The siren song of a San Bernardino City Council meeting can be hard to resist. I was back on Wednesday for the first time in two months and glad to be there. (I felt a bit differently as the hours dragged on, but I’ll come back to that.)
One of the first people I saw upon entering, shortly before the 7 p.m. start, was county Supervisor Joe Baca Jr. We hadn’t met but I recognized him immediately as he held court in the back of the room.
I waited my turn. And waited. After five minutes, under the theory that no politician is worth this much effort, I walked to the front of the chamber. There, an official suggested to me quietly that the front row is open to the public and that sometimes you can hear stuff you’re not supposed to hear.
That sounded good to me, so I grabbed a seat.
Just as the meeting started, Baca Jr. took a seat to my left. I used the opportunity to casually introduce myself, no waiting. He pretended to care. It’s fair to say this all worked out for the best.
Baca was there to announce that he was awarding money from federal American Rescue Act funds to San Bernardino for improvements to Speicher Park ($950,000) and for two off-road vehicles for police to patrol flood channels ($160,000).
He presented an enormous cardboard check made out to the City of San Bernardino for “One Million and one hundred and twelve thousand.” Memo line: “Speicher Park & Off Highway Vehicles.”
If the council had any thoughts of diverting the money for other purposes, don’t even think about it. Nuh-uh. The fake check’s memo line is legally binding.
There was other good news at the meeting. Ten years after filing, San Bernardino emerged from bankruptcy protection earlier this month. And the city is now, as they say, open for business.
City Hall issued 736 building permits during August, a five-year record, and the previous five-year record, 450 permits, has been met or exceeded five times in 2022.
“Housing, hotels, we are building stuff all over town,” City Manager Rob Field crowed.
On the flip side, they’re also knocking down empty buildings all over town. Not 736 of them, but a few. An abandoned bank at Second and E streets has been reduced to rubble. “This is progress,” Field told the council, “and there’s more to come, including Carousel Mall.“
After a lot of council comments, public comments and presentations, the meat of the meeting finally got underway after 9 p.m. This is why I bring a book to council meetings.
We heard about a developer’s proposal for a neighborhood shopping center on land that was once home to a notorious apartment complex named Arden-Guthrie. Yes, the city knocked those buildings down too, and the property is now a field.
Rich Development wants to build a Target, Sprouts and Burlington on the city-owned site, as my colleague Brian Whitehead has reported.
Not everyone is on board. A speaker decried the traffic now existing due to nearby schools and predicted of the shopping center: “It’s going to be a nightmare.”
Yes, rather than a dream, Target will be a nightmare. To placate him, the city should level a few more buildings, including the school, just to ensure no one in San Bernardino has reason to go anywhere.
Without dissension, council members agreed to try to negotiate a deal with the developer over the next six months.
When the time came to vote, Juan Figueroa pushed the button on his screen, then leaned over to the touchscreen of the absent Sandra Ibarra and impishly joked to a colleague, “Do I get two votes?”
My tipster was right. Sitting in the front row was paying benefits.
The most interesting part of the meeting was about a pay raise for the council.
Members make $14,000 per year, plus health coverage and $500 a month in auto expenses. A committee studied the situation and recommended $21,000 a year, $725 for auto expenses and $125 per meeting for service on outside boards that don’t pay a stipend.
Councilman Theodore Sanchez put the brakes on it.
While Sanchez said council members typically spend 30 to 40 hours a week on the job, including attendance at community events, some city employees haven’t received a raise in several years. “Leadership 101,” he said, is to make sure employees are under contract “before we start discussing our own compensation.”
From the public lectern, mayoral candidate Jim Penman said the council until recent years earned $50 a month. Going back to 1910, council members have never given themselves a raise until all employees had one. It is, Penman said, “basic government.”
Seconding Sanchez’s motion for a delay, Shorett, who’s been on the council since 2009, said he was among those who’d earned $50. He had a little story to tell.
“My first check, for $25, I didn’t cash it. I thought I’d keep it for posterity,” Shorett related. “The Finance Department called me because the check hadn’t been cashed. They canceled it and sent me another one. So I got to cash my check and have it too.”
Marie Antoinette could not be more proud.
Apparently only the Police Officers Association doesn’t have a contract. Council members went along with Sanchez’s motion, although based on some members’ earlier comments of support for the raise, they probably weren’t happy about delaying it. Maybe talks with the cops will speed up.
Before the meeting ended, Councilman Damon Alexander asked staff to create a “critical incident notification policy” to ensure a more orderly internal dissemination of news about, say, the latest Carousel Mall fire or other public safety activity.
Council members went along, although Shorett could be overheard quietly joking, “One person’s ‘critical incident’ is another person’s ‘who gives a (expletive).’”
I won’t say Shorett’s crack made up for a meeting that ran until 10:39 p.m., but it’d be worth $25 — as long as he didn’t cash the check.
David Allen writes Friday, Sunday and Wednesday, cheaply. Email email@example.com, phone 909-483-9339, like davidallencolumnist on Facebook and follow @davidallen909 on Twitter.