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Riverside will use $9.1 million state grant to upgrade Eastside Neighborhood

The money, part of a larger statewide program, will be used to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the community through environmental means, including planting trees, installing free solar panels, and if things go as planned, getting people to walk more and drive less.

 

Riverside’s historic Eastside Neighborhood is about getting an environmental makeover, paid for by the state of California.

The Eastside Climate Collaborative is part of a $32.1 million state program designed to make several neighborhoods in California more livable by reducing the negative effects of greenhouse gas emissions, according to Riverside officials.

Besides strengthening local economies, the California Strategic Growth Council’s Transformative Climate Communities Program will improve public health in disadvantaged communities.

California Climate Investments, a statewide initiative that uses cap-and-trade revenue to cut greenhouse emissions, is funding the program.

In Riverside, the Eastside Neighborhood will receive $9.1 million in improvements, including the planting of 2,000 trees, installation of solar panels on 100 homes, and the conversion of 100,000 square feet of turfgrass to low-water landscaping.

Projects include building the 65-unit Entrada housing development at 7th and Chicago streets, constructing bike paths and walkways, increasing job training, and creating a community settlement association that would work to prevent business displacement in the neighborhood.

Those initiatives are expected to attract nearly $30 million in community investment funds, money that will be spent on more environmental improvements in the neighborhood, according to city officials.

Two grants from the strategic growth council will pay for the four-year project, which has begun its first phase: a $9 million Transformative Climate Communities Grant and a $22.1 million grant/loan from the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities Program.

Riverside Mayor Patricia Lock Dawson called the project “beyond exciting” shortly after it was announced earlier this month.

“It’s community investment at a large scale, with wise projects that will produce environmental impacts,” Lock Dawson said in a statement. “This is a fantastic initiative for the residents of the Eastside Neighborhood.”

Located in the city’s second ward, the Eastside Neighborhood traces Riverside’s founding in 1870. It is bordered by UC Riverside on the east, downtown on the west, Hunter Industrial Park on the north, and Victoria Golf Course on the south.

Once part of Riverside’s citrus industry, the Eastside Neighborhood today includes North Park, Patterson Park, the downtown Metrolink Station, the Union Pacific Depot building – now a retail venue – the Cesar Chavez Community Center and Bobby Bonds Park.

It is also home to a large Hispanic population.

The Eastside Neighborhood was selected for the climate communities program because it could show it had enough environmental problems to merit such a large investment by the state, said Jeff McLaughlin, project manager with the Riverside Housing Authority.

“I think the program’s large goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by getting people out of their cars and walking more,” said McLaughlin, who is overseeing the project.

Concern about Eastside Neighborhood, and areas around it, is not new. As recently as 2013, the housing authority commissioned the Chicago-Linden Strategic Plan, a study that analyzed a neighborhood in the north-central part of Riverside within the Eastside Neighborhood.

The study, named for two of the four streets that border the area, found a community that had lost residents in recent years and was plagued by substandard multifamily properties, gangs, and crime.

To fix the neighborhood, residents suggested increasing police patrols, upgrading parks, and other public safety, and making the streets safer. They also proposed a name change, saying Eastside “does not have a good connotation.”

Possible new names included Patterson Heights, Los Altos de Patterson, and Oak Tree Heights.

Other suggestions: rename Patterson Park, establish a community center there, clean up its bathrooms and stage free, or affordable, programs. Cesar Chavez Community Center and Bobby Bonds Park both need to be made safer with more lights and security cameras, regular police patrols should be established and graffiti should be removed.

“The clear message from residents was that personal safety is the most significant concern,” the report states in its introduction.

The report also calls for upgraded housing in the Chicago-Linden neighborhood, but it conceded that such improvements “[don’t] improve the sense of community, the quality of life or the sense of place of its residents.”

Despite being eight years old, the 18-page report became the housing authority’s “foundational document” when it sought entry into the climate communities program, according to McLaughlin.

“I’m sure some things have changed since it came out, but it’s still an accurate assessment of that part of the city,” McLaughlin said of the report, which was compiled by Terra Nova Planning & Research Inc. in Palm Desert. “We referred to it over and over again when we were putting this together.”

Eastside residents are volunteering to participate in the first part of the climate collaborative program.

“The reaction has been very strong,” McLaughlin said. “There’s a lot of interest out there. It was shut down because of the pandemic, but now that it’s happening a lot of people want to help out, maybe because it’s a sign things are getting back to normal.

“After 16 months, people are ready to work on some projects.”

Despite its place in the city’s history and its mix of residential and business, the Eastside neighborhood has been neglected by the city for years, said Juan Navarro, an artist and Eastside resident.

Navarro gives the climate collaborative program his full endorsement.

“There are a lot of things wrong with the neighborhood,” said Navarro, who paints community murals and works with businesses that want to improve their appearance. “It will be a good thing for the city, and the neighborhood if they spend the money right and really fix it up. People will be very gratified if that happens.”

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