Blair Park Neighborhood Association hosts 5th Ward City Council Candidate Forum

Photo Loyda Crespo, BPNA Secretary:  Five of the six candidates vying for San Bernardino’s 5th Ward council seat participated in a recent forum hosted by the Blair Park Neighborhood Association. Pictured from left, in order of their filing dates: Marlo Brooks, Ben Reynoso, Mike Avellaneda, incumbent Henry Nickel and Brian Davison; Peter Torres was absent.

The Blair Park Neighborhood Association (BPNA) recently hosted a 5th Ward City Council Candidate Forum at Shandin Hills Golf Course where dozens of concerned and curious community members gathered to hear candidates state their platforms and strategies in addressing hot topic issues such as homelessness and infrastructure.

Participating candidates were Mike Avellaneda, Marlo Brooks, Brian W. Davison, Councilman Henry Nickel and Ben Reynoso; Peter Torres was absent.

The forum which took place on Saturday, Jan. 18, was moderated by BPNA Board member Frank Becerra who ensured candidates adhered to the predetermined structure that allowed each of them a five-minute opening statement, one-minute response to questions from the audience and a three-minute conclusion. The order in which candidates were presented was by their respective filing dates, as they too will be in this article.

Marlo Brooks, a student at California State University, San Bernardino (CSUSB) scheduled to graduate this spring with a degree in education, cited the prevention of further business closures and safety as priorities he would address.

“We see a trend of things closing down around us, we want to keep more doors open, we want to improve their quality of life,” expressed Brooks, who mentioned it was the powerful people in this community that led him to “fall in love” with the city. “I’m here as a servant, our issues are real, issues are heard and I’d like to be able to take that up the ladder and make sure our community feels safe again, make sure that they feel proud to be from San Bernardino.”

According to Brooks he will tackle homelessness by working with nonprofit agencies and local officials to increase funds to address mental health, substance abuse and affordable housing issues.

Ben Reynoso is a community organizer who hails from a long line of educators and social workers in Southern California. He is a product of the San Bernardino City Unified School District and graduated with an English degree from the University of Southern Mississippi. He returned to the area and has been actively involved in local organizations spreading awareness about voter registration, civic engagement and how policy decisions impact residents.

“I know what it means to be invested in preventative work, when people talk about issues like homelessness, crime and safety overall, we can put on band aid solutions like affordable housing with accountability that comes through drug testing or supplemental services that people would need but at the same time we have to invest in our youth in a way that’s really intentional, so that it’s preventative,” declared Reynoso, who added he would hold monthly town hall meetings to keep residents informed. “I’m running for real representation, inclusion and transparency.”

Reynoso indicated there are 1,000 affordable housing units currently being constructed in the city, but cited the need for supplemental services and the imposition of time limits for clients to become self sufficient. He also noted that preventative measures need to be taken in the K-12 public education system by identifying and treating mental health issues.

Mike Avellaneda, a 30-year resident of San Bernardino and an “educator at heart,” co-created a peer mentoring program at Cajon High School after working at San Bernardino High School for a year because he believes in mentoring the youth to prepare them to become future leaders. According to Avellaneda, he is running for city council primarily because of his two daughters who he wants to grow up in a city they feel safe in and proud of, as well as to tackle the issues of homelessness and infrastructure.

“Because I’m just a fellow community member I feel like I can bring to the table honesty and transparency – I have no other reason to be here than besides wanting the best for the city,” conveyed Avellaneda, who holds a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from CSUSB and a single subject credential in Health Science from the University of Redlands.

Avellaneda believes all stakeholders must come together on the same page to come up with a solution to the homeless crisis. “We need to find out where we want to start… everyone has a different idea, we need to get to the table first with everybody representing and decide how we want to start… so we can have one common goal, whether it’s housing, mental health, preventative care or going for grants we have available now.”

Incumbent Henry Nickel, elected to city council in 2014 and a native of the city, is eager to continue with the work he has been conducting representing the 5th Ward. According to Nickel there are great things to look forward to in the city’s future, having made great strides over the last four years when the city was in bankruptcy ($40 million structural deficit), city staff demoralized, and the police department in shambles.

“We (City Council) worked very hard over the last four year to bring stability back to city government and the community, but there’s much, much more work to do. This last year in partnership with our state representative James Ramos we brought $3 million to the city to begin the process of growing and revitalizing our city. Over the next four years we’ll be engaged with this community getting your input on the type of city you want to see now moving forward,” said Nickel, who feels he brings a sense of collaboration to the table. “We now have a $30 million-plus reserve… and we did that working in partnership and collaboration and we need to continue that work.”

When it comes to homelessness Nickel said the issues that lead up to homelessness – addiction, mental health, affordable housing – must be addressed collaboratively on the county, state and federal levels. A primary issue that also needs to be confronted, Nickel indicated, is the fact that San Bernardino has the highest concentration of homelessness in the city compared to the rest of the county.

“We have ten percent of the population of the county living in our city, we have 40 percent of all calls for homelessness,” Nickel declared. “We need to stem that tide, we need to make sure other surrounding cities are taking accountability for this challenge as well and make sure that they do their share as well.”

Business owner Brian Davison,who has 23 grandchildren in the city and ran for the seat four years ago, says he would bring financial expertise to the position. His top priorities include addressing the homeless and panhandler issues by working with law enforcement to direct individuals to county resources, increase police patrols in neighborhoods and decrease response times, and to ensure street lights and potholes are repaired expediently.

“We need transparency on the dais, where everyone knows what’s going on, and all your needs are being met. There are a lot of us who aren’t happy. I’m not happy with the homeless, I’m not happy with the trash, with graffiti, not happy with the potholes, street lights,” expressed Davison, who criticized the inefficiency of the city’s GORequest mobile app. “We all need to work together, as a community to help raise this community back. It’s up to us to bring this city back. It’s up to all of us to watch out for our neighbors.”

In regards to homelessness Davison maintained he is the only person “on the ground” addressing the issue through nonprofit organization Blessing Angels. “We go out into the streets and we help people get off the streets. We help set them up in an apartment with our own money and the contributions we receive, we get them a refrigerator, clothes, furniture, things so they can live a normal life off the streets. All this stuff is political stuff, we need boots on the ground to help people get off the streets.”

Other municipal wards up for election and candidates:

Ward 3: Councilman Juan Figueroa; Luis Ojeda

Ward 6: Kimberly Calvin; Councilwoman Bessine Littlefield Richard

Ward 7: John Jesus Abad; Damon L. Alexander; Dave Mlynarski; Councilman James L. “Jim” Mulvihill; Esmeralda Negrete.