The ruling coalition that has dominated Upland for most of the last twenty-three months was severely compromised in the November 6 election. As a consequence of the way voters in the 77,000 population at San Bernardino County’s gateway into Los Angeles County along Route 66 cast their ballots, two of the members of that four-member coalition, Councilman Gino Filippi and Councilwoman Carol Timm, will leave the council next month. Exiting with them will be Councilman Sid Robinson, who was appointed to the council in December 2016 after he was narrowly defeated by Janice Elliott in the November 2016 municipal elections. The opportunity for Robinson to join the council without having first obtained the endorsement of the city’s voters came about because in the same November 2016 election, then-Councilwoman Debbie Stone had emerged victorious in a head-to-head contest with then-Councilman Glenn Bozar. Moving into the mayor’s spot, Stone was obliged to resign the council position to which she had been reelected in 2014. Robinson, as the top vote-getter among the also-rans in 2016, was given the honor and privilege of joining the council to complete the last two years of Stone’s council term.
Almost immediately upon Robinson taking his place upon the council dais, an affinity between the quartet of Stone, Filippi, Timm and Robinson was evident, into which Elliott sought to merge, at first successfully. For more than two months there was near unanimity on the council with regard to all of the city’s items of business considered and voted upon by the panel.
Ultimately, however, a schism between Elliott and the others emerged as the council pressed toward completion on an effort that had been initiated under the council as it was previously composed to close out the city’s 110-year old municipal fire department and annex everything within the city limits into a county fire service assessment zone and have the county fire department provide the city with fire suppression and emergency medical service, entailing a yearly per household/parcel assessment of $153 that Uplanders had not previously had to bear. The council majority and the county’s local agency formation commission had arranged for the county fire department takeover to be effectuated without a vote of the city’s residents, a maneuver vigorously opposed by many city residents.
The council sought to passively ignore that protest, but Elliott instead refused to squelch the voices of opposition, seeking to use her status as an elected official to hold what she called “town hall” meetings to allow her constituents an opportunity to weigh in on the plan. Sensing that these forums were providing breeding grounds upon which the citizen opposition to the dissolution of the fire department might metastasize, the council majority and senior city staff undertook to curtail Elliott’s reach, at first upbraiding her for mischaracterizing the confabulations she was holding as “town hall meetings,” pointing out that such forums can only be held under the auspices of the entire city council’s authority and not at the discretion of a single council member. When, contrary to what the council had hoped, this did not dissuade Elliott, who simply continued to meet with those second-guessing the council with regard to the fire service transfer to the county in a context outside that falling under the rubric of an official municipal conclave, the council boldly disregarded the welling protest and voted to have the county local agency formation commission actuate the takeover.
By that point, the council members began personalizing their differences with Elliott, occasionally in very strong terms. In a last ditch effort to bring her back into the fold, the council, using a document purportedly put together by Councilwoman Timm titled “In-House Policy of the Upland City Council,” sought to have Elliott commit to washing the city’s soiled linen behind closed doors. Timm’s document laid out a protocol for having the council keep whatever differences its members might have with one another with regard to the city’s on-the-fly formulations in dealing with issues the city was faced with under wraps, such that no public airing of differences were to take place and all council members’ public utterances, particularly those to the press or into the forum of social media, be approved beforehand by the city council and city manager collectively. The “In-House Policy of the Upland City Council” was considered during a closed door session of the city council without any advance disclosure to the public that the discussion of what some of its members hoped might become an official but secret city policy was to take place.
Such policy discussions are required by the Ralph M. Brown Act, California’s open public meeting law, to be held in a public forum that has been openly noticed ahead of time. Instead, the council had the city clerk disguise the presentation of the policy document and its discussion as one pertaining to an evaluation of the city manager. In the closed session, the document was handed around to the council’s members, who were asked to sign it. At that point, Elliott, sensing that the council was heading into a province outside the law, had the presence of mind to use her cell phone to snap off a photo of the document, which bore Stone’s, Filippi’s, Timm’s and Robinson’s signatures. After the meeting, armed with proof of her city council colleagues’ violation of the Brown Act, Elliott approached the San Bernardino District Attorney’s Office, presenting the photograph to that agency’s Public Integrity Unit as evidence to support her complaint that the council was skirting the law.
Upon learning that Elliott had reported their action to the district attorney’s office, the city council’s members moved to retaliate against her, doing so publicly by stripping her of her city committee assignments as well as her appointments to the regional intercity and joint powers authority representative/board positions that had been conferred upon her shortly after she acceded to the city council.
While Elliott generally continued to vote along with her colleagues in support of nearly all of the city’s routine business items and other action items that came before the city council, she had been cast in the role of Upland’s council dissident, and she lived up to this reputation with regard to some of the more controversial issues that the council became entangled in, such as the raising of the city’s water service rates or the sale of 12 percent of the acreage at Upland Memorial Park to San Antonio Regional Hospital. A certified public accountant, Elliott mounted penetrating questions about the financial figures cited in city staff reports and oral presentations in support of raising the water rates, in particular indications that the city’s water enterprise fund was running a deficit. Subsequent to the vote, in which Elliott was the lone dissenter, it was acknowledged that the account in question was flush with cash. Elliott registered the only vote against the sale of the park property.
In May, the council majority, fed up with what it considered to be Elliott’s contrarian attitude, voted to censure her.
In the meantime, the city was transitioning toward dispensing with its at-large elections, in which the council members were elected in elections in which the voters from throughout the city participated in each race and the candidates likewise had no residency restrictions other than having to live somewhere within the city limits. This year, the city was scheduled to hold its first by-district election, based upon the city having been divided into four districts which consisted of the northwest, northeast, southwest and southeast quadrants, the First, Second, Third and Fourth districts, respectively. In the 2018 balloting, the Second, Third and Fourth districts were to hold their maiden contests. Two years hence, in 2020, the initial First District race is to be held, along with that of mayor, which is yet to entail an at-large vote.
Both Elliott and Robinson were residents of the Second District. With the term Robinson had assumed from Stone due to elapse, he needed to vie for election to remain on the council past December. Elliott as of this year has two years remaining on the at-large term she was elected to in 2016. Nevertheless, upon the elapsing of that term in 2020, Elliot would not be at liberty to run for the council again, as the winner of the Second District race this year would be entitled to a four-year term lasting until 2022. Thus, to ensure her longevity on the council beyond 2020, unless she were to seek to vie in the mayor’s race, Elliott had to run for election this year in the Second District.
That she did. Taking up the gauntlet against her was the darling of the Upland establishment, Planning Commissioner Yvette Walker. Walker had the support of all four of the members of the current ruling coalition on the council, as well as the political machine behind them, composed largely of the business community, core members of the Upland Chamber of Commerce and the development community.
Both Filippi and Timm were up for re-election in 2018. Previously, both were residents of the Fourth District. In order to avoid an electoral showdown with each other, Filippi changed his residency, moving into a business office converted from a single family residence in the Third District.
Two opponents came forward to challenge Filippi. One was Ricky Felix, who had been an unsuccessful candidate for the council in the at-large election in 2016. The other was Irmalinda Orsuna.
In the Fourth District, Timm was challenged by two political neophytes, Rudy Zuniga, an operating engineer at a hospital, and Tammy Rapp, a hairdresser and burlesque dancer.
The Upland establishment and the controlling members of the city council and their political machine went into the electoral season with high hopes, indeed the expectation, that both Filippi and Timm would prevail and that Walker would be able to overcome Elliott, maintaining the 4-to-1 ruling coalition by substituting Walker in for Robinson and thus ensuring that the status quo remained in place at least until 2020 and more likely until 2022 and beyond.
That now appears to have been wishful thinking, as the Upland establishment appears to have gone 0-for-3 in this year’s election.
On election night, just after the closing of the polls, at 8:05 p.m., the first vote count was released, which included none of the Upland precincts, and merely the early arriving mail-in ballots from the City of Gracious Living.
At that point, in District 2, Janice Elliott, with 1,331 votes or 54.77 percent, had jumped off to a lead over Yvette Walker, who had polled 1,099 votes or 45.23 percent.
In District 3, Gino Filippi appeared to have stumbled, as Ricky Felix, with 353 votes or 40.09 percent, had leapt into first place, with the incumbent registering 286 votes or 32.57 percent. Irmalinda Osuna trailed both of her competitors with 240 votes or 27.33 percent.
In District 4, Carol Timm looked to be on a trajectory to remain in office another four years, having taken a comfortable if not quite commanding advantage over her competitors with 441 votes or 45.23 percent over Rudy Zuniga’s 367 votes or 37.64 percent and Tammy Rapp’s 167 votes or 17.13 percent.
At 10 p.m. on November 6, the first wave of incoming votes from the city’s polling places had been tallied.
With 11 of 16 precincts in District 2 having reported, Elliott was holding steadily in the lead over Walker, 1,633 votes or 54.63 percent to 1,356 votes or 45.37 percent.
There was little relative movement among the positioning of the candidates in the District 3 race as well, with Felix still in command with 463 votes or 40.37 percent to Filippi’s 356 votes or 31.04 percent and Osuna’s 328 votes or 28.6 percent after three of that district’s precincts’ ballots had been counted.
In District 4, eight of ten precincts reported by 10 p.m.. And though Zuniga had advanced somewhat on Timm, his forward movement did not appear to be sufficient to overcome the incumbent’s edge. Timm had at that point captured 620 votes or 43.42 percent to Zuniga’s 575 votes or 40.27 percent and Rapp’s 233 votes or 16.32 percent.
At midnight, no further counting of Upland’s ballots had been completed.
By 4 a.m. on November 7, all of the Upland precincts had reported.
In the Second District, with the ballots from all 16 of the district’s polling places having arrived and been counted, Elliot, whose total had moved to 2,574 or 53.54 percent, lost ground to Walker, but only slightly, as the challenger claimed 2,234 votes or 46.46 percent.
With all 11 of District 3’s precincts reporting and those ballots tallied, Filippi had slipped badly. Felix was well ahead with 937 votes or 40.92 percent. Osuna had knocked Filippi from second place, such that she was more than five percentage points up on him, having logged 738 votes or 32.23 percent to his 615 votes or 26.86 percent.
Even more dramatic is what had occurred in District 4 after all ten of the district’s precincts had been heard from. Zuniga had made a dynamic bound forward, capturing 1,157 votes or 44.53 percent, surpassing Timm, whose count stood at 1,051 votes, which at that point represented 40.45 percent of the District 4 votes up to that point, followed by Rapp’s 390 voter endorsements or 15.01 percent.
Yesterday, the San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters Office updated the voting results from all around the county, as straggling mail-in ballots that arrived late have been added to the totals, along with the inclusion of so-called provisional ballots, i.e., ones about which some question as to their validity or the registration status of those casting them existed. As election officials have verified those provisional ballots as valid, they have been counted.
As of 4 p.m. yesterday, November 15, Elliott had solidified her lead over Walker, 3,722 votes or 54.14 percent to 3,153 votes or 45.86 percent.
Felix was comfortably ahead of Osuna, 1,285 votes or 40.29 percent to 1,079 votes or 33.84 percent. Filippi was even further out of the running than he had been previously, with 825 votes or 25.87 percent.
In District 4, Zuniga with 1,638 votes or 45.37 percent, had widened the gap over Timm, who stood with 1,436 votes or 39.78 percent. Rapp held 536 votes or 14.85 percent.
While the election will not be certified until early next month, all of the votes cast at Upland’s precincts have been counted along with virtually all of the Upland mail-in ballots and the lion’s share of the city’s provisional ballots. Thus, the election of Elliott, Felix and Zuniga appear to be mathematical certainties at this point.
“It is a time of new beginnings for the City of Upland,” Elliott told the Sentinel. “Upland residents want us to openly communicate, to listen carefully, and to work together professionally and respectfully. I am confident we will rise to this challenge as we begin this new chapter in Upland’s history. I want to thank my supporters for your faith in me and for your vigilant efforts to share our messages. I am honored by your trust and will continue to work hard to maintain that trust. I want to thank my opponents who have caused me to reflect on my weaknesses and make needed changes in my attitude and behavior. I hope that now we can work together for our common good.”
Elliot said, “Starting now, we have the opportunity to all work together for Upland’s betterment, to focus on restoring the trust in Upland’s leadership. All of us want the same thing: for Upland to thrive. Now is the time to come together, create a new vision for Upland and work towards realizing our potential. I hope from now on, we can choose kindness and co-operation. We can improve our communications and our decision-making. If we put aside our past differences, overlook shortcomings, and seek common ground when addressing our concerns, we can unify our voices and work more productively. Upland’s first district election has created many opportunities. With your help, it is a new chapter in Upland, pregnant with possibilities.”
Felix said, “It was a good race. It was a tough race. All three of us worked really hard. I am very humbled at the support that was given to me.”
He was not pointed in his criticism of Filippi, but said, “I felt it was time for a change. I have nothing against him. I commend him for his work. I respect him for his work on the council.”
Felix said the current city council members had been too distant from the city’s residents and too insensitive to the needs of their constituents. “Irmalinda [Osuna] really opened my eyes,” he said. “I was impressed by her message and I agree that we need to involve the community more.”
Felix said he did not want to function in lockstep with the rest of the council, as Filippi, Stone, Timm and Robinson had insisted on doing.
“I am going to try to be as independent as possible,” he said. “I will be out there, going into the community and I will be here at City Hall, talking to residents.”
The clean sweep of three fifths of the council as it is currently composed is not a setback, Felix insisted. “I feel good about it,” he said, remarking that the addition of Zuniga and the vote of confidence given to Elliott strengthens rather than weakens the city. “I think we will be able to work well together, but as always, I am independent from anyone and from social media or groups of that sort,” he said. “I am always willing to hear everybody. It shouldn’t matter if they hate me or love me. If they are residents, my goal is to listen to them and do what I feel is best for the community, for our city. My focus is on District 3 and I really want to make us a better district, but having said that, I’m a representative for everyone in Upland.”
Zuniga said, “I am so honored by the election outcome and I am very hopeful that the results will become official and I will be declared councilmen-elect in District 4. I am ready and beyond eager to roll my sleeves up and get to work for everyone in my district, as well as for everyone in all four districts in the City of Upland. I believe that even if my 106 vote lead over Carol Timm as of Tuesday, November 6 is reduced by the provisional ballets still being tallied, that I have done incredibly well in this race and my family has so much to be thankful for. I am so incredibly grateful to the voters in District 4 and so very humbled by their trust in me, to truly represent them.”
Continuing, Zuniga said, “I simply could not be more proud to live in a city where the residents united in every district and voted for a major course correction for our entire city, in what now seems like a citywide revolution. I would like to thank everyone that took a chance on me, who voted for me, who believed in me, who helped me and volunteered for me, as none of this would have ever been possible without so many unwavering Upland residents. Please know if victorious and successfully elected in District 4, after every vote is counted, I will work my heart out for our community. I will try to win over all 78,000 residents living in Upland in the next four years, by dedication, determination and public accountability. I will serve with integrity, honesty, transparency and with reverent respect for every resident in the City of Upland.”
Paul Trawnik is the co-owner of Steel Details, a business located on 9th Street in downtown Upland that designs bridges and other steel structures. His wife, Linda Nani Trawnik, was Filippi’s campaign manager.
At the November 12 Upland City Council meeting, Paul Trawnic in remarks made during the public comment period of the meeting sized up what the election meant for him and other members of the Upland establishment.
Of the election of Elliott, Felix and Zuniga, Trawnic said, “Only time will tell if they are the right choice for Upland.”
Trawnic said the candidates favored by the establishment had gotten a raw deal on November 6.
“I do want to set the record straight on what I perceive to be a real injustice that was done in the last few weeks of the campaign,” Trawnic said. “I specifically want to focus on a mail and internet campaign that was waged to attack the character and credibility of sitting Councilman Gino Filippi. I hold in my hand one of seven different attack mailers that were sent out in the final weeks of the campaign that were paid for by a group calling themselves Business Leaders For Ethical Government Although the name would imply a group of civic minded businesses, this is in fact the PAC [political action committee] name used by Jeff Burum and Jim Previti, who are the main competitors of the Lewis Development Group.”
Burum and Previti are developers. The Lewis Group of Companies is the corporate successor to Lewis Homes, a highly successful residential real estate development company created by Ralph Lewis in the 1950s, which prospered and grew under his guidance and that of his wife, Goldy in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. In time, they handed off control of the company to their four sons, Richard, Randall, Robert and Roger. Since then, the company grew from handling single family residential subdivisions exclusively to incorporating multifamily elements into their development schemes and then retail components into the master planning. In recent years, the company, which has expanded into areas in California far beyond the Inland Empire and across the California border into Nevada, has ceased to function as a homebuilder, instead concentrating on getting entitlements to build large scale master planned and specific planned communities that are then spun off to contractors to complete. Lewis Homes is certainly within the top three or four, and arguably the single most, successful corporation based in Upland.
“Jeff Burum was one of the ones indicted in connection with the Colonies in North Upland along with some government officials prior to Gino Filippi taking office,” said Trawnic. “In fact this type of corruption is exactly what Councilman Filippi ran against eight years ago to try to clean up Upland politics According to documents filed, Burum and Previti put together a $100,000 PAC to run a smear campaign in order to discredit Gino and the sitting council and get them removed from office, in my view, not because of their corruption but because they couldn’t be corrupted. These ads accused Councilman Filippi of making backroom deals with the Lewis Brothers. In reality, anyone can check through the state finance laws what contributions the candidate receives. If you do, you will find no recorded contributions from the Lewis Companies to the Filippi Campaign, whereas Burum and Previti set up a $100,000 fund to send out repeated attack mailers to all of the voters in Councilman Filippi’s district at a cost of thousands of dollars in order to help assure his defeat and help his opponent. I think it should be obvious where the real corruption lies.”
Continuing, Trawnic said, “As for me, I think Upland should be grateful for councilman Filippi’s time in office, along with Carol Timm and Sid Robinson. They together brought the city back from the verge of insolvency and were successful in bringing many high quality businesses to Upland to help them grow and prosper. In short, I believe the outgoing council should be proud of the things they have accomplished and leave with the knowledge that their ethics and hard work have served to make Upland a better city.”