The Riverside County Board of Supervisors approved a list of priorities for Riverside County’s state and federal lobbyists to pursue in 2020 to enable the county to save money and operate more efficiently and safely during its Jan. 14 meeting.
The 75-page list of objectives will serve as the board’s legislative platform through the end of the current year. The majority of the advocacy items were carried over from 2019, though there were a handful of amendments to the list.
Topping the county’s concerns is restoration of the 360-square-mile Salton Sea. The platform urges state and federal government support of Riverside and Imperial counties’ joint initiative to save most of the dying lake.
The county is already working toward preservation of the north end of the sea, using an Enhanced Infrastructure Financing District. However, the district, which calls for taxing area residents and businesses to pay for the restoration plan, must still be approved by voters.
The platform seeks state and federal allocations to increase the county’s stock of affordable housing. Officials said the state needs to make a minimum $1 billion available for distribution throughout California for programs aimed at supporting affordable housing projects, and the county said up to $500 million in state credits per year should be available specifically for low-income housing construction incentives.
A related section of the lobbying agenda directly addresses the federal Section 8 housing voucher program, noting that there are 97,000 households on the Section 8 waiting list countywide, accentuating why it would behoove Congress to increase funding for the program.
The platform directs lobbyists to seek changes in state realignment to end funding disparities related to the county’s receipt of state money for mental health programs and child support services. According to the Executive Office, the county has been short-changed for several decades because of how realignment formulas were set in 1991.
Homeless funding also looms large on the platform, with the county seeking state aid or incentives to enable local expansion of transitional or bridge housing to move people off the streets, expansion of substance abuse programs and greater funding for educational or vocational programs that give homeless individuals access to job training and skills.
The county is leaping into the new frontier of aviation by backing increased utilization of “remote towers” for air traffic control. Under the program, an airport is equipped with cameras that provide a 360-degree view transmitted to a remote station, where controllers, using digital broadcasting technology, can manage aircraft traffic flow without having to be physically present at the airfield.
The Federal Aviation Administration is permitting deployment of the program on a case-by-case basis. Only two airports in Riverside County currently have operational control towers – Riverside and Palm Springs. At the remaining airfields, including the routinely busy French Valley Airport, pilots follow the honor system and coordinate among themselves in traffic patterns.
Lobbyists were further directed to express the county’s desire for a short-haul rail service between the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and the Inland Empire, in order to reduce big rig traffic – and pollution – along freeways throughout the region. According to the legislative platform, providing state and federal transportation incentives might “induce railroad operators to commence short-haul service and invest in … intermodal facilities or rail yards.”
One of the problems confronting railroad operators is state environmental regulations that stymie construction of railway transfer stations, officials said.