A ballot measure to appeal an assessment that was placed on all properties within San Bernardino County’s unincorporated areas will go before the county’s voters in November.
On March 25, San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters Bob Page informed the leadership of the group sponsoring a petition drive to qualify a ballot measure to repeal the tax, which was imposed on land owners in all of the county’s unincorporated without a prior vote, that their petition to force the matter to an election was endorsed by a sufficient number of valid voter signatures to be binding on his office, which serves as the county’s election authority.
In June of 2018, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors initiated the process of expanding the boundaries of County Fire Protection Zone 5 to include all private property within the county’s unincorporated areas, amounting to some 95 percent of San Bernardino County’s 20,105 total square miles, or roughly 19,100 square miles. The overlaying of County Fire Protection Zone 5 on those properties entailed the levying of a special tax of $157.26 per parcel on all unincorporated property owners in the county. The plan, floated by senior leadership within the county’s governmental structure, was to use state law applying to fire districts as a method to increase tax revenue.
The county’s action had taken place after previous efforts beginning in 2015 and concluding in 2017 to overlay County Fire Protection Zone 5, which was originally formed in 2006 as a means of funding the San Bernardino County Fire Department’s provision of fire prevention/suppression/protection service to the adjoining unincorporated county communities of Helendale and Silverlakes, onto the area within the city limits of the cities of San Bernardino, Twentynine Palms, Needles and Upland/adjoining unincorporated San Antonio Heights. Those four separate actions had been carried out through a process overseen by the San Bernardino County Local Agency Formation Commission. The city councils in San Bernardino, Needles and Upland, as well as the water district in Twentynine Palms, which had overseen that community’s fire department, sought to unload their ownership of, management and responsibility for each of their respective fire departments to the county. Those annexations had carried with them the imposition of assessments on the parcel owners within those jurisdictions to pay for the county fire department’s provision of service, taxes which had previously not been assessed. To get around the California Constitutional requirement that all taxes must first be approved by those upon whom they are to be levied, the cities, the county and the Local Agency Formation Commission carried out what was referred to as a “protest process” in which each landowner was given mailed notice of a one-month “protest period,” during which the county would accept letters protesting the creation of the assessment district. Each such letter was tallied as a vote against the annexation and assessment imposition. Each landowner who did not deliver a letter of protest was deemed to be in support of the annexation and assessments being levied, and a vote ratifying folding those cities into Fire Prevention Zone Five was cast on their behalf.
In the cities of San Bernardino and Upland, those entities thereafter committed to turning over a percentage of their property tax as part of the deal, and pocketed the difference between the savings realized from the closure of the fire department and the loss of a percentage of property tax each had committed to the county, as the city’s residents, business operators and property owners were at that point paying the lion’s share of the freight with regard to the provision of fire service. The city was free to use the money it netted as it deemed necessary, which in practical terms in both Upland and San Bernardino meant paying down substantial costs in defraying `pensions to retired municipal employees.
Upland, the San Bernardino County Local Formation Commission and the county had rolled the unincorporated 2.619-square mile community of San Antonio Heights that adjoins Upland into the annexation. San Antonio Heights, since it was not a part of any city, was already provided with fire service by the county fire department. San Antonio Heights residents took stock of the consideration that the annexation would change nothing for them service-wise, and would not improve the level of care the community would receive while imposing on them an annual $150 per parcel assessment they had never paid before. Indeed, so animated about what was going to be imposed upon them, a large number of the residents of San Antonio Heights protested mightily. Aided by the consideration that the community is a relatively compact one with a population of 3,371 of whom 1,561 were registered to vote, before the one-month protest period had run contact was made with virtually all of the residents and landowners by those militating against the annexation. Consequently, a number well above the 50 percent plus one threshold to reject the Fire Protection Zone 5 takeover manifested in San Antonio Heights, and those residents and landowners registered letters of protest accordingly. Because, however, the San Antonio Heights annexation was bundled together with the annexation of Upland, and because fewer than 2 percent of the landowners and voters in 74,000 population Upland lodged letters of protest, the annexation was allowed to occur. Thereafter, a group of San Antonio Heights Residents banded together as the San Antonio Heights Homeowners Association and filed suit against the annexation of their community into Fire Protection Zone 5. Ultimately, Judge David Cohn in February 2019 ruled in favor of the San Antonio Heights Homeowners Association in the case it had brought against the City of Upland, the County of San Bernardino and the San Bernardino County Local Agency Formation Commission, excusing the totality of San Antonio Heights from being annexed into Fire Protection Zone 5 and each of its property owners having to pay the $150 parcel tax.
County officials, having seen how easily the expansion of County Fire Protection Zone 5 could be effectuated, the experience with San Antonio Heights not outstanding, calculated that it could replicate the expansion to cover 95 percent of the county’s land mass. The county had an incentive for doing so in that it needed to close a gap in the San Bernardino County Fire Protection District’s budget. Senior county leadership reasoned such a scheme could be carried off without voter approval by again utilizing the protest procedure. Accordingly, county officials simply overlaid all unincorporated land in the county with Fire Protection Zone 5. The total of proceeds to be realized from the Fire Protection Zone 5 expansion would yield a $26.9 million increase to County Fire’s coffers – with the potential to increase at three percent per year indefinitely.
In October 2018, the county finalized the countywide unincorporated property annexation ploy begun that June, not only outmaneuvering San Antonio Heights residents but essentially requiring that every property owner living outside of the county’s 24 incorporated municipalities pay the annual $157.26 per parcel tax, which was subject to a 3 percent annual inflation increase.
Last summer, the Red Brennan Group, which is composed of several individuals who were associated with the late tax reduction and government reform advocate Kiernan Brennan, together with three residents of the unincorporated county area agreeing to sponsor an initiative – Charles Pruitt, Rick Sayers, and David Jarvi – informed the county and gave legal notice of their intention to circulate a petition to put a ballot measure before the county’s voters in its unincorporated area seeking the repeal of the special tax associated with Fire Protection Zone 5.
In the course of the more-than-five-month campaign, the Red Brennan Group gathered more than 34,000 signatures on the petitions it had circulated.
Registrar of Voters Bob Page’s March 25 letter informed Pruitt, Sayers and Jarvi that his office “has found the petition to be sufficient.”
According to an accompanying certificate of initiative petition, a copy of which was obtained by the Sentinel, the proponents submitted 3,740 separate pages of petitions bearing 32,017 signatures. The registrar of voters office undertook to survey three percent of the signatures on those petitions selected at random. Of those 961 signatures examined, one was determined to be a duplicate. Another 414 signatures were deemed insufficient for other causes, most, apparently, because the signees lived elsewhere in the county than in unincorporated areas. Another 546 were found to be sufficient, or valid. Thus, 56.8 percent of the signatures examined were valid.
Based upon the Sentinel’s calculations, by means of extrapolation using a 56.8 percent validity rate of the 961 signatures examined to the entirety of the 32,017 signatures, it would appear that 18,191 of the signatures were likely valid. The computation used by the registrar of voters office, however, projected that 17,114 of the signatures were valid.
As 8,110 signatures were needed to force the election, Page concluded that Pruitt, Sayer and Jarvi and the Red Brennan Group had obtained 211.02 percent of the number of signatures needed.
“The petition has been signed by the requisite number of qualified electors needed and based thereon is deemed sufficient,” the certificate states.
The petition is to go to the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors, which serves as the San Bernardino County Fire District Board of Directors, for consideration. Under the California Elections Code the board has one of two options, the first of which is to approve the initiative as written, which calls for rescinding the fire tax. The board’s second option is to place the issue before the voters in November.
It now appears that Kimberly Calvin has defeated incumbent Bessine Richard in this year’s race for councilwoman in San Bernardino’s Sixth Ward.
Calvin’s victory is widely seen as a final repudiation of the John Valdivia political machine that had used bare-knuckled tactics to commandeer control over the county seat in the 2018 election, ran roughshod for 13 months in a fashion that garnered the attention of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the FBI, the California Attorney General along with the California Fair Political Practices Commission, and which has imploded in scandal since the start of the current year.
The woman Calvin challenged, Councilwoman Richard, was heavily backed by a host of monetary contributors and campaign operatives affiliated with Valdivia. The mayor had formed an alliance with Richard five years ago. Valdivia, then a councilman in San Bernardino’s Ward Three, threw his support to Richard in the 2015 election, when the city functioning under its then 100-year-old-charter which has since been reconstituted held its political contests in odd-numbered years. Following Valdivia’s defeat of then-incumbent Mayor Carey Davis in 2018, Richard became a key member of the ruling council coalition that Valdivia assembled thereafter. On virtually every substantive issue that came before the council in public session, Richard toed the line with regard to Valdivia’s positions, and more than one member of the council described Richard as “blindly” adhering to Valdivia’s directives during the council’s closed sessions. As 2019 progressed and preparations began well in advance of the March 3, 2020 Presidential Primary election in which Richard would need to stand for reelection, the degree to which Richard had politically bound herself to Valdivia became apparent. Running Richard’s campaign was political consultant Chris Jones, who had been the architect of Valdivia’s 2018 mayoral victory. In addition to strict electioneering guidance, Jones provides overarching support to the candidates he works for, which includes granting them access to an established network of political donors. Many, indeed most, of those donors are deep-pocketed individuals and entities whose business and personal interests are in some fashion dependent upon governmental action, approvals, licensing and operations. Suggested but never directly stated is that the support from these donors provided to the stable of politicians with whom Jones has a working relationship will eventually result in action favorable to those donors, either individually or collectively, when those politicians for whom Jones works are in office and are called upon to vote with regard to issues impacting those donors.
Valdivia, working independently or in tandem with Jones, was able to bring in at least $31,000 in donations to Richard’s political war chest in 2019 and 2020.
When Calvin, who from the outset ran a surprisingly strong, active and energetic campaign, appeared to be making inroads on the electorate in the Sixth Ward, Jones and his band of operatives, who had previously presumed that Richards would be able to cruise to an easy reelection, stepped up their efforts on Richard’s behalf when polling showed that Calvin, who had no prior political experience, had name recognition equaling and even exceeding that of Richard in several parts of Ward Six. The Richard campaign responded with upbeat political mailers lionizing Richard and touting her record in office, while three separate “political hit pieces,” mailers attacking Calvin on various issues, manifested throughout the ward, at least two of which originated with the Jones organization but which were ostensibly sent from an independent expenditure committee not directly tied to Richard herself. For many voters in the Sixth Ward, however, the connection between the mailers attacking Calvin and Richard was rather obvious.
Another development during the campaign that hurt Richard was her predecessor as 6th Ward Councilman, Rikke Van Johnson, endorsing Calvin. That triggered a response from Valdivia, who sought to undercut Johnson by working behind the scenes at City Hall to have Johnson removed from his position on the city’s water board. That action, which ultimately failed and did not materialize until after the election, nonetheless served to illustrate the degree to which Valdivia was invested in keeping Richard on the council.
On January 18, 2020, sensing that Richard’s campaign was in trouble, Valdivia made a $2,000 transfer from his own campaign fund to Richard’s campaign to give his ally a final boost as the election was approaching.
During the run-up to the election last fall, Valdivia had openly endorsed Richard, what at the time was considered to be an advantage to her. In late January and continuing into February, however, a scandal broke out into the open in which at first two women, and then eventually six individuals altogether, all of whom had formerly been among Valdivia’s closest associates at City Hall, accused him of a variety of wrongdoing, ranging from genderist comments to sexual harassment to abusive behavior, drunkenness, misuse or misappropriation of public facilities, personnel and money, as well as bribe taking.
The night of the election, and over the five following days, it appeared that Richard had outlasted Calvin, albeit by a very slim margin. Just after the polls had closed, Richard had garnered 510 of the 1,017 votes that had come in, with Calvin claiming three fewer, 507. As of 6:30 the next morning, by which time 1,950 votes had been counted, Richard had opened up a slightly more substantial lead, with 983 votes to Calvin’s 961.
By Friday of that week, Calvin had closed the gap to just seven votes. Richard at that point claimed 1,232 votes or 50.14 percent, as Calvin nipped at her heels with 1,225 votes or 49.86 percent.
The following Monday, Calvin leapt past Richard by 11 votes. In all subsequent counts, Calvin has remained ahead. Later in the week, Calvin laid claim to 1,365 votes, compared to Richard’s 1,343.
In the intervening time, Richard has gained back some ground, but not enough to take the lead. Today, in the last posting of unofficial results before the election is to be certified next month, Calvin is up by 13 votes, 1,436, or 50.23 percent, to 1,423 votes, or 49.77 percent.
If that holds through the certification, Richard will from now until December be a lame duck. At present, she and Juan Figueroa, who first replaced Valdivia as Third Ward councilman in a special election last May and was reelected with Valdivia’s assistance in the March 3 Third Ward race against challenger Luis Ojeda, remain as the only two members of the council yet allied with Valdivia. That is a stark contrast to a year ago, when Ted Sanchez, Sandra Ibarra, Henry Nickel, and Richard represented a controlling four votes on the six-sevenths strength council that gave Valdivia power to implement his policies as he saw fit.
Calvin is the executive director of the Akoma Unity Center, the original charter for which was to provide programs and services specifically designed to meet the needs of San Bernardino’s historically-excluded African American community, particularly its youth, by providing academic enrichment, an after school program, summer day camp, a male mentoring program, cultural enrichment, parent empowerment with school districts and wraparound services to assist families. Calvin was instrumental in extending Akoma’s services to Latino residents, as well.
Her involvement in Akoma provided the foundation for much of her campaign.
This morning, prior to the registrar of voters releasing the most recent tally of the votes from the March 3 election, Calvin told the Sentinel, “I’m confident. My lead has continued to grow.”
Calvin said she believe she had earned her victory through hard work and by outhustling her better-financed opponent.
“I was assisted by a group of good grassroots organizers who know how to run a campaign and organize,” she said. “I covered this entire district on foot. It was exhausting at times, but I was able to keep going. My organizers told me the only way I could win was to get out there and know the ward, and that is what I did. I knocked on doors in every part of the ward. I worked hard on an absentee ballot campaign. I wanted to make sure our community knew who I am. I tried to reach every voter.”
Calvin was critical of Richard in more ways than one. At the most basic level, she said, Richard was not as immersed in and knowledgeable about the ward and her constituents as she should have been. Richard did not campaign energetically or take advantage of how a campaign could have familiarized her with the ward and those she represented. Furthermore, Calvin suggested, the campaign Richard ran, or had others run for her which involved personal attacks that had nothing to do with the issues of importance to the residents of the 6th Ward, betrayed the degree to which Richard had no in-depth record to run on, despite her having been in office for more than four years.
“I was astounded that she had the number of votes she did,” Calvin said. “I’m not trying to be sarcastic. I saw the progress of the campaign on the ground all along and in the last few weeks. I didn’t see her out there. I know she had some notoriety in the Sixth Ward, but this is where I have worked for the past four years building my familiarity with the community. When I started, I really didn’t know how large this ward is. I didn’t see it all together until I canvased it. I started in August. That meant I needed to get into every neighborhood, every district. There are actually seven smaller communities within the Sixth Ward, each very different than the next. I have been dedicated to this entire community in the past and I know I have four more years of hard work in front of me. When I’m up for reelection, I don’t want to be faced with what the incumbent was up against. When I was knocking on doors, I’d ask, ‘Do you know who your councilwoman is?” 85 to 90 percent couldn’t give me her name name. I want to remain face-to-face with my constituents on a constant basis. I don’t want to be trying to raise votes in four years as a councilwoman nobody knows.”
Calvin continued, “We knew she had money. She plastered the Sixth Ward with signs. I put up signs too, and they would be taken down within 24 hours. I didn’t have the money to buy more and then more and then more. Fortunately, the people in my organization reassured me. I was told, ‘Signs aren’t the only thing that’s going to win an election. If your signs get knocked down, just get out there and make sure the community knows you.’ I met with senior citizens. Our elders are the heart of our community and are very important. I wanted them to know I will be watching out for them. I was just as ready to engage with folks of middle age and our youth. I didn’t miss an opportunity to go into the churches. My work puts me in contact with the schools and people in the school district. I am constantly out there in the community. I am engaged in hard work throughout the precincts, and I think people saw that.”
Richard was not able to gain traction in the race, Calvin said, because she had not been engaged in representing the Sixth Ward in the past, did not know what was important to her constituents, and did not have any ideas about how the city could meet their needs in the future. This was demonstrated, Calvin said, by Richard’s campaign resorting to attack mailers that were essentially fabrications, which simply did not have the ring of truth.
“She sent out three negative pieces on me, along with emails,” Calvin said. “I never did one negative piece. I wanted to. There sure were things I could have done. I had to be talked out of it. I think that’s one of the ways they got as many votes as they did, because they were putting out things that weren’t true and drew attention away from how she had accomplished nothing over the previous five years. Nothing has taken place. There has been no growth. There has been no new development. With nothing going on in the Sixth Ward, all they had was negative ads. I wanted to go negative. My organization wouldn’t let me. They said, ‘That’s not who you are. Keep your head down to the grindstone. Share your message. Educate the voters. People will see. We don’t need to do that.’”
With the election over and what appears to be the likelihood she will now be taking her place up on the council dais, Calvin said, “I’m excited. I was born in this district. My father and grandmother were born in this district. My aunt on my mother’s side built an apartment complex here in the early 1980s. It is going to be my greatest pleasure to serve as councilwoman here and honor those in my family who are still living and those who have transitioned.”
By Mark Gutglueck
In a move that carried with it an unintended impact on the City of Upland’s now presumably futile effort to keep its police chief from departing and which will conjointly likely undercut the city manager’s ultimate authority and escalate the pay grades of the senior members of the police department going forward, the city council Monday night approved a three-year contract with Rosemary Hoerning to serve as city manager.
Hoerning, who had served in the role of the city’s public works director since 2011 before she was tapped to take on the interim assignment of acting city manager last May upon the city council’s sacking of Jeannette Vagnozzi, was promoted to the full-fledged city manager’s position in February, pending the forging of a contract mutually acceptable to her and the council. Prior to the council’s February commitment to Hoerning, however, complications with regard to Police Chief Darren Goodman had arisen, and in the intervening month-and-a-half, that circumstance has grown increasingly delicate. It now appears that the city council and Hoerning have reacted too late and with insufficient substance to prevent Goodman from jumping ship within the next several months to the assistant police chief’s position in Riverside.
Meanwhile, Hoerning yet remains tasked to persuade Goodman to abide in the responsibility he took on in 2018 when he left the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department to become Upland police chief. Coming to Upland at that point was considered a step up for the rapidly advancing Goodman, who just a month previously had earned his PhD from USC’s Rossier School of Education.
Goodman appeared to be a good fit in Upland. Reportedly, however, two circumstances represented a threat to the prospect of his remaining in place for what is anticipated to be the remainder of his career – a duration of perhaps as long as a decade.
One of those consisted of a lack of protection in his contract with Upland that allows a simple majority of the city council to direct the city manager to fire him without cause. While details were unclear, word was that Goodman had grown concerned with the lack of stability and rationality on the city council, and wanted a language change requiring that his firing only be able to take place if a defined cause was cited, and that the council be unable to cashier him on a mere 3-to-2 majority vote but would need four votes to instruct the city manager to effectuate his firing.
The second hazard to Goodman’s longevity in Upland materialized, the Sentinel is informed, when Riverside Police Chief Sergio Diaz last summer signaled his pending retirement and then exited in September. Among those applying for the police chief vacancy in Riverside was Goodman, who lives in Riverside.
The Sentinel is reliably informed that Goodman was a serious contender for the job, and that the major factor that resulted in Riverside City Manager Al Zelinka’s decision to confer the police chief’s position on Lawrence Gonzalez, who did get the job rather than Goodman, was the familiarity Gonzalez had with the department as a consequence of his 27 years there, including the extended stint he had served as deputy chief during Diaz’s tenure and the four months he had served as interim chief following Diaz’s departure.
Nevertheless, management in Riverside remains impressed with Goodman, and is reportedly still interested in and is said to have expressed an intent toward hiring him into a senior administrative post with the police department.
Riverside’s near-hiring of Goodman appears to have motivated the Upland City Council to take steps to secure a commitment from Goodman in the form of a contract that will keep him in place in the City of Gracious Living for the foreseeable future.
That assignment fell to Hoerning as the acting city manager, creating a slightly awkward circumstance in that simultaneously there were negotiations ongoing with Hoerning, ones being handled at the city council’s direction by City Attorney Steven Flower to secure her services as city manager. It appears that Hoerning’s services were obtained at a price below that amount of money the city council is prepared to offer Goodman to keep him in place as police chief.
For managerial purists, this presents a dilemma, since on the City of Upland’s organizational chart, Hoerning, as city manager, is Goodman’s superior in his role as police chief. Through the creation of a circumstance in which Goodman will be provided with higher pay than Hoerning, who is technically his boss, there is concern that the city’s proper line of authority will be compromised. In only the most rare of circumstances does someone higher up the hierarchy in an organization make less money than those answerable to him or her.
This week, when the city council considered finalizing and approving the employment contract with Hoerning, the contract negotiations with Goodman were yet pending. Given the council’s instructions to Hoerning to significantly exceed the across-the-board compensation being provided to Goodman to get his signature on a contract of five-year’s duration or more, there exists the possibility, at least, that Upland will find itself in a situation in which one of its department heads is being remunerated more than the city manager.
When the city council took up the issue of Hoerning’s contract Monday night, Hoerning left the main floor of the council’s meeting chamber. Flower then spelled out the contents of his report with regard to the terms he had negotiated with Hoerning for a three-year contract. He and Hoerning had agreed upon her receiving a monthly salary of $19,167.67, which Flower said was equivalent to an annual salary of $230,000.04. This compared favorably, from the city’s standpoint, Flower at one point said, to the $270,000 to $280,000 the city manager prior to Vagnozzi, Bill Manis, was provided. A few minutes later, however, Flower, after conferring with Finance Director Londa Bock-Helms, corrected himself to say that Manis had been provided with a $238,500 salary. Hoerning would also be provided with a car allowance, Flower said, and “benefits and leave accrual commensurate with that provided to executive management staff, and additional conferred compensation of $7,200 per year.”
Flower did not specify the amount of the benefits, but based on calculations run by the Sentinel from public documents, those are likely quantified at $46,000 per year in various coverages plus another $63,000 provision of the city’s contribution toward her retirement, such that she will receive a total annual compensation package of $369,800
According to Flower, the contract runs for three years effective February 10, 2020 and will automatically renew for another three years on February 10, 2023 unless either party gives notice prior to that date. According to Flower’s staff report, $351,946 was budgeted to pay for the services of a city manager in 2019-20, which ends on July 1, so there is adequate money in this year’ budget to cover Hoerning’s total compensation in the current year, given that until February 10, she was being remunerated at a lower rate of pay.
According to the employment agreement, Hoerning can be terminated for cause if it can be established that she has proven herself unfit or incompetent to carry out her duties to the minimal professional standards expected of a city manager, has been negligent or neglectful, evinces dishonesty, is intoxicated while at work, becomes addicted to drugs or alcohol, is absent without leave, is convicted of a serious crime, makes improper or unauthorized use of public property, accepts bribes, becomes infirm or unable to physically or mentally carry out her assignments, breaches the employment agreement or falsifies any city documents or records. If she is terminated for cause, she is due no severance pay. If she is terminated without cause, she is to be provided with six months severance pay.
Before moving to a vote, Councilwoman Janice Elliott, at first obliquely raised the issue of the potential for conferring a contract upon Hoerning at a lower salary than might be provided to one of her underlings, and sought to dissuade the council from acting on Hoerning’s contract prior to settling the contractual issue with Goodman.
Endeavoring to subtly nudge her colleagues into considering the issue without overtly raising the subject of the potential threat to the hierarchical relationship between the city manager and police chief, Elliott stated that “At the March 9 meeting we approved salary grade increases for both the police chief and the city manager. It was my express desire, in private with the city manager, that the chief be given the best offer that we could afford to retain his services.”
Mayor Debbie Stone at that point evinced difficulty grasping what Elliott was driving at.
“Councilmember Elliott, we’re not talking about the chief,” Stone said.
Elliott sought to be a bit more direct, though this came across as a bridge too far for Stone and Councilman Ricky Felix, who have a reputation among elected officials throughout the county as being somewhat intellectually challenged. Neither seemed to appreciate the relationship between pay grade and the ranking of authority as was under examination relating to the city manager’s salary and the police chief’s salary.
Elliott tried once more. “It is my understanding that these negotiations have not been concluded,” she said. “Because of the correlation between the city manager and the chief’s compensation, I believe this discussion is premature. I move that we postpone making a decision on this item until after the negotiations with our police chief are completed. Until we know if he is staying, and if he does, what his compensation will be, it is unwise to decide on Rosemary’s [Hoerning’s] pay increase at this time.”
By the mayor’s verbal reaction and Felix’s body language, both seemed perturbed with Elliot. “We’re not talking about the chief,” the mayor blurted. “We’re talking about the city manager.”
Councilman Bill Velto gave discourse to Stone and Felix’s befuddlement.
“I’m trying to understand what does this have to do with the chief of police,” Velto said.
“It really doesn’t,” Mayor Stone said.
Elliot once more sought to move through the rationale for her request for the delay.
“We made the decision to allow Rosemary to change the pay grade on the chief of police and we also changed the pay grade to the city manager,” she said. “In most chains of command, the city manager makes more than those who are subordinate to her. So, when you negotiate, you normally negotiate the subordinate’s position first, so that when you have the person that is supervising them, [she isn’t] being paid less. We don’t have an agreement. We haven’t concluded our negotiations.”
This was too much for Felix, who somewhat testily intoned, “Well, the thing is we work on the contract of the city manager, not the police chief. The police chief is between Rosemary and the chief. We have no say in that. We basically gave her the tools to make a very generous offer, and that’s where we leave it at [sic]. We can’t say, ‘Hey! Do this.’ That’s not our job. Right now, our job is to give her a contract or not give her a contract, as simple as that. It’s not about, ‘Hey! Go do the chief.’ We can do that if we want. I can send her an email right now: ‘Work on the chief’s contract.’ I can send her an email right now. But, we can’t hold back the vote just because the chief doesn’t have a contract yet. Maybe she already extended one out, but he’s waiting maybe three months to do it. We’re not going to push this vote back three months.”
“And besides that, he is not our employee,” said Mayor Stone, meaning, essentially, that the police chief is answerable directly to the city manager.
“Understood, but he’s an employee that’s extremely important to this city, and for me it’s extremely important that she has done everything that she can in order to retain his services,” Elliott said. “If that has not been done, I am very uncomfortable about approving this contract.”
Velto said, “The presumption would be, I think, we made that quite clear to the city manager in the closed session, that we waned to make every effort with an outstanding compensation package, and from my understanding, I think that’s what’s happened. Whether or not the chief has made his decision, we should not be bound on that. We should not bind that on the city manager’s contract. I think we set a precedence there that could not be very well accepted by any council moving forward.”
At that point, Councilman Rudy Zuniga sensed the back-and-forth between his colleagues was evolving with each exchange toward a more explicit revelation of confidential information dealt with during the city council’s closed sessions, with virtually no prospect of Stone or Felix, and only slightly better chance of Velto, grasping what Elliott was trying to convey. Zuniga sought to foreclose the discussion.
“I understand what you’re saying, Janice,” Zuniga said. “We did give [Hoerning] the ability for a certain amount, but it is very hard, because we cannot talk about employees and negotiations and such, so this is a very touchy subject. It’s hard. I know she has spoken to me about what is going on with that. I don’t fear that it’s not happening. It is something we can talk to her in closed session or on a one-on-one, but I don’t know if we should be bringing this to a council meeting with [regard to] the chief’s compensation. I feel she has reached out to him and she came back to us and now she’s going back.”
At that point, Flower, who has in private expressed some degree of misgiving over Stone’s and Felix’s ability to wield complicated subject matter or comprehend in its entirely the counsel he renders, recognized at once the advantage Zuniga’s interjection provided toward closing out the council’s discourse before its members compromised privileged backroom communications and strategies beyond what they already had.
“This conversation has gone much further afield than I’m comfortable with,” Flower broke in at that point. “The chief’s contract and any personnel decision related to him is not on the agenda. It is a matter for the city manager as the individual charged with the administration of the staff and personnel. The subject before you tonight is her contract, the proposed contract.”
The council then took up Elliott’s motion, which died for a lack of a second.
Felix this time motioned to approve the contract with Hoerning, which was seconded by Stone. The motion passed, 4-to-1, with Elliott dissenting.
The Sentinel is informed that Upland’s effort to keep Goodman in place is very likely doomed, even in the face of the city’s willingness to offer him a quarter of a million dollars per year annual salary to stay.
Available information indicates that under his employment agreement now in place, Goodman is scheduled to receive $184,000 in salary, other pay in an amount projected between $111,00 and $128,000 depending on multiple factors, along with $60,735 in benefits for a total annual compensation of between $355,735 and $372,735 in 2020. According to reliable sources, Upland at most is prepared to up Goodman’s salary to the aforementioned quarter of a million dollars. Were Upland to come across with a $66,000 salary enhancement, that would boost Goodman to a salary, before any benefits or add-ons, of $250,000, and a total compensation package at the low end of $421,735 and $438,735 at the high end.
The Sentinel has learned that Riverside is working toward creating an assistant police chief’s position, one that is being carved out specifically with Goodman in mind, which will pay its holder a salary of $270,270, roughly $63,000 in other pay and $110,000 in benefits, for a total annual compensation package of $443,270.
There are other inducements that will draw Goodman to Riverside, which Upland cannot hope to compete with. Goodman lives in the area of Riverside, such that his employment with the Riverside Police Department will virtually eliminate upwards of 90 percent of his commuting time. While in the assistant police chief’s position, Goodman would be groomed to become police chief upon current Police Chief Gonzalez’s anticipated retirement in 2023, whereupon Goodman would move into that post, which currently provides an annual salary of $297,000 and will pay over $312,000 in 2023, along with other pay of $15,000 and benefits in the range of $150,000 per year, for a total annual compensation package of $477,000.
Public management professionals indicate that giving Goodman the raise to $250,000 would likely prove problematic for the City of Upland in the future on a number of counts. Upon Goodman’s retirement, with the quarter of a million dollar bar having been set, his successor would likely expect compensation on a par with what the position already pays. In addition, the salary increase for the police chief would create pressure for the city to up the pay grades for all of police management, including the department’s captains and lieutenants.
Amidst less than encouraging circumstances and developments with regard to a host of other issues at multiple levels throughout San Bernardino County, officials with the various water agencies and water companies in the region are reporting that static water levels for virtually all wells have improved in the last month.
Local aquifers and water tables have been replenished by six solid days of rain in San Bernardino County and more modest rainfall on a handful of other days this month after a very dry February and January.
In addition, the March storms dumped more than two feet of snow on the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Nearly the same amount of snow fell on the San Bernardino Mountains and the eastern San Gabriel Mountains.
As of this morning there had been 1.71 inches of rain in the county seat of San Bernardino in March.
Dale Marsden is due to check out from his post as San Bernardino City Unified School District Superintendent next Tuesday, March 31. He is doing so with no explanation as to what precipitated his leaving.
Marsden privately informed the district’s board members of his intended resignation effective at the end of this month at the board’s meeting on December 10, 2019, and made a public announcement the next day. Mystery has attended the circumstance since, as there were no overt signs of dissatisfaction with Marsden among the school board’s members.
Marsden’s departure in a certain respect replicated his equally abrupt leave-taking from the Victor Elementary School District in 2012, when he skipped out on that 11,000-student, 18-school district to take on the superintendent’s assignment with the San Bernardino City Unified School District. In another way the departures are dissimilar. The primary difference is that it 2012, it was known why Marsden made the move. His exit now is inexplicable, the actual reason for which is wrapped in secrecy. In 2012, Marsden stepped up into a district with nearly five times the number of students in the Victor Elementary School District from which he was departing, a move that placed him into a more prestigious and higher paying position. This time, there is no realistic demonstration that he will land anywhere beyond his statement in December that he intends “to serve our region in another capacity.”
Neither Marsden nor the school board has indulged questions about the actual reason he will no longer head the district, and whether this end to the relationship between Marsden and the district was one he chose on his own or whether the school board imposed his leaving on him.
After serving in the U.S. Air Force for four years, Marsden earned his bachelor’s degree from California State University San Bernardino in liberal studies with a minor in mathematics. In 1992, Marsden briefly taught at the experimental Orange County Department of Outdoor Science School and then taught at the public school level for six years, attending postgraduate classes at night to earn, first, a master’s degree in educational administration, and then a doctorate of education in educational leadership, administration, and policy from Pepperdine University. He departed from classroom teaching assignments permanently when he hired on with the Victor Elementary School District as director of quality and development. In 2007 he was promoted to the position of deputy superintendent, in which capacity he was groomed to become superintendent, which became a reality the following year.
Marsden was well thought of in that school district and was credited with improvements in student test scores on state administered academic tests, an at-least partial product of the district’s emphasis on math and reading under his leadership. Marsden had acceded into something of a major personage in the Victor Valley by that point, and was perceived by many in the community and especially within the Victor Elementary School District as something of a High Desert institution, one who was to most assuredly remain with the district for at least another decade-and-a-half to guide it through the challenges it continues to face. He was a member in good standing of the Victorville Chamber of Commerce, having been elected president of that organization for 2012-13, but had not assumed that position when he was selected by San Bernardino City Unified as its new superintendent. When it turned out Marsden was merely ticket punching during his tenure in the Victor Valley to move into the superintendent’s position and then use that as a platform to launch himself into a more lucrative assignment elsewhere, that many or most of those in the community felt Marsden’s departure with a decided degree of poignancy and were disappointed went without saying. Some elements of the High Desert community characterized it as a betrayal.
In replacing Dr. Arturo Delgado as San Bernardino City Unified’s superintendent in 2012, Marsden moved from a very nice home in Apple Valley where he was raising his four children with his wife, Laurie, and accepted the challenge of coming to San Bernardino, a community bearing the stigma of bankruptcy, crime and political corruption. Marsden came into a 54,000-student district in which just under 90 percent of its student population lives below the federally defined poverty level and most are eligible for a free lunch. About 2,800 of its students are homeless.
Against this backdrop, Marsden made some inroads. Of those that manage to make it to the 12th Grade, 91 percent of the senior class in San Bernardino City Unified high schools graduate, surpassing the county, state and national average.
Marsden was praised for having put into place a community engagement strategy to deal with issues interfering with students’ ability to focus on their studies, and heading off behavioral and attitudinal problems, which was deemed at least partially successful in increasing the district’s graduation rates and achieving a 50 percent reduction in student suspensions and citations. He also championed a “career pathway” focus for students to instill in them the skills necessary to find work, while not necessarily aiming at preparing 100 percent of the district’s students to attend college.
In 2016, he was recognized by the Association of California School Administrators in conjunction with Pepperdine University as the “Superintendent of the Year,” an accolade attended by some grumbling from other educators, who noted Marsden was a Pepperdine University Graduate School of Education and Psychology alum.
At the same time that Marsden was being lauded, the district was loathe to acknowledge that only 28.3 percent of its students met college course requirements. According to the California State Department of Education, 49 percent of students in San Bernardino are performing below state standards in math, 39 percent are not meeting standards in English language arts/literacy and 45 percent are testing below the standard level in reading.
An issue dogging Marsden has been criticism of his rate of pay and the rate of pay of other administrators and faculty members within the district.
Just before the onset of the school year in 2017, Marsden negotiated a four-year contract worth $1.2 million in base pay, consisting of an annual salary before benefits of $307,546. Calculation of his total compensation included another $124,271.32 in yearly benefits, including contributions toward his pension plus $24,000 worth of annual life insurance deposited into a trust account, another $12,000 per year deposited in a tax sheltered account for him, a $14,400 annual housing allowance and a $9,120 auto allowance. The contract provided him with 24 vacation days and 30 sick days per year and full lifetime medical and dental coverage for himself and his wife upon his retirement. Marsden was given a district-issued credit card for expenses incurred while at work, and entitled him to be reimbursed for all necessary business-related expenses he personally paid in the conducting of his duties. Thus, Marsden’s total annual compensation package stood at $432,817.32, making his four-year contract worth $1.7 million all told.
The San Bernardino City Unified School District’s student population has dropped from roughly 54,000 when he was hired in 2012 to somewhere between 49,000 and 50,000 at present. Despite that, Marsden’s rate of compensation more than doubled since that time. In 2012, when he was an outsider negotiating to go to work for the district, he agreed to accept $185,212 in annual total pay/benefits. Upon becoming the head of the district, from which vantage he could exert control over all elements of the district’s function, including its human resources/personnel division and director, he was able to renew his contract in 2013 for $303,298 in total compensation; to $343,728 in 2014; to $385,414 in 2015; to $430,329 in 2016 and he locked in $432,817.32 over the four years that were yet to come in 2017.
Marsden’s compensation compares favorably with many or most other superintendents overseeing like-sized or even larger school districts in the state.
For that reason, Marsden’s decision to leave more than a year prior to his contract’s expiration strikes many as a tell-tale indication that something else is at play.
Last year, just as the school year was about to get under way in earnest, the San Bernardino City Unified School District assistant superintendent of human resources, Perry Philip Wiseman, was arrested at his home in Highland on suspicion of possession and distribution of child pornography. Sheriff’s department investigators would subsequently note that the images Wiseman possessed appeared to have been downloaded from the internet and there was no evidence to indicate the illicit photos depicted students in the district. The district would seek to emphasize that in his capacity overseeing personnel issues Wiseman did not have any interaction with students. In this fashion, the district sought to distance itself from Wiseman’s criminal activity. He was, however, formally charged by the district attorney’s office on October 29, 2019, a little more than a month before Marsden privately told members of the board of his decision to leave during the closed session portion of its December 10 meeting. There has been no overt indication that Marsden’s resignation was related to the matter involving Wiseman.
Perhaps figuring into Marsden’s reason to retire is that San Bernardino County First District Supervisor Robert Lovingood had only recently before revealed that he would not seek reelection in 2020. Marsden’s wife, Laurie Marsden, serves as Lovingood’s chief of staff. With Lovingood’s tenure on the board of supervisors drawing to a close in December, Laurie Marsden’s employment with the county is likely to end at that time.
Marsden’s December 11, 2019 letter announcing his resignation reads like a cheerleading pep talk to the district, noting that “My family and I have served SBCUSD for nearly 8 years” and that “Two of my children have graduated from our schools.” The letter said that “Together as a community, we’ve weathered many challenges and experienced many successes.” Further, Marsden beamed, “more of our students are graduating college-ready than ever before, and we have developed over 50 career pathways and established a robust internship program with the County of San Bernardino to ensure our students are on a course for future success in the world of work. Who could have imagined the incredible results we have achieved together for our community? “
Nowhere in the letter did Marsden explain why he was abandoning “the most incredible opportunity I could ever imagine.”
Marsden did not respond to repeated calls for an explanation as to why he was leaving the district, and no one was able to identify what “regional” education post Marsden is due to take up.
The coronavirus crisis further intensified throughout San Bernardino County this week, a reflection of the general circumstance throughout the state and country.
As the number of reported/known cases of the malady in the United States rose to 83,545, surpassing the number of known or recognized cases in any other single country, including China, Iran and Italy where the disease has previously flourished, San Bernardino County as of late this afternoon had registered 64, as well as three deaths.
Comparatively, there were 3,006 cases in California, entailing 55 deaths so far. Nationally, there have been 1,201 deaths.
Those infected with the virus include an unidentified deputy with the sheriff’s department, an employee with the San Bernardino City Unified School District, an unidentified patient at Barstow Community Hospital, and Big Bear City Councilman Rick Herrick.
The three deaths within the county involving deceased individuals confirmed to have had the virus at the time of death were a 50-year-old man with underlying health conditions, a 42-year-old man with underlying health conditions, and an 89-year-old woman.
San Bernardino County residents, as those elsewhere, are dealing with, and generally appear to be complying with, the precautionary measures that have been put into place. Many of the public agencies in the county have shuttered their facilities, while most have kept skeleton crews in place. Access to many of those public agencies has been significantly attenuated, with telephonic dead-ends frustrating citizens seeking to reach staff members.
For the most part, San Bernardino County Courts have been closed out for the last week-and-a-half. On Monday, California Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye confirmed and extended that shuttering by issuing an order suspending all jury trials in California’s superior courts for 60 days. The order allowed courts to immediately adopt new rules to address the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Cantil-Sakauye said her intent was to allow California courts to comply with the directives from public health officials to suppress the spread of the disease, including maintaining a 6-foot separation between people. There are questions, however, as to whether Cantil-Sakaye’s order can legally override a defendant’s right to a speedy trial. Under the U.S. Constitution, all citizens accused of a crime and subjected to a prosecution have a right to a speedy trial such that a government prosecutor may not delay the trial of a criminal suspect arbitrarily and indefinitely. This has come to be defined as within 60 days of the defendant’s arraignment. Under Cantil-Sakauye’s order, the courts are deemed to be on holiday during the closure, and those closed days are, under this interpretation, not counted toward the 60 day deadline. It is anticipated that a defendant will at some point contest that interpretation.
Governor Newsom also signed an executive order to halt transfers to state prison or juvenile facilities, and the state prison system has also initiated a survey of its population to ascertain which prisoners will be released if the governor signs a contemplated order to release so-called low-level offenders. Hundreds of inmates in jails throughout the state have been released in the last eight to ten days, and the release of thousands more are being considered. Individuals convicted of crimes who were formerly scheduled to be transported to state prisons are to remain at county facilities at least for the next 30 days.
To inquiries about whether these moves have resulted in an increase in criminal activity, San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon indicated that a decrease in local arrests would indicate not. He said it was his hope “that reduction could be as a result of folks on the street not being involved in as many crimes. However, it could also be because deputy sheriffs and police officers that are dedicated to protecting the folks in our county are busy doing other things.”
McMahon on Wednesday said bookings into the county’s jails have “gone down 17-to-18 percent” over the last two weeks. Despite the prisoners eventually bound for state prison remaining incarcerated locally, McMahon said the number of inmates held in the county’s jails has diminished by roughly 700, from 6,200 to 5,500. When his deputies make misdemeanor arrests, McMahon said, suspects are cited but not booked into the jail.
Law enforcement officers, nonetheless, are taking very seriously a different category of crime that was not extant prior to the coronavirus crisis. Pursuant to Governor Newsom’s declaration of a state of emergency, statutes relating to price gouging statewide were actuated, prohibiting raising prices by more than 10 percent.
As panic buying of respiratory masks, toilet paper, hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies, Lysol spray, Clorox wipes, hand soap, and paper towels ensued, Christopher Nasser and Lamar McDonald of Fontana and Jose Caretto of Rancho Cucamonga succeeded in securing a stash of those supplies. They were then selling them at well over twice the cost they had been available for on store shelves the first week of March. A detective with the Fontana Police Department monitoring social media came across marketing of the products at an inflated rate, did some further investigation and reported what was happening up the chain of command. Thereafter, officers with the Fontana Police Department arrested the 55-year-old Nasser at his home in the 7300 block of Cherry Avenue in Fontana; McDonald, 47, at his residence in the 14900 block of Summit Avenue in Fontana; and Carreto at a location in the 6200 block of Haven Avenue where he was rendezvousing with someone he thought was a customer.
In cities throughout San Bernardino County, in compliance with California Governor Gavin Newsom’s order that all non-essential workers confine themselves to their homes and all non-essential public and private sector entities close, cities are continuing to hold public meetings but are paradoxically barring the public from attending. Cities where such meetings took place this week were Yucaipa, Upland, Twentynine Palms, Rialto, Needles, Grand Terrace, Chino Hills, in the towns of Yucca Valley and Apple Valley, and in the City of Redlands, which held a special meeting after its last regularly scheduled meeting of March was held last week.
In Ontario, City Hall is open to the public only by appointment.
Twentynine Palms City Manager Frank Luckino said a state of emergency in that city had been declared for two weeks running, and that the city council will consider renewing the declaration when the current declaration expires.
In accordance with a request/mandate from Governor Newsom, most cities have declared a moratorium on evictions.
Glendora Ridge Road, which is located within the Angeles National Forest and runs from Mount Baldy Village in San Bernardino County to Glendora in Los Angeles County, has been closed to motorists in compliance with the Los Angeles County ‘Safer at Home” coronoavirus-reduction order. The road remains open to hikers, bikers and equestrians.
San Bernardino County initiated a limited drive-thru coronavirus testing site at the National Orange Show Events Center in San Bernardino this morning. Testing was done solely on applicants for appointments who had been accepted, the county having turned away an undisclosed number of applicants for the tests. Officials said those appointments had been made using a prioritization schedule that used age and symptomatology as a criteria. Nevertheless, a number of applicants at or over the threshold age of 65 with fever, cough and fatigue were denied appointments. At press time today, some 380 individuals had been tested at the site.
On March 25, the City of Ontario filed a California Public Records Act request to obtain from San Bernardino County health officials locations where individuals with confirmed cases of coronavirus resided or were encountered. Today, county officials said they would comply with the request when the number of confirmed cases eclipses 100.
Across a wide cross section of the community, the coronavirus crisis has had a devastating economic impact, as many people are complying with the governor’s order and are no longer going to work, businesses are shuttered, and would-be customers are not turning up and forgoing the purchase of products, services, merchandise or meals. Businesses that cater to the government or function in coordination with its various divisions have lost business in significant measure or entirely. Conversely, other enterprises, ones offering goods or services that are in higher demand than usual, are thriving.
Among those are grocery stores, several of which have been able to offer their employees higher hourly wages or bonuses while they labor to keep up with the demand for food and household products. Another is ComAv, an aviation industry service provider located at Southern California Logistics Airport. The airport, located on the grounds of the former George Air Force Base which was shuttered by the Department of Defense and the Air Force in 1992 and which has since undergone a civilian-use conversion, leases over 100 acres of ground and hangar space to ComAv. Some of that space, under normal circumstances, is used to temporarily house aircraft that have been temporarily taken out of commission and are undergoing maintenance, servicing, retrofitting or avionics or communication systems upgrades, as many as 30 planes at a time. ComAv, which also employs San Bernardino County Third District Supervisor Dawn Rowe’s policy advisor, Dillon Lesovsky, is now making money hand over fist as several airlines, Delta and Southwest included, have grounded their planes and are storing them with ComAv. Reportedly, Com Av has a contract which will allow it to lease further space at the airport, giving it the capacity to store as many as 500 planes.
A further side-benefit of the crisis for Southern California residents is the drop in the price of gasoline. Whereas, in early January gasoline in some areas hovered at around $4 per gallon, in recent days in certain locations it has been available at prices as low as $2.50 per U.S. gallon.
-By Mark Gutglueck
Prompted by mandated precautions that have canceled classroom instruction, Chaffey College has purchased 5,000 laptop computers from Dell for distribution to students so classes can be conducted on line.
The Dell Chromebooks are considered loans to ensure Chaffey students have access to the technology needed to successfully complete online class, according to Chaffey College President/Superintendent Henry Shannon, who along with his executive team, referred to as his cabinet, determined purchasing the devices represented the best way for the college to carry out its educational mission in the current circumstance.
“Due to the global pandemic, the decision was made to move all instruction to online,” said Alisha Rosas, Chaffey’s executive director of equity, outreach and communications. “Chaffey College knew many of our students did not have the devices to do this, so we stepped up to provide them with the tools needed to succeed. The district utilized one-time funding as well as pulled from its reserve to provide the Chromebooks to students.”
Rosas noted that while Chromebooks possess all of the functionality needed by students to engage in the completion of their coursework, the devices are less expensive than most other laptops sold on the market. Dell Chromebooks are available for $239.
According to Rosas, “Chaffey College proactively ordered these devices when it appeared that COVID-19 was not something that was going away anytime soon. We had to make institutional decisions that were centered around our students, so we were probably among the first colleges to order so many pieces of equipment early.” Asked if Chaffey had previously made laptop devices available to its students, Rosas said, “This is historically unprecedented, so we have never done anything of this magnitude. That said, we have loaned devices and checked out equipment to students. That practice is not new.” All of the classes offered at Chaffey have transitioned to on-line instruction, Rosas said. In order to obtain a Chromebook, Rosas said, “The students did not have to do anything except display need. Chaffey College used a reservation system to ensure students were enrolled, but during a crisis such as COVID-19, we did not make the students prove anything – except that they wanted to continue learning and taking classes at Chaffey College.”
Rosas said, “The Chromebooks are to be used for class/college related-work only. The Chromebooks are loaned to students. They are theirs to use on loan from Chaffey College until the spring term ends, which is May 31. If a student enrolls for summer online instruction, he/she can continue using the device for that term.” Rosas said, “The College will recover the loaned Chromebooks at the end of the spring term or the end of the summer term, depending on a student’s enrollment. Chaffey College will continue to provide online instruction through its summer term. The college will contact the students when it is time to recover the Chromebooks and arrange for the devices to be returned.” Over 1,200 of the devices had been distributed as of today.
Next week, eyes throughout the State of California will be focused on Upland, as its city council is perched on the verge of testing the limits of how far the normal standards of open government can be suspended under the state of emergency declared by Governor Gavin Newsom in the face of the coronavirus outbreak. At issue is whether the council will be able to exploit the exclusion of the public from direct participation in the forum of a public hearing to minimize the flack its members anticipate they will sustain by granting approval to a project proposal that has garnered substantial controversy and opposition.
Bridge Development Partners is seeking go-ahead for a 201,096-square foot distribution center that is to be leased to on-line retail giant Amazon for 50 years.
The distribution center is to receive merchandise delivered by 18-wheeler semi-trucks as well as airplanes from nearby Cable Airport, and then serve as the platform from which hundreds of vans carrying that merchandise to Amazon customers will be dispatched, entailing upward of 4,000 vehicle trips daily.
The project garnered intense scrutiny from Upland’s residents which evolved into widespread opposition after the city permitted Bridge to use a so-called mitigated negative declaration process rather than a full-blown environmental impact report in completing the environmental certification for the project. Bridge, by offering the city what was originally quantified as a $10 million deal sweetener, garnered the support of city staff for the project. When resident opposition intensified, Bridge upped the $10 million offer, consisting of what was termed an in-lieu of tax fee, to $16 million.
Residents opposing the project see what they consider to be unmistakable signs that an imperative to see the project approved is gripping City Hall, such that a complete and comprehensive evaluation of the project taking into consideration the various perspectives on, and full range of the objections to, the project will be overlooked by the city council. The vast majority of those residents have come to consider the council’s approval of the project as being inevitable.
One such indicator, project opponents point out, consisted of the planning commission’s advisory vote on the project, one that is not binding but which the city council can use as political cover to divert any criticism leveled at it over its decision-making. The commission’s original vote on the project, taken on February 12, with Commissioner Alexander Novikov absent, was recorded as a 3-to-2 decision to reject the site plan for the project, with members Gary Schwary, Linden Brouse and Yvette Walker declining to approve the architectural and landscape documents and engineering drawings for the proposal, and commissioners Robin Aspinall and Carolyn Anderson endorsing them. Over the next two weeks, the members of the commission were subjected to pressure from project proponents inside and outside City Hall, as well as lobbyists for Bridge Development Partners. On February 26, the commission reconsidered the project, and then took a follow-on vote, unprecedented in Upland history, to undo the February 12 decision. With Novikov present, the commission reconsidered the matter, at which point Novikov joined with Walker in registering opposition to the site plan, while Schwary and Brouse reversed themselves, resulting in a 4-to-2 vote recommending that the city council approve the project’s site plan.
With the advent of the coronavirus crisis and Governor Newsom’s mandate that standards of social distancing and individual and family isolation be enforced such that public gatherings are to be prohibited, city councils up and down the state have instituted protocols whereby the traditional meetings in which members of the public are provided access into municipal meeting chambers and are indulged in participating in the meetings by means of being able to address their respective council as part of the deliberative process and prior to a vote on any issues or items under consideration have been curtailed. For practical purposes, this means that the public is not allowed into any particular chamber collectively nor for the most part individually, and input is provided remotely by video/audio hook-up or by phone.
The City of Upland has scheduled a special meeting to be devoted to the city council’s consideration of the Amazon project on April 1. Substantial numbers of city residents have petitioned the city to postpone that hearing until such time as the public meeting restrictions are no longer in place, their contention being that the myriad of issues involved in the Bridge/Amazon project will be given short shrift by the council if the public is not permitted to make its case against the project in a way in which it can engage with the council directly.
At this Monday’s council meeting, Councilman Bill Velto said there was “an important issue I have to bring up now. I want to make sure this council makes the right conscious decisions going forward with regard to future council meetings and planning commission meetings, as strong consideration need be made to hear only agenda items that are required due to legal consequences or health and safety, and that those items that are extremely controversial within the community be placed in suspense or on hold until this pandemic is no longer an issue, and the city is able to have council meetings or planning commission meetings whereby the entire public has access to speak freely and without necessary use of telecommunications. This action by the council would not impact these controversial projects. If the pandemic is as bad as we’re being told, no construction or any further activity will begin for quite a long time.”
Councilwoman Janice Elliott thereafter at the meeting proposed that “we have a special meeting prior to April 1 with the purpose to discuss temporary emergency policies pertaining to the coronavirus.” Elliott said that at the meeting she was proposing, “We could discuss postponing the April 1 meeting at which we will be discussing the Bridge development.”
Velto seconded that motion, but it failed 2-to-3, garnering only Elliott’s and Velto’s support, with Mayor Debbie Stone and councilmen Ricky Felix and Rudy Zuniga rejecting the idea.
While the April 1 meeting is yet scheduled to convene, yesterday the city clerk’s office posted notice of a meeting to take place on March 31 which in all respects appears to correspond with the one proposed by the Councilwoman Elliott on Monday, replete with an item that would allow for the discussion of the suspension of council and planning commission meetings relating to controversial issues or projects until conventional hearings accommodating the full range of public input can be held. The agenda for the March 31 meeting lists as one of its items to “discuss the actions taken by the city to date regarding the coronavirus emergency and give direction to the city manager regarding future actions.” Another item bears the heading “City Meetings During Covid-19 Emergency” and calls for the council to “discuss and provide direction to the city manager.”
Meanwhile, the Sentinel was told by one city resident that he and another resident had put up $5,000 each and another city resident had thrown $1,000 toward retaining an attorney who is to work on filing a request for an injunction to prevent the city from proceeding with the April 1 meeting relating to the Bridge/Amazon project on the grounds that allowing the council to consider the project under current public meeting restrictions would abridge the public’s Constitutional rights to be properly heard on issues of public import. The matter has a larger implication, he said, in that the Upland City Council appears to be moving toward using the state mandates to conduct the public’s business in a way that is calculated to benefit development interests by shielding the council from public scrutiny and accountability for its actions, which he said could set a precedent that might then be replicated anywhere in the Golden State where a governmental entity is purposed to render favorable treatment to an applicant seeking approval for a project or undertaking that is at odds with the general public’s preferences, and is seeking to use the emergency mandates to mute opposition and avoid accountability.