4th DCA Shuts Door On Suit To Recover $102 Million Colonies Payout

Defendants in the Colonies Lawsuit Settlement Public Corruption Case this week received word of some measure of vindication when the Fourth District Court of Appeals in Riverside reversed a San Bernardino Superior Court judge’s decision that would have allowed a civil lawsuit growing out of the criminal case to proceed to trial.
In May 2011, a grand jury indicted former San Bernardino County supervisor Paul Biane, one-time sheriff’s deputy union president/assistant county assessor Jim Erwin, former Fourth Supervisorial District chief of staff Mark Kirk, and one of the managing principals of the Colonies Partners, Jeff Burum, on conspiracy, extortion and bribery charges relating to the November 2006 settlement of a lawsuit brought by the Colonies Partners against the county over flood control issues at the Colonies at San Antonio and Colonies Crossroads residential and commercial subdivisions in northeast Upland.
The indictment alleges that after supervisors Bill Postmus, Paul Biane and Gary Ovitt voted to approve a $102 million payout to settle the lawsuit, Burum made three separate $100,000 donations to political action committees controlled by Biane, Erwin and Kirk and paid Bill Postmus another $100,000 in two $50,000 installments to two political action committees he controlled as rewards, i.e., bribes after the fact. Kirk was paid, according to prosecutors, for having influenced Ovitt in his vote in favor of the settlement. Erwin was paid, allegedly, for having assisted in pressuring Biane and Postmus to support the settlement. Prior to the May 2011 indictment, Postmus pleaded guilty to 14 separate counts relating to acts of political corruption during his time in office as a supervisor and county assessor and turned state’s evidence, serving as the star witness before the grand jury that indicted Biane, Erwin, Kirk and Burum.
Shortly after the indictment was handed down, Cory Briggs, an attorney with offices in Upland and San Diego, filed suits on behalf of two citizens groups – the Inland Oversight Committee and Citizens for Responsible and Equitable Environmental Development – seeking to have the Colonies Partners disgorge the $102 million based on the contention that the settlement should be null and void because it was tainted by bribery, extortion, conspiracy and other criminal acts as well as a conflict of interest involving Biane and Postmus.
The criminal case in which the allegations of conspiracy, extortion and bribery are contained has not yet gone to trial. Biane, Erwin, Kirk and Burum have maintained their innocence, contending that the $102 million settlement was a reasonable and fair one, based upon monetary damages the Colonies Partners had suffered as a consequence of action the county and its flood control district had taken in conveying flood waters collected at the northwest end of Upland through a facility known as the 20th Street Flood Drain and vectoring that water onto the Colonies Partners’ property.
Furthermore, the county and lawyers for the Colonies Partners asserted that a validation proceeding that took place in early 2007 and was granted and finalized by Judge Robert Fawke on March 29, 2007 permanently ratified the settlement. They collectively argued that the suits brought by Briggs on behalf of the Inland Oversight Committee and Citizens for Responsible and Equitable Environmental Development should be dismissed because the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue. San Bernardino Superior Court Judge David Cohn sided with Briggs, however, ruling that the matter should proceed to trial. The county and Colonies Partners appealed Cohn’s ruling to the Fourth District Court of Appeals.
The appellate court reversed Cohn, determining that the Inland Oversight Committee and Citizens for Responsible and Equitable Environmental Development lacked standing to sue in that only public officials directly involved with a public contract under question can sue to contest a contract on the grounds of a conflict of interest. The appellate court took notice of the settlement validation judgment rendered by Fawke.
The validation judgment, the court wrote, “binds and permanently enjoins and restrains all persons or entities, public or private, from the institution of any action or proceeding or maintaining any action or proceeding challenging… the validity of the settlement agreement.”
Burum’s attorney, former federal court judge Stephen G. Larson, said, “The Court of Appeal has confirmed what we have maintained, and others have ignored, throughout this political persecution: The Colonies settlement agreement is entirely valid and lawful. Since 2007, the county’s supervisors and lawyers have consistently recognized – in validation proceedings, indemnification litigation, and secret arbitration proceedings – that the settlement agreement that forms the basis of the charges filed against Mr. Burum was legal and indeed necessary to avoid a liability that the county’s own experts calculate as ‘between $249 million and $276 million.’”
Larson said, “The county has now repeatedly admitted that this liability was a result of county officials’ erroneous legal interpretations and serious misconduct relating to their handling of the civil litigation with the Colonies. Partners.”
Briggs told the Sentinel, “The taxpayers deserve to be paid back every penny that the Colonies got by bribing public officials. My clients are disappointed by the rulings and are evaluating whether they will seek review in the Supreme Court.”

Federal Suit Spotlights Aggressive Enforcement In Needles

The aggressive and overzealous tactics of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department in and around the county’s smallest and most remote city have become the subject of a federal lawsuit.
Members of the Chemehuevi Indian Tribe allege in that suit that the sheriff’s office and one deputy in particular as well as the district attorney’s office have overstepped state law enforcement authority by targeting tribal members for traffic citations on their reservation.
According to the suit, the sheriff’s department does not have legal jurisdiction on the Chemehuevi reservation, but one deputy, identified as Ronald Sindelar, has engaged in what is tantamount to racial profiling by staking out approaches to the 32,000-acre reservation and/or coming onto it to make traffic stops, issue tickets and, on occasion, impound vehicles.
The suit accuses the district attorney’s office and the county’s stable of in-house attorneys of abetting Sindelar and the department in this action.
On July 30 in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles attorney Lester J. Marston filed a suit on behalf of Chelsea Lynn Bunim, Tommie Robert Ochoa, Jasmine Sansoucie and Naomi Lopez, naming as defendants sheriff John McMahon, deputy Ronald Sindelar, district attorney Michael Ramos, county counsel Jean-Rene Basle, and deputy county counsel Miles Kowalski. The suit seeks to have the sheriff’s department enjoined from citing tribal members on the reservation and prohibit the district attorney’s office from prosecuting any cases that arise from those citations. It further seeks monetary damages from the county including attorney’s fees and for pain and suffering
The suit references four “illegal” citations issued to motorists at some point along Havasu Lake Road: one issued by Sindelar on Valentines Day 2015 to Ochoa for an expired registration; a citation issued by Sindelar on February 21, 2015 to Sansoucie for having an expired license after she was stopped for driving a car with an out-of-state license plate; a citation for expired registration issued to Bunim on February 23, 2015 which resulted in her car being impounded and her paying a $521 retrieval fee; and a citation issued to Lopez by a deputy identified only by his last name – Wagner – for driving a car registered in Nevada after he pulled Lopez over for allegedly speeding.
Bunim was borrowing the car from her mother while hers was undergoing repairs.
Needles lies at the extreme east end of San Bernardino County on the banks of the Colorado River, directly across from Arizona. Nevada is less than ten miles up and across the river. Vehicles from multiple states are a common phenomenon in Needles.
Sansoucie was charged with a misdemeanor growing out of her suspended license citation. She fought the matter in court, seeking to have the case dismissed because the sheriff’s department and district attorney’s office did not have jurisdiction, simultaneously asking the district attorney’s office to drop the case, which it refused to do. Ultimately, according to Marston, San Bernardino Superior Court Judge Lisa Rogan on May 29 dismissed Sansoucie’s case based on the court’s lack of jurisdiction.
But the grounds for dismissal went beyond technical jurisdictional considerations, according to Marston. “There is no California law that prohibits people from driving a vehicle in the state of California that is registered in another state,” according to the lawsuit. “Deputy Sindelar, thus, had no probable cause to stop Ms. Sansoucie.”
In the traffic case against her, Bunim likewise filed a motion for dismissal on the grounds that the sheriff’s department did not have jurisdiction. The county counsel’s office lodged a motion with the court drafted by deputy county counsel Miles Kowalski holding that Bunim’s motion was both “untenable and legally indefensible” in that Wagner pulled her over and cited her along a stretch of Havasu Lake Road that is maintained by the county. Kowalski said that “allowing the county to enforce basic traffic safety laws on county maintained roads within the reservation does not ‘impermissibly infringe’ on the Chemehuevi tribe’s powers of self-government, nor would it ‘result in the destruction of tribal institutions and values,’” Kowalski wrote in his motion.
The Chemehuevi Indian Reservation was created by an act of Congress on March 3, 1853. The only exception to tribe jurisdiction on the reservation under the arrangement was schools built and maintained by the state. A century later, Congress passed Public Law 280, which transferred jurisdiction for Indian Country from the federal government to state governments. California was among five states given some criminal and civil jurisdiction over tribal lands. But Public Law 280 extended only to serious criminal matters and did not give the state power to enforce regulatory laws such as vehicle code infractions.
San Bernardino County has posited a theory that its authority on the reservation can be asserted through Public Law 280 and a more obscure code known as Section 36, which sets aside land on the Chemehuevi reservation for constructing schools. This land is outside the tribal boundaries, the county asserts, giving the county and its employees power of enforcement there.
That theory does not square with a 2006 opinion by Bill Lockyer, then the state attorney general, which hashed out a similar jurisdictional dispute between the Kings County sheriff and an Indian tribe.
“We conclude that California motor vehicle registration and driver’s license requirements are not subject to enforcement against Indian tribal members on roads within their Indian reservation,” Lockyer opined.
The San Bernardino County Sherriff’s Department and its deputies have a reputation for being overly assertive in dealing with the public in the Needles area. Needles was founded as and remains a railroad town. One of its major facilities is the Amtrak train station where large numbers of riders congregate. Sheriff’s deputies are known to routinely “roust” those waiting for the train to arrive, threatening them with arrest for loitering or vagrancy, and using the threat of such an arrest to carry out unconstitutional searches of the prospective train passengers’ baggage and personal effects. Waiting passengers who attempt to walk the few blocks from the train station to nearby fast food restaurants are routinely stopped and frisked.

Lewis Addresses View That His Company Has Driven Upland Land Use Policy

Randall Lewis, the executive vice president of the Lewis Group of Companies, this week addressed the widely held perception among many Upland residents that he and his company are a prime mover in the city of Upland’s willingness to embrace far greater density in its future development.
Lewis, now 64, is a scion, along with his brothers Richard, Robert and Roger, of the residential and commercial development dynasty founded by his father, Ralph Lewis, and his mother, Goldie Lewis. In 1955, Ralph Lewis, a tax attorney and accountant by profession, undertook construction on his first residential subdivision in Claremont. The synergy of Ralph Lewis’ business acumen and Goldie Lewis’ understanding of the need to build into each house living space and amenities to enhance the home’s domestic ambience set the Lewis Homes’ product apart from many of the cookie cutter structures built by competitors in the same market. Over time, Lewis Homes became a premier locally-based company, evolving into one of the largest homebuilders in the world. Lewis Homes and its corporate successors have developed in excess of 25,000 acres and more than 100,000 residential units within the context of subdivisions or planned communities in California, Nevada, Arizona, and Utah.
By the 1980s, the Lewis family had progressed from building single family homes exclusively to a full line of residential units, including large and small homes, condominiums, townhomes, apartment complexes and commercial subdivisions. In 1999, the company sold a part of its operation to Kaufman and Broad, and since that time, the company no longer specializes in actual building, but rather completing the entitlement process for large projects which are then completed by other homebuilders.
Lewis Homes established its corporate headquarters in Upland and now the Lewis Group of Companies is headquartered in the City of Gracious Living as well. On balance, Lewis Homes is responsible for more of the single family residences now existing in Upland than any other company. Most recently it was involved in getting approval for the Enclave at Upland development, which will entail the construction of 350 single-family residential units on a 19-acre site between Foothill Boulevard and 11th Street west of Central Avenue near the city’s border with Claremont, a density of roughly 18.4 units per acre.
The timing of the approval of the Enclave coincided with the city’s effort at updating its general plan. The general plan is a blueprint for the future development of the city. In the case of Upland, the general plan was last updated in 1992. The proposed new general plan envisions a considerable increase in density in the city’s residentially zoned areas. Whereas many of the city’s existing residential neighborhoods consist of lots anywhere from a full acre or more on properties at the northern end to half acre lots, quarter acre lots, down to houses and town homes on eighth of an acre to tenth-of-an acre lots, the proposed general plan will allow builders in some areas of the city to construct as many as 52 dwelling units to an acre.
While the city council, the planning commission and city staff are in favor of the proposed new general plan as drafted, a sizeable and growing contingent of city residents – more than 500 – has gone on record as being opposed to the proposed new development standards, in particular the upticking in density. Many see the move to put ever more homes on ever less land as a serious threat to the quality of life in “The City of Gracious Living.” City officials are perceived by many Upland residents as being far too accommodating of developers, whose potential profits will increase with the land use intensifications laid out in the new planning document, including density increases.
In particular, the elected leadership has become for many concerned residents suspect in the rush toward approval of the new general plan as the development community in general, and the Lewis Group of Companies, have emerged as significant donors to the electioneering campaigns of the city council’s members.
In this way, the Lewis Group of Companies is seen as having a heavy – or perhaps even the heaviest – influence on a city council poised to compromise the standards of development and future growth in the city of Upland.
In an exclusive exchange with the Sentinel, Randall Lewis, as the most visible spokesman for the Lewis Group of Companies, propounded his view of why higher density residential development is in vogue and why he thinks critics of that density in Upland are mistakenly crediting him and his company with influence and responsibility for shifts in land use policy they do not merit.
“Throughout the United States and especially in California there has been a density movement that has been market driven,” Lewis said. His company is merely reacting to what its customer base wants, he said. “It has been interesting, the forces at play,” he observed. “We are hearing a greater demand from our customers, from a lot of jurisdictions, suggestions from a lot of business people, the development community. The demand for higher density is real. It is wrong, of course, to say all people want density. There are still people who want a big home on a big lot. People don’t want density for density’s sake. No one wants to own a townhouse on a thirteenth of an acre just to have a small home. But there is a trend toward smaller units and smaller lots. You buy a home for a series of reasons and uses – sales price, lifestyle features, perhaps a gated community, commute time, and for the amenities of a homeowners association. People make trade-offs. They are willing to live in an area that is close-in to Los Angeles, such as Upland, because to live out in Yucaipa you have to commute quite a bit more every day, 30 minutes or an hour more on the freeway. People are willing to take more density to get a lower sales price, to get a lifestyle where they can limit commute time.”
Lewis continued, “Part of this has to do with demographic changes. There are still large families buying homes but there are far more singles, couples, families with just one or two kids, retirees, people who are divorced. That doesn’t mean there aren’t families with three or four or five kids, but the trend is more toward diversity in households and smaller households in smaller houses. Many people don’t necessarily want a bigger lawn. For lifestyle reasons, some people still want a big backyard but far more people say they are too busy and do not want to maintain a big backyard. Your kids can play in a backyard but some say ‘If I have kids, they are going to be spending time playing soccer or in dance class or in after school activities.’ For a lot of commuters, it is too much of a demand to maintain a big backyard. Big backyards are not as popular as they were some time ago. We are lucky that in this valley we have tens of thousands of existing homes that are built on large lots. There has been a demographic shift toward a lifestyle where people prefer to not maintain a bigger backyard. The drought just emphasizes that more. Density allows us to be resource efficient. How much street do you need in front of your house? How much block wall do you want to build? Density can help you distribute resources better. For environmental reasons, density makes sense. There are environmental forces, market forces, economic forces, causing the development community to reconsider the traditional standards. Consumers themselves – the customers – want us to look for alternatives. Density is part of that.”
Home ownership has always been and will continue to be a reality, Lewis said, but living arrangements nowadays do not necessarily equate with having a mortgage.
“Real estate sales and rentals are normally not one market,” Lewis said. “Home purchasing is different from the rental variety.”
Lewis said he understands and respects the concerns many Upland residents have over the uprating of density envisioned in the new general plan.
“The people that come to the meetings and raise their concerns are worth listening to,” he said. “I salute them for being concerned. What they are doing is a good thing. Many of the questions they ask are valid questions – about traffic, about water, about adjacent uses. Those are all very valid questions to ask. I think these are local issues but also regional issues. They are concerned about the density movement. I can only speak for our company and other builders who might be in the same position. We are not part of a movement or anything like a movement that might take choices away. The movement comes from the market. It isn’t just Upland that is doing this. Other cities are doing this kind of planning. City officials are not saying you have to do a certain level of density. They are creating zones where you are given the ability to build higher density. That doesn’t mean the homebuilder has to do so. It makes it possible if they want to invest capital and the marketplace is there.”
Lewis said criticism of the development community and its involvement in formulating the tempo of ongoing and future development is not limited to Upland. He referenced the harsh reception some residents of Fontana gave to city officials who put two developers on a 25-member general plan advisory board there. He took issue with those who suggested having the development community represented on a panel dealing with development is a conflict of interest. “If you had a medical advisory panel, wouldn’t you want some doctors to be on it?” he asked. “I don’t know how to respond to someone who says that having two developers on a 25-member board to advise on the general plan is a conflict of interest except to say that, if anything, there should have been four developers on that committee. Having developers who are active in a city offer their input doesn’t hurt the city. It helps it.”
He said that from his perspective it was difficult to understand why so many people were skeptical or critical of the new urban planning principles that are being brought forth and are increasingly in vogue.
“What you want for the city of Upland is not very different from what you want in other cities in the valley,” Lewis said. “If you start at the county line, and look at what is being built in Upland, Montclair, Chino, Rancho Cucamonga and all of the western part of the county, you can see all of the cities have been moving toward density. The planners call it smart growth. A lot of people attack smart growth, but the planners like it because they see it as a better method of development. If you want big lots, you can go further and further out. The thing is: Can’t we do more with less? Why is density proper? Why are cities looking at this? Where do we want our children to live? Our firemen? Nurses? Teachers? Where do we want the people who work in our businesses to live? Do we want them traveling miles and miles to get to work and spend two hours every morning on the freeways? Or do we want them to be fresh when they arrive at work? A lot of cities have said they want an adequate supply of housing so workers and those who grew up there can come back, so those who work there do not have to commute a long way on our freeways.”
Lewis continued, “Upland is characterized by some as a place that has some excellent shopping centers as well as some shopping centers and strip centers not doing so well. We [the Lewis Group of Companies] do well in creating and marketing retail space. What we hear from the business people is ‘We have to be where there are a lot of people, a lot of rooftops, to keep our existing retail successful or to attract new retail. We need people living locally who are going to shop.’ In the development community, we want to respond to the market, to make it so businesses – retail stores, service providers, doctors, barbers – can succeed and employ more people. The more jobs, the more business, more sales, more sales tax and more property tax.”
Lewis addressed the perception that he and his brothers and his company have an inordinate degree of influence on officials, politicians, the government, and the community.
First, he acknowledged that he is an advocate of higher density and what he labeled smart growth. But, he emphasized, it is not he or his company that is leading the charge.
“We have been advocates, along with the major development groups – Southern California Associated Governments, the Urban Land Institute, a lot of the planning schools at major universities,” he said “I am not authorized to speak for them but most of them most of the time are advocating for newer types of develop instead of the old big homes on big lots.”
He recognizes that some in the community respect what he has to say, even if others do not, Lewis said. He said he believes he has a perspective that can be valuable and that he chooses his words carefully.
“For the last seven or eight years, the West End Real Estate Professionals – which is a collection of real estate agents, brokers and title companies – have asked me to give the yearly economic forecast in January,” Lewis said. “They ask me back every year and each year the event has gotten bigger and bigger to the point that there were about 300 people attending this year, the biggest audience they ever had. Some have said that the people there come to bow at the feet of royalty. I think that is an unfair thing to say. I do a lot of preparation for that presentation, probably 20 hours worth. For me it is a big thing. I really prepare because I want to give the people who do show up good content. I think I am asked to do that because I am pretty knowledgeable and have something that people can take away from that event that might be useful to them in their business and their approach. I don’t think they are there because of my last name. What I have to say is based on the role my company plays in the valley. Why is it that we have so many projects in the area? Why do a lot of cities let us do work within their borders? I think it is because we are taking a certain direction. We are following economic and development trends. We have been successful and we keep reinvesting in those communities. Don’t you want to listen to the ones who want to reinvest in the community? When you look at what our company has done, we have made a few mistakes but overall, we have as good of a batting average or better than most others. I don’t see that as a badge of shame. We have been successful because we don’t shy away from investing capital in the marketplace. If people listen to us, it is because they understand we have a lot of experience and we try to ask for things that are going to be good for the community and we try to not ask for things that don’t make sense. Our family, our company has been invested in this community for over fifty years. We hope to be in this valley for decades more. When the community grows stronger, it becomes a better place to live and to invest in.”

Chino PD Contingent Traces AK-47 Bandit To North Iowa

A half dozen officers with the Chino Police Department sojourned to Mason City, Iowa recently, seeking clues and assisting local authorities there in the dragnet for the so-called AK-47 bandit.
On July 28 the Heartland Community Credit Union in Mason City was robbed in a brazen daylight heist by a man fitting the description of the AK-47 Bandit.
On February 29, 2012, the California Bank and Trust at 12th Street and Riverside Drive in Chino was robbed by the individual dubbed the AK-47 Bandit. In pulling that job, the thief wounded a Chino police officer, shooting him in the leg. The officer has not been publicly identified.
In carrying out his thefts, the robber carries an AK-47 rifle. He is believed to be a Caucasian, 25 to 40 years of age, five foot-nine inches to six foot tall with a medium build. He often employs a black ski mask and gloves in carrying out his depredations.
Shortly after the Mason City robbery, Chino Police Chief Karen Comstock dispatched a lieutenant, a sergeant and four detectives to Iowa for four days. During that time they coordinated with the FBI, Mason City and Cerro Gordo County authorities in the manhunt for the bandit. They were in Iowa from July 28 until July 31.
Shortly after the Chino robbery, an individual believed to be the AK-47 bandit botched a heist at a Tri-Counties bank in Sacramento. Less than a week later, he carried off a robbery at a Bank of the West in Vacaville.
In July 2012, authorities said the same man robbed a Chase Bank in North Bend, Washington. In November 2012, he hit an East Idaho Credit Union in Rexburg.
On August 22, 2014, he struck again, knocking over a First Nebraska Bank in Nebraska City, Nebraska. During that job, he used a duffel bag and an assault rifle with a drum magazine similar to the weapon seen in his earlier robberies.
In Mason City, a man wearing a black ski mask, gloves and armed with an AK-47 robbed Iowa Heartland Credit Union at about 10 a.m. on the last Tuesday in July. Employees were herded into the bank vault and what appeared to be an “improvised explosive device” was used to threaten the victims. It was left behind. The Iowa Fire Marshal’s Office examined it, determining it was harmless.
The robber was last seen in Mason City driving a 2007-09 black or dark-colored Toyota Camry. The license plate was obscured.

Under Water District Control For 57 Years, 29 Palms Fire Department To Go To County

After 57 years of being operated by the Twentynine Palms Water District, the Twentynine Palms Fire Department is on the verge of being subsumed by the San Bernardino County Fire Department as one of its regional fire districts.
On August 5, the Twentynine Palms Water District board of directors initiated on a 4-to-1 vote a service annexation application with the San Bernardino County Local Agency Formation Commission for fire protection in the city and its surrounding sphere of influence.
With Carol Giannini dissenting, the water board approved the application and a motion calling upon the city of Twentynine Palms to consent to the annexation. The board directed water district staff to work with city and county fire staff to prepare the application and bring it to the board of directors for consideration and approval.
Since 1958, the fire department in 29 Palms has been overseen by the water district. At its peak, the department grew to include two fire stations and seven firefighters to cover the 55 square miles within the Twentynine Palms City Limits and the 33 square miles of unincorporated county area that also falls under the water district/fire department’s 88-square mile jurisdiction. The department has since shrunk in size. The city does not contribute to, participate in or subsidize the fire department’s operational budget, which is infused entirely by a special tax on landowners within the fire department’s service area.
At present, the fire department functions using $1,244,800 in revenue from the special tax imposed on residents and businesses within the fire department/fire district service area. Current fire chief Jim Thompson has pared operations such that the department is run out of a single fire station, employing only himself and four other paid firefighters, functioning within the parameters of a budget that allows for $1,209,525 in annual expenditures, while salting away $52,775 in a reserve account. The department’s five paid firefighters are augmented by 28 reserve/volunteer firefighters, all of whom have attended a fire academy. Four of those are local volunteers. The others are aspiring firefighters from more distant areas in San Bernardino County, or Los Angeles, Orange or Riverside counties. Each serves a one-day 24 hour shift per week in Twentynine Palms. The 24 who do not reside in or near Twentynine Palms return to their distant abodes upon the conclusion of their shifts.
The city of Twentynine Palms has not been willing to take on operational and financial responsibility for the fire department. An effort to beef up the fire department in a way that was independent of the city was made in 2012, when a ballot initiative, Measure H, was offered to the voters for approval. Measure H would have increased the special tax customers of the Twentynine Palms Water District pay from the current $80 per unit to $120 per unit annualy with an additional $6 per year increase for the next 10 years to provide enhanced fire protection and emergency medical aid to the community. Voters nixed the initiative, with 850 votes of endorsement, or 48.27 percent, and 911 in opposition, or 51.73 percent, during the mail-in balloting concluded on April 17, 2012, in which 1,761 voters, or 32.93 percent of the 5,421 eligible to participate returned ballots.
Shortly thereafter, the community was given a wakeup call by the county’s Local Agency Formation Commission, which oversees jurisdictional issues throughout the county. In its five-year service review of Twentynine Palms delivered on May 7, 2012, the commission’s staff stated that the demands of operating the fire district have for some time been outrunning the water district’s funding ability. The report, authored by Local Agency Formation Commission executive officer Kathleen Rollings-McDonald, assistant executive officer Samuel Martinez and project manager Michael Tuerpe, said the district suffered from “a significant deficiency in funding” such that “the water district’s fire operations are unsustainable as presently financed.”
Rollings-McDonald told the water district’s board members that the district would have to overcome the financial challenges facing the fire department, or cede control of the department to another entity by July 1, 2013. That deadline passed, however, without any change, after the water district and the city of Twentynine Palms worked on a proposal to have the county’s fire division take on the fire department. County fire chief Mark Hartwig said that in working within the confines of the $1.244 million in available special tax funding for local fire service, the county would need to close down one of the fire stations and reduce the department to no more than four firefighters.
The water board retained control of the fire department and has sought to induce, cajole, shame, provoke or otherwise motivate the city of Twentynine Palms to take over directly or share in the operation of the fire department. Only councilwoman Cora Heiser has proven supportive of such a move, as the remainder of the city council has expressed reluctance to assume such a financial liability.
Conflicting imperatives have created gridlock and paralysis with regard to the fire department. Some residents are vociferous in calling for maintaining local control but their passion is not matched by a willingness of the citizenry in the 25,768-population city or its more sparsely populated outlying area to tax themselves to achieve that goal. City officials are unwilling to transform Twentynine Palms into a full service city. The city does not boast municipal water or sewer divisions, and contracts with the sheriff’s department for law enforcement service. The water district, clearly, is staggering under the responsibility of running the fire department. After years of seeking to work out a cooperative arrangement with the city for the operation of the fire department, the Twentynine Palms Water District Board of Directors in June called for the creation of an ad-hoc committee to consider the fire department’s fate, essentially signaling the water district would no longer go it alone in propping up the fire department.
The August 5 meeting entailed a level of intensity, with discussions moving close to the realm of argument.
Local Agency Formation Commission Executive Director Kathleen Rollings-McDonald’s sober assessment of the financial and administrative reality, however, pulled the collective away from the brink of chaos. Rollings-McDonald said the community would need to act with dispatch to meet the timelines for bringing the fire department under county management by the beginning of the 2016-17 fiscal year, which begins next June 1. She said the fire protection service annexation application, which is to entail a service protocol and a five-year financial analysis, would need to be on her desk by September 30. She said an “arduous… six-month” evaluation of the application will follow. Only if that application passes muster, Rollings-McDonald said, will the commission sign off on it. But the commission’s approval would not cinch the county fire department takeover, she said. The commission’s board approval of the annexation would simply clear the way for a review by the voters living in the 88-square mile service area. That review would consist of a protest period. If 50 percent plus one of the area’s registered voters lodge objections, the application would be rescinded. If the protest meets a 20 percent threshold, then an election would be held.

High Prices & Miscalulations Force 16 Albertsons/Haggen Conversion Closures

In a further indication that grocery chains featuring an overpriced line of goods are losing traction in the Southern California market, Haggen Inc. this week moved to close 16 of its supermarkets in Southern California and two more in Central California.
In a risky move, Haggen, which established itself as a purveyor of top of the line meats and vegetables and specialty grocery products in the Pacific Northwest at 18 large-scale stores, in December initiated a deal to buy 146 former Albertsons and Safeway grocery stores, 83 of which were in California, after the Federal Trade Commission required that those stores be spun off after the Albertsons/Safeway/Vons/Pavilions merger last year. The Federal Trade Commission approved the deal on January 27, 2015.
Albertsons’ share of the Southern California Market was already eroding, however, as a consequence of its high-priced goods. Customers were abandoning many Alberstons as virtual ghost stores for better priced groceries at Super King, Cardenas, WinCo, Food For Less and Superior.
Upon the takeover by Haggen in March and April, customers were shocked to find that Haggen’s prices were steeper than those at the Albertsons markets they replaced. Large numbers of those customers have yet to return to Haggen stores.
The entire matter has been complicated by disputes that erupted between Albertsons and Haggen, even before the transitions in the 146 stores were fully made. According to Albertsons, Haggen had agreed to pay almost $41 million for the inventory at 38 of the former Albertsons stores. Haggen did not make good on that commitment. In June, Haggen, communicated to Albertsons that it believed Albertsons had violated certain tenets of the purchase agreement and was out of compliance with anti-trust provisions of the U.S. Code. Without directly stating that its failure to make the nearly $41 million in payments was due to those violations, the company gave indication it would withhold the payment for the inventory.
Last month Albertsons filed a lawsuit in federal court against Haggen, accusing the company of fraud in failing to pay more than $36 million toward inventory at 32 stores and almost $5 million in inventory at an another six stores. Haggen slyly waited until the deals relating to the sale of all 146 stores closed before notifying Albertsons in writing it was withholding payment for the inventory, according to the suit. Haggen’s ostensible reasons for withholding the payment relating to “issues occurring during the acquisition process” are “baseless,” Albersons maintains. It accused Haggen of “acts [that] were fraudulent in nature and done with malice and a willful disregard for Albertsons’ rights.”
Some Haggen executives dispatched from the Pacific Northwest to oversee operations in Southern California now acknowledge that the company misread the Southern California market, basing the company’s estimation that it could adapt its product line into the Albertsons locations based upon the higher prices of goods on Albertsons’ shelves noted during a survey late last year. Haggen’s estimate failed to take into account that Albertsons’ prices were already at the top of the scale in Southern California and that sales at the Albertsons markets were sluggish, at best. In response, Haggen has cut staff hours and laid off workers, reducing the vaunted level of customer service that has been its trademark, while maintaining prices that are higher than all of its competitors, giving shoppers virtually no reason to shop there.
Having gone from 18 stores to 164 in a four month period, Haggen seriously miscalculated the overall cash flow the expanded operation would provide and for six months has been hemorrhaging red ink. Shortly after its first two dozen California stores opened in March, roughly 1,000 items were given serious mark-ups at eleven of the Haggen supermarkets in Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties. When those prices were remarked upon by shoppers, the company maintained those mark-ups had been done in error. Industry analysts say the impression yet lingers with consumers that the mark-ups were deliberate and are a harbinger of what the stores will charge across the board on most if not all of its products. Less than three percent of the stores’ inventories were impacted by the mark-ups.
Of note is that none of the stores to be closed in this round are in San Bernardino County. Those to be shuttered include four in Orange County, four in Ventura County and six in the San Diego area, as well as one in Bakersfield location and a store in Los Osos. Company executives, however, did not rule out closing out further stores, including those in San Bernardino County, saying they are yet refining the company’s “right-sizing strategy.”

Four County Office Holders & Four Challengers Fined By FPPC

The number of candidates for countywide office in 2014 who have been charged with campaign finance reporting violations has jumped to eight following the state Fair Political Practices Commission’s citation and fining of San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon and Fourth District Supervisor Curt Hagman.
Of note is that five of those eight individuals were ones who hold or aspired to law enforcement office. The California Fair Political Practices Commission fined McMahon and Hagman $1,500 each for transgressions pertaining to irregularities in campaign finance reporting or funding violations that occurred last year and further fined McMahon’s and Hagman’s treasurers, Marvin Reiter and John Fugatt, respectively, as well.
The McMahon and Hagman matters were given final adjudication at the Fair Political Practices Commission’s August 20 meeting after McMahon, Hagman, Reiter and Fugatt stipulated to the violations and paid the fines.
McMahon and Reiter ran afoul of the state’s regulations through McMahon accepting a $500 political contribution in the form of a cashier’s check and a $100 contribution in the form of a money order, neither of which were drawn from the bank account of the contributors.
McMahon characterized his campaign’s action as “a mistake.”
Hagman and Fugatt were fined for accepting an $8,200 cashier’s check that was not drawn from the bank account of the contributor.
In May, the commission imposed fines of $6,000 against the Rancho Cucamonga Professional Firefighters Association IAFF Local 2274 PAC; $5,000 against district attorney Mike Ramos; $3,000 against San Bernardino County Sheriff candidate Clifton L. Harris and $1,500 against San Bernardino County Sheriff candidate Paul Schrader; $1,500 against county supervisor candidate Randolph Beasley; $1,500 against district attorney candidate Grover Merritt; and $150 against county auditor/controller/treasurer-tax collector Larry Walker. All proposed fines stem from the 2014 election cycle.
The fines against McMahon and Hagman bring to a total $16,500 in fines assessed against County candidates in the 2014 election cycle.
Since January 2013, the county has had a contract with the state Fair Political Practices Commission to monitor county elected officials and county political candidates with regard to compliance with state and county campaign finance law and ordinances. The county has paid the commission $113,159.06 for its services during the 31 months the contract has been in effect.

Forum… Or Against ‘em

By Count Friedrich von Olsen
Captain Kristen Griest and 1st Lieutenant Shaye Haver this week became the first women to graduate from the U.S. Army’s Ranger School. Both Captain Griest and Lieutenant Haver are West Point graduates…
Apparently, they are in pretty good shape and have strong legs. One of the feats required of Ranger School graduates was carrying a fifty pound backpack over a twelve mile course. It was reported that they covered the distance faster than some of their male counterparts…
Lieutenant Haver is an Apache helicopter pilot…
Captain Griest is an Airborne-qualified military police officer…
I have just received a report that a train operated by the Germans in Poland during World War II has been found by two men and that on board is 300 tons of gold, precious stones and weapons…
I am skeptical, too…
I have a few questions. How does a train get lost for 70 years, even in a place like southwest Poland? Is that 300 tons of gold? Isn’t that more gold than exists in the entire world?
Or does the 300 tons apply to the gold and the jewels? Or does it apply to the gold, jewels and the weapons?
Supposedly, the two men who came across this train have had written communication through a lawyer with the governmental district council in Walbrzych and have offered some tantalizing evidence that this cache exists, but are holding off on spilling the beans on exactly where it is until they are provided with a guarantee by the Polish government that they will be provided with a ten percent finder’s fee from the proceeds of their discovery…
I’ve been to Walbrzych and I don’t remember seeing any neglected trains scattered about. That doesn’t mean much, since it is being suggested the train is inside some secret tunnel once used by the Nazis. Indeed the Nazis did use trains to transport loot taken from Eastern Europe back to Berlin. The train in question is rumored to be somewhere in the vicinity of Ksiaz castle, which is roughly 46 miles southeast of the Polish village of Wroclaw…
My guess is that the Polish government has a pretty good idea of where the railroad tunnels in that country are located. For that reason, the ploy of using a lawyer to make a ten percent claim on the find might not work out the way these two fellows, one of whom is a Pole and the other a German, are hoping…
Trophies and being put on a pedestal are honorifics some, maybe even many, people aspire to, but it turns out there are some trophies you might rather not be a part of and some pedestals you really wouldn’t want to be mounted on…
Since 1914, archaeologists have been digging through the ruins of the Mayor Aztec Temple in Mexico City. For more than a hundred years, archaeologists have been making comparisons of the physical evidence found at, beneath and around the temple to accounts given by the Spanish conquistadors of what they observed at the temple complex almost five centuries ago…
Something that is both gruesome and riveting are paintings and written descriptions from the early Spanish colonial era of what are known as “tzompantli.” These were racks of human skulls that had been joined together with a type of mortar. No such artifacts had in fact been previously found. But in February, archeologists in Mexico City came upon something on the western side of the temple that verified the actual existence of tzompantli, shedding yet further light on the concept. What was discovered is what is now believed to be the main trophy rack of sacrificed human skulls at Templo Mayor…
The Aztecs used the tzompantli to display the severed heads on wooden poles pushed through the sides of the skull. The poles were then suspended horizontally on vertical posts.
Eduardo Matos, a leading archaeologist at the National Institute of Anthropology and History, says the Aztecs displayed the tzompantli to send a message to foe and friend alike. The message? Something on the order of this: Don’t mess with the Aztecs…
The skulls are recurrent at the temple. One of the temple’s platforms that was uncovered between February and May featured heads mortared together in a circle, looking inward. It is not clear what was at the center of this circle. This is just the topmost, now visible layer. There are likely more skulls in the layers below and it is not yet known how those skulls are arranged. Archaeologists must proceed slowly, so as not to damage what they are uncovering. It appears likely that the skulls were used as a type of building material for a portion of the temple…
Some archaeologists believe that the skulls were utilized while they still had upholstery, i.e., flesh and scalp and hair, attached. Thus the term “head rack” is more appropriate than skull rack, those archaeologists suggest. One wonders about the curator at this temple. Did he have a certain standard for the heads he wanted to, er, uh, mount? If you were really ugly, do you think he might have elected to not have you beheaded?

Victor Valley History 1856-1888

By Mark Gutglueck
In 1856, when Southern California was hit with a severe drought, ranchers in San Gabriel, Pomona and Chino and Cucamonga drove their herds up the Cajon Pass where they could graze in pastures alongside the Mojave River.
In this way, portions of the Mojave became used as rangeland.
Early in 1858 the Mormons in San Bernardino pulled up stakes and began an abrupt but ordered mass exodus back to Utah at the calling of Brigham Young, who believed the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was on the verge of going to war against the United States, then under the sway of the James Buchanan administration. Before making the trek across the vast California and Nevada deserts, many of the Mormons massed to allow their cattle to graze in the particularly verdant meadows located near what is now Sixth and D streets in Victorville, an area that became known as Mormon Crossing.
As the Mormons, or most of them, were leaving California, Aaron G. Lane, who had fought in the Mexican War and who had fared well in the gold fields, set up a ranch on the west bank of Mojave River at the point known as “Last Crossing,” thus becoming the first permanent American settler in Victorville.
Lane’s ranch, which used the Mojave River banks as pasture land, became a way station for all order of travelers through that area.
In 1861, a gold strike in Holcomb Valley near Big Bear Lake brought hundreds of miners and entrepreneurs looking to cater to those miners. Jed Van Dusen was hired by the miners to grade a road from the northwestern ridge along the natural slope toward Victor Valley and across to Cajon Summit and then John Brown graded the road up the Cajon Pass with the understanding that he was authorized to operate it as a toll road.
Northern interests in New England, interested in monopolizing in Union coffers as much gold as possible, shipped mining and refining equipment to the Colombian port city of Christobal on what was then known as the Isthmus of Darien and today known as the Isthmus of Panama. From Christobal the equipment was transported by train to the Pacific port of Balboa and reloaded on Yankee ships bound for port San Pedro in California. There, with the assistance of men from the U.S. Garrison at Los Angeles, the heavy machinery was offloaded onto wagons and with teams of horses, transported, via Brown’s road up the Cajon Pass and Van Dusen’s road up and across the north face of the San Bernardino Mountains, to reach the mine high in the remote San Bernardino Forest.
While the Civil War raged on the middle and eastern side of the continent, more settlers, including some original jack Mormons who had not returned to Utah upon Brigham Young’s 1857 edict, as well as adventurers and prodigals and pilgrims from the war’s destruction and violence, had established homesteads within the Mojave River Basin. But with the encroachment of whites into what had been the Indians’ homeland, violence less disciplined and prolonged but every bit as brutal as that between blue and grey was perpetuated back and forth between the white and red races in the Mojave. Even before the war’s end, military outposts were established in the desert as a hedge against the Indians.
In the 1860s, John Brown and two of his sons made use of the fertile land around the Mojave River as range land for the cattle they were marketing to the Army and in 1867 established what was known as the Verde Ranch in the meadowlands above the Mojave Narrows.
The military presence and the proliferation of mines in the region greatly increased the freighting of goods through the area and first Aaron Lane and then later others began operating way stations in the area, taking advantage of the abundant pasture lands that surrounded the river. In 1874 Heber Huntington purchased and operated with his wife one particularly popular way station near where the Mormons had grazed, now known as Sixth and D streets in Victorville.
As the city of San Bernardino grew to become what was referred to as the granary and storehouse for the mining camps that were proliferating in the region, Victorville became a satellite to San Bernardino, one that was much closer to the desert mines. Victor Valley ranchers experienced boom years in the 1870s, raising hundreds and eventually thousands of head of cattle, which were then dispatched to mining camps in the desert and San Bernardino Mountains and eventually eastward on the Old Spanish Trail to Nevada and Arizona.
In 1870 Max Stroble bought the entire Hesperia townsite for cash.
In 1874, Jed Van Dusen, the blacksmith who had graded the road between the Victor Valley and the San Bernardino Mountains, was given a contract to carry the U.S. Mail from San Bernardino to Prescott, Arizona, ensuring weekly postal delivery to what had become known as the Mojave River Settlement.
In 1876 and 1877 a Forty-niner by the name of Samuel Rogers developed an irrigation system that consisted of a dam and intake ditch just below the Upper Mojave Narrows and conveyed water to what was to become the heart of Victorville where he had an alfalfa and barley farm.
At this time there was also much agitation with the toll road franchise arrangement that had been granted to John Brown, with both desert and San Bernardino residents who had to often traverse the pass calling upon the county board of supervisors to rescind Brown’s franchise. Petitions to this effect were signed but failed to achieve the desired end, and the toll road remained in place for another decade until the California Southern Railroad constructed a separate road up the pass to assist in the delivery of cross-ties and rails and then turned that road over for public use.
By the late 1870s, the population of the Victorville settlement had grown to the point that in 1879 a schoolhouse, which also doubled as a grange, was erected.
In 1880, a prospector named A.J. Spencer found rich silver ore in Oro Grande and within two weeks, after an assay office in San Bernardino pronounced that one of the ingots Spencer had produced was nearly pure silver, the place was flooded with miners who lived in temporary camps among the cottonwoods. Six months later, many of those miners had built homes and the U.S. government established a post office in the town, which at that point boasted a general store, two butcher shops, a boarding house and a hotel.
Mining companies such as the Garabaldi Group, Buckingham & Co., and the Oro Grande Company as well as a number of lone prospectors operated a number of colorfully named mines, such as the Coyote, Oro Grande, Oro Fino, Garfield, Buena Vista, Contention, Sidewinder, Blue Jacket, Chimney Corner, Willis, and Iris. A group of loosely affiliated miners from the South operated a handful of mines at what was called Dixie Camp. Most of the mines were developed by means of shafts and tunnels. Mines were worked at varying depths, including 20, 25, 50, 60 and as far down as 200 feet. Several of the Oro Grande miners partnered to form a company to operate first a water-powered ore-reduction mill, capable of processing both silver and gold, and later a melting furnace to process different ores. The Oro Grande mill soon was drawing ore from mines located all over the desert. In May of 1881 wagoneer [freighter] J. D. Burkhart was hauling, at a rate of “one dollar and a half per ton,” 25 tons of ore per day to the mill.
Shortly after the boom in Oro Grande, miners in Calico hit paydirt and arranged to have the ore they produced refined at the Oro Grande mill.
In 1881, Jacob Nash Victor was 46 years old and at the seeming end of his railroad career, working as a freight agent in Colton California. As a very young man he had worked as a printer, but at the age of 20 went to work for the Mad River Railway, the first railroad in Ohio. During the Civil War, he was put in charge of the military railway under General James B. McPherson. He later served under General Sherman in Georgia in a similar capacity in the closing year of the war. After the surrender at Appomattox, Jacob Victor moved to Kansas City, where he was in charge of the Pacific Dispatch, a fast freight line then with International & Great Northern Railway of Texas in Houston and Galveston. In the 1870s he moved to New York where his health broke down. To recover, Victor, a civil engineer, in 1881 accepted a position in Colton with the California Southern Railroad, a subsidiary of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, initially as a freight agent and then as general manager of operations.
Over the previous two years, San Bernardino County surveyor Frederick T. Perris had been assiduously lobbying Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway officers to construct a line from San Diego northward to San Bernardino to be augmented with the extension of the line up the Cajon Pass and then north to junction with the Atlantic & Pacific-Santa Fe line at Waterman, i.e., present day-Barstow. While Perris was making his entreaties, a dispute had arisen over Southern Pacific Railway’s refusal to permit other railways to cross its tracks. Perris’ efforts paid off, convincing AT&SF officials, who were itching for a route to effectively break the Southern Pacific Railroad’s monopoly on transportation into Southern California, to brave the engineering and grading challenges.
Victor, an expert on trestles and bridges, was chosen to oversee Perris and other engineers brought in to supervise the Chinese coolies who laid the track. As the general manager and chief engineer of the California Southern Railroad, Victor incorporated a “Y” track into the two sets of tracks to allow free standing locomotives to turn around and reattach themselves to assist long and heavy trains up the grade to the Cajon Summit. In 1884 the California Southern Railroad reached San Bernardino, but the same year Nash encountered a devastating, though temporary setback, when roughly 30 miles of track were swept away by floods. By 1885 the track was rebuilt and extended through the Cajon Pass.
Victor designed the bridge across the Mojave. Though the bridge was destroyed in the flood of 1938, the granite abutment to the bridge is still in use and stands as the oldest structure in the Victor Valley. Once the track had reached the Summit, Victor was kept on as the superintendent of desert construction, a $1,750,000 undertaking to connect the rail at the top of Cajon Summit with the A & P Railroad at Barstow.
Following the completion of the railway to its eastern connection a consideration was effected with the Santa Fe Railway under the management of C. W. Smith. Victor retired in 1888 and moved to Chino, where he was elected to the board of supervisors as the representative of the county’s Fourth District. He subsequently served for three years as board chairman.
Victor’s home in Victorville was located at 8th and D streets and was known when it was owned by Mrs. Jennie Mae Richardson in the 1940s as the Hillcrest Lodge. By the late 1880s the area around his home came to be known as Victor.
The advent of the railroad had major effects on the High Desert. It brought a seemingly unending stream of Easterners through the area and intensified an already flourishing mining industry. Moreover, the building of the railroad required granite excavation and limestone excavation. Quarrying for those commodities, as well as marble eventually outgrew silver and gold mining.
Whereas in 1885 there were three houses in what was to become known as the town of Victor, with one of them used as a stage station, within five years the town had grown tenfold.
In the midst of the California land boom of 1888, a former Nevada mining engineer, Robert Widney, diverted water from Deep Creek Canyon and conveyed it a mile-and-an-eighth in a 14-inch hand-riveted pipe which ran for a portion beneath the river, giving the water in it enough forward momentum to expel its contents even after the pipe was angled up onto the Hesperia mesa.
Widney’s Hesperia Land & Water Company, in league with investors from Los Angeles, undertook significant improvements in Hesperia, including the construction of the 36-room, three-story Hesperia Hotel, made of adobe bricks freighted over from Oro Grande and then painted red. By 1890, a general store, post office and a school were completed to complement the hotel but six months later, the land boom went bust.
In 1888, F.O. Wyman set up a lime burning operation in Oro Grande.