Security, crime and property value concerns remain
■ Melissa Diaz Hernandez / Editor
Riverside Transit Agency (RTA) has a new project on the horizon after the Hemet City Council voted Sept. 26 to unanimously give its support for the project.
During RTA’s Director of Planning Rohan Kurupp’s presentation to the council, he discussed emerging methods of transit including ride-sharing, ride-hailing services such as Uber and taxi cabs, car share services, electric bicycles, driverless buses and more.
With technology advancements, Kurupp said RTA has the ability to provide real-time information with apps and all of their buses have Wi-Fi and USB ports so patrons can work, watch movies, charge devices, do homework, send emails, and more while in transit. Patrons can also text the bus stop number and RTA will respond back with the next few stops of the bus route.
According to Kurupp, students make up 46 percent of RTA’s rider demographic.
In its effort to include the community in the project, RTA has hosted community meetings at the Simpson Center, and Kurupp communicated to council some of the community’s concerns regarding the project.
Kurupp said that the community was concerned about crime, drugs, gangs, homelessness, low property values, limited financial resources/investment to correct the course, lack of respect/community for each other and that some people in the community felt like they were prisoners in their own homes. But another community member told Kurupp that the community cannot let fear shape its future.
On the flip side, Kurupp also stated that the community sees an opportunity to preserve the heritage and character of the San Jacinto Valley, and realizes the importance of bringing back mom-and-pop businesses to help reinvigorate the downtown area. Ultimately, Kurupp told council that members of the community feel this project could improve quality of life and keep businesses in Hemet.
Some things on the community’s wish list include a greenbelt/walkway, which already coincides with the city’s downtown specific plan, and the ability for the hub to be solar-powered to reduce operating costs.
“This project could be a catalyst for this area that is beyond our imagination because all the creativity comes funneling in,” said Measure U Citizen Oversight Committee member Richard Biber, who was present at the meeting. “The downtown specific plan is great. This will make it better.”
One of the major concerns brought up by council but broached by Councilwoman Karlee Meyer was security.
“Will RTA be providing 24-hour security due to businesses having break-ins at night?” asked Meyer.
Kurupp responded that surveillance cameras have been discussed but a solution has not been finalized. However, he is looking toward a public/private partnership whereby the surrounding businesses and law enforcement would work together to keep the mobility hub free of crime.
Krupa acknowledged the safety concerns and told the audience at one point there was an idea to include a police substation or place where officers could stop for coffee and write reports.
RTA CEO Larry Rubio told council that there needs to be a conditional agreement between RTA and the city to ensure that RTA provides 24/7 security. Mayor Pro Tem Michael Perciful asked if the private sector had been approached and if there was any interest.
“Security is a concern and [we] do not want the burden to be on the police department,” said Perciful.
Kurupp responded that RTA has not engaged with the private sector at this time, but first wanted to complete the plan and receive feedback from council.
Councilman Russ Brown echoed his colleagues’ concerns about security.
Interim City Manager Allen Parker asked about the project’s timeline and financing. Kurupp told Parker that $5 million has been dedicated to the mobility hub and if public/private partnerships come to fruition, then that $5 million has the potential to multiply by four or five times by using the money already allocated to generate other funds and attract private investment.
With regards to timeframe, Kurupp stated that RTA needs to engage with city staff and come to an agreement. Once that is in place, then a schedule can be determined.
What are the next steps? Kurupp told council that the RTA board would be briefed. After that comes a project delivery strategy, final conceptual plan and agreement between RTA and the city. At that point, the final conceptual plan report can be presented to both Hemet City Council and then the RTA board. Then comes Phase 2, which includes the architectural and engineering, environmental clearance and final design and construction procurement.