San Bernardino faces a $46 million budget shortfall and may not be able to pay all its employees over the next three months. As recommended by the city manager, the city council voted to file for Chapter 9 protection.
Four members of the council voted in favor, two voted against and one abstained.
Mayor Pat Morris said the council was forced to either find a way to cut close to 30 percent of its budget or file for bankruptcy protection.
Morris said that there is such little revenue coming in that even if they were to close every park, library, and even City Hall, the city would still have to cut its police and fire departments.
"The council is going to have to make some very difficult decisions with relation to our budget," Morris said. "We have had a major meltdown in our local economy, regionally, statewide and nationally."
Councilwoman Wendy McCammack said in some ways bankruptcy might ultimately be a good thing for taxpayers, because it will involve complete restructuring of the city's finances. She believes it will also protect police and fire.
The vote by San Bernardino follows recent bankruptcy filings by Stockton and Mammoth Lakes.