Courtesy of Morongo Hotel and Casino
Courtesy of Morongo Hotel and Casino

The annual State of Riverside County took place on Thursday, November 19 at the iconic Morongo Casino Resort in Cabazon, California. As dignitaries gathered to share vital information about the issues surrounding the fourth-largest county in California, listeners had the opportunity to gain a sense of pride and excitement about what’s to come. The only problem? In order to attend this event, you had to be willing to pay 50 dollars for a ticket.

Although it might seem like these are bitter woes from a broke college student, the issues surrounding charging ticket prices for an event surrounding public information are not only serious, but detrimental to the success of a well-intentioned event such as the State of the County. As a result of spending 50 dollars on a ticket, the accessibility of information pertinent to the county is limited only to the people who have the financial means to afford such lavish spending. What’s more, it leaves out the penny-pinching millennials, the generation that will become the next elected officials, employees and parents.

Now, I’m no political theorist or human rights commentator, but I do know that the ability to participate in a government and be well-informed about the issues is a value that our country boasts about with pride. Yet, by charging ticket prices for an event with the full intention of empowering the public to take a greater interest in local government, the county is limiting its audience to the people financially well-off, which is not an accurate representation of Riverside County.

According to data from a study conducted by Onboard Infographics in 2013, 17.3 percent of inhabitants of Riverside County were considered to be living in poverty, 8.4 percent of people were unemployed, and college students consisted of over 88,000 students. 98,911 households consisted of a single parent, and the median income was barely over $54,000. These individuals make up a great portion of the Riverside County population, and ought not to be ignored because they’d rather ensure bread on the table than a ticket that could pay for a week’s worth of groceries.

I had the opportunity to talk to the coordinator of the event, Nathan Hultgren. As I expressed my frustrations, he let me know that the tickets were only put in place to cover the cost of putting the event together, and that he intends on sending electronic materials to people who couldn’t afford to attend.

Yet, this is another cheap trick — as they didn’t have to host an event at a venue that they knew would be expensive to hold in the first place. Go to a public place. Get creative. The fact that electronic materials are offered is a nice gesture, but demonstrates the county’s belief that the poorer residents of Riverside County ought to be treated as an afterthought, instead of rolling out the red carpet for. Most people don’t know that Hultgren’s offer even exists, although he assured me that it’ll be mentioned in a press release, somehow mixed in with a flurry of other information about the event.

Public policy pro-tip: don’t limit the rights of people to be politically aware about their county to a mere DVD, so lower-income families can gather around a bowl of popcorn to watch the richer individuals discuss issues pertinent to their everyday life. Not only is it dehumanizing, but further confirmation of the work we have yet to do to create county-wide events that every single person, regardless of socioeconomic background, can attend. Believe it or not, the issues discussed in county-wide addresses affect every single citizen, not just those who have an extra 50 dollars to spare.

Somewhere in the county, there exists an individual from a low-income background who if given the opportunity and information, can rise up to become greater than their socioeconomic circumstances and make contributions towards the betterment of our local government. Perhaps down the street or across the 91 freeway exists someone who genuinely cares about the state of the county, who is begging for a voice yet is denied because they couldn’t provide the money needed to attend. If you want to make the public more aware of the issues, create opportunities that encourage —  not limit — attendance.