BY MARK MUCKENFUSS | The Press-Enterprise
State Sen. Richard Roth, D-Riverside, told a group of about 80 people at a town hall meeting Tuesday, March 26, that he plans to bring $15 million in annual state funding to the UC Riverside School of Medicine.
“I intend to deliver that $15 million by the end of this term, somehow,” Roth said.
The new medical school will open this fall with a class of 50 students. The state funding, if it materializes, would allow the school to operate at full capacity and admit classes of 80 students in the future. The once-promised funding was pulled two years ago in the midst of the state’s budget crisis. The loss of the money caused a one-year delay in opening the new school.
Roth told the crowd that funding the School of Medicine is his top priority. He predicted the school eventually will draw biotech businesses to Riverside, bringing more jobs and boosting the local economy. He said he would work to “incentivize” the creation of such businesses.
“It will impact you greatly,” he said of the new school.
People who attended the meeting brought other issues to Roth’s attention. After a brief talk on the medical school, veterans’ issues and a bill he is sponsoring on budget transparency, Roth opened up the discussion. None of questions dealt with UC Riverside.
Several people said they were concerned about the World Logistics Center, a massive warehouse complex planned south of Highway 60 in eastern Moreno Valley. They said they worry about pollution from increased truck traffic and how close to schools those trucks would be traveling.
“Issues such as that are local issues,” Roth said. “The last thing we want is Sacramento (getting involved).”
The discussion of the warehouse project brought up concerns about the California Environmental Quality Act and how it was being used, or possibly misused, to hold up some development. A number of bills modifying the act are being considered in the state Legislature, and Gov. Jerry Brown has said he would like to see the act overhauled.
Roth said he sees CEQA’s value in making sure environmental issues are taken into consideration when a new project is under consideration.
“The environmental laws on the books have done the job,” he said, recalling how much dirtier the air was when he came to the Riverside area in 1978. “What I object to is when CEQA is used for non-environmental issues. I’m all for streamlining.”
He said the Perris Metrolink expansion is a good example of a project that has been unduly delayed by CEQA. He called for making the act “efficient, effective and rapid, while fully addressing the environmental concerns.”
Moreno Valley Police Chief Joel Ontiveros wanted to know what Roth could do about the problems the state prison realignment has created. The action has meant relocating more serious criminals to county jails and releasing many inmates because there is not enough space to house them.
“My officers are frequently still writing reports when the bad guys are literally walking out the back door,” Ontiveros said. “It’s becoming increasingly hard for me to provide that safety on our streets.”
Roth said he realizes the severity of the problem.
“We’re going to have to get the long-term folks back to the state prison,” he said, adding that county jails don’t have the programs needed for rehabilitation that might lower recidivism rates.
He said it’s not certain what the Legislature can or might do.
“Folks are only now starting to have the conversation about what the options are,” he said.