By clicking on the blue portal below, you can download a PDF of the January 20 edition of the San Bernardino County Sentinel.
By Gail Fry and Mark Gutglueck
The City of Adelanto’s professional entanglement with a figure linked with the Postmus/Mitzelfelt political corruption scandal of the previous decade has resulted in a group of city residents retaining a Los Angeles law firm to carry out an investigation into the city’s contractual practices and the diverting of taxpayer funds toward activities represented as aimed at economic development but which have yet to register any return on that investment.
Jessie Flores was a political hanger-on who was given a paying position with the First Supervisorial District office late in the tenure of Bill Postmus and remained in place after Postmus acceded to the position of county assessor and was succeeded in 2007 as supervisor by his hand-picked replacement, Brad Mitzelfelt. Mitzelfelt had served as Postmus’s chief of staff for all six of the years he was supervisor.
A little more than two years after Postmus moved into the assessor’s office, he would be driven in disgrace from his perch as one of San Bernardino County’s most powerful politicians and would thereafter be charged with 14 separate felony counts relating to acts of corruption in public office, all of which he would eventually plead guilty to.
Cash cows Postmus and members of his political machine had gone to for the mother’s milk of politics and to enrich themselves throughout his political ascendency were charter schools. Charter schools are entities created by a particular form of public asset privatization in which an alternative education venue is established using government funding but operating with the sponsorship of, and independently from, an existing public school system.
In the very early stages of Postmus’s political career, Postmus and Mitzelfelt established a symbiotic relationship with Charles Steven Cox, who founded the California Charter Academy. They pulled political strings to get the board of the Snowline Joint Unified School District, which exists in the High Desert communities of Phelan and Pinon Hills, to sponsor, or charter, the academy.
Cox then utilized the enthusiasm garnered from that formation to get Snowline to charter another academy. Cox also obtained two more charter sponsorships, one from the Orange School District in Orange County, and one from the Oro Grande School District, located in San Bernardino County’s High Desert. As the head of four charter schools operating on 34 far-flung campuses with some as far away as the San Joaquin Valley, Cox then had a significant amount of money rolling in. He diverted a substantial portion of that money away from educational related activities, using some of it to reward Postmus and Mitzelfelt for their help in greasing the political skids to get the charter academy going. Postmus, his cronies, political associates, friends and family were given consultancies or paying positions with the charter academy, often ones that entailed no work nor the provision of any valuable or educational related services. In addition, Cox used income he realized from the California Charter Academy venture to make hefty political contributions to Postmus.
Simultaneous to his founding of the non-profit California Charter Academy, Cox created Educational Administrative Services Corporation, a for-profit company which was then hired by all four charter schools to manage the day-to-day operations of the charter schools and provide academic supplies such as books, paper, pens, pencils, desks, chairs, projectors, computers, etc. The rates charged by Educational Administrative Services Corporation reflected in the billings were inflated. In some cases, educational materials that were paid for by the charter schools were never delivered.
Cox hired Tad Honeycutt, a Postmus political ally who later successfully ran for a position on the Hesperia City Council, to work with the California Charter Academy. In turn, Honeycutt created his own set of companies, Maniaque Enterprises and Everything For Schools, which like Educational Administrative Services Corporation delivered educational materials and services to the non-profit charter schools at a profit.
By 2003, teachers at several of the schools were going public with accounts of how students’ educations were being neglected and books and other educational materials were not being provided. In 2004, the superintendent of the California Department of Education, Jack O’Connell, suspecting financial irregularities, launched an investigative audit into California Charter Academy. In August 2004, four years after California Charter Academy’s creation, it ceased operations abruptly, throwing teachers out of work and forcing students to hurriedly matriculate back into public schools, which were overburdened by the influx of unexpected numbers of students. The California Charter Academy’s records and books were in utter chaos. Student transcripts requested by the sponsoring districts were found to be incomplete or entirely unavailable. The California Charter Academy’s creditors and landlords in many cases made off with the academy’s assets.
On April 14, 2005, MGT of America, an auditing firm hired by the California Department of Education, and the state’s Fiscal Crisis and Management Team released their joint financial audit of California Charter Academy, showing $23 million in taxpayer money paid to the private management companies Educational Administrative Services Corporation, Maniaque Enterprises and Everything For Schools was misappropriated. Among the findings were that Cox had hired several of his family members into what were essentially do-nothing clerical and non-productive administrative positions, that Cox, his family members, other Educational Administrative Services Corporation and Charter Academy employees, and Honeycutt were provided with luxury automobiles, and that among the expenses accumulated by the Charter Academy were accommodations in Las Vegas, at Disneyland and the Disneyland Hotel, studio musical recording equipment, spa visits, fishing trips and jet skis.
The audit alleged multiple conflict-of-interest violations, the improper conversion of private schools to public charter schools, and the falsification of documents and claims to receive public funds
“The magnitude of waste of precious education funds outlined in the audit was appalling,” said O’Connell.
In late July 2007, a grand jury was impaneled and began inquiries into the California Charter Academy’s operations. On September 4, 2007, Honeycutt and Cox were arrested after being indicted by that special grand jury for their alleged roles in the collapse of the California Charter Academy. Cox and Honeycutt were indicted on a total of 117 counts, including fraud, misappropriation of public funds and grand theft. Cox’s bail was set at $1 million dollars, while Honeycutt’s was logged at $500,000. Both were able to post bail. Law enforcement officials froze their assets, but little of the missing money that officials thought might be recovered was present in their accounts in local banking institutions. It is known that Honeycutt had made multiple trips to Vanuatu, Spain and Argentina in the early and mid-2000s. A series of delays have postponed the trial against Honecutt and Cox for nearly ten years. The matter is not likely to go to trial, officials say, until the ten-year anniversary of the filing of charges against Cox and Honeycutt is eclipsed.
In the aftermath of the indictment of Cox and Honeycutt, the Postmus Political Machine was chastened and it hunkered down, but only momentarily. The same coterie of individuals, including Cox, working as a quiet advisor functioning from the shadows, put together another charter proposal, this time selling the idea to the Adelanto School District. Participating in the free-for-all were Cox; Postmus; Mitzelfelt; Dino DeFazio, a friend of Postmus and the owner of D & D Real Estate and other real estate businesses, including Tri-Land, Inc, in which he is a partner with Postmus; Jessie Flores, a former field representative for Postmus and a then-field representative for then-San Bernardino County Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt; Adam Aleman, who was formerly one of Postmus’s field representatives and later one of Postmus’s assistant assessors, occupying the third highest ranking position in that office despite his relative youth, 23 years, and lack of experience, until he was arrested and then convicted by a plea admission that precipitated Postmus’ subsequent arrest, removal from office and conviction; Hesperia Unified School District Trustee Anthony Riley, a Postmus political ally; Sentry Home Loans owner and Boys and Girls Club President Helene Harris and her husband Hendon Harris; Mitchel E. Pullman, a principal in Arrowhead Properties, IV, LLC; and Peggy Baker, Charles Steven Cox’s sister-in-law.
After Cox prepared the articles of incorporation, the Adelanto Charter Academy was chartered by the Adelanto School District on August 19, 2009. Functioning on a model not very different from that used by the California Charter Academy but on a less grand scale, Cox, Postmus, Mitzelfelt, DeFazio, Flores, Aleman, the Harrises, Pullman and Baker utilized the position of trust they had been vouchsafed to funnel money to themselves or the companies they controlled. In the roughly 15 months the academy was running without any oversight, they managed to loot the operation of a little more than $2 million that should otherwise have gone toward the education of students but instead was diverted to activities, purchases and disbursements having no conceivable academic application. In November 2010, an audit cataloging significant shortcomings in the school’s operations was released, and on May 17, 2011, the Adelanto School District revoked the charter it had granted to the Adelanto Charter Academy. The Adelanto Charter Academy immediately appealed the decision to the San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools, who upheld the Adelanto School District’s decision on August 1, 2011. The Adelanto Charter Academy appealed the decision to the California Department of Education and continued to operate until notified on April 17, 2012, that “your administrative remedies are exhausted” and “any further appeal of revocation must be sought in a court of local jurisdiction.”
Recognizing that moving the matter into such a forum might well lead to further indictments, those behind the operation threw in the towel, having diverted somewhere in the neighborhood of $3.1 million to their own pockets and bank accounts.
While everyone involved had a hand in the till, a cataloging of Flores’ activities therein has recently become of public interest.
Jessie Flores’ 700 forms filed in March 2008 and April 2009 showed him as the owner of Greater High Desert Lawncare Services, Diamond Limousine, and receiving income from D & D Real Estate, owned by Dino DeFazio. Jessie Flores’ 700 forms filed in April 2010 show him owning Diamond Limousines and receiving income from D & D.
Jessie Flores’ 700 forms for 2011 and 2012 indicate only his salary for his position as field representative for San Bernardino County Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt.
The Adelanto Charter Academy paid $35,000 during 2010 in loan payments to Kardi Homes, a limited liability company owned by Dino DeFazio.
According to reliable information, Greater High Desert Lawncare Services did all of the landscaping for properties owned by Helene Harris (the president of Boys and Girls Club of Victor Valley and an Adelanto Charter Academy board member), including upkeep of the Adelanto Charter Academy campus, which Harris leased to the academy. Greater High Desert Lawncare Services is shown as a source of income to Flores on his 2009 and 2010 700 forms, which are statements of economic interests his position as a government employee required.
There was no record of Greater High Desert Lawncare Services either under the fictitious business name registry at the San Bernardino County Recorder’s Office or at the California Secretary of State website.
Diamond Limousines billed Adelanto Charter Academy for the use of its limousines. The Adelanto Charter Academy paid those bills.
According to statements from those knowledgeable of the academy’s operations, Flores initially represented that the academy would not have to pay rent to hold classes at the Boys and Girls Club of the Victor Valley. Ultimately, however, the academy made rent and utility payments totaling $33,560 for 13 months for 1,500 square feet of space the Boys and Girls Club, averaging $2,582 a month and $.58 per square foot for space in the city of Adelanto, a depressed area where at that time lower lease rates were available.
The Adelanto Charter Academy contracted with Professional Charter Management, Inc. to have the latter perform administrative services in return for 15 percent of all Adelanto Charter Academy revenues.
According to the California Secretary of State, Professional Charter Management, Inc. is a dissolved corporation with Jessie Flores as its chief executive officer and Dino DeFazio in the capacities of chief financial officer and secretary and Kari Murdock as agent for service of process. Kari Murdock is the the niece of Charles Steven Cox.
On December 14, 2010, Jessie Flores filed a certificate of dissolution stating, “The corporation has not conducted any business from the time of the filing of the articles of incorporation with the Secretary of State” and “The corporation acquired no known assets.” Jessie Flores signed the form under penalty of perjury.
An email from C. Steven Cox addressed to Postmus, DeFazio and Jessie Flores, with the subject “Invoice from Professional Charter Management, Inc.” dated January 19, 2010, contained an attached invoice for “administrative service fees” for $11,965.65.
Records provided by the Adelanto Charter Academy before its demise show Professional Charter Management, Inc. was paid $11,965.65 on January 21, 2010, a month and a week after it was dissolved.
According to records obtained by the Sentinel, the Adelanto Charter Academy contracted with Educational Development, Inc. to perform administrative services in return for 5 percent of all Adelanto Charter Academy income from September 1, 2009 until June 30, 2014. It is not clear whether or how the administrative activities carried out by Educational Development, Inc. either meshed, or conflicted, with the administrative services provided by Professional Charter Management, Inc.
In 2014, following Adelanto Planning Commission Chairwoman Lori Yuan’s forced resignation from the planning commission, Jessie Flores was appointed as her replacement. He served on the commission until just before his hiring by the city as an economic development consultant last year.
While Flores and city officials responsible for retaining him as a consultant had hoped memory of his participation in the plundering of the Adelanto Charter Academy would have faded, it has not, at least with some.
A collection of Adelanto residents has retained the Los Angeles-based Sutton Law Firm to carry out a broad-based investigation of Flores’ retention by the city.
Saying he was working on behalf of “interested Adelanto residents, businesses, and city and community leaders,” one of the Sutton Law Firm’s attorneys, Bradley Hertz, has now made three requests under the California Public Records Act seeking city documents pertaining to Flores’ ongoing and previous employment, invoices he has submitted, detailing of work performed, payments made, reimbursements, emails, and hours worked.
Hertz told the Sentinel, “Our investigation stems from ongoing concerns – from residents, businesses, and Adelanto city personnel – who are of the view that Jessie Flores’ business practices are exposing the City of Adelanto to liability. It is of substantial concern that the city would hire a consultant who is associated with indicted former County Supervisor Bill Postmus and the Adelanto Charter Academy scandal.”
Continuing, Hertz said, “It is not clear what qualifications Mr. Flores has to hold the important position of the city’s economic development manager, especially given his many financial hardships. However, apparently Mr. Flores sees financial opportunity in focusing his efforts on a city that has embraced marijuana cultivators and their projects.”
Hertz’ last reference was to the city’s November 2015 passage of an ordinance allowing the operation of licensed cannabis growing greenhouses within the Adelanto Industrial Park.
Flores has said he merits the position he holds because he has proven instrumental in establishing the Adelanto Grand Prix and Adelanto Rodeo events and attracting the semi-professional baseball team, the High Desert Yardbirds of the Pecos League, to fill the gap created by the city having terminated the arrangement it had with the California League’s High Desert Mavericks who for 25 years used Stater Bros. Stadium as that team’s home field.
Hertz said, “According to my clients, Mr. Flores lacks professionalism by taking false credit for attracting the Rodeo, Grand Prix, and Yardbirds, given that the Victorville Fair Grounds has a contract with the city to oversee event management of the stadium and that the fair grounds staff has spent hundreds of hours attracting and preparing for these events to generate much-needed revenue for the city; it is disgraceful for Mr. Flores to claim credit when he is not deserving of it.”
Given the recent contretemps with regard to Flores, no city official was willing to offer the rationale for his hiring.
San Bernardino County Chief Executive Officer Greg Devereaux, who has been in that position for seven years, announced yesterday, January 19, that he will retire, most likely in June, and move into the post of a management consultant with the county for three years thereafter.
The exact timing of his departure as chief executive will depend on the county’s ability to find his replacement and transition him or her fully into position.
Devereaux, whose age is given variously as 59 and 65, was provided tremendous latitude and power when he was hired in January 2010, following the forced departure of his predecessor, Mark Uffer. The title of the role he filled was changed from county administrative officer to county chief executive officer. He was also provided with what is referred to as a superbonus, which prevented him from being terminated on a bare majority 3-2 vote of the board. Instead, four votes were needed to bring about his departure.
Devereaux was hired largely on the strength of his performance as city manager first in Fontana, where he was instrumental in guiding that city out of the financial straits it found itself in during the 1990s. He was subsequently hired by the City of
Ontario and he transformed that city into the most dynamic economic engine among the county’s 24 incorporated municipalities, with a total budget greater than two thirds of a billion dollars when counting all of the money into its various funds by the time he left there to become county administrative officer.
As the county’s chief executive officer, Devereaux was earning a salary of $318,909 annually plus benefits that put his total compensation package near $400,000. He was given a contract extension three years ago that guaranteed him ten years employment with the county. Accordingly, he will spend the next three years as a consultant to his successor, at an annual compensation of $91,000.
Devereaux had sometimes testy relations with county employees and their union advocates. Immediately upon becoming chief executive, he had to deal with the downturn in revenue into the county brought on by the lingering national, state and local recession that started at the end of 2007. He sought and obtained the reluctant concessions of unions to allow the freezing of salaries and reducing benefits.
“I was hoping to work with Greg throughout my chairmanship,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman Robert Lovingood. “Greg’s knowledge and ability to work with the board to address the county’s challenges will be missed. He is well respected in the local government and business communities.”
“Greg Devereaux is a man of integrity and intelligence who has served the people of this county admirably,” said Second District Supervisor Janice Rutherford. “His fiscal discipline and eagerness to tear down unproductive bureaucratic silos have allowed the county to return to its core functions as well as lead regional conversations about education, the economy and much more. As a board member, I will miss his daily presence and as a friend, I wish him and his family the very best.”
“Greg’s contacts in Sacramento and Washington and throughout Southern California and his knowledge of government have served the board and the county well,” said Board of Supervisors Vice Chairman Curt Hagman. “Greg played a key role working with me and other local leaders to return Ontario International Airport to local control. As the newest member of the board, I had been looking forward to working with Greg as CEO throughout my time on the Board. “I am glad he will still be available to us in an advisory role.”
“Greg has been a trusted and knowledgeable advisor through the years and he has worked effectively to help the board of supervisors achieve its goals,” said Third District Supervisor James Ramos.
The board of supervisors will discuss the finding of Devereaux’s replacement in closed session on Tuesday.
A multifaceted paradox of considerable proportion has manifested locally, brought on by shifting state law with regard to marijuana.
For decades the use and possession of marijuana was illegal in California, and over the generations considerable numbers of citizens were arrested, jailed, tried, convicted and imprisoned for smoking it, possessing it, selling it in small quantities or trafficking in it in larger quantities. With the 1960s and 1970s came an explosion in its prevalence and, while arrests for marijuana offenses correspondingly increased, there developed an unspoken degree of tolerance for the substance by a subset of the state’s law enforcement personnel, whose attitude was shaped by its ubiquity, its relative benignity in comparison to alcohol, its use by members of their own families, friends and acquaintances and in some cases their own personal affinity for it. Still the same, the state prison system as recently as earlier this decade was clogged with tens of thousands convicted of marijuana related offenses, predominantly trafficking.
In 1996, California voters ratified the use of marijuana for so-called medical purposes with the passage of the Compassionate Use Act. Thereupon, the marijuana paradox intensified. Marijuana was still considered a dangerous narcotic by the federal government. This left entrepreneurs who were willing to meet the demand for marijuana while functioning under the new permissiveness of state law yet vulnerable to federal prosecution. Simultaneously, significant numbers of generally healthy individuals began exploiting the terms of the Compassionate Use Act to obtain the drug for recreational use by acquiring questionable or outright fraudulent medical prescriptions. This corrosion of the law upset law enforcement officers and public officials in many locales, inspiring crackdowns on distribution outlets where such existed and even more stringent proactive action, including the passing of local ordinances and regulations. In some communities, however, local officials bowed to the new ethos, and cannabis clinics were allowed to function in the open and relatively unmolested. In San Bernardino County, marijuana use, by the general citizenry, rivaled usage levels elsewhere. The county’s officialdom, however, proved far less welcoming. Many San Bernardino County cities prohibited the establishment of commercial venues for selling marijuana products of any type, in spite of the tolerance in state law.
Indeed, with a few glaring exceptions, such as the City of Needles which was the first county municipality to officially tolerate the sale of the drug, and the City of Adelanto, which very late in the game grew to see the economic advantage of allowing the cultivation of marijuana, the vast majority of jurisdictions had ordinances and regulations that outright forbade the sale of medical marijuana within their own respective confines. Paradoxically, marijuana was universally available throughout the county at the street level and in many of the cases where dispensaries had been banned by ordinance, approaching 200 daring entrepreneurs operated medical marijuana clinics at various locations throughout the county.
In November 2016, the state’s voters liberalized the marijuana issue further, legalizing its use for recreational purposes, a development hailed by casual users of the substance as a move that was some thirty to forty years overdue.
Instead of alleviating or eliminating the paradox, however, legalization has intensified it. Marijuana dealers, who ever before operated from the shadows, were seemingly at liberty to come out into the open. As they did so, they have run head on into the paradox: A number have been arrested.
Last year, city after city in San Bernardino County, anticipating the passage of the statewide marijuana decriminalization initiative, Proposition 64, codified ordinances either tightening existing codes or created new ones outlawing altogether the sale of marijuana within city limits. Some would-be entrepreneurs, either ignorant of the passage of those ordinances or believing that state law would in some fashion trump local law, set up dispensaries, created distribution networks or established cultivation operations. For some of those, things have not gone particularly well.
On January 4, for example, San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department deputies who had armed themselves with a search warrant converged on a home in the 14600 block of Indian Wells Drive that had been converted into a marijuana growing facility. Inside they encountered 63-year-old Fuchun Xuan, who gave a Rosemead address but appeared to be the live-in caretaker of the scores of heavy resin-producing female marijuana plants being grown under electric lights, which incidentally, were powered with juice obtained through an illegal electrical bypass unit inside the garage. Xuan was arrested on suspicion of utility services theft and marijuana cultivation. Scores of marijuana plants, lighting systems, irrigation systems, various chemicals typically used in the marijuana growth process and other equipment were seized. His expectation of making sales of marijuana in the hundreds of thousands of dollars dashed, the hapless Xuan was being held at High Desert Detention Center in Adelanto in lieu of $25,000 bail when the Sentinel last checked.
On January 5 the detectives and deputies with the San Bernradino County Sheriff’s Department, likewise armed with a search warrant, descended upon a home in the 13100 block of Camellia Road that was functioning as a makeshift marijuana dispensary where marijuana and marijuana-based products represented as medically related, such as mid-grade marijuana, concentrated cannabis, known as “wax” or butane honey oil, and marijuana edibles, were available. The clinic was being staged out of the backyard of the house. Arrested at the scene were Johnny George Salazar, 54, of Victorville, and David Wayne Jones, 39, of Adelanto, on suspicion of illegal marijuana sales and operating an illegal marijuana dispensary.
Salazar is believed to be the same Johnny Salazar who owned and operated the Green Tree Health Healing Clinic, a medical marijuana dispensary he had somehow managed to continually fly under the radar in Victorville for more than a year some three years ago. Known as the High Desert’s “Johnny Appleseed of pot,” Salazar in 2015 began promoting the idea of having the City of Adelanto sanction such operations, which would be regulated and taxed. Salazar encountered rough sledding at first, as the council in general, and council member Charley Glasper in particular, were adamantly opposed to the concept of allowing Adelanto to be put on the map as one of the few San Bernardino County cities embracing marijuana sales, even if it offered a means of providing needed revenue in the city, which had declared a fiscal crisis in 2013. At one point, as Salazar dialogued with city officials, they softened, saying they might be willing to have the city council use its authority to schedule such a vote by the city’s residents if the city could piggyback another vote on a city-sponsored initiative to impose a sales tax or utility tax on its residents and if Salazar would pay for the costs of the special election for those initiatives. Salazar, however, was unwilling to bankroll the special election, angling instead to have the council simply adopt an ordinance establishing dispensaries meeting certain criteria permission to operate. For Glasper and the remainder of the council, that was a deal-breaker, and the concept was abandoned.
Salazar, however, did not quit. He continued to lobby Adelanto officials, at times seeming to have two votes lined up and needing just one more to get clearance to operate in the town of 31,765. When he would get that third vote in place, one of the previous two would go sideways on him. In June, then again in July, once more in August and in September of 2015 he was given indication approval of his clinic would be forthcoming but that he would need to wait. Then in October 2015, Salazar waded all the way in and opened a dispensary in a portable building on Highway 395 near Seneca Road. For almost three weeks, business was booming. But on October 21, 2015 the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, which serves as the police department for Adelanto on a contractual basis, came onto Salazar’s premises, armed with a search warrant. Salazar was arrested and his product and profits on hand at the location confiscated. He was released from custody later that evening but not before being cited for violating the city’s code prohibiting medical marijuana dispensaries and inhabiting an uninspected and unpermitted structure deemed unsafe for human occupancy.
It is worth noting that Salazar was treated in a gentlemanly way during his arrest, a contrast to the oftentimes harsh treatment accorded to most drug offenders in San Bernardino County in the distant and even more recent past. It was as if the sheriff’s department was acknowledging that medical marijuana advocates no longer fit the definition of out and out lawbreakers. Some pillars of the community such as Adelanto Councilman John Woodard, who has himself consistently supported Salazar’s marijuana clinic proposals, consider Salazar’s bold action in opening the clinic to be “heroic.”
Indeed, the following month, Adelanto, in apparent desperation over its catatonic economy, became the second of San Bernardino County’s 24 cities to embrace the tax-producing potential of marijuana, legalizing the massive scale cultivation of medical marijuana for commercial purposes.
In a 4 to 1 vote with councilman Ed Camargo dissenting, the council on Monday, November 23, 2015 approved an ordinance that authorized the licensing of such operations to be located within the city’s expansive industrial park which draw at least fifty percent of those who work there from Adelanto itself.
Despite his role in leading the charge toward marijuana production liberalization in Adelanto, Salazar was not granted one of the city’s 18 licenses to cultivate marijuana.
On January 13 of this year San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department deputies and investigators once again armed themselves with a search warrant and then used it to carry out a raid at what they maintain is an illegal marijuana shop in the 17000 block of C Street in Victorville. Inside the dispensary they discovered activity and contraband sufficient to shutter the establishment and arrest 28-year-old Daniel Oley, of Victorville, for operating an illegal the dispensary. They seized Oley’s wares, consisting of processed marijuana, concentrated cannabis, wax or butane honey oil, marijuana edibles and an undisclosed amount of cash.
“Evidence gathered during the investigation suggests the suspect, who was in charge of and working at the location, was not in compliance with California medical marijuana laws and local ordinances,” the sheriff’s department reported.
On January 10 San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies, who had obtained search warrants for two separate locations in the unincorporated area just outside the City of San Bernardino’s limits, served those warrants and arrested six people alleged to have been engaged in illegal marijuana sales. The first raid took place at a dispensary in the 600 block of W. 40th Street, where deputies say Edward Alberto, 42, of San Bernardino and Jesus Alfredo Vargas, 23, of Colton were engaged in illegal sales on the premises. Sheriff’s deputies seized marijuana, marijuana plants, concentrated cannabis, marijuana edibles, two firearms and cash. They also took Andrew Lee Finch, 22, of San Bernardino; Aaron Jovan Sallis, 36, of San Bernardino; Johnathan Zachary Hurley, 22, of San Bernardino; and Jacqueline Stephanie Rico, 22, of San Bernardino into custody. They then raided Alberto’s residence in the 4000 block of Cottage Drive in San Bernardino, finding several firearms and ammunition, paving the way for additional charges against Alberto, a convicted felon whose status does not allow him to possess firearms or ammunition. He was arrested on suspicion of illegal sales of marijuana and being a felon in possession of a firearm.
This occurred barely two months after the City of San Bernardino’s voters approved, by 26,037 votes or 55.12 percent in favor to 21,196 or 44.88 percent opposed, Measure O, which allows marijuana dispensaries to function in San Bernardino under a set of specified regulations.
Needles is the city in San Bernardino County that beat all others to the punch in allowing marijuana sales to proceed in accordance with the Compassionate Use Act. As early as 2012, medical marijuana clinics were in place in Needles. Some thrived.
On November 26, 2012, voters in Needles approved the adoption of the Marijuana Business Tax Ordinance and authorized the collection of a marijuana business tax of up to 10 percent of gross receipts. In December 2012, the Needles City Council set the marijuana business tax at the maximum 10 percent. That put the city at the forefront of San Bernardino County cities with respect to allowing the sale of medical marijuana. Thus, Needles enjoyed the distinction, dubious or positive depending on one’s personal perspective, as the marijuana capital of the largest county in the lower 48 states. In December 2014, with prospective marijuana operation applicants threatening to burgeon into the dozens, the city drew the line on the number of dispensaries it would allow, restricting the number to the five then functioning with fully legal permits.
In November 2015, when Adelanto, which ranks along with Needles as one of the most impoverished cities in San Bernardino County, legalized marijuana cultivation within its industrial parks but continued to ban retailing marijuana, that is, direct sale of the drug to end users, the gauntlet had been thrown down as to which city was the most progressive with regard to the cutting-edge social transformation which relates to how people are allowed to intoxicate themselves, and ending alcohol’s status as the only legal form of getting juiced up. In response, the Needles City Council in January 2016 by a 5 to 1 vote approved a new medical marijuana ordinance that will allow the city’s existing marijuana clinics to operate cultivation facilities, permitting the city to capture the excise tax revenue off not only retail but wholesale distribution of the drug.
In Upland, which is host to a population that is far more affluent, on average, than those residents in Needles, San Bernardino or Adelanto, the city has continued to hold the line, at least officially, on prohibiting the commercial distribution of marijuana within its city limits. In the face of the Compassionate Use Act, the City of Gracious Living had a longstanding ban on medical marijuana dispensaries, which last year on September 26, 2016 the city council voted to strengthen with the adoption of an even stronger prohibition, Ordinance 1910. After medical marijuana advocates in January 2015 turned over a petition for a vote on permitting three dispensaries to set up operations along Foothill Boulevard at the far west side of the city, the controlling majority on the city council, deadset against allowing the city to become a host for such operations, utilized an ultimately discredited legal stratagem to have that election, which under the law was supposed to take place by June of 2015, postponed until the November 2016 election. While an appellate court eventually overturned the decision by Superior Court Judge David Cohn that allowed for the postponement, costing the City of Upland $100,000 in legal fees in the process, that reversal came too late to keep the election from being postponed. When the city’s voters at last were able to consider the proposal to allow marijuana to be sold in the city, the voters rejected the idea 19,419 votes or 64.38 percent to 10,745 or 35.62 percent.
But just as the marijuana paradox has manifested in Adelanto and San Bernardino, where despite the drug being legal within given parameters those seeking to sell it are being subject to arrest, a different version of the paradox has exhibited itself in Upland. Despite the sale of the drug being prohibited there, the marijuana trade is flourishing.
In Upland, a number of dispensaries are currently up and running. Some have been in place for several months. One other has been in place for close to two years. A third has been in operation for at least three years.
Ordinance 1910 states, “The City Council of the City of Upland hereby finds and determines that it is the purpose and intent of this chapter to prohibit certain marijuana-related uses and activities, in order to promote health, safety, and general welfare of the residents, businesses, and visitors to the city. Except when preempted by state law, dispensing, cultivation, transporting, distributing, processing, delivering, manufacturing, labeling, and/or testing, whether for recreational, medical, or any other use, except that this prohibition does not apply to prohibit qualified patients and persons with identification cards to cultivate indoors, possess, and use marijuana for their own personal medical purposes only, as permitted by state law. Nothing herein shall be construed to authorize qualified patients to engage in the collective cultivation of marijuana as described by Health and Safety Code section 11362.775 nor are they permitted to cultivate marijuana above limits established by state law and guidelines for their own personal use. Nor shall anything herein be construed as permitting primary caregivers to cultivate marijuana indoors anywhere in the city.”
In 2013, the city passed an administrative citation ordinance, which gives Upland’s community development director the authority, at his sole discretion, to impose fines of up to $1,000 per day on an entity within the city – either a resident or business – that is out of compliance with any city code. Moreover, the city has authority to shutter any business that defies city ordinances consistently.
Upland city officials inexplicably have not moved to close down or even cite any of several marijuana distribution concerns within the city.
This has led to widespread accusations that some individuals within the city at a very high level – perhaps at the level of the city manager, community development director or police chief – are receiving kickbacks or are otherwise on the take.
Former city councilman Glenn Bozar, when asked how it is that the marijuana trade has persisted in Upland – often in the wide open – he said he was as baffled and disturbed by it as many others. “I can’t explain it,” Bozar said.
In the meantime, some of the city’s pro-marijuana availability activists, including those behind recently failed Measure U, qualified yet another measure to okay locating marijuana clinics in Upland. That measure was submitted to the city clerk prior to the November election, in which voters up and down the state passed Proposition 64, allowing adults to buy and use marijuana for recreational purposes. The call for a citywide initiative on medical marijuana availability persists, however.
At the Upland City Council’s January 9, 2017 meeting, the council considered city staff’s call that the city council, which now counts among its members two individuals who were not on that body when Ordinance 1910 was passed in September, provide direction on a course of action with regards to either repealing Ordinance 1910 or directing staff to begin the process of establishing a special election to submit the ordinance endorsed in the petition process that qualified in October for voter approval.
In recent months, a group of Upland residents which is heavily weighted with current and former law enforcement officers and which calls itself the Upland Coalition of Concerned Citizens, has expressed distrust of newly elected mayor Debbie Stone vis-à-vis the city’s policy with regard to marijuana.
While Stone has made desultory statements to the effect that she personally does not favor legalized distribution of marijuana in Upland, she did not advocate against Measure U, despite calls upon her by some in the community to do so. The Upland Coalition of Concerned Citizens has suggested that Stone has not been forthright on the issue because her campaign manager and treasurer was former Upland City Manager Stephen Dunn, who spearheaded the campaign in favor of Measure U.
In a letter to Upland City Attorney Richard Adams, Steve Bierbaum, the group’s director stated, “The Upland Coalition of Concerned Citizens strongly urges Mayor Debbie Stone to recuse herself from any and all business, transactions, decision making power, official input or voting regarding Ordinance 1910.”
Bierbaum continued, “This action in no way suggests or implies that Mayor Debbie Stone has done anything illegal, nor is it meant to imply that city staff or the remainder of the city council has either. However, it is very clear that her relationship with Stephen Dunn and the pro-marijuana group, Californians for Responsible Government, unequivocally disqualifies her from participating in any discussion or vote on the issue of the referendum. Failure by her to recuse herself will leave the door open to lingering questions of a violation of the Upland Code of Ethics and Conduct, and a loss of public trust by Upland citizens.” Bierbaum said his group was “urging that Mayor Stone do the right thing and avoid the risk of compromising her integrity and further damaging the city’s reputation.”
In Chino Hills, one of only two cities in San Bernardino County that is more affluent than Upland, city officials there doubled down on that municipality’s long existing ban prohibiting medical marijuana collectives and medical marijuana cultivation. The planning commission on Tuesday recommended that the city council amend its current city code to extend the ban on marijuana-related activity to ensure that Proposition 64’s allowance of commercial marijuana activities legalizing marijuana sales to, and use by, adults 21 and over will not apply in Chino Hills. The recommended ordinance would further disallow outdoor cultivation of marijuana for either recreational or medicinal use.
Under Proposition 64’s provisions, state residents over 21 can grow up to six plants for personal use inside a house, apartment unit, mobile home, greenhouse, shed or garage. These botanic endeavors must be undertaken in an enclosed and secured space that is not publicly visible.
72-year-old Ignacia Salas has been charged with attempted murder after she allegedly stabbed her 17-year-old granddaughter.
According to the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office, Salas became embroiled in a heated argument with her granddaughter on January 9 around 7 p.m. when she allegedly stabbed the girl in the head. The victim was transported to a local hospital but is expected to survive.
Salas was arrested by officers with the Fontana Police Department and taken to West Valley Detention Center. In addition to the attempted murder charge, she also faces a charge of assault with a deadly weapon, according to the district attorney’s office.
Yesterday, January 19, Salas, through an interpreter, pleaded not guilty to attempted murder charges during her arraignment in West Valley Superior Court in Rancho Cucamonga.
By Mark Gutglueck
The Colonies Lawsuit Settlement Public Corruption Prosecution continued into its third week, with prosecutor Lewis Cope presenting elements at the center of the allegations against the four remaining defendants, tempered by defense attorneys for all four making a concerted and withering assault on the credibility, knowledge and moral authority of the prosecution’s first witness. The week closed with testimony from a second witness who outlined a key element of the prosecution’s contention that Rancho Cucamonga-based developer Jeff Burum, with the assistance of former sheriff’s deputies union president Jim Erwin, intimidated, extorted and blackmailed two former members of the county board of supervisors, Bill Postmus and Paul Biane, to support settling for $102 million in 2006 a lawsuit brought against the county by Burum’s company. Thereafter, the prosecution alleges, Burum delivered kickbacks of $100,000 each to Postmus and Biane.
In 2011, Burum and Erwin, along with Biane and Mark Kirk, who was at that time the chief of staff to then-Fourth District County Supervisor Gary Ovitt, were indicted, and charged with participting in an elaborate extortion and bribery scheme relating to settling the Colonies Partners’ 2002 lawsuit against the county over drainage issues at the Colonies at San Antonio residential and Colonies Crossroads commercial subdivisions in northeast Upland on terms that were favorable to the plaintiffs. Burum was with Dan Richards a co-managing principal in the 23-member Colonies Partners development consortium, which built the project on land formerly used for water drainage and local aquifer recharge. The developers’ move to develop the property and the county’s desire to continue to use it for its historic water diversion purposes led to the lawsuit that created the circumstances prosecutors now say entailed extortion and bribery.
The extortion, prosecutors alleged, consisted of Burum’s hiring of private investigators to accumulate derogatory information on Postmus, who in 2006 was then the chairman of the board of supervisors and the chairman of the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee and running for county assessor, and on Biane, who at that time was vice chairman of the county board of supervisors and vice chairman of the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee and sponsoring a countywide measure to raise supervisors’ pay from $99,000 per year to $151,000 per year. Prosecutors allege Burum conveyed a threat through Erwin to reveal that information, pertaining to Postmus’ drug use and homosexuality and Biane’s bisexuality and precarious financial circumstance, to the county’s voters by means of a mass mailing campaign. Ultimately, Burum withheld those mailers, prosecutors say, and three weeks after the November 2006 election, Postmus, Biane and Ovitt voted to confer the $102 million settlement on the Colonies Partners in a 3-2 vote, with then-supervisor Dennis Hansberger and supervisor Josie Gonzalez dissenting. Over the first six months of 2007, Burum and Richards then provided Postmus, Biane, Erwin and Kirk each with $100,000 in donations to political action committees they controlled, which, in the case of Postmus, Biane and Kirk, prosecutors maintain, were bribes or kickbacks for supporting the settlement, and in the case of Erwin, a reward for helping Burum perpetrate the extortion. Prosecutors allege Kirk was bribed in return for having delivered Ovitt’s vote in favor of the settlement.
Fifteen months prior to the indictment, Postmus and Erwin had been criminally charged in the matter, at which time they both pled not guilty. In March 2011, however, Postmus pleaded guilty to all ten felony charges pending against him in the Colonies criminal matter, four felony charges relating to the improper use of his authority as assessor and a single misdemeanor narcotics offense, and agreed to turn state’s evidence against Erwin, Burum, Biane and Kirk in exchange for the dismissal of some of the charges against him and the promise of lenient sentencing. The charges in the indictment against Erwin superseded the earlier criminal charges.
All four of the remaining defendants are maintaining their innocence.
This week, deputy district attorney R. Lewis Cope continued with his examination of Dennis Hansberger, one of the two members of the board of supervisors in 2006 who opposed the settlement with the Colonies Partners.
Hansberger was a member of the board which ultimately oversaw and approved the county’s legal defense, which was put forth by the county’s in-house attorneys, known as county counsel, and over the course of the lawsuit by two outside law firms, Munger, Tolles and Olsen and Jones Day. He also had personal private industry experience which involved rock, gravel and sand mining operations. For this reason, Cope considers Hansberger a powerful witness for the prosecution. He was able to testify to the progression of events that led up to the dispute over who was responsible for paying for flood control improvements at Colonies’ 434-acre property, which had previously existed as a rock, gravel and sand mining operation and upon which flood control easements were recorded in 1933, 1934 and 1939 allowing the county’s flood control division to use it to spread storm water runoff from the mountains north of it. He was able to offer his conclusion, based on his professional knowledge, that the land, because it traditionally contained a 31-acre basin that had been converted from a rock quarry, was undevelopable and therefore not worth the amount of money the Colonies Partners claimed it was worth during the litigation.
The Colonies Partners purchased the land from the San Antonio Water Company in 1997, paying $16 million for it. When the State of California, through its department of transportation known as CalTrans undertook to extend the 210 Freeway, it purchased 40 of the Colonies Partners’ acres for $17 million. The City of Upland insisted that the freeway be put in at sub-grade, that is below ground level, resulting in water pooling in the freeway’s traffic lanes during a heavy deluge. At the city’s request, the county’s flood control district constructed the 20th Street storm drain to whisk that pooling water as well as the runoff from an area above the freeway toward a nearby storm channel that had been built by the Army Corps of Engineers in the 1970s to convey water southward to the Prado Dam near Corona. The flood control district’s engineers, relying on the 1933, 1934 and 1939 easements, designed the 20th Street Storm Drain to empty into the basin on the Colonies Partners’ property. That increased the size of the basin from 31 acres to 60.88 acres and this became part of the issue of contention between the Colonies Partners and the county in the lawsuit. While the Colonies Partners maintained that its property was obsolete for flood control purposes because of the advent of the Army Corps of Engineers-built flood control channel near the border of Upland with Rancho Cucamonga, the county maintained that its easements remained in effect and that the basin was needed to hold the storm flow from northern Upland and the freeway while it was being directed to the flood control channel because water could empty into the flood control channel at a maximum rate of 650 cubic feet per second while the actual amount of runoff generated during a heavy rainstorm might reach 3,500 cubic feet per second or thereabouts.
In one of the primary stages of the lawsuit, Judge Peter Norell had entered a ruling favorable to the Colonies Partners that held that the county’s 1933, 1934 and 1939 easements had been “abandoned.” This emboldened the Colonies Partners in their effort to have the county settle the matter so the company could then push on with its developmental agenda and build and sell houses in what was at that time a booming economy. The county, however, appealed Norell’s ruling to the Fourth District Court of Appeals, which ruled that Norell had erred, and that the 1933 easement pertaining to the original 31-acre basin was yet in force and that the matter should be returned to the trial court so the county and the Colonies Partners could work out some accommodation with regard to the use of the additional 29.88 acres the county needed for additional drainage collection on the property. The 1939 easement provided for just such an accommodation, but required that the arrangement for the use of any property beyond the original 31 acres must be done under terms acceptable to the property owner. When the matter returned to San Bernardino Superior Court, the case was transferred from Norell to Judge Christopher Warner, who heard the matter as a bench trial without a jury. Warner ruled that the county, particularly flood control district director Ken Miller, had made misrepresentations with regard to the application of the flood control easements and the extent to which the basin on the Colonies Partners’ property would be enlarged, and he entered an intended statement of decision in which he ruled that the easements had not been abandoned but “extinguished.”
Throughout the course of this legal action, Hansberger testified, Paul Biane, whose Second Supervisorial District encompassed Upland, had initially taken the lead in prompting the board of supervisors to settle the litigation with either a cash payout to the Colonies Partners or by providing the Colonies Partners with some 800 acres of land at the north end of Rancho Cucamonga in addition to some cash. Hansberger noted that the county flood control district had constructed the 20th Street Storm Drain at the request of the City of Upland, which had provided the land use approval for the construction of residential and commercial subdivisions on the Colonies property. That the Colonies property had previously been zoned as open space, taken together with his general knowledge of water law and the circumstances attending the property, Handsberger said, combined with the advice of the county’s attorneys, first Munger, Tolles and Olsen and later Jones Day, to confirm his belief that the Colonies Partners were owed nothing in the lawsuit they had filed against the county.
After Hansberger’s testimony on direct examination by Cope concluded midmorning on Tuesday January 17, Stephen Larson, Burum’s defense attorney, began his cross-examination of Hansberger.
Before initiating his questioning, Larson told Hansberger that he was “not here to embarrass you, but it is important that this jury know the full story.”
Drawing upon his stature as a former assistant U.S. Attorney and federal judge, and aided by his imposing physical presence, resonant baritone voice and intense demeanor, Larson grilled Hansberger, seeming initially to overwhelm him with the speed of his well-planned and methodic questions as Hansberger, adjusting from the more laid-back approach by Cope, found himself seeking to step up the speed of his responses to the staccato of questions vectored at him, but then gradually recovered his composure in the face of Larson’s onslaught. If Larson was indeed seeking to impose on the jury the impression that Hansberger’s slow responses in some fashion denoted a lack of candor or assurance, he doubled down by heightening the effect of folding his arms against his chest after delivering each question and then pacing to and fro behind the attorney’s lectern in a show of impatience with Hansberger’s responses. In addition to this use of body language to suggest impatience or disbelief at Hansberger’s responses, Larson took to interjecting further questions as Hansberger, in either choosing his words carefully or in struggling for an answer, made slow response. This prompted Judge Michael Smith, before whom the case is being heard, to instruct Larson to allow the witness to answer fully before moving on to the next question.
Whether this tactic succeeded in lighting in the jurors’ minds a question about whether Hansberger’s statements were entirely reliable or not, Larson did early on in the questioning succeed in spelling out for the jurors that Hansberger was a prosecution witness, one who was laying out the prosecution’s version of events. To a pointed set of questions that suggested his testimony was being choreographed by the prosecution, Hansberger acknowledged that he had accompanied Cope and the other prosecutor handling the case, Supervising Deputy California Attorney General Melissa Mandell, back to the district attorney’s office after his first day of testimony on the stand last week. When Larson asked him what he had done to prepare for his testimony, Hansberger said he had reviewed some material and documents relating to the case. “I did review some of the grand jury testimony,” Hansberger said. When Larson pressed further, Hansberger acknowledged he had discussed his testimony with the prosecution team, but denied he was being coached. He further acknowledged that he had exchanges with district attorney’s office investigators and that he had not met with defense investigators.
Larson maintained the nearly frenetic pace of questioning until the noon hour break. After the court was back in session at 1:30, the velocity of Larson’s questioning diminished, though its intensity did not.
Larson did not neglect to wring from Hansberger an admission that he had no knowledge with regard to Burum bribing any of the defendants.
Some of Larson’s questions focused on a failed attempt by Postmus and Biane, in the early Spring of 2005 to arrive at a $77.5 million settlement with Burum and Dan Richards, who were assisted by their paid consultant, former state senator Jim Brulte, in a forum outside the presence of attorneys representing either side. That tentative agreement fell apart after the leaking to the press of a memo written by the Munger, Tolles & Olsen attorney representing the county, Paul Watford. In that memo Watford expressed discomfiture with the proposed settlement. Shortly thereafter Munger, Tolles & Olsen resigned as the county’s legal representative in the Colonies matter, necessitating the hiring of Jones Day as a replacement.
Larson raised the issue of the leaking of the memo, which was considered to be a privileged communication. In his questions, Larson noted that both Hansberger and his then-chief of staff, Jim Foster, had been accused by Biane of leaking the memo. Hansberger denied being responsible for the leak.
In this and other ways, Larson suggested to Hansberger that there was “some bad blood between you and Mr. Biane, right?”
“Discomfort and bad blood are way different things,” Hansberger responded, saying he did not hold a grudge against others based upon disagreements over political matters.
Focusing on Hansberger’s previous testimony regarding Biane having met with Burum in an effort to arrive at a settlement outside the rubric of the official court proceedings and the guidance of attorneys, Larson achieved having Hansberger acknowledge that Biane informed his colleagues of those meetings.
“He wasn’t hiding the fact that he met with him, correct?” Larson asked.
“Yes,” Hansberger responded.
Larson then focused on the issue of campaign contributions, moving from general to specific examples, including ones made to Postmus and Biane and Hansberger himself.
“There’s nothing wrong with developers making campaign contributions, right?” Larson asked. Hansberger chose his words carefully in response to that, saying that “They seem distasteful sometimes, but there is nothing illegal about them.”
To Larson’s questioning, Hansberger said Burum had told him, at a breakfast meeting they had at the Ontario Hilton in 2007, about the $100,000 contributions he had made to the political action committees controlled by Erwin, Postmus and Biane.
In that questioning, Larson angled at getting an admission from Hansberger that he had sought a political contribution from Burum himself. Hansberger indicated his inquiry of Burum was less about getting a political contribution from Burum but rather determining to what extent Burum was supporting his opponent, Neil Derry, in the then-upcoming 2008 election for Third District supervisor, and then dissuade him from doing so. Hansberger said Burum told him that he believed that much of the $100,000 he had given Erwin would be put into Derry’s campaign and that he had also provided $100,000 to the sheriff’s deputies union, over which Erwin as the union’s previous president held some sway, but that he, Burum, would not be supporting Derry beyond that. Larson asked if Hansberger had sought a donation from Burum, and Hansberger said he had received a $2,500 donation from Burum.
With regard to political donations he received while he was supervisor for two terms from 1972 to 1980 and again supervisor from 1996 to 2008, Hansberger told Larson he did not know precisely whether they exceeded $1 million or not but that they had been “substantial.”
Larson succeeded in getting Hansberger to testify that Burum had not kept the political action committee donations secret, suggesting that the openness with which they were provided discredited the characterization of them as bribes.
The following day, Wednesday January 18, Larson utilized overhead projections of a number of internal county documents, including one which dealt with a county application to de-license the basin on the Colonies property as a flood control facility, as well as court documents relating to the easements which touched on their continuing applicability and court rulings finding they were no longer in effect. He questioned Hansberger about these and dwelled at length over the degree to which Hansberger familiarized himself with the then-ongoing litigation brought by the Colonies Partners over the flood control issues on the company’s property and the degree to which the county faced setbacks in court. Both Larson and the attorney who later that day cross examined Hansberger, Erwin’s lawyer Raj Maline, made continual reference to Hansberger having consistently voted against the various settlement proposals that came before the board of supervisors while noting that all four of his colleagues at that time had on nearly all of the occasions voted to settle. By the tone of their questions, Larson and Maline implied that Hansberger was being unreasonable and obstinate. Hansberger, however, consistently held his ground. When it was suggested the settlement made sense given the way the litigation was going and the limitations on the scope of the easements, Hansberger said he believed differently. To Maline’s question “You knew [Judge Warner’s] statement of intended decision was pretty bad against the county, right?” Hansberger responded, “I did not find it credible.” He said he did not “believe the City of Upland would give them [the Colonies Partners] permits to build” without the understanding that “open space” on the property would be preserved to accommodate the water that naturally flowed there and which came from the 20th Street Storm Drain, “which the city asked the county to build.”
Hansberger said he did not support the settlement because “the evidence did not support their numbers and no lawyer would put their name on it because the settlement was way off base.” He said that all of the county’s lawyers, in-house and those retained as special counsel, were telling him “’The evidence we have does not support Judge Warner’s decision. We need to go back to the court of appeal.’ I accepted that and the others did not and we went forward [with the settlement.]”
Both Biane’s attorney, Mark McDonald, and Mark Kirk’s Attorney, Peter Scalisi, proved far less aggressive with Hansberger than were Larson and Maline. Mark McDonald, asked Hansberger if he knew anything at all about his client having taken a bribe from Burum.
“No,” said Hansberger.
McDonald asked Hansberger about an appraisal the Colonies Partners obtained delineating their damages in excess of $300 million. Hansberger said he had no recollection of that documentation being provided to him.
“All I recall is a newspaper article saying that’s what they wanted,” Hansberger said.
On Thursday, Cope brought in another formidable witness, former state Assemblyman Brett Granlund, who served in California’s lower legislative house from 1994 until 2000.
Granlund, a Republican like nearly everyone else involved in the case, including defendants and witnesses, was formerly on good terms with the defendants in the case, and was even considered to be a political ally of most of them. He is now a lobbyist with Sacramento-based Platinum Advisors. Among Platinum Advisors’ clients is the County of San Bernardino. Granlund said he was close to Erwin for two decades. Their relationship hit the skids sometime after Erwin was criminally charged in the Colonies case.
Cope elicited from Granlund evidence that could establish that the extortion element of the crime existed. Granlund testified that Jim Erwin told him in 2006 he intended to bring blackmail to bear in getting both Postmus and Biane to effectuate the final settlement of the lawsuit. Granlund said that in the fall of 2006 Erwin said he had “hit pieces,” political mailers bearing derogatory information pertaining to Postmus and Biane, that would be distributed to the county’s voters, if the pair did not approve the settlement between the county and the Colonies Partners. “What I remember him (Erwin) saying was, ‘I can destroy them [Postmus and Biane] personally and politically,’” Granlund said.
Erwin told Granlund that both Postmus and Biane’s rubbish had been taken and pored over. What turned up, Granlund said Erwin told him, was that Biane “was in serious financial trouble [and] near bankruptcy.” Granlund said it was unclear exactly who had gotten access to the two supervisors’ trash. “He said that they had acquired Mr. Biane’s trash from trash collection and gone through it and found numerous items in the trash that would be injurious to Mr. Biane’s reputation,”
Moreover, Granlund said that according to Erwin, Biane was using his county-issued car to travel to his residence in Mexico and taking a flat-screen television from his office across the border. And Erwin represented that he had access to the sheriff’s department’s “red card file,” Granlund said, which contained a field report compiled by a deputy relating to Biane having been encountered in a “compromising position” with another man in a car in the parking lot of Biane’s family’s winery.
That Biane was then sponsoring Measure P, which was a countywide initiative on the 2006 ballot to raise supervisors’ salaries, created a situation in which Erwin could use that information, Granlund indicated. He said Erwin told him funding was available either from Burum or the sheriff’s deputies union to print and distribute the hit piece containing the information about Biane as part of the opposition to Measure P.
The effort to force Biane and Postmus to settle the underlying Colonies lawsuit was intensifying in late 2006, as the November election was approaching, in which Postmus was running for county assessor, Granlund said, since shortly after his anticipated victory Postmus would leave his position on the board of supervisors.
“(Erwin) said that it was important that this gets settled, and that it was important that it got settled prior to Supervisor Postmus leaving the board, and that he could pressure the board to get this settled,” Granlund said. Erwin told him, Granlund said, that he was prepared to reveal to the world Postmus’ homosexuality and methamphetamine addiction in mailers that could destroy his reputation and political career.
Postmus was particularly vulnerable to this effort to influence his vote, Granlund said, because the First District, in which Postmus then served, was the most conservative district countywide and Postmus’ family was very religious. “He [Postmus] would be rejected by family and friends, and his political career would be finished,” Granlund said.
With the further advance into Winter 2017, alluring but treacherous Mt. San Antonio has claimed its first, albeit not fatal, victim of the season.
An unnamed woman eluded death on Monday after she slipped from the Devils’s Backbone portion of the 12.9 mile long Angeles National Forest trail that leads to the peak of Mt. Baldy, and slid an unspecified distance down the steep and ice-encrusted precipice. A San Bernardino County Fire department helicopter, Air Rescue 9, was dispatched to the scene, roughly two miles from the 10,064 elevation summit. After she was plucked from below the ridge, she was transported because of her injuries to Cow Canyon Saddle, where a ground ambulance unit retrieved her.
The extent of her injuries was not detailed, though it was said her life was not in danger.
The Devil’s Backbone is a seven-tenths of a mile-long trail that stretches along a rocky ridge east of the Mt. Baldy summit. This trail, which starts at its east end roughly 1.3 miles from the 7,800 foot level Baldy Notch, boasts some of the most spectacular views in the Mt. Baldy area. Most of the Devil’s Backbone trail is between four and five feet wide, though at spots it narrows to little more than 18 inches across. Along one stretch of the Devil’s Backbone, the drop-off on one or both sides is very precipitous. Under dry conditions in the late spring, summer and fall, a hiker who happens to fall from that portion of the trial would most likely be able arrest his descent after a few yards and, with some effort, climb back up. In the winter, however, with both the top of the ridge and its sides coated with ice, even the strongest or the most skilled of climbers would be hard pressed to stop his downward slide and, having done so, climb the steep icy grade back to the top of the ridge.
To make matters worse, the winds are very strong in that area, gusting at times to 100 miles per hour. Indeed, the life expectancy of a hiker traversing the devil’s backbone in the winter, with the ground below his feet iced over and the howling wind buffeting him from unpredictable angles, is a fraction – and a minute fraction at that – of the life expectancy of those in the general population.
Scaling to the top of 10,064 Mount San Antonio, known colloquially as Mt. Baldy, is a rite of passage for dedicated hikers in Southern California. Modern day, serious, experienced and seasoned hikers who brave the climb to the peak of Mt. Baldy in the winter come outfitted properly with warm – i.e., woolen – clothes; broken-in hiking boots onto the bottoms of which are affixed crampons, traction devices with metal teeth that dig into the iced surface to prevent slippage; and an ice pick; not to mention communication devices such as a cell phone that can be used to summon help in an emergency. Nevertheless, no laws prohibit inexperienced individuals from foolishly braving the mountain in an unequipped state.
The mountain can be unforgiving to even the most experienced of adventurers.
The woman who slipped from the Devil’s Backbone on Monday was indeed lucky. Eleven months ago, three people lost their lives on Mount Baldy within a span of three weeks. Two of those deaths came on, or rather on the frigid and unforgiving ice below, the Devil’s Backbone.
On February 2, 2016 Daniel Nguyen, 23, was walking along the Devil’s Backbone Trail around 7 a.m. with a friend when his companion slipped. Nguyen tried pulling his friend to safety but as he did so, he himself slipped off the trail and down the mountainside, with fatal consequences.
Four days later, Dong Xing Liu, 47 of Temple City, was hiking with his wife at a level much further down the mountain in the Icehouse Saddle area when both slipped on the icy terrain below their feet. Liu’s wife suffered a broken arm but Liu succumbed to his injuries, which included severe head trauma.
The U.S. Forest Service shut down the Icehouse Saddle hiking trail in the weeks following Liu’s death.
A 45-year-old San Diego man whose identity was never released by authorities fell to his death while hiking across the Devil’s Backbone on Saturday February 20, 2016.
In addition, on both February 5 and February 6, 2016, 23 people were flown out of the mountain area around Mt. Baldy by the sheriff’s department’s helicopter, with twelve of those – either injured or stranded hikers – being airlifted from situations in which they faced possible death.
The mountain has proven fatal to dozens of hikers over the years.
In early December 2010, two weeks before the onset of winter, Michelle Yu, 49 of Venice, described by those who knew her as an experienced mountaineer who trained and hiked regularly on Mt. Baldy, perished when she fell during a hike and tumbled down a steep precipice into the rugged, ice-covered area known as the Fish Fork drainage northwest of Mt. Baldy summit. Her exposure to the elements over the course of the night, when temperatures dropped to below 20 degrees, contributed to her death.
60-year-old Dominic Belletti of Long Beach was hiking alone in the Mt. Baldy Bowl area in January 2013 when he fell to his death.
Mt. San Antonio has been no kinder to skiers and snowboarders. Mt. Baldy is known as a challenging ski resort. Though it does have one “baby run,” novices are discouraged from skiing there.
And it is no typical skiing venue, but is rather considered a backcountry locale. Wildsnow.com, which bills itself as a backcountry skiing blog, provides a ski descent rating system for the world’s most challenging skiing settings, rating runs for both difficulty and risk.
Three of Mt. Baldy’s runs are listed high up on those rating schemes.
Zeke’s Chute at Mt. Baldy rates a D9 on the rating card, with this notation: “Slopes probably around 45 degrees. Crux sections are short.”
Dostie’s Dare at Mt. Baldy is pegged at D11 on the difficulty scale. “Slopes probably around 45 degrees, moderate amount of complicating terrain features,” the website states.
The site also references the ironically-named “Girly Man Chute at Mt. Baldy with this notation: “Steepest section probably around 50 degrees, moderate or no terrain obstacles.”
While those are difficulty ratings which are ostensibly unrelated to risk ratings, Mt. Baldy ski runs are notoriously risky. The proximity of the runs to trees, rocks and boulders along with the steepness of their grades give skiers little margin for error. Additionally, because there is oftentimes sparse snowfall at Mt. Baldy and Mt. Baldy does not have a water reserve for snowmaking, skiers are from time to time presented with a rock patch they must jump. Any miscalculations or failures to execute can result in very untoward consequences.
Precise numbers are not available but anecdotal accounts are that there have been more than 20 deaths of skiers on and off the slopes at Mt. Baldy since 1975.
By Count Friedrich von Olsen
Governor Jerry Brown has reduced his $179.5-billion budget for the fiscal year beginning in July to $177.1 billion…
He has been at this being governor thing long enough that you would think he could get it right. Why, $2.4 billion is about half of what I am personally worth. If I was off by that much every year, I’d be in the poorhouse in two years…
He claims all of this reduction will come about because of lagging tax revenue collections, which has now made his fellow Democrats give up their calls for additional spending. It seems now the Republicans’ demands for additional cuts may finally be given the attention they merit…
Brown’s budget advisors lowered the official tax revenue forecast because of what they now see as slower than expected growth in wages and consequent government income. They also reduced expectations for sales and corporate taxes because of broader national trends…
Our governor is proposing that we come to terms with this newly discovered deficit primarily by slowing the growth in spending on public schools by $1.7 billion, a change that brings funding down to the minimum required by formulas layered into California’s Constitution…
“To manage unreliability requires prudence,” Brown said of his decisions to address the projected budget shortfall. Well, that is something I can agree with…
Traditionally, the governor is given broad leeway in framing how the state will spend its money. I’m thinking that this $2.4 billion budget gap is nothing to sneeze at and maybe others should be given a sounding board on saying exactly how this money is to be spent…
Sacramento’s annual budget writing season will be hitting fever pitch in a month or two. We will be hearing more and more on the details in the weeks ahead. We are faced with changing fiscal conditions. We might soon see a push by the Republicans, who are in charge in D.C. nowadays, to reduce a major portion of the $105 billion in federal funding promises the state expects to receive for a variety of services…
The governor’s budget also shortchanges the doctors who were promised they would be given higher reimbursement rates from the revenue generated by the passage of Proposition 56, last year’s tobacco tax increase earmarked to boost healthcare funding. Now that’s what I call some real sleight-of-hand…
In the late 1800s, the mining of Borax became an important part of the Mojave Desert’s economy. In addition to what are perhaps the most famous borax mines in Death Valley, other operations existed elsewhere in the desert, including in Borate, three miles east of Calico. Mule teams were utilized to ferry the borax to a railroad spur, where the mineral would be loaded aboard trains. One such spur existed at Daggett. The wagons used for this were among the largest ever pulled by draft animals, designed to carry 10 short tons (9 metric tons) of borax ore at a time
SAN BERNARDINO January 17, 2017–On Saturday January 14th, the second bald eagle count of the winter was conducted by local Federal and State biologists and citizen scientists around several lakes in southern California. Several dozen bald eagles typically spend their winter vacations around southern California’s lakes, adding to a few resident nesting bald eagles that stay year-round.
A total of four bald eagles, all adults, were observed by 62 eagle-eyed observers during the 1-hour count period on Saturday morning. Bald eagles acquire the full white head and tail in their 5th year. Until then, they have different plumages of brown and white. The number of eagles was low because two sites, Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead, were not able to hold their counts due to winter snow and road conditions.
Ken Kietzer (Senior Environmental Scientist at Lake Perris State Recreation Area) reported one adult bald eagle observed by 33 people. Seven participants watched a pair of adult eagles at Lake Hemet. Kathy Williams from Silverwood State Recreation Area reported that a beautiful outing was had by their 22 eagle counters who were thrilled to see one adult bald eagle.
The censuses at Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear Lake were cancelled due to the storm that dumped up to a foot and half of snow, limiting safe and legal parking areas for participants. However, residents at Lake Arrowhead had been reliably seeing one pair of adult eagles and it is likely that those eagles continue to be there.
Birders in Big Bear Lake had been observing and photographing at least three sub-adults and two adult eagles in the days before and after Saturday’s count. For the past couple of weeks, a bald eagle with orange wing tags numbered 55 has been present at Big Bear Lake. The eagle is a sub-adult female named Sammy that hatched on Catalina Island in 2015.
The count coordinators from the Forest Service and State Recreation Areas would like to thank those participants for their dedication in getting up early and participating in the eagle censuses this winter. The success of the eagle counts is entirely dependent on the citizen scientists!
Please join us for one of the upcoming bald eagle counts for this winter! The remaining bald eagle counts for this winter are scheduled for the following Saturday mornings: February 11th, and March 11th. No experience is needed. Signing up ahead of time is unnecessary – just show up at the designated time and location, dress warmly, bring binoculars and a watch. Counting eagles is fun, easy, and only takes a couple of hours. Participants meet at 8:00 (or 8:30 for Lake Hemet) for coordination and instructions. They are at their observation sites from 9:00 to 10:00 and then return to turn in the observation forms.
Big Bear Lake area participants meet at 8:00 a.m. at the Forest Service’s Big Bear Discovery Center on North Shore Drive for orientation. Contact Robin Eliason (email@example.com or 909-382-2832) for more information. Please call 909-382-2832 for cancellation due to winter weather conditions. If the count has to be canceled due to mountain road/winter conditions, an outgoing message will be left by 6:30 am on the morning of the count. Contact the Discovery Center (909-382-2790) for information about Eagle Celebrations. There will also be a free slideshow about bald eagles at 11:00 after the counts.
Lake Arrowhead/Lake Gregory participants meet at 8:00 a.m. at the Skyforest Ranger Station for orientation. Contact Robin Eliason (firstname.lastname@example.org or 909-382-2832) for more information. Please call 909-382-2832 for cancellation due to winter weather conditions. If the count has to be canceled due to mountain road/winter conditions, an outgoing message will be left by 6:30 am on the morning of the count.
Silverwood Lake State Recreation Area participants should plan to meet at the Visitor Center at 8:00 a.m. for orientation. Call 760-389-2303 for more info