The Board of Supervisors Tuesday considered how to make use of comments regarding how Riverside County government can improve the delivery of services and expressed an interest in conducting broader surveys before making policy changes.

“The sampling we have is not necessarily representative of the county,” UC Riverside Dean of Public Policy Anil Deolalikar told the board. “It needs to be supplemented by additional analyses in order to proceed with forming new policies. The county should consider doing a deeper dive over the next couple of months, trying to provide a more structured framework (connected to) the re-occurring themes and issues.”

The dean and a group of his students were requested by the board to handle processing comments from residents who participated in three “listening sessions” between late September and late October.

The sessions were convened in response to protests alleging systemic racism in law enforcement over the summer, and to gauge the impacts of public health lockdowns and similar issues.

Deolalikar said 111 individuals took part in the listening sessions. The principal themes that emerged from them were: inequality in policing; the need for criminal justice reform; increased funding for social programs; the economic hardships caused by the state-mandated coronavirus public health regulations; the need for relaxing cannabis controls; improved policies to address climate change; and access to better education.

The dean said “virtual townhalls” to involve a broader cross-section of residents from all supervisorial districts might be in order. He offered his and his students’ support to continue working with the county, presumably voluntarily.

There were no direct costs cited by the Executive Office in the documentation and processing of the listening sessions’ testimony.

“We don’t know what percentage of those viewpoints represent the larger community,” Supervisor Chuck Washington said. “This is not a scientific poll. The more random and diverse a poll is, the more accurately it will reflect the viewpoints of the body of our constituents. Before we go down the path of designing policies, we might also want to evaluate ways to design policies that best address the highest priorities of residents in our district.”

Board Chairman Manuel Perez, who was the principal advocate for the sessions, agreed, saying “a survey around the seven themes that came up” was a move in the right direction.

The board will hold a workshop on Dec. 15 to further discuss the matter and decide whether to appoint the UCR School of Public Policy to continue handling and distilling data.

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