A Letter to the Editor by R.A. Contreras, longtime San Bernardino resident
San Bernardino has been in the dumps for far too long. Homelessness is rampant. Crime is rife. Downtown is uninviting, if not downright dangerous. The quality of life here sucks.
At many city establishments patrons cannot sit down outside at a table to enjoy a drink or eat a meal in peace without being pestered by vagrants. I refer not to those homeless who are simply down on their luck but the ones who don’t want help and are out to cause problems for folks — this is the vagrancy that brings its own set of pressing issues: trash, disease, and crime. The few restaurants and business located downtown are not immune to this problem. Travel the Baseline and Waterman corridors and you’ll easily see more of the same: encampments, trash, drug use, prostitution and the requisite police activity. These issues, of course, are not new but in recent years they’ve become magnified. Years ago, you wouldn’t see what you see now: panhandlers brazenly walking up to your car in heavy traffic demanding money. Little wonder that a drive down ‘E’ Street will be met with boarded up buildings, graffiti, and the stench of urine floating in the air. I can remember when it wasn’t so. Places like the Central City (later, The Carousel) Mall were the place to be. There used to be a noticeable pride in the city.
Places in the city that were relatively untouched with these problems, like The University Parkway area and the 40th Street thoroughfare, are now infected. Students at Cal State University are being carjacked by vagrants in broad day light! I was shocked when as a graduate student there a few years ago, I witnessed this. Longtime residents used to say that, unofficially, the city blocks north of Highland Avenue were the ‘nice parts of Berdoo’. Who are we kidding now?
And what are city leaders doing about these problems? If you look around on any given day, not much it seems. In the past few years it appears that such problems have only exploded. To make a dent in the issue, city leaders must get tough. Not by talking but by doing. It is an attitude that says: ‘My city is important; I care for your votes not only to get elected but to maintain a quality of life that all residents can enjoy’. Politicians always seem to talk tough, but once in office, the political motive quickly becomes apparent. Sadly, it is nothing new.
There are complaints that there isn’t enough money. The staff doesn’t exist. We’re ‘working on it’ they’ll say. No, instead once safely elected, they sit in comfy offices enraptured with power – a potential to do whatever one wants in office regardless of boundaries. To wit: the beleaguered city finds itself embroiled in a legal controversy yet again. Mayor John Valdivia is accused of harassment by two city employees. In a Feb. 6 KNBC report, the workers also allege that the mayor made various “illegal financial transactions” (translation: possible misuse of vital city funds). Precious resources will now be used to litigate the mess. Taxes will be used to defend another town official instead of cleaning up the city or funneling resources to combat the blight of vagrancy. In addition to a $90 million allotment for the city police department for the current fiscal budget, another $3 million was approved last year by the state of California for San Bernardino’s current general fund. Meanwhile, both Valdivia and his Chief of Staff earn in excess of $120,000 each. It doesn’t add up.
In his recent electoral campaign, Valdivia’s tagline was ‘It’s our turn’. His and his people’s turn to do exactly what? His tenure thus far has shown little to combat real problems and improve the quality of life for residents. Instead the same problems plague the woeful municipality as he takes from the city coffers (in addition to accusations) rather than contributing to its betterment. After his election victory Valdivia said in a Dec. 20, 2018 Sun newspaper article that it was time to “overcome bureaucracy, fix our streets, make this a community we can feel safe and comfortable in.” Instead, he remains seated in the leader’s throne drunk with power with scant to show for his efforts. No, it’s not an easy problem to fix but stop with the excuses.
R.A. Contreras was a longtime resident of San Bernardino and a graduate of California State University, San Bernardino. Reach him on Twitter @commgrad71.