One can download a PDF of the May 29 edition of the San Bernardino County Sentinel by clicking on the blue portal below.
By Ruth Cordova and Mark Gutglueck
The precipitate change in alliance on the Victorville City Council that took place in December continues to resonate in the High Desert’s most populous city, as the looming November election moves ever closer. Yet to play out is whether the two once-warring politicians who made an accommodation with each other six months ago will benefit from that shift enough to achieve reelection when they must again be evaluated by the voters in the fall. Whether one or both of them will pay the ultimate political price for having closed a deal with each other after they had been savaging one another for nearly three years won’t be known until the election results are in.
In the meantime, a fair number of those who had formerly grown to become solid Mayor Gloria Garcia supporters primarily because she represented the political bulwark against Councilwoman Blanca Gomez are disillusioned, convinced that Garcia sold her soul and credibility as a public persona in a crass deal to retain her title as mayor.
In 2016 Blanca Gomez burst onto the San Bernardino County and Victorville political stage with a come-from-behind victory over Lionel Dew in the Victorville City Council race. At the time, what seemed the most notable thing about Gomez capturing the third highest number of votes in the ten-person contest in which three positions on the council were up for selection was that both she and Dew had outpolled incumbent councilman Ryan McEachron. Two other incumbents, Garcia and Jim Cox, had captured the top two positions outright.
Not long after Gomez settled into her position on the council, she found herself crosswise of her colleagues. The most obvious distinction between her and Victorville’s other solons was that while they identified themselves as relatively staid supporters of socially and economically conservative policies who concerned themselves with the nuts and bolts of municipal governance, Gomez used her perch on the council as a bully pulpit to espouse her heartfelt beliefs, virtually all of which fell on the left side of the political spectrum, ones that went beyond city issues to matters that were better described as within the purview of state and national politics.
Less than a month after she was sworn in as a Victorville councilwoman, Gomez on December 30, 2016 showed up at Rialto City Hall for a rally put on by Rialto City Councilman Rafael Trujillo in support of Senate Bill 54 and the sanctuary city concept. While in attendance there, Gomez wore a shirt clearly identifying herself as a Victorville official. She enunciated on numerous occasions and in numerous venues her belief that U.S. immigration laws were a racist tool of a racist establishment, that enforcing such laws were racist acts, going so far on one occasion to wear while at Victorville City Hall a T-shirt emblazoned with the phrase “Fuck ICE [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement],” and on another occasion in the midst of a city council meeting draping herself in what appeared to be a Mexican flag, which she later said was in actuality a symbol of the Virgin of Guadalupe. She brought further attention to herself by her involvement in multiple contretemps in neighboring Hesperia, including what some suggested or insisted was her insensitive effort to video the body of the late Hesperia Mayor Russ Blewett during the viewing at a church prior to his funeral in May 2018 and another incident in August 2018 when she allegedly entered an area off limit to the public at Hesperia City Hall while she was accompanying Hesperia City Council District 2 candidates Gonzalo Gurrola and Robert Lucero while they were filing paperwork relating to their candidacies.
Within the context of the Victorville City Council, Gomez was out of step with all of her colleagues, but most particularly with Eric Negrete, who had been elected to the council two years before her. Negrete stood out from the majority of Latinos in California in general and most particularly among those vying for or holding office in the Golden State in that he was not a Democrat embracing what are commonly described as liberal or progressive ideals. Rather, Negrete identified as a conservative Republican.
Indeed many saw in Negrete the embodiment of the Republican Party’s Great Brown Hope. The Democrats have California locked up, with a Democratic governor, Democratic lieutenant governor, Democratic attorney general, Democratic secretary of state, Democratic insurance commissioner, Democratic controller, and Democratic supermajorities in the State Senate and Assembly. Nevertheless, a reversal of the Democrats’ fortunes could be no further down the road than the emergence of a single charismatic Latino politician affiliated with the GOP, many political strategists believe. Were such a politician to get a berth within California’s statehouse, either as a member of the Assembly or Senate or both, and then move into the Governor’s Mansion at 1526 H Street in Sacramento or into Congress and then the U.S. Senate and go on to make a mark on the national stage as an iconic member of the Party of Lincoln, he or she might trailblaze a path for California’s Latinos by the millions to make their exodus from the Democratic Party and into Republicanism. For some, at least, it was not too far-fetched to think that Negrete might prove to be that politician.
Negrete evinced very limited patience with Gomez’s histrionics. They clashed repeatedly on the council dais and not infrequently off the dais. The council quickly divided into two camps: the Victorville establishment of which Negrete was a member, along with his fellow councilmen Jim Cox and Jim Kennedy and Mayor Gloria Garcia on one side and Gomez on the other. Indeed, some of the glue that held the four-member coalition of the council together had been the unifying principle of maintaining the line against Gomez.
In July 2018, a recall effort against Gomez was initiated.
At its August 21, 2018 meeting, just over 20 months after Gomez had taken office, the council, on an item brought forth by Councilman Kennedy, officially rebuked Gomez for her behavior, a sanction less serious than a censure, but one which registered the council’s displeasure with Gomez nonetheless.
In the run-up to the November 2018 election, in which Kennedy did not seek reelection, Gomez campaigned energetically against Negrete, who was defeated. Replacing Negrete and Kennedy on the council in December 2018 were the two top vote-getters in the election, Debra Jones and Rita Ramirez-Dean.
In December 2018, the deadline for gathering sufficient signatures to force the recall against Gomez elapsed. The recall proponents were so far below gathering the required 9,880 valid signatures of registered voters in the city that they did not bother turning over the signatures that they had gathered to the city clerk. The failure to remove Gomez from office strengthened and emboldened her.
The elevation of Jones and Ramirez-Dean to the city council changed the city’s political complexion somewhat, but did not undo the tension that existed on the council. Jones, a Republican, represented a continuation of the partisan political divide that had grown out of Kennedy’s, Cox’s and Negrete’s GOP affiliation. Ramirez-Dean, however, was a Democrat, a member of the San Bernardino County Democratic Central Committee. To a certain extent, as a result of Ramirez-Dean’s presence on the council, Gomez found herself a bit less isolated at City Hall. Still the same, the poisonous relationship that had developed between Gomez and the mayor, and to a lesser extent Cox, persisted. In certain respects, the animosity between Garcia, whose duties as mayor required that she maintain the order and decorum of the council meetings, and Gomez, deepened. It was rare that a council meeting reached adjournment without there having first been a tart exchange involving the two women. More often, there would be a series of jabs or insults traded between them. Neither did Gomez refrain from occasionally hurling some form of invective at Cox, though he usually restrained himself from responding in kind. When the barbs were too personal, he sometimes returned fire. In relatively short order, Jones too found herself on the outs with Gomez. There were occasional catfights between the two, but those proved sufficiently rare, and most of the sparring between them did not escalate beyond a few sharp pokes back and forth. There was, however, no mistaking that the two had grown to loathe one another.
2019 was drawing toward a close, and with it nearly three years of accumulating bad blood between Gomez and Garcia. Then on December 3, the council meeting at which the council officers for the next year were to be chosen took place. When the meeting began, Gomez and Garcia were as antagonistic against one another as they had ever been. When the meeting ended, a new day had dawned, and the presumed alliance involving Garcia, Cox and Jones was finished, quite possibly forever. In its place was an uneasy and tenuous, yet discernible, political sorority in which Ramirez-Dean, Garcia and Gomez were the prevailing members.
When the Sentinel asked Cox for an explanation of what had occurred, he said, “I don’t know what happened. Gloria and Blanca had a make-up session or something. Suddenly there’s a coalition among the three [Garcia, Ramirez-Dean and Gomez] that’s probably due to I don’t know what, but it’s obvious to the people who attend the council meetings.”
With regard to Garcia and Gomez, Cox said, “People are asking, ‘How could they be so critical of one another and now they seem to be together?’”
According to Cox, it was a “custom and tradition” in Victorville that once a member of the council had sufficient experience in office to be able to master parliamentary procedure, he or she would be rotated into the mayor’s position. Generally, he said, a person who had been reelected with the most votes in the immediate aftermath of the election would be selected to serve as mayor for two years running. Another council member, usually the one who had been elected with the most votes two years hence would then become the mayoral replacement.
Cox said there was some slight deviation from that practice, such as when a member of the council had professional commitments that might prevent him or her from participating in the ceremonial duties that fall to the mayor or such as when he was elected to the council for the first time in 2012, after which he was immediately elevated to the mayor’s spot. That exception, he said, was explicable in that he had substantial experience with parliamentary procedure and the ropes of government generally and specifically, having served as Victorville city manager for more than 32 years, including a 30-year stint between 1969 and his first retirement in 1999, and then two further years as city manager from 2009 until 2011.
Garcia represented a rather significant deviation from the city’s mayoral selection pattern, Cox noted.
Elected with Cox in 2012, Garcia was selected to serve as mayor in 2014, as Cox’s two-year tenure as mayor came to an end. In 2016, there was a push to bring Cox back as mayor, but he declined the honor. Consequently, Garcia saw her grip on the mayoral gavel extended.
In 2018, Charlene Robinson replaced Carolee Bates as Victorville City Clerk. That fall was thus Robinson’s first go-round as the city’s chief elections officer. As a result of that November’s election, two newcomers were on the council, Debra Jones and Rita Ramirez-Dean. At that point, Garcia had served four years as mayor, and the expectation was that she would step down from that post to make way for a successor. The logical choice, under the city’s custom, would be that Gomez assume the mayoralty. But the harsh feeling that she had engendered among her colleagues worked against her. The next logical selection would have been Cox, but he was reluctant to take the position. At the December 10, 2018 Council meeting, after Ramirez-Dean and Jones were sworn in and installed as council members, Robinson as city clerk called for nominations for mayor. Nominations were made, one by Ramirez-Dean for Garcia to be reappointed as mayor and then one by Cox to have Jones assume the post, but none were seconded. Instead of redoubling the effort to find a replacement for Garcia as Bates would have done were she still the city’s chief elections officer, City Clerk Robinson at that point permitted Mayor Garcia to resume her position as mayor.
“At this time, the mayor stays,” Robinson said. Immediately thereafter followed the selection of the mayor pro tem, the individual on the council who would be designated to serve as acting mayor in any meetings that Garcia did not attend. In what turned out to be a harbinger of things to come, Mayor Garcia made a motion, seconded by Councilwoman Ramirez-Dean, to nominate Ramirez-Dean for the position of mayor pro tempore. At that point, councilmembers Cox and Jones voted no, but Ramirez-Dean prevailed with her own vote and those of Garcia and Gomez in support.
Throughout most of 2019, Gomez and Garcia remained at odds. Indeed, the enmity between the two seemed to intensify, reaching fever pitch on July 16 when in the midst of that evening’s council meeting, Gomez was removed from the proceedings.
As what was Garcia’s fifth consecutive year in the role of mayor progressed, there was discussion about the mayoral succession issue and the city’s protocol and timetable for mayoral selection. A comparison was made to the other municipalities in the High Desert – Hesperia, Apple Valley, Adelanto and Barstow. In both Barstow and Adelanto, the mayor is elected directly by those cities’ residents, with the mayor’s slot being distinguished from each of those cities’ four council members. In Hesperia and Apple Valley, where like Victorville all five of the members of the council are elected by the residents co-equally, the councils observed a policy of selecting from among their members who is to serve as mayor. In an effort toward team building, those councils appoint their mayors on a yearly basis, often but not always having the mayor serve a single year or variously two years. This sharing of the honorary position is intended to bring the members of the council together in an atmosphere of trust and mutual confidence.
On December 3, 2019, with the council scheduled to take up the appointment of the mayor and mayor pro tem for the year going forward from that point, a memo dated December 2, 2019 encapsulated staff’s recommendation for the nomination and appointment process. At least partially to memorialize for Robinson a protocol of persisting with a selection effort even in the face of no quickly-emerging consensus so as to avoid defaulting to a continuation of the existing mayor’s tenure, the memo called for repeating the nomination phase for at least three rounds if a majority vote was not obtained after the first nomination. In the event that a majority vote in favor of one of the council members serving as mayor did not manifest, the memo called for the appointment vote being tabled to a later meeting pursuant to the council voting to do just that.
Upon taking up the issue of making the appointment at the December 3 meeting, Ramirez-Dean nominated Garcia to remain as mayor. That motion died for lack of a second. Cox then nominated Jones to serve as mayor. That, too, failed because it did not get a second. Gomez, somewhat unrealistically since she clearly could not at that point reliably count on the support of Garcia, Cox or Jones, nominated herself. No second followed. Discussion then took place about the proper procedure for proceeding and the distinction between a nomination and an appointment. Ramirez-Dean again nominated Garcia, at which point Garcia seconded the motion. Cox again nominated Jones, which Jones seconded. Gomez then nominated Cox, which Cox seconded. Cox, somewhat redundantly, then nominated himself. No second to that motion followed immediately, but eventually Gomez seconded it. Prior to that second emerging, Councilwoman Ramirez-Dean took issue with the memo, stating that its contents were not consistent with the city’s policy manual and had not been approved by the council. She moved that the appointment process be tabled. Gomez seconded that motion. The council did not suspend, however, further nominations nor actions with regard to an appointment. Gomez nominated herself again, and Cox seconded it. Ramirez-Dean at that point nominated herself and Gomez seconded it.
What was clear from all of the nomination, self-nomination and seconding of the motions that were made was that to some degree or another, all five of the council members coveted the mayor’s gavel.
The council first considered the nomination of Ramirez-Dean, which Ramirez-Dean and Gomez voted in favor of. Garcia and Jones opposed it and Cox did not vote or his vote was not audible. That motion thereby failed, with the city clerk recording that Garcia, Jones and Cox were in opposition. The vote to designate Gomez as mayor ended with Gomez and Cox in favor being outvoted by the remaining three. The vote to appoint Cox was favored by Cox and Gomez, but opposed by Garcia, Jones and Ramirez-Dean. The vote to appoint Jones failed with Jones in favor and Garcia, Ramirez-Dean and Gomez in opposition. No vote from Cox was audible. The motion to appoint Garcia failed, with Garcia and Ramirez-Dean in support and Gomez and Jones opposed. Again, Cox’s vote was either not cast or not audible, although the city clerk recorded Cox as having voted against the motion.
After taking a 13-minute recess, the council returned at 9:29 p.m., and Councilwoman Jones made a motion to continue the nomination process to the next meeting. That was seconded by Cox. Gomez made a substitute motion to continue the nomination process that night, which was seconded by Garcia. That substitute motion carried, with Jones and Cox voting no.
Gomez then nominated Garcia to serve as mayor. Ramirez-Dean seconded the motion.
Jones interjected, “I’m going to speak out of order, and I don’t normally do, but this looks like there was some deal cut behind doors when we were on a recess. This meeting isn’t being facilitated very well.”
The motion carried with the ensuing vote, as Gomez, Ramirez-Dean and Garcia supported Garcia’s reappointment as mayor, with Cox and Jones dissenting.
Jones said, “We’re now going to see who is the mayor pro tem as a result of the deal that’s been cut.”
It was moved by Councilwoman Gomez and seconded by Councilwoman Ramirez-Dean to re-appoint Ramirez-Dean as Mayor Pro Tem. City Clerk Robinson called for further nominations. Councilwoman Jones nominated herself. The motion died for lack of a second. City Clerk Robinson called for further nominations. When none came forth, City Clerk Robinson reiterated that the lone motion under consideration was a nomination of Ramirez-Dean. It was moved by Councilmember Gomez and seconded by Councilwoman Ramirez to appoint Mayor Pro Tem Ramirez-Dean as mayor pro tem; the motion carried with Councilmembers Cox and Jones voting no.
“The deal was cut,” Jones said. “The deal was cut!”
Garcia and Ramirez-Dean ignored her. Ramirez-Dean said, “I am so pleased and honored. It has taken a little too much time, but you know what? It is a wonderful position to be in, to be here for you.”
Garcia said, “It is an honor and a privilege to serve my city, and not only just the city, but our people. I had some backing tonight, so thank you very much.”
At the end of the meeting, Jones said, “I’m gravely concerned about what happened here tonight. It was disgraceful. It is an embarrassment to me that a process that should be solemn in electing its officers was treated so flippantly. This does not reflect well on our community. It does not reflect well on our leaders.”
Jones said there had been a “repeated” rumor “by different people that don’t walk in the same circles about backroom deals being cut” and that she had the experience that evening of “then watching it play out.” It was, Jones said “a corrupt practice. We are to elevate the will of the people and public service to our neighbors, not selfish ambition, not vainglory.”
Two weeks later, Gomez at the December 17, 2019 council meeting said, “The decision to have a mayor and mayor pro tem was decided in this council. Our leadership is required and for whatever reason whatever may have thought through the heads of these individuals, there is no backroom deals. There is no corruption. That’s not what happens here. It’s just someone requires justice to be required, and when we see justice in a certain particular perspective, we’re going to be deciding on those certain moral values of what’s good and what’s bad, and what’s accessible and what’s fair in terms of opportunity and what qualifies for equanimity. I congratulate these ladies for having that position and being strong.”
This week, Garcia told the Sentinel that the story of there having been a secret agreement between her and Gomez is being oversold in certain sectors of the community.
“The only thing is I have decided to work with everyone a little more amicably, not just with her but the whole council,” Garcia said. “As far as she is concerned, she had a change of heart, evidently, and has been a little more congenial than previously, not just to me but to the other members of the council.”
Those who accused her, Ramirez-Dean and Gomez of choreographing the mayoral and mayor pro tem votes are plain wrong, Garcia said. “I almost fainted,” she said in describing her surprise, which she said verged on shock, when Gomez eventually got around to supporting keeping her as mayor on December 3. “I almost fell out of my seat. I didn’t think she would even vote for me. I thought she would abstain or recuse herself. When she actually voted for me, I thanked her for it.”
At this point, Garcia was measured in making her assessment of Gomez, and her characterizations of the councilwoman did not indicate an affection or alliance between them.
“I don’t really know how to describe her,” the mayor said. “She has a difficult personality that is very hard to deal with. It was tremendously difficult for me in the first days when she was on the council. When she started running for the Assembly, I am not sure what was going on, but it seemed that all of a sudden she has changed her demeanor so that she is a little more pleasant, which from my perspective as mayor has made it easier to conduct the meetings.”
Gomez in the March 3 Primary election this year vied for the California Assembly in the 33rd District. She finished fourth in a field of seven, and did not qualify for the November runoff.
Those that claim there is a newfound camaraderie between her and Gomez are misperceiving things, Garcia said.
“I would not say I am doing anything much different,” the mayor said, but acknowledged that on Gomez’s end things have changed. “She is not so verbal against me,” Garcia said. “She came in with an attitude and would be inciting all of this, and everyone on the council got caught up in that, so to the public it must have seemed that we had a conflict with her on one side and the rest of us on the other. I was just trying to maintain order.”
Asked if Ramirez-Dean had in some fashion served as an emollient in her relationship with Gomez, Garcia said, “I really couldn’t say. Rita has been with us only a very short time. I don’t know whether they communicate.” The theory that the reduction in tension between her and Gomez could be credited to Ramirez-Dean’s diplomatic ability, Garcia said, breaks down because Ramirez-Dean’s recent health challenges have prevented her from being a consistent presence at city council meetings over the last several months.
Previously, Garcia said, the entire council’s relationship with Gomez had reached rock bottom.
“Over time, the whole council just came to the point where they wouldn’t go out of their way to try to communicate with Blanca,” Garcia said. “She has changed her attitude. It’s wonderful, but I don’t know what caused it. The only thing that has been pointed out to me, or which I can attribute that to, is when she started to run for Assembly she started to change the way she spoke to people and dealt with them. She tried to be a little more professional and congenial. I think she is still planning on continually running for higher office. Someone along the line has told her or let her know that she is not going to get anywhere fighting everyone. I don’t deal with that. I don’t have time. I work outside of the city. I have a business to run, and I’m always busy.”
Those who suggest that she has adopted Gomez’s philosophies or orientation with regard to public issues of that she has jumped on the liberal bandwagon, Garcia said, are so out of sync with reality as to be delusional. “It saddens me if anyone who knows me thinks I am trying to be a part of what Blanca is doing because, truthfully, I don’t want to be a part of what she is doing,” Garcia said. “She is involved with the Mexican something or other and the Latin Coalition and La Raza and CHIRLA [the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights Los Angeles]. I was not brought up that way. I was brought up in Victorville. My family has been here, in Victorville, for 120 years, so if you want someone who knows the city, I’m it. I was born here. My family has now had seven generations here, so I don’t have any time to deal with nonsense and ignorance when it comes to the community that is my home that I care so much about. I have been running a business [Garcia Bookkeeping and Income Tax Service] here for 45 years. I don’t want our community to look bad. I don’t want a city that looks like a ghetto. I have poured my heart out in trying to make Victorville better. When I see people who don’t know or care about this town as deeply as I do or see them using their position as a stepping stone to get ahead, I’m just disappointed. I am totally local. I am not going anywhere. I’m not running for higher office.”
She would not be dealing with Gomez at all if it weren’t for Gomez having won a position on the city council in 2016, Garcia said.
“I didn’t know her,” the mayor said. “I don’t know her. I don’t know where she came from. I don’t know anything about her background. I have no information at all about her. I don’t know where she lives. We tried to find out. To this day it is a mystery. Somebody has that information. At this point I don’t really care. Why should I be concerned?”
Asked point blank if she and Gomez had sidled up to each other out of political considerations because this is an election year and it is now in their mutual interest to get along, Garcia said, “I would certainly dismiss that. There is no alliance. I study the agenda and I vote according to what I feel is best by the community. I am not influenced by anyone. Number one, I don’t talk to anyone on the council, so I don’t know what the others are thinking. There is no alliance between me and anyone. It is true that Jim [Cox] and I connected very well from the beginning. I have known him for a long time, going back to those years when we were both young, and now we’re old, and we’re still here. I have always respected him and given him praise for his experience and the things he did for this city as city manager. He did a wonderful job in government. He has guided me when I needed information or assistance in understanding things. He has always been there for me when I have sought him out. Debra [Jones] I don’t know as well. I know she was disappointed when she didn’t get to be mayor this last time. That is just the way it worked out. Rita has not been around very much lately. She has been ill since January. We all thought she would be back by now. She has been participating by teleconferencing.”
She is neither in cahoots with nor at war with Gomez, Garcia insisted.
“Technically speaking, I don’t have anything against her,” Garcia said. “I don’t have any animosity against her, even though she has tried everything she could to ruin me. If you know me, I am not aggressive or loud. I am not an instigator. I would rather handle things calmly, or just avoid it if it is going to be unpleasant. If something is going that way, I just try to avoid it. People who know my character know there is no alliance between me and Blanca and Rita. Anyone who knows me knows that is not true.”
She and Gomez won’t be campaigning together, she said.
“I’m not going to put my name out there with her,” Garcia said. “I’m on the council with her. That’s it. I’m not going to get involved with her or what she’s involved in. I’m not going to allow anyone to smear me at this point in my life. I’m trying to do the best I can for the people of Victorville. If there is anyone who cares about his city, it’s me. I don’t know what people are saying or speculating. I’m just trying to work with everyone to do the best for the city. That is where I’m at, and I’m not in an alliance with anyone. I don’t know what that woman does and, truthfully, I don’t want to know.”
It is his perception, Cox said, that if there is a ruling coalition on the council at this point, it involves Garcia, Ramirez-Dean and Gomez. “They are in charge now, and you can’t really do anything about it,” he said.
Cox said he believed it would have been best for the city to have lived up to its tradition of changing mayors every two years. He said the first extension of Garcia’s term in 2016 came because neither he nor anyone else wanted to take the responsibility because of the time demands the ceremonial aspect of the post imposed. Now that the council has extended Garcia to what is essentially a six-year term, Cox said he is bound to accept that arrangement.
“My concern is what is best for the community, but we are required to abide by certain ethical rules as elected officials,” he said. “You swear to uphold the Constitution. Under those ethical rules, you are to represent all of the people and adopt the official policy, even if it is contrary to your own wishes or philosophy. You are not supposed to vote in your own best interest. I subscribe to the belief that once the council votes, that is the official position of the city, and I feel compelled, whether I agree or not, to carry out that policy. I don’t think you bring things back over and over again and try to change the rules.”
As far as the epoch shift that occurred on December 3, Cox said, ‘No one knows what happened. It was as if they were enemies one day and friends the next or allies or whatever you want to call it.”
In the final analysis, it is not that important, Cox said.
“I don’t think there is any perceptible difference in the way the city is being run,” he said. “I think to someone sitting in the audience, they see what we are voting on and how we are voting. We are getting things handled. Overall, we are getting things done. There used to be a lot of argument. Blanca said she was rooting out corruption she was able to find, and she would reveal it when she found it. I said, ‘If there is corruption, where is it? If there is, let’s take it to the grand jury.’ She always hinted that there was a problem, but I don’t remember much in the way of facts or proof. I think maybe she decided that since she is running for reelection, and because Gloria is running too, they thought they should put their best foot forward. If they kept at each other’s throats they both realized they might not get reelected, that the public was upset. So, they made amends, which is good because it makes it better for the city.”
Countering Gomez’s detractors are her defenders.
At the August 21, 2018 meeting at which the council voted to rebuke Gomez, Alejandra Diaz said, “Maybe you bother so much with Blanca Gomez because she asks questions that nobody wanted to ask. The questions bother all of you. Why? Because you don’t want to provide us with the truth.”
The persisting perception among at least some Victorville and High Desert residents is that the December 3 vote by Garcia, Gomez and Ramirez-Dean was premeditated and deliberate, as well as staged to appear impromptu. This has led to a public outcry among some High Desert residents charging Garcia, Gomez and Ramirez-Dean with collusion. Some High Desert residents have alleged that Ramirez-Dean does not live in Victorville, and that Garcia and Gomez are ignoring that reality to preserve their recently-forged coalition. Garcia’s rapprochement with Gomez is inexplicable they say, considering that on February 6, 2018 Garcia suggested that Gomez was a “criminal on welfare” and that the mayor on March 22, 2018 stated that she “felt physically threatened” by Gomez. Part of the current arrangement, they claim, consists of Garcia having handed over power to Gomez, whereas previously Gomez had no influence whatsoever at Victorville City Hall. They are advocating that the California Attorney General initiate an investigation.
Ramirez-Dean could not be reached.
Multiple phone, text and email messages to Gomez seeking her direct input garnered no response.
Sue Jones, Victorville’s official spokeswoman, told the Sentinel, “I don’t have anything to say on the matter.”
Sue Jones, who is no blood relation to Councilwoman Jones, said, “There is a lot of history there,” but would not acknowledge that there had been any difficulty in the past relationship between Garcia and Gomez. Sue Jones claimed to have no knowledge of the August 21, 2018 council vote to confirm then-Councilman Kennedy’s motion to rebuke Gomez, nor of the July 16, 2019 council meeting from which Gomez was removed from the proceedings. She said she was not in a position to verify whether those events had actually occurred. “I cannot speak to that,” Sue Jones said. “That would be better addressed from the councilmembers’ perspective. I’ll pass your questions on to them. That’s the best way to go. Mayor Garcia was reappointed and so was Mayor Pro Tem Ramirez. That’s what we have. That’s all I can say.”
Elon Musk has potentially rendered moot the yet unresolved differences between public officials on San Bernardino County’s extreme southeast corner and those virtually everywhere else in the expansive 20,105-square mile jurisdiction with regard to the mode of future transportation access to Ontario International Airport.
Musk, through one of his corporate holdings, the Boring Company, is proposing excavating a 2.8-mile underground tunnel linking Rancho Cucamonga to Ontario International Airport, and then using modified Tesla Model X electric vehicles to convey passengers through the tunnel at speeds reaching more than 100 miles per hour.
Musk, who initially earned his fortune as a cofounder of the on-line money exchange system PayPal, is the founder of the Tesla automobile company and the founder of the private sector space exploration company SpaceX.
Musk’s brainchild would serve as the final span in the transportation system that is intended to link Los Angeles with Ontario Airport. A significant portion of that yet-to-fully-achieved transportation mode – composed of a light rail system known as the Metro Gold Line – already stretches 24 miles eastward across Los Angeles County from Union Station to Azusa. The Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority Board in Los Angeles County has already committed to and is undertaking the further extension of that line to Pomona, which is very near Los Angeles County’s eastern terminus. From there, Los Angeles County transportation officials are working with their allies in San Bernardino County to make the continuation of the Gold Line all the way to Ontario Airport a reality, and at some future date extend the light rail line beyond that even further into San Bernardino County to San Bernardino or beyond that to Redlands or Yuciapa.
Over $1 billion has been expended extending the Gold Line, consisting of a light rail train on two separate tracks running generally east west, currently to Azusa. The track will reach Pomona by late 2025. Thereafter, the line was previously slated to be extended another 3.3 miles from Pomona through Claremont to Montclair at that city’s existing Montclair Transit Center. From there, the future intention was to extend it to Ontario Airport. According to the Gold Line Construction Authority, the extension of the line from north Pomona to Claremont will entail a cost of $450 million. Previously, the Gold Line Construction Authority in conjunction with the San Bernardino County Transportation Authority, when it was previously known as San Bernardino Associated Governments (SANBAG), intended to continue the line from Claremont to Montclair, and then from Montclair to Ontario Airport.
The San Bernardino County Transportation Authority, as its name implies, is San Bernardino County’s regional transportation agency. With a board composed of representatives from all 24 of the county’s cities as well as its five county supervisors, the agency, known by its acronym SBCTA, is charged with managing the expenditure of Measure I money. Measure I was first passed by San Bernardino County’s voters in 1989, providing for a half-cent sales tax override countywide, with the proceeds dedicated to paying for road improvements.
The San Bernardino County Transportation Authority dedicated $39 million in Measure I dollars toward the Gold Line project and did a joint application with the Los Angeles Metro Transit Agency for a State of California Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program grant. That application was successful and it brought in $250 million on the Los Angeles County side, which made a significant but not complete inroad on the $850 million funding deficit that jurisdiction had, and provided another $41 million of the then-projected $80 million cost for the San Bernardino County portion of the projected expense on the eastern side of the Los Angeles County/San Bernardino County boundary in terms of getting the line to Montclair.
Subsequently, however, when the project went out to bid, it turned out the cost of building the line from Claremont to Montclair would not contain itself to an earlier $73 million projection or the later $80 million estimate, but had escalated to $96 million.
In reaction to that projected cost overrun, San Bernardino County Transportation Authority Executive Director Ray Wolfe recommended last year that SBCTA “throw in the towel” on completing the Gold Line past the Los Angeles County/San Bernardino County border to reach the airport.
Wolfe noted that a commuter rail system running from Los Angeles County into San Bernardino County – MetroLink – already exists and that there is an existing freight-carrying rail line linking the two counties as well. He proposed that instead of building two new tracks that the county transportation agency simply run a passenger line on the existing freight line track, thereby saving both land acquisition and rail line construction costs. Advocates for the Gold Line, however, point out that the Gold Line runs with significantly greater frequency than does MetroLink, with departures and arrivals every five to seven minutes during peak commuting hours and every 12 to 15 minutes during off-peak hours. Metro Link trains runs at present no more frequently than every 72 minutes and on average no more frequently than an hour-and-a-half. Because of that, ridership on the MetroLink is relatively poor and Gold Line use is approaching capacity on its current schedule. If the goal of transitioning commuters from their automobiles to trains is to be effectuated, these advocates say, the Gold Line needs to be completed. Moreover, the riders’ cost of using the Gold Line is less than half that of using MetroLink, which first established service between Union Station in Los Angeles and the City of San Bernardino in 1992 on a long existing track originally designed for heavy engines pulling freight cars. MetroLink utilizes diesel engines to draw its passenger cars and must share its track with at least four freight trains on a daily basis. The Gold Line would be more environmentally sound, more utilized and economical, its sponsors insist.
In reaction to Wolfe’s call to pull the plug on the Gold Line concept in San Bernardino County, east-west factions formed in the jurisdiction. While officials in Chino Hills, Chino, Montclair and Ontario favor extending to the aerodrome the light rail system that has already been constructed to Azusa and which will reach Pomona in five years, virtually all of the rest of the county, practically meaning the remaining 20 incorporated municipalities, have flinched at expending the money that will be required to complete the Gold Line. Assemblyman Chris Holden (D-41st District) and State Senator Anthony J. Portantino, whose 25th District like Holden’s straddles both Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties, are equally dismayed at what they perceive to be wrongheaded intransigence to regional cooperation intended to provide the foundation of what is to become the commuting methodology of the future. They introduced legislation aimed at providing financial mechanisms to complete the project. Holden’s Assembly Bill 2011 would create the West San Bernardino County Rail Construction Authority, an entity to be dedicated to designing and building the six-mile span of track linking Montclair to Ontario Airport. Portantino’s Senate Bill 1390 also calls for creating the Montclair-to-Ontario Airport Gold Line Construction Authority. Portantino’s bill is considered to be a refinement of Holden’s proposed legislation, one which would be more likely to achieve passage in the full legislature.
Without being asked to do so and acting entirely on his own initiative, Elon Musk had the Boring Company on April 29 provide the San Bernardino County Transportation Agency with a proposal to undertake the underground tunnel project, one that would either use, partially use or parallel the existing flood control channelization constructed decades ago by the Army Corps of Engineers, and run from a station near Foothill Boulevard and the Day Creek flood control channel to Terminal 2 at Ontario International Airport.
Musk calculated the project could be completed for $60 million, largely because the purchase and monopolization of above-ground real estate would be bypassed. No construction of a rail system or purchase of trains would be necessary. Off-the-shelf or adapted Tesla Model X vehicles would be used to provide transportation.
A Musk-owned company would run operate the system.
Next Wednesday, June 3, the San Bernardino County Transportation Authority’s board is to be guided by Carrie Schindler, the authority’s director of transit and rail programs, with regard to a consideration of whether the authority should spend $3 million to conduct an “alternatives analysis” to using rail systems to reach Ontario Airport. According to the staff report for the item, building the Gold Line to the airport “is estimated to cost between $1 billion and $1.5 billion in 2020 dollars, requir[ing] a large infusion of revenue that is unknown at this time.” Musk’s proposal, the report said, would cost far less. “The total estimated cost is expected to be substantially lower and in the range of 3-5% of the surface project cost,” the report states.
County transportation officials did not say whether the subsurface transportation option could be utilized to replace the Gold Line from Claremont to the airport or from Claremont to Rancho Cucamonga.
In a remarkable coincidence, Newport Beach Councilman Marshall “Duffy” Duffield this week found himself at the center of attention in two San Bernardino County communities.
In one of those cases, Duffield was hailed as a prince among men promoting an innovation seen as a significant solution to the persistent problem of homelessness overwhelming eleven of the county’s 24 incorporated cities and towns and one of its unincorporated communities.
In the other instance, Duffield found himself under attack as someone who had successfully manipulated the already highly compromised approval process for the establishment of cannabis-based enterprises, and was functioning within an atmosphere where the provision of bribes across what is now a second generation of the City of Adelanto’s elected officials has become an open and accepted practice, even if he was not himself directly involved in provable instances of public graft.
The circumstance in which Duffield, a politician from Orange County, is being on one hand lionized and on the other demonized in San Bernardino County made for a bemusing and noteworthy spectacle.
This week’s events put the spotlight on the “Safe Hut,” one of Duffield’s inventions touted as a comparatively inexpensive first step in sheltering homeless individuals during the early “transitional” phase where assessment of each homeless individual eligible for assistance is made and “wrap-around” care can begin prior to those being assisted receiving further help intended to get them off the streets and provide them with an opportunity to be housed permanently.
Duffield is the owner of the Duffy Electric Boat Company, what is billed as the world’s first and leading manufacturer of electric boats. The company grew out of Duffield’s whimsical effort in 1970, according to the company’s literature, to “place the motor from a secondhand golf cart into the hull of a beat-up motorboat,” what became the first primitive prototype for a line of electric-powered watercraft which include the Snug Harbor, the Bay Island, the Sun Cruiser, the Cuddy Cabin and the Back Bay models that Duffield’s company now markets. The company also builds boats to specifications provided by its customers.
Duffy Boats’ first niche was that one established with Disneyland and Disney World, for whom the company supplies the boats used in Disney’s Adventure Parks. The Duffy Electric Boat company also made a significant inroad in the market for providing short touring boats at beach-located hospitality venues world-wide, including those owned and operated by Marriott Hotels. Duffy also provides the boats used by the Nature Conservancy in Naples, Florida and the vessels used by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, known before January 1, 2013 as the Department of Fish and Game Department, for its exploration of sensitive marine life habitats.
Duffield’s operation on a 5-acre facility located at 17260 Muskrat Avenue in Adelanto employs 200 persons during its peak season. While the internal craftsmanship for the boats involves cabinets and tables custom made in the company’s woodshop using solid and saltwater-resistant, marine quality cherrywood, Duffield’s materials for the external covering for the boat involve high quality canvas, and the hulls are composed of fiberglass with foam fill. In working with these later materials, Duffield hit upon the idea of using them for the “Safe Hut” shelters he envisioned could be fabricated by his company during its production off-season. He designed the shelters as fiberglass structures, with foam insulation.
According to Duffield, “The fiberglass material allows the shelters to be cleaned and sanitized in minutes.” With an eye to hygiene, Duffield has partnered with Sanitrax International, which provides restrooms, sinks and showers at shelter sites.
According to Duffield, his shelters exceed building codes, can be secured to a level-adjusted foundation on-site within two hours, and come with beds and solar panels to power LED lights and chargers. The price per shelter, which includes shipping and set-up, is $17,500 for a one-bed, 60-square foot model; and $23,700 for a two-bed 80-square foot model. At present he is working on but has not yet completed specifications for a prototype for a two-bunk bed, 120-square foot, four person model.
The 60-square foot model features a single foldable bed that hinges on one wall. The 80-square foot model features two such beds. While not in use, the beds retract up onto the wall, increasing the available floor space during daylight hours.
According to Duffield, “These prices compare well with proposed purchases of motels or new brick and mortar construction.”
Duffield hauled one of the 60-square foot models from his company’s foundry in Adelanto to San Bernardino on Wednesday so it could be previewed to San Bernardino city and San Bernardino County officials.
Duffield emphasized that the shelters are not intended as permanent housing, but ones that can be used for an extended period of time by an individual or individuals, and then lend themselves to being easily and quickly cleaned and restored to a highly sanitary state.
“They’re pretty indestructable,” he told the Sentinel. “You can sanitize them by pressure washing them inside and out, air drying them, and they are ready for the next inhabitants.”
Though built to uniform specifications, they can be varied in one specific respect, that being the thickness of the inner layer of insulation between the two outer layers of fiberglass in the walls and roof. The more substantial the insulation, the better suited that structure would be for use in either very hot or very cold environments.
The structures come with a single door which can be locked from the inside but which has hinges on the outside so that it can be removed relatively quickly to give emergency responders an opportunity to get inside if that need arises.
Duffield said he believes the Safe Hut will present municipal and governmental entities with two certain advantages in the effort to bring homelessness under control. In the first instance, he said, cities and local governments are restricted under the U.S. Supreme Court’s Boise decision from prohibiting elements of the homeless population from setting up living quarters on sidewalks and other public areas unless that jurisdiction provides alternative shelter. The Safe Hut is such an alternative, he said. Secondly, local jurisdictions face not only the challenges of creating livable sheltering for the homeless but protests from nearby residents or businesses that object to having an influx of the destitute living or subsisting right next to their homes, professional offices or shops. The Safe Huts are not rooted to any specific location, he said, and can be moved to an area far enough removed from other sensitive inhabitants of a particular city or community that is working toward eradicating the problem of people living out in the open on the streets.
Duffield said that ideally a Safe Hut or a cluster of Safe Huts would be located where utilities such as electricity and water are available.
Duffield said his company at the moment has the capacity to churn out two Safe Huts per day.
The State of California, counties and cities are the customers he envisages serving, Duffield said, indicating that he believes it is the counties, with their departments of behavioral health, transitional assistance and human services that will likely prove to be the most prolific purchasers of the Safe Hut.
On Wednesday, San Bernardino City Councilman Jim Mulvihill was among those who was present while Duffield exhibited the 60-square foot model he had hauled to Kendall Plaza on a boat trailer. Duffield was hoping that later that day he would be able to get San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors Chairman Curt Hagman and current Fifth District Supervisor Josie Gonzales to look the model over. The Fifth District is where the highest concentration of homeless are concentrated in San Bernardino County.
Duffield said he believes there will be a ready market for the Safe Hut in Los Angeles County where some 60,000 of the State of California’s estimated 160,000 homeless population are subsisting on the streets, beneath street and freeway underpasses, within parks and in homeless encampments.
North of San Bernardino, Duffield, who is something of a Renaissance Man who holds nine patents, on the very same day found himself under fire in Adelanto.
In addition to his boat and Safe Hut manufacturing concern in that 56-square-mile, 34,000 population city, Duffy has branched out into what is promising to be California’s next entrepreneurial gold mine, that being the cultivation of marijuana and the conversion of it into cannabis-based products. Duffield has managed to obtain two permits/licenses from the City of Adelanto for marijuana-based operations.
That, however, has brought a surfeit of suspicion and criticism down upon Duffield, including an incipient challenge that carries with it the potential that he will be forced to resign from his position on the Newport Beach City Council.
That Duffield has gravitated toward exploring profiting through the commercialization of marijuana in Adelanto is not in itself startling. Adelanto has become one of the more aggressive municipalities in California in looking toward rejuvenating its local economy by exploiting the legalization of medical marijuana in California that took place more than two decades ago and the more recent legalization of marijuana in California for recreational purposes. That change of attitude in Adelanto is a relatively recent one, having come about only within the last half dozen years.
Following the 2014 election, in which Mayor Rich Kerr and councilmen John Woodard and Charley Glasper were elected in a clean sweep that saw then-Mayor Kari Thomas and then-councilmen Steve Baisden and Charles Valvo ousted, Kerr and Woodard joined forces with Councilman Jermaine Wright in an initial effort to permit the indoor cultivation of medical marijuana to take place in the city’s industrial zone. Their stated rationale was that the city, which was in extremely poor financial shape, could rejuvenate itself economically by such a move. That represented a deviation from past policy, which matched that of nearly all of the municipalities in San Bernardino County, which was to resist any involvement with the commercial availability of cannabis or cannabis products, even though the use of marijuana for medical purposes had been legal in California in the aftermath of the 1996 passage of Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use of Marijuana Act. While some city employees were philosophically and ideologically opposed to the direction Kerr, Woodard and Wright were purposed to take the city in, some or even most were willing to support their agenda, insofar as they were assured the city was working within the parameters of the law. Over time, however, evidence emerged that Wright, Woodard and Kerr were involved in helping applicants for the cultivation businesses cut corners with regard to the permitting, licensing, inspection, operations and standards for those businesses. It also became evident that at least some of those business proponents were providing inducements to the trio in return for their efforts to prevent city staff from applying straightforward planning, land use and regulatory requirements to those proposals and businesses. In time, Kerr, Woodard and Wright dropped all pretense of being interested only in seeing cultivation enterprises flourish and they pushed ahead with allowing, first, medical marijuana dispensaries to be able set up shop in the city and then, anticipating the passage of 2016’s Proposition 64, allowing the city to position itself at the forefront of selling marijuana for recreational purposes, that is, allowing the drug to be used not for its medical but rather its intoxicative effect.
Thus, some high ranking and mid-level city employees decided to leave or were pushed out from their posts, and they elected to simply move on. These included longtime City Manager Jim Hart, former City Engineer/Public Works Director/interim City Manager Tom Thornton, former City Attorney Todd Litfin, former City Attorney Julia Sylva, former City Attorney Curtis Wright, former City Attorney Ruben Duran, former interim City Manager Brad Letner, and former contract City Engineer Wilson So.
While Kerr, Woodard and Wright were pushing their agenda, some city employees pushed back, refusing to suspend the city’s planning, inspection or enforcement standards when it came to the cannabis-related businesses that Kerr, Woodard and Wright had put such a high priority upon facilitating.
Kerr, Woodard and Wright deemed such resistance to be insubordination, purposed as they were to transform Adelanto into the marijuana capital of California. They had several of those resistant employees suspended, fired, or suspended and then fired. Even after Jermaine Wright was arrested by the FBI in November 2017 for taking a bribe in exchange for agreeing to prevent an applicant for a marijuana distribution business from being closely monitored and regulated by the city’s code enforcement division, Kerr and Woodard did not desist, pressing staff harder and harder to accommodate those seeking licensing by suspending the regulations and oversight the city was supposed to engage in as part of the approval and licensing processes. This entailed further reprisals against city employees when they continued to resist the mayor’s and councilman’s directions.
Ultimately, Kerr and Woodard were voted out of office as the scandal relating to what was perceived to be their graft-ridden relationships with the cannabis industry became too pronounced for the city’s residents to ignore.
More than a year after Kerr and Woodard left office and they and Glasper were replaced by Mayor Gabriel Reyes, Councilwoman Stevevonna Evans and Councilman Gerardo Hernandez, all of whom to a lesser or greater extent represented themselves as reformist candidates in the 2018 election campaign, the City of Adelanto has not abandoned Kerr, Woodard and Wright’s underlying game plan of facilitating the establishment of marijuana-based enterprises.
At the same time, one of the more unfortunate features of the atmosphere that accompanied the Kerr regime’s domination of the city – the specter of marijuana-related entrepreneurs securing licenses to operate in the city through payoffs while those seeking licenses who do not kick back to city officials are unable to get permits to operate – persists. That reputation was burnished by irregularities involving the city’s code enforcement division. Past and current code enforcement officers have related multiple incidents in which they were told to disengage, back down, stand down or hold off on carrying out inspections of certain applicants for cannabis-involved operations. The clear implication was that those businesses slipping out from underneath of the city’s regulation regime were showing and are continuing to show generosity toward the city’s elected leadership.
At the same time, a number of applicants for marijuana-related or cannabis-related business licenses who maintain they have not engaged in generous outpourings of largesse to city leaders complain that they have not been able to get their businesses permitted or licensed. In the midst of this squawking, those who have gotten licenses and permits have fallen under suspicion, with those on the outside looking in using a very broad brush to paint a picture in which everyone with a license to grow, sell, process, package, alter or distribute marijuana in Adelanto is represented as having engaged in questionable if not outright illegal activity. Wherever those making those suggestions of impropriety can, they are lodging complaints with either prosecutorial authorities, law enforcement agencies or regulators.
Duffield has not escaped those efforts, though no tangible evidence to indicate he engaged in anything illegal has emerged. Nevertheless, as an elected official, he is more vulnerable than most others to the crossfire someone involved in the marijuana business in Adelanto is subjected to.
That is because the California Department of Cannabis Control has adopted a set of regulations that outright prohibit an elected official in California from getting involved in the cannabis business or marijuana trade.
Under those regulations, § 5005 bears the subheading “Personnel Prohibited from Holding Licenses.” Thereafter § 5005 states, “(a) A license authorized by the Act and issued by the Bureau may not be held by, or issued to, any person holding office in, or employed by, any agency of the State of California or any of its political subdivisions when the duties of such person have to do with the enforcement of the Act or any other penal provisions of law of this State prohibiting or regulating the sale, use, possession, transportation, distribution, testing, manufacturing, or cultivation of cannabis goods.”
The Sentinel has learned that at least one of the parties in Adelanto who have so far been denied a permit to establish a marijuana-based business has set sights on Duffield, and is seeking to have the California Department of Cannabis Control and the Newport Beach City Attorney bring their authority to bear on Duffield to make a determination that he is improperly in possession of both of the marijuana-based business permits issued to him by the City of Adelanto. It is not entirely clear whether the intention of those notifications of the circumstances is to have the city revoke Duffield’s permits or have the State of California and the City of Newport Beach remove Duffield as a council member.
The Sentinel made repeated phone calls to Newport Beach City Attorney Aaron C. Harp, Newport Beach Assistant City Attorney Yolanda Summerhill and Newport Beach’s three deputy city attorneys, Armeen Komili, Anita Lakhani and Joseph Meeks, in which the specifics of Duffield’s possession of licenses issued by the city of Adelanto along with § 5005 of the California Department of Cannabis Control’s regulations were referenced. Neither Harp, nor Summerhill, nor Komeili, nor Lakhani nor Meeks responded to those inquiries by press time.
On Wednesday, Duffield told the Sentinel, “I’m not growing any marijuana.”
He said that he had obtained the two licenses, which pertain to the distribution of marijuana and are tied to the 17260 Muskrat Avenue property in Adelanto where he has the Duffy Electric Boat Company operation, because he is looking to sell the property.
Duffield explained that he is considering moving his boat manufacturing operation to Utah because the cost of housing in California is so high that many of his employees are unable to purchase homes. He said they will be able to purchase residential properties in Utah. He said that in recent months and years, his sale of boats in California has decreased, and more and more of his oceangoing vessels are being purchased in Florida. His boats are transported from their place of manufacture to the ocean by rail, and he said he will thus save rather than lose money in shipping to Florida from Utah rather than California.
“I have [marijuana-based] business licenses in Adelanto, but I’m not using them,” Duffield said. “I’m looking to maximize the price I can get for the property when I sell it, and that’s why I obtained those permits.”
The Yucca Valley Town Council last week went on record as being opposed to the State of California’s proposal that the state’s western Joshua trees be provided with with protection from uprooting and destruction.
On April 13, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, in reaction to an assertion by the Center For Biological Diversity that the desert-specific yucca brevifolia, as the Joshua tree is known scientifically, has been brought closer to extinction by development, climate change, drought and increasing numbers of wildfires, recommended that its board of commissioners take action to list it as an endangered species.
The trees have been afforded some level of protection within Joshua Tree National Park, which lies within San Bernardino County. However, outside the park, off-road vehicle use, cattle grazing, powerlines and pipelines and large-scale energy projects are destroying its habitat. Approximately 40 percent of the western Joshua tree’s range in California is on private land, with only a minute percentage protected from development. The Center For Biological Diversity has projected that virtually all of this habitat will be lost without stronger legal protections for the trees.
“The California Endangered Species Act may be the only hope for saving these iconic symbols of the Mojave Desert,” said Brendan Cummings of the Center For Biological Diversity.
A portion of the desert population, including those with a degree power and authority, disagree.
Yucca Valley Town Manager Shane Stueckle in a report dated May 14 told the council, “The California Fish and Game Commission has been petitioned to list the Joshua tree as a threatened species under the California Endangered Species Act. The commission is scheduled to consider the petition at [its] meeting of June 24 and 25, 2020.”
Stueckle is among those who consider the listing of the tree as an endangered species to be an overreaction. He suggested that the town council register its opposition to the listing being made, and he took the liberty of composing a letter for Yucca Valley Town Mayor Jeff Drozd’s signature. Stueckle’s request that the town make an official objection to the listing proposal and authorize the sending of the letter was taken up by the town council at its May 19 meeting.
Monica Zimarik, the president of the Joshua Tree Gateway Association of Realtors, told the council, “We are strongly in opposition to this petition, but we are in support of the mayor’s letter. While the beautiful Joshua Tree is our association’s namesake and we want to protect them for many generations, not at the expense of homeowner rights and our future generations’ ability to purchase affordable housing. Joshua Trees are already protected. In fact, there’s over 2.3 million acres of the Joshua Tree National Park in the Mojave Preserve. They are protected habitats. So, my question is to you, ‘Who is going to protect our small community of home- and landowners?’ This petition would strip away rights of owners and give them to an already-protected species. This will cause prices to skyrocket.”
Art Miller said that the Yucca Valley Chamber of Commerce was “in strong opposition” to the petition for protection, and he warned of catastrophe if the Joshua Tree was declared an endangered species, saying, “This is going to be devastating for this whole area.”
Councilman Rick Denison, participating in the meeting remotely, said the city’s commitment to “environmental stewardship” was something done in cooperation with developers, and he reasoned that “what were doing right now doesn’t include cooperation.” He said it was a “blanket order” for the entire state of California with no concessions made for specific areas such as Yucca Valley. “Projects would be hindered,” said Denison. “The costs would be too much for people to build within our community.”
Councilman Merl Abel said, “We all have a love for our ecosystem up here,” but he said declaring the Joshua tree to be an endangered species was “overreaching and would really, really hurt so many people. This would only add to the cost of developing a single-family home.” He said the city had adequate safeguards for the tree.
Councilman Jim Schooler said, “I would agree we already have sufficient protections in place.”
Councilman Robert Lombardo said the state’s proposed action constitutes “overburdensome regulation. It will just add extreme burden to the town for the development of the town and infrastructure without any real benefit to the Joshua trees in our area.”
Mayor Jeff Drozd said he believed Yucca Valley had more Joshua trees than the unincorporated community of Joshua Tree.
Of the proposal to have the state officially declare the tree as an endangered species, Drozd said, “I would not be against [the state’s action] if it didn’t include cities, towns and private land. If it was only public land, that’s fine, but cities and towns have to survive, they have to operate, and that’s part of my reasoning.” He said the state layering further protection onto the tree was “just adding more red tape and cost.”
In accordance with a motion by Councilman Abel, the council voted unanimously to authorize Drozd to sign the letter and have it sent to the State. It was not clear from the council meeting broadcast who had seconded the motion.
The letter, in part, reads, “The Town of Yucca Valley, possibly more than any other community in the state, values the integration of the desert environment, including the Joshua Tree and other unique desert plants, into our continued development as a community. As evidenced by our Town logo, as well as our general plan vision and values, the desert environment is woven into the fabric of this community. After careful consideration however, the Yucca Valley Town Council is in strong opposition to the petition submitted by the Center for Biological Diversity to list the western Joshua tree as a threatened species under the California Endangered Species Act.”
Further, the letter says that “the western Joshua tree is not presently threatened with extinction. As such, the petition predicts a future decline due to global climate change. The proposed listing is based upon theory and modeling efforts, not current scientific facts as they exist today. To place the conservation requirements onto private property owners prior to governmental agencies attempting to collaborate and cooperate in implementing effective conservation efforts is neither good public policy nor good governance. Placing significant financial burdens on private landowners will not address the theoretical decline in the species as outlined in the petition. The California desert is comprised of rural, underserved communities that face economic challenges unlike other areas of our state.”
The letter continues, “Imposition of the State Endangered Species Act will create unnecessary impediments, as well as greatly increased costs, to the delivery of these much-needed infrastructure systems throughout the Morongo Basin. In many cases, these limitations upon infrastructure development will prevent the agencies from delivering much needed housing development, transportation network capacity enhancements and job creation through commercial development opportunities. Placing significant constrains and financial burdens on infrastructure development in the Morongo Basin will not address the theoretical decline in the species as outlined in the petition. While we appreciate the commission’s role in administering the California Endangered Species Act, it is equally important to recognize when conflicting state public policies create an untenable framework within which the town must navigate. I urge you to consider the significant impacts this will have on rural desert communities including the Town of Yucca Valley, and respectfully ask that you deny this petition.”
The United States Environmental Protection Agency yesterday announced a $196 million Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act loan to the Chino-based Inland Empire Utilities Agency. The loan is to be used to assist in financing expanded wastewater treatment capacity in the face of explosive population growth on the west side of the county.
The Inland Empire Utilities Agency operates regional water recycling facilities, including sewer plants and desalters, at its primary corporate grounds, located at 6063 Kimball Ave.
The federal loan will be used to expand the operations and capacity of the agency’s Regional Water Recycling Plant No. 5 (RP-5). The project will increase the plant’s liquids treatment capacity by 50 percent over its current capability and construct a new solids handling facility. The liquids treatment capacity of RP-5 will be go from 15 million gallons per day to 22.5 million gallons per day to support expected service area growth. The new solids handling facility replaces the existing facility at Regional Water Recycling Plant #2 as the existing facility will be within the Prado floodplain once the Prado Dam spillway height is increased. The project will meet all regulatory requirements, utilize energy efficient equipment, and continue to provide recycled water to the service area.
“The ongoing drought conditions in the Inland Empire and across California make it more important than ever to ensure local water supplies are reliable, safe and clean,” said Congresswoman Norma Torres. “This $196 million water infrastructure loan from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will help the Inland Empire Utilities Agency expand its wastewater treatment capacity. The increase in local supply means our community will be less beholden to outside sources, and more water secure in the years to come.”
“Our region knows all too well the importance of preparing for droughts and investing in our water infrastructure,” said Congressman Pete Aguilar. “This funding will help the Inland Empire manage our water resources wisely in order to be better prepared for dry years. As the vice chair of the House Appropriations Committee, I’m proud to support these types of investments in communities like San Bernardino County.”
“Not only will this project provide residents with an additional local water supply, it will also ensure the community is more resilient against periods of drought,” said EPA Pacific Southwest Regional Administrator John Busterud. “Particularly in arid areas like San Bernardino County, these infrastructure improvements will pay dividends decades into the future.”
“The RP-5 Expansion Project will expand the treatment capacity of the existing facility to support the continued growth in western San Bernardino County, and will meet all regulatory requirements, utilize energy efficient equipment, and continue to provide recycled water to the service area,” said IEUA Board President Kati Parker. “Since 2000, IEUA has been able to leverage state and federal partnerships to help fund critical infrastructure projects and keep our wastewater rates among the lowest in Southern California. The WIFIA loan will continue our successful federal partnership with the EPA and provide 49 percent [of the project cost] in low-interest financing for the RP-5 Expansion Project.”
The project will cost $450 million. EPA’s Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) loan will finance 43.5 percent of that figure—up to $196 million. Additionally, California State Water Board’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund will finance approximately $100 million with the remaining project funds coming from a combination of borrower funds and grants. The Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act loan will save the Inland Empire Utilities Agency an estimated $153 million compared to typical bond financing. Project construction and operation are expected to create 1,280 jobs.
Established by the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act of 2014, the WIFIA program is a federal loan and guarantee program administered by EPA. WIFIA’s aim is to accelerate investment in the nation’s water infrastructure by providing long-term and low-cost supplemental credit assistance for regionally and nationally significant projects.
“Through the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, EPA is playing a key role in President Trump’s efforts to improve and upgrade our nation’s water infrastructure in communities across the country,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “With this transaction closing, EPA has now issued 21 WIFIA loans totaling $4.4 billion in credit assistance to help finance $9.8 billion for water infrastructure projects while creating 21,000 jobs.”
By Sherry Elshaug and Mark Gutglueck
Robert Allen Shuey, the violent career criminal whose savage attack on Alex Opmanis in January 2019 precipitated the July 2019 fatal shooting of Shuey’s friend Sammy Davis, was arrested on May 21 for battery with serious bodily injury, according to the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.
Shuey’s penchant for methamphetamine use, drug dealing, theft, and assault has resulted in no fewer than 17 criminal charges having been filed against him in his 29 years, concluding so far in convictions on three felonies and four misdemeanors. Two felony assault cases are currently pending against him, including that one stemming from his most current arrest.
Last year and earlier this year, Shuey’s infamy escalated as his role as a catalyst in the death of Davis, 28, last July, came to light in the aftermath of Opmanis’s arrest and the filing of murder charges against him.
The events which triggered the July 11, 2019 shooting go back more than six months prior to that. In January 2019, Opmanis, then 27, who had previously made the acquaintance of Shuey, now 29, through their mutual interest in dirt bike riding, was at the Dogwood bar in Blue Jay. Shuey, who lived not too distant from the bar, invited Opmanis, who had been drinking heavily, to come to his home. Opmanis at some point vomited while he was at Shuey’s house, after which a fight ensued. Opmanis was beaten severely and required hospitalization as a result, losing a portion of his vision in his left eye. The doctors treating him considered it necessary to insert a plate in his head because a portion of his skull had collapsed.
Encouraged by his family, Opmanis filed a civil suit against Shuey. The filing of the suit antagonized Shuey, an avid motorcyclist and gang member against whom the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office alone had filed no fewer than 17 criminal charges, having obtained felony convictions for burglary, illegal firearms possession and drug dealing, as well as reduced or misdemeanor convictions for theft, auto theft, possession of drugs and assault. In addition, Shuey has a reputation for fighting with and stabbing people. During the February-to-June 2019 timeframe, Shuey made repeated threats against Opmanis and his family, on occasion in public places and in public situations. In reaction, Opmanis obtained a handgun, a Glock 27 .40 caliber, which he stored unloaded in a lockbox below the passenger side seat of his vehicle, a black 2000 Mercedes. He kept the magazine for the gun separately in the glove compartment.
On July 11, 2019 Shuey and another avid motorcyclist, Shane Codman, then 28, had ridden their motorcycles down from the mountain communities first to Corona and then to a “Bike Night” in Riverside, where they met up with Sammy Davis around 6 p.m., in the course of which they were consuming alcohol. The three left Riverside around 8 p.m., riding their motorcycles to return to the mountains. They intended to stop at Goodwin’s Market in Crestline to purchase hamburger and beer before going to Shuey’s home in Blue Jay.
Meanwhile, Opmanis had gone to Goodwin’s Market, located at at 24089 Lake Gregory Drive in Crestline. An external security camera at Goodwin’s Market, operated by Scottsdale, Arizona-based Clear Protection Services, Inc. shows Opmanis driving into the store’s parking lot at 8:49 p.m., and an internal camera also operated by Clear Protection shows him coming into the store at 8:52 p.m., accompanied by two individuals, one identified as Osvaldo Nuno and another known only as Johnny. Davis, Shuey and Codman arrived at Goodwin’s Market at 9:02 p.m., as recorded by the store’s external security camera, and are seen coming into the store at 9:04 p.m. While Opmanis knew both Shuey and Codman, he had no previous encounters with Davis and did not know him.
According to an individual speaking on behalf of Clear Protection Services, the video surveillance system in place at Goodwin’s Market consists of several cameras, all of which run continuously and are not triggered by motion sensors or any other devices which interrupt the video surveillance.
The most telling piece of evidence in the case involving Opmanis is the video taken from one of the store’s external cameras which has the parking space where Opmanis’s Mercedes is parked very close to the center of its field of perspective. The store’s other cameras, while useful in putting the events of that evening in a temporal order, do not actually capture the shooting itself.
At 9:06 p.m., Opmanis, Nuno and Johnny are shown on the internal and then the external cameras leaving the store. Thereafter, Opmanis puts groceries into his Mercedes. Between 9:08 p.m. and 9:09 p.m., the external video shows Opmanis talking to Nuno and Johnny while they are seated in Johnny’s vehicle, which is parked proximate to Opmanis’s Mercedes. Johnny and Nuno in their vehicle drive out of the camera’s field of view.
The external camera shows Sammy Davis emerging from the store at 9:09 p.m., at which point he lights a cigarette and spots Opmanis. The camera’s audio picks up Davis yelling at Opmanis, “It’s on you, punk.” At 9:10 p.m. on the external video, Opmanis can be seen standing on the running board of his Mercedes and remaining regardful of Davis, Shuey and Codman.
At 9:11 p.m., the video shows Johnny and Nuno pull back into the parking lot and park, lights on, behind Opmanis’s black Mercedes SUV.
Between 9:11:36 p.m. and 9:11:44 p.m, Opmanis is outside his vehicle looking in the direction of the bikers. Shortly thereafter, the audio on the video captures the sound of the three bikers starting their motors. Between 9:12:06 p.m. and 9:12:24 p.m. the motorbikes’ engines are rumbling loudly. Between 9:12:26 p.m. and 9:13:20 p.m., amidst revving motorcycle engines, the bikers, with Shuey in the lead, begin to move out from the parking lot, crossing in front of the Mercedes. As they pass, Shuey can be seen ﬂipping Opmanis off with his right hand, which causes his motorcycle to momentarily swerve while he is making the hand gesture. This provokes Opmanis, who responds by himself ﬂipping Shuey off and, it appears, honking his horn. Codman and Davis honk back and turn hard left to confront Opmanis, who can be seen kicking the shopping cart return holder. Shuey briefly exits the parking lot, but then makes an immediate U-turn to return to the parking lot, joining Codman, who yet has his helmet on and is in a verbal exchange with Opmanis. Sammy Davis is at that point parked near the rear of Opmanis’s Mercedes SUV. Shuey pulls in and parks in between Codman and Davis, at the front of Alex’s SUV. Between 9:13:20 p.m. and 9:13:28 p.m. on the video, Opmanis is surrounded by the three bikers. Opmanis is a few feet from the driver’s door where he was previously standing, and it appears he is having a loud and animated exchange with Davis and Codman as Shuey has arrived. Davis dismounts from his bike. Between 9:13:28 p.m. and 9:13:40 p.m., twelve seconds are cut from the video that was presented to the court as evidence during Opmanis’s preliminary hearing. From 9:13:40 p.m. to 9:13:48 p.m., Shuey removes his helmet, dismounts from his bike, and approaches Opmanis. Davis is at the rear of the Mercedes at the same time as Shuey takes off his helmet and his jacket. He then dismounts his bike. Shuey, wearing a short-sleeved black shirt and jeans, and Davis, wearing jeans and a short-sleeved black shirt with a large white graphic on its front, are seen on the video approaching Opmanis, it appears aggressively. Codman remains on his motorcycle to the far right in the video camera’s field. Market patrons are scattered about, with cars coming and going and other commotion. There is a two second overlap from the last to the next video segment, which runs form 9:13:46 p.m. to 9:13:56 p.m. In it, Shuey is approaching Opmanis, who is toward the rear of the SUV and makes his way back to the front driver’s side door that is open, as Sammy Davis at first moves in but then circles around the back side of Shuey. At that point, it appears that the assault on Opmanis begins, followed by a crucial 12-second gap in the video that was presented as evidence during Opmanis’s preliminary hearing. When the video resumes at 9:14:08 p.m., the physical altercation between Opmanis and Davis is in full swing more toward the rear of the SUV than the front. A shopping cart or carts can be heard rattling violently in the shopping cart corral next to Opmanis’s vehicle. Shuey approaches the fight as Davis and Opmanis appear to be hunched over and struggling. The fight between them moves toward the front of Opmanis’s SUV. Shuey has his phone out with its light engaged, and appears to be videoing the fight. Two shots are heard. Nuno gets out of the passenger side of Johnny’s vehicle, still parked behind Opmanis’s Mercedes SUV with the lights on. Nuno immediately returns to the vehicle and Johnny speeds off. Shuey runs away and ducks behind a parked car. Shuey is crouching down approximately eight to ten feet away from where Davis was shot, very close to the SUV.
After the shooting, between 9:14:30 and 9:15:00, Opmanis can be heard attempting to summon help. “Someone call an ambulance! Please call for help,” Opmanis is heard saying on the video that was presented as evidence during his preliminary hearing. When Opmanis produces his phone to make a call and Shuey begins moving toward him, however, Opmanis yells, “Get back! Get Back!” and gestures strongly to Shuey. Someone can be heard saying, “He’s dying.” At that point, Opmanis beckons to Codman, “Shane! Help! Shane, come help me.” Shuey momentarily crouches behind a vehicle.
By 9:17 p.m., a woman, later identified as an off-duty nurse, is seen on the video attempting to administer to Davis. The nurse later reported that Davis reeked of alcohol.
Also by 9:17 p.m., Codman mounted his bike and rode off.
Shuey, however remained at the scene for more than four minutes following the shooting, at one point retrieving something from Davis’s person or next to him. He then made a hand gesture towards Opmanis, put his helmet on, started his motorcycle and rode away at 9:18 p.m.
Opmanis, who was originally represented by attorney Jeffrey Lawrence, subsequently by David Striker of the San Bernardino County Public Defender’s Office and now by attorney Mark Geragos, has pleaded not guilty, asserting he was acting in self defense.
Davis, too, had an extensive criminal record, including a 2012 conviction for burglary, a 2011 conviction for receiving stolen property, a misdemeanor conviction for public intoxication, and a 2008 felony conviction for burglary. Just prior to the shooting, Davis had been released from prison after serving a portion of a sentence for assault.
Shuey’s arrest last week, on May 21, on charges of burglary together with assault with a deadly weapon resulting in great bodily injury was made at 27115 State Highway 189 in Blue Jay by San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department deputies working out of the Twin Peaks sheriff’s substation
Shuey is yet facing felony assault charges stemming from a 2016 incident in which he severely beat a security guard, Pedro Chavez, who was working the grounds of the Lake Arrowhead Marina at the time. Shuey, who was inebriated, assaulted Chavez because he believed the security guard was flirting with his girlfriend.
It remains to be seen whether Geragos will be able to get the record with regard to Shuey’s repeated arrests for assault into the record once Opmanis’s trial begins.
The Yucca Valley Town Council last week went on record as being opposed to the State of California’s proposal that the western Joshua trees be provided with with protection from uprooting and destruction.
On April 13, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, in reaction to an assertion by the Center For Biological Diversity that the desert-specific yucca brevifolia, as the Joshua tree is known scientifically, has been brought closer to extinction by development, climate change, drought and increasing numbers of wildfires, recommended that its board of commissioners take action to give
list it as an endangered species.
The trees have been afforded some level of protection within Joshua Tree National Park, which lies within San Bernardino County. However, outside the park off-road vehicle use, cattle grazing, powerlines and pipelines and large-scale energy projects are destroying its habitat. Approximately 40 percent of the western Joshua tree’s range in California is on private land, with only a minute percentage protected from development. The Center For Biological Diversity has projected that virtually all of this habitat will be lost without stronger legal protections for the trees.
“The California Endangered Species Act may be the only hope for saving these iconic symbols of the Mojave Desert,” said Brendan Cummings of the Center For Biological Diversity.
A portion of the desert population, including those with a degree power and authority.
Yucca Valley Town Manager Shane Stueckle in a report dated May14 told the council, “The California Fish and Game Commission has been petitioned to list the Joshua tree as a threatened species under the California Endangered Species Act. The commission is scheduled to consider the petition at [its] meeting of June 24 and 25, 2020.
Stueckle is among those who consider the listing of the tree as an endangered species to be an overreaction. He suggested that the town council register its opposition to the listing being made, and he took the liberty of composing a letter for Yucca Valley Town Mayor Jeff Drozd’s signature. Stueckle’s request that the town make an official objection to the listing proposal and sending the letter was taken up by the town council at its May 19 meeting.
Monica Zimarki, the president of the Joshua Tree Gateway Association of Realtors told the council ‘we are strongly in opposition to this petition but wee are in support of the mayor’s letter. While the beautifiul Joshua Tree is our association’s namesake and we want to protect them for many generations, not at the expense of homeowner rights and our future generations’ ability to purchase affordable housing. Joshua Trees are already protected. In fact, there’s ver 2.3 million acres of the Joshua Tree National Park in the Mojave Preserve. They are protected habitats. So, my question is to you, ‘Who is going to protect our small community of home- and landowners?’ This petition would strip away rights of owners and give them to an already-protected species. This will cause prices to skyrocket.”
Art Miller said that the Yucca Valley Chamber of Commerce was “in strong opposition” to the petition for protection, and he warned of catastrophe if the Joshua Tree was declared an endangered species, saying, “This is going to be devastating for this whole area.”
Councilman Rick Denison, participating in the meeting remotely said the city’s commitment to “environmental stewardship” was something done in cooperation with developers and he reasoned that “what were ding right now doesn’t; include cooperation.” He said it was a “blanket order” for the entire state of California with no concessions made for specific areas such as Yucca Valley. “Projects would be hindered,” said Denison. “The costs would be too much for people to build within our community.”
Councilman Merl Abel said, “We all have a love for our ecosystem up here,” but said declaring the Joshua tree to be an endangered species was “overreaching and would really, really hurt so many people. This would only add to the cost of developing a single-family home.” He said the city had adequate safeguards for the tree.
Councilman Jim Schooler said, “I would agree we already have sufficient protections in place.”
“Robert Lombardo said the state’s proposed action constitute “overburdensome regulation. It will just add extreme burden to the town for the development of the town and infrastructure without any real benefit to the Joshusa tree in our area,” Lombardo said.
Mayor Jeff Drozd said he believed Yucca Valley had more Joshua Trees than the unincorporated community of Joshua Tree.
Of the proposal to have the state officially declare the tree as an endangered species, Drozd said, “I would not be against [the state’s action] if it didn’t include cities, towns and private land. If it was only public land, that’s fine, but cities and towns have to survive, they have to operate, and that’s part of my reasoning. He said the states layering further protection onto the tree was “just adding more red tape and cost.”
In accordance with a motion by Councilman Abel the council voted unanimously to authorize Drozd to sign the letter and have it sent to the State. It was not clear from the broadcast who had seconded the motion.
The letter, in part reads, “The Town of Yucca Valley, possibly more than any other community in the state, values the integration of the desert environment, including the Joshua Tree and other unique desert plants, into our continued development as a community. As evidenced by our Town logo, as well as our General Plan Vision and Values, the desert environment is woven into the fabric of this community. After careful consideration however, the Yucca Valley Town Council is in strong opposition to the petition submitted by the Center for Biological Diversity to list the western Joshua tree as a threatened species under the California Endangered Species Act.”
Further, the letter says, “the western Joshua tree is not presently threatened with extinction. As such, the petition predicts a future decline due to global climate change. The proposed listing is based upon theory and modeling efforts, not current scientific facts as they exist today. To place the conservation requirements onto private property owners prior to governmental agencies attempting to collaborate and cooperate in implementing effective conservation efforts is neither good public policy nor good governance. Placing significant financial burdens on private landowners will not address the theoretical decline in the species as outlined in the petition. The California desert is comprised of rural, underserved communities that face economic challenges unlike other areas of our state. Imposition of the State Endangered Species Act will create unnecessary impediments, as well as greatly increased costs, to the delivery of these much-needed infrastructure systems throughout the Morongo Basin. In many cases, these limitations upon infrastructure development will prevent the agencies from delivering much needed housing development, transportation network capacity enhancements and job creation through commercial development opportunities. Placing significant constrains and financial burdens on infrastructure development in the Morongo Basin will not address the theoretical decline in the species as outlined in the Petition. While we appreciate the Commission’s role in administering the California Endangered Species Act, it is equally important to recognize when conflicting state public policies create an untenable framework within which the Town must navigate. I urge you to consider the significant impacts this will have on rural desert communities including the Town of Yucca Valley, and respectfully ask that you deny this petition.”