To Be Young, Gifted and Screwed in SB

Posted October 3, 2007 in News

As much as San Bernardino city officials would like us to believe that the young members of Inland Congregations United for Change are just a bunch of malcontents, they are, in fact, some of the most optimistic citizens of the region.

Why else would the members, whose faith-based group seeks to improve the lives of San Bernardino’s children, continue to fall for City Hall’s promises when City Hall has screwed them at almost every turn? The most recent screwing occurred this week, when city officials—including Mayor Pat Morris—reneged on a promise to fund several youth-oriented programs proposed by the ICUC. This particular broken promise was all the more infuriating because the ICUC had made the proposals at the urging of Morris, who in February praised the young activists for their civic-mindedness, and this week essentially told them to take a hike.

It was enough to make hardened residents of a violently regressive city cry, and that’s exactly what it did. When informed by Morris last week that their months of hard work amounted to nothing more than an academic exercise in why local government doesn’t work, several of the young members broke down in tears.

“It’s kind of discouraging to see that when we, as the youth in the city, are trying to make something positive happen, the people that we should be looking up to are going back on their word,” said ICUC member Jonathan Garcia, 18. “It makes us not want to be involved.”

The ICUC’s dream of a youth-friendly San Bernardino is, like so many other positive things not happening in the city, a casualty of Morris’s Operation Phoenix anti-crime program. In the two years since the mayor launched Phoenix, the program has become both a bleeding ulcer in the city’s budget and a convenient excuse for City Hall not to undertake anything unrelated to cops and cop accessories.

But to really understand the depths of the ICUC’s disillusionment, we have to go back to 2005 and another broken promise, this one by city leaders desperate to pass a quarter-cent sales tax initiative—Measure Z. Seeking to broaden public support for Z, which would raise an estimated $5.6 million annually for 15 years, supporters (led by Mayor Morris) added a companion measure to the ballot—Measure YY. YY promised that all Measure Z revenue would be spent on cops, anti-gang initiatives and . . . wait for it . . . youth programs. Both measures passed overwhelmingly in November 2005.

But as reported in the Weekly, the City Council this year quickly earmarked all but $114,000 of Measure Z’s first-year revenues for police use. The measure’s supporters cynically explained that YY was an advisory measure only. Realizing that the city was once more breaking faith with its youth, the ICUC and about 500 residents held a noisy February 15 rally at which they demanded the council keep its promise and spend that $114,000 on youth programs. The rally led to a meeting between several young members of the ICUC and City Councilman Tobin Brinker, during which Brinker tried to mollify the kids by promising that nearly $1 million would be made available in June for “a variety of programs, including youth programs.”

It was such a dumb thing for Brinker to say—he didn’t have the clout to make such a promise, and no one had asked him to make it in the first place—that this reporter looked up from his notes and asked him to repeat it, which he did.

The next day, the council voted to allocate the remaining $114,000 for police equipment. The panel also voted to spend the same amount on the Police Activities League—a strange concession that suggested the council favored only youth programs in which the youths could be shot if they acted out.

Brinker was new to politics in February, and can perhaps be excused for making promises he couldn’t keep. Mayor Morris has no such excuse: his promise to a group of ICUC members shortly after the council vote was flat-out bewildering. According to several members who attended the meeting, Morris praised the group for extracting the “$1 million in June” promise from Brinker, whom the mayor described as “the swing vote” on the issue. He then urged them to draft a proposal on how they’d spend the money, and suggested they meet with various officials—including the director of Parks and Recreation and the superintendent of the San Bernardino City Unified School District—to get their input. Once they put together the proposal, he said, he’d review and make recommendations of his own.

“He told us to meet with all these people, and we did,” said Mireya Olguin, a 15-year-old Cajon High School sophomore. “We took ideas from each of these meetings and based our proposal on that.”

The members labored on their proposal for four months, taking their cues from Morris all the while. The finished product, which they dutifully submitted to the mayor for his review, contained a number of remarkably solid ideas, including opening a high school swimming program where students could work as interns and gain lifeguard certification, and the creation of a listing of existing youth services. It also contained line-by-line funding requests—$36,000 for the swimming program, $100,000 for the guide, etc.—with a total proposed expenditure of $528,000.

A few weeks later, Morris sent the group a revised funding proposal on city letterhead. While the mayor’s recommendations represented less than 43 percent of what the group had requested ($303,000 out of the original $528,000), the ICUC members were ecstatic. At last, they were making a genuine difference. Their excitement only increased when Morris suggested they turn out in force at the next council budget meeting to urge the mayor’s colleagues to support the proposal.

Then, last week, Morris walked into an ICUC meeting and lowered the boom. City revenues, he said, turned out to be lower than anticipated. Given that, and given the fact that he wanted to expand Operation Phoenix into five other San Bernardino neighborhoods, there would be no Measure Z money available for the proposed youth programs. Nothing. Zip. The mayor said he would try to secure funding for some of the programs, but he wasn’t promising anything.

“The mayor then told us not to bother going down to City Hall for the budget meeting—he said we could go down and ‘make a ruckus,’ but that it wouldn’t change anything as it was really just a procedural matter,” says ICUC organizer Tom Dolan. “Two weeks ago he was telling us to go down and support the programs. Now he’s telling us it wouldn’t make a difference.”

Councilman Neil Derry disputed the notion that the budget meeting—which took place Wednesday, after the Weekly’s press time—was merely a procedural matter. About $800,000 in Measure Z funds had yet to be allocated, he said, and “it’s up to the council to decide how these funds will be spent.”

“I have some concerns that commitments were made and then not followed on, particularly when these young people expected an opportunity and right now are being told they don’t have one,” he says. “That’s not acceptable. I didn’t make commitments to these young adults, (but) I sat down with them and I know that their hearts are in the right place. I’m not giving up hope. I think we still have an opportunity to do some of the things they have in question.

“I can understand why these young people are very upset,” he continues. “But the real question for them is that if there’s still Measure Z funds unallocated, why don’t they get some of that? Particularly since they put in all this work at the behest of the mayor.”

Several ICUC members said that after recovering from the shock of Morris’ announcement, they tried to contact Brinker for help. But the councilman, they said, had stopped returning their calls. We feel their pain: neither Brinker nor the mayor returned the Weekly’s calls for comment, either.

The members of ICUC have a theory as to why Brinker left them hanging—they can, after all, read a district map. One of the council districts targeted for Operation Phoenix expansion—and all the Measure Z funding that implies—just happens to be represented by Brinker.

“I recently did a voter registration drive at Cajon High,” Garcia says. “A lot of students didn’t want to register, saying that it’s not like government listens to us anyway. This is the perfect example of why teens don’t want to be part of the whole process. It’s really sad.”






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