Defection Of Key Witness Throws Colonies Prosecution Into Disarray

Matt Brown

Matt Brown

By Mark Gutglueck
The prosecution in the Colonies Lawsuit Settlement Public Corruption Case was thrown into crisis mode this week when one of the three witnesses considered to be key to proving that a Rancho Cucamonga developer bribed four county officials a decade ago went rogue during his testimony.
Early on in the probe that led to the indictments in the case, Matt Brown was considered by investigators to be a participant in what prosecutors now say was a complex extortion, graft and bribery conspiracy that led to the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors voting 3-2 with then-supervisors Bill Postmus, Paul Biane and Gary Ovitt prevailing over then-supervisor Dennis Hansberger and supervisor Josie Gonzales to confer a $102 payment to the Colonies Partners to settle a lawsuit that company had brought against the county and its flood control district over drainage issues at the Colonies at San Antonio residential and Colonies Crossroads commercial subdivisions in northeast Upland. But after Brown, who was the chief of staff to supervisor Biane, was buttonholed by district attorney’s office investigators in April 2009 and threatened with being prosecuted for his role, he agreed to cooperate in the further investigation of the matter. Surreptitiously, he carried a recording device on the job, capturing audio recordings of his conversations with Biane, Postmus and others, in an effort to obtain information to further the investigation. Brown did so with the understanding that he himself would not be prosecuted.
In 2010, Postmus and Jim Erwin were charged in a criminal conspiracy, extortion, graft and bribery case arising out of the Colonies lawsuit settlement. Erwin, once a sheriff’s deputy who had been elected president of the sheriff’s deputies union, by 2006 was no longer union president but employed as the union’s executive director. As union president in 2004, Erwin had assisted Postmus in his successful reelection bid for supervisor. In 2006, Erwin had left as union president but was serving in the role of the union’s executive director. In that capacity, he assisted Postmus in his successful run for county assessor. Simultaneously, he was working as a consultant for the Colonies Partners in assisting them to achieve a settlement to the lawsuit. After Postmus moved on to become assessor in 2007, he hired Erwin to serve as assistant assessor.
In response to the criminal charges that had been filed against them in 2010, both Postmus and Erwin pleaded not guilty. But in March 2011, Postmus pleaded guilty to a total of 14 felony political corruption charges relating to the Colonies Partners Lawsuit Settlement Case and his action while serving as assessor. He agreed to turn state’s evidence against the others. Both he and Brown testified before a grand jury in April 2011 that in May 2011 handed down a 29-count indictment naming Erwin and Biane; Mark Kirk, who had been Ovitt’s chief of staff; and Jeff Burum, one of two managing principals in the Colonies Partners. That indictment alleged that Erwin had assisted Burum in extorting Postmus and Biane to support the $102 million settlement through the use of blackmail, threats and intimidation prior to the vote, and that Burum, in conjunction with the Colonies Partners’ other managing principal Dan Richards, delivered $400,000 in bribes after the vote to Postmus, Biane, Kirk and Erwin, disguised as separate $100,000 donations to political action committees controlled by Biane, Kirk and Erwin and two $50,000 donations to two political action committees controlled by Postmus. Neither Ovitt nor Richards was indicted; the indictment alleged the $100,000 had been delivered to Kirk for delivering or influencing Ovitt’s vote in favor of the settlement.
From the outset of the case, knowledgeable observers contrasted the divergent treatment of Kirk, the chief of staff to one of the supervisors supporting the settlement, and Brown, the chief of staff to another supervisor whose support of the settlement was equally crucial. Brown, like Kirk, had set up one of the political action committees into which the alleged $100,000 bribes disguised as political donations in return for the settlement approval had been deposited. In the aftermath of his indictment, Kirk had been forced out of his position as Ovitt’s chief of staff. In 2010, more than ten months after Brown had begun surreptitiously recording his conversations with his boss, Biane learned that Brown was doing so. This created an uncomfortable situation in the office, and Brown filed a grievance over that treatment. He was put on paid administrative leave and within a few months provided with a transfer into the treasurer/tax collector/auditor/controller’s office, where he assumed the position of second-in-command, which entailed a raise in pay over what he had been making as Biane’s chief-of-staff. Unspoken publicly was that the transfer was intended to keep Brown in place and assure his continuing cooperation as a crucial witness in the evolving criminal case.
But during his testimony this week, it became apparent very early on that he was not providing the prosecutor examining him the answers she had anticipated, which the prosecution team had been counting upon to set up an important phase of their narrative of the defendants’ guilt.
On Wednesday, Brown came into court and was sworn in. Supervising Deputy California Attorney General Melissa Mandel handled the direct examination, which established in short order that he was still working for the county as assistant treasurer/tax collector/auditor/controller and that he had worked on Biane’s 2002 campaign, parlaying that into a position as Biane’s chief of staff after Biane defeated Jon Mikels in that year’s election for Second District county supervisor.
Brown acknowledged that the Colonies Partners were major donors to Biane’s election campaign.
Brown said he and Biane had been best friends and said the current trial and the difficulty it represents is an “unfortunate circumstance” but that “I’m comfortable with Paul.” In response to Mandel’s question he said he was not overjoyed at being there and said he was suffering from a cold.
Brown said Burum and Biane were in regular contact with one another following Biane’s election to the board. He testified that Biane was supportive of and hopeful toward the county settling the Colonies’ litigation from the outset of his time in office.
Brown said Burum had left a phone message for Biane in which he stated that “The damages clock is ticking,” meaning that delay in the settlement was costing money.
Mandel questioned Brown about the circumstances of an effort, in 2005, to settle the case for $77.5 million that went awry.
Brown said he heard Biane make no complaints about the performance of Munger, Tolles & Olsen or Jones Day, the law firms representing the county in the litigation against the Colonies Partners, the first of which vehemently protested the terms of the $77.5 million settlement proposal.
Brown said he knew former state legislator Jim Brulte and that Biane was in contact with him. Brown said he along with Biane had weekly meetings with the office of county counsel, the county’s in-house lawyers, in which they were kept abreast of developments in the Colonies Partners litigation. He said he did not attend the trial before Judge Peter Norell, but knew of it through media coverage. He said he understood that the county had an unfavorable outcome in the early stages of the litigation and that it had appealed. He had no recollection of whether Biane was in favor of pursuing the appeal.
He said he knew Patrick O’Reilly as the “owner of a public relations firm” from Riverside and that he may have met him previous to his work for Biane when he was on the staff of Congressman Ken Calvert as a result of their mutual attendance at political fundraisers during that time frame.
Asked if there had been contact between O’Reilly and Biane, Brown said, “Not that I recall.” Brown noted that O’Reilly had a contract to provide services to San Bernardino County and that he was also aware that O’Reilly had a relationship with Burum.
Brown testified that Biane from the outset had seen a settlement of the lawsuit with the Colonies Partners as a desirable outcome. With prompting from Mandel’s reference to his previous testimony before the grand jury, Brown said that when Ovitt was elected to the board of supervisors in 2004, Biane maintained that Ovitt was always viewed as another vote for settlement.
“Mr. Biane communicated that to you?” Mandel asked.
“Yes, he did,” responded Brown.
Brown said that Ovitt’s elected predecessor as Fourth District supervisor, Fred Aguiar, had been a consistent vote against settlement. Aguiar, who left the board to work as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s deputy chief of staff and senior advisor when the actor was elected governor in 2003, was succeeded by his wife, Patty.
“Mr. Ovitt was much more friendly and open to developers and development,” said Brown. “He was always seen as a friendly vote.”
Asked if Jim Erwin was involved in the Colonies settlement negotiations in the 2004 timeframe, Brown said, “Not that I recall prior to 2004.”
Mandel questioned Brown about Brulte’s involvement in the effort to bring about a lawsuit settlement, which culminated in a March 2005 meeting involving Postmus, Biane, Brulte, who was working for the Colonies Partners, Dan Richards and Jeff Burum. During that meeting, the lawyers from both sides were excluded during its closing stage and a tentative but never actuated $77.5 million settlement of the lawsuit was derived. Brown indicated that he could not recall whether he was aware of Biane meeting with Brulte in January 2005 or that there was a relationship between Brulte and Burum.
“Were you in contact with Mr. Brulte during that time period, January 2005?”
“I don’t think so,” said Brown.
“You were aware the county attorneys were not in favor of settlement” Mandel asked.
“That is correct,” said Brown. He said he was aware of the March 2005 meeting in which the lawyers were kicked out of the room.
“What did Paul Biane tell you about that meeting?” Mandel pressed.
“I don’t remember what he told me,” Brown said. “That was a pretty significant event when you look at the history of the litigation. It was probably a milestone event, but I can’t recall my conversation with Mr. Biane following that meeting.”
Before the $77.5 million settlement could be put into place, a memo from two of the lawyers with the law firm of Munger, Tolles & Olsen representing the county in the Colonies litigation, Stephen Kristovich and Paul Watford, was sent to the board of supervisors on April 4, 2005, stating the $77.5 million amount was excessive and that such a large settlement might prevent the county from recovering damages from the City of Upland, the county’s transportation agency known as SANBAG, and the California Department of Transportation, based upon those agencies’ participation in the issues that were at the heart of the Colonies Partners’ lawsuit.
The public outrage at the terms of the proposed settlement resulted in it never being consummated.
“What was Paul Biane’s reaction to the memo being leaked?” Mandel asked
“He was not happy,” said Brown, explaining, “It was an attorney client privilege document. It wasn’t for public consumption. It was a proposal. It was a draft. All the materials [were] marked privileged and confidential.”
“That was to remain confidential?” Mandel asked.
“That was my understanding,” Brown said.
One of the several pronounced points of prevarication in Brown’s testimony came in his answers to Mandel’s questions about the deterioration of the relationship between Biane and Burum as efforts at achieving a settlement stalled. Initially, Brown made no acknowledgment of any contretemps between the two. Referencing the summer of 2005, Mandel asked Brown “What was the relationship between Mr. Burum and Mr. Biane at that time?”
“They were friends throughout this entire process,” Brown said. “Mr. Burum was a supporter of Mr. Biane. I can’t tell you any time or date when there was a difference in that. I don’t know that there was any change in their relationship.”
It was not until Mandel referenced Measure P, a countywide voter initiative to raise the salaries provided to members of the board of supervisors sponsored by Biane in 2006 and which Burum actively campaigned against, that Brown acknowledged there had been any tension in the relationship between Biane and Burum.
“There were times when things were contentious, but they always remained friends,” Brown said. “I think things were contentious during settlement discussions. Like any settlement there were mediation sessions. There was contention at that time, the small period of time surrounding the settlement discussions. Paul was always in favor of settling. It was the parameters of the settlement that were the sticking point.”
Mandel made an effort to wring from Brown an acknowledgement that Burum’s effort to oppose Measure P, in which he spent $400,000, had represented a major break in the relationship between Biane and Burum, and provided the means by which Burum was able to pressure Biane to craft a settlement to be supported by his board colleagues. Brown obstinately resisted making such an acknowledgement. When Mandel asked him if he and Biane had devoted “a lot of time” working to get Measure P passed, Brown responded, “We couldn’t have, because we had a lot of other things to do. We had a lot of county business. It was a big issue to him [Biane] but we didn’t spend a lot of our time everyday working on it.”
Mandel then utilized previous testimony Brown had provided to the grand jury to contradict his statement. As Mandel’s examination and Brown’s testimony dragged on into Wednesday afternoon, particularly when it touched upon areas which cast either Biane or Burum in a harsh light, Brown grew steadily more resistant, such that he foreclosed her avenues of inquiry by asserting he could not recall events, statements, situations or conversations. Mandel sought to proceed by prompting Brown with passages of his previous testimony or statements to investigators, transcripts of which she provided to him to read while he was in the witness box but which she did not project on the court’s overhead displays nor make available to the jury or Judge Michael Smith. Instead, she referenced what Brown was reading by transcript compendium page number for the benefit of defense attorneys, who had to scramble to stay abreast of the material being alluded to. After several instances of this, defense attorneys registered objections, though Brown’s continued resistance to several of Mandel’s further questions resulted in her continuing to take recourse in the references to Brown’s prior testimony.
Mandel asked Brown, “Do you recall Mr. Biane talking about the Colonies [settlement] numbers being in the stratosphere?”
“I have no memory of that,” Brown said.
Mandel asked Brown “In September 2006, was Mr. Biane backing away from a settlement of the Colonies case?” She further asked if he recalled Biane saying that it had been a mistake to have attempted to forge a settlement on his own and that he should have involved the other members of the board in the effort and discussions.
“I just don’t remember those conversations,” Brown responded.
When Mandel pressed Brown on whether he was personally consistently against settling the litigation on the terms the Colonies Partners were insisting upon and had enunciated that opposition in the weeks leading up to the acceptance of the $102 million settlement, Brown said his position had shifted over the course of time. When Mandel offered him his statement from an April 26, 2009 interview with investigators in which Brown said, “I expressed to him [Biane] at various times my opposition, probably most vocally in 2006 when we had Measure P on the ballot,” Brown conceded, “It sounds like that was an accurate statement.”
By sheer force of will, it seemed, Mandel pushed Brown into making an acknowledgment that Measure P precipitated a sundering of the relationship between Biane and Burum.
“At some point in time was there some opposition to Measure P?” she asked.
“I don’t recall how I learned about it but there was a group that was formed to oppose Measure P,” Brown conceded. To Mandel’s questions as to the timing and whether it was in the summer or early fall of 2006, Brown evinced clarity, saying “It had to have been because someone showed up at the registrar of voters to put in an opposition statement.”
“Did Mr. Biane express to you about what he thought motivated the opposition?” Mandel asked. “Yes,” said Brown. “He said that Jeff was sponsoring the opposition because the Colonies litigation hadn’t been settled.”
“Did he say it [the opposition to measure P] was directly related to the Colonies litigation?” Mandel asked.
“Yes,” Brown said.
Did he say anything in particular about how angry he was?” Mandel asked.
“He said he was so angry he wanted to punch Jeff Burum in the nose,” Brown said.
Upon hearing this, Burum, who was seated at the defense table facing east, looked across to Biane, seated at the defense table ten or so feet way facing south, and both in jest raised their fists at one another. This elicited from Brown, in the witness box facing north, a chuckle.
Mandel, whose angle and position in front of the defense table prevented her from having a direct view of either Biane or Burum, reacted sharply, asking if Brown thought this was funny
“At the time, it wasn’t funny to Mr. Biane,” he said. “It wasn’t funny to me.”
“Mr. Biane was very angry about this?” Mandel inquired.
“He was very angry,” Brown said.
The pattern of Mandel seeking a response from Brown and encountering his inability to recall, followed by her presentation of one of his previous statements to trap him into a preset response appeared to build in Brown a resentment as it continued. His voice was sometimes tinged with anger when he was forced by Mandel to acknowledge a statement contained in his testimony six and seven years previous after he made a conflicting statement in his initial response to a question. By the end of the day’s testimony, his sense of impatience with his situation and Mandel in particular was palpable.
As was customary, he was obliged to remain in the courtroom when the two juries hearing the case filed out of the courtroom. While he was yet sitting in the witness box, Judge Michael Smith addressed him directly, suggesting he review his grand jury testimony that evening before returning the following morning to resume his testimony. Brown, who had previously indicating he was suffering from a cold, said that he intended to go directly to bed once he got home. There was a little further exchange between Brown and the judge about being sick, with the judge saying he understood and that he had been battling his cough for two weeks. Shortly thereafter, Mandel said something to the effect that she wanted to address the court and that she needed to wait until Brown left. As Brown walked by where Mandel was sitting at the prosecution table, Brown threw the transcript of his grand jury testimony down next to her. Before Brown made it out of the courtroom, Mandel called out to him, asking if he didn’t want to take the transcript with him so he could review it overnight. Without deigning to turn around he said, “No, I don’t,” and headed out the door.
There ensued a colloquy among the judge and the lawyers, led in the main by one of Burum’s attorneys, Jennifer Keller, but with input from Burum’s lead attorney, Stephen Larson, and Raj Maline, Erwin’s lead attorney, essentially challenging the fashion in which Smith had allowed Mandel to provide the witness with his previous testimony without the court [i.e., Smith] seeing what was referenced and not allowing the defense to inspect the passage and compare it to Mandel’s characterization of it in real time to determine the accuracy of her representation so appropriate and timely objections could be made before the jury is exposed to any prejudicial material. Smith offered something of a defense of Mandel, saying that under the circumstances, he was inclined to give the prosecution wide latitude in its examination. “I’m making a finding he [Brown] is being intentionally evasive,” Smith said.
This galvanized Larson, who countered that Brown was not being evasive but rather had come to the realization that information provided to him by the DA’s investigators had colored his previous testimony. Larson said that the heavy-handed techniques by the investigators had induced several prosecution witnesses to lie in order to “save their own behinds from going to prison.” Smith responded that on cross examination Larson would have an opportunity to elicit testimony that “he [Brown] was lying to the grand jury for self-preservation.”
In her response, Mandel cited Brown’s “chuckling to the defendants [and] his body language” in suggesting Brown was in league with the defense. “He professes no memory of anything,” Mandel said. “This is a very different Mr. Brown than we expected to see. Obviously, something has gotten to him.”
Larson took offense to this, responding, “Mr. Brown was beaten up pretty badly by the investigators when he was giving those statements. Maybe ten years of finding out there is no substance to this case is what has gotten to him.”
When Brown returned to the witness stand the following morning, he came across as being in a more favorable mood and tolerated the questions being asked of him by Mandel with a somewhat more even bearing than he had during the afternoon of the previous day, although he continued to take recourse in memory failure in deflecting many of her questions. Mandel, nonetheless, persisted, using, when it suited her purpose, passages from his previous grand jury testimony and interviews with investigators to extract information from him.
Some of these questions involved the San Bernardino County Young Republicans, which was the recipient of the $100,000 donation from the Colonies Partners intended for Biane in 2007. The prosecution alleges the $100,000 was a bribe to Biane in exchange for his support of the settlement.
Mandel asked Brown about the San Bernardino County Young Republicans PAC and marched him through all of the initial contributions to the committee. Brown said he had been the founder and had set it up, implying without stating that he was in control of it. Mandel continued to circle back, however, showing that the original money deposited into its account came from Biane’s campaign committee. Mandel led Brown into reluctantly acknowledging Biane had control over the San Bernardino County Young Republicans, using a quote from his earlier testimony that “We always had a clear understanding between the three of us [Biane, Brown and Tim Johnson, another Biane staff member] that the PAC would be used to support his [Biane’s] campaigns.”
Mandel asked Brown why Biane needed a PAC when he had his own campaign account, which he already controlled. Brown said the San Bernardino County Young Republicans existed not just to support Biane’s campaign, but also other candidates and political causes countywide.
With regard to the $100,000 contribution to the PAC from the Colonies Partners, Brown in his initial response to Mandel’s question, said that Biane “seemed surprised” when he found out about the contribution. Brown also sought to minimize the significance of the amount.
“It wasn’t out of line with what other people were contributing in the county,” he said. Mandel then confronted him with his grand jury testimony to the effect that both he and another Biane staff member, Tim Johnson, were surprised by the $100,000 contribution from the Colonies Partners to the San Bernardino County Young Republicans but that Biane was not surprised.
Brown further testified that Biane had aspirations for higher office.
“What were Paul Biane’s political aspirations?” Mandel asked. “Did Paul Biane communicate to you that he wanted to run for Congress?”
Brown acknowledged that was the case “I don’t know the number of times we discussed it,” he said.
“That was an ambition he communicated to you?” Mandel asked.
“Correct,” Brown said.
During some of his testimony, Brown managed to enlarge his resistance against the direction Mandel was pushing him, saying or insinuating that his previous testimony might not have been fully accurate.
One such example was when Mandel questioned Brown about the relationship between supervisor Gary Ovitt and his chief of staff, Mark Kirk, whom Brown saw often in his capacity as Biane’s chief of staff. Mandel was seeking to verify reports, and the prosecution’s theory, that Kirk held a significant degree of sway over his boss to the point where he could and did influence his votes, in particular the one in favor of the Colonies lawsuit settlement.
Citing an April 26, 2009 interview he had with district attorney’s office investigators, Mandel quoted Brown as saying about Kirk, “He tries to bully people.”
“I don’t recall making that statement,” Brown said.
“Is it your recollection that he would bully people?” Mandel pressed.
“He was assertive,” Brown retorted. “He would speak his mind, but I don’t think he would bully people. Mark was the guy who drove the agenda out there, pushing to get things done, coming up with the ideas, implementing the ideas.”
Determined to impress upon the jury that Kirk had influence over Ovitt, Mandel read from the interview another statement Brown made about Ovitt, that Ovitt “was a nice man but doesn’t have leadership qualities.” Brown acknowledged that he had made the statement nearly eight years ago.
Another element of the prosecution’s theory of guilt that Mandel endeavored to explore with Brown was that pertaining to Erwin’s role in influencing Postmus. She asked if Erwin was acting as a go-between to keep Postmus in communication with Burum and whether Postmus was leaking information from the board’s closed sessions, including the county’s position with regard to the Colonies litigation, through Erwin to Burum.
Brown deflected the question by acknowledging there were leaks but said that “in the government center there are leaks. Everyone talks and if you are paying attention, you are going to hear a lot.”
Mandel then asked Brown if he remembered “expressing concern Mr. Postmus would come out of closed sessions and tell Mr. Erwin everything?”
“I don’t recall expressing that,” said Brown.
Mandel then provided Brown with previous testimony to that effect, and he said, “That’s what I testified, but I don’t recall it today.”
Brown also said he did not recall his previous testimony that Erwin and Postmus were so close that they seemed like brothers.
Brown acknowledged that he and Postmus were friends and Republican cohorts. It was in his statements about Postmus that Brown may have inadvertently provided the prosecution with material that might prove damaging to the defendants. A portion of the prosecution’s theory is that the Colonies Partners, through O’Reilly and Erwin, were blackmailing Postmus and Biane. The extortion of Postmus pertained in part to his drug use, which prosecutors allege Erwin and Burum were threatening to expose.
Of Postmus, Brown said, “In 2006, he was clearly under the influence of some type of drug during business hours.” He said the first tangible proof of that came one afternoon when he and Biane had gone out to lunch with him. “He was driving us to lunch,” Brown said. “In the backseat was a box, a clear tackle box. You could see through it. It was just full of prescription medications.”
Asked when his friendship with Postmus ended, Brown said, “I think at the time he realized I was providing information to the district attorney’s office about him.”
This proved the segue that Mandel used to bring to the jury’s focus information that was known to just about everyone else in the room, except the jury: that Brown had betrayed Biane in 2009 by working undercover with the district attorney’s office in trying to gather information implicating his boss in bribe taking.
The previous day, early in his testimony, Brown had responded to questions by Mandel by indicating that he had been very close to Biane, and still considered him a friend. At one point he called Biane his best friend and at another referenced him as one of his three closest friends. He had also told Mandel at the time that he had not spoken to Biane since 2010, a curious anomaly that might not have escaped the jurors.
On Thursday, the explanation for that anomaly arrived when Mandel asked Brown point blank if he had worn “a wire” to target Biane. Brown corrected her, saying he had used a “microcassette recorder” to surreptitiously capture Biane’s utterances. There ensued a full acknowledgement of what occurred.
To Mandel’s question, Brown said he had “cooperated” with district attorney’s office investigators, implying at one point he had done so “freely,” while stating he had never been arrested. Nevertheless, this left open the question as to whether he was doing so under the threat of arrest or of being charged.
“Would you agree, generally speaking, that through 18 interviews you participated in, your demeanor was significantly different than during this trial?” Mandel asked.
“It was an interview, not a trial,” Brown responded.
At that point, the basis for some of the hostility Brown had toward the prosecution poured forth. He said he had to “repeatedly” tell the lead investigator on the case, Hollis Randles, that he was cooperating in the face of Randles’ statements and insinuations that he was “holding something back.”
Reliving on the witness stand his exasperation from some seven years ago, Brown intoned, “Why do you think I had to repeatedly tell him that?”
“What was your feeling about the way you were treated in that interview?” Mandel asked.
“I thought I was treated poorly,” Brown said.
“Why?” Mandel asked.
“Because Mr. Randles’ approach is more to attempt to interrogate rather than interview,” he said.
Mandel asked when he felt that way.
“Probably about five minutes into my first interview with him,” Brown said, going on to say of Randles that “He has a practice of essentially characterizing events and requiring that you agree or disagree with his statement. He used that throughout his interviews. Nothing was ever good enough for him. He was always critical and acting like I wasn’t being forthcoming,” even though, Brown said, “I gave him everything I had.”
Brown said he was so taken aback by Randles’ approach that he retained San Bernardino attorney Sanford Kassel following his first interview. Kassel contacted deputy district attorney Lewis Cope, who is prosecuting the case with Mandel. Brown said he continued cooperating with the district attorney’s office after Kassel made an arrangement with Cope for him to do so.
Brown was not charged or named in the indictment in contrast to Kirk, who was. In addition, after Biane discovered Brown had been tape recording his conversations with him, Brown was put on paid administrative leave for three months and was then transferred to the county treasurer/tax collector/auditor/controller’s office, where he was installed in the second highest position in that office at an annual salary of $144,289.56 per year and provided with $23,052.89 in benefits, for an annual total compensation package of $167,342.45 annually. Thus, in the six-and-a-half years he has remained in the county in the capacity of assistant treasurer/tax collector/auditor/controller, Brown has made $1,087,725.92, money top county officials were willing to provide him to ensure that he would testify as a prosecution witness.
In her questioning of Brown, Mandel stated, “You were never arrested. You were free to walk out the door at any point, to which Brown retorted, “I didn’t feel that way after my attorney promised I would cooperate.”
Mandel asked, “Did you continue to cooperate in providing information?”
“I agreed to interviews,” Brown said.
“Did you carry a microcassette recorder?” Mandel asked. “Did you attempt to secretly record conversations with Paul Biane?”
“Yes,” said Brown.
“Did you attempt to secretly record conversations with Bill Postmus?” she asked.
“Yes,” said Brown.
Mandel then confronted Brown with statements he made to investigators in 2009 that indicated his belief Biane had acted criminally and spelled out his unequivocal intent to betray the politician who had employed him as his chief assistant for more than seven years, in which he said he “wanted them [the investigators and prosecutors] to succeed” so they “clean this place up.”
It was unclear whether Mandel’s direct examination of Brown is at or near being closed. After the juries and Brown exited the courtroom on Thursday, she sought clearance from Judge Smith to utilize a statement provided by Brown during one of his previous rounds of testimony before the grand jury to impeach a prosecution witness who previously testified, Tim Johnson.
Given Brown’s lack of cooperation with Mandel this week and the prospect of the damage defense attorneys will attempt to inflict on the prosecution during their cross examination of Brown next week, there is consternation among county officials and the higher levels of the district attorney’s office over the faith they had, and the $1.08 million investment they have made, in Brown over the last six-and-a-half years. Any decision on terminating Brown from his county position over the next several weeks will officially be made by Oscar Valdez, the county treasurer/tax collector/auditor/controller who last year succeeded Larry Walker, who in 2010 acceded to pressure placed upon him by county chief executive officer Greg Devereaux and district attorney Mike Ramos to terminate his longtime assistant, Betsy Starbuck, and replace her with Brown.
Earlier this week, on Tuesday, former San Bernardino County Assistant District Attorney Clyde Boyd testified that Jim Erwin had his permission, which was casually granted while the two were at dinner with their wives in Palm Springs in January 2007, to use his name as an officer in a political action committee Erwin formed. Ultimately, that PAC, the Committee for Effective Government, was endowed with a $100,000 donation from the Colonies Partners which prosecutors allege was a payoff for Erwin’s assistance in obtaining the lawsuit settlement.
There are two juries hearing the case, one for Erwin and the other considering the guilt or innocence of Burum, Biane and Kirk. Testifying only before Erwin’s jury, Boyd said that Erwin, who had just been named as assistant assessor by Postmus in January 2007, told him he was forming a political action committee and he asked Boyd if he would let him sign Boyd on as a member of the PAC. Boyd said he assented to doing so.
“He just mentioned that he was going to form a PAC, and that he had a form he needed to fill out for the state, where he had to put five or six names down on this form to send back to the state, and he was going to put us all down on the form,” said Boyd, who retired from the district attorney’s office in 2013. Boyd said that Erwin told him the committee would be classified as a PAC controlled by a single person, so that Boyd would have no duties as a signer.
“Did you in fact give him permission to use your name?” Mandel asked.
“Yes,” said Boyd, who said that was the last he heard of the PAC until he was questioned about it in July 2009 by district attorney investigators.
Burum’s attorney Jennifer Keller and Erwin’s attorney Raj Maline inquired if Boyd trusted Erwin. “I had no particular interest or reason to be concerned,” Boyd said in response to Keller, who further elicited from Boyd that Erwin had not been secretive about the formation or existence of the committee. Boyd responded to Maline that he trusted Erwin.
Lynda Cassady, former chief of the state Fair Political Practices Commission’s external affairs and education division, also testified on Tuesday. She said candidates for public office or elected officials are restricted to having only one campaign account and should not exercise influence over any other committee’s activities.
Cassady testified that PACs are not required to have bylaws. She said that the controller of a PAC can serve in the capacity of a consultant to the PAC and receive money for that service, as Kirk and Erwin were previously demonstrated by Mandel to have done.
It is illegal for campaign contributions, Cassady testified, to be funneled or laundered through PACs to conceal the actual source of the contribution.

 

60 Megawatt Solar Farm Proposed In Lucerne Valley

LUCERNE VALLEY—A Florida-based company has cleared the San Bernardino County Land Use Services Division’s preliminary application submission process to construct a 60 megawatt solar energy facility on 483 acres in Lucerne Valley.
That hurdle surmounted, NextEra Energy must now overcome the opposition of a contingent of local residents to bring what is officially dubbed the Ord Mountain Solar Project to fruition.
According to the application, the project is to be built on property entirely contained within assessor’s parcel numbers 0453-091-72; 0453-091-12; 0453-091-24; 0453-091-29; 0453-091-31; and 0453-091-48 located east of State Route 247, along Desert Lane, west of Meridian Road.
Juno Beach, Florida-based NextEra Resources is a subsidiary of NextEra Energy, Inc., which touts itself as a leading clean energy company with consolidated revenues of approximately $16.2 billion, approximately 45,900 megawatts of generating capacity, which includes megawatts associated with noncontrolling interests related to NextEra Energy Partners, LP, and approximately 14,700 employees in 30 states and Canada.
NextEra’s corporate and renewable energy bona fides, however, have not won over a fair number of the residents in Lucerne Valley, who object to the placement of the facility proximate to preexisting homes in what is described as a low density desert neighborhood. According to those in opposition to the project, the solar field will intrude on the desert rusticity on three of its four sides.
A loose coalition of Lucerne Valley residents claim they and their community are “under siege” and want NextEra and the county to consider the alternate location of an area within Lucerne Valley referred to as Tamarisk Flats, which is a more remote area that yet features some residential properties, albeit ones that are fewer in number and which are more modest, featuring less intensive improvements.
The project opponents have armed themselves with philosophical and procedural arguments against the project. An industrial use such as the solar field will harm, they assert, their already modest property values. Moreover, the project will require the granting of a conditional use permit, as the zoning and land use restrictions in place in that portion of Lucerne Valley are not consistent with a solar farm and the board of supervisors, which ultimately will decide on final project approval, has discretion in the granting of such conditional use permits.
Lucerne Valley, however, has little in the way of political muscle. At an expansive 105.59 square miles, it boasts a population of 5,811, which is dwarfed by the populations of the incorporated municipalities in San Bernardino’s First District, which includes 123,000-population Victorville, 92,755-population Hesperia, 70,924-population Apple Valley and 31,765-population Adelanto. Only a portion of Lucerne Valley’s residents are up in arms against the project, such that even if they were to express their dissatisfaction with the outcome of a decision allowing the solar project to proceed to completion, their numbers would not be likely to sway the next election for county supervisor. At any rate, that election is some three-and three quarters years distant, when the incumbent, Robert Lovingood, is next scheduled to stand for reelection in 2020, if indeed he chooses to run once more.
Moreover, the Mojave Desert is widely perceived as ideal for, and has been federally designated to be the hosting grounds to, medium and large scale solar energy projects. In the most celebrated denial of a proposed solar project in the Mojave Desert, which occurred last year, the board of supervisors cited a rationale in denying the Soda Mountain project which is entirely at odds with the assertions the Ord Mountain project opponents are propounding. In August, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors denied both a ground water permit and the certification of the environmental review document for Regenerate Corporation’s Soda Mountain Solar Project, effectuating a significant setback to that proposed 287-megawatt output, 1,767 acre solar farm. In making that denial, the board acceded to the assertions of environmentalists that the project should not be located on remote and pristine desert land, and would have been better accommodated on already-disturbed property less distant from or within existing developed areas. The standard set down with that decision will make it difficult for the board to rationalize denying approval to a project that is just a little more than one fifth the size of the proposed Soda Mountain Solar Project and is to be located on land that was previously used or developed.
Accompanying the development of the solar field itself will be the Southern California Edison Company’s proposed Calcite Substation and associated facilities to interconnect the NextEra Energy Resources solar project to Edison’s existing Lugo-Pisgah No. 1 220 kilovolt transmission line. The Calcite Substation’s 220 kilovolt switchyard to accommodate the NextEra facility will be constructed on approximately 7 acres, with an additional six acres allotted for drainage, grading, and an access road. The loop-in to the Lugo-Pisgah No. 1 220 kilovolt transmission line at the Calcite Substation to accommodate the solar field will add a total of approximately 5,000 feet of new transmission line, consisting of two lines of approximately 2,500 feet located side-by-side within a corridor approximately 2,500 feet long. Edison will construct two structures to facilitate the connection of the NextEra tie-in line to the switchyard. Edison will also construct two towers to separate the crossing of the new 220 kilovolt transmission loop-in lines under two existing SCE 500 kilovolt lines along with approximately 2,000 feet of 12 kilovolt overhead distribution line and approximately 2,100 feet of underground distribution line.
There is concern among Lucerne Valley residents that the upgrade to the Lugo-Pisgah transition line will trigger a rash of applications for solar farms in the area.
Bill Lembright, a Lucerne Valley resident and president of Church of Our Lord and Savior in Lucerne Valley, said, “I object to this industrial renewable energy project proposed in one of Lucerne Valley’s rural neighborhood. This site is zoned for rural residential and is built up with neighborhood housing according to that zoning. The residents have sunk their life savings into these homes. Now wealthy outside investors are trying to make a fast buck off this tax-subsidized project while stealing the equity of these poor to moderate income landowners.”
Calling the project “immoral and despicable,” Lembright said, “The county should stop this project in its tracks. Not only will it rob these county residents of their equity, it will also dramatically lower the quality of life of these and other Lucerne Valley residents, myself, and members of our church, included. This project will also become a huge source of blowing sand and disrupt our native plants and wildlife. Water is scarce in the desert and should not be wasted on huge construction projects like this. Lucerne Valley has already insisted that the county, state, and federal government accept Tamarisk Flats as our one and only appropriate industrial renewable energy site, which will provide for our local communities’ electrical needs and allow the power we will no longer need from the state grid be used elsewhere where it is needed. Our own community microgrid will improve the quality of life in Lucerne Valley, increase property values, reduce the energy costs to our severely economically challenged residents, while freeing up what was previously our share of power off the state grid to be used where it is needed.”
Bryan Garner, a spokesman for NextEra, told the Sentinel the project would “deliver millions of property and sales tax dollars to San Bernardino County over its life and provide hundreds of construction jobs. This is a clean energy facility that will help California meet its renewable energy goals.”
Consisting of “photovoltaic panels that will track with the sun,” Garner said, “this will tie in with the energy grid and be built on previously disturbed farm land that will be repurposed for solar energy generation. This will use only a fraction of the water needed for agricultural purposes. We appreciate that people have questions but there will be a rigorous approval process and we look forward to resolving any problems with respect to any problems the project might represent and showing the benefits this project will provide.”

Upland Mayor Threatens To Eject Former Colleague From Council Chambers

Upland Mayor Debbie Stone threatened to have one her former council colleagues arrested Monday night when he sought to have the city council consider giving some level of recognition to the city’s recently departed finance manager.
Stone had served on the city council since she was selected by the city’s voters to replace Ray Musser during a special election in August 2011 when Musser was elevated to mayor following the resignation of Musser’s predecessor, John Pomierski. In 2012, Glenn Bozar was elected to the council in an election that also saw Stone and councilman Gino Filippi, who was first elected to the council in 2010, challenge Musser for the mayoralty. Musser prevailed in that contest. In 2014, Stone was reelected to the council. Last year, Musser opted out of running and Bozar and Stone competed to assume the gavel from Musser. In making that run, Bozar risked his position on the council, as the council term to which he had been elected in 2012 concluded in 2016. His gamble failed, as Debbie Stone, who did not have to risk losing her council berth to run for mayor, beat him, 56.82 percent to 43.18 percent.
This week, Bozar returned to the council chambers to attend the council meeting, which lasted 3 hours 2 minutes and 14 seconds. Relatively early in the meeting, after the opening festivities and recognitions, Bozar came forward, no longer as an elected official but as a city resident, during the meeting’s first public comment period, during which each speaker is alotted three minutes to address the council on any item or items on that evening’s agenda. Bozar weighed in on the city’s ongoing proposal for the dissolution of the municipal fire department and annexation of the entire city into a county fire protection district, the imposition of an assessment on properties to support that district and the county fire department’s takeover of the city’s existing fire stations, from which it will offer fire suppression and emergency medical response service. An item relating to the matter was scheduled for the council’s consideration later that evening.
As a member of the council, Bozar had supported exploring the outsourcing of the fire service, but wanted the city to proceed only if an evaluation of the financial impact confirmed savings could be achieved and that a changeover would not be used as a means of increasing taxes. On Monday night he vouchsafed his assertion that the creation of an assessment district ran counter to his intent and was mere bureaucratic sleight of hand to impose higher taxes.
At 39 minutes and 35 seconds into the meeting, Bozar began his comments, which by city policy, are to be constrained to three minutes speaking time, “Good evening,” Bozar began. “When I was on the council, I voted to allow the interim city manager to negotiate with the county. Now I see what is going on is absolutely not in the best interest of the city for a number of reasons. First of all, there was never done a Cal Fire proposal. There was one in 2012 where they showed Cal Fire would save approximately $1.9 million. There was no annexation involved. There was no assessment involved. It was a straight contract. The city maintained control. They didn’t give up control. That’s the problem with what’s going on here. So I would not do it at all. Mr. Thouvennell once said Station Three, up at San Antonio and 21st, actually is redundant and really isn’t needed. That’s up by me. I would agree.”
Bozar continued, “The other thing that isn’t talked about is we do spend a lot of money on fire, but that’s because we do not have a priority call system, where the calls are screened and fire is often waived off because it is not a true medical emergency. I want to thank the police department for their post on Nextdoor [nextdoor.com] about the true use of 911. That should be posted on every city website and every department. That’s really a lot of waste and a lot of time.”
Bozar, who had been the chairman of the city’s finance committee, addressed the city’s fiscal state.
“In talking about the budget, a lot of statements have been made about this-and-that costs, and one of the kind-of convoluted assertions is about streets,” Bozar said. “We have, according to our annual budget we adopted when I was on there, over $12 million in gas tax and Measure I funds. It’s actually more than that. That’s street repair money we should be using. We’re not allocating it all, not all of it. That’s a problem. The other thing is we gave the fire department an increase of $245,000 in overtime. That brings their overtime back up to $1.2 million, which is what they did the year before. That is not needed, but that’s politically what happens when we don’t want to manage. When we look at the past overtimes in the budget, it was way under a million dollars, so the city comes down to better management and I don’t think we’re getting it.”
His three minutes of speaking time having nearly elapsed, Bozar began to move away from the speaker’s podium. As he did so, at 42 minutes and 37 seconds into the meeting, city manager Martin Thouvenell addressed him, asserting that the city had sought out a bid from CalFire, which is the acronym for the California Department of Forestry’s fire protection division. That exchange with Thouvenell lasted 39 seconds, until the 43 minute and 13 second point of the meeting.
Under Upland’s meeting protocol, a second public comment period is reserved for the end of the meeting, during which members of the public are allowed to address the council once more, this time on items not on the agenda, again for a maximum of three minutes.
Thus two hours, 52 minutes and 21 seconds into the meeting, Bozar came to the podium once more to address the council.
“I would just like to recognize Scott Williams, our former finance manager, for all the work he did with the city for the city,” Bozar began. He made it no further than that when Stone stopped him short.
“That was already on the agenda,” Stone said. “You should have talked about that at the first oral communication. You’re talking about the budget and the budget was already discussed. Am I not correct, Mr. city manager? Mr. city attorney?
Puzzled, Bozar asked “Why?”
At that point, the city’s newly hired city attorney, James Markman, caught somewhat off guard by the mayor’s move, leapt into the breach, scrambling to back her up.
“The mayor is pointing out that this part of the agenda, after it’s all over is,” Markman said, pausing to find some appropriate wording, “is your recognizing somebody who – I wasn’t here – but who was, I presume, part of some budget action.”
“He was, yes,” said Stone.
“It wasn’t on the agenda,” Bozar responded.
“Mr. Bozar, the budget was, so I’m sorry, you won’t be able to able to acknowledge him,” Stone shot back.
“I just want to recognize Scott Williams,” Bozar said.
“If you cannot deal with this, I’ll have to ask the chief to have you escorted out, and I will,” Stone threatened.
Stunned speechless, Bozar stood silent at the podium. Resignedly, he waved at the council, and two hours, 53 minutes and 47 seconds into the meeting, turned away.
“We’re trying to be fair to everyone,” Stone said.

For Most, But Not All, The O’Day Short Arson Is Long Forgotten

By Carlos Avalos
Fading further and further into historical obscurity is the horrific experience of the Short Family in December 1945.
Even before Fontana burnished its image in the 1970s and 1980s as the stomping ground of KKK Grand Dragon George Pepper, Fontana had a reputation for engaging in a particularly heavy-handed form of segregation.
Early in the 20th Century, after Azariel Blanchard Miller in association with E.D. Roberts, H.D. Harris and E.J. Eisenmayer purchased 8,000 of the 19,000 acres of land near Rialto from San Francisco Savings, Miller formed the Fontana Land and Water Company and he relocated the grading apparatus he had been using in Imperial County to Fontana. Using that equipment – con-

sisting of some 200 head of horses and mules together with plows and scrapers along with mess and sleeping tents – he and his partners knocked the the brush down just south of what is now the heart of modern day Fontana, what was then called Rosena on the Santa Fe Line. Over the next several years, the partnership leased, purchased or obtained options on another 10,000 acres and Miller planted 3,000 acres of barley, and set about planting what would eventually become 500 miles of Eucalyptus trees planted in rows east and west 3,330 feet apart in the grove district and 660 feet apart over the rest of the 18,000-acre tract.
In 1909, Miller bought out Roberts, Harris, and Eisenmayer, and redoubled his efforts in the Fontana Land and Water Company, this time in partnership with F.H. Adams, E.J. Marshall and J. T. Torrance. Their first major undertaking was to construct an extensive irrigation system in the Fontana area. The group intensified the development of the irrigation system, marketing some of the property, and established literal plantations of citrus. On June 7, 1913, the townsite of Fontana was opened and lots were sold. Very early on negroes who came to live in Fontana were restricted to the area well north of the original townsite near Arrow Highway and Sierra in a district located within Beech to the east, Highland south, Baseline north and Oleander west.
During World War II Fontana was greatly transformed when Henry J. Kaiser built one of  only two steel mills west of the Mississippi River in Fontana. Kaiser Steel was a large producer of metal and steel framing for Liberty Ships during the war.
In defiance of the tradition of residential segregation in Fontana, O’Day H. Short, an African American, seeking refuge from the housing shortage that was gripping California in the aftermath of the Second World War, in 1945 departed from Los Angeles and purchased a lot on Randall Street in central Fontana where he was purposed to construct a home into which he intended to live with his wife and two children.
When Short started building his home, he was approached by two San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies, Tex Cornelison and and Joe Glines, who told him that “he was out of bounds and to avoid problems he should move his family to a northern part of the city where the rest of the colored people lived.” There was no legal basis for the deputies meeting with O’Day Short and telling him this. Perhaps this was simply an effort to give him a friendly warning about a situation that was beyond the deputies’ control. Perhaps it was more sinister. This visit and the warnings of these two sheriff’s deputies  are recorded in the sheriff’s office in San Bernardino.
Short reported the threats to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and also told his story to the Los Angeles Sentinel, an African American Newspaper, on December 6, 1945. Ten days later on December 16, the newly constructed home, with the Short Family inside, burned to the ground. Short’s wife and children succumbed at once to their burns; O’Day Short held onto life for a few weeks before he died.
On December 18, the incident was reported in the Fontana Herald-News as an accidental fire. O’Day Short’s sister-in-law, Carrie Morrison, asked for an inquest into the death of the family; she was met with resistance from the county coroner. The coroner maintained that the fire was clearly an accident. Only after constant pressure was an inquest into the fire granted. Many African American newspapers, bringing light to the incident, called on then-California Attorney Robert Kenny to get involved. Because of this, then-San Bernardino County District Attorney Jerome B. Kavanaugh permitted the inquest, which took place on April 3, 1946.
District Attorney Kavanaugh interviewed Short personally about the incident while Short was in the hospital. Short told the district attorney that he was in no condition to answer any questions concerning what happened until he was competent to do so and with the help of his attorney. Kavanaugh wanted to know if the fire in Short’s mind was accidental or a criminal act. Documents show that Short was pressured into admitting that this incident could have been an accident. That was all the district attorney wanted to hear. Later, when O’Day Short was in better condition, he conveyed to representatives of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People that the fire was an “incendiarist act of vigilantes.”
A key piece of physical evidence that was involved in this case was a lantern that supposedly malfunctioned and caused the fire at O’Day Short’s home. But the lantern had been recovered completely intact, and neighbors reported that as members of the Short family, with clothes ablaze, ran from the home, there were “blobs” of fire on the ground all around them. That information was disregarded by the sheriff’s department and not looked upon as having any significance.
Many times during the hearing, Short’s family and friends spoke up and wanted to talk about the threats made to O’Day Short and his family that were well documented, but the sheriff’s department deemed that information irrelevant and did not allow anyone to talk about it. Very quickly the verdict was given and the inquest was closed. The only survivor was O’Day Short, and instead of waiting for him to recover and give a competent statement, a statement taken from him by Kavanaugh when he was in a distressed physical condition was used. An arson investigation was conducted on behalf of the N.A.A.C.P, separate from that carried out by the authorities. Paul T. Wolfe had over 25 years of arson experience with the Los Angeles Arson Bureau. He conducted an extensive analysis of the burnt remains of the Shorts’ house, as well as a chemical analysis. His report concluded that there was coal oil, a highly flammable substance, found at the Shorts’ house other than kerosene, which was claimed to have accounted for the lamp’s explosion. Mr. Wolfe stated that in his experience to that point conducting arson analysis, he had never seen an incident where kerosene caused such a huge explosion. The explosion at the Shorts’ house caused the walls of the home to blow out.
The record shows O’Day Short and his family were threatened by members in the community. They were also “warned” or somewhat threatened by local law enforcement to move because their mere presence would create a problem by affronting Fontana’s at-that-time predominantly white residential population. The district attorney in this case did a less than thorough pursuit of truth and justice. Important evidence was mishandled and proper investigative skills were not brought to bear. Expert testimony was ignored. Where incompetence left off, corruption and racism began. Among some Fontana residents, the implication of the incident, 72 years in the past, lingers. Although this type of blatant racism is not happening in Fontana as of 2017, it is happening in more covert ways.
More than a generation after the Short Family’s experience, Fontana had not lived down its overtly racist past. On July 1, 1980, Pacific Bell lineman Dovard Howard, while working on an elevated line in Fontana, was shot with a shotgun, which left him paralyzed. Howard’s son reported that at this point he could remember crosses being burnt on lawns in Fontana. In Fontana decades ago, this was real life. At that time and earlier there was an unwritten rule in Fontana. African Americans were not welcome south of Baseline Street in the northern part of the city. The northern part of Fontana was agricultural. It had vineyards and citrus groves, as well as hog farms. Larry West Deane was arrested for this incident. It was later discovered that Deane was part of the Hells Angels motorcycle club, not the KKK. Was this an aberration? It might have been. In the heyday of the Fontana KKK, when it was led by the infamous George Pepper, a Rapid Transit District bus driver who was a grand dragon in that organization and who ran unsuccessfully for Fontana Mayor in 1982, it was a contingent of the Hells Angels who kept the peace at Fontana City Council meetings by seating themselves between members of the KKK and the city’s black residents in attendance. Fontana Police Sergeant at the time Mickey Carns stated that Fontana “in fact does not have a race problem. We have a good ethnic mixture of diversity.”
Cross burnings, segregated neighborhoods, KKK rallies and marches on City Hall were all a part of the dark history of Fontana. At one time, at least, the KKK and other white supremacist groups felt comfortable establishing their organizations in the City of Fontana.

Suit Coming Over Deputy’s Threat To Trump Up Charges Against Hesperia Man

The Hesperia man who videotaped a San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputy telling him that he would “create something” to arrest him if he didn’t leave the substation in Victorville when he came there on January 20 to file a domestic complaint is in the process of filing a lawsuit over the matter.
On January 18, Duncan Hicks phoned in to the Victorville sheriff’s station a complaint relating to the mother of his child. That complaint was fielded by deputy Michael Bradbury. Two days later, Hicks came to the Victorville station in person to lodge another complaint against his one-time domestic partner, this time because, he said, he had material evidence in the form of a statement made by a child care worker at a licensed child care facility with regard to his child’s mother harassing the workers at the facility.
At that point, Hicks was foiled in his effort to lodge the complaint when Bradbury, Hicks said, told him he would not take the report and that Hicks should “take it up in mediation court.” Hicks said he went to his car and, after thinking it over, went back into the station with his cell phone on video mode to capture, he said, “how they were treating me.” When the clerk on duty gave him a copy of the incident report which contained only the date and time of his presence in the station without any reference to his statement, Hicks hailed Bradbury, who is seen and heard on Hick’s cell phone video threatening to arrest Hicks on trumped up charges if he does not leave.
The video, which Hicks said shows “exactly what happened” was uploaded to Facebook and YouTube, and has been broadcast by several major cable news stations.
The Sentinel has learned that Hicks has retained Riverside-based attorney Raj Patel and “a team” to seek damages from the sheriff’s department and Bradbury for duress encountered when he was threatened. Hicks said he will also seek a restraining order against Bradbury to prohibit him from attending Hicks on the phone or in person at the substation.

Forum… Or Against ’em

Is it fair to say that we are living in the age of information overload? Throughout my adult life – which is longer than the entire lifetime of most people – my philosophy has always been that you can never have too much information. Under the present day circumstance, with fonts of information everywhere, my theory is being put to the test. My butler, Hudson, has just informed me that our president has put out in a tweet – whatever that is – that the media, and specifically the New York Times, NBC, ABC, CBS and CNN, qualifies as  “the enemy of the American People.” This comes amidst heightened concern over what has been dubbed “fake news.” I believe the press has a responsibility to get things right. Nevertheless, I think the concept of legitimate news organizations trafficking in falsehoods is a bit overblown. I think, rather, that what is going on is a difference of opinion, in many cases. It seems that when Fox is talking about “fake news” it is referring to CNN and CNBC. When CNN and CNBC go on about “fake news,” they are referencing Fox…

As I abide by the Eleventh Commandment and would never speak ill of a fellow Republican, I would simply tell the president that he should let the press be the press and he should concentrate on being the president. He complains about the American press, but I must tell you, on the Continent things are not  any better when it comes to journalists and columnists showing deference toward those who man our governmental offices and institutions. In England, Fleet Street is far more cynical, and mean-spiritedly disrespectful, than the New York Times or the Washington Post. The daily and weekly periodicals in Italy and France are even worse, in my reading experience, although the Germans don’t seem to have the same taste for the jugular in print as they do on the battlefield. So, perhaps our president should console himself with that consideration…

While I do not think the characterization of the media as the enemy of the people is accurate, I do want to commend the president for using the phrase, which references a most excellent play by Henrik Ibsen, which I would commend all of my readers to experience in book form or on the stage …

Bob Holcomb

Bob Holcomb while in the Army Air Corp

Bob Holcomb while in the Army Air Corps

William Robert Holcomb was a descendant of Fortyniner and early San Bernardino settler Billy Holcomb, the son of former San Bernardino Mayor Grant Holcomb and was himself the longest serving mayor in the history of San Bernardino.
During his 88 years, Holcomb was a bomber pilot, lawyer, newspaper publisher and editor, water commissioner and politician.
Born in San Bernardino in 1922 to Grant Holcomb and Eleanor Burkham Holcomb, Holcomb was raised in a home on 20th Street between D and E streets. When he was three years old, his father, Grant, was elected San Bernardino mayor. His father served two years in the capacity of mayor, from 1925 until 1927. His uncle, Howard Holcomb, was elected to the San Bernardino City Council in 1933.
William Robert attended Elliot Grammar School, near Highland Avenue and E Street and then Arrowview Junior High School. At San Bernardino High School, he was in the Junior Exchange Club.
More than a half century later, he would fondly recall fishing in the streams and swimming in the swimming holes in the foothills north of the city. He once borrowed a friend’s kayak with the intention of using it to ride the Santa Ana River all the way to the Pacific Coast in Santa Ana, but before embarking on that excursion he attempted to use the kayak, during the March 1938 Flood, to go down Sierra Way, which had swelled to the size of a river. He made it, he said, from his embarkation point near 21st Street down to 3rd Street, where he lost the kayak and nearly his life when he was swamped by the rushing current. He was pulled from the torrent by a passer-by.
He graduated from San Bernardino High in 1940. He enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley. Upon completing just two years toward his four year degree, with the intervention of the Second World War he enlisted in the U.S. Army on October 13, 1942, qualified as a pilot, and served in the United States Army Air Corps flying bombing missions over Germany in a B-17 with the 412th Bomb Squadron, 95th Bomb Group from bases in England.
After he returned stateside, Holcomb was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army on October 26, 1945. A little more than eight months later, on July 7, 1946, he married Pearl “Penny” Pennington, with whom he would have four children – Jay, William, Robert and Terri Lee.
Holcomb rematriculated at the University of California, Berkeley, completed his Bachelor of Arts in law on June 16, 1949 and went on to receive his juris doctor degree from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law in 1950. He hung out his shingle and worked as an attorney thereafter.
He made his way into politics in 1964 indirectly when he gravitated toward a leadership role in the opposition to a proposed merger between San Bernardino’s local water district, San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District, and the far larger and more powerful Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. On the 1964 ballot, voters in the eastern San Bernardino Valley were faced with deciding on whether the San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District should remain as an independent agency or whether it should be folded into the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.
Supporters of the merger included a number of development interests, powerful politicians, financial institutions and business figures, as well as San Bernardino’s major media outlet, the San Bernardino Sun-Telegram. The consolidation was a political juggernaut spinning toward passage, as proponents were asserting, and making progress toward convincing the area’s residents that, the city would be plagued with perpetual water shortages if the consolidation with the Metropolitan Water District was not effectuated, since the Metropolitan Water District had access to water from the Colorado River.
Spearheading the campaign to preserve local water rights for the city of San Bernardino, Holcomb took the extraordinary step of creating a weekly newspaper, The Independent Press, which would later be rechristened San Bernardino’s Free Press. He used the paper to inveigh against the merger. Voters rejected the Metropolitan Water District takeover in the 1964 election. Shortly after the election, San Bernardino Mayor Donald G. “Bud” Mauldin sought and obtained the resignation of the members of the city’s board of water commissioners. On May 4, 1964, Mauldin appointed Holcomb president of the board, giving him the autonomy to select his fellow members. Holcomb then appointed Harold Willis and Margaret Chandler. As one of its first acts, the city’s newly-composed board of water commissioners ordered that the cement plug to the well that had previously fed Seccomb Lake be removed so that the lake could be refilled and thereafter be continually replenished.
Holcomb’s most lasting legacy is that he ensured that San Bernardino maintain its local water rights.
Holcomb was further credited, as a consequence of his action in preserving San Bernardino’s water rights and a parallel lobbying effort, with convincing the California State University system to locate a campus in San Bernardino, what is now known as California State University, San Bernardino. Adequate local water was a necessary element for the construction of that institution.
Holcomb’s newspaper was successful as a publication to the point that as its circulation and coverage increased, he moved to publish it twice weekly. With that, the newspaper, which was becoming a viable alternative to the San Bernardino Sun-Telegram, saw even greater profitability. Years later, Holcomb would lament that trying to increase it to a thrice-weekly publication caused it to fail, and he was forced to shut it down.
Holcomb served as Mayor of San Bernardino from 1971 until 1985. He returned to office again from 1989 until 1993. Holcomb would become, if not the first, the most vocal advocate against Charter Amendment 186, which essentially locked in high pay and benefits for the city’s policemen and firefighters. Holcomb maintained that this “formula that sets the pay and benefits for the police and fire officers takes all the discretion away from the city council. The pay wages and retirement benefits and health benefits may be just fine if you are a policeman or fireman, but it is not very good for the taxpayers or the city. It is causing our costs to really skyrocket, and to keep up with these big pay increases, we’ve had to pass a utility tax. We were one of the first cities in the state to have a utility tax, which is undoubtedly a great source of revenue, but at the same time it is a big impediment to people wanting to annex to the city. Whenever the city has tried to convince the owners of good land, choice land, to annex to the city, they have turned us down. Their reason is almost always utility tax, which is something they don’t want to pay.”
Later mayors and city officials would decry Charter Amendment 186, and some have blamed it for the city’s progression toward insolvency and, ultimately, its 2012 bankruptcy filing. As a consequence of Charter Amendment 186, the city in 2016, six years after Holcomb’s death, closed out its 138-year old municipal fire department and annexed itself into a county fire district to have the county fire department provide fire protection and medical service.

The author, Mark Gutglueck, is a member of the Billy Holcomb Chapter of E Clampus Vitus.

Surfeit Of Bighorn Sheep Surveyors

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Forest Service, and Society for the Conservation of Bighorn Sheep are now turning away voluntary census takers for the 2017 San Gabriel Mountains bighorn sheep survey.
The annual event, which has been held in late February and early March for over 30 years, has allowed biologists to track Southern California’s unique population of bighorn sheep for over 30 years. This year’s survey is scheduled to take place on February 26 across the expanse of the San Gabriel Mountains within Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties. Late last month, Fish and Wildlife, the Forest Service and the bighorn sheep protective group were seeking volunteers but the Society of the Conservation of Bighorn Sheep has now mounted on its website that “Sign-ups are now closed for this year’s survey! We’re sorry, but due to an overwhelming response of more than 200 people registering between February 1st and 5 p.m. February 2nd, we’re at capacity. Thank you for your interest!”
The California Department of Fish and Game organizes an event to count the population of bighorn sheep (Ovis candadensis nelsonii) in the San Gabriel Mountain Range. This survey is held with the support of the National Forest Service. A major portion of the survey takes place within San Bernardino County, as the sheep tend to gravitate toward the eastern end of the San Gabriels. The survey assists in assessing the overall health of the herd. This herd has been used in the past as a source population for translocation efforts to re-populate herds in the Mojave Desert that have been extirpated. Due to the low carrying capacity of the desert habitat and the attendant small herd groups, it is a natural occurrence that some bands of bighorn sheep will die, leaving the range vacant. It is also natural that the ranges with larger populations of bighorn would naturally re-colonize the vacant ranges. Biologists call a group of spatially separated populations of the same species which interact at some level a metapopulation.
Through the development and occupation of the desert by humans, much of the natural repopulation efforts are not successful because man-made structures like highways, renewable energy developments and aqueducts have restricted bighorn movement. Translocations are thus necessary to properly manage and conserve the bighorn sheep.
In 2013 biologists surveying the Mojave Desert’s mountains noted a significant decline in the bighorn sheep population in a substantial portion of the desert region. Utilizing helicopters to scour over 75,000 acres on and around Old Dad Mountain, the Marble Mountains, and the Kelso, Bristol, Clipper, Soda, Providence, Granite, Hackberry and Woods ranges during a two week period in late October and November of that year, scouts were able to spot fewer than half the number of bighorn they typically see during similar flyovers. Between May and August 2013 a pneumonia outbreak among what was considered one of the hardiest of the state’s herds killed as many as 45 bighorn sheep in the Mojave Desert.
Pneumonia can incubate in the animals for months with little or no outward indication for weeks and then strike the animals dead in a short time after the disease manifests. Sick animals are highly contagious and wildlife officials at that time were concerned that there might be a catastrophic die-off of the bighorn, which did not occur.
The San Gabriel Survey utilizes a simultaneous ground and aerial count. Several bighorn sheep in the region have been marked and collared in the past. With re-sighting of the marked sheep and the overlapping aerial and ground crews, a reliable estimate of the population can be derived through statistical methods based on the actual observations. The ground crews are manned by volunteers from the general public.
There are nine trails that volunteer groups cover on the ground, those being Lookout Mountain, Cattle Canyon, Day and Deer Canyons, Barrett-Cascade Canyon, South Fork of Lytle Creek, Middle Fork of Lytle Creek, Highway 39, Mt Baldy and the South Fork of Big Rock Creek.