Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Getting more jobs into the Inland Empire is better Smart Growth

A strong regional job market with sufficient housing supply can help keep commute times short and our transit system productive.

ALMECENES CAYCO

Transit Talking Points by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director
riversidetransit@gmail.com


If you lived in the Inland Empire long enough, you know a pattern has been going on since the late 1990's. It is the fact that many highly skilled Inland Empire workers are still forced to commute 1-2 hours each way to an out-of-town job site simply because such high paying jobs remain very limited in our Inland cities.

Living in the South Los Angeles region has been out of the question for many hard working families since the 1950's. Bad social conditions and violent crime in LA drove its workers out of town and east into the Inland Empire and south into the Orange County areas.

More recently as we went into 2000, jobs shot up in Orange County and housing then became expensive since housing supplies failed to meet the high demands when its workers came into the county.

In contrast, properties and rentals here at home remained affordable which led to more housing growth demands in this region. Thus, many Inland residents make the long trek in and the journey back home each and every day of the workweek. This has been the pattern for nearly two decades and our awful long distance traffic conditions is proof. Also, many Inland regions are home to the service-oriented workforce, many of whom are still looking for work, further dampening the number of Inland jobs per worker.

I've already talked about getting better housing supplies on the other side of the 91 to increase OC competition and lower prices. I've already covered the need to clean up urban blight and gang crime in South LA and other troubled areas and existing neighborhoods here at home. Now, the question remains: How can we get the better jobs into the Inland Empire while keeping homes affordable to wipe out our long history of required long distance commuting?

Growing jobs here at home is smart and sustainable economic growth. It has nothing to do with Agenda 21. It has everything to do with bringing about the best in the Inland Empire region by eliminating the required 1-2 hour commute that many Inland citizens have to face in order to have a high paying job and a desirable quality home for the family.

New office
Imagine having a tech firm like this at a business district near you.
Photo: © Flickr/Phil Whitehouse CC-BY-SA

Getting more High Salary Jobs into town

The region has seen a growth in logistics, goods fulfillment, and medical. On the local front, the City of Murrieta has seen small business growth. But we still have a ways to go. Now is not the time time to celebrate a full recovery.

Because a significant portion of the Inland population are skilled workers, the big job makers need to be incentivized to come into Riverside and San Bernardino Counties and offer opportunities for those who still have to drive long ways for good jobs. We're talking high paying jobs such as information technology, research and development, engineering, mass media, and other similar jobs. That would greatly help balance the job-housing ratio here at home and put Orange County and North San Diego Counties into positions where they have to improve their housing supplies to retain its workforce. Plus as local job opportunities increase, so do working salaries. That's because businesses are put into a position where they have to pay more to attain or retain the best workers.

As such key jobs increase, so do their support positions as well. That in turn, allows people currently working at entry level jobs to move up or move on as they acquire new skills, thus keeping the employment door open for high school youth. Again, that allows for better salaries and more productive use of transit infrastructure.

Photo: City of Temecula
Think about it: If a software engineer is making $80,000 per year, lives in Temecula but works in Irvine, finds that another software firm is about to move into Murrieta and has a job offer for the same salary, then the Irvine firm would be put into a position to offer a raise, pay for transportation and permit telecommuting to retain the worker. But such an offering cannot happen under the current system where such high paying jobs are barely existent here in the Inland Empire.

In fact, the retail sector in our region still generally remains at a point where it is difficult to even get a job in a fast food restaurant in some local areas, even though we house some of the busiest and highest volume retail outlets.

Why are we not seeing more of these "Now Hiring" signs in the Inland Empire retail sector?
Photo: © Flickr/PaulSwansen CC-BY-ND
Getting the "Now Hiring" signs back on Retail Sector Windows

Because jobs are so limited in the Inland Empire, many have to turn to the lower-paying entry positions in retail. That obstructs many high school youth from attaining their first jobs.

To be fair, I've pointed out in this blog that more adolescents are taking the entry level jobs than a few years ago, but because so many applicants are applying for the limited number of jobs, very few establishments currently have "Help Wanted" signs posted on their windows. Employers can then keep salaries down. Many entry-level retail employers are just accepting applications and resumes, screening a pool of several qualified candidates, selecting a few for an interview, and offering one of those the job.

Under a more robust system, entry-level places would be turning over employees more quickly and thus be perpetually looking for new recruits because the workers actually have better job opportunities in the marketplace as they acquire workplace experience. I remember back in the late 90's and early 2000's when the economy was healthy and the entry level jobs were plentiful. Referral bonuses had to be given, and positions were offered to just about every qualified applicant. "Now Hiring" signs would be up for almost years at a time at many retail outlets, especially the fast food restaurants. Remember when McDonald's had the "Good jobs for good people" promotion with table tents that had paper job applications inside? We need to see this happen again in the Inland Empire.

Inland officials need to continue to incentivize business growth in the Inland Empire targeted to existing residents. Of course, there needs to be proper oversight so that the growth does not go unchecked. The World Logistics Center is a major plan that The Transit Coalition is taking a critical look due to concerns over traffic congestion and pollution. We want logistics and goods movements to prosper because it is a good stepping stone between the entry-level and professional jobs. But there needs to be efficient oversight to protect the environment. At the same point, the red tape needs to be streamlined and made more efficient so that businesses are incentivized to invest their money here at home. I'm not pandering here. I just want better efficiency and fair business-friendly policies for a better Inland job market.

Suburban tract houseKeeping Housing Affordable in the Inland Empire

One last point I need to address is keeping Inland housing affordable with the new jobs. Both the county and city governments need to monitor housing demands as more job opportunities are generated.

Let's suppose a jet manufacturing firm decides to bring 3,000 new jobs into Perris. A specific plan within the city needs to be in place to have improved housing supplies at the ready for the increased demands as aviation workers stream into town.

New tracts should follow the open-space or cluster design model where a significant amount of land remains open which would preserve wildlife corridors in high demand housing areas.
Temecula's Paseo del Sol master plan would be an example.
Map: © OpenStreetMap Contributors
Likewise, as medical jobs continue to go up in Murrieta and Temecula, so should housing supplies so that living in Southwest Riverside County can continue to be affordable. The City of Temecula has a number of housing master plans on its books including Roripaugh Ranch, Temecula Village, west Old Town, and the Jefferson Avenue redevelopment project. As more jobs come in, so should housing for the workers.

Developers should be incentivized to renovate or upgrade existing subdivisions while new tracts should follow an open-space or cluster design model where a significant portion of the land remains open. Some of the newer tracts in Temecula and Murrieta follow this design model. That will prevent the growth from turning into unchecked urban sprawl or obstructing wildlife corridors or ecosystems.

We don't want Southwest housing prices to become like Orange County where entry and support workers are priced out due to short supplies. Temecula is doing the right thing but such housing developers also need to pay for and expedite capital infrastructure and transit improvements to offset local traffic congestion. That I-15 freeway is becoming really tough these days through the Southwest and south Corona areas.

Dana Point, California (3436698285)
Imagine looking over Lake Elsinore in one of these town homes.
Inland officials seriously need to consider these propositions and must hold the state accountable for better statewide policies. That includes fair changes to CEQA law so that special interests cannot obstruct in court environmentally-friendly projects in the name of the environment. For instance, Tesla decided to place a battery manufacturing factory in Nevada, not in the job-starved Inland Empire. Why?

A workable and fact-based path to smart growth and reduced commute times on the freeways is getting the private sector to build a strong job market and economy that can provide better opportunities to the people of the Inland Empire. Businesses need to be better incentivized to grow the Inland job market.

The time is now to make it happen.

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