By clicking on the blue portal below, you can download a PDF of the April 21 edition of the San Bernardino County Sentinel.
By Mark Gutglueck
In Week 16 of the Colonies Lawsuit Settlement Public Corruption Case prosecutors sought to use the gravitas of two legal heavyweights in making a case that Rancho Cucamonga Developer Jeff Burum bribed two members of the board of supervisors and the chief of staff of one of their board colleagues a decade ago.
A 29-count indictment handed down by a grand jury in May 2011 alleges that Burum, who with Dan Richards was a managing principal in the Colonies Partners, first used intimidation, threats, blackmail and extortion followed up with $100,000 kickbacks to persuade Bill Postmus and Paul Biane, who were then the chairman and co-chairman of the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors, to support paying out $102 million to settle a lawsuit the Colonies Partners had brought against the county and its flood control district over drainage issues at the Colonies at San Antonio residential and Colonies Crossroads commercial subdivision in northeast Upland first lodged in 2002. By 2006, with the litigation having dragged on for over four years, the indictment alleges Burum conspired with former sheriff’s deputies union president Jim Erwin to use highly personal derogatory information about Postmus and Biane to create “hit piece” mailers designed to harm their political careers which ultimately were withheld to pressure them to vote in favor of the settlement. Over the seven months that followed Postmus and Biane joining with then-supervisor Gary Ovitt to support and pass by a bare 3-2 majority the $102 million settlement on November 28, 2006, Burum and Richards made two $50,000 donations to two political action committees controlled by Postmus and his associates along with separate $100,000 donations to political action committees controlled by Biane and his associates, Erwin and Mark Kirk, who at that time was Ovitt’s chief of staff. Those donations were, the indictment alleges, thinly veiled bribes to Postmus and Biane for their votes in favor of the settlement and to Kirk for his having influenced Ovitt to support the settlement. Erwin was rewarded for his effort in having carried out the extortion and bribery scheme, prosecutors allege. Though Burum was indicted, Richards was not. Postmus, who had been charged along with Erwin with involvement in an extortion and bribery scheme growing out of the same set of overt acts laid out in the indictment, initially pleaded not guilty to those charges, as had Erwin. But 13 months later in March 2011, Postmus entered guilty pleas to 14 felony counts and agreed to turn state’s evidence. He was then the star witness before the grand jury that indicted the four current defendants. The charges in the indictment supersede the charges earlier brought against Erwin. It is anticipated that next month Postmus will testify as the central witness for the prosecution in the trial.
While the two prosecutors handling the case, California Supervising Deputy Attorney General Melissa Mandel and San Bernardino County supervising Deputy District Attorney Lewis Cope, initially sought to reference the underlying civil litigation as background to the circumstances that led to the alleged extortion and bribery and propound that the $102 million settlement was excessive and unjustifiable, the defense, led by Burum’s attorney, Stephen Larson, has pursued a strategy of countering the prosecution by seizing upon the minutiae of the civil litigation in an effort to suggest the $102 million settlement was reasonable. As a consequence, the prosecution has spent a considerable amount of its focus thus far in addressing the defense contentions that the Colonies Partners was due the $102 million. This relitigation of the civil trial has distracted both the prosecution and the two juries hearing the case from the criminal allegations.
In weeks twelve and thirteen, the prosecution had called to the witness stand deputy county counsel Mitch Norton, the attorney who had guided the county through all of the civil litigation with the Colonies Partners. On direct examination by Mandel, Norton had done a thorough job in laying out the county’s legal position in the civil lawsuit, articulating the strengths of the county’s case, while illustrating the efforts by Postmus, and to a lesser extent Biane, to stampede the county into a settlement of the lawsuit on terms favorable to the Colonies Partners.
Nevertheless, Norton had an Achilles heel the defense team, particularly Larson, was able to exploit. Following the settlement of the lawsuit, Norton had been given the assignment of pursuing the county’s effort to recover from its insurance carriers a significant portion of the $102 million that had been paid to the Colonies Partners. When one of those carriers, the California State Association of Counties Excess Insurance Authority, balked at making those payments based upon a contention similar to that propounded by the prosecution, namely that the settlement was tainted by graft and corruption, Norton had been obliged to assert that the settlement was both justifiable and reasonable. Those assertions had been made in court papers and in arguments before a court. Ten years after the $102 million settlement, the county is still seeking to have the California State Association of Counties Excess Insurance Authority make good on its indemnification of the county. Thus, Norton, two weeks ago under a withering cross examination from Larson, was forced to concede that given the totality of considerations and in the full light of hindsight, the $102 million payout to the Colonies Partners was “objectively reasonable.”
After Norton’s departure from the witness stand, the prosecution has sought to recapture the momentum Norton had given the county when he was being questioned on direct examination, before Larson was able to compromise him. Thus, Ron Reitz, who had been Norton’s boss when he was county counsel from 2003 until 2006, was put on the witness stand by the prosecution after Norton. Reitz, who was unhampered by having argued that the settlement with the Colonies Partners was justified, was able to assert and consistently reassert the position the county had taken in opposing the Colonies Partners’ assertions in its lawsuit. Moreover Reitz was able to shed further light on the mad rush Postmus was engaged in while forcing the county toward settlement back in 2006. This week the prosecution followed Reitz with two other lawyers who had opposed the Colonies Partners and its lawyers in the lawsuit. The first of those, who testified on Tuesday and Wednesday, was Paul Watford, who was at the time of the settlement negotiations an attorney with the law firm of Munger Tolles & Olsen, which represented the county in the litigation with the Colonies Partners in 2004 and 2005. Watford in June 2012 garnered an appointment as a federal judge on the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The second attorney to testify this week was Ruth Stringer, the first woman to serve in the capacity of San Bernardino County Counsel, the highest ranking in-house lawyer for the county.
In 2012 Watford was then with the law firm of Munger, Tolles & Olson and was working closely with another of the firm’s attorneys, Steve Kristovich, on representing the county. Watford testified about a document he and Kristovich had generated for the county consisting of a “preliminary assessment” of the Colonies Partners’ claims for damages to its Upland property in which at that point Burum and Richards and their attorneys were asserting, he said, a “$61 million claim for land value for the loss of 67 acres.”
According to that document, Watford and Kristovich said, “We estimate the Colonies’ damages would be in the $18 million to $20 million range.”
In its assertion of damages, the Colonies Partners had claimed that the land had a value of $225,000 a lot and that the county’s vectoring of water onto the property had rendered it entirely undevelopable.
But the matter was not that simple, according to Watford and Kristovich, as at least 31 of those 67 acres were subject to flood control easements recorded by the county in the 1930s, giving the county the right to use property for drainage purposes. And the claimed damages involved action by other parties, including the California Department of Transportation, known by its acronym CalTrans, the City of Upland, which held land use authority in the area, and the regional transportation agency, known by its acronym SANBAG. The water vectored onto the Colonies Partners’ property came from the 20th Street Storm Drain, which the county had built at the behest of the City of Upland and Caltrans to alleviate flooding on the then-newly constructed 210 Freeway and the area north of the freeway. It was his and Kristovich’s assessment that the county should not bear the full brunt of the potential $18 million to $20 million damages sustained by the Colonies because, Watford testified, that cost should have been “split among the other entities. The [county flood control] district should not bear the entire cost of the damages since the other entities were more responsible for the damage that was being caused. The flood control district was caught in the middle.”
Over time, the Colonies Partners’ claims on the value of its property escalated, reaching $1.5 million per acre. Watford testified that he and Kristovich considered the property and the amount of damages the Colonies Partners was asserting “to be significantly inflated in two respects.” One of those consisted, he said, in the “number of acres” the Colonies Partners claimed the county would be monopolizing for flood control purposes. He said the size of the water basin the county was going to use could be reduced from 67 acres. “We could still argue that the footprint for that basin had shrunk,” he said.
Moreover, he said, the Colonies Partners had cataloged much of the property as developable residential property when it was in fact zoned by the City of Upland as open space.
“We thought it should be valued as open space,” Watford said. “They wanted it valued as if you could build houses on it. It had been zoned as open space.”
Watford, who said the passage of more than a decade had weakened his memory of what had occurred, was asked about a watershed event in the dealings between county officials and the Colonies Partners that has been a major focal point in the criminal trial, a March 25, 2005 meeting at Biane’s Rancho Cucamonga office involving Postmus, Biane, Burum, Richards, Watford, Kristovich and Norton, as well as two attorneys for the Colonies Partners, Scott Sommer and Heidi Timken, and then-recently retired state senator Jim Brulte, who was working for the Colonies Partners as a consultant and lobbyist. Watford, Kristovich and Norton had come to the meeting in the aftermath of an appellate court tentative ruling that had overturned a previous decision by San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Peter Norell in which Norell had declared that the county had abandoned the flood control easements on the Colonies Partners’ property. The reconfirmation of those easements, the county’s lawyers felt, put the county into a stronger legal position, and they had believed this would result in the Colonies Partners, as well as the county’s decision makers consisting of the board of supervisors coming to an accommodation on the Colonies Partners’ claims against the county at a monetary level far below what the Colonies Partners had been previously demanding. But during the course of that meeting, after the lawyers for both sides had given those present conflicting interpretations of the significance of the appellate court’s tentative ruling, all of the lawyers were asked to leave the conference room, after which ensued a lopsided negotiating session between Postmus and Biane for the county and Burum and Richards for the Colonies Partners refereed by Brulte, who was working for and being paid by the Colonies Partners. The upshot of that session was that Postmus and Biane agreed to a $77.5 million settlement, consisting of the county paying the Colonies Partners $22 million and turning over to the company surplus flood control property in Rancho Cucamonga valued at $55.5 million.
In his testimony, Watford was able to recall several salient issues in that meeting, which he said was supposed to be relatively limited in scope but soon ranged well beyond its intended parameters.
“It was our understanding the meeting was very preliminary and was to be geared toward the issue of the court of appeal’s tentative decision to see if that changed the dynamics between the two parties enough to start the dialogue toward settlement,” Watford said, adding that the appellate court’s tentative decision reestablishing the easements “undercut the basis of their [the Colonies Partners’] claims,” such that the county’s lawyers anticipated settlement at a far lower figure than what had previously been discussed. Watford said he recalled “a pretty spirited dialogue with the Colonies’ lawyers.”
He also testified that “We felt strongly the county’s position had improved, and on the other side, for reasons we could not understand they felt the opposite” and that “We did not feel we made much progress.”
At some point, Watford said either one or both of the supervisors “asked the lawyers to leave the room. We waited outside in the lobby area while they talked among themselves. We waited with the expectation we would be brought back in to resume the discussion.”
Watford emphasized that “We weren’t there to settle the case that day” and that the county’s legal team felt that the tentative ruling from the appellate court would bring the parties “closer together” to push them beyond the “impasse” and that they were having the meeting on March 25, 2005 to see if the tentative decision had changed each side’s view to create “enough common ground to try for a settlement.”
Mandel asked, “Did the county’s position improve with the tentative decision?”
He responded, “In my view, yes.”
“Were you invited back into the meeting?” Mandel asked.
“No,” he said.
Watford said he was not bothered or surprised when the lawyers were asked to leave the room, because, as he put it, “Lawyers can sometimes get in the way” of achieving a settlement. Nevertheless, he indicated, the outcome of the negotiating session was shocking.
“What happened next?” Mandel asked
“Supervisor Biane came out by himself and said, ‘Great news! We’ve settled the case. While you pesky lawyers were out of the room, we resolved this,’” Watford said. After that, Watford recalled, “He gave us a sketch of the terms, which consisted of the $22 million in cash and the transfer of unused county flood control district land in Rancho Cucamonga to the Colonies Partners.”
Watford said Biane’s announcement was “startling” and inappropriate given that the tentative decision favoring the county was pending and waiting to be finalized, that the amount contained in the settlement was excessive, that the Colonies Partners had not documented the damage claims it was making and that the settlement ignored or bypassed the effort to have the other parties – Caltrans, SANBAG and Upland – share in defraying whatever liability existed.
“The timing of the settlement made no sense at this point in time,” Watford said. “These board members, for whatever reason, approved a settlement way in excess of what we thought was reasonable under the circumstances.”
Watford said that Biane then asked him and Kristovich to write a memorandum for the entire board of supervisors recommending that the $77.5 million settlement be ratified.
“We were not going to prepare that,” Watford said. Rather, he said, he drafted a memorandum dated April 4, 2005 in which were laid out in detail arguments against accepting the $77.5 million settlement. He and Kristovich made copies of the memorandum, which he then personally handed out to all five members of the board of supervisors during a closed session. After the memo was handed around, during the course of that closed session, Watford said, he and Kristovich explained the contents of the memo to the board. “We walked through it orally,” he said.
That memo read, in part, “As we have previously discussed, we believe the [county] flood control district has strong claims for contribution and indemnity against Caltrans, SANBAG and the City of Upland for any damages the flood control district is forced to pay the Colonies in their inverse condemnation case. If a judge or jury later determines that the settlement reached with the Colonies is unreasonable, the flood control district may be precluded from recovery on its contributions and in regard to the claims against the other entities.”
Watford said he and Kristovich explained to the board that if the county settled with the Colonies Partners without taking the matter to trial, “the county would have the burden of showing the settlement was reasonable. This settlement put in jeopardy the county’s ability to recover on the indemnity claim. We gave them pretty strong advice to not go forward with this settlement.”
“Did the board follow your advice?” Mandel asked.
“No, it did not,” said Watford.
“What happened next?”
“We somehow found out that the board had disregarded our advice and decided on a split vote to approve the settlement nonetheless,” Watford said.
Mandel asked what Watford, Kristovich and their firm did.
“We decided to withdraw from the representation of the county,” Watford said, with that departure becoming official on April 21, 2005, although Watford and Kristovich did represent the county in making its final arguments before the appellate court with regard to the decision to overturn Norell’s ruling when that decision was finalized.
Asked if the Munger Tolles & Olson firm’s withdrawal was an unusual one, Watford said it was. He said as lawyers they had “duties and obligations to other individuals” beyond Postmus and Biane. He identified those other individuals as the taxpayers of San Bernardino County.
Late Wednesday afternoon and early Thursday morning, April 19 and 20, Watford was cross examined by Stephen Larson, Burum’s lead attorney.
Larson, a former federal court judge who had been one of Watford’s colleagues when they both worked for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles in the 1990s, was far less aggressive in questioning Watford than he had been with deputy county counsel Mitch Norton two weeks previously. Such an effort to find and exploit holes and contradictions in a witnesses testimony in legal parlance is known as impeachment.
While Larson did not succeed in impeaching Watford, he did get him to acknowledge that as an attorney he had no experience or expertise with regard to inverse condemnation matters, which pertain to a private land owner contesting the government’s seizure of property without just compensation, as was at issue in the Colonies Partners’ litigation against the county.
Larson delved into an email Watford received from deputy county Counsel Mitch Norton on November 1, 2006, which was 16 months after Watford’s firm had ceased representing the county in the Colonies litigation.
In that email, Norton alluded to a proposed settlement derived during an October 19, 2006 mediation session with the Colonies Partners. Norton said he had put into the agreement “what I like to call poison pills” to the agreement.
Larson asked Watford what Norton’s poison pills reference meant.
“I honestly don’t know,” said Watford.
Norton earlier testified that the “poison pills” were elements meant to protect the county’s interests rather than to sabotage the settlement.
Jim Erwin’s attorney, Raj Maline, pressed Watford with regard to his experience in representing county government prior to taking on the Colonies assignment.
“If I had any at all, it was very little,” Watford said.
In response to one of Maline’s question, Watford also said that in arriving at a settlement, a party to a civil dispute might justifiably take into consideration more than just the legal aspects of the matter.
Brought on to testify after Watford was Ruth Stringer, who had spent her entire legal career with the office of San Bernardino County Counsel after she attended law school while working as a county employee in the human resources division in which she was a contract negotiator. The office of county counsel is the county’s stable of in-house attorneys. County counsel is the highest position in that office, with the staff attorneys referred to as deputy county counsels. In her time as an attorney with the county, Stringer had risen from the position of deputy county counsel to chief deputy county counsel, then assistant county counsel overseeing operations, becoming acting or interim county counsel three weeks before the $102 million settlement with the Colonies Partners was voted upon in November 2006. She was elevated to the position of county counsel – the county’s top attorney – in March 2007, remaining in that capacity until she retired in 2010. She was the first, last and only woman to hold that position in San Bernardino County.
In her testimony on Thursday afternoon under direct examination by San Bernardino County Supervising Deputy District Attorney Lewis Cope, Stringer reprised and strengthened testimony from previous witnesses that advanced in some measure the prosecution’s theory of guilt.
One of those issues was a recounting of how Postmus was exerting pressure to have the Colonies Partners’ lawsuit with the county settled. Postmus was chairman of the board of supervisors throughout that time in 2006, when the series of events occurred which the prosecution alleges were orchestrated by Burum and Erwin to strong arm the county into the $102 million settlement. Stringer testified that Postmus’ efforts in that regard intensified in the immediate aftermath of his return from a trade mission to China on behalf of the county in September 2005. Previous testimony at the trial placed Burum in China during that trade mission. Prosecutors maintain that it was while in China that he and Burum entered into an unholy alliance to impose a settlement on the county that was contrary to the financial interest of the taxpayers but highly lucrative for the Colonies Partners.
Cope focused Stringer upon Postmus’ attitude and comportment prior to and then after that sojourn to China.
“Prior to the trip to China, it did not appear that he was that intricately or intensely involved in the litigation of the case,” Stringer testified. “After the China trip, he became a very different person in approaching this particular litigation. He wanted to settle it on the terms he saw fit. He wanted to settle along the lines the Colonies seemed to request.”
To buttress that, Cope displayed on the courtroom’s overhead visual projectors an email dated October 5, 2005 from Postmus sent by means of his Blackberry communication device to Stringer, who was then assistant county counsel, and Ron Reitz, who was then count county counsel. It said, “Per my direction don’t do ANYTHING further on Colonies until you talk with me!” Stringer verified the email’s authenticity.
In her testimony, Stringer underscored previous testimony with regard to pressure Postmus was heaping upon Reitz to settle the case, including one incident in which Postmus berated Reitz for “not controlling outside counsel and not getting this case settled the way he wanted it settled.”
Outside counsel refers to law firms, such as Munger Tolles & Olson, which have expertise in areas of law that outruns the expertise of the county counsel staff. Outside firms are retained to represent the county in legal actions requiring such expertise.
On another occasion, Stringer said, Postmus had broached with her and Reitz the subject of “moving forward with a study to contract out our office,” which would have entailed firing Reitz and the entirety of the office of county counsel and bringing in lawyers from outside firms to handle the county’s legal work and analysis. Postmus did this, Stringer said, because it would “supposedly help resolve issues,” that is, bring about the settlement of the Colonies Partners lawsuit.
Shortly after this occurred, Stringer said, Reitz told her “he had decided to resign. He was not going to participate in the Colonies action any further.”
Unilaterally, Stringer said, Postmus then hired his own personal attorney, Dennis Wagner, to serve as county counsel after Reitz’ departure.
“I had been at a meeting in Northern California, so I was out of the office for approximately a week,” Stringer said. “I came back the first part of May and was called to a meeting in Mr. Postmus’ office.” As she was outside Postmus’ office, someone told her that Dennis Wagner was going to be hired as county counsel. Stringer said she asked Postmus about it when she went into his office. She said Postmus “responded by saying it is already done.”
In her testimony, Stringer recollected an incident in the fall of 2006 in which she had direct contact with Jeff Burum. She said this occurred while settlement negotiations were ongoing between the county and the Colonies Partners, during which a settlement involving a land trade component, in addition to a monetary payout, was under discussion. The county’s provision of land it owns to another party, by policy and law requires a 4 to 1 or 5 to 0 vote of the board of supervisors to be ratified. She said that Burum and his partner, Dan Richards, took issue with county counsel’s position that at least four votes were needed to accomplish a land assignment.
During her testimony, Cope displayed some handwritten notes that were taken by Stringer of a discussion on April 10, 2006 with lawyers from the law firm of Jones Day, the firm that replaced Munger Tolles & Olson as outside counsel with regard to the Colonies litigation. Among those participating in the conversation, among others, were Jones Day attorneys Thomas Malcolm and Brian Toohey. Those notes show that as of that date, more than seven months before the $102 million settlement, the potential that criminal acts were being perpetrated with regard to the Colonies lawsuit effort were being considered by the county’s lawyers.
Stringer was not yet subject to cross examination and her further testimony under direct examination by Cope is anticipated next week before Larson will begin his cross examination of her.
Earlier this week, on Wednesday morning, there were proceedings in the case which excluded one of the juries. The allegations against Burum, Biane and Kirk are being considered by one jury and the charges against Erwin are being heard by a separate panel. Both juries are present for most of the testimony and presentation of evidence. However, because some evidence which emanated from Erwin is being used as evidence against him, the jury for Burum, Biane and Kirk is not privy to that. This is because it is presumed Erwin will assert his Fifth Amendment right to not testify. Under the Sixth Amendment, all criminal defendants have the right to confront their accusers and the evidence presented against them. Thus, any evidence originating with Erwin has been deemed inadmissible against his three codefendants. For that reason, there are two juries, so the jury for Burum, Biane and Kirk will not be present to hear this conflicted testimony and evidence.
Last Thursday and Wednesday morning, before just Erwin’s jury, Alan Mohill, who had been Erwin’s attorney in two lawsuits brought against him by the county and the union representing the county’s prosecutors and public defenders, testified about payments he had received from different entities to do that legal work.
In addition to the bribery charges leveled at all four of the defendants in the case, Erwin faces differing charges relating to failure to disclose income and not paying income tax on that income. After Mohill’s testimony concluded on Wednesday morning, again just before Erwin’s jury, California Franchise Tax Board senior special agent Christopher Herrmann testified about the investigation into Erwin’s tax situation.
Mandel handled the direct examination of Herrmann. A major focus of that round of questioning was Erwin’s Form 540 return for 2008, which would have been due April 15, 2009. In a set of selectively framed questions, Mandell elicited from Herrmann that Erwin did not file his 2008 tax return by the due date and did not get around to filing an adjusted return for 2008 until April 2011.
Herrmann testified that in 2008 Erwin earned $120,870. By her questions, Mandel obtained answers from Herrmann that seemed to indicate Erwin had purposefully skipped out on paying $3,264 in his 2008 taxes, which represented the difference between the $5,230 that had been withheld from his various paychecks and his total tax due of $8,494.
Hermmann, under cross examination by Erwin’s attorney, Raj Maline, acknowledged that his investigation had been triggered by a request from the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office and the California Attorney General’s Office. Moreover, Herrmann testified to Maline’s questions that he was not aware that all of Erwin’s financial records had been seized during a search of Erwin’s home in January 2009, three months before Erwin’s 2008 tax filing was due.
“Were you aware in this case there was a search warrant at Erwin’s home in 2009, where district attorney investigators took all of his records?” Maline asked Herrmann. Herrmann said he was not.
Herrmann also testified that he had been in contact with investigators from the district attorney’s office, who had possession of the records Erwin needed to make his filings. He indicated the district attorney’s office investigators had not told him they had the records and had not provided him with them.
Herrmann testified that with a single exception of when Erwin had asked for an extension to October of 2003 to file his income tax returns, he had consistently made a timely filing of his taxes every year, with the exception of the filing for 2008 in April 2009.
Upon further questioning by Maline, Herrmann revealed that he had provided false testimony to the grand jury that indicted the four defendants in May 2001. In late April 2011, Herrmann told the grand jury that Erwin had never filed his 2008 return. In actuality, however, Erwin had filed his 2008 return nearly two weeks prior to that, on April 15, 2011, with total adjusted income at $133,160. Herrmann said it was more than a year after his grand jury testimony that he learned of Erwin’s return and that he had thus provided misinformation to the grand jury.
As Maline wended his way through this thicket of information, showing that Erwin had consistently filed his tax returns and paid his taxes in a timely manner and that Erwin’s failure to do so with regard to 2008 was a consequence of the district attorney having seized possession of the documentation Erwin needed to make an accurate filing, Mandel made repeated objections to the questions, which Judge Michael Smith consistently overruled.
When Maline persisted through Mandel’s objections and obtained from Herrmann an acknowledgement that Erwin had subsequently made arrangements to pay the past taxes due along with penalties he was assessed as a consequence of the district attorney’s office’s holdup of his records, based upon the facial expressions and body language of several of the jurors during this portion of the proceedings, Mandel’s credibility with the jury appeared to be waning.
The America’s Best Value Inn, located directly across the street from County Fire Station 32 in Needles, underwent extensive damage in a fire that began Saturday morning.
Before it was doused, the conflagration persisted for at least an-hour-and-a-half and attracted a response from six fire stations, including four from across the river in Arizona.
A consistent report from four eyewitnesses was that the three-man team at County Fire Station 32 did not respond to the fire until after a unit from Arizona, which came from 12 miles away, was on the scene, an indication that county fire station personnel did not respond to the fire until 25 minutes after it had broken out.
Assistant San Bernardino County Fire Chief Tom Marshall, who was not on duty at the time of the fire and did not respond to it, told the Sentinel the crew at Fire Station 32 responded to the blaze within three minutes of being contacted. That version of events was contradicted by four eyewitnesses, including the U.S. Post Office worker who reported the fire to the fire crew at Station 32 by knocking on the front door of the firehouse to alert the firefighters to the fire.
There were a number of conflicting reports from witnesses and officials, several elements of which could not be reconciled.
Two reliable witnesses on the scene say the fire had become apparent some time after 8 a.m. and before 8:05 a.m. when flames were visible through the roof at the motel, located at the east Broadway offramp of I-40, at the intersection of I-40 and Highway 95 south, across the street from new county fire station.
There is no dispute that the blaze began on the second floor, most probably in room 214, which is at about the middle of the east wing of the structure.
According to a news account by Robin Richards of the Needles Desert Star, the fire was noted by a passing postal worker a few minutes after 8 a.m., which is consistent in most of its aspect with what an individual close to the postal worker told the Sentinel. Further, according to the Star account, “within five minutes responders were pouring water on the flames.”
This was at a variance with the accounts provided by several witnesses at or near the scene, including the postal worker.
The source close to the postal worker said he drives past the motel on his daily sojourn to work, and on Saturday he was on his way to work around 8:15 a.m. when he saw smoke and flames coming out of the roof of the motel. He used his cell phone to take a picture of the burning motel. At that point, he maneuvered his vehicle into the fire station parking lot to report the fire or see if the personnel at the fire station knew about the fire. He said he pounded at the fire station door. The fireman answering the door was on his cell phone, he said. He asked the fireman if he knew that the motel right across the street was on fire. The fireman said “It is?” but did not come out of the station to look at the fire, according to the postman.
The postal worker said he remained outside the fire station for a while to see if there would be any response. He said he waited until 8:25 a.m. and when there was no response by that time he left because he had to be at work by 8:30 a.m.
A second witness, identified as Marianne Jones, made multiple attempts to call 911, but could not get through.
A third witness located by the Sentinel standing among what appeared to be a group of either guests or residents of the hotel who were there while firefighting efforts were yet ongoing said that none of them had seen anything of note with regard to the ignition of the fire.
A fourth witness, believed to be the hotel’s janitor who lived at the hotel with his wife, a maid at the hotel, was heard to remark “I hope I turned everything off.”
A fifth witness, also a resident of the hotel, claimed that the first fire engine to respond was from a fire station in Arizona that did not arrive at the hotel until 20 minutes after the fire broke out. He said it took nearly ten minutes for that crew to set up and begin applying water to the fire.
A sixth witness, an Asian male believed to be affiliated with the ownership of the hotel and involved in its operation, said he saw the fire start but declined further comment.
A seventh witness, also a resident or guest, said the San Bernardino Fire Department arrived about 20 minutes after the fire ignited. He said he had walked from the hotel to the nearby Mobil gas station, commented on the fire and was told that the hotel custodian/handyman was in the station buying beer because he had the shakes and that the handyman was working in the room where the fire ignited.
An eighth witness, an evacuated occupant of the hotel said that the source of the ignition was at room 214, due to a ceiling fan malfunction. “The employees were in the bathroom working on the fan last night and again this morning,” he said. “When someone turned the fan on, it went ‘bang’ and the fire started. There was an employee who attempted to put out the fire with a handheld fire extinguisher.”
An ninth witness said he believed the San Bernardino County Fire Department was on the scene five minutes after the fire had grown to a detectable level. He claimed that the county fire fighters saw the smoke from the nearby fire house.
There was confusion among the witnesses as to both response time and the order in which the differing engines, several from Arizona fire agencies, arrived on the scene. This lack of clarity was due to an inability of many of the witnesses to identify or discern the difference between the various responding agencies. All told, crews from Mohave Valley, Bullhead City, Fort Mojave, Lake Havasu City as well as San Bernardino County Fire, including Needles and Twentynine Palms units, responded.
Adding to the uncertainty, the first responders and some of their vehicles were obscured by smoke in the parking lot of the hotel.
Needles City Manager Rick Daniels arrived at the scene of the fire and was seen consoling the Asian man who resided at the end of the hotel’s second floor who is believed to be involved with the ownership and management of the hotel. A witness also said that the fire spread from room 214 through the attic to room 217 where this Asian man lived and he was forced out before he could grab his computer or personal effects.
The size of the blaze required an upgrade to a second alarm fire, with additional resources responding, including two ladder trucks, one from Bullhead City and one from Lake Havasu City.
An ambulance from Fort Mojave Mesa and Needles, Baker Ambulance Service arrived, and the property manager at the hotel was evacuated by Baker to the hospital for treatment for smoke inhalation. One report to the Sentinel was that after the fire began with the ceiling fan, an effort by the hotel manager and the custodian to bring the fire under control followed, including using several fire extinguishers. The flames had advanced into the attic. This version of events partially explains the delay in phoning the fire department and perhaps the property manager’s smoke inhalation. The ceiling fans are standard accoutrement in the America’s Best Value Inn chain, which are extended living motels with kitchenettes.
When the Sentinel arrived at the motel parking lot at 9:20, the sheriff’s department had the highway around the motel blocked. When a deputy was asked what time the fire began, the Sentinel was told “around 8:30.”
After the Sentinel began gathering information and taking witness statements, one of its reporters was approached by the motel custodian, who attempted to seize the reporter’s notebook. Shortly thereafter, the reporter was told to leave the premises.
Even after the fire was brought under control, there remained a degree of confusion about the extent of the damage to the motel. According to a public statement, the fire wreaked $750,000 worth of damage, destroying the roof, inflicting smoke and water damage on 12 upstairs units and water damage to eleven units downstairs. One source, however, told the Sentinel the entire interior of the second floor is gutted, making the motel a total loss.
The fire and the reports that the local fire company did not respond to it with alacrity carries with it a wider implication, given that within the last two years, Needles and three other county cities have already or are in the process of dissolving their municipal fire departments and annexing into a county fire district, an arrangement by which those communities now have, or will have, their fire safety service provided, and their local fire stations manned, by the county fire department. In all those cases that have occurred – in San Bernardino, Twentynine Palms and in Needles – and in the case that is yet ongoing – in the City of Upland and its outlying sphere of influence area San Antonio Heights – those annexations have entailed the creation of an assessment district, meaning that residents in those areas are now paying a $130 to $150 per year tax, called a parcel fee, they were not previously forking out for fire protection service. Thus, the perception of a tardy response in Needles to a fire that was literally a stone’s throw from a county fire station, has created quite a stir.
Assistant San Bernardino County Fire Chief Tom Marshall said the reports of a substantial delay in his department’s response to the Needles America’s Best Value Inn fire was “not true. The first unit was on the scene within three minutes,” he said.
That the firefighter in Station 32 who answered the postal worker’s bang on the station door lackadaisically carried on with his cell phone conversation and did not move his colleagues into immediate action was “absolutely inaccurate,” Marshall said. “Fire Station 32 is directly across the street from the motel. They were alerted not by a 911 call, but by someone pounding on the fire station door.” Marshall said that when the Needles fire battalion got into place across the street, “The fire was already through the roof on the second floor. The fire originated on the second floor. I was not there. The engine was there. The fire spread through a common attic. The fire ran the entire length of the attic.”
According to Marshall, “[Mohave Valley Fire] Chief [Ted] Martin said they had control around 9:30, which would have been around an hour-and-a-half.”
Marshall did not dispute that the building is likely a complete loss.
“The entire second floor was affected,” he said. “I would imagine they might have to take the entire building. That determination is to be made by the fire insurance carrier. I’m not a construction guy.”
That so many other agencies participated in knocking the fire down is not an indictment of the county fire company stationed in Needles, Marshall said.
“Having that many engines respond is standard operating procedure,” Marshall said. “We request mutual aid from nearby agencies, who have specialized equipment. In this case it was a two story building so we had a ladder truck from Bullhead City and Lake Havasu City.”
Marshall questioned the credibility of the accounts of a delay in the Station 32’s response. He said that the Sentinel was basing its narrative on questionable fonts of information and that it was relying on a less than trustworthy gatherer of facts.
“Mr. [David] Buckley continues to make these accusations about the county,” Marshall said. “He is a completely unreliable source of information. He has not been accurate in one single stretch of the imagination.”
Marshall said he could not explain how it was that the post office employee was unable to see the immediate efforts of Station 32’s personnel to bring the fire under control.
San Bernardino County Fire Chief Mark Hartwig told the Sentinel on Thursday that it was his understanding that “the fire had been burning quite a while, probably ten minutes, before we were called. It was burning because some employees at the motel were trying to take care of the problem themselves before they reported it.”
Hartwig said the first report received by the department came “when someone was knocking on the door.”
Hartwig did not discount the reports of efforts to alert the department by 911 calls that did not get through. He said there is an existing flaw in the emergency communications system in the Tri-state Area [California, Arizona and Nevada], in that cell phones can be routed out of state. “It all depends on what direction the tower is pointed,” he said. Thus, a call that went to a dispatch center on the Arizona side might have resulted in dispatchers there not being able to determine where the incident being referenced was occurring, Hartwig said.
Hartwig said an investigation into the fire was already being conducted. He indicated that he had been told that his agency had acted competently in response to the fire report and he assumed that was true. “I don’t know all the specifics, but from what I can tell we were the first ones on the scene, not through a 911 report but a knock on the door,” Hartwig said. “Our staff’s opinion was it had been burning for a while. I wasn’t aware of any delay.” Nevertheless, Hartwig said, the postal worker’s statement gave him pause. “We will put that into our investigation.”
Hartwig said he thought the political backdrop, in which Needles, among several other communities, has recently lost its traditional municipal fire department, may have colored the attitude of those now questioning the county fire department’s performance.
“My sense is the complaints you are hearing might be an outgrowth of the contentious process that went with the fire protection district annexation,” he said. “That contention hasn’t died down yet. I would be interested in finding out exactly what brought this to your attention.” Reported by David Buckley and Ruth Musser-Lopez from Needles and Mark Gutglueck from San Bernardino
Six electoral maps for the City of Chino Hills have been drawn up but there is no indication at this time which of those will be actuated with the 2018 election, Mayor Ray Marquez this week told the Sentinel.
Over the last two years, six San Bernardino County cities that traditionally featured at-large city council elections have been forced to embrace ward-based election systems or take substantial steps in that direction. The new election regimes were imposed on those cities as a consequence of the California Voter Rights Act, the terms of which allow a plaintiff or plaintiffs to file legal action alleging polarized voting and collect legal fees upon proving such polarized voting exists.
Because a handful of California cities that resisted challenges made to their election systems under the California Voting Rights Act were unsuccessful in their legal defenses and were forced by the courts to pay substantial amounts to cover those legal fees, most of the cities in San Bernardino County hit with such a demand have made a show of compliance.
A first test case in San Bernardino County was made against the City of Highland, when that city was served with a demand that it alter the way it elects its council members. The lawsuit was filed July 18, 2014 in San Bernardino Superior Court by a Lancaster-based lawyer, R. Rex Parris, in conjunction with the Malibu-based law firm Shenkman & Hughes and the Los Angeles-based Law Office of Milton C. Grimes on behalf of Lisa Garrett, a Latina resident of Highland. In response, the city put an initiative on the November 2014 ballot, Measure T, asking if the city’s residents were in favor of a ward system. Measure T went down to defeat, with 2,862 votes or 43.01 percent in favor and 3,793, or 56.99 percent opposed. The lawsuit proceeded and the city sought to assuage the demand by proposing to allow cumulative voting, in which each voter is given one vote for each contested position and is allowed to cast any or all of those votes for any one candidate, or spread the votes among the candidates. The California Voter Rights Act confers upon plaintiffs a significant advantage, such that even if the challenge does not succeed, a plaintiff is not required to pay the prevailing city’s legal fees.
When the matter went to trial, despite making a finding that the socio-economic based rationale presented by the plaintiff’s attorneys to support the need for ward elections was irrelevant and that the plaintiff’s assertion that district voting was the only way to cure the alleged violation of the Voting Rights Act was false, San Bernardino Superior Court Judge David Cohn mandated that Highland adopt a ward system.
In December 2015 Kevin Shenkman, using the letterhead of his firm, Shenkman & Hughes, sent boilerplate letters to the cities of Chino, Upland and Rancho Cucamonga, among nearly a dozen others, asserting the cities “relie[d] upon at-large election system[s] for electing candidates to [their] city council[s]” and charged that “voting within [those cities] is racially polarized, resulting in minority vote dilution, and therefore [those cities’] at large elections are violative of the California Voting Rights Act of 2001. It is our belief [those cities’] at-large system[s] dilute the ability of minority residents – particularly Latinos (a “protected class”) – to elect candidates of their choice or otherwise influence the outcome of [those cities’] council elections.” In those letters, Shenkman, referencing his firm’s success in prosecuting just such a case against the City of Palmdale, threatened to sue the cities “on behalf of residents” if those cities’ at-large council systems were not replaced by ones based on district representation.
Chino responded by having its council pass a resolution on a vote of 4-0, invoking by fiat a by-district election system that was in place for the November 2016 election.
In a highly controversial move that was widely perceived as acceding to extortion, the Upland City Council agreed to draw up the plans for a ward system that the voters could consider. It further agreed to pay Shenkman $45,000 in return for Shenkman holding off on filing the suit against the city. The city council then instituted a ward system in Upland on its own authority.
In Rancho Cucamonga, a city with a population of 165,269, where voters had on five occasions elected Latinos to the city council, officials there likewise capitulated to Shenkman’s threats and the city council followed city attorney James Markman’s advice to have an electoral ward map featuring four districts of roughly 41,317 residents each drawn up, which was submitted to the city’s voters on November 11. The measure codifying that map was approved by the city’s voters by a 63.77 percent to 36.33 percent margin.
The city of Yucaipa, while not yet the subject of a demand that it adopt a ward system, a year ago hired a consultant, the National Demographics Corporation, to review establishing voting districts for electing city council members and to draft district election map options. The city council in June adopted one of those maps featuring five wards. The council said it did so to head off any potential future litigation based upon the California Voter Rights Act.
The Redlands City Council, which on its own initiative in May began looking into converting to a council ward system, was likewise threatened by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund in August with legal action if it did not move immediately to put such a system in place. On August 16, the city council held a specially-called meeting at which it somewhat obsequiously approved a resolution establishing the criteria for five voting districts. It is now finalizing a public input process on drawing up the boundaries of those wards.
On August 9, 2016 the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, known by its acronym MALDEF, sent a letter to the Chino Hills City Council informing that body’s members that unspecified Hispanic residents of Chino Hills have complained of polarized voting in the community.
MALDEF attorney Matthew Barragan demanded that Chino Hills dispense with its at-large election system that has been in place since the city’s inception in 1991. Barragan maintains the at-large election system in Chino Hills interferes with Latino voters electing candidates that they favor. Barragan called upon the city council to adopt a resolution converting Chino Hills’ election process into one involving wards, threatening forthcoming legal action if the city council did not do just that by August 24.
At its November 22 meeting, the Chino Hills City Council assented to moving the city toward a district-based system by the next election cycle. In doing so, the current council, which was elected through an at-large voting system as were all other city councils in the city’s 25-year history, enunciated their uniform and unanimous opposition to the council ward concept, but said they had little choice in the matter. Against their own sentiment, the council members voted 5-0 to transition the county’s southwesternmost city from an at-large to a district-based election system.
Last week, the city’s consultant, National Demographics Corporation, the same firm used by several other cities that have moved to ward systems, offered up four maps which divide the city into five districts. Two other maps, one drawn by resident Jim Gallaher and another drafted by resident Luis Esparza, were also presented.
Of the six maps, five show no deference to the current composition of the council in that they place at least two of the council’s members in the same ward, meaning that the incumbents will not necessarily have a built-in advantage in future races and, in fact, at least one or perhaps as many as two of the current council members would be unable to remain in office since at least two and perhaps as many as four would face a current colleague in either the 2018 or 2020 race, if, that is, they all choose to run for reelection and none make a move into a different ward.
Demographic information presented publicly by National Demographics shows that Hispanics in Chino Hills comprise 28.8 percent of the population, the Asian descent population stands at 31.9 percent, the white population, at 50.7 percent, and the African American population is roughly 4.2 percent.
The population of Chino Hills is relatively evenly distributed geographically, although the Los Serranos and Glenmeade districts have a somewhat higher concentration of Latinos than the other parts of the city. A major physical demarcation in the city is Grand Avenue, on both sides of which the Asian population is spread out. The area of the city with the highest Asian population is that to the north.
One of the maps, referred to as Map 4, which was drafted by National Demographics, confers an outright advantage on the incumbents by placing all of them in different districts, such that they would not stand for reelection against one another. In that map, District 1 would be represented by Mayor Ray Marquez, District 2 by Peter Rogers, District 3 by Art Bennett, District 4 by Cynthia Moran, and District 5 by Ed Graham.
Many observers have noted that Chino Hills’ Map 4 appears to be a sop to the incumbent council, which voted to retain National Demographics. Among those observers are ones who see a parallel to what was done for the incumbents in Chino Hills’ immediate eastern neighbor, Chino.
Chino hired Glendale-based National Demographics Corporation to survey the city, determine its balance of ethnicities geographically and draft maps to meet not a five-district model but rather a four-district or six-district one, since the city will continue to elect its mayor at large. In Chino Hills, voters do not elect a mayor directly. Rather, the council chooses from among its members the individual to serve in that capacity, using what is more or less a rotational strategy, such that a council member who is reelected at least once is very likely to be elevated to mayor before his or her second term finishes. With Chino’s overall 77,983 population, National Demographics strove to create districts that were populated with, as close as could be had within reason, 19,496 residents, or one-fourth, of those living in the city. In this way, each district would be equal, or roughly equal, in terms of the number of its constituents, as each of the other wards. National Demographics provided seven map options, involving both four council members and six, on the off chance that the council might decide to increase the council size to six members plus the mayor. There were a number of curiosities about the ward map that was ultimately put into place by the Chino City Council. Significantly, that ward map created districts in which it so happened that each of the two council members in districts One and Four who ran for reelection last year, the first election cycle under the new system, and the two who would have been up for reelection in 2018, lived separately in one of the newly drawn wards, such that they would not need to run against one another come election time. As it turned out, Mayor Dennis Yates did not seek reelection and councilwoman Eunice Ulloa, a resident of the just-created Second District, ran to replace him. The two incumbents who benefited by the drawing of the districts who were up for reelection in 2016, Glenn Duncan and Tom Haughey, after having been reelected at-large in 2012, vied in the race for their respective First and Fourth District council positions, which, again coincidentally, were deemed to be the first two districts to have their council representatives elected under the new ward system. No one opposed Duncan or Haughey. Ulloa prevailed in the mayoral election, capturing 16,683 votes or 68.08 percent to the 7,823 votes or 31.92 percent polled by the non-incumbent candidate, Brandon Villalpando, who ran unsuccessfully against her. Ulloa’s ascendancy to mayor created a vacancy on the council, since she was last elected as a councilwoman in 2014, so two more years yet remained on her council term.
Rather than hold a special election, the city council resolved to appoint Ulloa’s replacement for the next two years. Because the position to which she was elected in 2014 was an at-large one, any resident who was registered to vote was eligible to apply. Less than two months after no city resident had come forward to challenge incumbents Duncan or Haughey, a whopping 27 would-be office holders applied for consideration.
That so many would be interested in holding a council position when the perceived odds were fair and untainted by those running having to compete against incumbents with their built-in advantage of incumbency indicated a widespread perception that the system formulated by National Demographics Corporation, which was paid $32,000 for its efforts by Chino’s taxpayers based upon a vote of the city council, was rigged in favor of the incumbents.
If the Chino Hills City Council takes a leaf from Chino’s book and similarly adopts Map 4, the council runs the risk that it will be perceived, at least by some, as entering into a you-scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours arrangement in which the motive is not to formulate the most geographically and demographically logical ward map but to rather ensure the political survival of the incumbents.
Resident Luis Esparza pointed out that Map 4 bifurcates the Butterfield Ranch district such that it places council members Cynthia Moran and Ed Graham into separate districts while the logic of geography without political considerations dictates that they be in the same ward. Esparza suggested that allowing the council members to make the decision on how and where the ward borders are to be drawn, when the contours of those districts will have a direct impact on their chances at gaining reelection in 2018 or 2020, represents “a conflict of interest.” He called for the council to stand down and have the council instead consider voting to accept a map recommended by “a body of citizens.”
Mayor Ray Marquez told the Sentinel that it was his personal sentiment and that of the rest of the council to keep the at-large voting system intact but that option is not viable. “We have the filing of a lawsuit pending, and everyone else who has fought this has lost,” Marquez said. “We don’t want to end up spending money and losing, so we hired a consultant and we now have four maps from that consultant and two from residents.”
Marquez said he is not committed toward supporting any specific map at this point.
“I would prefer to take a step back,” he said. “We haven’t had a lot of participation from the community, with the exception of Jim Gallagher and Luis Esparza. I understand that Luis believes that if we as a council get to pick one of the options that is a conflict of interest. My expectation is we will be gathering more input from the residents and will make a choice on May 2.”
With regard to the perception that the maps have been drawn up to confer an advantage on the council incumbents, Marquez noted, “Only one of the maps puts one council member in every district, which is Map 4.”
The council must make its decision based on a multitude of criteria, Marquez said.
“Everything has to balance,” he said. “We have all these pieces of the pie. We are working with all of the data, in terms of population and demographics. I think the consultant pulled that together as best they can.”
Marquez said National Demographics Corporation had used standard guidelines in formulating the proposed wards without being influenced by the council.
“The consultant had no input from us outside of our initial contact with its representative in closed session on the terms of the contract,” Marquez said. “We had nothing to do with the maps, per se.”
He said he understood the public skepticism with regard to the opportunity the map selection presents for creating wards that will benefit the incumbents. Concern that political considerations and an effort to protect the incumbents are driving the map drawing process is misplaced, he said, based on his understanding of the future political intentions of the council members. He ventured to say he did not think that councilman Ed Graham, who will be up for reelection in 2018, and councilman Art Bennett, who must next face the voters in 2020, will extend their tenures on the council beyond their current terms.
Marquez said he is “not even close to the point” of making a determination of what map best suits the community. “I want to listen to what comes up at the public hearings. The only feeling I have seen from the residents is they want to keep it the way it is. I do to, but we can’t spend that kind of money if the courts won’t let us do that.”
There is something of a paradox, Marquez said, to what the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund is requesting. The group’s intent is to raise the likelihood that Latinos will run for office and that they will be successful. But that intent is complicated by Chino Hills’demographics and the geographical distribution of its population, which in terms of ethnic make-up, is relatively evenly spread throughout the city with some minor deviation, he said. There is a somewhat higher concentration of Hispanic surnamed individuals in the Los Serranos and Glenmeade districts, though that population density is not absolute.
The Federal Voting Rights Act and federal laws prohibit racial gerrymandering. According to the Supreme Court, in drawing a map, race can’t be the predominate basis upon which lines are drawn, but those lines can nonetheless be placed so as to create a voting district that ensures a majority of a protected class of voters live within the district as long as the district is reasonably compact, meaning that the boundaries cannot be drawn in such a way to exclude non-protected class neighborhoods. Given that those identified as white and Asians in Chino Hills comprise 82.6 percent of the city’s population and that the 28.8 percent of Chino Hills residents deemed Latino are so identified only by using the most inclusive of definitions of what constitutes a Hispanic, creating a Latino district, as is contained in one of the maps drawn up by National Demographics, carries with it the potential of a lawsuit in which a plaintiff would allege the city engaged in prohibited racial or ethnic gerrymandering. In swerving to avoid such a catastrophe, the city may well end up with no Hispanics on the council as a consequence.
Marquez, the lone Hispanic on the council at this time said he is conscious of that irony and had an exchange along those lines with Matthew Barrigan, an attorney with the Mexican American Legal and Educational Fund in which, he said, Barrigan did not come across as being engaged on the topic but rather more intent on saddling Chino Hills with an electoral ward system, no matter the outcome. “There’s an agenda there and the majority of the residents of Chino Hills, the vast majority, disagree with it,” Marquez said.
Thus, Marquez finds himself, like the mythic Odysseus, seeking to navigate a safe path between, on one side, the mythic monster of Scylla plucking the sailors off his ship one by one in the form of Esparza, and the whirlpool of Charybdis in the guise of Barrigan, threatening to send the entire ship down to Davy Jones Locker.
Esparza, in taking issue with the fashion in which three of the maps divide the Butterfield Ranch district, is contending an effort should be made to keep each of the city’s traditional neighborhoods in single wards. The map he offered is an attempt to maintain that neighborhood integrity.
Marquez said of Esparza, “Luis is a good man. He’s well intentioned. I am listening to him.” Nevertheless, the mayor said, political decisions are best left in the hands of politicians.
“I was elected for a reason,” Marquez said. “Each member of the council was elected for a reason. We deal with some tough issues, like the city’s finances and density issues. That was what we were elected to do.”
After listening to the community, Marquez said, he and the remainder of the council will choose the ward map that they consider best for the city. “I don’t think it is a conflict of interest for us to be voting on it,” he said. -Mark Gutglueck
The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department and the enterprise arm of Cal State San Bernardino will expand the existing parental education program currently available to some inmates within the county’s detention system to inmates within all of the county’s jails, pursuant to approval given by the board of supervisors this week.
Previously, the county was utilizing $354,455 in funding available from the sale of concession items at within the jail system to pay Cal State San Bernardino’s University Enterprise Corporation to provide classes to inmates geared to better their parenting skills upon release from custody. Those classes were available to inmates at the Glen Helen Rehabilitation Center and High Desert Detention Center. This week, the sheriff’s department requested, and the board of supervisors consented, to routing another $47,852 from the sales of items to inmates at the jail commissaries that are put into the inmate welfare fund to make those courses available to the inmates at the West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga.
According to a report to the board of supervisors authored by sheriff’s captain Robert O’Brine which accompanied the item relating to the funding increase on this week’s board of supervisors agenda, “The recommended amendment will enable the University Enterprise Corporation to provide additional hours of parental education in order to increase the number of inmates who are served by this program. On June 23, 2015, the board approved an agreement and purchase order with the University Enterprise Corporation to provide parental education programs for both male and female inmates, in the amount of $310,542, for the period of July 1, 2015 through June 30, 2018. The parental intervention program provides parental education, parent/child interactive sessions and child counseling in an effort to reduce the cycle of trauma and incarceration. The program is staffed by student interns and a clinical supervisor. The agreement has been amended twice to adjust the level of service and associated costs, totaling $43,913, increasing the three-year contract amount from $310,542 to $354,455. The proposed amendment increases the hours worked by the lead clinical facilitator from 20 hours per week to 35 hours per week, effective May 1, 2017. This increases the cost of the agreement by $47,852, from $354,455 to $402,307, for the remainder of the contract period ending June 30, 2018.”
According to O’Brine, “The sheriff’s department utilizes the services of local academic institutions to provide a variety of instructional programs to inmates. The department expanded its partnerships to include California State University San Bernardino with the approval of the parental education program by the board of supervisors on December 6, 2011.”
O’Brine told the Sentinel he could not confirm that the program would involve a component in which the inmates would be allowed to interact with their children. -Mark Gutglueck
Concerns that the mail-in ballots San Bernardino County has used and will continue to use for its election are vulnerable to misreading are misplaced, San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters Michael Scarpello told the Sentinel this week.
Some activists within the San Bernardino County Democratic Party said that if the ballots have been folded in a certain way, they can potentially be misread by the scanners that electronically tally the votes indicated thereon. The county, which jettisoned its touchscreen voting machines nearly a decade ago, has been using a more dated mode of voting which is, county voting officials maintain, less prone to error. At both its voting precincts and with its absentee ballots which are mailed to those applying to vote by mail rather than at the precinct voting places on election day, the county registrar of voters – the county elections office – utilizes card stock paper ballots. Those ballots feature the names of the candidates vying for various local, state and national political offices as well as yes or no designations for ballot measures and voter initiatives, to the side of each of which is a black arrow and a black horizontally rectangular box. The voter designates his or her vote in each category by using a black ink pen to draw a line connecting the arrow to the box. When the ballots are scanned, the ink line is detected within the spatial relationship between the arrow and rectangular box and is registered as a vote for the designated candidate or as a yes or no vote pertaining to the relevant measure.
Ballots collected at the polling places are not folded and are thus fed into the machine rigidly intact and without any unintended contours. Mail-in ballots, however, are folded and the scanners can, on occasion, misread the folds, or the shadows of the folds or the shape of the folds as a line connecting an arrow with a rectangular box, thus recording a possible unintended vote.
Scarpello this week, while acknowledging it was “theoretically possible” such misreadings would take place, said they have not in actuality or in practice occurred as verified by the hand counts of one percent of the county’s ballots that are done with every election and in every race countywide, which are then compared and contrasted to the electronic tallying of those same ballots.
“That’s one of the myths,” Scarpello said of the narrowly circulated belief that ballot misreading – or electronic misscannings – have impacted or could impact the outcome of an election.
Extrapolating on the non-interference with the vote counting that occurs in the one percent sampling, Scarpello said he had every confidence no significant miscounts have ever occurred because of the ballot folding issue, and he said it was far more certain that such a misreading had never affected the outcome of any election.
Scarpello said there are occasional misreading or misscannings of ballots that occur either because of incomplete erasures of a changed vote or because a voter has circled an arrow, checked it or marked it with an x rather than drawing a line from the arrow to the rectangular box. In a minority of such cases, Scarpello said, what happens is a portion of the circle, check or x strays into the field of the arrow and rectangular box for another candidate or contrary vote relating to a measure or initiative, resulting in two votes on a single measure or initiative – yes and no – being recorded or two candidates instead of one receiving a vote.
USA Waste of California will absorb the trash hauling franchise for the town of Trona now held by Benz Sanitation.
Trona lies at the far northwestern extreme of San Bernardino County. Benz Sanitation has the contract for hauling trash in Trona and the three other communities in the sparsely populated area of the county in the Mojave Desert that is proximate to Inyo County, Kern County and a somewhat more distant Los Angeles County. Those communities are Windy Acres, Four Corners, and Red Mountain.
Benz Sanitation, which has a more sizable operation in Kern County than it does in San Bernardino County, for nearly a year has been pursuing the sale of its corporate holdings to USA Waste of California. Delays prevented that sale, but now Benz will cease operating on its own and the county board of supervisors this week assigned the four remote desert franchises to USA Waste of California.
According to Gerry Newcombe, the director of the county’s public works division, “On June 16, 2009 the board approved the amended and restated agreement, effective July 2, 2009, granting an exclusive franchise to Benz Sanitation for the provision of solid waste handling services within County Franchise Area 21 (unincorporated area of Trona, Windy Acres, Four Corners, and Red Mountain). Under the agreement, Benz Sanitation has been providing residential and commercial solid waste handling services for the franchise area. In 2016, Benz first requested the county’s approval of the assignment to USA Waste. However, the closing of that transaction has been delayed. Under the recommended amendment to the agreement, USA Waste assumes the duties and obligations of the agreement and becomes the grantee of the exclusive franchise for County Franchise Area 21. No other changes to the Agreement are made through this amendment. The agreement and County Code Section 46.0303 (b), ‘Assignment and Change in Ownership’ (county code), require that to consider such a request, the county review financial statements of the proposed transferee; and the county receive satisfactory proof that the proposed transferee (i) have at least three years of adequate solid waste experience; (ii) not have received certain violations related to its solid waste management operations; (iii) conducts its solid waste management operations in compliance with laws and in an environmentally safe and conscientious fashion; and (iv) has adequate financial strength and can obtain the required insurance and bonds. The county code and agreement provide that the county shall not unreasonably withhold its consent to the transfer of a franchise agreement or to any change of ownership of a grantee under a franchise agreement. In this case, the proposed transferee, USA Waste, is currently under contract with the county to provide solid waste handling services in another franchise area. USA Waste has been under contract with the county since 1998 and has continuously provided solid waste handling services to county residents and businesses. The county’s solid waste management district has reviewed the records and documents identified in the county code and conclude that USA Waste is qualified, in accordance with the requirements set forth in the county code and Section 11 of the agreement to assume the obligations under the Benz Sanitation Agreement.”
Newcombe continued, “On August 23, 2016 the board first approved the assignment of the agreement from Benz Sanitation to USA Waste. That action became null and void and of no legal effect because the transaction didn’t close within 60 days of the board’s approval. On November 15, 2016 the board again approved the assignment based on Benz Sanitations’ estimate that the transaction would close by December 31, 2016, or within 60-days of approval.
On January 9, 2017, Benz Sanitation advised the county that the closing of the transaction with USA Waste would not occur within 60 days of the November 15, 2016 board approval.
Benz Sanitation advises that the delay in the closing of the transaction has resulted from compliance with the statutory right of first refusal process related to Benz’s Kern County franchises and certain other matters in connection with seeking the consent of Kern County for the assignment to USA Waste. At this time, Benz Sanitation advises that the transaction to assign the Franchise Agreement to USA Waste is now expected to be completed by May 2017. This amendment to the agreement includes the county’s consent to the assignment and assumption of the agreement by USA Waste, and releases Benz Sanitation from its future obligations under the agreement contingent upon the close of the transaction prior to the date that is 60 calendar days from the date of the board’s approval of this amendment.” -Mark Gutglueck
By Count Friedrich von Olsen
It seems like everybody is dancing on just-fired media personality Bill O’Reilly’s grave. To be completely honest, while I knew who he was and even saw him on television once in a while, I did not spend a lot of time watching him, thinking about him or considering very carefully what he said. I did glance over a book a while ago that he had written, or was ghost written for him or which he edited about the American Revolution and the Founding Fathers. It did not bore me. As to his television persona, I must say that for someone who was barely half my age, he came across as being too much of a curmudgeon…
All good things have to come to an end, I guess, but I am not certain, exactly, that Bill O’Reilly was a good thing. Still, I’m not convinced he was all that bad of a guy, either. This whole thing about getting on the wrong side of women has me a bit puzzled…
Let me see if I have this right: He made passes at a few women. Some might have taken him up on his offers. I guess some didn’t. I guess there is a veritable who’s who of those he made, ahem, offers to. Pequita Burgess. Greta Van Susteren, Megyn Kelley, Gretchen Carlson. I could go on and on, but I’m not sure I know who a lot of these women are…
Part of the problem is it seems a lot of these accusations are being made anonymously. If there is some substance to the accusations, do so anonymously is okay, maybe. I guess in his neck of the woods Bill O’Reilly is, or was, a pretty powerful guy who might hurt people or harm their careers, so maligning him from the shadows is acceptable because the accuser, assuming the accuser is telling the truth, might be harmed even more by stepping out of the shadows. It occurs to me, however, that if what is being said is true, then doing so anonymously is pointless and maybe even counterproductive. That is, if it is true, then Bill O’Reilly knows who his accuser is. If a woman says, ‘I’m not going to tell you who I am but on February 17 at the Sheraton Hotel in Atlanta, Bill O’Reilly invited himself into my room and tried to undress me,” Bill would have to remember that incident. So he could send a private eye or one of his henchmen out to visit some meanness on this lady, and be safe in doing so. He would be able to say, “How could I be responsible for her brakes failing when she was coming down that mountain? I never heard of her. I have anonymous accusers saying things about me all the time. Now you say one of them had an accident? How does that have anything to do with me?” It seems to me that if someone is going to make such an accusation, and the accusation is true, then the person should come out in front of man, God and everyone else and lay it all out there…
The other part of the problem is – and this is the part that is very hard to know – the accusations might not be true. In recent years, another man – another rich man – Bill Cosby – has been hit with similar accusations, perhaps even ones that were more serious than just making unwanted passes at women. I have no idea whether those accusations are true. At first there was just one. Then one or two more cropped up. Then more still. Pretty soon people were looking around for one of those rare delectable creatures that Bill Cosby had not seduced while she was drugged up. To read the reports, they are as rare as coelacanths. But obviously, Bill Cosby could not have gotten around as much as these legions of women were claiming. The logistics of it were impossible. What we had here was a frenzy of women who thought they could get rich quick by making an accusation, either threaten or actually file a lawsuit, and then get a settlement out of court where no proof needed to be offered. The terms of such a settlement which would protect Mr. Cosby from further embarrassment. Such is our legal system…
But there is a larger issue here. Have we really become so fastidious that someone becomes offended when someone else remarks upon her beauty? Is this not absurd? Some clothing designer was quoted in the Sentinel in the California Style column not too long ago. I am going to botch the quote, I am sure, but you will get the sense of it nonetheless. It went something like this : “I know what women want. They want to be beautiful.” I don’t even remember who the designer was, but I think he is right. The amount of money and time that women spend on make-up, and false eyelashes, and hair dye, trips to the hairdresser, form fitting clothes or clothes that aren’t form fitting but are designed to seem as if the person wearing them has a good form, all of that and more attests that what women want is to be beautiful. So, do they long to be beautiful in a vacuum? Where no one will notice their beauty? Or do they want their beauty to be witnessed? Do they want their beauty to be remarked upon? I think so….
I understand, of course, that there are refined and gentlemanly ways of remarking about feminine beauty and there are crass ways of doing so. I recognize too that an unwanted advance can be uncomfortable for someone who is an object of that advance. But I cannot help thinking that it is not so much the advance that women resent but rather the particular person who is making the advance. Somehow, I get the feeling that someone like Cary Grant couldn’t make an unwanted advance to a woman. And that says as much about women as it does about men…
Ludlow was founded in 1882 as a water stop on the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad, which was later taken over by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad in 1897. The town was named to honor rail car repairman William B. Ludlow.
When gold was discovered in the nearby Bagdad-Chase Mine in 1900, the town went into a boom. The first samples milled from the mine yielded about $17,000 per one thousand tons of ore. This prompted an upsurge in production. There was a lack of water at the mine to process the ore. Beginning in 1903, water was brought in on the Ludlow-Southern Railroad. When sufficient quantities of ore accumulated in Ludlow, the ore was transferred to the mill at Barstow.
Historian David Myrick (Railroads of Nevada and Eastern California) credits the Bagdad-Chase mine with producing, from 1880 to 1970, half of all the gold mined in San Bernardino County.
Because the company town next to the Bagdad-Chase Mine, known as Rochester and later as Steadman, was declared by its superintendent a “closed camp” at which women and liquor were prohibited, Ludlow became something of a hot spot, with miners flocking there on Saturday nights in search of diversion, entertainment and recreation. A class of entrepreneurs filled the void, boosting the local economy. Much of the town of Ludlow was owned by the Murphy Brothers. A savvy woman, who went by the name Mother Preston, purchased or had built several buildings, into which she located a store, hotel, boarding house, saloon, café, pool hall and three homes. She was known to be a good businesswoman and an expert poker player. After becoming wealthy, she sold out to the Murphy Brothers and retired to France.
When borax was discovered in the area, Francis Marion “Borax” Smith built a railroad which ran from Ludlow to Beatty, Nevada. The railroad, the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad, was 169 miles long. Having three railroads running through Ludlow further boosted the town.
The Ludlow-Southern Railroad ceased operations in 1916,
In 1927-1928 the Pacific Coast Borax Company began shutting down operations, greatly curtailing the use of the T & T Railroad, which ceased operations in 1933. In 1943 the tracks had been pulled out. Ludlow had some continuing relevance because of Route 66, surviving and even thriving by meeting the needs of travelers on the National Old Trails Road, which had been converted to Route 66 in California in 1926, 1927 and 1928. Ludlow providing a Motor Court with bungalow cabins, the streamline moderne Ludlow Cafe, a gasoline-service garage, and shade. Several of these ventures remained in place through the late 1960s. After Interstate 40 was built, bypassing the town, there was little business and most residents departed, leaving a ghost town that features a shell of the Ludlow Mercantile Company (originally Mother Preston’s and then the Murphy Brothers), railroad tracks, a neglected and deteriorating cemetery, the old Ludlow Café and the ruins of empty buildings and Tamarisk trees that still stand flanking the old highway.
The Mojave Green is a highly venomous pit viper species found in the deserts of the southwestern United States and central Mexico, which is quite common in the Mojave Desert. It possesses a venom that is far less destructive to tissue than the venom of the diamondback rattler, but which is nonetheless more deadly in that it contains potent neurotoxic-hemotoxic properties, making it the world’s most powerful rattlesnake venom. The Mojave green’s venom impacts the blood and the nerves of the snake’s victims and shuts down the respiratory system.
Known scientifically as the Crotalus scutulatus, the Mojave Green rattlesnake is often but not necessarily green, varying from shades of brown to pale green depending on the surroundings. The snake’s hue renders it extremely well camouflaged for whatever land it inhabits. It is somewhat similar in appearance to the Crotalus atrox, the western diamondback rattlesnake. Crotalus scutulatus has a dark diamond pattern along its back and the white bands on the tail tend to be wider than the black, while the band width is usually more equal in western diamondback. The Mojave green has a triangular shaped head with enlarged scales on the crown between the supraoculars, and the light postocular stripe passes behind the corner of the mouth
The species grows to an average of less than three-and-a-half feet in length, although some have been known to reach a length of four-and-a-half feet. As snakes go, they are fairly heavy bodied for their length.
There is evidence to suggest that in some regions there has been some degree of interbreeding with other snakes, leading to a deviation in appearance and venom toxicity.
It is found in deserts and other areas with xeric vegetation from near sea level to about 7,700 feet in altitude. Primarily a snake of high desert or lower mountain slopes, it is often found near scrub brush such as mesquite and creosote, but may also reside in lowland areas of sparse vegetation, among cacti, Joshua tree forests, or grassy plains. It tends to avoid densely vegetated and rocky areas, preferring open, arid habitats. This snake ranges from southern California, southern Nevada, extreme southwestern Utah, most of Arizona, southern New Mexico, and some of Texas. It also ranges southward through much of Mexico to southern Puebla.
They brumate alone or in small groups during the winter, and are active from April until September. They are primarily nocturnal and sometimes crepuscular snakes, hiding in rodent burrows or under crevices or desert bushes during the heat of the day. Ambush predators who hunt most often nocturnally, they eat small rodents and lizards, occasionally dining on other snakes, birds, bird eggs and even some insects.
The Mojave rattlesnake has a reputation for being aggressive towards humans, although such behavior is often exaggerated. Like other snakes, they will defend themselves if disturbed or harassed. These snakes are hunted, killed and eaten by other snakes like the California kingsnake but also roadrunners and other mammals and birds of prey.
The mating season takes place in the spring and summer. The mojave rattlesnake is an ovoviparous snake species, such that the eggs hatch within the female, which gives birth to live young in late July, August or early September, coinciding with the summer monsoons. They use abandoned rodent burrows to give birth anywhere from two up to 17 hatchlings, but the average brood size is around eight. The younglings measure up to 10 inches in length.
The bite of Mojave green is not as painful as that of some other rattlesnakes. Rattlesnake venom consists of a cocktail of enzymes and other proteins that are inimical to tissues and metabolic functions. While the venom of a subset of Mojave green rattlesnakes is not as powerful as that of some other Mojave greens, the venom in most Mojave greens found in the Mojave Desert is more than ten times as toxic as other rattlesnake venoms. The venom of these snakes is about 16 times more toxic than that of the Sidewinder (Crotalus cerastes) and surpasses even that of the tiger rattlesnake (Crotalus tigris).
Medical treatment as soon as possible after a bite is critical to a positive outcome, dramatically increasing chances for survival. Even the less potent venom of some Mojave greens causes pronounced proteolytic and hemorrhagic effects, similar to the bites of other rattlesnake species. Risk to life and limb is still significant, as with all rattlesnakes, if not treated as soon as possible after a bite. In people bitten by Mojave greens bearing the most powerful venom, the onset of serious signs and symptoms can be delayed, occasionally leading to an initial underestimation of the severity of the bite. In those cases where a significant quantity of venom has been injected by a bite, the victim may begin to experience in relatively short order vision abnormalities and difficulty swallowing and speaking. In severe cases, skeletal muscle weakness can lead to difficulty breathing and even respiratory failure. Mojave green bites left untreated are very likely to result in death.
Antivenom is produced by allowing a snake to bite a horse, which, because of its extensive body and organ mass can generally withstand such a bite. Through such exposure, equines begin to produce significant antibodies to ward off the effects of the venom. Those antibodies are harvested in extracting the serum from the exposed equine. Prior to the availability of antivenom in the United States mortality from all snakebites ranged from five to 25 percent.
If injected in time, antivenom effectively neutralizes snake venom.