Friday, April 1, 2016

Non-foolish Solutions to Affordable and Safe Living in IE

No April Fool's joke: We need game-changing solutions to crime and expensive housing


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

The Press Enterprise published a few rather disturbing front page articles on Monday. The first deals with growing property crimes taking place all over the state. The second covers worsened affordable workforce livability for the entry-level employees. Groups are calling for further increasing California's minimum wage. These are not April-fools stats. This is serious. Both of these factors, if left unchecked will damage the transit infrastructure that we pay and work hard to build; workers will be left with substandard housing they can barely afford. However, if resolved non-foolishly, it could transform California back to a genuine Golden State.

Let's begin with the controversy concerning living costs versus wages. As you well know, cost of living in California has reached critical mass. If you haven't read the blog series on this topic in relation to how other metropolitan areas fare, I invite you to do so. Overpriced rentals and purchase prices have created the disastrous effect of demands for housing in the otter fringes of the Southland, leading to super commutes that clogs the transit system. Now, this pattern of high prices have crept into the Inland Empire which includes Corona and Southwest Riverside County. Because of that, I predict that most entry-level workers making at-present California's minimum wage of $10 cannot afford a decent single bedroom apartment without subsidies. To afford rent according to several financial experts means purposing no more than 30% of one's gross income.

There is growing support and demand to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour statewide as several workers are looking for a break in the high costs. I have to show some degree of compassion and say that on the surface, this is a morally correct position. I mean, come on. If one bedroom rentals have well surpassed $1,200 per month all over the state, such a raise would certainly help more workers to afford the rent; that's likely why support is so widespread. However, I cannot back this as the cure-all solution. Inland businesses see such a statewide hike as a strategic threat and could respond by holding back on hiring or expansion within the state which would exacerbate the problem. Somebody has to pay for those raises, that is, you and I through increased prices and declined service in the retail sector. Without market demands, the inflation would be seriously artificial and next thing you'll notice, we'll be back to square one and calls for a $20 minimum will surface... To be clear, The Transit Coalition takes no position on this issue.

As a solution to the wage/cost situation, I will argue that promoting policies that expand marketplace job opportunities and demands for workers can and will lead to wage increases across the board because companies will actually need to look for labor and will end up paying more to find it, especially if a competitor wants to hire the worker. Want an example of that? Go to Orange County. Meanwhile, tying the current $10 minimum to market demands and fluctuation of the dollar value from this point forward in lieu of flat increases ensures the government-mandated floor is in line with costs-of-living such as food, transit fares, and gas prices. That would be the fair way to handle this.

Regarding the expensive housing issue, I will submit once again that any state or local red tape that prevents developers from addressing the high demands for better workforce housing be reformed immediately which includes CEQA. That will spark developer competition, lower internal building costs, improve choices and lower rentals in first-rate complexes. Plus, it will cut down on long distance commuting--a notion that every environmental organization should be promoting. Essential oversight like earthquake-resistant infrastructure and banning frivolous lending that led to last decade's crash has to remain as regulations but the codes need to be simplified to cut down on costs that developers have to face. That's likely why new developments are lagging behind despite soaring demands which drives up living costs for the people. It's long past time for government leaders to knock off the pandering to ideology. The spin and divisive solutions have to stop.

Inland Empire Crime

Now, let's look at our criminal justice system, the corrections departments and the recent rise in crimes, another serious topic.

Partisanship on both sides may have also plagued the discussion on this subject too. Many blame the crime growth on the passage of 2014's Proposition 47 which reformed the state's Three Strikes Law by reclassifying some felonies as misdemeanors. Although there may be a connection between the two, there's something else that has to be addressed. The passage of that law was morally warranted as some petty offenses certainly do not warrant an automatic 25-year-to-life sentence, and there were several cases like that in the criminal justice system. That was a fact. But while an unintended consequence was crime growth, I don't think the initiative is directly at fault.

I believe the state and local jurisdictions were simply ill-prepared for the changeover. Labor pandering on the political-left could be to blame. As you may know, both California and the United States as a whole has soaring incarceration rates. Prison, jail and police department budgets in general within the state are already strapped, again with labor interests dominating the expenditures. Riverside County is certainly no exception. The long history of overspending in this sector means proven restorative justice solutions, support volunteer, and other productive resources to actually "correct" prisoners in corrections departments are either not being funded or allowed into the jail and juvenile detention systems. That means that inmates committing crimes on the streets that were impacted by Proposition 47 were very likely previously jailed in morally harmful environments for petty crimes which I predict increases their likelihood to stay in the criminal culture upon release, a.k.a. Recidivism.

Meanwhile, allowing restorative programs and mentors within the jail and prison system in lieu of simply warehousing criminals in dark, dangerous and corrupt environments reduces future crime and the resulting recidivism rates. The corrections department would actually be doing its job in offering "corrections" to inmates who seriously desire to turn away from crime. The Kairos Prison Ministry International group for example shows that prisoners that participate in their weekend groups are less likely to end up back in jail upon release. Both the state and local governments have plenty of cash and resources to deal with this situation as low and non-risk inmates could be reassigned from the overcrowded jails and prisons to other secured housing quarters at remote rehabilitation, training, and skill-building sites. It will take the power of we the people to overcome the voice of big labor. That's the only solution I can think of.

The Transit Coalition works hard to educate the public on transportation-related matters and wants to ensure our fleets won't be plagued in crime or overpriced housing. It's going to take non-divisive co-operative ideas, game-changing strategies, and straight and serious answers to solve both of these problems. We the people have got to get on board.

This is no April Fool's joke.

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