In Grand Terrace, 8-Year Councilor Robles Says Her Fiscal Guidance Remains A Must

After nearly 8 years on the Grand Terrace City Council Sylvia Robles is seeking reelection, she said, because the financial challenges besetting the city demand that a steady hand knowledgeable with regard to public agency fiscal operations remains on the city’s tiller.
After graduating from San Gorgonio High School in San Bernardino, Robles attended the University of Redlands, graduating with a bachelor of arts degree in business. Subsequently, she obtained her master’s degree in public administration from Cal State University San Bernardino.
She went to work for San Bernardino County, working as a field representative for then-Supervisor Barbara Cram-Riordan, eventually moving over to the county’s special districts department as a budget analyst.
“My work experience as a budget analyst for the department of special districts and my higher education relating to public policy have prepared me to deal with a wide scope of municipal services, from complex fiscal policy to parks, sewers, roads, fire and sheriff services,” she said. “One of my peers has said on numerous occasions: ‘We don’t need folks like this on the council. This is why we have staff.’ With two major deeply structural finance issues, I’ve had to wrestle staff to extinguish bonds that were useless. We incurred a general fund deficit and pension liability by spending tax money to subsidize the child care program for middle income families. After more than $300,000 in cash went to a program of free taxpayer-subsidized support not available to any other families in need of child care, I asked, ‘Why?’ The response was stunning. Staff never asked for guidance on this project because long-term staff had advised, ‘Some in the city would strongly object.’ I was elected to see these issues and deliberate with the residents, not some nameless phantom group.”
Robles elaborated, “Childcare is not a core city service. Cities offering childcare are most often providing some kind of state-funded service to assist low-income families. The city got into the daycare business to drive traffic to a redevelopment agency shopping center to make the bond issue more appealing for the bond market sale. Unfortunately, the childcare center could not keep enrollment and fees adequate to be self-supporting. Time after time, staff presented the council the option of increasing fees. After more than $300,000 in general fund borrowing and increased unfunded pension liability to a staff larger than core city staff, I raised the alarm.”
The city needs someone who is knowledgeable about financial issues to remain focused on the city’s bottom line, Robles said.
“In 2011, the city council as it was then composed tried to beat the clock with the imminent termination of redevelopment powers by the state’s closure of redevelopment agencies throughout the state by passing the issuance of $29 million in redevelopment agency bonds,” she said. “I was able to push for the elimination of those bonds in 2019. Over $1.5 million in interest payments were being paid for bonds we had no legal authority to spend. We now have freed up from our city’s former redevelopment agency $500,000 every year going forward for the general fund. If not for this infusion of cash we would be in horrible shape. I must stay and implement economic development projects moving through the entitlement process.”
Robles said, “I’m running for reelection because of my deep concern in the aftermath of COVID-19 on municipal budgets. I have 25 years of local government experience and eight years council experience. I ran on a platform against the foolish spending by redevelopment agencies. I lost my first campaign for city council in 2010. Since that time, I believe the city’s residents who are paying attention recognize the wisdom of what I was saying.”
Under her watch, Grand Terrace, the third-smallest city in San Bernardino County population-wise, the smallest city in the county in terms of geographical area and the second-smallest city in terms of its combined tax base, has radically reduced its staff, dispensing with nonessential elements of the city’s previous operations that were not befitting of a city of Grand Terrace’s limited means, she said.
“We were able to sell the childcare center,” she said. “The private sector was able to provide this service. We still have some unfunded pension liability for past childcare staff. The sale of the childcare facility extinguished the general fund debt.”
It is a reality that the viability of the city in many tangible ways comes down to dollars and cents, Robles said, pointing out that among the council incumbents and those vying in this year’s election, “No one has the financial expertise I bring to the council. I had to fight to get our useless bonds extinguished. My peers thought, erroneously, the perpetuation of those bonds was going to result in a one-time contribution of $500,000 to our general fund. I read through the red tape, and sidestepping bureaucracy-speak, handed off to the private sector a childcare program they could best provide to middle income families well suited to pay the fees. Families got needed daycare and taxpayers got back general fund cash to pay for sheriff services.”
While working to end the squandering of city funds and the expenditure of money the city simply does not have, Robles has taken part in efforts to spur economic development in the 3.5-square mile, 12,600-population municipality.
“We have two major development projects in the pipeline,” she said, “potentially a hotel, an upscale apartment complex, and some restaurants and retail space. We must work to increase our tax base by putting idle empty lots to work. Improving the land will increase the property tax base. California is suffering from a severe housing shortage. If we can usher through more quality development projects, we can help ease that. The sales tax generated by restaurants and retail are a help.”
Robles said, “The council must sell any development to the residents while providing the most transparent information surrounding any such projects and getting and incorporating our residents’ vision for Grand Terrace. These projects pay for themselves. We do have some residual redevelopment funds, but plans to revisit how to best spend these funds were crowded out by the COVID crisis. I yet hope we can still get this done immediately after the election.”
Robles has lived in Grand Terrace since June 1977. She was employed five years with a county community services agency, seven years as field representative for a member of the board of supervisors, and 13 years as a budget analyst in San Bernardino County’s special districts division, overseeing the provision of services to the county’s unincorporated areas.
She and her husband, Bob, have three adult children and several grandchildren.

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