By Marian Nichols and Mark Gutglueck
Inside of three days, changes with regard to a trio of key positions in the City of Upland were made or announced this week.
The first of these came at the city council meeting held Monday night June 25, when Sid Robinson, who has been on the city council since 2016, announced he will not run in the November election. The following day, Jeff Zwack, who has been the city’s top land use official since 2011 while serving in the capacity of director of development services, abruptly tendered his resignation. On Wednesday it was announced that Darren Goodman, a San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department captain, who serves in the capacity of Chino Hills police chief, will become Upland police chief next month.
On election night in 2016, the same night that Donald Trump was given his mandate by the totality of the American electorate over Hillary Clinton, with the first tally of ballots from the earliest reporting precincts in Upland and the already arrived mail-in ballots at 10 p.m., Robinson appeared to be the victor in the contest for a single position on the Upland City Council up for election that year, as he was outdistancing the other three candidates, Janice Elliott, Dan Morgan and Ricky Felix in what was a remarkably tight contest. Robinson held onto that lead when further votes from later-arriving precincts were counted at midnight, and again at 2 a.m. on November 9. The afternoon of November 9, he was still ahead of the pack. On Thursday November 10, 2016, however, as more and more provisional and late arriving mail-in ballots were processed by the registrar of voters, Elliott surpassed Robinson. Over the next several days and weeks, as more and more of the provisional and postal ballots were verified and counted, Elliott’s margin of victory widened. At last, on December 6, 2016 when the final official certified results were posted, Elliot claimed 7,622 total votes or 28.1 percent, more than 300 votes ahead of Robinson, who polled 7,313 votes or 26.97 percent, while Morgan and Felix accounted for the remaining 44.92 percent of the vote. As it turned out, then-incumbent Councilwoman Debbie Stone, who had vied for mayor in the same election, proved victorious. Her elevation to the mayor’s post created a council vacancy, as there were two years remaining on the council term she had been reelected to in 2014. After Stone and Elliott were sworn into their mayoral and council positions at the December 12, 2016 council meeting, the council took up the task of filling Stone’s now empty council seat. Rejecting the idea of holding a special election, which would have cost the city upwards of $65,000, the council, in accordance with a motion made by Councilman Gino Filippi and seconded by Elliott, opted to select Robinson as the logical replacement, given his second-place finish in the previous month’s election.
Since that time, Robinson has fit comfortably into the council majority’s ruling coalition, consisting of Stone, Filippi, councilwoman Carol Timm and himself.
Among a wide range of Upland’s political observers it was anticipated that Robinson would vie for election once more in 2018, this time in the first election under the city’s district electoral system, which divides the city into four districts that can roughly be described as the city’s northwest, northeast, southeast and southwest quadrants. In this year’s election, the holders of the positions representing the second (northeast), third (southwest) and fourth (southeast) districts over the following four years are to be decided. Robinson is a resident of the city’s Second Ward. Timm is a resident of the city’s Fourth District. Filippi has moved to the city’s Third District. To keep the current ruling coalition intact, all three appeared poised to run and to endorse one another. Simultaneously, Elliott, who originally blended into the coalition but over the past 15 months has manifested into a consistent dissident on the panel, has cultivated a support network which stands as a counterpoint to the constituency that supports the city’s establishment politicians. Elliot, whose 2016 election to an at-large position on the council entitles her to remain in office until 2020, lives in the Second District. Thus, were she to serve out her current term, she would not be eligible to run for city council in 2020, unless she were to seek the mayoralty, as the Second District post would not be subject to election until 2022. Elliott, therefore, had resolved to run for election in the Second District later this year, offering the electorate a choice between her heterodox approach and Robinson’s conformist philosophy.
On Monday night during the portion of the council meeting reserved for direct statements from the council members referred to as “council communications,” Robinson dashed the prospect of a head-to-head contest between him and Elliott, which once held the promise of demonstrating, at least within the confines of the Second Ward, whether the voters wanted the status quo orthodoxy Robinson represented or the a more nonconformist ethos embodied by Elliott to prevail at City Hall.
“When I first ran for city council two years ago it was because I’ve been involved in my various communities in a wide variety of ways, just, gosh, before I even moved here to Upland 30 years ago, so I felt like the next step was to run for city council and where I could make a positive difference,” Robinson said. “I feel like I have, along with the majority of this council. As a team, we’ve been able to make our city more financially stable and pointed in the right direction, despite an avalanche of both internal and external obstacles. But I feel this is probably not the best forum where I can be the most productive and effective, and I feel like I can do more good serving the community in other ways, and as such I do not intend to run for city council this November. I’ve seen the hard work that they have done to advance Upland in a very positive way and I wish Carol [Timm] and Gino [Filippi] the very best in their respective upcoming campaigns this fall. And in the meantime, I’ll work hard for Upland through the rest of my term and well into the future.”
Robinson’s exit from the upcoming race sets up a likely contest between Elliott and Planning Commissioner Yvette Walker, a Second District resident who indicated she would run for council this fall. Walker was chosen to fill the gap created when Robinson left the planning commission upon his elevation to the city council.
Present at Monday night’s council meeting was Development Services Director Jeff Zwack. Perhaps of significance was that while Zwack was present in the front row to the left of the meeting chambers traditionally reserved for city staff during council meetings, he was not called upon to come forward at any point during the proceedings to involve himself in presentations or field questions from the council with regard to the items on the agenda. In the light of the succeeding event of his departure, it is unclear whether this was because there were no items which fell under the purview of the Development Services Division scheduled for discussion that night or because of some tension with Zwack. One matter on the agenda, Item 11F, which was originally on the consent calendar, was pulled by Elliott for closer examination before it was voted upon. Item 11F pertained to approving the city’s homeless outreach, prevention and education program policies. That item called for utilizing federal Housing and Urban Development Community Development Block Grant money administered through the Development Services Department’s housing division to bankroll programs involving the city’s Community Restoration Team and its so-called U-HOPE program by providing those who have been legitimately established as homeless within the city with up to $2,500 in purchase tickets or vouchers for financial rental assistance such as rental security deposits and utility payments, travel fare assistance to connect the participants with resources or family that can provide additional aid, as well as bridge housing, that is, providing eligible U-HOPE participants who are a couple of weeks away from obtaining permanent housing with temporary housing vouchers. Though Zwack had authored the staff report that accompanied consent calendar Item 11F, questions put forth by Elliot and the other members of the council were fielded instead by the staff member directly under Zwack, Development Services Manager Liz Chavez.
The next day in an email sent out to much of city staff, the members of the council and planning commission members, City Manager Bill Manis announced that Zwack had retired, stating somewhat tersely that Zwack’s retirement was “effective immediately” and that the city wished him well in his new endeavors.
Zwack’s departure was abrupt. Despite his considerable tenure with the city and his occupancy of an important position as the head of a city department of intensifying consequence as the economy continues to recover and development in the city is increasing, there was no forewarning of Zwack’s leaving, nor any indication that a search for his replacement had been initiated. The Sentinel has learned that at least three of the council’s members had not been briefed ahead of time about Zwack’s retirement.
The circumstances of Zwack’s departure have led to the recurrent inference that Zwack was forced out of his post.
Reliable sources told the Sentinel there was indication that Zwack was either under pressure at City Hall or had foreknowledge of his pending exit. “Jeff had been noticeably short-tempered for about a week or so before he left,” the Sentinel was told. “During that time he was in his office early in the morning, well ahead of his staff.”
There have been troubling issues involving Zwack in recent years, months and days.
In 2015, the City of Upland, in large measure following Zwack’s guidance, undertook an update of the city’s general plan, which is described as a blueprint for the city’s future growth and development and the maintenance of ongoing zoning restrictions. The Upland General Plan had last been comprehensively updated in 1992. A feature of the plan that many considered controversial was to consolidate residential districts into relatively compact urban areas proximate to commercial, professional, service, social, recreational and entertainment facilities very near major transportation corridors, including Foothill Boulevard and the rail line between 9th Street and 8th Street. One concept in the plan was to encourage the use of public transportation and maximize the capacity of those public transportation modes. Practically, this meant improvements to roads such as Foothill Boulevard and the eventual addition of a second line along the railway corridor, along with the location of high density residential projects in close proximity to those transportation corridors. At council meetings prior to the general plan’s approval when its provisions were being discussed, standing-room-only crowds were in attendance, with large numbers of residents registering their opposition to what they called the plan’s “stack’npack” housing. In the face of this considerable resident opposition, Zwack was able to prevail in getting a majority of the city council to support the passage of the general plan update, which occurred during a contentious six-hour long council meeting, which began at 7 p.m. on Monday night, September 14, 2015 and did not conclude until nearly 1:30 a.m. on Tuesday, September 15. With then-mayor Ray Musser, who had recently undergone heart bypass surgery, absent, the council voted 3-to1, with then councilman Glenn Bozar dissenting, to accept the new general plan. Almost simultaneously, however, Zwack ushered before the city’s planning commission and then the city council the William F. Lyon Company’s The Orchards project, featuring a total of 209 923-square foot-to-1,723-square foot two-to-three bedroom and two-to-three bathroom model units consisting of 132 attached townhomes and 77 condominiums in three story structures covering 9.51 acres located at the corner of 8th Street and Sultana Avenue. In giving William F. Lyon go-ahead on the project, Zwack and other city officials allowed the development to have a footprint which encroached on the rail line right-of-way, severely compromising the likelihood that the second rail line as proposed in the updated general plan could ever come to fruition. Absolute consternation at the paradox in Zwack’s action ensued, casting both himself, city management and the three members of the city council who ratified both the revamped general plan and the Orchards project – Stone, Filippi and Timm – in negative light.
Another apparent faux pax involving Zwack and the Development Services Department relates to a tenant procurement arrangement that netted the city a reduction in revenue it otherwise would have received. In August 2017 the city made a request for proposals from businesses interested in locating their operations into the historic fire station on D Street proximate to the City Hall/Library civic center on terms under which the city would be willing to rent or lease the building. Those terms included the hosting of a suitable enterprise, paying rent that met or exceeded the minimum market rate for the downtown area, fully insuring the operation and indemnifying the city, along with making use of the property in a way that would honor the historical significance of the property. In making the request for proposals, the city committed to ensuring a competitive bid process and reviewing all submissions made in response to the request. This resulted in an overture from a Diamond Bar-based advertising agency, Dreambox, which responded to the city by first sending representatives to tour the building. The company thereafter submitted a responsive proposal which included securing the required insurance and indemnification and arranging for the requirement relating to the historical feature element outlined in the request to be met, which consisted of the proposed creation of an Upland Fire Department mini-museum in the lower floor atrium. Dreambox proposed entering into a lease for the 2,080 square feet of internal space contained in the historic original firehouse for $4,008 a month, guaranteeing the payment of $240,481 in rent over five years. That proposal was submitted in short order, having been hand carried to the city on August 9, 2017 by Dreambox’s chief executive officer, Dan Bejmuk , an Upland resident. City officials said at that time that the Dreambox proposal was the only one submitted but that more proposals for the lease were anticipated.
Sometime thereafter, Tom Aminikharrazi, a regional vice president of Primerica Financial Services, who was doing business as Statewide Promotions, Inc., responded to the city’s request. Aminikharrazi offered to lease the building for $3,684.60 per month. Aminikharrazi/Statewide’s proposed lease term was for three years, thereby paying the city a guaranteed $132,645.60 over 36 months. Aminikharrazi’s proposal contained two one-year option extensions, such that he would, if Statewide Promotions remained an occupant for that duration, pay the city $221,076 in rent over five years. Aminikharrazi made no mention of insurance or indemnification in his proposal, nor of how he intended to fulfill the historical element requirement contained in the city’s solicitation of proposals.
Two months later, it was announced in the city council’s October 23 meeting agenda that city staff was recommending that Aminikharrazi be awarded the lease.
Bejmuk made a public records request and inquired as to why his bid, offering the city higher rent above the market rate, was rejected and why the Statewide Promotions offer, below the market rate and unresponsive to three of the other criteria in the request for proposals, had been selected. He was told by city staff that the Dreambox proposal had not been considered because the proposal from Aminikharrazi/Statewide Promotions had been submitted first and staff made a decision to go with it. This ran counter to the earlier staff statement that no other proposals had been submitted when Bejmuk/Dreambox made its submission in August shortly after the city’s request for proposals was made, as well as the terms of the request for proposals, which stated the city would engage in a competitive bid process that would consider all proposals.
The city council ratified the staff recommendation to go with the Aminikharrazi/Statewide Promotions proposal on October 23, which ultimately was augmented with a promise to build a fire department mini-museum on the order of what Dreambox had proposed. Eight months after Aminikharrazi/Statewide Promotions were awarded the lease, no effort to create the fire department mini-museum has been undertaken, although Aminikharrazi has mounted three photos – two of vintage fire engines and one of the fire station itself – on one of the building’s walls.
In the months since Upland’s historic fire station has been leased, questions over the arrangement with Aminikharrazi have arisen, including the city’s deviation from its own bidding protocol. This was exacerbated by a city acknowledgment that it never opened nor considered the Dreambox bid, which committed that company to remaining in place for five years and guaranteed the city $240,480, as opposed to the Aminikharrazi/Statewide Promotions offer, which committed that entity into remaining for three years and guaranteed the city $132,646. In this way, the city will receive at least $19,434 less in total lease payments for the historic fire station over five years, and perhaps $107,834 less should Aminikharrazi elect to vacate the building in 2020. Reports have abounded that Zwack acquiesced in the arrangement after it was made clear that Aminikharrazi was a personal friend of Marty Thouvenell, who was Upland’s acting city manager in 2017.
Zwack’s departure this week came in the immediate aftermath of a contretemps involving one of the city council majority’s most vocal allies and the city’s Development Services Department. That difficulty is an outgrowth of the efforts city officials and other community members have made, over the last two-and-a-half years, to mitigate the proliferation of the persistent homeless population in the City of Gracious Living.
In one of the early stages of that effort, the city had heavily involved the police department, creating a so-called community resource division, consisting of three police officers whose function was in large measure diverted from routine police and patrol work to engage with the homeless element in the city. These community resource officers both assisted and were assisted by other community-based charities, organizations and volunteers committing themselves to resolving the homeless problem. Last year, after making a determination that devoting police officers to homeless alleviation efforts was not an efficient nor appropriate use of department personnel, the city essentially disbanded its Community Resource Division, sending those officers back to conventional police work. Simultaneously, then-acting City Manager Marty Thouvenell used his authority to make expenditures of up to $50,000 without city council approval to hire a homeless services consultant. The city simultaneously created what was dubbed the Community Restoration Team, which was to be detailed to homelessness eradication programs in the city and was to function under the authority and supervision of the Development Services Department. To fill the city’s homeless services consultant position, Thouvenell turned to Eric Gavin, a one-time candidate for city council who had vacillated between harshly criticizing the city council with regard to some issues and lionizing its members with regard to others, and who occasionally advocated on behalf of the homeless. Remuneration for Gavin was set at $3,000 per month and he was also given a berth, as Upland’s representative via city council appointment, on the San Bernardino County Interagency Council on Homelessness. Gavin worked, in conjunction with the Community Restoration Team, volunteers and organizations, to find both temporary and permanent housing placement for those living on Upland’s streets and its alleyways. One organization involved in the homeless alleviation effort was the Upland Community Foundation, which bankrolled to some degree these efforts. The city, in seeking to encourage the Upland Community Foundation’s participation, agreed to indemnify the foundation in the event of any legal action growing out of those efforts. Recently, Gavin, whose consultancy was renewed this year and who was given a cost-of-living adjustment to $3,108 per month, sought, through a rental agreement, to secure a residence where several homeless individuals could live. Using donated money and under the auspices of an entity set up in his own name, Gavin paid for the first and last month’s rent on the residence. He then sought, but failed, to have the Upland Community Foundation pay the security deposit on the residence. When the Upland Community Foundation refused, Gavin made the deposit himself and then sued the Upland Community Foundation in small claims court for reimbursement.
Gavin’s action miffed a significant number of Upland residents and city employees. One issue is that the city had indemnified the Upland Community Foundation with regard to legal action that grew out of the foundation’s homeless assistance efforts. Thus, by extension or so it seemed, Gavin was suing the city in an action relating to what most considered to be a good faith effort at charity toward the homeless. The city council, however, was not willing to rebuke Gavin, who in this election year has taken to local on-line social media outlets and has been highly laudatory of the council majority. Rather, the issue was resolved Monday night when with consent calendar Item 11F, which had been pulled for fuller discussion by Councilwoman Elliott, the council approved routing federal Community Development Block Grant funds to the homeless eradication effort, which incidentally included money to pay for the security deposit on the home Gavin had rented for the homeless housing program.
Unknown at this point and perhaps forever unknowable given Zwack’s departure the following day is whether Zwack was resentful of the intrusion upon his authority as the director of Development Services that arose, essentially, out of Gavin dictating how some of the federal grant money Zwack’s department had access to was going to be spent. When the item was discussed, Zwack did not participate in the discussion and question and answer exchange, which was instead handled by Development Services Manager Liz Chavez.
On Wednesday, it was announced that Darren Goodman, who has been with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department for 27 years, most recently in the capacity of the captain overseeing the Chino Hills station, will move into the police chief’s position with Upland, effective July 16.
Goodman will supplant interim Police Chief Doug Millmore, who has been guiding the department since November, a month after Police Chief Brian Johnson, who was brought in as Upland police chief in March 2015, was forced out of that position. Johnson was relegated to resigning in October because his relationship with the officers he was commanding had become increasingly rocky and his function as chief was no longer tenable.
Goodman, 52, began his law enforcement career in 1991 as a patrol officer, serving in a fair number of assignments and capacities, including stints in vice-narcotics, on the Special Weapons and Tactics Team, and as an instructor and commander of the sheriff’s regional training center.
He has a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Southern California and recently achieved his doctorate at USC’s Rossier School of Education. He graduated from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. He has served as an adjunct professor at Cal State San Bernardino.
With his wife, Shana, who is a nurse practitioner, Goodman has four children.
In a statement prepared for her, Upland Mayor Debbie Stone said, “Chief Goodman is a nationally-respected, results-oriented law enforcement professional. We’re thrilled to have him lead Upland’s outstanding police force, and further establish our community as a hallmark of fair, humane and effective policing.”
Goodman said, “I feel very fortunate to be here, and as the new chief coming in, I’m looking forward to getting to know our officers and the community. Law enforcement, and how safe people feel in their community, is critical to the success of a city.”