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2017 Riverside City Council Debates: Ward 2

The Raincross Group, Charter Spectrum Communications, the Pick Group, and The Press-Enterprise presents Andy Melendrez, Jon Scott Harris, and Kevin Dawson in the 2017 Riverside City Council debates. Brad Pomerance asks these three candidates 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: Why do you want to serve on the City Council for the next 4 years?

Kevin Dawson: I want to represent Ward 2 where the incumbent has conflicts of interest that have caused him to recuse himself 90 times over his tenure this past 12 years and those are the times that Ward 2 was not represented on some very serious issues.

John Harris: I am delighted to share and infuse in my Ward a compelling vision that encompasses business, safety and security, legacy and unity.

Andy Melendrez: I have been a City Councilman now for almost 11 years, going on 12 years and we have seen a tremendous change in Ward 2. We have seen the University Avenue transition into a new Avenue, we used to have prostitution, gang members, drug dealing, bad hotels, bad liquor stores, that has been completely eradicated and we are dealing with the homeless issue. We want to continue with growth and to elevate the quality of life there and also at our University neighborhood.

Q: Could you respond to this statement of Mr. Dawson with regard to conflicts of interest?

Andy Melendrez: I have been on the Council for 11 years and that has never been an issue. I have invested in Downtown Riverside, I brought my first property in 1984 down there and that has never been an issue.

Q: Have you had to recuse yourself 90 times?

Andy Melendrez: It sounds a little exaggerated, there has never been any proof that but I have never recused myself from anything that affected our Ward 2 constituents.

Q: We would like you to list your top 3 priorities, literally list 1, 2, 3.

John Harris: Giving the grassroots feedback. The main issue for Ward 2 is theft and crime and I am going to come with some strategies that I have been working with law enforcement.

Andy Melendrez: One is quality of life, law enforcement, Police and Fire and educational access and roads are important in our community

Kevin Dawson: Reengagement, legacy project on our side, access to the County Park, and fiscal responsibility.

Q: what is the single most important problem in your Ward and how should it be fixed?

Andy Melendrez: Throughout the State of California we have had realignment where we had a release of nonviolent individuals who were in Prisons in 3 waves and all communities are dealing with that issue. We need to pick up our Police Department, we are down to 350 officers, we have made a commitment to increase it to 410 officers. That and mail theft have been a big issue.

Q: Does the halfway house on the University Avenue exacerbate the challenge as it relates to realignment? And is it well managed

Andy Melendrez: One of the things that happen with a sober living home or a half way house if it is not well managed it creates a lot of problems in the community. We have a few that are well managed; we have to deal with those on a more broad basis.

Q: what is the single most important problem in your area and how would you plan to fix it?

Kevin Dawson: In my area the quality of life issues, traffic, halfway houses. We hear the city can’t bring any resources, we don’t have any money. We are the city of innovation; we should be able to work smarter with what we have.

John Harris: Infrastructure, making sure our roads and our expansion and growth and our city as a municipality in Ward 2 is getting the attention and making sure we have good custodianship going forward from this point

Q: As you know the voters of Riverside were very generous, in November passing Measure M, some of that money could go to roads. We also know that the City of California recently passed a transportation sales tax, some of the money could go into Riverside, it is actually Measure Z, forgive me. How can you leverage Measure Z money with the money coming from Sacramento to the benefit of Ward 2?

John Harris: Oh, advocacy, making sure that as we represent our constituents at the table being a member of the Council we  make sure we come with viable intent and facts. One of the quick references is Sycamore Canyon, that road is beat up right in front of Raceway forward and it is being used inappropriately for freight passages trying to get on to the 215.

Q: That road needs work, we hear you but how do you ensure that Measure Z funds come to Ward 2 as well as the money that should be trickling down from Sacramento as a result of the 52 billion dollar sales tax increase or gas tax increase?

John Harris: That’s where our relationship with Richard Roth, our StateSenator, Jose Medina our Assemblyman comes into play. We make sure that what we are proposing as a City Council is in compliance with what we release those funds so those given needs can be addressed.

Q: Riverside calls itself the City of Arts and Innovation, what does this moniker mean to you and what specifically would you do to help the city better live up to the marker?

Kevin Dawson: Well, I am very excited by a small start up business that is here in Riverside, it is over in Spruce and is called Vocademy, Gene Sherman’s business and he teaches young people to work their hands, how to work in the trades and he is tying into the Maker Movement. We don’t teach vocational arts in our public education system anymore.

Q: What can you do though as a Councilman on that front, you are not running for RUSD Board for example?

Kevin Dawson: I understand but what are trying to make good marriages of ideas. We have 3 Universities in our town and we want to keep the students that are coming out with degrees in engineering. Don’t we want people to do startups here like be the next Silicon Valley in the sense of somebody starting something in their garage? You do it with Maker Movement.

Q: The riverside calls itself the City of Arts and Innovation, what does this moniker mean to you and how will you live up to the marker if you buy into it?

John Harris: Yeah, I do buy into it, it is one of the things I have a lot of gratification about being a native. To your question Ward 2 is unique and we have an organic and a very huge capital asset coming in the form of CARB, California Air Resource and it is no accident that it is on a corridor that is right down from Borne’s Industry. I know Borne is in Ward 1 but seeing what is transpiring, this collaboration between UCR and the City County it is worth noting that there is something that is taking place here that we look to excitingly to the future. As far as arts we have a lot of under mentored, undeveloped artistic expressions and talents that we need to foster and coach. So, I am really excited about that especially in my faith based exposure.

Q: Brad Pomerance: Mr. Melendrez, it is hard to deny that you have made arts and innovation one of your premier priorities since you have been sitting on the City Council. Do you believe that that emphasis has been to the benefit of Ward 2,has Ward 2 benefited from your focus?

Andy Melendrez: Definitely, we have been able to over the past 10 years even before it was the moniker occurred the arts and innovation. We exposed our low income children to ballet, to opera, a variety of other music and 4 years ago I was able to found the Riverside Arts Academy along with a group of parents who have been very committed to make sure our low income community has access to musical education. They learn violin, ballet, wind instruments, drums, piano, a variety of other skills and we have it communities not only because it is accessible to our low income but it is in an area that is being revitalized, that in the past had bad hotels, bad liquor store. So, there is a huge transition going on in the University Avenue through the arts and music.

Q: what steps would you take to diversify the local economy, nurture highway to job growth in Riverside and in answering consider the fact that Riverside is blessed with 3 top class universities and how can those universities work to push along desire to grow and diversify jobs?

John Harris: Well, first of all you want to join in with the vision of Chancellor Wilcox at UCR with their ultimate goal to keep and retain a larger portion of the UCR graduates and I know that’s across the board with CBU and La Sierra University not to mention RCC. There are collaborative efforts between the school of medicine at UCR, nursing at RCC and nursing program at CBU. So, these are good strong middle income vocations and professions but there needs to be a very sincere and earnest reciprocation from local municipal leadership, you show them the reasons why it is worth their interest to stay here and be the human capital that will raise the livability and equity of our city.

Q: Mr. Melendrez, given you sat on the Council for 3 terms, talk to us about your achievements on this front. UCR I believe is in Ward 2 literally so I want to get a sense of how you have worked to specifically leverage UCR to the benefit of Ward 2 and all of the City of Riverside and how assuming reelection if you are will you continue to work the leverage UCR, Cal Baptist, La Sierra.

Andy Melendrez: Partnering with UCR is so important; they are just the catalyst of Ward 2 and also an economic engine. One of the things that we have done at the city is we partnered with UCR, me and my staff. We have been able to bring the UC path to our area which is now the Human Resources Department for the entire State University system. CARB is the other one, Clean Air Resources Board is the other and also strongly supported the UCR medical school working with our assembly member, State Senator, and everyone in the community including the great Riverside Chamber of Commerce and through that team we have secured those jobs that are going to be extremely profitable to our city.

Q: What we know about UCR is it is saying its day in the sun, I mean UCR has now become one of the finer UC in the entire State and I can only imagine it will continue along those lines. So, given UCR is seeing its reputation and desirability increase how would you work to leverage that popularity to the benefit specifically of Ward 2 which it immediately faces some challenges?

Andy Melendrez: Obviously partnerships with local business people are so important. You want to be able to keep talented students in town, you have trained and educated them here, you want to create those partnerships with local businesses so they will gain those skills, very similar to UCR medical school does. They find hospitals, do internships and then they grow from there. We want to do that in arts and engineering, and other capacities as well.

Kevin Dawson: I and my wife are both UCR graduates, we met there.I understand the campus, these are well educated people but you are not going to keep them in Riverside if we keep approving mega warehouses that are low paying, low job per square foot, it is automated. We need small incubator type of business or structure so that our graduates can stay and develop small well-paying businesses like in Orange County. My dad was an engineer for Rockwell International and there are 2 or 3 levels of small businesses surrounding those plants and even with the downturn of the Cold War those businesses and entrepreneurs are the ones driving the Orange County economy. We need to replicate that kind of entrepreneurship here.

Q: As you know in February the Council split but ultimately they approved a large warehouse project that actually butted up against residential neighborhood, I believe you are in opposition? we will call the warehouse economy, Empire does have a lot of land and seems to attract a lot of warehouses. At some level we have to thank Amazon to bringing a lot jobs Empire as a result of warehousing opportunities but as Mr. Dawson does suggest it is not an easy fix and there are certain controversies surrounding it. Talk us through your views of the warehouse economy, why you opposed the measure in February and what you think about warehouses on a basis and we look at you too as well, of course sir.

Andy Melendrez: Yes. One of the reason I opposed that it is that 1.4 million square feet and it is going to be 150-160 feet from the neighbor’s backyard, it is severely going impact their quality of life which is why I opposed that facility. The other reason is there is concern because warehouses sometimes bring in part time work, temporary work for 6 months and then you may or may not have a job, it might be 15 dollars, 13 dollars an hour. That’s the average warehouse worker. Now, one of the things about the growth of the City of Riverside you need to find a balance between professional jobs and the warehouse jobs. The warehouses will eventually become automated more than they are today.

Q: But those could be high paying jobs?

Andy Melendrez: Well, they could be but those are in the administration part of it and there aren’t many of them unfortunately.

Q: Is there a warehouse that you can see yourself voting for should you be elected?

Andy Melendrez: No.

Q: So, warehouses are a no go for you?

Andy Melendrez: And furthermore it is ironic that we went to such great pains to attract CARB to Riverside and then we are approving warehouses, those are smart people that work at CARB and they know what the air quality impacts warehouses are. There are a lot of professors at UCR who commute from great distances so they don’t live in Riverside and the same thing could end up happening at CARB.

Q: Mr. Harris, do you see yourself supporting warehouses in the future?

John Harris: Let me answer it this way, first of all this speaks to the core of strong leadership skills, from a historical standpoint the City Council person should have been ahead of the curve and there should have been strong negotiating and people skills demonstrated.

Q: That was not Mr. Melendrez in this instance, correct?

John Harris: I am not asserting that, I am just saying we get to this pivotal tipping point where this is the straw that breaks the camel’s back and we have discontented and egregiously upset residents. So, yes I am one that looks forward to having a sense of balance, I think we have a stay for warehouses, we need to develop the kind of small businesses that is really going to feed our economy and stimulate the good and healthy municipal advancement.

Q: Do you believe Riverside should take a very clear position on the question of I will say sanctuary status, the term doesn’t mean much, safe haven, safe zones, whatever it is, should Riverside go on the record and say that it supports sanctuary, safe havens, safe spots?

Kevin Dawson: What does our City stand for if not for the people who live here? These people, our neighbors they work here, I think we need to create a safe environment for them.   I am not talking about harboring criminals if they are being characterized.

Q: My question is very specific, should Riverside pass some type of resolution that declares that the City of Riverside is a sanctuary, a safe haven, safe zone? I don’t want to get caught up in the terms but I think you know where I am going. Yes or no?

Kevin Dawson: I think we should have a public discussion about that and to not put it on the Council agenda and open it up to where the citizens could come and discuss it in a public forum is a disservice.

Q: Do you believe the City of Riverside should go on record supporting sanctuary, safe haven, safe zones, whatever term you want to use?

John Harris: You need to let the Riversiders decide that not be dictatorial, not constrain them, enforce them, fore it upon them.

Q: So, you believe this issue should go to a vote?

John Harris: Yeah, we should ask the people that make up Riverside

Q: Go to a vote? Not go to a vote of the City Council but we should ask the voters whether they are okay.

John Harris: No, no, given the status and the macro encompassing of this from a national state to a local.

Q: If it went to a vote of the people would you support or oppose?

John Harris: I have got to see. I am not fully aware given that just yesterday there was a Federal judge stopping what the executive order was trying to accomplish and so now it is up in a topsy-turvy situation. There needs to be a clear definitive delineation of what it is that the Federal government is trying to accomplish.

Q: Mr. Melendrez, you were very active in this question when the City of Menifee faced challenges. Briefly, do you believe that the City of Riverside should go on record in support of sanctuary, safe haven, safe zone?

Andy Melendrez: Well, I think of City of Riverside needs to define, we have not defined it as a City. We can put it in other terms like Riverside Together we need to let the residents know that we are in support of what they do and who they are. I grew up in a low-income community in Casablanca, a majority of individuals were agricultural workers, some were documented, some were not but we had a good hardworking community with hardworking individuals and I think the City of Riverside does need to fully define who we are and how diverse we are. We have an old paper on the City Hall wall for 10 years or longer talking about being a diverse community.

Q: we now have time for closing statements, one minute each; please stick to the one minute. We are going to start with Mr. Melendrez. Please feel free to address the camera.

Andy Melendrez: Thank you Brad. My name is Andy Melendrez and I have been your City Council member for the past 11 years. We have seen tremendous success in the City of Riverside, we have also seen a huge transition on University Avenue and we will continue to see that. University neighborhood has been harmed by some of the party houses and some growth that the University of California has experienced but I have worked with the neighbors to address those concerns and I think we are headed in a different direction and more positive direction. Sycamore Canyon, a very important neighborhood and I continue to work with and protect their quality of life. Canyon Crest that is a very large community obviously continue to do huge amounts of outreach and continue to work with some of the issues locally.I would be honored to have your vote and be the City Council member for the next 4 years.

John Harris: Yes, I am John Scott Harris.I am the only one in this campaign election season that can say that. My 4 point platform is clear, it is business, me and my wife are business owners, we operate and have a growing and thriving medical practice. I believe in safety and security. I have given some results in areas that identify with the principles of what we are facing across the board not in our Ward but in our City. Legacy, there is a huge apathy and depression upon the self-esteem of our Ward that was present when I was a kid and I want to resurrect. And lastly unity, I want to be the City Councilperson that brings all of the assets and human and neighborhood capital together. I am asking for your vote, Join John this coming election.

Kevin Dawson: My name is Kevin Dawson and I have been a community activist, watchdog for the City, I have a long track record of pursuing issues of ethics, financial misappropriation of funds. I have been the guy who is the community representative with the City working on the new rules to stop cut ups. I have been the community representative at UCR to deal with UCR growth issues. I have engaged in working on the quality of life issues and I have been tenacious at it and I want to be that tenacious activist for Ward 2 and make the City better for all of us.