RIVERSIDE: Candidates spar over library, office moves

Riverside mayor candidates take questions during the Riverside mayoral debate at California Baptist University in Riverside Ca. April.26, 2012.
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Published: 26 April 2012 09:50 PM

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The only punches thrown were verbal, but seven candidates hoping to be Riverside’s next mayor traded jabs Thursday over the city’s policy on ambulance service, the lack of action on the downtown library, and other city issues.

They met at a forum held at California Baptist University and sponsored by the Raincross Group, Charter Communications, The Press-Enterprise and La Prensa.

Whichever candidate wins will replace five-term Mayor Ron Loveridge. The candidates are former councilman Ed Adkison, Councilman William “Rusty” Bailey, nonprofit CEO Peter Benavidez, retired school accounts clerk Aurora Chavez, Councilman Mike Gardner, Councilman Andy Melendrez, and teacher Dvonne Pitruzzello.

The event was the third forum where all seven candidates got the chance to explain their platforms and answer questions on city issues; three more forums are planned by different civic groups before the June 5 election.

At earlier events, questions covered dealing with the homeless population, including everyone in an ethnically and economically diverse city and government transparency.

Some of those themes came up Thursday, but candidates took more direct swings at each other than previously. In one exchange, Adkison blamed Gardner for the fact that the downtown library hasn’t been fixed up, saying there had been a design and funding for the project, but then Gardner won election and changed directions.

Gardner fired back, noting the funding sources for the library and the Fox theater renovation had been switched so the library dollars became less certain.

As to the original design for a combination library/museum expansion, he said, “It was not well vetted in the community. …I’m proud I helped kill that.”

Candidates also tussled over ambulance service, which has been a de facto monopoly in the city for years. Several said the policy is unfair and needs to change, but the moderator also prodded some to admit they received contributions to their earlier council campaigns from the sole ambulance provider.

A three-way plan to move the city’s public utilities workers into private office space and backfill their building with the downtown police station also was sharply scrutinized. City officials are now rethinking the police station move, but the private office lease was signed in 2011.

Adkison said he would have called for public discussion before the council voted on the issue. Melendrez, who recused himself from the vote because of a potential conflict, agreed it should have been better vetted.

Pressed by moderator Brad Pomerance, Gardner said if he were mayor he “would not have vetoed it given the information we had at the time.”

To a question about proposed charter changes, Chavez, Benavidez and Pitruzzello said they support one that would have the city’s internal auditor report to the council instead of the city manager.

Benavidez noted that he served on the charter commission that recommended the auditor change and he co-wrote the ballot argument for it. Pitruzzello, who for many months has questioned the city’s financial decisions, said, “There’s inherent problems when your auditor is reporting to their boss.”