Riverside City Council shows gulf between dictates and leadership

You’re probably getting pretty good at determining which officials have an authoritarian streak and who’s just trying to help us navigate back to prosperity from the coronavirus lockdown. The difference stands out in sharp relief in Riverside.

Once the curve was flattened, the issue was how soon, and how completely, to reopen our businesses, our lives. The question generates some honest disagreement.

Some new City Council members in Riverside incline to the longer-term lockdown, as in, way past where we are now. Unions, social activists and prominent Democratic elected officials back them, preferring that nothing reopen until we have a vaccine, a proven therapy and testing in the frequency they prescribe.

Until then, they’re down on anybody who’s talking about gradually, carefully returning to something resembling our pre-virus gait.

In Riverside, that would be Mayor Rusty Bailey. He wanted to publicly broach just that topic earlier in the week. Originally, Bailey had set an afternoon time for a news conference, but the City Council hurriedly scheduled an emergency meeting that — wouldn’t you know — would overlap the time period Bailey had chosen.

So Bailey moved the event to the morning and heard about it, publicly, later.

But the difference between the two events was stark. The morning group was paying attention to the governor’s every utterance, checking every statistic you can imagine constantly, keeping in touch with community members in myriad ways — in short, getting ready.

Joining Bailey were Riverside County Supervisors Karen Spiegel and Kevin Jeffries, along with Corona Mayor Jim Steiner.

Don Williamson and Gary Montgomery, Chamber of Commerce officials from Corona and Riverside, respectively, also spoke, as did Andrea Taylor, owner of a Riverside fitness studio, Rico Alderette, who owns a store called Made in Riverside, and John Collins, executive pastor at Harvest Christian Fellowship church.

To a person, the speakers stressed they weren’t trying to jump the gun, but just trying to be ready when the governor signals it’s time to move to the next stage of recovery. (Supposedly that’s today, May 8.) They also expressed confidence that healthful practices would be the rule in all public places.

Contrast that with the next meeting, the City Council’s emergency session. The product of that august gathering, besides preening and grandstanding, was a letter to Riverside County supervisors advising them not to rescind certain health orders issued by the county’s public health officer.

Why? Well, one said it’s because we can’t do anything until the governor says it’s OK. Another said helpfully, “Nobody wants people to be sick. Nobody wants people to die. Nobody wants our economy to suffer.” A third added, “Now’s not the time to be divisive.” So divisiveness is OK, but you have to pick your moments?

Two council members then obligingly demonstrated divisiveness, lighting into Bailey for not telling them he was having a news conference. Gabriela Plascencia said she would have appreciated a few days’ notice.

That was rich, since we met Plascencia in a similar context shortly after she took office. Her emergency agenda item — proposed after the required advance notice — would fire the man she beat in November from his Planning Commission position. Another Bailey critic, Ronaldo Fierro, provided her motion a second, without which it could not proceed.

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Some council members are showing that authoritarian streak. They want a rent-increase freeze to go with the eviction prohibition they already passed. They want to spend $1.8 million they don’t have to subsidize businesses owned by “people of color,” to stick with their racialist theme. We’re crippling you nice minority folks along with others whose rights we don’t care about, but we’re going to give you somebody else’s cash to make you thank us for rendering dictates that are, after all, for your own good.

And then there’s lonesome Mayor Bailey, trying to get his community ready for next steps — but without running his plans by this group first? What was he thinking?

Bailey is one of 13 “big-city mayors” in California — cities over 300,000 in population. The idea was that this group would hold coordinated events like the one Bailey put together. Horrors. People in other places want to get cracking, too. How will the Riverside City Council stop them all?

Reach Roger Ruvolo at rruvolo@att.net

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