By clicking on the blue portal below, you can download a PDF of the November 8 San Bernardino County Sentinel.
By Mark Gutglueck
Risking the retirement or departure of the city’s acting police chief, the San Bernardino City Council voted 4-to-2 Wednesday night not to confer on him and the interim assistant police chief 9 percent pay raises as had been proposed by City Manager Teri Ledoux.
The vote marked what some on the council said was a crucial shift in the cash-strapped county seat’s gravitation away from untenable financial commitments to the police department that were a major factor in the city’s financial foundering which resulted in San Bernardino’s August 2012 Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection filing.
The city, after stiffing 209 of its creditors, service providers, vendors and bondholders for some $350 million and building up reserves of close to $35 million over a nearly five year period, emerged from bankruptcy in June 2017. Along the way it had closed out its 137-year old municipal fire department in 2015 and assented to annexing the entirety of the 61.95 square miles within its city limits into an assessment district through which its residents pay an annual parcel tax of $154 to defray the cost of the county fire department providing the city with fire protection and emergency medical service. The following year, city officials orchestrated a vote to dispense with its original city charter put into effect in 1905 in favor of a revamped city government arrangement that curtailed the mayor’s administrative and managerial authority, strengthened the city manager and dispensed with the city’s traditional elected city clerk and city attorney positions. Doing away with the old charter also did away with its Charter Section 186, which had been put into place by a three-vote margin, 5,264 votes to 5,261, in February 1939. Charter Section 186 took away from the city council its purview over the pay to be provided to police officers, instead guaranteeing that they would be paid an average of the pay grade of police in ten other California cities of roughly the same population as San Bernardino.
San Bernardino, which at one point was among the most financially dynamic of the region’s municipalities, suffered a series of setbacks toward the close of the 20th Century, most pointedly the Department of Defense’s shuttering of Norton Air Force Base in 1994. By 2012, the city had $80 million in unfunded liabilities and a $49 million annual operating deficit, precipitating its bankruptcy.
Prior to the city’s bankruptcy filing, its then-mayor, Patrick Morris, along with his supporters on the city council, who included Tobin Brinker and Fred Shorett, had sought to convince the public that the city’s commitment to compete with wealthier municipalities in the provision of salaries to its employees, in particular the public safety employees covered under Charter Section 186, was unsustainable. They advocated holding the line on employee salaries by, essentially, freezing pay levels.
In the election cycle prior to the city’s bankruptcy filing, the election of 2011, the city’s public safety employee unions targeted Brinker for removal, by so doing attempting to send a message to the city’s political leadership that maintaining comfortable remuneration levels for city employees, in particular police officers and firefighters, should be considered sacrosanct. In Brinker’s stead they supported John Valdivia, who in his public utterances equated providing top tier salaries to policeman and firefighters with public safety. Valdivia utilized the hefty political contributions provided to him by the police and fire union to carry out an energetic campaign and thereby vanquished Brinker at the polls.
Seven years later, after the city’s bankruptcy and exit therefrom, Carey Davis’s succession of Morris as mayor and the charter revision, Valdivia in 2018 vied against and defeated Davis in the race for San Bernardino mayor. During Davis’s tenure, Jarrod Burguan had acceded to the position of police chief, succeeding Robert Handy. Completely unforeseen events would elevate Burguan to virtual demigod status within the American law enforcement community. On the morning of December 2, 2015, Syed Rizwan Farook, a restaurant inspector employed with the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health, and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, approached and then went into an auditorium at the Inland Regional Center in south San Bernardino where both a training session and a pre-Christmas banquet for Public Health Department employees was being held. Wearing ski masks, armed with semi-automatic pistols and rifles and clad in bulletproof vests holding magazines and ammunition, Farook and Malik killed two people before entering the building and thereafter unleashed a fusillade of more than 100 rounds before fleeing. Inside the structure they killed another 12 and wounded 22 of the 86 people present, virtually all of whom had been Farook’s co-workers in the Department of Public Health. Ultimately, some four hours after the initial attack and Farook and Malik had returned to their residence in Redlands and were coming back into San Bernardino, San Bernardino Police officers spotted the couple driving a vehicle rented by Farook four days before the attack, and which the department had identified. Officers gave pursuit and confronted them, at which juncture the couple made a futile last stand in a shootout on San Bernardino Avenue just east of Sheddon Drive. As more police units arrived to converge on the scene, 23 officers firing a combined total of at least 440 rounds mortally wounded the murderous pair, avenging the 14 earlier deaths.
Burguan was widely credited with his calm, methodical, vigilant, thorough and ultimately successful response and the coordination of his department’s resources throughout the ordeal. Thereafter, he was in great demand by other departments all over the country for input on preparation for similar emergencies. The highly articulate Burguan found himself torn between what he felt was a legitimate need to contribute to readiness and preparation among agencies throughout the law enforcement industry nationally and his duties in running his own department that was struggling under challenging circumstances that were unrelated to the December 2, 2015 attack. Those included sustaining the economies being imposed on the department as the city was making its exit from bankruptcy and the unenviable position of overseeing law enforcement in a city ranked on one survey as the 13th most dangerous city in the United States, with a murder rate that was thrice the national average.
Despite the opportunities that were presented to him to take on an even more lucrative police chief’s assignment elsewhere, Burguan remained in San Bernardino, even as he was being criticized for his attention sometimes being diffused by requests for his input with regard to response readiness in other jurisdictions.
In February of this year, Burguan underwent knee surgery. At his recommendation, Assistant Police Chief Eric McBride was tapped to fill in as acting police chief in his absence. It was anticipated that Burguan’s recovery would be complete by May. At that point, however, he had not returned, accompanied by conflicting reports as to why he did not reassume the helm at the police department. One report, based on statements emanating from Burguan directly, was that he was looking forward, indeed was anxious, to return, but that the city at some level or another, either within the city manager’s office or the risk management division, was blocking him from doing so over what was perceived to be a problem with his inability to meet the department’s physical agility standards because of his knee. Another report, perhaps of dubious provenance but one which circulated nonetheless, was that Burguan did not want to return.
On August 1, McBride, whose status and pay grade had temporarily been zoomed upward to match that of the police chief, was granted a 3.5 percent salary increase, conferring upon him an annual salary of $255,963.80 and benefits of $51,750, an amount that was on par with what Burguan was receiving. Parenthetically, McBride’s salary hike had triggered an increase in the pay provided to the city’s recently installed city manager, Teri Ledoux, who as the city’s assistant city manager had been brought in as a temporary replacement for City Manager Andrea Travis-Miller when she was put on temporary administrative leave in April. In July, Ledoux was hired as city manager retroactive to June 1, following Travis-Miller’s May 29 firing. Ledoux’s contract required that she receive a salary that was at least five percent higher than any of the department heads she supervised, including the police chief. Thus, when McBride was granted his raise on August 1, Ledoux saw her $259,674 salary before benefits upped to $268,762.
On August 16, Burguan retired. The widespread assumption was that McBride would in short order be named as Burguan’s successor, whereby the qualifier acting would be removed from his police chief title and his status as head of the department would be locked in for a specified contractual term. McBride, in apparent anticipation of his ultimate selection as police chief, signaled he would be willing, for the time being, to continue as the acting police chief at his current pay grade. Unspoken at that time was that upon his graduation to being the city’s actual police chief, some further salary enhancement would follow. With the turn of summer into fall, from discussions between McBride and Ledoux emerged the idea of having Ledoux broach with the city council giving McBride another raise.
The calculation was that the seven-member city council and Mayor Valdivia were in substantial agreement that McBride, while perhaps not indispensable, was nevertheless a valued asset and feature of the police department. As a military veteran who had spent nearly six years in the Marine Corps, McBride began with the San Bernardino Police Department as a patrol officer in 1991, and thereafter had assignments as a member of the special weapons and assault team and as a field training officer. In 2002, he promoted to detective, working in the department’s narcotics division. He advanced to sergeant in 2004, in which rank he worked as a patrol supervisor, as a special weapons and assault team leader, and in internal affairs. He achieved the rank of lieutenant in 2011, overseeing the special events, emergency operations, records and dispatch divisions. He spent a mere five months as captain in 2014, at which point he was appointed assistant chief of police. McBride holds a bachelor of science degree in political science from California Baptist University and a master of science degree in criminal justice from Troy University, augmented by a certificate in emergency management from Auburn University, as well as certification from the FBI National Academy and certification in executive leadership from the Naval Postgraduate School. He also graduated from the Police Officers and Standards Training Command College in its 56th class. As a resident of the City of Hemet, McBride served a short time on that city’s planning commission in 2006, and later that year was elected to the Hemet City Council, subsequently serving a stint as mayor. While he was in his elected capacity with Hemet, McBride was appointed as a voting member of the Riverside Transit Agency as well as a member and later vice-chairman of the California League of Cities Public Safety Policy Committee.
In 2015, the City of El Monte hired McBride as its police chief, but after criticism regarding his participation in what was deemed aggressive anti-illegal immigration policies in Hemet, McBride opted not to take the job in that city in which roughly 69 percent, or 79,754 of its 115,586 population self-identifies as Latino.
From Ledoux’s perspective, advocating for McBride’s desired salary increase carried with it the added advantage that an upward migration in the soon-to-be police chief’s pay would in turn increase her remuneration and enhance her salary upon retirement.
From the perspective of several councilmembers, however, the requested pay increases were troubling. Foremost among their concerns was that the city simply could not afford what was being requested. The city had managed, by the time it emerged from bankruptcy in 2017, to salt away $35 million in reserves, largely because during the previous five years the bankruptcy court had allowed the city to hold its creditors at bay and pay them only a fraction of what the city owed them, in some cases 60 cents on the dollar, and in others 50 cents on the dollar, 40 cents on the dollar, 30 cents on the dollar and 20 cents on the dollar. In the case of those who had successfully sued the city for violations of Constitutional rights or for excessive use of force by the police department, the city was permitted to pay just one cent on the dollar for the first million dollars of damages assessed by any court against the city. Thus, in June 2017, as the city exited bankruptcy, it was starting off fresh, and had been consigned by the federal bankruptcy court to abide by a recovery plan that called for the city living within its means, ending deficit spending and spending no more than the revenue it was bringing in.
Though the city attempted, or made a show of attempting, to live up to the strictures of that recovery plan, almost from the beginning it had failed to do so. Actual income into the city in 2017-2018 failed to match up with the projections city officials had made, and worse, spending exceeded, for a number of reasons, the outlays officials had committed to when the fiscal year began on July 1, 2017. As bad as 2017-18 had been, Fiscal Year 2018-19 was worse. For Fiscal 2018-19, the city council approved an operating budget of $166,357,066, of which $126,247,699 was accounted for in the city’s general fund and $40,109,367 in other funds that included special revenue, enterprise operations, and internal services. Travis-Miller and the city’s then-finance director, Brent Mason, said the city could count upon experiencing a five percent increase in general fund revenues over the previous year, based upon $168,943,334 that was anticipated to flow into the city, allowing the city to net a surplus of $2,586,268, which could be used to fatten the city’s reserves. As the fiscal year progressed, however, both Mason and Travis-Miller could see that the city was not meeting the revenue projections assumed at the outset, and by the time of the transition to spring in March 2019, the council was informed that before Fiscal Year 2018-19 was to expire at midnight on June 30 of this year, not only would the city not realize the projected $2,586,268 surplus, it would actually receive roughly $11.2 million less than the $166,357,066 it was going to spend. Without fanfare, Mason departed and Travis-Miller’s head was on the chopping block shortly thereafter.
Prognostications, based on the best figures available, now indicate that the city, which ran an $11.2 million deficit in just concluded 2018-19, will see that annual deficit jump to $16 million by the end of 2019-20 and $18 million to $19 million by 2020-21. Since June of this year, by which time the $35 million in reserves the city had in 2017 were depleted to roughly $22 million, the city has engaged in another $6.4 million in deficit spending, bringing its reserves down to $15.6 million. The best projection available at present is that by the end of next June, at the beginning of Fiscal Year 2020-21, the city’s reserves will stand at roughly $5.8 million. Perhaps as early as September 2020 but certainly no later than November 2020, if the city’s current revenue and spending trends continue, the city’s reserves will be entirely depleted. There is concern that if the city again seeks bankruptcy protection, the federal bankruptcy court, after taking stock of the city’s inability or unwillingness to live up to the recovery plan it agreed to upon its last bankruptcy exit, will not grant the city’s petition, leaving the city with no other option than disincorporation, ceasing to exist as a municipal entity such that the land within the city limits will return to the administration of the county, leaving Highland free to annex a major portion of the city’s northeast quadrant; Rialto to become heir to the land on the city’s northwest side; Colton to lay claim to the southwest corner of the city; Loma Linda to inherit the middle south end of the city and Redlands to take over the roughly six square miles located at the southeast extreme of San Bernardino’s 61.95 square miles.
Meanwhile, McBride was unrelenting in his insistence that the city would need to make an object demonstration of the degree to which it valued his services and boost his pay by ten percent. His threat, either implied or direct, delivered to the city council through Ledoux, was that he would simply retire, leaving the department in less than certain hands.
It was not lost on some members of the city council, however, that Burguan, who because of the performance of the officers under his command on December 2, 2015 could have virtually written his own ticket as a police chief with literally hundreds of other law enforcement agencies elsewhere, had elected to remain in San Bernardino at a level of pay McBride now appeared to be turning his nose up at.
By the middle of October it had become clear to Ledoux that if she pushed hard with regard to McBride’s demand, which would raise his salary from $255,963.80 to $281,560.18 and thus put herself in line to see her $268,762 salary increased to $295,638.18, the council might not only outright balk at the proposal but would possibly elect to terminate her altogether. Accordingly, she came at the issue from a slightly different angle.
Using something akin to the formula that had been applied to arrive at police department salaries under the now defunct Section 186 of the city’s 1905 Charter, Ledoux arranged for a survey of the salaries provided to the police chief and assistant police chief in ten cities of over 100,000 population that fell within a rubric in some other fashion comparable to San Bernardino: Lancaster, Torrance, Santa Rosa, Thousand Oaks, Glendale, Jurupa Valley, Temecula, Moreno Valley, Ventura and Vallejo.
While none of those cities had a population above that of San Bernardino, in the case of Lancaster, the comparison of San Bernrdino’s police chief and assistant police chief was made to the sheriff and undersheriff of Los Angeles County, with a population of over 10 million; in the cases of Jurupa Valley, Moreno Valley and Temecula, the comparisons were made to the sheriff and undersheriff of Riverside County, which has a population of 2.4 million; and in the case of Thousand Oaks, the comparison was to the sheriff and undersheriff of Ventura County, with a population of over 850,000.
It was thus derived that the average salary of an assistant police chief in the ten survey cities is $254,904 and the average pay of a police chief in the ten survey cities is $279,120.
Thereupon, in her staff report prepared for the city council at Wednesday night’s meeting, Ledoux proposed a boost to acting Assistant Police Chief David Green’s current $234,264 annual salary before benefits to $254,904, an increase of $20,640, and to hike McBride’s current $255,963.80 annual salary to $279,120, an increase of $23,160. In so doing, Ledoux said she would waive the stipulation in her contract that she be granted a raise that would up her current $268,762 annual pay to $293,076.
In a memo to the mayor and city council dated October 31, 2019 bearing her initials, Ledoux stated, “This memorandum of record is to inform you that I am irrevocably waiving my right to a salary increase pursuant to Section 3.1 of my employment agreement dated July 17, 2019 and agreeing to keep my current annual salary of $268,762 throughout the remainder of my agreement term (December 31, 2020). An increase in my salary is not budgeted and, recognizing the city’s financial challenges, I am opting to irrevocably waive any right to an increase.”
While the subject of McBride’s and Green’s raise was listed as item 18 on Wednesday night’s agenda, the council ushered items 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25 and 26 before it, postponing its consideration till the conclusion of the meeting, taking it up at approximately 11:28 p.m. as the council’s last action of the night.
In addition to the city’s precarious financial situation, militating against McBride’s request for the pay increase was the inclusion of an upward salary adjustment for Green in the proposal.
Green, who has a reputation for aggressiveness and was kicked upstairs into the department’s command echelon after he was named over a period of roughly a decade in a series of lawsuits against the city alleging excessive use of force including a fatal shooting in 2007, was present for the entirety of the meeting. While the acting assistant chief had a direct interest in the outcome of the vote and there was nothing improper, per se, about his presence, he has been on hand for council meetings on a less-than-frequent basis in the past, and some members of the council considered his attendance to be an intimidation tactic.
Green was the member of the department whom then-Mayor Elect John Valdivia had contacted on November 14, 2018 to report that he had been on the premises of what the city has charged is an illicit marijuana dispensary located at 1435 North Waterman Avenue roughly an hour-and-a-half to two hours prior to an unidentified gunman coming into the business and shooting an employee in the leg before making off with $19,600 in cash. Valdivia told Green he had been there to “meet-and-greet” the owner of the building and then go over “business investment and other opportunities” with him. Over the previous nine months, the dispensary at 1435 North Waterman had been the site of three police department raids, out of which two felony charges against the operators had been issued by the district attorney’s office. In his statement to Green, Valdivia insisted that he was in no way involved in the robbery that took place after his departure from the scene. A report on the matter was sent to the district attorney’s office, which has not charged Valdivia with any crime.
Additionally, on October 30, the entire council had received an email from Steve Desrochers, the past president and currently a member-at-large of the San Bernardino Police Officers Association in which he lobbied for the promotion of McBride to the position of full police chief, stating, “Our department has been without a chief of police for entirely too long! The leadership in place at this time is leading our department back to a respectable, ‘pro-active’ agency. They have re-instituted important unit details that are already having a positive impact in our community. Morale at the department has begun to improve. We are making forward progress.”
Elsewhere in the letter, Desrochers recommended against the city undertaking an independent audit of the police department.
“What we have heard about is a scheme to unnecessarily spend $150,000 to commission an outside ‘top-to-bottom audit’ of our agency,” Desrocher’s email stated. “It is our understanding that this audit will focus on structural suggestions that might be implemented within current budgetary constraints. This type of audit would not give you a true picture of our needs as it would be lacking very important information. To the point, ladies and gentlemen, we believe the notion of an audit to be a total waste of time and taxpayer money. It is poor policy to operate an agency of our size in a community with our level of crime without a chief of police, and it’s dangerous for the community and increases liability to the city. The San Bernardino Police Officers Association urges each of you to stop considering this ridiculous spending of taxpayer funds that our community can better use. The position of the San Bernardino Police Officers Association has not changed and we are asking you to stand with us to rectify this problem. We know what this department needs and can assure you that Eric McBride possesses the leadership and experience to continue making the changes that must be made.”
Based on an analysis of linguistic patterns and word usage in the letter, some of the members of the council came to the conclusion, correctly or incorrectly, that the letter had actually been written by Green, or if not written by him, dictated by him to Desrochers.
Prior to taking up the item relating to the salary increases for Green and McBride, the council did reject an item to commission the audit referenced in Desrochers’ letter, one that was to be carried out, if it had been approved, by the firm of Hillard and Heintze at a cost of $145,000.
Councilman Ted Sanchez emerged as the primary supporter on the council for giving McBride and Green the raises they were seeking. He referenced five year-term memorandums of understanding with the San Bernardino Police Officers Association and the Police Officers Management Association which are now in their final year of applicability, suggesting that the city’s two top police officials deserved more than what was being provided to the officers they oversaw.
“We made a commitment to the people who are protecting us and risking their lives,” Sanchez said. “We made a commitment to them to pay out these raises. Now that it’s inconvenient for us, to not pay out these raises will really put the city in a dark place, the fact that we will be willing to shortcut the people who are tasked with our safety, to cut them after we made a good faith agreement with them. I did not personally make this promise but my predecessors did, and they did it as representatives of this city. Now that I am a representative of this city, I inherit those promises, and I intend to fulfill all of those promises made to those people who are entrusted with our safety.”
Councilmen Jim Mulvihill and Fred Shorett asserted that the city’s deteriorating financial situation left it incapable of spending the kind of money called for in the pay increase proposal.
“It’s time for fiscal discipline,” Mulvihill said. “The memorandum of understanding doesn’t include the police chief. All we are doing is saying. ‘Let’s keep on doing what we were doing in the past.’ We’re not the same city we were five years ago Actually, five years ago we were doing a little bit better than we are now. This year we cut down seven percent across the board. I don’t know that our revenues are increasing at all. We haven’t gotten any kind of indication that our revenues are up this year. We’re drawing down our reserves. My position is fiscal discipline.”
Shorett said that fiscal reality dictated a vote against providing McBride and Green with the raises. He asserted the city is already devoting too much of its budget toward the police department, that too much of the money that is being spent on the department is going toward police department brass rather than increasing the numbers of available officers for patrol and basic enforcement, and that the money being spent should be refocused toward beefing up basic police functions rather than on administration and management.
“I’d like to ask the chief and the assistant chief if they’re willing to do what our city manager did and take these positions, voluntarily not accepting the raise?” Shorett questioned, rhetorically. “That would certainly be something that would bode well with me.”
He continued, “We eliminated 17 street positions, patrol positions. I’ve said it: I believe we are top heavy [in the police department]. The more black and whites you have on the street, the more police presence you have in our community, the more people are going to see that we’re serious about crime and maybe take a second look at committing a crime. In no way do I want to disparage our police department, our chief, the people that work very diligently, very hard every day protecting us, but no one has challenged me when I’ve said … based on $100 million for our operating budget, we’ve got 80 percent going to the police department, which is unheard of. I just think we are not being fiscally prudent at all. I cannot support this.”
Shorett said the memorandum of understanding did not require that the police chief receive the 9 percent and the assistant police chief get the 8.8 percent raises being proposed. “Damn the memorandum of understanding,” Shorett said. “The reality of it is we are spending our funds faster than we are making them. Revenues are flat at best or negative.”
Sanchez made a motion to grant the raises as proposed by Ledoux, which was seconded by Councilman Henry Nickel. The motion failed, 4-to-2, with Shorett, Mulvihill, Councilwoman Sandra Ibarra and Councilman Juan Figueroa in opposition and Sanchez and Nickel in support.
Two days after a crucial member of the ruling coalition on the board of the West Valley Water District was defeated at the polls, the board at its first meeting after the election terminated one of its assistant general managers.
Assistant General Manager Ricardo Pacheco earlier this year found himself at the center of a roiling contretemps between board members who had previously been closely aligned. As a consequence, he was placed on administrative leave in May. His firing on Thursday followed the Tuesday reelection of board members Kyle Crowther and Greg Young and the defeat of Don Olinger in the race for West Valley Water District board of directors positions held in November of odd-numbered years.
The West Valley Water District is based in Rialto and provides roughly 21,500 water service hook-ups to customers within the communities of Rialto, Fontana, west Colton, Bloomington and a sliver of north Riverside County.
Olinger, who is among the longest serving board members in the history of the West Valley Water District, lost to Channing Hawkins in the polling carried out and concluded on Tuesday. Hawkins is to be sworn in next month to replace Olinger. It is unclear but certainly possible that Pacheco’s departure from the district will soon be accompanied by the forced departures of other senior staff members at the district, all as a consequence of the ending of Olinger’s tenure on the board.
Olinger and Crowther over the last 16 months had settled into a firm and dependable alliance with the board’s current president, Dr. Michael Taylor. The Taylor, Crowther and Olinger coalition had evolved out of what would have earlier seemed to be an unlikely shift of allegiances that had consisted of a close affiliation between Taylor, Crowther and two of the other board members, Dr. Clifford Young and Greg Young.
In 2013, Dr. Clifford Young, a professor of public administration at Cal State San Bernardino who for a brief time was a member of the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors in 2004, had returned to politics after a hiatus of nearly a decade, running successfully for a position on the West Valley Water District Board of Directors. A Republican, Young defeated Olinger, a Democrat, in that election for what is officially considered a non-partisan office, but which in the highly-partisan atmosphere of San Bernardino County is heavily influenced by the party affiliation of those competing. Two years later, Olinger successfully staged a political comeback of his own, gaining electoral return onto the board during balloting which also saw Greg Young, another Republican who is of no blood relation to Dr. Young, elected to the board. Both Youngs formed something of a political affinity. In 2017, Clifford Young ran for reelection, at the same time supporting Taylor, who previously had served as the police chief of Baldwin Park and was one of Young’s neighbors in Rialto, in his run for a position on the board. Dr. Young also supported Kyle Crowther, a resident of Fontana who was an officer on the Fontana School District’s police department, in the specially-held race for a two-year position on the board that came about as a consequence of the 2017 resignation of Board Member Alan Dyer, who had most recently been reelected in 2015. Clifford Young’s support of Taylor included making transfers and loans of money from his own political war chest to Taylor’s campaign fund. He assisted Crowther by helping him network with political consultants and donors.
Clifford Young, Taylor and Crowther all emerged victorious in the November 2017 balloting. Upon their swearing in on December 7, 2017, they along with Greg Young, a longtime member of the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee, represented a 4-to-1 Republican majority on the board. It is noteworthy that in in the aftermath of the ascendancy of the Young/Young/Taylor/Crowther ruling coalition, Olinger, as the lone Democrat on the board, found himself isolated and, for some time thereafter until the downturn in the relationship between Dr. Young and Dr. Taylor, a virtual political irrelevancy.
Almost immediately, the board elevated Clifford Young to the position of board president and set about a housecleaning in the district, terminating or suspending then-Chief Financial Officer Marie Ricci, then-Human Resources Manager Karen Logue, the board’s secretary, Shanae Smith, then-General Manager Matthew Litchfield and Assistant General Manager Greg Gage. Simultaneously, based upon Taylor’s recommendation, the Republican majority brought in Robert Tafoya, who was Baldwin Park’s city attorney and in whom Taylor had confidence, to serve as the West Valley Water District’s general counsel. For the time being, the board majority put former Loma Linda Mayor Robert Christman, who was at one time the chief financial officer at West Valley and a close associate of Dr. Young, into the position of the district’s interim general manager. Subsequently, in March 2018, the board would also assent to hiring, effective the following month, Ricardo Pacheco, a Baldwin Park city councilman, as West Valley’s assistant general manager overseeing external affairs. Pacheco had an engineering degree, having formerly been the director of public works for the city of South Gate, an associate engineer for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, a project manager for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and was then working as a project manager for the California Department of Transportation and ITT Corp.
It was yet while Dr. Young was the president of the West Valley Water Board that the district brought in Clarence Mansell, who had extensive experience and well-established credentials in managing large scale public water and wastewater systems, as the district’s general manager. Mansell had previously been employee with the Los Angeles County Sanitation District and the cities of Los Angeles, Corona and Rialto.
Though it was less than fully apparent to the public, at some point in the fall of 2018, relations between Clifford Young and Dr. Taylor soured. The grounds for the falling out are not clear. Taylor and his associates maintain that Dr. Young’s domineering personality and dictatorial approach, including his tendency to interpret the expression of legitimate differences of opinion or perspective on routine issues of governance or district operations as disloyalty and insubordination, accounted for strain in the relationship that led to a sundering. Young and those in his camp counter that Taylor’s decision-making approach is driven by venality and conflicts of interest.
In the power struggle that ensued, Taylor, at least for a time prevailed. Olinger, whose relationship with Clifford Young was poisoned from the outset by the consideration that Young had displaced Olinger from the district board for two years when he defeated him in the 2013 election, gravitated toward Taylor’s side of the evolving political divide, as did Crowther, who was like Taylor a law enforcement professional. Greg Young, more or less, remained aligned with Clifford Young. Taylor, who acceded to the position of board president in 2018, became the dominant player in the district by virtue of the 3-to-2 divide on the board in his favor.
Quietly in the winter of 2018-19, Dr. Young, in league with West Valley’s former chief financial officer, Naisha Davis, and the district’s administrative services analyst, Patricia Romero, began conferring with lawyers from the law firm of Zweibach, Fiset & Coleman, working toward preparing what is known as a qui tam lawsuit. That legal action was quietly filed under seal in February 2019, with Rachel Fiset and Erin Coleman representing Clifford Young, Naisha Davis and Patricia Romero.
That suit alleged that Taylor, who was chief of the Baldwin Park Police Department from 2013 to 2016 and was subsequently re-hired to a one-year contract to again serve as Baldwin Park police chief on December 1, 2017, utilized his position as a West Valley Water District board member to hire Tafoya as a reward to him for arranging his rehiring as Baldwin Park police chief. Taylor was brought back to serve as police chief by the Baldwin Park City Council, which counted among its members Pacheco, some 25 days after being elected to the water board and six days before he was sworn in. Taylor’s contract to resume his duties as police chief was drafted by Tafoya, who was also Baldwin Park’s city attorney, according to the lawsuit. Upon being sworn in as a water board member and assuming his duties in that capacity on December 7, 2018, according to the suit, Taylor effectuated the hiring Tafoya as the West Valley Water District’s general counsel on a contract with no end date. In the ensuing 18 months, according to the lawsuit, Tafoya’s firm billed the West Valley Water District approximately $395,000.
Further, according to the suit, less than four months later, after Taylor assumed his position on the West Valley Water Board dais, Pacheco, a Baldwin Park City Councilman who had voted for Taylor’s reinstatement as police chief, was hired by the West Valley Water District as assistant general manager of external affairs. He was later moved without board approval to the newly created position of “assistant general manager,” earning a salary of $192,000 per year, the suit alleges. Since his hiring, Pacheco and the California Education Coalition PAC he controls donated a total of $8,000 to Taylor’s campaign and $1,000 to West Valley Water District Board Vice President Kyle Crowther’s campaign, according to the lawsuit.
According to the suit, in 2018, Taylor spearheaded the effort to hire his associate, Mansell, as the West Valley Water District’s interim general manager and subsequently as the permanent general manager, at an annual salary of $225,000. The lawsuit alleges Mansell was hired by a 3-to-2 board vote without a recruitment effort.
The lawsuit alleges that in 2017 and 2018, Tafoya provided Taylor with travel and accommodations in Mexico and Las Vegas, paid for Taylor, Crowther and Cliff Young to travel to Arizona, twice paid for Crowther’s airfare to Florida and made contributions to Crowther’s and Taylor’s campaign war chests or otherwise assisted them in their campaigns. Tafoya further militated or lobbied on behalf of Albright, Yee & Schmit, the Kaufman Law Firm and Robert Katherman in getting the two former entities legal work for the water district and a consulting contract for the latter while those firms and/or their principals were providing gifts, travel accommodations, entertainment and political contributions to members of the water board, in particular Taylor and Crowther, the suit alleges. According to the suit, Taylor, Tafoya, Pacheco, Crowther, Mansell, West Valley Water District Human Resources and Risk Manager Deborah Martinez and other law firms and consultants connected to Taylor and Tafoya “have engaged in illegal kickbacks and bribes to ensure contracts with the district and subsequent approval of invoices for payment.”
District records, nonetheless, indicate that Cliff Young supported the hiring of Tafoya by the water district in 2017. They further reflect that the district’s initial hiring of Mansell in 2018 was undertaken with Clifford Young’s support.
A writ of qui tam is a private individual’s or individuals’ petition, who is or are claiming to be of assistance in a possible prosecution, for a court order against those the petitioner or petitioners alleges or allege have engaged in prohibited acts. Qui tam is an abbreviation of the Latin phrase qui tam pro domino rege quam pro se ipso in hac parte sequitur, meaning “[he] who sues in this matter for the king as well as for himself.” The qui tam suit in this case in and of itself embodies a paradox that presents a further dilemma and conundrum for the district and its board members. The suit names the district as a plaintiff despite the consideration that the district board never voted to file the suit and, in fact, three of the board’s members – Taylor, Crowther and Olinger – were adamantly opposed to the prosecution of the suit, disagreed with the upshot of the suit, and did not empowered the law firm of Zweibach, Fiset & Coleman, nor Rachel Fiset nor Erin Coleman to act on the district’s behalf. According to Coleman, however, Young’s, Davis’s and Romero’s assertions of whistleblower status taken together with the nature of the false claim allegations they are making against the defendants endow the complainants with the legal entitlement to sue on behalf of the district and its constituents.
The board majority did consent to hiring Maribel S. Medina to represent the West Valley Water District as a real party in interest in the lawsuit. Medina on July 9, 2019 filed a motion to dismiss the complaint. Medina’s overarching suggestion was that Dr. Cliff Young was subject to complaints by district staff members Matthew Litchfield, Marie Ricci, Karen Logue, and Shanae Smith and ultimately Mansell of improperly seeking to extend his authority beyond the limitations of his statutory power as a single vote on the water district’s five-member board of directors by making direct orders to staff and had grown discomfited by his inability to quash the internal district investigations those complaints triggered. The investigations into those accusations were carried out, in large measure, by the Kaufman Law Firm, Medina asserted, implying the qui tam action was a reprisal by Dr. Young and those he is affiliated with against Mansell and Taylor for allowing Litchfield’s, Ricci’s, Logue’s and Smith’s accusations to persist without being controverted by official district action.
The suit, Medina maintains, failed to meet the legal requirements of of the California False Claims Act, and exists as a politically-angled hit piece that lodges spurious allegations of corruption against the members of the board who, over the roughly one year period after the 2017 election, had evolved toward resisting Clifford Young’s improper overreach in dominating and micromanaging the district utilizing his status by asserting authority outside his legitimate role and capacity as an elected member of the board. The qui tam lawsuit failed to establish that the defendants and their named co-conspirators acted in collusion or in secret or had participated in undetected fraud, according to Medina, and consisted merely of sensationalized facts taken directly from negative news media articles. Nor did the lawsuit concern itself with exposing fraud and corruption as Young, Davis and Romero and their attorneys asserted, according to Medina, who maintained that “This lawsuit was brought in an attempt to interfere with ongoing investigations of harassment, bullying and misappropriation of public monies by Dr. Young, who has been represented by legal counsel Rachel Fiset in the ongoing investigations. This lawsuit is frivolous, vexatious and brought solely for the purpose of harassment.”
According to Medina, Cliff Young’s animus toward Taylor, Crowther, Tafoya, the Kaufman Law Firm and others grew out of the district board’s move on January 29, 2018 to retain the Kaufman Law Firm to investigate allegations made against Dr. Young in a 2017 memo that was sent to then-District General Manager Matthew Litchfield by Ricci, Logue, Smith and former Board Member Linda Gonzalez, which laid laid out “in significant detail examples of Dr. Young’s ‘grossly abusing his power and misappropriating public funds for his own personal benefit.’”
According to Medina, the billings that Tafoya and his firm; Albright, Yee & Schmit; the Kaufman Law Firm; and Robert Katherman made to the district were legitimate invoices for services that were actually rendered.
The elections held for positions on the West Valley Water District board this year were the first in the district’s history to be conducted by-district as opposed to at-large throughout the overall confines of the district. As the 2019 West Valley Water District election approached, with Crowther seeking reelection in that portion of the district – Division 1 – covering Fontana and a part of Bloomington, Olinger in that section of the district – Division 4 – covering a portion of Rialto, and Greg Young seeking reelection in that expanse within the district – Division 5 – covering much of Bloomington, Taylor threw his support behind getting both Olinger and Crowther reelected and in seeking to unseat Greg Young. Taylor transferred or spent some $1,392.50 from his own campaign fund to support Crowther in his run against challengers Betty Gosney and Linda Gonzalez; $25,050.25 in support of Olinger in his contest against Channing Hawkins; and another $16,128.04 to support Angel Ramirez, a Fontana resident who relocated into a rented room in Bloomington just before the election filing period so he could run against Greg Young.
Ultimately, things went Taylor’s way in only one of those three elections. Crowther outdistanced his two challengers, Betty Gosney and Linda Gonzalez, claiming 278 votes or 53.05 percent to Gosney’s 32 votes of 6.11 percent and Gonzalez’s 211 votes or 40.27 percent. Channing Hawkins beat Don Olinger in a head-to-head contest, 618 votes or 65.05 percent to 332 votes or 34.95 percent. Greg Young with 338 votes or 52.73 percent leapt passed Angel Ramirez, who pulled in 228 votes or 35.57 percent. A third candidate in District 5, Jackie Cox, collected 75 votes or 11.7 percent.
The longstanding affiliation between Clifford Young and Greg Young remains intact, and the degree to which Taylor militated against Greg Young during the just-concluded election portends that in any future contention between Taylor and Clifford Young, Greg Young is likely to side with the latter.
Given the heavy support that Taylor provided to Olinger, it would appear to be a longshot that Dr. Taylor will be able to count on Hawkins’ support in any confrontation that manifests between Taylor and Dr. Young.
While most issues that are dealt with by the West Valley Water Board are relatively straightforward ones that relate to the operation of the water district, the delivery of water to its customers and future planning toward infrastructure and utility improvements, there is little room for disagreement among the board members and there is generally consonance among them on most votes. It is rather with regard to personnel issues, in particular the employment of several individuals at the district in what are considered high paying positions that the personal differences between Clifford Young and Taylor have come into sharp relief and which are likely to be an issue in the future. As the qui tam lawsuit brought up, Clifford Young is contending that such favoritism has been showered upon Pacheco, Mansell and Tafoya, as well as the law firm of Albright, Yee & Schmit, the Kaufman Law Firm and Robert Katherman.
Even before Olinger is to depart next month, Pacheco became the first casualty in the ascendancy of Cliff Young over Michael Taylor. Pacheco was put on paid administrative leave last spring, for reasons that have not been publicly disclosed. Since that time he has drawn some $135,000 in salary and benefits. Seeing the writing on the wall, the board this week in a closed session ratified a separation agreement with Pacheco on a 4-to-0 vote without Clifford Young participating that conferred upon Pacheco nine months of salary, equal to $142,194, and included Pacheco’s pledge to forever relinquish any claims against the district based upon his employment there and his forced departure therefrom. The terms of the agreement were worked out by Tafoya.
Depending upon the degree to which Hawkins and Greg Young hew to the guidance of Clifford Young, it is at least possible and perhaps probable that Tafoya and his firm will soon no longer be associated with the district and that Mansell will depart as general manager as well. Indeed, a burning question at present is whether a severance agreement for Mansell will be prepared and considered at the November 21 meeting of the board, which will be perhaps the last opportunity for the board as it is now composed and over which Taylor has certain control to provide Mansell with a departure arrangement to be drafted by Tafoya that will not be subject to the purview of a council majority over which Cliff Young will likely exert control.
Thereafter, there is a similar likelihood that the district will end its contractual or consultancy relationships with the law firm of Albright, Yee & Schmit, the Kaufman Law Firm and Robert Katherman. Also in jeopardy is Jeremiah Brosowske, who was hired in May as an assistant general manager with the district at a total annual compensation level, including salary and benefits, exceeding $250,000. Brosowske, 28, was recently an appointed and then elected councilman in Hesperia, but was removed from that post after a majority of his colleagues came to a determination that he did not meet the residency requirements to hold office in Hesperia. Brosowske is legally contesting that removal from office. Brosowske’s hiring by the district is considered in some quarters to have been a political one, as he has no previous experience, expertise, training, licensing or certification in public or municipal water district operations. Moreover, there were indications during the just concluded political season that he was working on both Olinger’s and Ramirez’s election campaigns, a consideration that will not likely sit well with Channing Hawkins and Greg Young.
Word has reached the Sentinel that the internal investigation into allegations of theft by city employees within the Adelanto Municipal Water Department has turned up evidence that graft involving payoffs from cannabis business applicants to certain high ranking city officials poisoned the atmosphere at City Hall, eroding employee morale to the point that at least one employee and perhaps more lower down the chain of command felt pocketing public money was within the norm.
According to sources deep within City Hall, last spring an employee in the finance department noted discrepancies with regard to payments, whereupon an informal examination of the city’s books, including those in the water department, was quietly initiated. The preliminary results of that examination were shared with the city council, which on at least two occasions held closed session discussions of the matter. One upshot of those secret council discussions, the Sentinel has learned, was to contract for an investigation into the matter with firms capable of carrying out what was hoped would be a discrete inquiry.
Based on the investigators’ initial findings, three employees within the water department – Utility Service Manager/Water Conservation Specialist Tondalaya Goodwin, Customer Service Supervisor Laura Lowe and Customer Service Representative Anna Mosqueda – came under close focus.
At issue, according to the Sentinel’s sources, was that after money was paid for cannabis business applications and permits received at the counter within City Hall and before that money was deposited in the appropriate account the city had for those funds, something over $100,000 disappeared or could not be accounted for over the course of more than a year.
During further closed sessions after the investigation had begun in earnest, members of the city council, the city manager and city attorney were kept abreast of what was being learned.
While evidence was yet being accumulated but before a determination of whether it was just one, two or all three of the suspects identified who were responsible for the thefts, the investigation was compromised when Councilwoman Stevevonna Evans, who had a friendship with Goodwin, informed her of the ongoing investigation.
Goodwin was in charge of the department and was responsible for the final count of the funds. She was the last person touching the cash before it was deposited, the Sentinel was told. Lowe and Mosqueda were at some level called upon to also count the money, and the Sentinel’s sources said it is unclear what part Lowe and Mosqueda had in what occurred beyond the quantifying of the funds coming in. “They were either all in on the scheme, or the others knew something but didn’t speak up,” the Sentinel was told.
In June, Goodwin, Lowe and Mosqueda were put on paid administrative leave. As a consequence, there was almost immediate disarray within the water division, and the posting of bills to the water department’s customers was interrupted, resulting in bills for most customers not going out in July at all, such that by August the city was seeing a substantial downturn of revenue. The issue with regard to the delinquency in billing has yet to be fully addressed. An informed estimate is that between $200,000 and $300,000 in revenue that should have come into the city as water service payments is yet uncollected because of the billing delays.
The city’s effort to quantify the loss has created an expense that would otherwise not exist. The auditing and accounting team headed by Misty Cheng has been billing the city more than it was previously after it was tasked to take on assisting with the water department’s financial issues. Cheng’s bills to the city are now well above $500,000 for the year, although the entirety of that expense does not apply to water department billing and includes other financial fixes as well as audits.
The interruption of the investigation represents a further expense to the city and its taxpayers, as the firms carrying out the investigation in June lost the ability to monitor Goodwin’s, Lowe’s and Mosqueda’s activity without their awareness that they were being scrutinized. Thus, the investigation has dragged out without resolution, and with the firms responsible for the investigation continuing to bill the city for a probe that should have been concluded months ago.
Both MMJ Solutions and the law firm of Zweibach, Fiset and Coleman are shown in the city’s listing of check warrants to be carrying out investigations currently for the city, with MMJ having sent an invoice to the city dated September 23 for $4,559.47 and Zwibach, Fiset and Coleman having billed the city on August 16 for $2,800.
Goodwin, Lowe and Mosqueda remain on administrative leave, and there is yet a lag in water department billing.
It is Mayor Gabriel Reyes’ perception that Evans was responsible for the untracking of the investigation into the thefts. That, among other issues, prompted him to move, in August, to remove Evans as mayor pro tem and replace her with Councilman Gerardo Hernandez.
The Sentinel is informed that the pilfering of cannabis business application permit and licensing fees began prior to Reyes’, Evans’ and Hernandez’s assumption of their positions on the council last December following their elections to the council in November 2018. The prior regime in Adelanto consisted, in its most recent form, of then-Mayor Rich Kerr and then-Councilman John Woodard and Councilwoman Joy Jeannette with the somewhat irregular support of former Councilman Charley Glasper. While the Kerr-led council was yet in control of the city, cannabis-related business applicants were able to purchase favorable treatment for their businesses at City Hall, which included fast track approvals and the suspension of enforcement of regulations and codes at their operations together with the waiving of fees, in exchange for both political contributions to council members and money paid under the table as well as monetary inducements openly provided in the guise of legitimate-appearing payments or commissions. Prior to Jeannette’s tenure on the council, which began in June 2018, the ruling coalition that Kerr headed consisted of himself, Woodard and former Councilman Jermaine Wright, as well as the on-again off-again participation of Glasper. In January 2018, Wright was removed from the council, in accordance with California law, after he had failed to attend regularly scheduled meetings of the council for more than 60 days. His absence came about as a consequence of his arrest by the FBI on November 7, 2017 and his continued incarceration after he accepted $10,000 provided to him in two stacks of 100 $50 bills by an undercover FBI operative who had represented himself as an applicant seeking permits and licensing to operate a marijuana distribution business from a warehouse in Adelanto. Wright received the money in exchange for his commitment to intercede with the city’s code enforcement division to prevent city interference and regulation of the enterprise.
The $28.5 million settlement of a lawsuit brought against the Victor Elementary School District by attorneys representing the family of Fabian Sanchez, who in 2017 was run down while walking home from school, will be covered entirely by the district’s insurance carrier and will not impact educational funding, district officials insisted this week.
Fabian Sanchez, a special needs student attending Puesta Del Sol Elementary School, under the terms of federal law pertaining to special education students, was to be provided with transportation to and from his home and school while he was enrolled in the educational program. That he was to be provided with transportation was confirmed in an Individu-
lized Education Program document signed by his mother, Maria Sanchez, and a district official. That document committed Fabian to attending the school. The transportation guarantee was based upon a school district psychologist’s determination that young Sanchez had “cognitive deficits that impacted his ability to safely walk home,” according to a court filing.
On February 3, 2017, according to attorneys representing the Sanchez family, Fabian was not provided with the “curb to curb” transportation consisting of a bus ride from home to school and then back home from school, which is located on Puesta del Sol Drive near Academy Drive in Victorville. Instead, after school ended, a school employee walked with the then-11-year-old to a corner across the street from the school grounds and instructed him to make his way home on his own.
Shortly thereafter, after Fabian Sanchez had reached the terminus of Puesta del Sol Drive where it dead ends at four-lane Village Drive, he attempted to cross the street.
Raul Martinez, in a Honda Accord traveling at just around 50 miles an hour in the number one lane of Village Drive, was unable to react in time and ran the student over as he was seeking to run across Village Drive. Sanchez landed in the number two lane. Martinez pulled over at once and called for an emergency response. Responders initially found Sanchez was not breathing. He was transported by ground ambulance to Loma Linda University Medical Center for treatment.
Sanchez was revived and survived. He had, however, sustained a brain injury, skull fractures, extensive internal hemorrhaging, and a host of broken bones.
According to the law team representing the Sanchez family, “Fabian’s cognitive function, speech, and motor control remain severely impaired as a result of his injuries and he will require 24/7 care, therapy, and medical attention for the remainder of his life.”
Initially, the case included Martinez as a defendant. He was subsequently dismissed from the proceedings.
The matter was heard as a bench trial by Judge Wilfred J. Schneider, with no jury involved. On November 4, Judge Schneider found the allegations in the petition to be true, that the district had been negligent and was solely responsible for the injuries to the plaintiff. He approved a settlement in the sum of $28,634,547.61, along with medical damages of $70,000. The settlement included attorney’s fees of $11,476,000 and legal expenses in the amount of $2,509,452.39. Judge Schneider ordered the balance of $14,634,547.61 to be placed in a state minors trust. An arrangement was made that neither Fabian Sanchez nor any one acting on his behalf could sell the settlement funds and a trustee is to monitor the Fabian Sanchez minor trust.
The Sanchez family was represented by Jonathan Corey Teller of the Wilshire Law Firm and Ian Philip Samson and Rahul Ravipudi of the Panish Shea & Boyle Law Firm, as well as Holly Boyer. The district was represented by Priscilla Hernandez.
To the plaudits of some county residents and the objection of others, San Bernardino County Supervisors on Tuesday voted to initiate a host of regulations on the short term rentals of residential properties in the county’s unincorporated areas.
In essence the ordinance applies to residential units that are rented out for 30 or fewer days in San Bernardino County’s mountains and desert, Several locations in the desert have long been, and are becoming increasingly more, popular with tourists and so-called “snowbirds” fleeing harsh winter weather elsewhere in the country as well as Canada. The mountain communities have become popular weekend getaways for wealthy residents of San Diego, Orange, Los Angeles, Ventura, Riverside and lower San Bernardino counties who are looking for a “white weekend” during December, January and February.
There was a previous county ordinance relating to short term rentals in the mountains which the county instituted in 2015. In late 2018 it took up the issue once more with an eye to revamping and updating those regulations. A newly drafted form of the ordinance was considered in a public hearing by the San Bernardino County Planning Commission on August 8, 2019, and continued to September 5, 2019. At the first public hearing, numerous comments were received and the planning commission recommended that the item be continued to allow staff to address the concerns and issues raised by the public at the meeting. Staff made additional changes and provided clarification regarding issues related to accessory dwelling units, advertising, pet restrictions and record keeping. The planning commission met again on September 5 to consider the changes and clarifications made to the proposed amendments. In a 5-to-0 vote, the commission unanimously recommended that the board of supervisors adopt the ordinance. The ordinance came before the board of supervisors this week.
The action by the board of supervisors revises the regulations and extends them to include the desert area. Since the revamping of the regulations was first taken up, several changes to the proposal were made, including amendments that were tacked on by the board during its discussion before the vote on Tuesday.
By means of an ordinance amending Title 8 of the county code, applying to those sections relating to short-term residential rentals and accessory dwelling units, the board’s action created a permitting process by which property owners must register the property as being utilized for rentals on a less than continuous basis, meaning practically for thirty days or less. Those short-term rental permits are to be renewed every two years. The ordinance requires that registration of a property as a short-term rental and its permitting must take place in written or digital form before it is used for that specified purpose. The ordinance requires that registration materials and acknowledgment must be signed by the renter and kept on file during the term of the permit. The ordinance further mandates that owners of the units maintain records to document compliance with the applicable elements of the county code. The ordinance provides the county with the authority to revoke, based upon violations, a short-term rental permit. A permit revocation recorded against an owner will then entail a follow-up application fee of twice that for a permit to undo the revocation. A violation of the ordinance committed by a short-term occupant of the property accrues to the detriment of the property owner, which county officials believe will be an incentive to have the owners ensure compliance with the rules by their tenants. Tenant violation can trigger the suspension of the short-term residence permit for the unit in which that tenant is staying.
In most, though not all cases, short-term rental units are ones owned by so-called absentee landlords, that is, ones that are not occupied by the owners and are not proximate or co-located to the domicile of the owners. In a minority of cases, the properties in question involve accessory dwelling units, those being ones that are located on a property on which the owner resides or on which another long term residential unit exists.
While generally the ordinance, in the case of desert properties, is creating regulations that previously did not exist and in the case of mountain properties is tightening existing restrictions, in one respect the new ordinance is liberalizing the county policy. At present, on properties containing both a primary residence and an accessory dwelling unit, which can be variously referred to as a guest house or a granny flat, only one of the units can be made available as a short-term rental. The language of the ordinance considered by the board on Tuesday called for dispensing with a restriction that called for accessory dwelling units being rented for a term of 30 days or longer, which had precluded accessory dwelling units from being utilized as short-term rentals. The new language allows accessory dwelling units to be rented on a short-term basis in both the mountain and desert regions, provided that one or more of the units on the parcel is occupied by the property owner or his or her agent. At Third District Supervisor Dawn Rowe’s suggestion, the board altered that language to allow both accessory dwelling units and the primary residence on a property to serve as short-term rental units as long as the property is two acres or larger.
The new regulation calls for the units rented to have placards, signs or notices that provide the renters with county standards for the rentals in writing, including the phone number for the county’s 24/7 short-term rental complaint line.
The ordinance requires that the owners of short-term rental properties arrange to have trash service for each of the rental units. This is of some concern to many property owners, as the trash service is a windfall to the trash hauling companies with franchises in the applicable areas. In many cases, the rental units will be vacant for months during the year. Nevertheless, the owners of the units will need to pay for trash pick-up when no refuse is being generated on the properties. Trash franchisees are among the heftiest of contributors to the supervisors’ political war chests.
The ordinance provides for more variegated maximum occupancy standards than were previously contained in the county’s prior regulations, such that the three categories of short-term rental units have been increased to seven, with 20 persons being the maximum. Parking standards were expanded to provide clarification that vehicles of renters shall be parked on the property of the short-term residential rental unit. These latter elements of the code revision appears to be angled toward preventing the units from serving as a hosting ground for parties or extremely large social gatherings with scores of people or even hundreds in attendance. Moreover, road and street widths in many mountain communities are narrow, and the proliferation of cars parked at certain junctures along them has created circumstances in which the streets or roads become impassable.
The ordinance added a prohibition of outdoor fires in the mountain region, that the interior and exterior of a short-term unit be kept free of hazardous materials, and a requirement that spas/hot tubs be covered and locked when not in use and that the spas or tubs be maintained in sanitary conditions.
A somewhat controversial element of the ordinance is that the ordinance provides the county with the power to issue and serve an administrative subpoena to obtain specific information regarding short-term rentals.
The sheer numbers of short-term rentals have increased substantially in the mountain and desert communities. In neighborhoods of some communities, including Mt. Baldy, Big Bear, Lake Arrowhead, Lake Gregory, Crestline, Joshua Tree and Yucca Valley, tourist activity has mounted during certain periods. Depending on the location, a property owner can rent out a property to one or more occupants on four weekends and make two to three times the amount of money that could be made renting the property on a long-term basis over a comparable one-month period. This has created “transitory neighborhoods” in which homeowners who live on their property are at times surrounded by homes or cabins which are owned by investors and occupied by “neighbors” who are not in place long enough so their acquaintance can be made by the actual inhabitants of those districts.
While the permanent residents of these areas were supportive of the county’s efforts at regulating the short-term rental market, the rules put in place hold little promise of undoing the transitory nature of the districts in question. Conversely, some San Bernardino County property owners in these districts no longer value their mountain or desert properties as their own domiciles but are using the residences they have there as a means of generating income by renting them out at a relatively high rate for short periods of time, essentially converting their units into hotels. They resent the governmental interference in their property ownership and the fashion in which they are utilizing it.
Supervisor Dawn Rowe, more than any of her colleagues, appeared focused on reducing the new ordinance’s restrictions such that the county’s interference in the operation of short-term rentals was as unobtrusive as possible. She requested, and her board colleagues went along with, for example, dispensing with the requirement that short-term rental owners post evacuation maps on the back of every bedroom door as long as one such map was in place on the rental unit’s main door.
The rules adopted Tuesday apply only to permanent structures that are utilized as short-term rental units and accessory dwelling units, including stand alone homes, cabins, guesthouses and casitas.
The board is to consider more specialized restrictions with regard to trailers, yurts and teepees at some future date.
The ordinance is due for a confirming vote, referred to as a second reading, at the board’s November 19 meeting. The ordinance will go into effect 30 days hence, putting it in place as of December 18, time for the peak Christmas-to-New Year occupancy period in the mountain communities.
Just short of three-and-a-half years after the state deadline for the Yucca Valley community to do so, the initial phase of the town’s sewer system began operation.
With the inauguration of the system on November 4, Yucca Valley becomes the 23rd of the county’s 24 towns and cities with a municipal/public agency water treatment system. Twentynine Palms remains the last of San Bernardino County’s municipalities dependent on septic systems, although the Marine Corps base there has a water treatment plant devoted to the primary structures for the military-related facilities there.
Had the matter in Yucca Valley been left to local officials, the town and the entirety of Morongo Valley would not have made the transition to the sanitation system. When the town incorporated in 1991, it did so as a limited service municipality, and was dependent upon the county for a significant portion of its public function. The town contracted with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department for law enforcement and with the San Bernardino County Fire Department, which operates out of Station 41 located in the heart of town and Station 42 in the Yucca Mesa area, for fire protection and emergency medical service. Another fire station, operated by the California Division of Forestry, is also present in the town. All 40.02 square miles within the town limits were devoid of any sort of water treatment facilities, and all properties utilized septic systems.
Yucca Valley underwent its first major expansion in the 1950s when Norman J. Essig improved the roads around the region’s major arterial, Highway 62, while venturing substantial capital toward that end. The community’s growth, such as it was throughout the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and after its incorporation, has in large measure involved residents without substantial financial means, families of military personnel and retirees, those subsisting at or very near poverty level and intent on getting away from urbanization and what it represented, and people fleeing the expense of life and escalating property values elsewhere. An estimated 40 percent of those residing in Yucca Valley live on fixed incomes. Yucca Valley ranks as the second most impoverished among San Bernardino County’s 24 municipalities, as measured by median income per capita or per household.
Moreover, the town, which now stands at just under 22,000 population, has served as a magnet for the devout and politically conservative such that it boasts two heavily attended major Protestant Christian congregations in town, Grace Community Church, where Roger Mayes is the pastor, and Joshua Springs Calvary Chapel, where the Reverend Jerel Hagerman is the pastor, along with St Mary of the Valley Catholic Church.
Joshua Springs Calvary Chapel boasts a membership approaching 3,000 and Reverend Hagerman can deliver somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,000 votes for a candidate or for or against any measure that appears on the town ballot.
Both Hagerman and Mayes are credited with being the actual co-regents behind the throne in Yucca Valley. Their sermons set not only the spiritual and moral tone of the town, but appear to define its political tenor as well. Both pastors share a born-again zealotry and conservative political ethos that carries itself beyond the two or so hours they have the attention of their parishioners on Sunday, but into everyday life and into the halls of power down at Yucca Valley’s civic center, as well. Indeed, both Hagerman and Mayes were instrumental in launching the political careers of their sons, both of whom served on the Yucca Valley Town Council.
Isaac Hagerman, Jerel’s son, was for a short time a member of the town council that effectively ignored or resisted for so long the state’s dire warnings with regard to the deterioration in the quality of the town’s water supply, and championed the further growth of Yucca Valley by providing developers with carte blanche to build aggressively without incorporating urban land use standards.
Chad Mayes, the then-youthful mayor of Yucca Valley who captured his position on the town council in some measure because of the advantage conferred upon him by his father’s position as a leading religious figure in the community, promoted limited government throughout his tenure in office before he resigned to become a creature of government himself as chief of staff to San Bernardino County Supervisor Janice Rutherford in 2010.
The town was and remains as one of the most heavily Republican areas in the State of California. At the time of the town’s incorporation, just under half of its voters were registered Republicans, which was more than double the 22 percent of the town’s residents who were registered Democrats. In 2009, when after more than three decades for the first time the number of registered Democrats eclipsed the number of registered Republicans in San Bernardino County, Yucca Valley remained a bastion of Republicanism, with 45 percent of its voters registered as Republicans, dwarfing the 25 percent who were registered as Democrats. In 2016, the town remained solidly Republican, with 4,336 or 42.1 percent affiliated with the GOP and 2,810 voters or 27.3 percent registered as Democrats. As of this week, 4,535 of the town’s 11,765 voters or 38.5 percent are Republicans, and 3,152 or 26.8 percent are Democrats.
As early as 1973, when the area’s population was hovering below 5,000, there was a push to outfit the core of Yucca Valley with a rudimentary sewer system, one that would extend only to the town’s modest commercial area and the relatively sparse residential neighborhoods that surrounded it. But for the townsfolk, the more than $5 million a water treatment facility and skeleton sewer system would cost was well beyond their fiscal means at that time.
With the growth of the area, the municipal incorporation movement culminated in the November 1991 formation of the town. Civic officials continued to reflect and embody the values of their constituents, who eschewed big government and excessive regulation and put a premium on maintaining the town’s rural character. There was little collective will to pave any roads other than the town’s main thoroughfares and many town streets remain dusty trails to this day. A modern, urban sewer system was not an imperative. Town officials paradoxically accepted with open arms most developers who expressed an interest in Yucca Valley. Over the first 25 years of the town’s history as an incorporated entity, builders were given what was essentially carte blanche to build aggressively without incorporating urban land use standards.
Thus, the septic systems that had proliferated in Yucca Valley for three-quarters of a century remained the accoutrement of homes and businesses built within the 40 square mile town limits.
Ten years after incorporation, Yucca Valley’s officials were notified by the state’s Regional Water Quality Control Board that the lack of a sewage treatment system had resulted in nitrates and other pollutants including pharmaceuticals and salts accumulating in the water table that presaged health threats if the matter was not addressed. Simultaneously, the Hi-Desert Water District, which serves the Yucca Valley community, experienced nitrate traces in district wells.
With the town’s continued reliance on septic systems, the United States Geological Survey calculated that nearly 287 million gallons of untreated wastewater from septic tanks were washing into the water table beneath Yucca Valley every 12 months.
In 2007, the California Regional Water Quality Control Board, the state agency responsible for protecting water quality, adopted a resolution identifying the town of Yucca Valley as one of 66 communities throughout the state with groundwater threatened by the continuing overuse of septic systems. The board further declared Yucca Valley as a top priority for eliminating the use of septic systems, meaning Yucca Valley’s was considered one of the five most seriously threatened significantly-sized water supplies in the state.
This triggered resistance from local politicians and community leaders. Paul Cook, a former Marine Corps colonel stationed at the 29 Palms Marine Corps Base who retired in Yucca Valley, was elected mayor there and then moved on to serve in the Assembly representing the then-65th District, along with Chad Mayes, the son of Grace Community Church Pastor Roger Mayes who was a Cook protégé and succeeded him as mayor, deplored the state’s effort to impose on the town an unfunded mandate.
As the region’s representative in Sacramento, Cook effectively attacked those advocating for the cessation of the Morongo Valley’s reliance on septic systems, referring to the demand that Yucca Valley transition to a sewer system as “just another unfunded state mandate.” He dwelt at length upon the cost of the project and what he considered his constituents’ inability to bear that cost.
“We have to look at this from some perspective of a cost analysis,” Cook said. “This is never going to happen. We have to remember what type of community this is. We got to be very, very careful when we start talking $125 million to people who cannot afford it because we do not have the businesses and the state’s not going to give you the money.”
Cook bragged he would stand up to then-Governor Jerry Brown and tell him, “In Yucca Valley, we want you to declare Yucca Valley a historical site because we’re going to be a ghost town!”
With both Cook and Mayes characterizing the call for the town to modernize its infrastructure as the intrusion of big government into the province of local control and autonomy, the community essentially fended off, or ignored, the looming collective responsibility facing the town.
In addition, the Reverend Roger Mayes was directly involved in the water quality issue, having served multiple terms, and to the present time continuing to serve, as a member of the Hi-Desert Water District Board of Directors.
By 2010, Yucca Valley’s population had zoomed to 20,700, an increase of 3,835 or 22.7 percent over the 16,865 town residents counted in the 2000 Census.
Convinced after years of neglect on the part of the town’s politicians that the local leadership would not address the water contamination problem, state officials in 2011 issued a mandate that a sewer system be constructed in Yucca Valley. The town was informed it had only five years to take a definitive step toward water quality compliance.
The Regional Water Quality Control Board at that point imposed three progressive phases of septic discharge prohibitions on Yucca Valley. Under the state mandate, phase 1 of a wastewater system was to be completed or significantly on its way to completion by May 19, 2016 or enforcement action was to be initiated. The first phase of the project was to cover the downtown area of Yucca Valley, the area most proximate to the heart of the groundwater basin. Similarly, phase 2 was to be completed or nearly completed by May 19, 2019 and phase 3 was to be completed by May 19, 2022. The last two phases lie further out where future concentrated development is most likely to occur.
If the mandates were not met, the state vowed to use draconian measures to obtain compliance, by either methodically moving to seal off every septic system in use within each of the specified areas, essentially rendering the affected homes uninhabitable, or to otherwise utilize a tactic similar to what had been employed against Los Osos, another community that failed to come into compliance after repeated warnings from the state. In Los Osos, the entire community became subject to an enforcement action, which was done in a lottery fashion, in which random property owners were selected to receive cease and desist orders with the potential of daily fines for non-compliance. They were ordered to discontinue the discharge from their septic systems, seal them off and pump them at regular intervals. If they did not, they were subjected to fines of up to $5,000 per day.
The state’s threat of action carried with it the very real possibility that Yucca Valley would be rendered into the ghost town Cook had referenced.
In 2012, Cook was elected Congress.
Just prior to leaving the Assembly, Cook acknowledged that building the sewer system was a desirable goal, but maintained the state was overstepping its authority by requiring that it be built on the local dime. Somewhat belatedly, he initiated an effort to obtain an infusion of state money to assist with the construction of the project but achieved no traction on that before he left Sacramento for Washington, D.C.
Local officials were yet resistant to taking immediate action, as they lacked the financial wherewithal to effectuate the construction of a sewer system. Nor did the town have the will to impose any kind of building or development moratorium that would stabilize the problem.
In 2012, town officials nevertheless made a gesture toward complying with the mandate by putting Measure U on that year’s November ballot. If passed, Measure U would have imposed a one-cent sales tax within Yucca Valley. Town officials said the lion’s share of those proceeds would go toward building the sewer system. Though Roger Mayes and his counterpart, Jerel Hagerman, most likely had it within their power to deliver enough votes to make Measure U pass, Measure U failed at the polls.
For a while, town and the water district officials were able to delay the imposition of state mandates by forging a memorandum of agreement with the Regional Water Quality Control Board and the Hi-Desert Water District to allow interim permits for new septic systems while planning for a wastewater system proceeded. The consequences of what the town was doing could not be suspended indefinitely.
For another two years, local officials dithered, with little in the way of tangible progress being made other than determining that a water treatment plant and a collection system entailing over 400,000 linear feet of pipe would at a minimum be needed to satisfy the state demand, together with the town and water district officials having undertaken an effort to inform local residents of the problem and having completed cost comparisons on paper. The primary cost projection identified the difference between having a contractor undertake building the system and having the water district manage the project – between $133,248,401 and $140,651,089 for the design and construction work to be performed by Atkins North America and somewhere between $111,539,901 and $117,736,562 for the district to construct the project using Atkins North America’s proposed design.
One major challenge facing the town was the bifurcation of responsibility, i.e., governmental authority, particularly as applies to the delivery of water to the populace and the corresponding requirement of maintaining water quality. Yucca Valley, far from being a full service municipality, did not have its own municipal water division, with that function carried out by the Hi-Desert Water District.
In 2014, Chad Mayes was elected to the California Assembly. Up to that point, Chad Mayes had a relatively limited window on the world. His experience consisted primarily of his sheltered childhood; his college education at Liberty University, a private, conservative evangelical Christian institution in Lynchburg, Virginia where he had majored in government; his time on the Yucca Valley Town Council; and his work for Rutherford. He had been, like Cook, resistant to the concept of a mandated water treatment system in Yucca Valley. And like his father, the Reverend Roger Mayes, his religious tenets equated Godliness with goodliness and virtue with conservatism and conservatism with Republicanism. He was philosophically averse to big government imposing its “liberal” will on the individual or smaller government. The edict on high from Sacramento, was, in this view, a manifestation of big government in the form of an “unfunded state mandate.”
Once he had oriented himself in Sacramento, a thoroughly Democratic place, however, and began rubbing elbows with others outside the echo chamber to which he was accustomed, he came to realize that for the vast majority of California and its population, indoor plumbing rather than outhouses and modern sewer systems instead of septic tanks were the norm. On his trips back to Yucca Valley, he had an opportunity to speak to his father, convincing him that, all things considered, it might not be in the long term interest of the residents of Yucca Valley to continue to micturate and defecate in their water supply.
Young Mayes’ intercession with his father had a salutary effect. Ultimately, the Hi-Desert Water District would become the lead agency on the construction of Yucca Valley’s wastewater treatment system. It had taken years for the political resolve to form to move ahead, and move ahead decisively, with the project. With the May 2016 deadline approaching and with it the prospect of the town being forced into oblivion, the Hi-Desert Water District in February 2015 awarded a $2.8 million contract to Riverside-based Carollo Engineers to manage the construction of Yucca Valley’s wastewater collection system and treatment facility. In March 2015 it acted to secure from the California Water Resources Control Board a $142,349,314 one percent interest loan to help in the financing of the construction of the sewer system in Yucca Valley.
Roughly $31 million of that was earmarked to construct the central treatment facility into which wastewater pumped in from pipes from throughout the town is subjected to ultraviolet light and then forced through a series of membranes and filters. The water thus treated is then put into aerating and settling ponds, and the water filtered one last time through the ground on its way down to recharge the aquifer. Roughly $104 million will be used to construct the pipe system through-out the town.
In obtaining the loan from the California Water Resources Control Board, the Hi-Desert Water District agreed to repay the state about $5.5 million each year with the revenue from assessments to be imposed on Yucca Valley property owners. The water board and the water district gambled by entering into the tentative arrangement for the loan, in that Yucca Valley’s property owners had not at that point agreed to the formation of an assessment district. The water district in the Spring of 2015 prepared mail ballots that were then sent to the town’s property owners. In this way, the district met the legal requirement that the tax not be imposed without the consent of those to be taxed. Under California law, the district was free to count any ballots not returned as having been cast in favor of the assessment district’s formation. When, by the deadline, the district received back fewer than fifty percent of the ballots designated with votes against the formation of the assessment district, the district was free to proceed.
While technically, the district had not completed the first phase of the project by the May 2016 deadline imposed by the state in 2011, the town was given a pass. The district’s plan to proceed with the project in three phases satisfied that state that the community was making a good faith effort toward the mandated goals. Single-family homes in phase one, which extends to the central core of the town, are now paying $100 per month, consisting of a $62 to $64 assessment and a $36 per month wastewater treatment fee. Homes in phases two and three are paying only the assessment charge, but will need to start paying the sewer treatment fee once they are connected to the system.
The commercial property assessment is similar to that levied upon residential properties but is adjusted upwards on heavier users of the system.
Groundbreaking for the facility, located on land south of Twentynine Palms Highway and west of La Contenta Road, was held in October 2016. Chad Mayes and Cook were present at the ground-breaking, perhaps the most significant public event in memory relating to the community where their political careers began. Also on hand at the groundbreaking was then-California State Senator Jean Fuller. Fuller is a Republican who had achieved election by tapping into the same anti-big government sentiment that was used by Cook and Chad Mayes in their successful campaigns for state and federal office. Nevertheless, Fuller had not staked quite as much publicly in assailing the sewer system as had Cook.
Without saying so in so many words, Fuller told the people of Yucca Valley they should congratulate themselves for setting aside their anti-government and anti-tax philosophies to embrace the project.
“Thank you for doing this,” she said. “You are leading the path for the future and you are truly saving your children.” Fuller called the project Yucca Valley’s “legacy for the future.”
The members of the Hi Desert Water District’s board, including Roger Mayes, were lauded for their “vision, community-mindedness and teamwork.”
This week, on Monday, at the home of Jason Mahaffey on Indio Avenue at the eastern end of town, the inaugural first flush into the system was made. Mahaffey was given the opportunity to christen the system in part as a consequence of his ownership of Acton Pumping, which is active in constructing the plumbing and completing the hook-ups for the first set of residences tying into the system.
With that first use, the town’s sewer system, meaning the core, central component consisting of the wastewater treatment plant and the piping extending into what is now a limited set of neighborhoods, went online.
Estimates are that at present up to a dozen homes per day can be added to the system. That number will escalate. The Hi-Desert Water District has qualified 25 licensed contractors to install connections to the system and seal off old septic tanks. Homeowners who utilize one of those contractors certified by the Hi-Desert Water District to make the septic to sewer transition are eligible for a state-sponsored 30-year 1.8 percent interest loan available to finance the connection, as long as they obtain at least two bids on the project. Connection estimates generally run between $2,500 to $4,000, depending largely on the distance of the domicile to the street. Most of the contractors are prepared to apply with the town for a septic system abandonment permit. In some cases the septic tanks are removed from the ground entirely. In other cases, the contractor will leave them in place but pump them out, puncture the bottom and remove the top or cap. A trench is dug across the homeowner’s property to lay in pipe and make the sewer line hook-up. The installations have to be scheduled ahead of time so a town code enforcement officer is on hand to inspect and sign off on the integrity of the pipe and connection before the trench containing the pipe is filled.
The Mojave Water Agency yesterday initiated operation of its Deep Creek Hydroelectric Clean-Energy System.
The facility, located on the grounds of the Mojave Water Agency’s Central Operations Center on Deep Creek Road in Apple Valley, utilizes gravity and the constant flow of water at that point traveling through the California Aqueduct and diverted to it by a series of pipelines to generate 820-kilowatts of electricity.
The water rushes through a 32-foot-by-40-foot building, in which is contained a hydroelectric turbine generator. The hydroelectric system, which cost $4.3 million to design and construct under the direction of Mojave Water Agency Engineering Director Darrell Reynolds, will reduce the electricity provision need that would otherwise be met by the burning of fossil fuels, thus reducing by 4,540 metric tons the carbon dioxide that would have been emitted into the atmosphere by a generating station elsewhere in the Victor Valley.
Seen in other terms, the hydroelectric system will reduce the volume of air pollution equal to the greenhouse gas emissions from 972 passenger vehicles, while it supplies .0009879518072289157, slightly less than one-thousandth of the 830 megawatts generated at the High Desert Power Plant in Victorville.
Mojave Water Agency officials participated in the project with an eye toward reducing the agency’s carbon footprint and reaching the State of California’s stated target of having half of all of its energy supplied by renewable sources by 2030.
The electrical power generated is conveyed into Southern California Edison’s grid. Mojave Water Agency officials maintain the cost of the project will be recouped over the coming decade through reduced outlays for energy purchases.
It has the alternate common names of star-flowered, starry, or little false Solomon’s seal; or star-flowered lily-of-the-valley; or starry false lily of the valley.
Maianthemum stellatum is a woodland herbaceous perennial plant, smaller than its close relative M. racemosum. For comparison, M. stellatum has smaller, more open inflorescences, flowers with stamens shorter rather than longer than the petals, and somewhat narrower and more curved leaves. Both species show the characteristic zigzag of the stem between the alternate leaves. True Solomon’s seal (polygonatum species) have a similar overall appearance, but the flowers hang from the stem underneath the leaves, rather than forming a terminal cluster.
The leaves are alternate, stalkless, in two rows to spiraling, flat to folded, lanceolate to oblong-lanceolate or elliptic, sharp-pointed, 2 inches to 6 inches long, three-fifths of an inch-to-two inches broad, hairless to strongly short-hairy at least on the lower side, equally heavily veined or with 3 or 5 veins the more prominent.
It has little creamy white buds in the spring, primarily May and June, followed by delicate starry flowers, then green-and-black striped berries, and finally deep red berries in the fall. The flower stalks can be very slender to stout, from no longer than the flowers to four fifths of an inch long. The six tepals are narrowly oblong or lancellate, roughly one fifth of an inch long, about half again as long as the stamen. It features five to ten flowers in a loose, terminal cluster, the axis zigzag or sometimes straight.
The berries are edible when ripe, raw or cooked. The fruit is about the size of a pea and is produced on the plant in small terminal clusters of about two to eight berries with a pleasant bitter-sweet flavor somewhat reminiscent of treacle. The fruit is a good source of vitamin C, and has been used to prevent scurvy. The fruit is said to be laxative in large quantities when eaten raw, especially if one is not used to eating it, though thorough cooking removes the laxative effect. Young leaves are edible, raw or cooked. The young shoots, as they emerge in spring, can be used as an asparagus substitute. The young shoots and leaves are cooked and used as greens. The root is edible cooked. It should be soaked in alkaline water first to get rid of a disagreeable taste. It can be eaten like potatoes.
The false Solomon’s seal was used medicinally by several native North American Indian tribes to treat a variety of maladies. It is rarely used in modern herbalism. A tea made from the roots was drunk to regulate menstrual disorders. A decoction of the leaves has been taken two to three times a day in the treatment of rheumatism and colds. Half a cup of leaf tea drunk daily for a week by a woman is said to prevent conception.
The root is pain-relieving, antiseptic, and has agents that check bleeding, are healing for disorders and diseases of the eye, has substances which give strength and tone to the stomach and are used as a poultice for healing wounds and fresh cuts. A tea has been used in the treatment of stomach complaints, internal pains and reduce in some degree cramping. The dried powdered root has been used in treating wounds and bleeding. The crushed root has been used as a poultice on sprains, boils, swellings and limbs affected by rheumatism. The pulped root has been used as ear drops to treat ear aches. A tea of the roots has been used as a wash for inflamed eyes.