Holcomb was city’s longest-serving leader
James Rufus Koren, Staff Writer
Posted: 11/29/2010 09:22:12 PM PST

William Robert Holcomb, who helmed San Bernardino’s city government through parts of three decades and remains the city’s longest-serving mayor, died of heart failure Monday at the VA medical center in Loma Linda. He was 88.

Holcomb, a San Bernardino native descended from a city pioneer and a former mayor, served as mayor of San Bernardino from 1971 until 1985 and again from 1989 until 1993. In those 20 years, he established himself as an aggressive city booster and oversaw several major developments and milestones.

“His passing is the passing of an era,” said Mayor Pat Morris, whom Holcomb appointed to city commissions. “It’s the passing of a truly great leader for our city.”

Holcomb started in politics as a water commissioner. In that position, rather than as mayor, he secured what is perhaps his greatest accomplishment: securing local water rights for San Bernardino.

In 1964, voters in the eastern San Bernardino Valley had the choice to join the Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Water District or keep the San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District separate.

Holcomb was a key campaigner for maintaining the local district’s independence.

“He was the one-man army, general, lawyer, promoter for that,” said former city council member Betty Dean Anderson, a longtime Holcomb supporter. “He is the one who saved San Bernardino from … the city of Los Angeles.”

At the time, the publisher of The Sun was in favor of the district merger, so Holcomb started his own weekly publication, Morris said.

“He created his own little weekly newspaper to tell the story of why we needed to keep our local water rights,” he said. “Our ability to grow our economy locally, without concern about an adequate water supply, has been made possible by his tenacity and advocacy.”

Former city council member Esther Estrada, who said she had some unpleasant run-ins with Holcomb in the mid-1970s, gave Holcomb credit for keeping water rights local.

“I think this valley will forever be indebted to Bob Holcomb for beating the L.A. water district when L.A. was trying to steal our water,” Estrada said. “He was probably the most knowledgeable person on the issue of redevelopment and water that I’ve ever known. … He was a rough and tough political opponent, but he knew a lot.”

During his tenure as mayor, the city saw the opening of new amenities, including the Little League Western Regional Headquarters, San Bernardino City Hall, the county government center and the Central City Mall – now called Carousel Mall.

City leaders remember Holcomb as a relentless booster for the city.

“He was committed to the San Bernardino Valley and was committed completely to salvaging this as a first-rate town,” Anderson said.

Morris, who said he has called on Holcomb for advice over the past five years, said Holcomb’s “devotion to the city was never-ending.”

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