Riverside city council town hall aims to connect UCR students with newly elected council members

On Thursday, March 5, at approximately 5:10 p.m., the ASUCR City Relations Committee, under the ASUCR Office of External Affairs held a Riverside City Council town hall in HUB 302 South. The event, comprising a panel and Q&A section, was moderated by members of the ASUCR City Relations Committee. 

“Historically, UCR students are left out of the local governing process and therefore, we have not had a strong partnership with our councilmembers,”  stated Emily Thomas, ASUCR City Relations assistant director and School of Public Policy (SPP) senator. “We wanted to recognize the importance of starting a dialogue without council members,” she continued.

The town hall began by introducing the panelists. The first panelist was Council member Erin Edwards, a former AmeriCorps volunteer and chair of Glocally Connected, a refugee-serving organization in Riverside County; she now serves as the representative for Ward 1, which includes downtown Riverside, Northside and Wood Streets neighborhoods, on the Riverside City Council.  

Council member Ronaldo Fierro was the second panelist. Born and raised in the city of Riverside, Fierro is the owner, founder and operator of both the Salted Pig gastropub restaurant and the W. Wolfskill bar in downtown Riverside. He currently represents Ward 3, which covers the Airport, Magnolia Center and Victoria neighborhoods, on the Riverside City Council.

The third panelist, Gaby Plascencia, represents Ward 5, which includes the Arlington, Arlington Heights and Ramona neighborhoods, on the Riverside City Council. A Riverside resident for nearly 30 years, as well as a current school counselor with Loma Vista Middle School, Plascencia “is an education champion,” stated Ashley Vazquez, one of the panel moderators. The three councilmembers are the newest members sitting on the city council, having taken the oath of office in December of 2019.

During the panel, moderators asked questions regarding safety, retention of UCR alumni within the city of Riverside, environmental racism and student opportunities within local government. 

“People who feel safest in their neighborhoods are the ones who know their neighbors,” responded Edwards, when asked about plans to make the area around UCR safer. “Get to know the people around you,” she stated. Fierro stated that development around the campus area would help with safety, and Plascencia expressed that students should let the city council know if there are any concerns and ideas they have to improve the area. 

“The question is of how to make the economy stay local,” stated Councilmember Fierro, in regards to keeping UCR students in the region after graduation. “We can bring in sustainable, high paying jobs relating to clean energy,” he explained. Plascencia stated that connecting students with internships and apprenticeships within the area would help retain students. Edwards stated that students should express if they have any ideas or suggestions relating to economic development plans.

Concerns regarding the Inland Empire being known for “the harshest environmental racism issues” were brought up, and councilmembers were questioned as to what the city council could do to alleviate these concerns.  Plascencia stated that “we need to be thinking outside of the box for transportation and sustainability and energy,” and that clean air should be “on the forefront of policy.” Edwards stated that the city council is currently approving trails and safe routes for biking, and Fierro stated that the city requires “smart urban planning” and needs to implement emission free public transport. 

During the Q&A section, students brought up concerns regarding the reputation of Riverside, homelessness in the city and policing in the area. 

An anonymous audience member asked how the city council could create more dialogue between UCPD and the Riverside Police Department. The council members expressed that there needs to be communication between the two departments, but aren’t sure of what the current collaborations are. “We need to know what it is that you want to accomplish with collaboration,” stated Plascencia. 

“What concrete things can you do to reduce housing costs in Riverside, and do you support the wildcat strikes of UC graduate students seeking cost of living adjustments?” asked Timothy Hughes, a fourth-year environmental science major. The council members stated that the city needs to build more housing and educate community members about what affordable housing entails. Fierro stated that “inclusive zoning will help, but it’s important that when we’re subsidizing and creating affordable housing that we are not destigmatizing the need for affordable housing.” All three councilmembers expressed their support for the cost of living adjustments and the wildcat strikes. 

Mark De Alba, a second-year political science major, asked the council members how “we can change the image of Riverside and the surrounding area.” 

“We have a lot of work to do when it comes to telling our story,” Edwards responded. “This community is amazing … tell the story of the city and show it through social media,” she continued. The council members expressed that through economic development, advocacy and promoting the city, they can increase the city’s reputation. 

The town hall concluded at approximately 6:20 p.m.

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