“…Graduates of the Master of Public Policy program will play key roles in shaping a new narrative of a vision for Inland Southern California’s future.” –UCR Chancellor Kim Wilcox
(Above: UCR Welcomes First Public Policy Graduate Students: Chancellor Kim Wilcox, Joseph N. Sanberg, MPP Inaugural Class, Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de Leon greets MPP student Heajin Kim.)
When it comes to our region becoming a “warehouse empire” instead of the “Inland Empire,” in response to last week’s column (What Story Are We Writing?) one reader asked, “is it too little too late?” That question made me pause to consider if that perception already sealed our future reality.
There were similar questions being asked in San Bernardino last Friday morning at an Assembly Select Committee on Small Business in the Inland Empire. The hearing committee chaired by Assembly member Cheryl Brown (representing cities including Fontana, Rialto and San Bernardino), included Assembly members Chris Holden (whose district includes Rancho Cucamonga and Upland) and Jose Medina (representing Riverside, Moreno Valley and Perris). They spent the morning listening to an overview of the small business climate in the Inland Empire, a growing sector of our region’s economy that gets very little publicity.
It’s clear that while Inland Empire city councils continue to approve industrial projects and re-zone land for industrial uses, there are emerging voices working across county lines including Brown, Holden, and Medina, who are asking the right questions: What are our other industry growth sectors? What are our regional strengths? What can we build on? What are our challenges? And, most importantly, as policymakers, how can we help shape a prosperous future for the entire region? “Our mission here,” Assembly member Holden remarked, “is shaping testimony into policies that are good for the people…”
Across the county line, a similar theme was heard that evening as UC Riverside officially launched the Master of Public Policy program at the School of Public Policy by welcoming its inaugural class. The first public policy school in the Inland Empire and only the third in the UC system, the school aims to be a national model for developing solutions to improve our quality of life and economic prosperity. “With fresh, bold thinking we will take a global approach to addressing regional and local policy challenges,” Founding Dean Anil Deolalikar told the 150 guests in attendance.
Special guest State Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de Leon, told the first class that “civic morality requires focus on equitable solutions to the problems society faces.” While social entrepreneur Joseph N. Sanberg charged the students to “effect systematic change” to revitalize middle class life in California. “We have a drought in California,” he said. “We also have a drought in original thinking in public policy. I expect you to be creative and original in your thinking.”
Sanberg, a member of the college’s advisory council, personally funded seven students in the inaugural class. He recalled his maternal grandfather, Abraham “Manny” Rice, for whom the scholarships are named. The youngest of 15 children born to Ukranian immigrants in Chicago, Rice moved to Orange County as a young man and led a successful life. Today, people in similar circumstances move to the Inland Empire, Sanberg said. Growing up in a working class family, he told the students, “so much had to go right for me to achieve this level of success. We can’t leave our future to luck or chance…systematic change doesn’t happen by chance, it happens through good policy and a focus on revitalizing the middle class.”
So while developers continue to push warehouse projects in cities throughout the region, I am optimistic that change is lingering in the particulate matter-filled air. Giving her own testimony at the Assembly Select Sub-Committee hearing San Bernardino Supervisor Josie Gonzales remarked, “If we want a better identity we must use our combined demographics to our advantage.” And starting with our region’s state legislators, it seems as though the leaders of both counties are starting to work together to develop policies that shape that “new narrative” of a vision for our future before it truly is too late.