SAN BERNARDINO - A major redevelopment project, recently approved to take place in an eastside neighborhood, has thus far elicited stronger emotions than other projects in neighboring cities that rely upon the same federal funding source.

Within the San Bernardino Valley, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has given millions to San Bernardino, Rialto and Fontana to fight the after effects of the foreclosures through what's called the Neighborhood Stabilization Program.

Although the execution of this program has so far been a fairly straightforward process in Fontana and Rialto, San Bernardino's experience has been much more volatile.

San Bernardino officials working on Neighborhood Stabilization plans have zeroed on an area near what was once known as the Arden Guthries, a cluster of eastside apartments reputed as one of the San Bernardino's most crime-plagued neighborhoods before dozens of four-plexes were razed in recent years.

The issue of redevelopment work there has aroused heated debate among San Bernardino's politicos - the redevelopment plan passed by a single council vote - and protest on a hot Saturday evening. Residents of the neighborhood where San Bernardino officials plan major redevelopment work walked around their apartments while carrying signs Saturday to signal their opposition to any plans that would require them to move.


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The law requires that anyone forced to move receives financial assistance, but area residents said Saturday that they are worried about whether they will receive enough money to move and if they will be able to find a decent place to live.

"We weren't prepared for this. There was nothing saved," said Tia Smith, a 31-year-old resident of a 19th Street apartment.

Protesting residents also said they objected to the characterization of their neighborhood as an epicenter of crime and said they would rather have the city engage in more effective code enforcement to force irresponsible landlords to care for properties.

One the other side of the coin, one young man who did not want to be named Saturday said life in his neighborhood is "beyond crazy."

Smith said it was difficult to move in 2007 after she was relocated from an Arden Guthrie apartment. She said she also experienced financial difficulty when she was laid off from her job at Starwood Vacations. Starwood shut down its San Bernardino operations in November.

Prior to Saturday's protest, San Bernardino Economic Development Agency officials distributed a letter to project area residents on Sunrise Lane and 19th Street saying that the EDA would not force tenants out of their apartments and that people would be given opportunities to rent refurbished or newly-built apartments.

San Bernardino Mayor Pat Morris and EDA officials say that area is one of the city's most troubled zones, and is ripe for redevelopment activity intended to reduce crime and blight.

"You do the surgery on the cancer," Morris said Wednesday.

Official numbers show that 356 serious crimes were reported in the area from January 2007 through March 2009. There were 453 Code Enforcement actions over the same time period.

San Bernardino received about $8.4 million in Neighborhood Stabilization dollars. The city's plan calls for 25 area four-plexes to be acquired by a nonprofit and rehabilitated as low-income housing. The concept also calls for the demolition of neighboring four-plexes to make way for single-family homes and senior housing.

In addition to federal dollars, which can only be used to purchase abandoned or foreclosed properties, San Bernardino's plan also sets aside $2 million in Economic Development Agency dollars for acquisitions and demolitions of properties that have not been foreclosed.

Nearby, Fontana and Rialto officials have launched plans to use grant dollars to repair foreclosed properties across their respective towns in efforts intended to make the properties attractive to future homeowners and to preserve neighboring property values. 

The federal government has given Fontana nearly $6 million in Neighborhood Stabilization funding and Fontana deputy city manager David Edgar said officials plan to spend the money primarily to acquire, rehabilitate and resell the city's most dilapidated single-family houses.

"It's a citywide approach, although we are keeping an eye on selected neighborhoods in central and south Fontana," Edgar said.

As of Wednesday, Fontana officials have purchased five homes and could eventually purchase 15 to 20 homes, then using sale revenues to repeat the process with other properties.

In Rialto, which was awarded about $5.5 million, economic development director Robb Steel said officials are purchasing both homes and apartments. Earlier this month, Rialto's City Council approved the $170,000 purchase of a foreclosed four-plex on West Jackson Street.

Steel said Rialto has had previous success in rehabilitating a neighborhood, citing the conversion of the once-feared Willow-Winchester area into the Citrus Grove apartment community.

"We cleared up the neighborhood significantly," Steel said.

andrew.edwards@inlandnewspapers.com
(909) 386-3921