San Bernardino Seal

By Ryan Hagen, The Sun
Posted: 07/31/14, 7:15 PM PDT |

SAN BERNARDINO >> At a certain age, people stop talking about birthdays, and so it is with the quiet second anniversary of the city’s filing for bankruptcy protection.

Even in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, where exactitude generally reigns, a hearing this week — the week of the anniversary — hedged on when the city entered bankruptcy. Late July, or early August?

Hurried preparation for the filing was underway in July, but it was Aug. 1, 2012, that San Bernardino — a city that had been warned for years it was on the path to bankruptcy but nonetheless found itself shocked when the inability to pay employees without bankruptcy protection suddenly arrived — entered Chapter 9.

The anniversary may lack balloons and cake, but since then, the bankruptcy hasn’t lacked attention.

“Every single day, I work on something related to the bankruptcy,” City Manager Allen Parker said in a recent interview.

Next-door on City Hall’s sixth floor, Mayor Carey Davis came into office this year saying his financial background would help “restore fiscal sanity,” and the City Council has now adopted that phrase — composed of a number of benchmarks related to developing and implementing a plan to exit bankruptcy — as one of the city’s three goals.

But to outsiders and indeed to many insiders, it can be unclear what’s changed in two years.

“I support the mayor, and I do realize there’s a gag order not to talk about specifics of the bankruptcy (mediation) — I do understand that,” said resident Roxanne Williams. “As much as it’s legally permissable, though, I’d like to know: Are we doing the same, better, or worse than a year ago?”

Although initial attention from the New York Times and others suggested the bankruptcy had led to skyrocketing crime, homicides began peaking months before the bankruptcy and have been relatively steady since then. Pot holes, city officials readily admit, were bad before and still bad after (although improvements are coming, they say).

And employee morale — well, here’s hoping for the future.

“Things have not changed,” said Steve Turner, president of the San Bernardio Police Officers Association. “They’ve pretty much stayed the same, so it hasn’t gotten better but it hasn’t become worse either. We’re just hoping that the city will step up and do something in terms of a contract, so that we can bring some stability to the (Police) Department.”

Turner volunteered that he sees reason for optimism in areas related to financial progress but not directly tied to the bankruptcy, particularly business development and Davis’ plan to crack down on “bad actors” among apartment complexes.

Both he and Parker say a sense of instability led officers to ask that the contract now under negotiation have unusually long terms, and employees in other departments express similar uncertainty.

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