I spent the last few days thinking about our Inland area cities. Perhaps it was because I spent four days walking around a foreign city, experiencing street life, eating at cafés, and shopping at flea markets in Paris, France. I had no agenda, no plan, and no particular things to see or do – I just wanted to experience a little Parisian life.
At the risk of sounding bourgeois, I met my husband there for our anniversary. He was in the city on business. We had an opportunity to visit the Paris College of Art, an American institution in the city, and as we walked the two miles back to our hotel in the Marais district, I started to think about home. How un-walkable our cities are here in the Inland area. How rare our opportunities are to run into friends on the street or sit outside at our favorite restaurants of coffee shops and converse with our fellow residents about the news of the day…or nothing at all. I also found myself reflecting on what makes cities great places to live. The rhythms of city life. How strong cities can create strong communities. And how city leaders are elected by the people, responsible to the people, and whose only mission should be to create and maintain cities where people want to live.
Last November, the residents of the City of San Bernardino sent that very message and voted to replace the city’s failing leadership. Finally exhausted by the years of city government dysfunction they supported a recall effort whose targets were the elected city attorney who had been in office for over 20 years and key members of the city council who worked with him to maintain a city that benefitted a small group of individuals who in this case didn’t even live in the city, the public safety employees. San Bernardino had clearly become an unlivable city for most residents. Property values were down, crime was up, and morale was at an all time low. The old city attorney rigorously resisted any changes to the outdated city charter that would give city leaders more options in addressing challenging budget issues that had bankrupted the city. The new city leadership’s first order of business was to assemble a volunteer citizen-based charter committee to review and make recommendations to the mayor and city council on a revised city charter to take before the voters. The commission is comprised of individuals like Phil Savage III, Gloria Macias Harrison, and Hardy Brown Sr. whose only motivation is revising sections of the charter to create a strong vibrant city for this and future generations. The commission’s creation and subsequent findings have proven that when recall efforts are successful, transformation is possible.
The residents of the City of Moreno Valley have an important choice to make in two weeks when they go to the polls, and I believe they can learn from San Bernardino’s success. They can begin to regain control of their city by recalling Mayor Tom Owings who, like his fellow city councilmembers, is more interested in building a city of warehouses that benefit the city’s most influential private developer than one that will benefit the hardworking taxpaying residents. Of course, that’s just the beginning of the reformation work that needs to be done in that city.
Our cities should not be for sale to the highest bidder, the individuals who own the most land within its limits, or held hostage by city employee associations. Our cities belong to the residents, the individuals who live, pay taxes, and support the services we all appreciate. We must not forget that if we do not control the destiny of the communities we call home they will be controlled by someone else, and isn’t that why people came to the “New World” from Europe in the first place?