The bankruptcies of San Bernardino, Stockton and Mammoth Lakes are raising questions about whether other California cities are confronting the same fate. Stockton's filing had been discussed for months, but San Bernardino's caught the public by surprise. The question is, how many other communities face insolvency?
From the Chronicle's Wyatt Buchanan: "An additional eight California cities, including Fairfield, which declared a fiscal emergency in April, have officially notified the municipal bond market this year that they are facing significant financial hardship, according to Matt Fabian, managing director ofMunicipal Market Advisors, which conducts independent research on the municipal bond industry."
"The notifications don't necessarily mean these cities are headed for bankruptcy court, but they do signal real adversity."
"Along with Fairfield, the other cities include Arvin (Kern County), El Monte (Los Angeles County), Grover Beach (San Luis Obispo County), Lancaster (Los Angeles County), Monrovia (Los Angeles County), Riverbank (Stanislaus County) and Tehachapi (Kern County)."
The cities' financial stress is being caused in part by the familiar mix of dwindling tax receipts, the impact of overly aggressive borrowing during boom times and the obligations to municipal pensioners, such as retirees' health care.
From Christina Villacorte in the Daily News: "A new report from the Los Angeles County Civil Grand Jury raises concerns about a handful of municipalities."
"The study looked at the fiscal health, governance and management practices of 22 charter cities - not Los Angeles or Long Beach - and concluded many of them were living beyond their means. It was based on 2010 financial reports, the latest data available."
"The report said cities should have a minimum of twice as many assets as liabilities to ensure solvency and meet future obligations. Seven cities failed to meet that standard: Compton, Vernon, Pomona, Signal Hill, Inglewood, Industry and Culver City. "This indicates that several cities' solvency may be at risk, as may also be their ability to meet future obligations," the civil grand jury said."
Immediately to the south, in Orange County, another community may be slipping into insolvency.
From the OC Register's Tony Saavedra, Teri Sforza and Ronald Campbell: "Stanton is just $8 million away from financial catastrophe. If costs continue unabated, city budget planners say Stanton will be broke in four years."
“It’s easy math,” said Terri Marsh, Stanton director of administrative services. “We have a deficit of $2 million a year and there’s only $8 million (in reserves) left.”
"With Stockton and Mammoth Lakes filing bankruptcy within the last three weeks – and San Bernardino poised to do the same – California taxpayers are scrutinizing the bottom lines of their own cities."
San Bernardino's bankruptcy may have come as a surprise to most people, but the city's financial woes went back years, triggered in part by the closure of a key military base.
From the Press-Enterprise's Dug Begley and Kimberly Pierceall: "As recently as the mid-1980s, San Bernardino was the envy of other Inland cities, able to brag about its military base teeming with well-paid workers, the nearby steel industry and a vibrant downtown."
"One by one, those economic and social engines disappeared. Despite spending years trying to boost the city’s stature with new developments, even a new airport, San Bernardino never recovered from steady decline, a fact underlined this week by the city’s decision to seek bankruptcy protection..."
"Following the loss of an estimated 20,000 jobs, including 10,000 positions citywide when Norton Air Force Base closed in 1994, city officials struggled to replace the workforce. Well-paying jobs mean workers are in the city spending money and paying sales taxes. The base’s closure was a $1.9 billion hit to the region’s annual economy, according to a study commissioned by the San Bernardino International Airport Authority."
Speaking of money, a former ranking official of the State Parks Department engineered secret buyouts of some $271,000 in vacation time for some colleagues, even as the parks were suffering closures because of the lack of funding.
From the Bee's Matt Weiser: "The program, in which employees were allowed to sell unused vacation time back to the state, was not approved by the California Department of Human Resources, as required by state law, said Lynelle Jolley, a spokeswoman for the human resources department. Due to the state's precarious budget condition, she said, no vacation buyouts have been approved by the agency since 2007."
"They definitely did not authorize this," Stapler confirmed.
In one respect, California's electorate sent mixed signals during last month's primary: Voter registration increased sharply but dramatically fewer people actually cast ballots. Go figure.
From Capitol Weekly's John Howard: "California voters, always fickle, lived up to their reputation on June 5: Despite a signficant increase in registration, they stayed away from the polls in droves, with less than a third of the state's registered voters actually casting ballots."
"Two weeks before the election, some 17.15 million people -- about three out of four of those eligible -- had registered to vote, about a million more than the 16.12 million voters who registered for the June 2008 state primary election and some 1.4 million more than those registered for the Feb. 5, 2008 presidential primary. About a fifth declined to state a party preference."
"According to the secretary of state, the most recent signups reflected the largest primary-to-primary registration increases since at least 1996."
And from our "Time Machine" file comes remarkable images of fashionable women more than a century ago on the streets of London and Paris.
"Street blogging may be considered to be a modern phenomenon, but a series of images unearthed by Kensington and Chelsea Libraries prove that the practice may date as far back as the early 1900’s."
"The Library service has published several wonderful images by the late amateur photographer Edward Linley Sambourne, who was also the chief cartoonist for Punch, which give an amazing insight into the street style of the woman of London and Paris over a century ago."
"Sambourne’s beautiful street photography captures the casual side of Edwardian fashion in a manner which is rarely seen."