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Riverside Engineer Talks About Unique Impact of Small Business Advocacy
A Riverside resident since 1988, Robert Stockton, vice president and principal-in charge at Rick Engineering, is keenly aware of the myriad of economic issues his community and city face.
As chair of the Greater Riverside Chambers of Commerce Economic Development Council for the last two years, Stockton has been instrumental in leading the chamber’s efforts to build a strong local economy through business attraction and retention strategies, as well as advocating practical and business-friendly policies in environmental regulation and land use.
Last year, Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. appointed Stockton to the California Board for Professional Engineers, Land Surveyors and Geologists.
When the Riverside Board of Supervisors voted to start charging new solar-power developers a fee, balanced with incentives, to pay for land use rights, Stockton represented the chamber before the board and stressed that the city should be in partnership with the solar industry in order to not discourage new development and job creation.
Stockton also testified before U.S. Representatives Ken Calvert (R-Corona), Jerry Lewis (R-Redlands) and Tom McClintock (R-Roseville) on the negative impacts that a critical habitat designation for the Santa Ana sucker fish would have on the region’s access to water.
Last year, Stockton assisted efforts of the Greater Riverside Chambers to partner with the City of Riverside in commissioning the Regional Intelligence Report, a study to identify the baseline economic indicators in specific industries that will have an impact on inland Southern California in the future.
Yet, out of all the issues Stockton has brought to the attention of elected officials, one of the most significant to him has been securing funding for the new University of California, Riverside medical school.
The first medical school built in 40 years west of the Mississippi River, the establishment of the UC Riverside School of Medicine was approved in 2008, but faced many funding challenges due to the state’s economic downturn and resulting budget cuts. This year, however, Governor Brown approved $15 million in annual funding that the University of California system will direct toward the school.
The mission of the school is to expand and diversify the physician workforce in inland Southern California and to develop research and health care delivery programs that improve the health of medically underserved populations. This is especially pertinent to Riverside, as the city currently lacks primary care physicians, Stockton said.
In addition to easing the health care demands the city faces, the school will have an economic “multiplier effect” on local industries, he added.
This is why for Stockton and the Greater Riverside Chambers, the school is especially important.
“Our top priority was to get the Legislature to approve funding for the school,” he said. “It was a long, drawn effort, but it finally came into fruition.”
Another significant issue for Stockton was advocating for disability access reform. Stockton and the Greater Riverside Chambers advocated heavily for reforms in both Sacramento and Washington, D.C., where they met up with Senator Dianne Feinstein(D-San Francisco) to bring up the issue of making reforms to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to curb frivolous lawsuits against businesses.
The ADA reform effort eventually led at the state level to the introduction of SB 1186 (Steinberg; D-Sacramento/Dutton; R-Rancho Cucamonga). The bill, which was supported by the California Chamber of Commerce in 2012, sought to limit frivolous litigation regarding technical violations concerning access by reducing statutory damages, increasing pleading requirements and banning pre-litigation, monetary demand letters.
“Lawsuits were being filed prevalently, especially against small business,” Stockton said. “They were essentially being blackmailed.”
The bill was signed by the Governor last year.
Advocacy Is Important
The success of these efforts demonstrates why it’s so important to be active in advocacy. Many times, elected officials rely heavily on what they hear from their constituents, Stockton said.
“If you don’t have a voice at the seat of the table, you’re not going to get heard,” he said. “When someone else gets heard, that means that your issues are not going to end up being a priority.”
In recognition of Stockton’s extensive advocacy on behalf of small businesses, the CalChamber presented him with a “2013 Small Business Advocate of the Year” award in May before more than 200 attendees at the CalChamber Legislative Briefing.
In nominating Stockton for the award, Greater Riverside Chambers President and CEO Cindy Roth said, “It is individuals like Robert who maintain countless hours of service, tireless work ethic and unyielding commitment to our chamber mission and its members, which keeps our businesses thriving.”
For those wanting to be more involved in the business community, Stockton recommends joining a chamber business council and then finding a committee that suits an individual’s particular passion.