Walt Stanckiewitz was elected to the Grand Terrace City Council in 2008. Shortly thereafter, the city descended into controversy and scandal, as longtime city manager Tom Schwab was felled by cranial subdermal hematoma. During Schwab’s medical leave his protégé, Steve Berry, was elevated to acting city manager. When Schwab sought to return as city manager, an unseemly political battle broke out, pitting those who favored Schwab against those who favored Berry. Stanckiewitz initially sided with Berry, but before it was over, accusations were flying in all directions. A resultant revelation was that Berry had become involved in an alleged embezzlement at City Hall. Berry militated with former councilwoman and district attorney Mike Ramos’s paramour Bea Cortes to have criminal charges lodged against councilman Jim Miller. Miller was eventually driven from office, a development that stood as a short-lived tactical victory for Berry, but which ultimately redounded to his discredit as the community reacted to the procedural, political and prosecutorial overkill that had evolved out of Berry’s power play. Ultimately, after Berry lost the crucial swing vote of support from Stanckiewitz, he was fired, but Schwab was never returned to his city manager’s post. The tawdriness of it all convinced then-mayor Maryetta Ferré to not seek reelection.
Stanckiewitz leapt into the breach and was elected mayor in 2010. But the string of bad luck in Grand Terrace did not relent with the 2010 election, in which Cortes was soundly defeated. While the city is an enviable residential area because of its tranquil isolation atop a majestic terrace that rises above the Santa River, as well as its geographical placement between uninhabited and impassible Blue Mountain and the nearly uninhabited Riverside County frontier south of it, Grand Terrace has little commercial traffic traversing through it because of that splendid isolation. With little influx retail activity, the city receives but a pittance in the way of sales tax revenue, given its 12,040 population, which makes it San Bernardino County’s third smallest municipality population-wise. The city’s financial decline hastened with the stagnating economy that persisted after the 2007 housing meltdown and ensuing stock market panic. The situation worsened when the state of California in 2011 shuttered redevelopment agencies up and down the state. Grand Terrace was particularly hard hit because for years Schwab had utilized redevelopment spending authority to shore up city operations, borrowing redevelopment money for use in the city’s general fund and then forgiving the loans. The council Stanckiewitz headed was faced with making hard choices, which entailed reducing city operations, cutting back on services, layoffs, position eliminations and further economies that reduced Grand Terrace to a shell of its former self. Whispers loudened into open talk about the disincorporation of the city. In what seemed to be a last ditch effort to salvage what was left of the city in 2013, city officials, led by Stanckiewitz, sought to convince the city’s residents to impose upon themselves a utility tax. The measure was defeated at the polls.
Another politician might read the writing on the wall, the tea leaves at the bottom of the cup and the bottom line on the city’s financial statement and bug out. Stanckiewitz is either too stubborn, too insensate, or too determined to quit. He is seeking reelection.
The owner and operator of La Pasta Italia in Grand Terrace since 1989, Stanckiewitz is a relative newcomer to the city as a resident. He moved there in 2007, after his home in the San Bernardino Mountains was destroyed in a fire.
“When I first ran for city council, it was as a ‘thank you’ to the citizens of Grand Terrace,” Stanckiewitz said. “It was this community who came to aid my family in our time of need and it was this community that gave us the strength when we needed it most. The love and support given to us by the residents gave us something to be thankful for that first Thanksgiving, only one month after our home burned down. It was this community that gave us joy that first Christmas. I did not believe that just saying ‘thank you’ was adequate. Words are never as effective as action. As my time on the council passed, signs of financial instability were becoming obvious. I felt that my previous management and command experience with Johnson & Johnson, Honeywell, TDK, and the US Army could help us face these problems.”
Stanckiewitz said the accelerated tribulations of the last four years have not been enough to dim his enthusiasm for governing.
“Shortly after being elected mayor, more of the previous financial mishandlings came to light and the governor cut funding for redevelopment,” he said. “Because of these unforeseen events, it became clear that four years in office was not going to be enough time to get the job done. Transparency became the norm for council actions; budgets have been balanced all four years; City staff was reduced from 36 employees to less than ten; the city’s retirement benefits program was reduced before the state mandated it; reduced work weeks were instituted; cuts to law enforcement services were reluctantly implemented; and financial reporting systems were vastly improved. We have been able to successfully get the ball rolling in the right direction as we unanimously adopted and are implementing the 2030 Vision and 2014-2020 Strategic Plan.”
Those plans, Stanckiewitz said, are intended to “ensure our fiscal viability; maintain adequate public safety, and promote economic development in our city. It is great to have goals, but more importantly, we have plans that are already in motion to get them going. We will concurrently work on developing and implementing successful partnerships between the city and civic and business organizations as well as developing proactive communication strategies, some of which will be launched before year end.”
Stanckiewitz said now is not the time to alter the city’s leadership.
“Right now, Grand Terrace is at a critical stage,” he said. “We have put plans into motion that will not only benefit our generation, but the generations to come. The council has functioned as a well run team during my tenure even with changing members over the last four years. This positive synergy will continue if I am reelected. It is my desire to continue my actions of saying ‘thank you’ to Grand Terrace by turning the dream of stability and growth into a reality for all of us.”
Stanckiewitz said it was not all doom and gloom in the Blue Mountain City.
“We have accomplished the opening of Grand Terrace High School; the opening of a new Stater Bros, Walgreens, Auto Zone, and recently Chillz Frozen Yogurt,” he said. “Soon a new McDonald’s will call Grand Terrace home. We recently reached agreement with the city of Colton, settling costly litigation and getting us out of the sewer business. We have completed the environmental document for the Barton Road Interchange with construction scheduled to begin in 2015; the Newport Bridge widening is scheduled for completion late this year.”