CITY SPOTLIGHT: San Bernardino, California Part 1

This post is part of a new series on the CNU Salons, CITY SPOTLIGHT. City Spotlight shines a light on the latest news, developments and initiatives occurring in cities and towns where CNU members live and work.

The post below is City Spotlight Part 1 of a 4 part series on the City of San Bernardino, CA from Mario Suarez, AICP, CNU-A. Part 1 outlines the unique state of San Bernardino in the early stages of TOD-led rejuvenation. Parts 2 and 3 will provide background and outline the challenges of bringing transit, especially BRT, to this Southern California city.

How did a thriving, prosperous city driven by an influx of residents bought in by rail line fall into bankruptcy? Nevermind. The "why" of it is less important now than the "how" of getting out of it, and with a series of new projects in development, the City is poised for renewal and rejuvenation.  

The City of San Bernardino is located in Southern California approximately 60 miles east, traveling on the Interstate-10 Freeway, from downtown Los Angeles. It is 60 square miles in area  with a population of 209,924 as of the 2010 census. It is also the largest city in the biggest county in the nation, which is 20,000 plus square miles.  

The blog you are about to read includes many facets consistent with the Charter of the New Urbanism. It is not a perfect picture, but it is certainly filled with lots of information that may be useful in your mass transit and/or transit-oriented development ordinance projects.


The City's 2005 General Plan Economic Element points out that the closure of Norton Air Force Base and Kaiser Steel, the relocation of the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway (BNSF), and the economic downturn  of the 1990's were key factors in the City's distressed economy. Prior to the aforementioned economic tragedies, the City's Community Development Director reminds us that in the early 1960s the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) redrew a segment of the 10 Freeway bypassing San Bernardino all together. This allowed the growth of competing cities to the west to capture the automotive traffic flows going to Las Vegas and San Diego. This, according to the Director, was the start of San Bernardino's downfall. I-15 has expanded and Caltrans has continued to widen and improve this major corridor.

While the auto-dependent cities have suffered from state actions and tough economic times, the City of San Bernardino and the region's voters have opened the door to improve their quality of life on many fronts.  The funding for both BRT and Rail projects date back to 1989 with Measure I that received over 80% voter approval setting a one-half of one percent retail transactions and use tax for bus rapid transit, rail projects and other street infrastructure improvements.  This was long before the 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act signed into law by Governor Schwarzenegger. Hence, the new urbanism injections!


The City's once bustling regional malls are now greyfields. The remaining autocentric commercial power centers are headed towards the same end and trying to lead a City towards a better place has received mixed feedback. The bright side is that residents, community groups, developers, builders, and regional government agencies have stepped up in support of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), Passenger Rail Station Area Plans, and a Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) Ordinance.  These projects are "hard-won victories" receiving a majority vote by the City of San Bernardino's Mayor and Common Council.  

The Mayor's Office, the former Redevelopment Agency and the Planning Division of the City, with support of regional transportation agencies, moved forward in implementing a TOD Ordinance. The TOD is an implementation measure directly related to the new BRT project being championed by the region's transit provider, Omnitrans, and the San Bernardino Association of Governments (SANBAG) Regional Commuter Rail expansion project, and the SANBAG/Omnitrans/City of San Bernardino downtown multi-modal transit station projects. This will result in a trifecta of new urbanism to boost the economy and create more compact-accessible thoroughfares traveling the neighborhoods, city, and region of San Bernardino.  The proximity of an enhanced bus service and new commuter rail services to serve residents, commuters, students and tourists will lead to an improvement to the City's residents' "quality of life."

Preparation of the TOD ordinance fulfills the City's responsibility in support of mass transit projects' underway by Omnitrans and SANBAG. In this tough political atmosphere, moving the TOD legislation forward is also part of a Master Memorandum of Understanding between the players. The new legislation will assist the planners' project recommendations and provide justification for decision makers when considering new projects around a transit stop.  

It is not just about the "gadgets" for making things greener, but more about creating more mobile, livable, prosperous, and sustainable places consistent with SCAG's Compass Blueprint objectives. It is about fostering sustainable places and buildings together, as advocated in Stephen A. Mouzon's new book "The Original Green."


As a former employee at the City of San Bernardino, I was charged with the complex TOD project which was a primary focus because it involved managing three major components with tight time constraints. They were:

...Stay tuned for Part 2 next week, "The Background and Purpose of BRT"


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