Moreno Valley, James Baker II for District 4 Council
Dianne Anderson // —
James Baker II put the M back in Moreno Valley.
Refacing the old landmark was more than just fixing a letter or cleaning up the weeds. It was about rebuilding community morale.
Every year, he said there are beautiful stories to go with the “M.” One lady talked about coming home on the 215 freeway when the lights went on, and she watched her normally silent autistic son come alive.
“She had cancer. She was ecstatic to see her son come out of his shell,” Baker said.
The next year, her son led the countdown for the lights.
Another woman also shared her story of coping with the death of her husband. They had often hiked up to the M, which they called Mike’s mountain.
“She was mourning into the holidays without him. She went outside and bam, the lights came on. Mike’s M lit up,” he said. “This is something for the community. It’s been here since the mid-60’s.”
Baker, a longtime commissioner with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, contacted all the right people in all the right places. Since starting, the project has expanded from 13 poles and 39 lights to 23 poles and 63 lights, thanks to many volunteers, donations, and out of pocket costs.
He said that same community spirit can happen citywide.
Over the years, Moreno Valley has seen its share of problems, but he also sees how quickly the community mobilizes with the right leadership.
“I don’t really have a problem getting volunteers,” he said. “People love this city. They love what’s going on here, and they want to be proud.”
But, he said several city issues could be handled more efficiently. For instance, he worries about increased warehousing, while so many facilities sit vacant.
If used properly, he said warehouses have its place, but in canvassing one neighborhood recently, he was surprised at a long-running warehouse wall behind an entire block of houses.
“It was almost scary. We have enough warehouses. Quite a few are empty,” he said.
At least some of the vacant facilities could be used for something more productive, like a winter armory for the homeless, he said.
Another issue facing homeowners is the golf course. The developer is trying to work with homeowners that bought homes thinking they would get a great view of the golf course into their retirement. Lately, the land owner is considering building apartments there, but Baker said the developer is trying to find middle ground. He thinks they are reaching a happy medium.
“Of course, they won’t get a 100% [satisfaction] on either side. It’s his property, he is trying to make some concessions,” he said.
The planned World Logistics Center is not specifically in his district, but at a projected 700 football fields big, he feels everyone in the city should be concerned.
Environmentalists are concerned that the warehouse will bring heavy trucking pollution. He also feels that the projections for 20,000 jobs are inflated because warehousing these days is largely automated.
Infrastructure planning is coming up short on plumbing and streets, he said. The developer wants the city to carry big money costs over a prolonged period of time.
“If you build something, make sure you complete everything for the structure in the development agreement,” he said. “You can’t build a city without building septic tanks.”
Since running for the seat, he said probably the most disturbing aspect is that someone used minors to remove his door hangers, along with Cheylynda Barnard, who is also running for the seat, and replaced them with hangers of their opponent, Ulises Cabrera.
He doesn’t know how many door hangers were replaced.
“We’ve got it on video, and the kids on video, the District Attorney has it,” he said.
On the positive side, Baker is encouraged that the city has maintained a high credit rating, and balanced the budget for the past two years. Things seem well, but the city has to take care of what it already has, he said.
Over the past decade, he said he has worked closely with the city, has become familiar with all of the procedures, and agendized meetings.
He is a first-time candidate, but being in city circles as a commissioner has also given him insight into city issues, and the local community.
He never misses a groundbreaking, ribbon cuttings, and wants to encourage local nonprofits and wherever he can offer his support.
“It’s from the heart,” he said. “I’m not a politician, I’m not the smoothest talker in the world, but you don’t need a smooth talker. You need a smooth operator.”