San Bernardino officials engage residents to fight for RDA’s
By Chris Levister –
“Call them, write them, text them. If necessary sit on their doorstep. Tell your legislators not to do away with local redevelopment agencies.” That was the plea from San Bernardino officials to residents during a packed town hall meeting hosted by 6th Ward Councilman Rikke Van Johnson Tuesday.
“Tell legislators to follow the voters – 63% oppose elimination of redevelopment,” said Johnson during a presentation on the impact of the state’s budget on blight abatement, public safety, ongoing and future public works projects.
“It’s a tragedy to take local dollars to balance the state’s budget particularly for cities like ours.
We’re 200 years old, our infrastructure is aging,” said Mayor Patrick Morris.
“The resources we have to repair and maintain our deteriorating water and sewer lines for example, our curbs and gutters… come from redevelopment funds. Without them we’re in a world of hurt.”
“Make those calls. Urge them to vote against this tragedy. Our community has spent years fighting blight and revitalizing neighborhoods, and that entire progress has been offered up as a sacrifice to put a one-time dent in the state’s deficit,” Morris said. He said if redevelopment funds go away, the City Council will have to come up with an additional $67,000 to balance the next fiscal budget.
"Their vote has the potential to either continue an incredibly effective program designed to assist our most challenged and distressed neighborhoods, or in one fell swoop end 50 years of success and doom our neighborhoods to perpetual and permanent blight,” City Manager Charles McNeely told residents.
Redevelopment is on the chopping block as legislators consider a controversial budget package that calls for the community revitalization tool's demise.
Under the plan, the state would dismantle its redevelopment program, in which portions of property taxes are diverted back to cities to fund efforts to eliminate blight, spark economic development and create affordable housing.
Enterprise zones, intended to promote hiring and investment through an array of tax incentives, are also on the chopping block. Supporters say the program is critical during a time of high unemployment, whereas others say the zones have never been proven to stimulate hiring and that money given as tax incentives could be better spent on public services.
Mattel, HP, Pep Boys, Kohls, the multi-million dollar Stater Brothers headquarters located on Tippecanoe are just a few of the businesses lured to our city thanks to the enterprise zone. The senior housing complex under construction on Medical Center Drive will yield 80 affordable units funded largely with redevelopment funds,” said Johnson.
Local officials - including the mayors of Fontana, San Bernardino and Ontario – unveiled an online campaign last week urging voters to oppose Gov. Jerry Brown's proposal to do away with local redevelopment agencies and called on residents to sign a petition on MyVoteCountsCA.org. The initiative, which includes radio advertisements and social media postings, is aimed to convince the governor and Legislature to save redevelopment agencies.
According to a recent audit, some cities are said to have abused the redevelopment process. “They’ve used the money to buy open space and build new assets where blight didn’t exist. “We are not one of those cities,” said Morris.
“Attempting to paint all RDA’s with a broad brush is irrational.”
McNeely meanwhile, introduced an array of new staff members, including fresh leadership for Parks and Recreation and Public Works. Other speakers presented overviews of the function and structure of key city departments.
“Our staff is passionate about what they do, and continues to come up with visionary ideas and new resources that keep San Bernardino moving forward,” said McNeely.
Police Chief Kilmer, who called it quits after just 21 months Monday introduced an air of levity to the otherwise hushed room.
“It was a rumor that I’m leaving.” The audience burst into applause. “Just kidding,” he said.
“When I stood before you in this very room almost 2 years ago I asked you to trust me. I engaged you to help make your communities safer,” said Kilmer.
“I promised to make the police department more transparent, more inclusive and more accessible.
Today crime is down, troop morale is up. We’re more visible and accountable. Many of you who were skeptical at the time have become partners in making this city a better place in which to live and work,” Kilmer told listeners.
Kilmer began working for the city in June 2009, and in that time developed strong community partnerships, saw crime drop significantly throughout the city, organized an extremely successful gun turn in program, and developed a Citizen's Police Academy.
“Chief Kilmer has been an outstanding police chief for the city of San Bernardino,” said Mayor Morris. “His contributions to the community have played a significant role in the city's continuing drop in crime.”
“This is a huge loss for the city,” said retired electrician Austin Haynes. “Just when we got someone decent in here, someone we can begin to trust, he leaves.”
“I’m sad to see the chief go, but one man cannot change the unsafe and stagnating conditions allowed to exist in our communities for decades,” said Richard Avery, an unemployed construction worker. “We won’t see real change until we get more of our residents and community groups on board.”
As the town hall meeting wore on, several in the audience questioned Councilman Johnson about the city’s commitment to job creation and business development in the Westside.
“Where are the jobs our leaders promised? Who is really benefiting from the billions in federal stimulus money?” Asked a listener named Lee.
“If you look at the workers on the I-215 expansion or those building the senior apartments the Mayor boasted about, you won’t see a single African- American. Everybody walks around being politically correct – saying the Mexicans aren’t taking our jobs - well I urge you to do what I did for four days straight. Go to those sites and see for yourself.”
Listener Robin Bennett asked the panel of city leaders: “If we’ve got all this redevelopment money to protect from the state, where are the Pep Boys’, Mattel’s and Kohls’ in our community? These businesses are being steered to Tippecanoe Avenue not the Westside. Landscaping and beautification on Mt. Vernon won’t put food on our tables,” she said.
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