The Raincross Group, Charter Communications, and The Press Enterprise presents Mike Gardner and Thomas Podgorski in the 2015 Riverside City Council Debates for Ward 1. Elections will be held on June 2, 2015.
Mike Gardner (incumbent)
Debate Show Notes
Please note that these are distillations and not verbatim answers.
Q: Why do you want the job of city councilman?
Gardner: This is a fun, challenging and rewarding job. We’ve done a good job and accomplished many things. We are poised to do truly amazing things with the economy improving.
Podgorski: In the eight years my opponent has served on the council, the city’s challenges have changed, and my skill set is more appropriate to the challenges today. Riverside has a vastly underdeveloped downtown – and I’m a person of action and a collaborator.
Q: Why has downtown’s potential not been fully met? What does it need to become a destination?
Podgorski: A lack of entrepreneurial spirit. I have a graduate degree in economics, while my opponent has a degree in anthropology. We need written business plans as opposed to a “field of dreams” mind-set where we build it and hope everybody comes. Current leaders didn’t plan well for complementary businesses and services near the Fox Theater. People have been socialized to low-level performance, and that needs to change.
Gardner: I disagree. We have opened half a dozen new restaurants in the downtown core and renovated the Fox, museum and convention center. Now we need to build more parking because there’s not enough for visitors. The Festival of Lights also draws crowds. To say nothing has happened – despite the recession – is wrong.
Q: Discuss the proposed projects that would include downtown living spaces.
Gardner: There are three projects. One, with apartments, is entirely private and scheduled to break ground this year. The other two have some level of city involvement and involve the Imperial Hardware and Stalder buildings (near the Fox Theater). These will bring about 400 high-end units downtown.
Podgorski: My opponent has taken credit for projects he had nothing to do with. I don’t need credit. We have a lot of empty office space, along with rules about fair housing. We need mixed-use housing downtown, not just high-end. Riverside is an example of bad government planning. We need to bring in the private sector, be collaborative, and do marketing research to understand demand.
Q: What can the city do to top the recent Renaissance public works program? What comes next?
Gardner: We can’t top it. We can do Renaissance II. We have done a little on the transportation side, borrowing against income streams.
Podgorski: I’ve been walking neighborhoods and I disagree. There were both large cost overruns and waste in the Renaissance, and this money could have been used to fund the public library, as planned, or spent in other areas.
Q: Should we still move ahead with a new downtown library?
Gardner: We need to do it. The reason the library wasn’t funded as planned through the Renaissance was because a piece of the funding depended on the sale of city-owned land, including a parcel in Colton. This parcel was owned by the city’s utility, though, and thus could not be used by the general fund for Renaissance purposes. I believe the City Council is unanimous in moving forward on the library now.
Podgorski: There is a survey on my website. Sixty people completed it, which is a good sample size. The council needs to take responsibility, and not make excuses for why the library project didn’t happen. The library has been sorely neglected. An upgrade would not be a hard sell.
Q: How do you define leadership?
Podgorski: Get to know the people you’re working with. Take no credit. Don’t try to do it all yourself. My style is collaborative. If you are going to take credit, take responsibility as well. Don’t blame the economy or the loss of redevelopment. See problems – like the housing bubble – coming.
Gardner: Leadership is partly by example. Show other council members the merits of the issues. Get out of the way so staff members can do their jobs.
Q: How can you help revive collegiality on the City Council?
Podgorski: My opponent portrays himself as a nice guy, but he is different in private. People I’ve been talking to are frustrated by the city’s low level of performance and low expectations. My opponent has settled into a state of complacency, whereas I bring passion and collaboration.
Gardner: I was instrumental in helping pull the City Council back together. I didn’t get involved in the arguments, but rather stayed focused on the facts, the issues and the public interest.
Q: Please provide brief closing statements.
Podgorski: As my survey found, we have plenty of work to do. Public safety is a priority, and transparency in city government is needed.
Gardner: The city budget is our biggest issue. We have both more money and more demands for services, and must be very careful about how we allocate spending.