By Michael Chavez, Executive Director of the Inland Empire Labor Council and Felicia Jones, Associate Director of the Congregations Organized for Prophetic Engagement (C.O.P.E.).
There’s no secret that San Bernardino needs a renaissance. For that vision to come to fruition, city leaders must do something they have failed to do for generations – listen to working class residents and constituents of color who have historically had little to no say in crucial economic decisions.
City leaders – together with powerful institutions – have continuously recreated economic and social disparities that have resulted in glaring poverty, labor inequality, insufficient and inadequate housing, and environmental racism for low-income residents and people of color. Currently, demand for housing is about 37 times higher than available supply, about 25 percent (or 4 in 10) workers in the Inland Empire make a livable wage, and our community has some of the unhealthiest and deadly smog in the nation.
However, these conditions haven’t stopped leaders, developers, and large corporations from giving the people of San Bernardino the same elevator pitch: business is booming and financial prosperity is imminent. Despite residents attending city council meetings and holding demonstrations calling for solutions, people have been forced to accept these living conditions and live on the edges of poverty as the coronavirus pandemic, displacement, and police violence rages on.
This is why the Just San Bernardino (Just SB) collaborative is building the People’s Plan for an Inclusive Economy – a community-centered plan driven by the people for the people.
In 2021, Just SB – which is composed of labor, environmental justice, faith-based, and social service organizations – spoke to over 4,000 residents across the city to collect important perspectives about what’s happening in their community. In 2022, Just SB wants to continue receiving input from more residents through forums and information sessions related to health, workforce development and training, affordable housing, environmental sustainability, and more. Together, we are creating a consensus on what we want our city to look like. Through the People’s Plan for Economic Inclusion, we are building a mass movement for something better.
There are some critical discussions and decisions on the horizon that will have strong implications for the direction of San Bernardino’s economic future, specifically the City’s $186 million budget. Elected officials will be spending the first months of 2022 addressing public services and figuring out ways to address issues they consider important for our community. Thankfully, we are committed to amassing the collective brainpower of our community, as experts of our experience, to solve these issues on our own. Just SB invites elected officials across the community to get familiar with our collective goals, as we increasingly progress through our formulation of the People’s Plan for Economic Inclusion.
This is the type of energy we are already seeing in regards to the fate of the Carousel Mall redevelopment, which is slated to be developed into a multi-use shopping and housing center by master developers, San Bernardino Development Company (also known as RD-ICO). As an affiliate of the Something Better for San Bernardino coalition, we believe that a Community Benefits Agreement for the mall development is the best way forward to guarantee local hiring and good jobs, sustainable and clean energy infrastructure, and affordable housing for the people of San Bernardino. Together as a community we have the power to ensure that there is a legally-binding agreement that secures our demands for labor and economic justice.
The same approach will be taken across City issues, as the People’s Plan for an Inclusive Economy is finalized. Elected officials in the City will have to choose whether they join the movement and the building consensus towards justice in our communities, or go on with the status-quo that has already left so many behind.
*Views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of IECN.