By Mark Gutglueck
A sheaf of documents, most of which appear to have originated from three court cases involving Upland City Council candidate Yvette Walker, have been provided to a cross section of some of Upland’s most prominent citizens as well as members of the media.
Walker, who was appointed to the Upland Planning Commission in 2017, is vying in this year’s election against incumbent Councilwoman Janice Elliott. Elliott was first elected in 2016 to a four-year term during what was Upland’s last at-large city council election. This year, Upland is beginning the transition to ward elections for its city council members, with the city having been divided into four electoral districts that roughly approximate geographically the northwest, northeast, southwest and southeast quadrants of the city, districts one, two, three and four, respectively. Elections in the Second, Third and Fourth districts are being held this year; in two years, contests in the First District as well as for mayor, a position that is yet to be selected at-large in which all voters in the city will be eligible to participate, are to be held. While her election two years ago entitles Elliott to remain on the council in her at-large position until 2020, as a resident of the Second District she will not be able to run for the city council at that point since the position she would be eligible to run for, that of Second District council member, will be filled and not up for election again until 2022. Her only option at that point for remaining involved in elected Upland politics would be to run for mayor. Accordingly, Elliott is keeping her option open and running for election in the Second District this year.
Beginning relatively early into her term on the council, Elliott found herself cast in the role of dissident, as the city council took action on a number of matters, including closing out the city’s 110-year-old municipal fire department and annexing the entirety of the city into a county fire service zone. In effectuating the county takeover of fire service, the city arranged to have never-before imposed citywide assessments imposed on all landowners in the city defray the cost of providing the city with fire protection. The city council also voted to saddle the city’s residents with substantial water rate increases. Elliott was the lone vote on the council against those actions last year, and this year she again took a stand apart from her colleagues when the city moved to sell 12 percent of the city’s prized historic Memorial Park to San Antonio Hospital for use as a parking structure. Elliott’s continual resistance to the city’s action and indulgence of city residents who vocally advocate against the direction in which the council majority has been taking the city has not endeared her to a crucial core of the city’s top administrative and managerial staff and simultaneously earned her the enmity of her council colleagues. This put her at odds as well with the more powerful elements of the city’s business community elite, which has heavily invested in the political advancement of the majority of the city council in an effort to ensure city cooperation with their money-making ventures and operations. Thus, Elliott’s council colleagues and their backers by earlier this year considered Elliott so out of step with the city’s status quo that a resolution of censure against her was drawn up and voted upon by the city council at its May 29 meeting. Predictably, it passed by a vote of 4-to-1 with Elliott casting the single vote in opposition.
With Elliott making a bid to perpetuate her stay on the city council beyond the 2020 expiration of her present term, the current Upland establishment has coalesced in its support for Yvette Walker. Perhaps foremost among Walker’s bona fides as a candidate is her status as a planning commission member. Two of the current members of the city council – Carol Timm and Sid Robinson – were members of the planning commission prior to acceding to their positions on the city council. Timm had been a member of the planning commission for sixteen years prior to her election to the city council in 2014. Robinson was a member of the planning commission when he ran for city council in 2016, a race in which he finished second behind Elliott. Because then-Councilwoman Debbie Stone, who had been reelected to the city council in 2014, won in the 2016 mayoral contest, a replacement for her in the council position she vacated to become mayor was needed. Robinson was appointed to fill that post during the two years remaining on Stone’s term. The planning commission’s primary bailiwick pertains to land use decisions. Thus, many consider the planning commission to be an excellent training ground for council candidates.
Walker’s tenure on the planning commission has proven relatively uneventful, given that the major element of recent controversy involving the planning commission occurred with its involvement in making recommendations to the city council with regard to the general plan update, which triggered a considerable degree of resident animus when hearings on the matter were held in the run-up to the city council’s 2015 adoption of the revised general plan, considered to be a blueprint for future development in the city. That, however, predated Walker’s appointment to the planning commission, so she was not herself caught up in any of the controversy attending that issue. As a member of the planning commission, she has maintained a relatively low profile and has consistently voted in keeping with the staff recommendations put before that panel with regard to the development projects being considered, and she has taken no stances of note contrary to the majority of the commission, all of the members of which, with only rare exceptions, have voted in lockstep with one another on the matters that have come before them.
In this and all other ways, Walker appears to be comfortably in the mainstream in terms of Upland’s public life, and both she and her candidacy reflect consonance with the Upland political and social establishment. Throughout her foray into politics so far this year and election season, she has done nothing to in any way contradict that image. On the campaign trail, when presented with requests for her perspective on the current issues animating other local office seekers or the roiling issues of controversy in Upland, she has avoided being drawn out, withholding comment and saying that she wants to remain essentially uncommitted to one side or the other because she hopes to preserve her ability to be “diplomatic” upon taking her place on the city council. One of the few exceptions she has made in that regard is her willingness to criticize Elliott for what she characterized as her opponent’s “divisiveness” as a member of the city council, and she has suggested that Elliott’s recurrent objections to the consensus arrived at by the council has “Kept the city from moving forward.” The theme of her candidacy is embodied in the positive three word slogan she has used on her campaign signs – Solutions Family Safety.
Throughout the campaign, Walker has enjoyed, indeed has basked in and been benefited by, the support of the Upland establishment, as her campaign effort has been infused with considerably more funding than that of Elliott, allowing her to propound herself and her candidacy, by means of a vigorous sign campaign which prominently features her Solutions Family Safety slogan. Beginning last week, however, a packet of information relating to Walker began making the rounds in Upland. The substance contained therein, pertaining to legal cases which in every instance she initiated but which nevertheless resulted in the eventual documentation of a multitude of derogatories impinging upon her and her character, is now raising questions among many of her erstwhile and ostensible supporters and Upland’s voters at large about her suitability for office.
Foremost within the documentation are a multitude of court submissions relating to a divorce action against her husband, Jeffrey Walker, which she initiated and ultimately abandoned. The other filings relate to lawsuits she initiated against three separate defendants relating to traffic accidents in which she was involved.
The divorce action, case number FAMRS1400899, features a file filled with submittals lodged with the court by both parties involving accusations back and forth, most of which are contained in or backed by sworn documents or other supportive materials. These alleged mutual physical abuse and document that Yvette managed to have her husband arrested on charges of domestic assault or wife beating but that no prosecution of him by the district attorney’s office ensued. The file contains her husband’s uncontested assertion that Yvette engaged in extramarital affairs. In one of her filings with the court she demanded $15,000 per month from Jeffrey after their separation and the divorce was proceeding because she claimed she lacked the rudimentary skills and training to function in her chosen profession of marketing and public relations at a level that would allow her to sustain herself. Documentation provided in response to that demand shows that Jeffrey’s monthly income was actually $13,000, some $2,000 less than the total amount of money his wife was seeking on a monthly basis. Accompanying her monetary proposal, Yvette requested from the court that it award her ownership of the family home. Another document on file with the court indicated Yvette had without notice to Jeffrey drained the family’s account of $45,000, making it impossible for him to pay the family’s ongoing bills. Ultimately, the court ordered Yvette to return all of that money other than the $16,500 she had by that point spent. A sworn statement by Jeffrey referenced her state of inebriation and drug use during at least one of their abusive encounters, indicating in his words that she was “intoxicated and wired.” In another of Jeffrey’s submittals, he made the claim that Yvette has been attitudinally incapable of interacting with their children’s teachers such that he needed to attend parent/teacher conferences on his own unaccompanied by her. Another assertion made by Jeffrey under oath was that Yvette had been neglectful of their children, including an incident in which she refused to care for their son when he was suffering from a bout of either the stomach flu or food poisoning. A case document shows that the court was unwilling to grant Yvette anything close to what she had demanded in the course of the divorce action. Another submission contained in the case file was that made by the attorney who represented Yvette in which he successfully petitioned the court to be excused from representing her. Ultimately, Yvette abandoned the divorce petition.
The other court documents pertain to cases Yvette Walker filed against motorists with whom she was involved in automobile accidents. In all of the matters, indications are that Walker had sufficient insurance coverage to make her whole and pay for the damages sustained by her red, late model Mercedes Benz Gl Class sports car. While in some of those cases it appears that fault was adjudged or could be adjudged against the parties she sued, that is not universally the case.
In a case from 2012, CIVRS1208252, Yvette Walker sued Jose Macias and prevailed, obtaining a $15,000 settlement from him in addition to the payout from her own insurance company. In another more recently filed action, CIVDS1803729, which was initiated earlier this year, the legal action she took went beyond simply seeking compensation from the party deemed to be at fault. In this case, 23-year-old Hektor Soto found himself in the middle. In that mishap, Soto, who had insurance coverage of his own, managed to stop when traffic came to an abrupt halt but was slammed into by a car driven by another driver, 18-year-old Samantha Orellana, who was uninsured. The force of that impact drove Hektor Soto’s car into Yvette Walker’s red Mercedes. An accident report found Orellana to be at fault. Yvette Walker, however, sued Soto. She pushed on with the suit, even after the filing of the accident report demonstrated Soto was not at fault. Ultimately, however, as the court was nearing a finding that based upon all the evidence placed before it that Hektor Soto could not be blamed for what had occurred, he was permanently dismissed from the suit. Walker is now pursuing legal action against Orellana, who has declared bankruptcy.
Repeated efforts by the Sentinel, through the means of both email and by telephone, to obtain from Yvette Walker her version of events with regard to all of the court filings and their emergence as a factor in the campaign were unsuccessful. Neither would Yvette Walker respond to specific questions as to whether her admission in one of her court filings that she lacked skill and training to find satisfactorily gainful employment reflected on her readiness to serve on the council. She likewise spurned questions relating to whether she could refute the statements her husband had made with regard to her, specifically that relating to intemperance and drug use on her part. Nor would she respond to questions relating to her husband’s allegations that she had absconded with $45,000 in their family bank account, that she had requested from her husband $2,000 more in monthly spousal support than the $13,000 per month he actually generated. With regard to why she had initiated and pursued a lawsuit against Hektor Soto in spite of an accident report indicating he was not at fault in the mishap in which Samantha Orellana was deemed to have been responsible, Walker offered no justification for her action.
One report, unverified by press time, was that Jeffrey Walker is not in favor of his wife’s venture into politics and was in some fashion involved in the release of the court documents. Efforts to reach him, both at his home and law office, were likewise unsuccessful. The Sentinel’s inquiry of him extended to whether he believed that his wife was qualified for or otherwise suited to hold public office. He did not respond. Pointedly, when asked if he might offer a rationale, reason, argument or provision of logic as to why the Sentinel should not proceed with a report based upon the court documents being circulated in Upland, Jeffrey Walker declined to do so.
Whether the circulation of the documents in question will have an impact on Upland’s Second District city council race is at this point unknowable. Many supporting Walker come across as nonplussed by the revelations. Other Walker supporters were bothered by their emergence, but seemed less concerned with what they might suggest about the candidate than the impact they might have on voters.
Former Upland Mayor Ray Musser has been a key Walker supporter and backer, having hosted the inauguration of her campaign and introduced her to others who have assisted in her electoral effort. Asked about the documents being distributed about the community, Musser said, “I am absolutely floored by this. Yvette, as far as I know, is one of the most ethical people I can think of.”
Musser said he had no inkling that any derogatory information relating to her existed in a divorce file. “I did not know she had been married before,” said Musser, who at first assumed the divorce proceeding referenced in the documents did not involve Yvette Walker’s current marriage. “I thought Jeff was her first husband.” Told it was Jeffrey Walker who had generated the documents in question, Musser said, “I’m having a tough time believing that. I don’t believe it.”
Lysette Soto, Hektor Soto’s mother, offered this perspective, “While driving home, my son was blindsided by a young lady that ran the red light on Euclid and 11th. He in turn hit Yvette’s Mercedes. Yvette was aware that the accident was not my son’s fault. However, when it came out that the young lady did not have insurance, Yvette turned around and sued my son and our insurance company, saying it was his fault after all. Fortunately, she was not able to get away with that injustice.”
Lysette Soto continued, “She was suing him for damages, wages lost, that she was impaired to do work-related things and everything else she could think of, when the only thing that was damaged was her car and it was minor. And to think that day I offered to take her to pick up her kids at their school and she turns around and she tries to sue my kid, who by the way ran to her and wanted to make sure she was ok after the accident. She went after my flesh and blood unjustly. It was not a very nice thing to do. She says one thing but does another. Needles to say, she doesn’t have our vote. To be honest, I’m not into politics. This is more personal. But you all decide for yourselves.”