Andrew Edwards, Staff Writer
Posted: 02/15/2010 05:24:45 PM PST

SAN BERNARDINO – The long wait between the 2009 elections and the swearing-in of new city officials is almost over.

Tonight’s City Council meeting will mark the end of terms belonging to council members Esther Estrada and Dennis Baxter.

Estrada – who for the next couple weeks is still the council’s longest-serving member – and Baxter respectively lost their seats to challengers Virginia Marquez and Jason Desjardins as a result of the Nov. 3 election.

Marquez and Desjardins are scheduled to be sworn in on March 1. Fred Shorett, the other councilman whose seat was up for a vote in November, won reelection.

Estrada served five full terms on the City Council, representing the city’s 1st Ward. Baxter represented the 2nd Ward for a single term.

As presently mapped out, Estrada’s ward includes the city’s Mount Vernon Avenue corridor, downtown and San Bernardino International Airport. Estrada also served on the boards overseeing the airport and redevelopment of other land that was formerly part of Norton Air Force Base.

“The airport, in my opinion, is the future of this valley,” Estrada said.

The outgoing councilwoman also said another project she was pleased to be involved with is the renovation of the California Theatre’s second floor.

Estrada’s ward is also home to Casa Ramona Academy. Estrada assumed the leadership of Casa Ramona in 1981 when the former school house was the site of government offices and welding classes and other vocational training services offered to Westside residents.

Estrada leaves office when some of the business she said she wanted to finish during a sixth term has yet to be completed. San Bernardino officials are still working on plans to replace the weakened Mount Vernon Avenue bridge that passes over BNSF Railway’s train yard.

The long-awaited gas station at the corner of Mount Vernon and Fifth Street also has yet to open. Estrada has said repeatedly that the gas station is one of her constituents’ more pressing demands.

Marquez said she is also eager to see the gas station in business. Although she campaigned to take Estrada’s job, Marquez called the current 1st Ward councilwoman an icon and expressed hope that she could meet with Estrada as part of her transition into office.

Estrada said, however, that she is too busy with her job at Casa Ramona and that staffers in the City Council office will be able to give Marquez the information she needs.

Baxter said on the eve of his term’s final council meeting that he is proud the city’s first Operation Phoenix youth center was established in the 2nd Ward and that he enjoyed working with the various officials and other people he encountered as a councilman.

He held open the possibility that he could seek a return to public office.

“Anything is possible. It’s been a very rewarding experience these past four years,” Baxter said.

Desjardins is about to assume office while defending himself against misdemeanor charges of stealing campaign signs. The councilman-elect replies that he’s innocent of the allegations, which he has deemed to be political.

The woman who accused Desjardins of theft, Sandy Nolen, lives with Baxter campaign supporters. Nolen says she saw Desjardins do the alleged deed.

Desjardins said exculpatory evidence is forthcoming, and aside from the case, is looking forward to a smooth transition into elected office.

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