San Bernardino Seal

By Ryan Hagen, The Sun
Posted: 03/04/16 – 8:07 PM PST |

SAN BERNARDINO >> The week that began with the City Council putting off a key vote related to fire annexation until March 21 and hinting that it might not back it after all ended with a 4-0 vote to approve the item.

The vote allows San Bernardino and other agencies to move forward with plans to transfer responsibility of the Fire Department to the county and add a parcel tax that starts at $148 per year.

Deciding at a special meeting midday Friday — when the three council members who have opposed the annexation process were unavailable and much of the public was at work — was necessary because a three-week delay would hurt the city in bankruptcy court and delay the county’s progress, City Attorney Gary Saenz said.

Excessive delay would jeopardize a settlement resolving $40 million worth of lawsuits with the fire union, which reportedly threatened to sue if progress toward annexation stopped, and possibly lead to the city being thrown out of bankruptcy court, attorneys said.

“Without annexation, both the Plan of Adjustment and fire union settlement collapse, and other elements would likely also fail because everything is connected,” said Paul Glassman, the city’s bankruptcy attorney. “I cannot overstate the potentially devastating effect this could have in the city’s bankruptcy case.”

Had the three absent council members all voted against the plan, it still would have passed, 4-3. But delaying just one more business day, to the regular council meeting Monday at 4 p.m., would have allowed more public input and allowed Councilwoman-elect Bessine Littlefield Richard to weigh in, rather than outgoing Councilman Rikke Van Johnson, some critics of the plan said Friday.

One letter making that point, written by resident Kathy Mallon because she said she couldn’t take time off work with such short notice, was mistakenly read into the record only after the vote was taken.

“Now, with this Special Meeting, you are attempting to beat a change in council representation, exclude working taxpayers, and force a vote on this same matter,” Mallon’s letter said in part. “At what point will this administration begin to respect the voices of its constituents, stop using the Plan of Adjustment as a threat, and actually look for solutions that residents can support?”

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