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San Bernardino blues: Bankrupt city flailing amid financial overhaul

In the meantime, the budget slashing continues.

Some 500 city employees, about a third of the city’s payroll, have been laid off. About 100 police officers lost their jobs, trimming the force to 248. Some public pools didn’t open this summer. Park maintenance, including mowing and watering, is now in the hands of private contractors. Libraries lost four positions.

“The bankruptcy, if anything, has helped maintain city services,” Davis said, by easing debt payments.

What the city will spend money on is a new redevelopment guru to attract business investment to an area that turned the former Norton Air Force Base into the San Bernardino International Airport — an airport with a spanking-new passenger terminal to handle flights but, so far, no scheduled service from any airline.

Davis said there are opportunities, with the city breaking ground recently on an interregional transit hub for bus and rail. But others disagree.

“I don’t see a whole lot of positive,” said Richard Castro, 57, a retired high school science teacher who ran for mayor last year and lost. “It’s tough to get kids to push forward. There’s been more of an exodus.”

Unemployment is at 9 percent in San Bernardino County — much higher than the national rate of 6.2 percent. In the San Bernardino–Riverside metropolitan area, unemployment went as high as 15 percent, and foreclosures peaked at 8.8 percent in 2009, four times the national average.

And the crime rate is high. The website Neighborhood Scout gives San Bernardino a crime index rating of 4, meaning that it’s safer than only 4 percent of other U.S. cities. It says a person’s chance of becoming a victim of violent crime here is 1 in 95 — considerably greater than the 1 in 236 chance statewide. The city was shaken up this month by the shooting of a police officer who was critically injured. Three men were charged with attempted murder.

“It’s beyond fed up,” Castro said of the feelings that many city residents have. “It’s hopeless. We see no sign of a different future.”

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