On Wednesday, Alianza and the Center for Social Innovation at the University of California, Riverside launched a new effort exploring how to diversify the economy around the Salton Sea so that the thousands of people who call the area home have greater opportunities to work towards stable, healthy lives.

We are calling it Our Salton Sea: Investing in People for a Thriving Region, and it came together after Alianza and CSI recognized that a concerted effort was needed in order for the rural Eastern Coachella Valley to recover from the coronavirus pandemic and “build back batter” as President Joe Biden has advocated.

For the first step, Alianza and CSI hosted more than 30 leaders for a virtual discussion on what it will take to foster equity and economic mobility in this rural desert economy.

“These convenings are going to bring us an opportunity to explore community engagement practices that can be held out as a model for other areas of the state,” said Toni Symonds, the chief consultant for the California State Assembly Committee on Jobs, Economic Development, and the Economy. “Everybody here agrees that there are many poorly conceived practices out there, and that’s why — and this is obviously just the beginning — our committee is very excited to join the conversation.”

[Read Silvia Paz’s recent guest column in The Desert Sun about why Our Salton Sea is important right now.]

Other attendees included Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia, Riverside County Supervisor V. Manuel Pérez, Jeremy Hobbs of the Western Wind Foundation, Margarita Luna with the California Endowment, Desert Healthcare District and Foundation CEO Conrado Barzaga, and representatives of U.S. Rep. Raul Ruiz and Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Karthick Ramakrishnan, professor of public policy and director of the Center for Social Innovation at UCR, noted that “the message from the breakout sessions was very clear. Leaders were eager to see research that is informed not only by economic and policy analysis at a larger scale, but also to conduct deeper qualitative research to understand the lived experiences, skills, and supports that residents need to build a thriving economy that works for everyone.”

Our Salton Sea plans to hold further meetings building off the discussion Wednesday and host sessions to gather ideas from the wider community. The next step is to work with researchers and the community to determine where regional attention should be directed in order to achieve lasting economic success.

“The initial goal for this initiative is to expand our approach to economic development and economic mobility and fully understand what determines success in the region,” said Alianza Executive Director Silvia Paz. “Our mid-term goal is to develop a regional strategy for achieving inclusive, equitable and sustainable economic opportunities for communities that have historically been underserved.”

Alianza Coachella Valley