San Bernardino City Bankruptcy is pleased to bring you the 8th in our series of online interviews with candidates running for Mayor of San Bernardino this November.
San Bernardino City Councilman and Mayoral Candidate Rikke Van Johnson.
Today’s interview is with San Bernardino City Councilman Rikke Van Johnson who represents San Bernardino’s 6th Ward.
This is also the final interview of the series as three of the candidates for mayor (Richard Castro, Carey Davis and Matthew Korner) did not respond to our online interview request by returning answers to our questions.
If you’ve missed any of the previous mayoral candidate interviews, they have been all archived on the Mayor’s Race page.
And now our interview with Mayoral Candidate and City Councilman Rikke Van Johnson.
Councilman, thank you for your time today.
Councilman Johnson thank you for your time today.
You were first elected to the San Bernardino City Council in 2003, then re-elected in 2007 and 2011. During that time what were some of your major concerns about how the City was managing its finances?
My major concern was the utilization of reserve funds to support the general fund. When I first entered into office in 2004 San Bernardino had a reserve fund balance of over $12 million dollars. The reserve fund balance was reduced to zero dollars by 2010.
What steps did you attempt to take to correct these problems that would eventually lead to the City of San Bernardino declaring bankruptcy?
Utilization of the reserve funds to support demands by director of departments I could not support, but I was just one vote. However, during the economic downturn in our economy the reserve funds became the only place to go for funds to aid the City’s general fund predicament.
Few cities were hurt by the housing crisis to the same extent as San Bernardino, where the median home value declined by 57.6% between 2007 and 2011 from $327,000 to just $147,000. This decline is more than any other large city in the United States. By the end of 2012, almost 4.4% of homes in San Bernardino were in foreclosure, among the highest rates for all large cities.
Along with the massive loss in home values, unemployment rates have skyrocketed to the third-highest in the country among the largest cities. The unemployment rate reached 17.6%, nearly double the U.S. rate and almost 10 percentage points higher than the city’s annual rate in 2007.
In 2006 San Bernardino generated $36,753,095 in sales tax revenue. In 2013 sales tax plummeted to $20,111,523. In August of 2012, declining home values, declining sales tax and rising employee retirement costs forced the city to file for bankruptcy.
At the Budget Meeting on August 23, 2010 we were told by the City Treasurer that we could no longer use gimmicks to balance the budget. The City Manager stated that we were headed towards bankruptcy if we continued down this path without taking measures to prevent that disaster and brought forth recommendations to change our course.
Some policy makers said he was using ‘scare tactics’ by stating that we were heading into bankruptcy. I attempted to work on changing the course we were heading on. The votes were not there to alter the direction that we were on.
Last summer when the City suddenly declared bankruptcy, how did you vote on this action and why?