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Riverside adopts five-year plan

The Riverside 2025 Strategic Plan will help set priorities and guide policy for the city. Its main goal is to get officials, particularly the city council and city manager, on the same page.

Riverside is trying to plan ahead. Five years ahead, to be exact.

The city council has approved The Riverside 2025 Strategic Plan, a five-year blueprint that will set priorities and help guide Riverside’s policy decisions through 2024.

The plan, adopted last month, is the result of several months of work by elected officials, community groups and city boards, and commissioners, according to city officials, and a summary of the plan posted on the city’s website.

Priorities, which are not ranked by priority, include developing arts, cultural and recreational activities, improving quality of life within the city of 330,000, providing more economic opportunity, improving the environment, strengthening infrastructure and mobility, and maintaining high-quality government.

Broader themes include community trust, equity, fiscal responsibility, innovation, sustainability, and resiliency, according to the summary.

Unlike some cities, Riverside is trying to think ahead and anticipate problems before they happen, according to Mayor Rusty Bailey.

“We all know that when you fail to plan, you often are planning to fail, whether you realize it or not,” Bailey said in the summary. “We are taking the opposite approach. The Riverside 2025 Strategic Plan provides our city with a realistic work plan that reflects what must be done to achieve our goals as a city.”

Once in place, the plan will be updated as needed. The city council is expected to perform its first review in 2021. The council will also receive a regular progress report on how the strategic plan is being implemented.

“The idea is to make sure everyone agrees what needs to be done when policy is being made,” said Bailey, who is leaving the council on Dec. 8 after serving 12 years, having not sought reelection last spring. “The city council and the city manager might be working on the same issue, but they might not be on the same page, and things get frazzled.”

The plan (linked here) is laid out horizontally and divided into categories, with multiple indicators and goals listed vertically underneath each. Under economic opportunity, it lists as goals “work with key partners to develop and prepare the local workforce and connect workers with high quality employment opportunities in Riverside,” and “facilitate partnerships and programs to develop, attract and retain innovative business sectors.”

It also lists five “cross-current threads” that are to be part of any policy the city agrees on: community trust, equity, fiscal responsibility, innovation and sustainability, and resiliency

During the next five years, the city council will refer to the 2025 Strategic Plan during council meetings to make sure it is being followed, City Manager Al Zelinka said.

“I expect it to be referred to often,” Zelinka said. “It’s where we want to go, and we have to make sure we stick to it.”

Cities don’t often adopt five-year plans, although Ft. Collins, Co., according to Zelinka.

“We looked at maybe 15 or 20 cities that took this approach,” Zelinka said. “We would have added the plan approved probably three months earlier than we did but COVID-19 hit last spring.  At that point, stopping the pandemic moved everything else off to the side.”

The 2025 Strategic Plan is not the first time Riverside decided to plan ahead. In 2014, Bailey introduced Riverside 2.0, also a five-year strategic plan that the seven-member city council readily adopted.

That plan, which was tweaked several times, was more about implementing business practices, like providing better service at city hall, than it was crafting long-term policies for solving homelessness or attracting businesses, according to Bailey.

“One of the things I learned in the military is to think long-term, which is why I suggested we do 2.0 when I got on the council,” Bailey said. “We decided to call it 2.0 because of the tech industry. At the time, it seemed like everything was ‘2.0 this’ or ‘2.0 that.’ ”

At the time, the city had not put a long-term plan together for at least 10 years. 

“[Then-Mayor] Ron Loveridge, I think, had a hard time getting anything like that through,” said Bailey, who said the 2025 Strategic Plan is essentially an update of Riverside 2.0. “I think he had some difficult people on the council and some difficult people on the commissions.”

Any long-term plan is difficult to get approved because there are so many people involved. Riverside, for example, has a seven-member city council, which means any plan must be OK’d by at least those seven people and the city manager.

“It’s like trying to work with seven bosses,” Bailey said.

Historically, most cities avoid long-term strategic planning because it is so difficult to do, according to longtime Inland Empire economist John Husing.

When then-Gov. Jerry Brown ended redevelopment statewide in 2011, it made projects like the 2025 Strategic Plan difficult unless they’re done in-house, as Riverside is doing.

“They don’t have the money to do the plan, and they don’t have the money to pay for any changes the plan recommends,” Husing said.  

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