David Starr Rabb, 32
David Starr Rabb was 28 when he first won a seat on the Perris City Council. Now he’s running for re-election to continue building on the work he started. A graduate of Stanford Law and a Navy vet, he aims to focus city government on supporting economic development and providing livable wages to all workers.
If you could get a beer with any politician today, who would it be and why?
Probably Joe Biden. I know he's kind of out of the game. But he became a senator at 30 and has always had an ability to speak his mind. Not in the way the current president does. Biden has an honest and sincere way of speaking to the average working class American. I just kind of want to pick his brain in terms of how he was able to be in the Senate over 30 years served as vice president for eight years I think it'd be good to get a beer with him and kind of pick his brain about his long political career.
I know one of your interests is home improvement is one of your hobbies? What do you like to build?
I'm not really an expert with my hands but I do a lot of work around the home. I’m really into gardening and yard work. I thought it was very therapeutic getting away all the digital devices, computer, just getting outside and having the sun hit you. Activities like gardening, weeding, lawn mowing, trimming hedges, and landscaping. I really find it therapeutic getting away from a lot of the connectedness of modern society. It leaves room for that deep kind of thinking. While I'm doing it, I'm not distracted, so I'm able to think about different issues on a deeper level.
What's your favorite place to hang out in Perris?
There's not a lot of bars here but one of my favorite places to eat is a new coffee shop called La Gare and they have great coffee, dessert, food and hamburgers, and salads. It opened up recently and it's really popular with residents. I’m always hanging out doing city council work, doing personal work and get up there in the community and be in nice air conditioning, I love going there, it’s not too pricey. It's a great mom and pop local business.
In your own words, what does the Perris City Council do?
Perris City Council is 5 city council members. We have a directly elected mayor who runs the meeting and appoints the planning commission. Then there are four at-large city council members on staggered terms and then an elected City Clerk. So as City Council members, we set the budget, which is about $30 million budget bi-annually, and allocate funding for road repairs and we contract out the sheriffs and fire department. We also have a lot of the infrastructure issue such as paving roads and cleaning the sidewalks.
We also implement programs for people like the children or seniors, we have leisure programs, a gymnasium, and a community garden that's opening up.
Lastly, economic development. In terms of attracting new retail businesses, giving infrastructure for industrial businesses, and bringing in new homes. There’s been a major draw here, and people are looking to build and move out here.
What are your potholes, what do you think the issues in your community that are neglected but you really think she'd be addressed?
We need to get more jobs in the area. We need stable jobs, which is an issue in the city because we have a lack of professional jobs. So if you get a degree in engineering, there are going to be very few jobs in the Inland Empire, particularly in Perris. Maybe in Temecula, Rancho Cucamonga, but chances are you're going to be living in Los Angeles, San Diego or Orange County. So it’s really bringing professional jobs in and it's an issue that's more on the national and state level is implementing livable wages at these industrial jobs. A lot of people are working two or three jobs so they can live. They don't have the mandated vacation. In other countries people get mandated time off, we don't even have a week on the books in America. So I think that's the big issue is providing stable gainful employment to the residents of Perris.
Like you just said, many people with secondary education choose to work in Los Angeles or San Diego. You attended Stanford, but forsook the major cities to come back to Perris? What brought you back?
After school, I served in the United States Navy then came back. I’ve always been a working-class guy and I went to a really good school. But I never felt that I fit in that upper elite Stanford Law school.
I always felt better around working class because I was able to relate to people more. So I came back to Perris. I ran for local office because I felt that the local government was more of a good ol’ boys network that was more concerned with lining their own pockets than with issues that directly concerned their residents. When it came to implementing policies that would actually help the city, many of these elected officials were pretty clueless about what to do.
I was 28 when I ran, and I realized I may not have the opportunity to run again. I want to have children, and having young children and two jobs doesn’t really fit. If I didn’t run at 28, I knew that door would close until my early 50s. I did it, I got it, and I’ve been serving for almost four years.
What did you hear the call? When did you realize you need to run for office?
Well when I was younger, and I always thought maybe I should run for something. I went to school, and I was always doing a lot of volunteer work on campaigns while I was in undergrad and law school. I decided to run probably in the spring of 2014, and here I was, I'd only been back in the city for a year. I was 28 years old, I didn’t really know the established people.
In many of these residential commuter cities, there is an established elite in terms the people that go to all the chamber of commerce and government events, and it’s probably the same 40-50 people. But they don’t represent the actual residents of the community. Most people have no idea who their elected officials are.
So I'd go to these events and see the same people. I thought I had the energy and enthusiasm. I didn't have the money but I had a more positive attitude. So it was then, during the spring of 2014 I decided to run.
With all this post-2016 energy around elections, how do you think we can redirect it and engage people locally?
I think it's information. We need customer pride in local newspapers. They've really been gutted over the last 10 years and there needs to be a neutral source of information in these communities. In Los Angeles, New York, other big cities, they still have local information.
But in these cities like Perris, there’s a lack of local information so we need to go back to blogs that provide local information and we need to get people on the street, talking to local officials, going to each city council meeting boarding and reporting the important issues and that was somewhat knowledgeable about what's happening. It’s also about educating people. Going back to the public education in America, it is trash, it’s garbage. If you don't teach people life skills, you don't teach them what's happening in their community, the average American can’t tell you how many senators there are. It’s going back to that culture where people value education and intelligence, and value reading books and being studious.
Perris recently gained national attention because of the Turpin family case. Did you find that you had to then combat some negative ideas about your city because of that case? Or did you see more ways in which the city needs to be actively preventing tragedies like that
Actually both. In terms of the Turpin case, it was amazing that the story spread and the scope in which it spread. It reached a worldwide audience. We did try to highlight all the good things about the city that we have, to show the Turpins didn’t represent our city. We have the lake, we have parks and affordable homes.
But the Turpin family is not a good representation of our city. In this city, people tend to be fairly involved because it’s a newer city. Most of the houses were built around 2013. The Turpin family, they didn’t bring their kids out of the house. But there are 75,000 residents and that family, they were weird but they weren't waving the red flags that they were abusing their children.
You've been very vocal about trying to prevent some rezoning of the city's available land from commercial to light industrial which allows warehouse from companies like Amazon and Wayfair. What kind of businesses then do you think you want to attract into Perris?
I think in terms of the businesses in the city, I think we need to take advantage of the local universities. UC Riverside, California Baptist University, and Loma Linda University. We partnered with UC Riverside which just built a new hospital to try and bring some of those jobs into the city of Perris.
In terms of warehouses, we have to be really prudent with our land and how we zone it. A lot of people aren’t fans of Amazon, but if the city is able to get some sort of revenue stream from items that are sold online I have no issue with the warehouses, provided it’s in a space that's not too close to homes. Many warehouses built now we’re approved back in 2009-2013 before I was on the council.
For example, any time someone buys something off Wayfair, we get a percentage of the sales tax revenue. So it’s been good in some terms. But the people working at these warehouses are really going to have to push unionization to ensure workers are paid an adequate wage and have a benefit structure.
When Henry Ford had his plant, he paid people decent wages because he wanted people to buy his product. We have people working at Wayfair and Amazon, and they’re not making enough wages to buy the product. They don’t have a home to put the product, because they're living with their parents, their parents are living with them, they’re living with a bunch of roommates. So I think in terms of our area, we have to really be prudent about how we zone the land. We don’t want to put them too close to homes.
You mentioned that after Stanford you joined Navy and UAE. What skills do you think you gained from the military?
I enlisted before I had my BA. So during my undergrad through my law school years, I was drilling one weekend a month. Then I deployed out right after I’d taken the bar. I spent three months in Rhode Island and another seven months at UAE. I think it taught me discipline. I had a schedule I had to keep.
My time in the service really put me in touch with working class people. I grew up in a working-class community. The Navy taught me how to think outside the box and interact with people from various backgrounds. It also taught me how to have a thick skin. I think people really need to be able to sit down, hash things out, and really see where the other person is coming from. Where they're coming from might not be a place you want to go, and that’s perfectly fine.
If you could wave a magic wand and get universal support for any issue, what would it be?
If I had the stakeholders at a local level and the state level, one thing I would have universal support for is making sure that the warehouse and industrial jobs hire people with livable wages and benefits. That they get two weeks of vacation, that they get sick time, that they can take care of their family and you know provide a livable wage so they can actually give back to the community. So people can go buy things and shop in the community.
if I could wave a magic wand on the local level, then every single last one of our parks would have a restroom clean and well-lit restrooms, the park equipment would be nice and new. In an instant, our 13 parks would be up to date, everything would be brand new. People really take pride in cleaning the parks and then reporting if anybody sees graffiti in the parks. The parks would an area where kids could go play, where people can go for runs and parks.
Who have been your mentors? Who has helped guide you? Who has supported you while you’ve been in office?
It’s been several people. My dad has been and still is my greatest mentor. He’s a retired plumber.
People I’ve really worked well with have been my city council members like Tonya Burke. We’ve worked really well, so even when we disagree with items, we can really hash things out. She’s been a good mentor.
Rita Rogers has also been a mentor. We don't agree on many issues, but the last two years, we’ve really been working together and found common ground. She provided support in terms of mentoring me through the election process.
And the last person would be Councilmember Malcolm Corona. Over the last three years, we’ve developing bonds together.
Then many community members who have gone out, walked for me, pastored that have prayed for me, and given me scriptures when I’m down. It’s been a really great support network here in the city.
What advice do you give to a young person who's considering running?
I would tell them, make sure you really want the office and to really prepare yourself.
I think we have a lot of young people they're running that really haven’t lived life. I think certain people can run at 22 and be mature. Other people, it takes 32 or 35. You really have to get that youthful kind of life out, explore and travel.
A lot of the times in America, we think of travel as young years, we think oh go party. But no it’s trying different thing. That would be the one thing. Trying different things, make sure your career is established. Get all that in place. Be prepared to fight for people. Get as much education as you can. Live your life. Really learn people. Learn how to work with people effectively because you’re going to need that in the political sphere.
Learn as much as you can. And at the same, really be willing to learn and be open to growth.
The views expressed in this interview are those of the candidate, and do not reflect the beliefs and views of Ballot Breakers or its staff.