a notice stating they would need to relocate.
“We need to have permanent housing solutions instead of temporary housing solutions,” Tyson said. “We have to have respect for the residents, as well as help the homeless.”
Tyson said he has looked into the project to find answers about the displacements, but has been turned down for any information because the project is not being implemented into Ward 2.
“I feel like I’m getting punished for asking questions about something that I need to know,” he said. “But everything that affects Riverside is part of Riverside and part of Ward 2.”
Constituents also raised concerns about police reform.
Paredes said the Riverside Police Department has always done a good job, but there is room to grow.
“The number one reason a government exists is to protect our citizens and protect our families,” Paredes said. “We need to make sure we are embracing all of the measures cities across the nation are trying to implement and maybe look at adopting some of them. There are instances where we aren’t doing the best, but we’ve always done the right thing.”
Tyson informed constituents that he comes from a family of former Riverside law enforcement and said hiring practices and training must be updated to implement transparency. Tyson’s father previously served as a deputy in Riverside and said one of the most effective actions during his tenure was making time to go out to meet residents directly and giving them his card, attempting to create trust within the community.
“There’s got to be some kind of symbiotic relation,” Tyson said. “We can make it simple if everyone works together. It definitely needs transparency.”
Skipper emphasized proper police apprehension and knowing how to maneuver a situation.
“Knowing the difference between a taser or a handgun is very simple,” he said. “(With) mental health comprehension and understanding it is not always a gun-draw situation, they shouldn’t be fearful when they’re the ones who have the upper hand.”
Ayra and Cervantes both advocated for community involvement in police reform and creating a safe, transparent line of communication and understanding between residents and police.
Residents also questioned the candidates about their plans for the $79 million granted to Riverside by the COVID Federal Relief Program that was recently passed.
Ayra stated that he has experience in allocating and securing Federal CARES Act funding. He said his main priorities are COVID-19 responses and recovery, and ensuring that frontline staff have access to supplies and work protections. He also plans to reach out to residents who need help.
“A large priority would be finding ways we can really bring money back into the hands of community members,” Ayra said. “If we really want it to be equitable, we need to make sure it’s not only doing it through Zoom or online, but that we’re making an effort to reach residents that may not be connected.”
Residents who are less politically engaged must also have their voices represented during discussions, he added.
Paredes said the funding should be used for attracting more businesses to create more jobs.
“What we need to do is focus on ensuring that we don’t set up programs that are going to compete with our already existing non-profits,” he said.
Paredes argued new programs should promote business interaction, help people establish businesses and create local jobs.
Cervantes said the funding should be geared toward residents’ concern. She said repairing roads and rebuilding communities are a top priority.
“We have to ensure that we are protecting the communities and the neighborhoods that have been here for years,” Cervantes said. “That is what is important to me: making sure that we hear the voices of our residents in these neighborhoods and that we revitalize and provide opportunities for our residents to not only live here, work here, but for them to thrive here.”
The election will be held June 8 by mail-in ballot only.