Why San Bernardino, and two other California cities, are going bankrupt

San Bernardino, Stockton, and Mammoth Lakes have all chosen the path of bankruptcy in the last two weeks. What's going on?

(AP Photo/Los Angeles Times, Mark Boster)
People walk through The Village in Mammoth Lakes, Calif. Mammoth Lakes voted unanimously to file for bankruptcy on July 2. Now, San Bernardino is following the same path.

As recently as last month, no city in California had opted for bankruptcy since 2008, and no U.S. city of more than 200,000 people had ever chosen bankruptcy.

The past two weeks have changed all that, in a big way, as the fiscal struggles faced by so many American cities became too much for some to bear.

San Bernardino became the third California city in that small span to choose Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection with a City Council vote on Tuesday night.

The Southern California city of about 210,000 people will also become the second largest in the nation ever to file for bankruptcy. Stockton, the Northern California city of nearly 300,000, became the biggest when it filed for Chapter 9 on June 28. The much smaller city of Mammoth Lakes voted for bankruptcy July 3.

RECOMMENDED: What recovery? Top 10 cities losing jobs

San Bernardino's City Council directed the city attorney to make the move during a meeting where administrators explained the dire fiscal circumstances and urged them to choose the bankruptcy option.

"We have an immediate cash flow issue," Interim City Manager Andrea Miller told Mayor Patrick Morris and the seven-member City Council, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Miller said the city is facing a budget shortfall of $45.8 million. It has already stopped paying some vendors, and may not be able to make payroll over the next three months.

Four council members voted for the authorization, two opposed it, and one abstained.

"This is probably the hardest decision this councilwoman will ever have to make in this chair," Councilwoman Wendy McCammack said, according to the San Bernardino Sun.

The councilman who abstained from voting, John Valdivia, said he did not trust the information presented at the meeting, and having only served since March believed he should not be held responsible for the money mess.

"The taxpayers of this city have been duped, hoodwinked and misguided for the past several years," Valdivia said, according to the Sun.

It was not immediately clear when the city planned to file.

Sixty miles east of Los Angeles, San Bernardino is in a region that soared economically during the housing boom, and suffered accordingly after the crash.

It joins a number of other cities and counties across the nation that have plunged into financial crisis as the recession made it tough to cover rising costs involving payroll, pensions, bondholders and vendors.

Before Stockton, a California city had not filed for bankruptcy since Vallejo in 2008.

Since Congress added Chapter 9 to the bankruptcy code in 1937 to allow municipalities to seek protection, about 640 government entities have filed.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

RECOMMENDED: What recovery? Top 10 cities losing jobs

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.