Freedom from Poverty and Crime in San Bernardino

Revitalizing San Bernardino: If the good people and non-profit sector continue their tireless work of improving the city and rebuilding broken family units, this downtown E-Street retail corridor could become the next Gas Lamp Quarter.

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

During the Memorial Day Weekend, Press Enterprise Staff Columnist Cassie MacDuff ran a report on San Bernardino's fiscal issue and said this:

The statistics rattled off by San Bernardino's bankruptcy experts last week were startling:

San Bernardino is the poorest large city in California, and the second poorest in the nation, after Detroit.

The Parks and Recreation Department offers no youth recreation programs.

The library's public computers are 6 to 8 years old and there’s no money in the budget to replace them (or to buy books, for that matter).

Police and firefighters – whose pensions have been blamed for the city’s insolvency – have salaries lower than their peers in like-sized California cities.

And non-public-safety employees have gone without raises for 10 years.

Any one of those points is cause for concern.

Cities with high poverty and crime rates, like San Bernardino, need recreation programs to keep kids out of trouble.

As for the library, if any city needs a vibrant one, San Bernardino does.

MacDuff went on and described the city's catch-22 situation of needing better infrastructure with the lack of resources to acquire them. A potential solution that was brought up in the article regards to getting up-to-date public computers was for the private sector to turn over used machines to the library. While I'm thankful for the generosity, the good people of San Bernardino shouldn't be stuck with second-rate computers. In this tech age, the youth especially need the latest machines and technology. Also, the piece reported on the issue of the retail sector investing in the Redlands Citrus Plaza area and other places, but not in San Bernardino. Why?

The good people of this great city are certainly hurting economically and many are likely wondering what needs to be done to fix this troubling trend. I am convinced that the public will is present to rebuild the city socially.

One of the primary causes of the city's issues and lack of private investments is social chaos and destructive crime within several of its neighborhoods. Such riff-raff clearly distracts youth from getting the quality education that is necessary for them to acquire high-paying, skilled-based jobs.

That could explain why the city is mired in so much physical poverty. That could be the explanation of why the private sector is not investing in retail infrastructure and expanded jobs such as the downtown Carousel Mall, the now-vacant downtown hotel and convention center property, and The Breeze Way retail pedestrian promenade. Being the primary gateway city into the mountains and deserts from Los Angeles and a historic Route 66 stop, this should be an affluent region. But ask the judges, lawyers and their staff at the San Bernardino Courthouse, the bank manager in the financial block, the IRS auditor in the Vanir Building, the professor at CSUSB, and the doctor at Loma Linda University Medical Center why they don't live and buy where they work. They will likely tell you that it is too dangerous to live or raise a family in San Bernardino. The same can be said for South Los Angeles and Moreno Valley.

While many are indeed in poverty, San Bernardino's residents are not giving up. In fact, they have a wealth of courage. Let me repeat: San Bernardino's good people are wealthy in courage.

They are fighting back through the non-profit sector. They are following a universal, common purpose to get San Bernardino back to its best state. I have seen it firsthand. While I was there last month doing a photo field study of the area, I was stopped by a community planning activist networking with a resident.

We owe a big thanks to the supporters and members of the several groups dedicated toward offering restorative justice programs to those who desire to turn away from crime and mentoring troubled children and youth of whom lack caring parents. Support groups and prison ministry members that mentor and rehabilitate incarcerated inmates of whom desire to turn away from the criminal life should be thanked as well.

The Transit Coalition believes that a root factor of youth-related gang crimes and social problems in the Inland Empire is the deterioration of the traditional family unit. Numerous stats and studies overwhelmingly suggest that children that grow up in abusive or fatherless families are generally less likely to be in their best state as adults than from children that grow up in a traditional and stable family. I know I'm generalizing and there are notable exceptions but rebuilding the family unit must be a priority policy.

I understand that the government is limited in what it can do to combat these social issues because morality generally cannot be legislated. However it can place the issue front and center.

Just like how our transit agencies are obliged to spread awareness about human trafficking, public posters discouraging teenage or out-of-wedlock pregnancy should be posted in each middle and high school campus in the region. Likewise, helplines for youth growing up in troubled families to network with caring mentors should be promoted as well. That way, the kids in distress can turn to positive outreach programs instead of the criminal gang culture for help. Such posters should be present all throughout troubled neighborhoods, especially within the schools.

But San Bernardino's people and the non-profit sector are already showing that uniting for a common purpose and rebuilding the city socially can be done. The city is at a critical point in its 200 year history. A new chapter is about to be written. What is true about San Bernardino can be the same too for Moreno Valley, Riverside's Eastside, and South Los Angeles. The good people simply cannot continue to be overwhelmed by gang violence and continued physical poverty. They must be free from this social slavery once and for all.

When these regions revitalize, unite, and rebuild the family unit, the world is going to witness a new generation of productive, selfless leaders, innovators and heroes from places it least expected.