San Bernardino’s Violent Present: A Community in Crisis Seeks Common Ground

San Bernardino’s Violent Present: A Community in Crisis Seeks Common Ground
ICUC rally

Inland Congregations United for Change (ICUC) Common Ground for Peace rally at city hall on August 8. The symbols on the cloth represent almost 500 people killed in San Bernardino since 2005.

S. E. Williams

Thirty-three-year-old Shonta Edwards was found dead early Monday morning—shot and killed on Little Zion Manor Drive in San Bernardino–one more homicide in a city that had already experienced forty-four violent deaths this year. 

The number of murders in San Bernardino has now exceeded last year’s total which included the December 2nd terrorist attack at the Inland Regional Center that left fourteen people dead in a single event. 

Something appears to have gone terribly wrong in the City of San Bernardino as the rate of violence has continued to escalate this year. In response, community leaders are doing their part to make a difference. On Monday, in an assertive effort to engage city officials and foster a sense of urgency in the process, members of the Inland Congregations United for Change (ICUC) attended the city council meeting and officially called upon council members to support them in their efforts to end the violence. 

Members of the ICUC are advocating for their elected representatives to embrace the framework of a cease-fire-crime-prevention program, Common Ground for Peace (CGP). Such programs have yielded extremely promising results in other communities around the state. The Common Ground for Peace initiative is a partnership-based, violence reduction strategy that employs respectful, direct communication with law enforcement and other social service agencies in an effort to reduce violent crimes and death. 

CGP is facilitated by the nonprofit organization PICO National Network. The network has affiliates in 17 states, including California, and internationally. While PICO organizations are rooted in local communities, affiliates actively work together to impact state and national level policy. PICO has an office in Washington, D.C. to facilitate national campaigns. 

PICO affiliates are independent non-profit organizations made up of religious congregations, schools and neighborhood institutions. Each affiliate has its own local organizing committee of volunteer community leaders.

The primary goal of the Common Ground for Peace initiative is to reduce shootings by providing resources and creating a safe way to connect with neighbors and community. To date, the initiative has experienced profound results. Oakland implemented their program in 2012 and between 2012 and 2014 the city experienced a 36.5 percent reduction in homicides. 

Also over the past two years, several PICO organizations in partnership with other local organizations, city and law enforcement agencies have also experienced double-digit reductions in gun violence through the implementation of the Ceasefire initiative. Included among them—the city of Stockton noted a 55 percent reduction in fatal shootings; Richmond experienced a 60 percent reduction in homicides over two years; in 2011-2012, Sacramento experienced a 70 percent decline in fatal shootings between two key groups who had been in a cycle of violence for many years; and finally, Baton Rouge, Louisiana experienced a 33 percent reduction in its homicide rate. 

At Monday’s meeting the ICUC implored city council members to make violence prevention a priority and requested the council implement similar intervention programs to help stem the violence in San Bernardino. The members of the organization came armed with letters of support from more than 1,000 San Bernardino residents–asking, demanding the same. 

The community’s plea did not come as a surprise to representatives. In July, several San Bernardino officials made a tax-payer-funded exploratory trip to Oakland in order to learn more about the Ceasefire program there. Participants included Mayor Carey Davis, City Manager Mark Scott, city council members and police department officials. 

However, despite their firsthand exposure to a real world application of the process; regardless of the data demonstrating program success in a number of communities around the state and in places as crime ridden as Baton Rouge, Louisiana; and notwithstanding a voter approved tax measure (Measure Z) passed in 2006 designed to generate revenue for just this kind of effort—city leadership claimed it needed more information; that the issue required more study before they could make a decision. In the meantime, their constituents—those they were elected and/or appointed to serve—continue to be shot down in the streets of San Bernardino—far too many of them, young people and children. 

City officials may feign the need to play catch-up on the Ceasefire initiative; however, ICUC members are moving forward to the extent that they can. The group’s organizer, Sergio Luna said not only has his group studied Ceasefire since 2013, they have held regular marches for a year seeking commitments to its purpose.

At Monday’s council meeting while city leadership hedged, Rev. Norman Copeland of St. Paul AME Church put it bluntly, “We’re the ones that are dealing with the pain of the loss to grandmothers, fathers, nieces, nephews and sons. You’re the ones who can solve this.” 

To this end, ICUC members asked that the city council commit to earmarking 40 percent of the money raised by Measure Z sales tax for violence prevention programs modeled on Oakland’s Ceasefire program. The probability of the city officials agreeing to take such action at this point seems fairly remote. 

Since the measure’s passage and the passage of its advisory measure, YY in 2006, little of the money generated has made its way to prevention programs. Instead, the majority of the money has been used for police department needs and other city services as part of its general fund. 

Measure Z is a 0.25 percent tax approved by San Bernardino voters in 2006 along with a companion measure, Measure YY. Measure Z read in part: “. . . to fund more police officers, anti-gang and anti-crime operations, and other urgent general fund programs, and provided it shall be guaranteed to sunset after fifteen years, and provided a Citizen’s Oversight Committee is created to report annually to voters on the use of proceeds, shall an Ordinance be adopted to impose a ½ of a cent transaction and use sales tax?” Measure Z passed with 67.1 percent voter approval. Annual revenue generated by the measure was estimated at 5.6 million dollars annually. 

The accompanying advisory measure, Measure YY read in part “. . . If measure Z is approved by the voters, shall the proceeds of Measure Z be used only to fund more police officers and support personnel and to fund anti-gang and anti-crime operations, including drug resistance education and supervised after-school youth activities?” Measure YY passed with an overwhelming 75.2 percent voter approval. 

Unfortunately, in 2006 city leadership knew what most voters did not. Firstly, although the language of Measure Z appeared specific and led the casual voter to believe the tax dollars would be used for the reasons specified in the measure itself as buffeted by the advisory Measure YY, a key phrase in measure Z—“and other urgent general fund programs,” identified this as a general tax (taxes imposed for general governmental purposes). This designation not only allowed the measure to pass with a simple majority (50 percent plus one); it further allowed San Bernardino city officials to circumvent the two-thirds vote requirement for a special tax and circumvented state accountability laws designed to ensure that taxes imposed for specific purposes are spent as intended. Measure Z passed with more than the two-thirds vote required for a special tax. Unfortunately—it was not structured as such. Many wonder whether that was ever the real intent.

According to the Howard Jarvis Tax Association, up and down the state, “In an effort to circumvent the two-thirds vote requirement for special taxes, some cities and counties have placed majority vote, general sales tax increase measures on the ballot along with a companion advisory measure “advising” local officials how to spend the tax proceeds without actually legally dedicating the tax proceeds for the “advised” purposes. With this strategy, local officials can spend the tax proceeds any way they want and are not legally bound by the contents of the companion advisory measure. 

An Advisory Measure/Question like San Bernardino’s 2006 Measure YY, is a type of ballot measure that asks a non-binding question. The largest difference between an advisory vote and any other type of ballot measure according to regulations is that the outcome of the ballot question will not result in a new, changed or rejected law or constitutional amendment. Rather, “the advisory question symbolically makes heard the general opinion of the voting population in regard to the issue at hand.” As a result, the advisory Measure YY that accompanied Measure Z on the 2006 ballot was no more than a suggestion to the council for how to spend Measure Z money. 

When the measure passed, some voters were hopeful and viewed the pending allocation as particularly important. A number of residents believed that in addition to providing much needed funds to community programs, whatever allocation decision was reached initially would set the tone for the allocation of funds the remainder of the 15-year lifespan of Measure Z. To date, it appears that is exactly what has happened. 

This reality began to come clear with disagreements over the allocation of the first influx of Measure Z dollars in 2007 and has continued since. Measure Z was not just ambiguous regarding how the dollars should be allocated between the police and community based crime prevention programs; either by design or by accident the measure was devoid of any allocation recommendations. 

According to a National League of Cities report dated March 2007, there was, “debate at the [San Bernardino] city council[meeting] as to how the first 1.6 million in Measure Z tax revenue installment dollars should be spent—all on police, or mostly on police with some funds set aside for youth crime-prevention programs.” The measures as worded clearly inferred the money generated by the new tax would be used to support law enforcement and gang prevention programs for at-risk youth. 

At the time, presiding San Bernardino Mayor Pat Morris stated, 'The measures were written to explicitly include funds for intervention and prevention services for at-risk youth, [this] is where we can have the greatest impact." 

However, only three of the seven council members agreed with him. In the final analysis, the remaining four council members had their way and in the end, the entire $1.6 million was appropriated to the police department. The members of the council in the minority on this issue ultimately convinced the other council members to take $114,000 out of the city’s Reserve Fund and allocated $75,000 for the Police Activities League (PAL) and the remaining $39,000 for city-run community centers. 

The Voice reviewed four Measure Z audits for the fiscal years beginning with the program’s first (short) year that covered the period April 1, 2007 to June 30, 2007 and ending with the fiscal year July 1 2010 to June 30, 2011. Measure Z tax revenues received during those years totaled $17,891,049. Of that total Measure Z revenue collected only $45,100 was allocated for at risk youth—the equivalent of 0.25 percent. Even if you included the $114,00 from the city’s reserves allocated to programs in 2007, it would still equate to less than one percent of the total Measure Z revenue collected during those years—a long way from the 40 percent commitment now requested by ICUC. 

In mid-July 2012, the City of San Bernardino declared a fiscal emergency and on August 1, 2012, filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy. Now, as the city takes strides toward exiting its bankruptcy status, the new reality is that since 2008, police staffing was reduced 30 percent and certain crime rates are up. 

The issue remained unresolved at Monday’s meeting. The Voice will continue to follow this story.

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