Since the 1990s, one of my greatest missions and passions has been focused on the preservation and advancement of the Santa Ana River. Think about it—we have a natural resource in our backyard that is so fundamental to our existence, that the very name of our city includes it.
Over these last three decades, I have worked in various capacities to bring to fruition all that this natural resource can be for our city and region. Most notably was my leading the Santa Ana River Partnership, a regional coalition of three counties, twenty-four cities and a variety of nonprofits in Riverside, San Bernardino, and Orange Counties. In 2014, I helped design legislation to create the Santa Ana River Conservancy which solidified preservation efforts for the River at the state level. I was also pleased to work with the City of Riverside Parks and Recreation Department to secure funding for The Santa Ana River Gateway project which will provide approximately $3 million for ten projects along the river—including the acquisition of four acres next to Ryan Bonaminio Park. These projects are set to begin later this year.
Now, as Mayor, I am continuing my work to put the “River” back in “Riverside.” Although we’ve taken great steps to reinvigorate our river, the potential for economic development has not been a focus of our past efforts. With this gap in the revitalization effort in mind, I have launched a Santa Ana River task force to explore how the river can be used as an economic engine. Since the river runs the entire western edge of our city, I have invited council members Edwards and Hemenway to be active partners in leading the task force with Ward 1 and Ward 7 being the geographical “bookends” of the stretch of the river in our city.
The group of Riversiders that will be serving on this task force is still being finalized. We are being deliberate in the selection of the group to ensure we include those with business moxie, connections to investors, and community ties to those who have deep understandings of both development and the uniqueness of our river. What will be critical to our success is utilizing the best practices of other cities across the nation that have embraced their rivers and stretches of water as both recreational locations but also economic drivers. Cities like San Antonio, Reno, Boise, Milwaukee, and Scottsdale have all had successful economic efforts. Our task force will welcome representatives from cities like those listed to share with us how they, and their local economies, embraced this concept while also protecting their amazing environmental resource. The expected task force size will be approximately fifteen members who will meet for the remainder of 2021 before putting forth recommendations to the City Council and myself. I will make it a priority that all recommendations from the task force are actionable items that our City can realistically accomplish.
What is evident is that for too long we have turned our back on our namesake and it is time to correct course. The Santa Ana River should be celebrated for the treasure that it is and what it can be: a destination for recreation and economic development and a place for our community to connect with each other, across town and across generations.