Expect an earful: San Bernardino councilman, police chief to hold town hall on fiscal crisis

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San Bernardino city councilman Rikke Van Johnson and police chief Rob Handy plan to hold a town hall meeting Thursday night to discuss the city’s ongoing budget and bankruptcy crisis.

Sixth Ward councilman Rikke Van Johnson says the event is an opportunity for citizens to learn more about how the city’s fiscal crisis will affect them.

Van Johnson was among the council members who voted earlier this week in favor of seeking Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection. The city is $46 million in the red; it has no cash reserves and can barely make its payroll.

“As I was walking in a woman said, 'This is historic for the city of San Bernardino, and it’s not in a good way,'" said Johnson. "We’re faced [with] looking at other reliefs, and Chapter 9 provides a form of relief.”

City Attorney James Penman, who’s expected to file the bankruptcy petition in the next 30 days, says San Bernardino is in worse shape than Stockton. Last month, that Central Valley city became the largest in the country to declare bankruptcy after it failed to restructure millions of dollars in debt.

“Our structural debt is not as serious as theirs," said Penman. "But our cash flow problem is more serious. But for that we would not have to do what we’re doing – at least not right now.”

Police Chief Rob Handy will also attend the town hall. Some city officials say generous public safety salaries and benefits are partly to blame for San Bernardino’s fiscal mess. At a morning news conference, Handy worried that given the city’s cash flow trouble, police staffing could shrink to the level it was 10 years ago when crime was its peak in San Bernardino.

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