How San Bernardino Really Got Here

An open letter to the people of San Bernardino from Steve Desrochers, chairman of the San Bernardino Police Officers Association Political Action Committee.

Dear San Bernardino residents:

These are tough times for our city.

Times such as these call for strong leadership and a truthful assessment of the situation we are facing.

Unfortunately, both of those qualities are found lacking in Mayor Pat Morris and his supporters on the City Council.

On behalf of the San Bernardino Police Officers Association, I wanted to take the time and set the record straight about how many things got to where they currently are in the City of San Bernardino.

If you were to listen to Mayor Pat Morris and his cronies, they would have you believe that the bankruptcy of the City of San Bernardino has nothing to do their mismanagement of the city government.

They want you to believe the reason they had to declare bankruptcy is because of the cost of public employee pensions – specifically those of the San Bernardino’s police officers and fire fighters.

That is blatantly untrue and they know it.

But that’s the party line for Morris and his faction at City Hall.  They’d have you believe that the current public information campaign by the San Bernardino Police Officers Association is only about money.

They also know that is blatantly untrue.

While San Bernardino’s police officers do believe we deserve fair pay for the risks we take to keep neighborhoods and families safe, this is not a tussle over pay and benefits.

On the contrary, we have offered up our pay over the past several years for the benefit of our community.

This disagreement is about leadership, management and the safety of our residents.

Those who live and work in the City and those who have invested their lives in our community to pursue their piece of the American dream.

This is about the Number One priority of government, which is to insure the public’s safety, and the abdication of that responsibility by Mayor Morris and his followers.

We are frustrated that the policies of Mayor Morris have brought us back to crime rates and officer staffing that we last saw in the early 1990’s.

We are frustrated that the Mayor has enough support on the dais to implement a plan that would decimate, or even consider selling both the police and fire departments.

These actions put your safety at risk by opening the gates of the City to panhandlers, prostitutes, gang members, parolees and drug dealers to take over our business districts and our parks.

EMPLOYEE CONCESSIONS

Over the past several years, the employees of your police department have provided the city with over $10,000,000 in concessions. In total, all city employees returned more than $30,000,000.

When we were told that the general fund deficit was $45.8 Million, of which the employee groups had provided about 65.5%, it didn’t take long to realize that the City had squandered the money they had received from the employees.

Where did all that money go?

When the City filed for bankruptcy 9 months ago, Mayor Morris, Councilman Shorett and Councilwoman Marquez took to the airwaves on KFI radio and various Spanish language stations.

Our “leaders” denounced public safety employees for their greed and tried to shift blame for the bankruptcy to them.

Public safety decided to take the “high road” in all of this, and we remained silent.

When your City Council voted to request a proposal from the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Office that would disband your police department, again we remained silent.

Early in 2013, the City refused to bargain in good faith and imposed a 14% pay reduction that was to be applied to pension costs, in violation of California law, but under the protection of the Federal Bankruptcy Court.

This imposition was illegal in concept and implementation and we realized that we could stay silent no longer.

The bankruptcy filing and attempted sale of the San Bernardino Police Department shook us to our very foundation.  It opened the flood gates to an exodus of experienced officers seeking safe harbor in other local cities.

To date we have lost about 30% of our officers (that is 90 officers), with many more applications still being processed.

The City also talked about ending their relationship with the California Public Employee Retirement System (CalPERS), but found that they could not afford to buy their way out of the contract. This was almost entirely because of the city’s level of unfunded liability, which was at $143,000,000.

Quite irresponsibly, the city stopped paying its pension obligation completely.

The city claims a $12-15 million savings, but in actuality they only kicked the can a bit further down the road. The city’s pension debt must still be paid, but now with interest and penalties. The city did not do San Bernardino’s taxpayers any favors.

How our City got to where we are is not a mistake. It is an unfortunate conglomeration of bad policy, poor leadership, complacency and lack of foresight, on top of the cost of doing business. It is the result of bad management. Just the same, it is an interesting story.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

On July 1, 2002, the City of San Bernardino adopted the 3% at 55 retirement formula with little rage or fanfare.

This benefit package brought public safety employees up to par with the rest of the industry of California. A number of years later, CalPERS, released a new 3% at 50 formula.

At the time, neither negotiators for the City, nor those representing the labor groups pressed the issue. But San Bernardino, with its high crime rates, low officer staffing and retention issues was not attracting police officers and firemen into their ranks, like other cities that offered the benefit.

OPERATION PHOENIX, MEASURE Z & MEASURE YY

When Mayor Morris was elected, he almost immediately instituted “Operation Phoenix,” which was a social program designed to combine and improve the ease of access to a number of basic city and county services.

Operation Phoenix also contained a component that would combat our exceedingly high crime rate. This would be done through a 15 year, self-imposed “District Tax” that promised 40 new officers to help combat the crime problem. “Measure Z.”

It was clear that Mayor Morris believed the City should be policed with no less than 350 uniformed officers. He was right.

Measure Z was accompanied by Measure YY. This companion initiative required the proceeds of Measure Z  to “be used only to fund more police officers and support personnel, to fund anti-gang and anti-crime operations, including drug resistance education and supervised after-school youth activities.”

Measure YY was the enforcement component. It established an oversight committee to insure revenues from Measure Z were applied in accordance with the mandate of the voters.

Until measures Z and YY were passed, history shows that only the social portion of Operation Phoenix worked. Poverty stricken residents took full advantage of the free services, but crime continued at the same pace and even increased, in many categories. Both “Measure Z” and “Measure YY” were passed overwhelmingly in November of 2006.

Shortly thereafter, an unintended side-effect of Operation Phoenix came to the forefront.

San Bernardino experienced an influx of homeless and transient panhandlers, who told officers that they had come to San Bernardino to take advantage of the services of “Operation Phoenix.”

To date, the City has collected in $28,243,147 since passage of Measure Z. But, you can see that the City had other problems on the horizon.

Measure Z tax revenues declined significantly year after year for the first 4 years of the tax. This fact should have raised red flags and sounded alarms at both the Mayor and Council level. But, no one was paying attention.

        Year                           Measure Z Revenue

2007-2008                           $6,511,475

2008-2009                           $5,804,472

2009-2010                            $5,157,200

2010-2011                            $5,120,000

2011-2012                            $5,650,000

Our City was in decline a full year and a half before the bottom fell out of the housing market and the national economy entered “the great recession.”

The Mayor and Council did nothing to shore up our local economy. To this date, our leaders have avoided putting together an “Economic Stimulus Plan” to drive investment, development and expand our business base to provide more local jobs.

MORE POLICE OFFICERS

Until the passage of the measures, our community had been losing prime police and fire candidates, to cities that were offering a lighter work load, less crime and a better retirement package.

Despite being named the 34th most dangerous city in the nation (per capita) in 2010, Morris told a reporter, “Tax revenues generated from Measure Z were used to hire 40 additional police officers, the result has been a reduction in violent crime…”

He then pointed out that the overall crime rate of the City had dropped by 4.5%. (BlackVoiceNews.com, July 8, 2010).

Since the bankruptcy filing:

  • The Police Department budget has been cut by 10%
  • There are about 30% (90) fewer officers fighting crime on our streets
  • There is no hiring policy to replace these men and women
  • Operation Phoenix has finally been shuttered
  • There is no Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) program
  • Measure Z revenue is not mentioned in the “City Managers Budget Message” (021913)
  • Special details and pro-active enforcement has declined due to staffing shortages
  • Crime is on the rise in San Bernardino

There are 10 years remaining on the District Tax known as Measure Z and everything promised by both measures has been cut by the City.

The accountability component is still in effect, but is being completely disregarded.

So we have to ask: Where is all of that Measure Z revenue going?

PUBLIC SAFETY PENSIONS

In 2008, the City approached the public safety labor groups and offered to implement the 3% at age 50 retirement formula to assist with the recruitment of the 40 new officers that Mayor Morris believed were needed.

The City’s unsolicited offer would level the recruitment playing field and shore up our ranks by attracting the best and brightest police and fire employees to our community.

The labor groups agreed to the offer and could only assume that the City had done its homework by taking all of the costs into account, before making their offer.  The agreement was adopted by the Council and implemented on December 31, 2008.

In the year or two prior to offering the PERS plan, police and fire personnel had received a similar benefit known as PARS, which offered nearly the same benefit, at a much lower cost to taxpayers.

UNFUNDED LIABILITY

The term “Unfunded Liability” has been mentioned a number of times since the bankruptcy filing. It is s a term clearly misunderstood by the Mayor and his supporters.

Just like nearly every person, most businesses and every layer of government has some measure of unfunded liability, be it through the purchase of a home or a car, the use of our credit cards, to purchase inventory or to maintain employee salaries and benefits.

At a very basic level, unfunded liability is accumulated in this way. You purchase a $400,000 home. As part of the purchase, you put $40,000 down leaving a balance (unfunded liability) of $360,000.

After checking you out quite thoroughly, the lender believes that you meet the criteria they have set to pay the full amount, plus interest over a given period of time. For a home, it’s normally 30 years.

Back when the City approached the public safety labor groups to offer the 3% at 50 retirement package, San Bernardino was one of the few large cities without the plan.

Implementation of the 3% at 50 formula conferred this benefit to every sworn public safety employee regardless of the amount of time they had on the books.

Prior to 3% at 50, the formula was 3% at 55.

The difference between the two formulas meant that a police officer or firefighter who was hired at the age of 25 could retire after 25 years with about the same monthly retirement income as someone who had retired at the age of 55, under the previous formula.

The cost to the City for that 5 year difference is called an unfunded liability.

Basically, the amount of monthly retirement being paid out by CalPERS had not been covered in full, leaving a deficit between the benefit paid for and the new benefit amount.

WHERE WE ARE AT TODAY

Mayor Morris’ successful experiment with the hiring of additional officers to combat crime, bringing a never before seen level of safety to the residents has been abandoned.

Councilmen Fred Shorett, Virginia Marquez and Rikke Van Johnson continue to support the Mayor’s policies of cutting everything in sight, thinking this will help with the bankruptcy.

They are not thinking about the future.

They are not working to rebuild San Bernardino into the quality community that we once were.

Councilman Chas Kelly is still the only leader who has called on numerous occasions for adoption of an “economic stimulus plan,” to help draw revenue into the general fund, but those calls have seen no action taken.

The men and women of the San Bernardino Police Officers Association appreciate your time and we appreciate your continued support.