Riverside residents will head to the polls today to decide four City Council races and a $20-million citywide bond measure to build new fire stations, training facilities and an emergency operations center.
The council races may not all be decided today. Three of the four races -- wards 1, 3 and 7 -- have a total of 18 candidates vying for open seats because the incumbents are retiring. If no candidate wins more than 50% of the vote, there will be a January runoff between the top two vote-getters in each ward.
In the fourth race, Ward 5, the incumbent has only one election rival. The City Council has a total of seven seats.
"Clearly, it is a real kind of watershed point in the city's evolution," said county Supervisor Bob Buster, a Riverside native who served on the council for five years in the 1980s and 1990s. "Here's an older city that's pretty well built-out ... and for the most part with no dominant issue.... And you have a major changeover in the council, with long-term veterans stepping down, in the midst of general-plan revision and city-charter review. It is a critical point."
Buster said the biggest challenges for the new council will include traffic congestion, the fate of the undeveloped La Sierra area, invigorating the business climate and making improvements throughout the city.
Mayor Ron Loveridge agreed that the new council means a new era.
"You have essentially 35 years of experience leaving when these three [council members] leave," he said. But "in my view, since World War II, this is the best of times for Riverside.... It's like popcorn: The city is extraordinarily active and vigorous."
Loveridge said the council will have to make decisions on issues such as new tensions from the increasing student population at UC Riverside. Some candidates have been saying the new council will make historic decisions to determine the city's fate for generations, but Loveridge said many of the major battles to shape the city are over.
"There used to be arguments over growth and no-growth. That divide is not here," he said. "I think there's general community consensus about where the city is and where it's going.... I don't see [the election] as 'throw-the-rascals-out and take a different direction.' "
Shaun Bowler, professor of political science at UC Riverside, said the new council will be shaped by two conflicting factors: new residents wanting more services while local budgets decline because of fiscal problems in Sacramento. Growth has added its own problems, such as more traffic and the need for more parks.
"It is going to be a crucial time for Riverside because now we're a huge city," Bowler said. "We're not a sleepy town in the desert any more."
The number of candidates in the races and the amount of money being spent are indicative of the change, he said.
The race to replace retiring Councilman Chuck Beaty in Ward 1 is the costliest and most competitive. Nine candidates are running. Front-runners include local businessman Dom Betro and Deputy Dist. Atty. Paul Fick. Betro, with an $87,000 campaign chest, is the leading fund-raiser among the candidates in all wards.
The other candidates for the Ward 1 seat are businessman Richard Castillo, substance-abuse counselor Michael J. Lyons, retired utility executive Mike Gardner, customer service representative Joe Ludwig, retired attorney Susan Nash, Teresa Seipel and teacher Patrick Strong (not all list occupations).
Five candidates seek to replace Ward 3 Councilwoman Joy Defenbaugh, who is retiring after more than a decade serving the ward. Defenbaugh has endorsed Mike Goldware, a contracts lawyer. His chief rival is businessman Art Gage. The other candidates are businessman Ron Diaz, Gary Huspek and sports broadcaster Robert Slawsby.
In Ward 7, four candidates seek to take over for retiring Councilwoman Laura Pearson. Candidates include retired police officer Steve Adams, former Councilwoman and Mayor Terry Frizzel, retired teacher Mary Lou Morales and Teamsters representative Creg Quiroz.
The Ward 5 race pits incumbent Councilman Ed Adkison against insurance agent Don Walters.
As for the $20-million bond measure, fire officials say it's needed to replace out-of-date facilities, already stretched in serving a booming population.