From the outside looking in, it’s easy to say the city of Loma Linda is a city in the midst of a massive struggle.
This month, it canceled City Council elections for the first time in its 42-year history because not enough candidates filed to run. It also recently announced it would be forced to close a wing of City Hall, prompted by a $7.5 million loss when the state dissolved redevelopments agencies and took over the assets.
In the two and a half years he has been the city manager – during the worst of the recession - T. Jarb Thaipejr said he has had to eliminate 21 of the 99 jobs in the city. According to the census, Loma Linda itself has grown by less than 25 percent in the last 10 years.
From the outside, it does look as though the problems are insurmountable. But Loma Linda Mayor Rhodes Rigsby said one would be wrong. The cuts are a sign of a city ready to adapt.
“I see it as a sign that we’re vibrant and staying within our means,” Rigsby said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “That’s the purpose of government. The purpose of government is to provide services within it means. And that’s what we’re doing. And I see a lack of candidates more as a satisfaction.”
Rhodes says others spun the city’s March 22 special meeting, during which they canceled the election, to mean there was voter apathy.
“But I don’t think there’s any voter apathy at all. I think there’s opposition apathy,” Rhodes said. “Which is a good thing, I think. It kind of reinforces to me that we’re doing what people expect and no one is angry enough at government to do anything to fight it.”
The night of the meeting, Councilman Ron Daily expressed concern that the lack of candidates “represents serious apathy in the citizens of Loma Linda regarding the issues that are in front of us; everything from development to RDA to McDonald’s to all the other issues. If we’re looking at a situation in which apathy is prevailing, that’s of significant concern to me.”
The media picked up the comment.
Longtime resident Dru Turner agreed with Rhodes that the city is not in decline. Any financial decline is a reflection of the country’s struggles, the longtime Loma Linda resident said. She said the city has always dealt with circumstances its neighbors do not.
“The temporary populace that attend the schools of health and medicine, the out of town employees of those institutions and the temporary populace that are admitted to the several hospitals actually are a hindrance to the City's economic situation because they pay no property taxes but this has always been the case,” Turner said by email. “Our infrastructure must accommodate a far larger populace than the tax base suggests, so that has always been a real problem for this city.”
As to the lack of enthusiasm regarding the City Council, Turner said, “for years any break through or out candidates have been thoroughly trounced by the incumbents. There was hardly ever any break-in ‘new’ and/or radical candidates and the most recent ‘new’ ones had the backing of the University anyway.”