The City of San Bernardino has been racked with financial difficulty, political chaos, and divided government. The recent bankruptcy proceedings are evidence of a failed economy as much as failed policies. The failed policies that contributed to the economic failure were mostly set in place by elected and civic leaders from 20 and 30 years ago, and those leaders were not limited to San Bernardino City elected officials, but also included county, state and national leaders.
Recent San Bernardino efforts to revitalize the economy have focused on big-government projects such as Lakes and Streams, a new state government building, the San Bernardino International Airport, a new state court house, and a rapid bus line called SBX, among other smaller and no less expensive redevelopment projects pot-marked throughout the city. All are, or will fail, to reenergize the city’s failing economy. The only real way to create economic growth is to attract private sector investment that drives growth. While government provides necessary infrastructure that can enable business development, it does not create, nor can it long sustain economic advancement.
This is evident in one success story that San Bernardino does have, the successful development around former Norton Air Force Base lead by the Hillwood Corporation.
San Bernardino has a long contentious history with private development. Seventeen-year lawsuits fighting development projects, 10 year delays in permitting large-scale, quality housing developments, and open hostility to a multi-modal facility at the former Norton Air Force Base are only some examples of San Bernardino’s apparent dislike of private sector development. These projects were all proposed in San Bernardino, yet were rejected or hamstrung by elected leaders. But, San Bernardino is at a turning point. The recall that has hampered private investment interest, as well as the bankruptcy will soon be decided by the voters and the courts. The bankruptcy, however it is adjudicated, should pave a path for financial stability. The election of a new mayor and councilmembers will reset the table. And many of those that are responsible for supporting the failures mentioned here-to-fore will be gone from positions of influence. This sets the stage for new private investment that can reengage San Bernardino because of its low land prices, extensive freeway access, rail transportation system, and the eventual repatriation of former redevelopment property back into the private sector.
There are members of San Bernardino’s leadership that understand the importance of allowing the private sector to work. Those leaders will have the opportunity to turn a new page in San Bernardino by creating a city government that supports and encourages new ideas and new investment. There are literally millions of investment dollars, nationally and internationally, waiting to reconsider San Bernardino when these storms clear and a new, pro-development city government emerges.
The culture of San Bernardino, where an insiders network maintained a heavy hand and elected officials listened to the words of a few, will make way for a city that listens and works to enable the private investment of multitudes. San Bernardino’s cheaper property values will make her ripe for development less-hindered by egos and misinformed agendas. She will be free to reignite her economic potential, unhindered by the failed leadership and policies of the past that are responsible for her current predicament.
Private investors have been looking at our city for years. When the fog of recall, election and bankruptcy begins to clear, they should find a more receptive and more welcoming government and community.
Piece by Lou Desmond