The Raincross Group, Charter Spectrum Communications, the Pick Group, and The Press-Enterprise presents Jim Perry in the 2017 Riverside City Council debates. Rafael Elizade, as reported by The Press-Enterprise, canceled his appearance at the last minute. Brad Pomerance asks Mr. Perry numerous questions sourced by the hosting organizations. Elections will be held on June 6, 2017.
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Debate Show Notes
Please note that these are distillations and not verbatim answers.
Q: Could you please list your top three priorities for Ward 6?
Jim Perry: Well, I think when it comes to priorities I think we need to first start with what's happening city-wide. I think we need to talk about Measure Z. We need to talk about homelessness. And we need to talk about poverty.
Q: So is that a fair way of saying those are priorities – homelessness, poverty and Measure Z?
Jim Perry: Yes, and public safety. Public safety encompasses all of that.
Q: Measure Z was passed by the voters of the city of Riverside in November, a one-cent sales tax quite generous of the voters to do that. And what's interesting about Measure Z it was written in such a way so there aren't specific dictates on how to spend the money. If you did that you would have needed two-thirds. But you got 50 percent plus one meaning that's what you needed.And so, we do know, sir, that there is a citizen's commission that is looking into how the money should be spent. Police and fire, we know our priorities. But what else are priorities for Jim Perry?
Jim Perry: For the residents of Ward 6 when this passes on – well, when it went into effect April 1st. And when we start collecting and start providing services, my constituents need to see touch and feel the services they are going to be receiving. Number one is police officers. Public safety, that is going to be the top and I think that is going to be the easiest for the council. Right now we are down 50 to 55 officers. And if things go the direction we hope they will, we'll have the ability to hire, 50 to 55 officers over the next couple of years.
Q: Why do you believe that is important especially given that you spent your career as a police officer?
Jim Perry: Yes. We are down. We are down that many officers and that's – we are getting to the point where our officers and our shifts are running with minimum staff. These guys are running from call to call to call. And we have to have more officers. We are not getting calls or concerns about the service that's being provided but the amount of time that is taking to get there. We have to cut down on that time.
Q: What else? What do you believe should be the priority when spending Measure Z funds?
Jim Perry: Especially in Ward 5 and Ward 7 – I'll just say the entire West side – we need more street work. We have had the ability over – my last three years I've had the ability to get the funding for 14 million dollars for street paving but that's going to be a drop in the bucket to honest with you. I have a lot of streets that are in very poor to terrible conditions. I have streets that dirt roads almost look better than some of the pavement. So that is going to be a priority for me to be able to obtain more funding so I can improve our neighborhood.
Q: Given that Riverside has Measure Z, is there a way for Riverside and would you work for Riverside to try to leverage Measure Z dollars to get even more money from this new law passed the California gas tax for road repairs?
Jim Perry: That's a great idea. We need to follow through. And we haven't really had a discussion on how that funding is going to affect us. It is badly needed. We could use this throughout the entire city especially at a time when we are reevaluating how we are – how we are actually going to evaluate and prioritize our streets that are in need of repaving.
Q: State Senator Richard Roth and Assemblywoman Sabrina Cervantes both Democrats of Riverside, they were able to get additional funds for Riverside. And I think there is about $400 million dollars coming specifically to this area in addition to what may come down through other formulas. How do you plan to work with either the Senator or the Assemblywoman the state to make sure that dedicated 400 million gets to Ward 6 or at least part of it?
Jim Perry: We need to meet on a regular basis. And both the Senator and the Assemblywoman have been very good in outreach and getting input from council members. I applaud them on that. It is something that I think is very important and vital as we move forward so we can properly prioritize both at the state and local level on the direction we need to go for these items that were badly – badly in need of it.
Q: So you said police. You said roads and bridges metaphorically speaking. Where else does Measure Z the Z funds go?
Jim Perry: Now, I need to emphasize that no final decisions have been made. That should be next month.
Q: What are your priorities?
Jim Perry: We have this opportunity – we have 2500 employees. We have to provide retirement benefits. So we have the pension obligation bonds. We have an opportunity – we may not be able to pay off all of them. But we have the opportunity to cut deeply into that debt. We are not having – we are on schedule with all of our payment. But basically, all we are doing at this point is paying interest. And all we need to do is kind of very similar to buying a house; we need to start paying down on the principal.
Q: So let me ask you then about pension costs which continue to spike. But do you believe that Measure Z funds or at least a portion of them should go towards pension costs either to pay down or for future pension costs?
Jim Perry: I'd like to say both where we could pay down get it in the future as well. But we've also reached agreements with all of our bargaining – almost all of our bargaining units and employees now actually have to pay more into their pension plans which is going to help tremendously.
Q: Let us say hypothetically that this citizen's advisory committee sets priorities for Measure Z funds that may be different than yours. How do you – how would you approach that?
Jim Perry: That's the beauty of having this play out in public. None of this is going to be behind closed doors. There is a meeting scheduled for the first week of May and we will hear some input from them. The council has an opportunity to listen to their suggestions, listen to their recommendations, get some input from the public that show up to be able to share this information with our constituents get some feedback so we can make some very well-qualified decisions later on.
Q: You mentioned homelessness. Does Measure Z play into the homeless crisis in any way? Should we be dedicating Measure Z funds for homelessness?
Jim Perry: I am interested to see what comes from the committee because when we had a meeting on this in January I specifically brought up the homeless issue. That was part of the campaign for housing measures. It was the homeless issue. So that needs to be part of the discussion. We have already made – we have already listened to some plans. There are some alternatives on the board where there are some grant funding we are going to be receiving in addition to the Home First and the No Place Like Home funding coming down to us.We have to ensure that we get our proper amount of that funding to be effective.
Q: One could argue that Ward 6 deserves more parks and libraries. What do you think of that view and should Measure Z be spent towards Ward 6 or generally for parks and libraries?
Jim Perry: We have our Arlanza Library which has been – it's about 10 years old. We do need another park. It's a matter of finding the space for the park. I don't have any city-owned land within my ward. But that doesn't mean that we say we give up. We need to be looking at a partnership and being creative in a way to find a location for another park within Ward 6.
Q: Does Measure Z play into that?
Jim Perry: I hope it does. I want to say how that plays out.
Q: As you know the new administration in Washington has taken some very strong positions at it relates to immigration and deportation. Now we know that the city of Riverside does not enforce federal immigration laws. Most cities in California take the same position. What do you make of this debate over Riverside being a safe haven, safe zone, welcoming together, sanctuary city?
Jim Perry: There is a lot of rhetoric going out there. But we have a city policy and no time has anybody held up that policy and said this is no good. It's out-of-date. The police department has a policy when it comes to dealing with foreign nationals. And that policy it specifically states that they do not go out and enforce immigration laws because they are there to partner with the community. They want to have that interaction with them. They wanted to be trusted. That policy talks about not asking about citizenship. There is no secret database regarding citizenship, religion, asking for what their current immigration status or where they are from. We want people to feel safe in our neighborhoods so that they can live with their families and feel good about themselves and have a good life. The policy also talks about when cooperating with the federal authorities; it is very specific about dangerous serious or dangerous individuals. And regardless of who you are or where you are from if you commit a violent crime in this city you need to hold accountable.
Q: How far does Riverside go if the Trump administration stands by their word that they will start cutting federal funds if cities don't cooperate however they may define it?
Jim Perry: It's a discussion that we need to have of course with our legal counsel. It is also my understanding very recently there is a federal judge who has ruled that you can't withhold those funds because I think there is a degree of perception and definition on how would that apply to individual cities.
Q: Do you walk around your precincts?
Jim Perry: Yes, I do.
Q: With a tremendously diverse ward and with a significant number of folks that are maybe of Latino descent, have you heard those fears, fears about lack of documentation? And if you have heard them, what do you say?
Jim Perry: I have heard some frustration. And one thing that I want to be very clear on I do have a very diverse population within my ward. Regardless of who you are if you call my office looking for help you are going to get it. I have never asked anyone where they are from. And that doesn't matter when it comes to providing services as a councilman.We do here a little frustration from time to time. Earlier this year we participate in a couple of meetings; one at the Queen of Angels, one at North Vista High School. We actually brought the police chief out. And the police chief gave a presentation. And a little bit of anxiety that was there at the beginning of the meeting quickly dissipated at the end when they were able to hear from him speaking Spanish on the direction his department was going to go and the actions they would or would not take.
Q: The city of Riverside had a love-hate relationship with warehouses. What made you decide to vote in favor of that particular warehouse that was coming up against the neighborhood and then we will talk more broadly.
Jim Perry: Sure. Yeah. That was a tough decision. That was one of the tougher votes that I have cast in the three years that I have been on the council. The property owners have owned that property since probably the mid-70s. I think in order – my understanding is in order to allow warehouses to be built which started many years ago. They had to dedicate some land for a park that is out there at this particular moment and that is sort of the building of warehouses out there. This individual warehouse million square feet would take up 17 different parcels. So theoretically you could end up with 17 different buildings or you could end up with multiple buildings I think with the same amount of square footage. There was a lot of work I think that was done to kind of ease some of the issues mitigate the issues. The back of the warehouse they gated off the back roadway where it can only be used for public safety purposes.
Q: This warehouse is in Ward 2 which is Mr. Melendrez's ward. And he voted against it. Correct?
Jim Perry: Correct.
Q: So the question becomes how much difference should a council member give to the views of the sitting council member who would be most impacted. So one could argue Mr. Melendrez opposed maybe the rest of the council should have sided with Mr. Melendrez.
Jim Perry: That is always a strong consideration of what the council – and that happens a good – most of the time it doesn't always happen. I guess, the bottom line is I can sit and I will probably talk for 20 minutes on the reasoning for my vote. But when it comes right down to it, it comes down to jobs. It came down to quality jobs. There was a Fortune 100 company that was looking at that. And I know – you know if it turns out that the quality employer turns out – the Fortune 100 company shows up there, it turns out to be a great vote. If it turns out to be an empty warehouse, you know, that is all based on issue.But I was convinced that steps were being taken to bring a good employer who would play good wages and that's something we need as job growth and good jobs for the city.
Q: What steps will you take pursuing the election to diversify the local economy to create high wage jobs? And how would you turn to our top class universities – UCR, La Sierra and Cal Baptist and RCC and Cal State University – to help build upon the economy?
Jim Perry: They all have to be inclusive in working together on this. We need to do our best to recruit, retain and expand current businesses here. We have done a good job. But there are two major employers that we have been able to bring in the last two years. One is Carb; the other one is UC Pathways. Another good example on this side of town on a business that is expanding is UTC Aerospace located right around the corner from here because in the last four years they have expanded their workforce by about 500 employees which I think is good news for this side of town because it is a company where you get hired at the bottom level and move to the management. There is a college – they provide college courses. And I think that's an outstanding opportunity for this surrounding neighborhood to have access to a community employer who could possibly at the same time provide a college education.
Q: Riverside defines itself, labels itself, calls itself the city of arts and innovation. What does that mean to you? What does that moniker mean? And presuming you are a fan of that moniker, what do you plan to do in a second term to continue to have the city live up to the view that it is the city of arts and innovation?
Jim Perry: We need to be creative. We can never settle for something saying we are done here. It is time to move on to something. We need to be creative in constantly be reviewing everything we are doing whether it would be job growth, IT, education. We need to be looking at better ways to be providing customer service to our community.
Q: Do we need another renaissance which was a plan from the next decade that brought about a lot of this art and innovation?
Jim Perry: I think we are good where we are sitting at right now. But we need to be looking to the future as oppose to looking behind us because I think a lot of good things were put in place. Now it's a matter of expanding when there is a will and able to do so.
Q: Riverside is a pretty terrific place. A pretty good place to live I think most would say. Our friends in San Marino have had a real tough time. But Riverside has weathered it pretty darn well. How would you take Riverside from goodness to greatness?
Jim Perry: Well, take a look at a couple of things we've done over the last couple of years. I used – let's see the last two years as an example. We had the retirement of a city manager. And at that point, the entire council individually collectively knew we had to go in a different direction. And that's what we did in the hiring of our city manager and our new city attorney. And I am glad to say that I was the mayor pro team. And we started – and the one thing I kept hearing is we started that recruitment in October of 2014. And I kept hearing you are going to have to do this recruitment a couple of times too – probably for both of these positions. We have the Sunshine Act where we are posting our agenda 12 days in advance. We are retooling the whole building process method where basically you can go on one floor and get what you need. The process is being streamlined to get people through it in weeks as opposed to months. All of that will be in process by September.We haven't been afraid to look at our finances at the same time. Look. We are auditing every single apartment. Every day we are auditing three different apartments for finances and performance-related issues. There are not a lot of cities who are willing to do that to take a hard solid look on how we are doing business and how we are going to approach. I think that if other cities took the steps we have taken to dive into our finances and how we do things. I am not sure there would be very many people following us.
Q: In our final moments, why do you want to run for re-election? Why are you running for re-election?
Jim Perry: I want to make a difference in this – I want to continue making a difference in this ward. I promised people when I was elected four years ago that I would be available, I would be accessible, I would be proactive. I stay on this community on a weekly basis. I drive all of my neighborhoods on a weekly basis. Sometimes I get out and I walk neighborhoods looking for issues because what I wanted to do is solve the problem before I get a phone call. And it's just not election time where I've gone out and knocked on doors. During the course of the last three years, many times my field representative I would take a couple of hours and we just go on knock on doors telling them city hall is here and how can we help you. Quality of life. I need to make sure that at this ward it is clean, it is safe, it is well-maintained. We have done wonders. We have done a lot of great work. We have reduced graffiti in this neighborhood.
Q: I'd like to offer you the opportunity the opportunity to close by speaking to your voters right into camera.
Jim Perry: It's been an honor to serve every single one of you. I am here to serve you. I worked this job 24 hours a day. I am not complaining about the long hours. I like representing you. Public service is what I am all about and that is what I will continue to be. That's all I have ever known in my entire life as a police officer now as an elected official. I want to continue to represent you to the very best of my ability and make sure that you have the resources to have a great quality of life. And often people who know me will hear this phrase, "It's not all about me. There is not about an I or me, it's about we. All of us working together collectively as one to improve our quality of life and take the small place of the Earth that we live on and make it the best that it can be."