San Bernardino bankrupt: Blame pet projects, not labor, union says
San Bernardino's labor unions pushed back at the suggestion that lucrative labor agreements were forcing the city to seek bankruptcy protection – and instead blamed city officials for frittering away money.
Steve Tracy, a fire engineer and spokesman for the city firefighters' union, said the city's labor groups had already given $10 million in concessions. He cited the mayor and former city manager's pet projects, including a call center and new movie theater downtown, as reasons for the $46-million deficit.
The City Council voted 4 to 2 Tuesday night to seek bankruptcy protection. Although Mayor Patrick Morris called it a "stain" on the city, he said the only other option was "draconian cuts" to all city services, including the police and fire departments.
Tracy said he has been hearing from firefighters who are anxious about the possibility of cuts in service levels.
But he said it's unclear what effect bankruptcy will have on those things.
"We don't know yet," Tracy said. "There's a lot of unanswered questions. We're not sure what it means to us."
The city's fiscal crisis has been years in the making, compounded by the nation's crushing recession and exacerbated by escalating pension costs, lucrative labor agreements, Sacramento's raid on redevelopment funds and a city reserve that is tapped out, officials said.
A report presented to the council Tuesday noted that "the city has reached a breaking point."
Residents, meanwhile, said they were uneasy and uncertain of the future.
Rose Garcia, 46, said the move to file for bankruptcy did not shock her.
"People are losing their homes because they have no jobs. It's been really tough, so it doesn't surprise us," she said.
But Garcia, a stay at home mother, said it does make her and her husband, a dispatcher for Vulcan Materials, anxious about potential cuts in public safety.
"It's an uncertain feeling we have right now. We're actually talking about moving," she said.
Margaret Littrell, 87, a retired Realtor and lifelong resident of the city, said she was shocked when she heard the news on the radio Wednesday morning on her way to City Hall to pay her water bill.
"I'm devastated. It's shocking -- they should have let the public know how bad it was," she said.
Littrell said she partially blamed in-fighting on the council for letting the situation get so dire. But she said she thought the city had made the right decision in filing for bankruptcy.
--Abby Sewell in San Bernardino
A welcome sign on 6th Street greets visitors in San Bernardino. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times