By Dan Walters
Published: Friday, Jul. 13, 2012 – 12:00 am | Page 3A
So far this summer, three California cities have moved toward bankruptcy and several others are distressed enough that the b-word has left the lips of their elected and appointed officials – including those in the two largest, Los Angeles and San Diego.
With the exception of tiny Mammoth Lakes, which sought bankruptcy protection after losing a lawsuit, the conditions of California’s financially distressed cities are remarkably similar.
Elected leaders and appointed managers succumbed to hubris and political pressure, particularly from their employee unions. They committed their cities to spending on employee salaries and fringe benefits, especially pensions and health care, and civic improvements that could not be sustained when the housing bubble burst and revenue declined.
As their gaps between income and outgo widened, officials covered them with questionable transfers, bookkeeping gimmicks, loans and lies – hoping against hope that the downturn would be brief and revenue would once again surge and bail them out.
“For the last 16 years, the budget prepared for the council showed the city was in the black. The mayor and the council were not given accurate information,” San Bernardino City Attorney James Penman told his council members the other night before they voted to join Mammoth Lakes and Stockton in bankruptcy court.
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