THE PRESS-ENTERPRISE
Published: 20 July 2012 07:26 PM

It’s been a grim couple of weeks for San Bernardino as city officials decided to declare a fiscal emergency and file for bankruptcy due to a cash-flow crisis and budget deficit. Still, even amid serious discussions, the council found a few moments to debate 19th Century military history at its July 10 meeting.

Echoing a phrase used by one public speaker, Councilman Fred Shorett suggested that this could be a “Waterloo opportunity” allowing the city to get its financial house in order.

But Mayor Pat Morris said the famed 1815 battle that ended Napoleon Bonaparte’s rule in France and has become a common phrase to describe a loss might not be the analogy the city wants.

“Might I suggest the term watershed instead of Waterloo,” he said. “Waterloo denotes in history a moment of defeat.”

Councilwoman Wendy McCammack insisted Waterloo wasn’t necessarily bad and was considered “a great victory for the British.”

“Napoleon thought it was a bad day,” Morris responded.

Maybe, the hit ABBA song might be preferable.

MARXIST MORTGAGES?

It’s rare for a Riverside County supervisor to publicly criticize the county’s northern neighbor. It’s rarer still to invoke the forefather of communism in a Board of Supervisors meeting.

Supervisor Marion Ashley did both Tuesday, July 17, when he criticized a plan by San Bernardino County officials to use eminent domain to seize underwater mortgages.

San Bernardino County has formed a joint powers authority with Fontana and Ontario to explore ways to assist homeowners whose home values plummeted during the mortgage crisis.

One idea, forwarded by a San Francisco-based investment group, would use condemnation proceedings to acquire underwater mortgage loans. A mortgage is considered to be underwater if the loan is worth more than the home.

The mortgages would be seized by the authority at current market values, allowing it to renegotiate lower loan payments with homeowners. Investors who hold the notes would take the loss on the difference between current market value and what was owed on the old mortgages.

The idea’s goal is “praise-worthy. But it’s a questionable use of eminent domain. It delegates municipal authority to a private party with a profit motive,” Ashley said during a portion of Tuesday’s meeting reserved for supervisor comments.

The program “poses significant legal and constitutional concerns,” Ashley said. “Those opposed to the proposal believe San Bernardino County-area residents will find it harder or impossible to obtain credit.

“The county could become entangled in lengthy and expensive litigation with the holders of existing loans … It will hurt the entire Inland Empire economy and indirectly affect Riverside County.”

Then Ashley dropped the K-bomb. “I think this is the wrong thing to do,” he said. “It’s almost right out of the Karl Marx playbook.”

The other three supervisors in the room Jeff Stone was absent Tuesday didn’t address the mortgage program or Ashley’s comments.

SHERIFF SOUNDS OFF

Riverside County Sheriff Stan Sniff is using Facebook to vent his frustration over pension changes he blames for forcing out two captains.

Capts. Dave Fontneau and Frank Taylor recently retired from the Sheriff’s Department. Fontneau and Taylor oversaw the stations responsible for law enforcement in Lake Elsinore/Wildomar and La Quinta/Coachella, respectively.

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