By clicking on the blue portal below, one can download a PDF of the September 25 edition of the San Bernardino County Sentinel.
Gary McBride is on his way out as San Bernardino County’s chief executive officer.
He will depart from the county’s top staff position, which he has held for two years and ten months, as early as next Tuesday, when the board of supervisors is scheduled to appoint him to the role of strategic projects director, a position which McBride and other county officials said is being created to “better address COVID-19 fiscal challenges.”
It is widely anticipated that County Chief Operating Officer Leonard Hernandez will fill in for McBride, at least on a temporary basis, as the county’s top executive. Word is that no firm decision has yet been made on whether the board will conduct a full-blown recruitment effort to replace McBride, as at least two members of the board of supervisors, as it is currently composed, consider Hernandez to be well-suited for the chief executive officer’s post. Hernandez was enlisted to serve as San Bernardino County librarian in 2011 and was subsequently tasked to fill in as the director of the San Bernardino County Museum while yet in the librarian post. In 2015, while Greg Devereaux was the county’s chief executive officer, Hernandez was promoted to the position of deputy executive county officer. He was elevated to the position of the county’s chief operating officer in 2017. He is valued for his decisiveness and willingness to act, and has become known, indeed feared, throughout the county as McBride’s hatchet man, as the affable and easy going McBride is uncomfortable with being confrontational with county staff and department heads, and thus ill-suited to carry out firings. Virtually every county employee has come to dread the prospect of looking up to see Hernandez make his way unannounced into his or her office and closing the door behind him, at which point he will unceremoniously present him or her with a pink slip to let the unfortunate individual now he or she has been terminated and is to be separated from the county at once, oftentimes without the opportunity or privilege to clean out his or her desk.
In this way, Hernandez is considered to be an efficient and ruthless operator, one who has found favor with at least some on the board of supervisors. Moreover, his position as head of county operations for nearly three years has given him an even more comprehensive command than even that of McBride in knowing how the county is being run, including specifics of the county’s various departments along with on the staffs of the supervisors themselves. This suggests that Hernandez has all order of information with regard to actions taken at the behest of the individual supervisors in terms of legitimate constituent services as well as what are the more questionable uses of governmental authority and power, including what might be termed political activity. That knowledge has rendered Hernandez into a very powerful position, and there is nothing to indicate that his ambition does not extend to his becoming chief executive officer.
While McBride is to remain as a county staff member, county officials offered a relatively puerile justification for his departure as chief executive officer.
“As part of the county’s ongoing effort to meet the unprecedented challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic, the board of supervisors on Tuesday, September 29, plans to modify Chief Executive Officer Gary McBride’s contract with the county, placing him in the newly created position of strategic projects director,” an entry on the informational section featured on the county’s website known as “County Wire” states. According to that entry, “The board on Tuesday will begin discussions on the appointment of a new CEO.” County Wire thereafter offers an explanation provided by Board of Supervisors Chairman Curt Hagman that “The COVID-19 pandemic has placed highly complex strains on the county’s fiscal and organizational status and outlook. This crisis requires the undivided focus of Gary’s experience, unique understating of county finance, and problem-solving talents.”
The County Wire entry emphasized that McBride “previously served for four years as the county’s chief financial officer.”
County Wire then quoted McBride as stating, “This is a great opportunity for me to concentrate my talents and passions in a way that will be of great service and benefit to the people of this county, the board of supervisors, and this organization. The crisis of COVID-19 presents us with opportunities to rethink how we address public health challenges and funding in this new era. Those are the kind of challenges I love tackling and I am excited that the board wants to focus on them.”
There were some outstanding anomalies in McBride’s sudden reassignment, not the least of which was the abruptness with which it is taking place. The 49-year-old McBride has spent the entirety of his 26-year professional career as a governmental employee/manager/administrator with San Benardino County. He was immediately preceded in the county CEO position by Dena Smith, who served nine months in an interim capacity after what was essentially the forced departure of Devereaux in January 2017. Smith had for most of her time with the county been the clerk of the board of supervisors before she was moved into the post of deputy executive officer and then that of chief operating officer under Devereaux. Devereaux had served as chief executive for seven years. It was hoped if not outright anticipated that McBride, who was 46 when he became CEO, would remain at least as long as Devereaux, and perhaps twice as long, that is until he reached the age of 60, providing the county with long-term stability in its leadership. That he is departing as the county’s top staffer to take on an assignment of lesser authority and reach is, at best, curious if not outright counter to the manner in which governmental administrative positions are assigned. Moving McBride into a lesser county post, one that will be answerable to his successor, also appears to squander the advantage represented by having someone who has gained three years worth of experience in handling the responsibility of the county CEO remain in that capacity.
Nevertheless, County Wire sought to provide a rationale for moving McBride downward on the county’s chain of command.
“As strategic projects director, McBride will assist with the development of countywide strategies to improve outcomes and efficiencies,” the posting states. “Initial projects would include analyzing and developing strategies to address the immediate and long-term fiscal impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, including identifying the most effective application of [federal] CARES Act monies and other available funding vehicles. McBride will also be charged with providing the county information for determining strategic direction related to complex issues that require a multi-departmental response. One example of this is the nexus between homelessness, mental health, and incarceration.”
In seeking to further justify moving McBride out of the CEO post into that of strategic projects director, the County Wire entry on the subject presented a contradiction in logic by offering praise for the county’s response to the coronoavirus pandemic so far, which was effectuated under McBride’s leadership while he was CEO, which would suggest that he was able to meet the challenge the COVID-19 crisis entails while serving in his capacity as chief executive officer. The County Wire passage pointed out that since the advent of the pandemic, McBride as CEO had overseen the county’s creation of “the first-in-the-nation COVID-compliant business partnership program, which provides cash grants to businesses, churches, schools, and nonprofit organizations who agree to operate in a COVID-safe manner to assist with the costs of safety supplies and modifications” as well as the creation of “additional capacity within the County Public Health Department so it could strategically focus on health guidance, contact tracing, vaccinations, and other core health duties” which was credited to “the county proactively [having] assigned other key pandemic-related functions to other county departments and agencies for greater efficiency.”
Moreover, according to County Wire, McBride led county “assigned the management of COVID-19 testing to the County Office of Emergency Services, which specializes in securing facilities, staff, and supplies in crisis situations” and “assigned management of the SNF [killed nursing facility] Task Force, created by [the Department of] Public Health to address and help prevent outbreaks in state-regulated nursing facilities, to Arrowhead Regional Medical Center.”
Arrowhead Regional Medical Center is the main campus of the county hospital.
An additional point praising McBride’s leadership as county CEO contained in the County Wire script was that “The county assigned complaints about noncompliant businesses and enforcement to a multi-agency task force headed by the county administrative office, which created the proactive education/engagement/enforcement plan. Partners include the sheriff’s department, county fire marshal, environmental health services, code enforcement, and county counsel.”
The agenda for the September 29 board of supervisors has a closed session scheduled for 1:30 p.m. at which both what is referred to as a “public employee appointment” under the auspices of Government Code section 54957 and a “conference with labor negotiatore under the Government Code section 54957.6 are to take place. The agenda item notes that the “unrepresented employee representative” is to be Supervisor Curt Hagman, who is currently the chairman of the board of supervisors. The “unrepresented employee,” the agenda item states is the “chief executive officer.” The item indicates the action to be taken will be “effective October 10, 2020,” which is the date of the next meeting of the board of supervisors.
The item did not mention the position of special projects director. It is not clear what level or remuneration McBride will be given in his new capacity, and whether it will represent a diminution of his current level of remuneration, which stands at $557,252.52 in total annual compensation, which includes $346.192.95 in annual pay, $36,686.90 in other pay, and $174,373.70 in benefits.
If, as is anticipated, Hernandez is moved into the position of interim chief executive officer, it is likely that Luther Snoke, a current deputy executive officer, will, on at least a temporary basis, replace Hernandez as chief operating officer.
Her candidacy for mayor presents no mystery, challenge or guesswork to Upland’s voters, Lois Sicking Dieter said, since she has given repeated demonstrations of what she stands for by the causes she has taken up and championed over the years.
“As an Upland resident and citizen I have testified before the city council dozens of times, advocating for policies that are based in fiscal responsibility and furthering public safety,” she said. “I opposed the sale of the Little League baseball diamond at Memorial Park. I called for the planning commission to consist of a commissioner from each district as appointed by the council member elected by that district’s voters. I promoted smart business growth policies that are environmentally responsible with robust revenue streams. I oppose on a consistent basis projects with negligible long-term revenue streams for Upland. I advocated for the city council to conduct interviews for a new city attorney after the November 3 election. I advocated for the Friends of Upland Animal Shelters’ 5-year contract to provide adoption services for Upland. I lobbied for a social worker on staff at the Upland Police Department to provide homeless services. By looking at my record on what I have requested and demanded of our current and past leaders at City Hall, every voter will be able to see exactly what I stand for and know whether he or she would want me as mayor. I think if people make a comparison of me with my opponents, I will win this election.”
Sicking Dieter said, “I am running for mayor as the next step in using my leadership skills and abilities in continuing to advocate for the residents of Upland. My background provides for new perspectives into enhancing Upland’s quality of life and improving property values. I provide fresh approaches that are not connected to past abuses. My past experience makes me uniquely qualified to be the next mayor of Upland and give back to a city that has provided my family so much.”
She said that “My education and background serving Upland as an exponent of quality of life measures to protect everyone in the city uniquely qualifies me to work effectively on behalf of Upland residents. I believe all Upland residents deserve governance based in public safety, fiscal responsibility, transparency, adequate parkland, and a stop to cronyism.”
Continuing, she said, “I am distinguished from the other candidates by my more than 22 years of developing regulatory policy in my professional capacity as an employee with the State of California. My professional duties extend to urban planning, achieving and maintaining environmental compliance, ethics, and conflict negotiation between differing public opinion groups. A major component of my skill set is the expertise I derived through obtaining my master’s degree in environmental studies and then using that knowledge in a professional context.”
Sicking Dieter said, “I was the first candidate to propose that the planning commission consist of a commissioner from each district as appointed by the council member elected by that district. I will offer new leadership and direction for Upland as the next mayor. I will speak up and talk truth to power. I was in opposition and advocated against the Bridge Point warehouse/distribution center, based upon the Bridge Point project’s lack of an environmental impact report and its mitigated negative declaration that did not include the 1,100 parking spaces reserved for delivery vans that will certainly be used, a legal error of nondisclosure that misled the public. Also, I strenuously objected to the project being mislabeled. It is not a warehouse but a distribution center, with air pollution, water pollution, noise levels and traffic nightmares guaranteed to occur given the current plan that has been approved and strongly supported by two of my opponents.”
Sicking Dieter cataloged the major issues facing the city as “public safety and the need to increase resources, Upland’s $122 million share of the California Public Employees Retirement System unfunded pension obligation, and City Hall’s established culture of side-stepping the rule-of-law.”
Dealing with the city’s pension debt should not be left up to city employees who are the beneficiaries of the pension system, Sicking Dieter said. “A plan needs to be developed to address the city’s unfunded pension liability with the participation of Upland residents in a public workshop where collaboratively a plan is developed, not a public workshop where city staff have already developed the plan without input or input of a few supportive residents. The current workshops are not collaborative and lack transparency. The $122 million gap in the city’s share of the California Public Employees Retirement System pension funding is an outgrowth of action taken by Upland’s current and past mayors and city council, which includes two of the mayoral candidates. Potential approaches to address closing that gap, in my view, should include requiring new and current employees to contribute the maximum employee contribution toward retirement benefits allowed by California law. We need to call on the residents who are credentialed financial officers to lead public sessions on developing such an unfunded pension reduction plan.”
She said far greater focus by both city residents, elected officials and city staff should be given to the city’s land use decisions, which have a direct impact on the city’s quality of life issues. “Projects such as the Bridgepoint warehouse/distribution center, the sale of Memorial Park acreage to San Antonio Hospital, and the 15th Street Flood Basin Villa Serena Project must undergo proper review for compliance with the Upland Municipal Code, the Upland General Plan, and applicable California state laws,” she said. “Many Upland residents and credentialed professionals have testified in years past and more recently that the city is not adhering to its own land use and zoning laws and regulations when decisions are rendered by both the city council and the planning commission with regard to project proposals. The requests for corrections to irregularities and compliance to existing city standard made by city residents, including ones directly impacted by these projects as well as others who have impeccable credentials with regard to planning and environmental regulations, have been disregarded, ignored or have gone unheard by the past and current mayor and city councils. As such, the City of Upland is facing over 55 lawsuits. We need a city attorney of integrity who will provide accurate advice on how to become compliant with the laws, not work to provide ways to get around the laws.”
Further, Sicking Dieter said, “The first step to stopping cronyism is for the setting of each department’s spending allotments for the next year’s budget to be open and transparent to the public.”
In the dispute between the city’s police chief and Mayor Debbie Stone, Sicking Dieter said she clearly came down on the police chief’s side of the divide.
“I strongly support Chief Darren Goodman, as I have testified so a number of times before the city council,” she said. “Disciplining the chief of police for something he did not do was a major disaster and should have never occurred because Chief Goodman is doing an excellent job. This occurred under the current mayor’s leadership. I am more supportive of the police department and will walk the walk, not just talk.”
In addressing how she proposes the city is to pay for the solutions she is suggesting, Sicking Dieter said, “Compliance with the laws will decrease the number and length of future lawsuits, saving the City of Upland money, staff time and resources, which can be better spent as an increase to Chief Goodman’s departmental budget and on priorities with other departments. Increasing transparency will engender public trust, possibly decreasing the number of lawsuits, which cost money, staff time and attorney fees, which could be better spent on providing more service to our residents. In addition, we will be interviewing for a city attorney, potentially with new skills and abilities to provide sound legal advice. Once a pension gap closure plan is implemented and we have demonstrated that we are reducing excess and unnecessary spending, it then may be appropriate to ask that Upland residents to consider a tax increase.”
One of her strengths, Sicking Dieter said, is her substantial experience within government.
“I have over 22 years’ experience developing regulatory policy,” she said. “I am currently employed at the California Environmental Protection Agency, a state government agency, where I have developed regulatory language for air quality policies for the California Air Resources Board for the past 12 years. I am assigned to review and evaluate multi-national diesel and gasoline vehicle manufacturers’ standards and am involved on a day-to-day basis in air pollution control product development, emissions laboratory practices, quality assurance, and vehicle recalls. My previous job was as a United States Department of Agriculture-Forest Service Washington, D.C. office staff member, a position I occupied for over 14 years, where I served as an advisor in strategic planning to effectively incorporate best practices for wildland firefighter safety and equipment use. As an engineering project team leader, I was responsible for performing long term planning, allocating resources, and implementing and monitoring project plans. In my tenure, I proposed, was funded for and brought online a firefighter biomechanics laboratory, based on a five-year project plan with a proposed budget of $2.5 million. I developed a cost analysis matrix for the United States Forest Service laboratory values analysis team.”
Closer to home, Sicking Dieter said, “I was the chairwoman of the City of Upland Parks and Recreation Committee during Mayor Robert Nolan’s administration in the 1990s. Under the Upland General Plan, our team facilitated public hearings developing master plans for San Antonio Park, McCarthy Park and revised the master plans for the other 11 city parks.”
She has lived in Upland 31 years. “I first came to Upland in 1989 and lived in an apartment in District 4 for ten years, then bought a home in District 1 over 21 years ago,” she said. “We have recently remodeled our home and plan to retire here.”
Sicking Dieter was a recipient of the President George H. Bush “Point of Light” award for volunteer activities on the Los Angeles Disaster and Response Team following the Loma Prieta Earthquake.
“I am 31-year union dues-paying member and a past union local president of a chapter of the National Federation of Federal Employees,” Sicking Dieter noted. “In that role, as union president with the local National Federation of Federal Employees bargaining unit, I negotiated with management for a revised employee handbook. I also led the National Federation of Federal Employees election at the local level to become affiliated with the AFL-CIO and IAM unions.”
She has been a Toastmaster member for 24 years, having honed her public speaking skills in that organization. She is an active member in two Toastmaster clubs, is a conference presenter and trainer at both district and regional levels and mentor to district officers and club members. She was Toastmasters District 12 governor in 2004 and 2005, overseeing 1,500 members in San Bernardino and Riverside counties. She has also served as a Toastmasters district treasurer/finance manager, overseeing the presentation, implementation and monitoring of the district budget.
Born and raised a Catholic, she is now a congregant at Grace Lutheran Church, where she was the chairwoman of that church’s strategic planning committee.
Sicking Dieter attended and graduated from Muenster Public High School in Muenster Texas, a community where her great-grandparents were among the founders, having emigrated there from Muenster, Germany.
Sicking Dieter obtained an associate’s degree in applied science from Grayson College in 1979, which provided her with registered nurse licensing in California. She subsequently obtained a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering from Texas A&M University in 1987. She attained an environmental compliance certificate in 2003, followed by her master’s degree in environmental studies in 2006, both from California State University, Fullerton.
She is married to Ralph Olaf Dieter, a professor of economics at East Los Angeles College. “My stepson attended Upland High School and stepdaughter works as a forensic scientist,” she said.
“My core values of integrity, dedication to excellence, servant leadership, and respect for every individual are guiding lights in my life,” she said. “I am a wife, stepmother, church member, employee, friend, and proud to be a resident of Upland. If I am elected the next mayor of Upland, my education and background will enable me to advocate effectively on behalf of all city residents, with whom I believe we can build a better bridge to the future.”
In 2017 Upland’s San Antonio Regional Hospital completed a major expansion which involved an outlay of $160 million to create the four-story Vineyard Tower at 999 San Bernardino Road, an addition to the main hospital that included increasing significantly the total number of beds and intensifying the facility’s urgent medical care capability by swelling the number of stations in the hospital’s emergency room.
Prior to the construction of this major expansion of the hospital, drawings and other technical data were provided to the City of Upland’s various departments for their comments to ensure the proposed project met municipal construction and other planning requirements, such as parking. Yet, to date, no additional parking has been constructed to serve the new Vineyard Tower.
At some point, and unknown to the citizenry, the city agreed to sever and sell to the hospital for parking the southern tip of Memorial Park. This parcel represents slightly more than 12 percent of the park acreage, that is 4.631 acres of the park’s total 38.5 acres. It adjoins the existing hospital campus and includes a fully-developed baseball diamond and all of Memorial Park’s San Bernardino Road frontage. This plan was signed off on by the the city’s then-Community Development Director Jeff Zwack and then-Upland City Attorney James Markman of the Richards Watson & Gershon law firm.
Upland citizens were concerned, but they really went into a frenzy when they heard that Cabrillo Park, located two miles west of Memorial Park on 11th Street, was being seriously considered for sale and that several developers had expressed an interest in developing the property. The talk of the day was that a replacement park would be located in northwest Upland just north of the 210 Freeway on former gravel mining property. The locals didn’t go for what they considered to be an ill-conceived and limitedly discussed concept. The plan for the replacement park has been abandoned.
Scheduled to stand for reelection in 2018 was Councilman Gino Filippi, a leading advocate of the various park sale proposals. When that election took place barely six months after the city committed to the Memorial Park sale without first referring the question to the city’s residents, Filippi finished third in that contest, losing his position on the city council. The people had spoken.
As concern mounted over the attempt to downsize Memorial Park to about 33.8 acres, “Parks Are Not For Sale” signs began to appear around town. Now citizens were meeting and discussing the matter. To offset widespread resident discontent with regard to the parkland transaction that the city was contemplating, city officials, including Parks and Recreation Director Doug Story, sought to tap into a state grant program to fund park improvements. Some of the city’s residents were heartened by and smiling over the city’s submittal of an application to obtain an $8 million grant and do extensive renovation to Memorial Park. However, the city’s park improvement grant request was denied by the state because the city had already contracted to sever from the park and sell 4.631 acres of parkland to the hospital. Ultimately, Story resigned and found a position working for another municipality. The smiles were gone. Things had grown serious.
Citizens found fault with the city/hospital contract and disputed the city’s effort to validate the park sale through a filing in San Bernardino County Superior Court. The matter then fell into the hands of Superior Court Judge David Cohn.
The judge refused to validate the sale and ultimately concluded that the city’s residents had the right to initiate legal action to dispute the city’s contractual commitment to sell the parkland. This led to a further determination that the parkland sale could not be legally carried out without a vote of the city’s residents consenting to the sale. This circumstance presented a severe legal and professional challenge to then-City Attorney James Markmen. With Filippi and two other members of the city council – Councilwoman Carol Timm and Councilman Sid Robinson – having been forced off the council in the 2018 election as a direct consequence of the parkland sale controversy, the succeeding city council undertook to remove Markman as city attorney in 2019, which prompted his abrupt resignation.
Seeing the writing on the wall, the hospital’s board asked that the new city council to use its authority to put a referendum on the upcoming November 3 ballot seeking the consent of the city’s residents to approve the sale of the land to the hospital. When the city council agreed to accommodate the parkland sale measure as part of this year’s municipal election, that council action spared the hospital the necessity of conducting an exhausting and expensive signature gathering effort to qualify the measure for voter consideration. The hospital saved itself both time and money by agreeing to cover the cost of putting the measure on this year’s ballot as part of the Upland Municipal Election. In this way, Measure Q stands as the hospital’s initiative, one that furthers the hospital’s agenda rather than being an initiative in the interest of the citizens of Upland.
Following attorney Markman’s resignation, he had been replaced as city attorney by Steven Flower, one of Markman’s colleagues at the law firm of Richards Watson & Gershon.
Flower and Richards Watson & Gershon continued to support San Antonio Regional Hospital in its efforts to acquire the parkland, which included Flower’s drafting of the ballot measure, designated by the San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters as Measure Q. In doing so, Flower authored the measure in such a way that it subtly but persuasively suggested to the voters that the measure deserved to be adopted.
As the matter was moving toward the November 2020 election, many in the city came to recognize that the city, through Flower, had worded the ballot proposal in a way that was intended to prejudiciously favor the passage of the sale. During this tense time, a resident, Marjorie Benesh, objected to the city’s efforts to load the language of the ballot measure with wording in favor of the sale, and filed suit in San Bernardino County Superior Court. Again, Judge Cohn was assigned the matter.
In a panic, Upland city staff and the city council over the immediately following period of five days which included a weekend and two hastily called emergency council meetings scrambled to simultaneously reconsider the language and paradoxically formulate an argument that the language as drafted by Flower was not biased. Judge Cohn, upon considering the ballot language, concurred that the ballot initiative was unfairly rigged in favor of the sale and instructed the city to redraft the initiative in a way that would not mislead the voters. In a hurried fashion, days after the deadline for the submittal of ballot initiative language to the San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters, the city changed the language in compliance with Judge Cohn’s instructions. The redrafted Ballot Measure Q will now go before the city’s voters.
Yet, there are still ballot issues to deal with, largely because of Flower’s unwillingness or inability to think things through and represent the city’s residents. The $4,300,000 specified in Measure Q is not adequate compensation. Simply stated, the hospital should pay the city not only for the property it is acquiring but should also pay the city for damage that is being done being done to the park as a consequence of being reduced from 38.5 acres to 33.8 acres.
By virtue of the sale:
* Access to Memorial Park will be impaired and the remainder of the park will no longer have prominent San Bernardino Road frontage.
* The sale of the parkland will deprive the city and its youth leagues of an existing fully-developed baseball diamond.
* The new boundary of the remnant park will be left scared and mutilated.
* There will be a need for replacement and modification of landscaping, irrigation, curbs and roadways.
* The severing of the 4.631 acres will limit the use of the remainder of the park, and necessitate re-planning of the entirety of the park and remedial construction.
These damages are serious, numerous and costly to repair. They were caused by severing the park into two pieces.
Measure Q as it will be voted upon in November reads: “Shall the measure allowing the City of Upland to discontinue using approximately 4.63 acres of Memorial Park, thereby allowing the property potentially to be sold to San Antonio Regional Hospital for not less than $4,300,000, which, if the sale occurs, would be used solely for public improvements to other portions of Memorial Park be adopted?” That is the ballot measure’s complete language. This language eliminates any compensation for the sale of the land to the hospital beyond its sale price, and further instructs the city on how to spend the sale proceeds.
Two separate issues remain – the price of the land and the damages to the remainder. The ballot measure addresses only one of them, the sale. This is just another reason why Measure Q still has so much potential to confuse the voters and cloud the issues relating to the parkland.
There was a stampede to get the parkland sale measure on the November ballot. Flower’s efforts to accommodate Judge Cohn’s instructions occurred under a very constrained period of time. That rushed action is begetting a circumstance in which further rushing will take place.
In the meantime, having been given the opportunity to do so by the city council placing Measure Q on the November ballot, hospital officials have now embarked upon a Madison Avenue-type advertising campaign to promote their plan to solve the hospital’s parking and expansion issues through the city diverting parkland to the hospital. That promotional campaign is a highly stylized and professional effort to induce Upland’s voters to agree to facilitate the most inexpensive way for the hospital to acquire the property, consisting largely of the hospital not paying the city for the damage to the remainder of the park.
Basic questions yet attend the matter. Are the city and the hospital taking the action now under way with a full and comprehensive understanding of what the hospital’s future plans are, or are they lurching from one-self inflicted crisis toward a quick fix that will beget further difficulties down the road? And a second question is whether by severing the 4.631 acres from the existing park is the city sustaining greater damage and loss to the remainder of the park than that represented by the value assigned to the acreage the hospital is acquiring? In other words, is the $4.3 million enough to pay for the intrinsic value of the property as well as enough to pay for the damage to the remaining 33.8 acres of the park? The precise amount of damages that could be sustained has not been fully identified or quantified.
Rush upon rush, with plans hastily thrown together, what is now occurring is a repetition of the poor planning that gave rise to the current misadventure in the first place.
Moreover, the city council, which includes Mayor Debbie Stone and Councilman Bill Velto who are now seeking to remain in office, has yet to fully come to terms with the consideration that the law firm representing the city, Richards Wastson & Gershon, has twice – in approving the initial sale of the parkland and in drafting a measure to confirm that sale with biased language – demonstrated a greater commitment to the hospital than to Upland’s citizens.
All of this falls at the feet of the Upland City Council – Councilman Bill Velto, Councilman Rudy Zuniga, Councilwoman Janice Elliott and Mayor Debbie Stone. Typically, their campaign literature celebrates them as the leadership the voters have been waiting for. Their messages maintain that they can solve problems. What did they do? In the short five-day span between August 21 and August 25, from the time Benesh made her challenge and the time Judge Cohn made his finding that the language of the ballot was rigged, they dumped the issue of what is to be done with the 4.631 acres of Memorial Park into the laps of an unsuspecting electorate. Rather than use the information exclusively available to them as city officials and the wisdom and decision-making prowess they tout themselves as having, with Councilman Bill Velto leading the charge, they turned over to the city’s residents, a large number of whom have no familiarity with the park issues whatsoever, responsibility for making a decision with regard to a highly complex and convoluted matter.
The proposal for the sale has vastly changed. Originally, residents were told the 4.631 acres were to be used for parking. Now that land is slated for what the hospital’s representatives informally say will be a campus of medical buildings, for which there are no known plans. It is unclear whether any plans have ever been submitted to the city. There appears to be no rush toward identifying a future development schedule at the hospital.
Markman, who was at that time the city attorney, approved and recommended a contract for the sale of the park acreage, which was ratified by a 3-to-1 vote of the city council. Markman brought a validation action to head off any challenge to the sale and prevent future objections and litigation, assuming that no effort to oppose the validation would be made. When two separate responses to the validation action were filed, Judge Cohn ruled the validation action was an improper procedure and dismissed it on those grounds. To make matters worse, the hospital’s legal counsel approved the contract. As a matter of real estate transactional protocol, verification of whether a seller has marketable title is always of concern to the buyer. The hospital’s attorneys should have undertaken an adequate investigation to make sure the city had marketable title so the sale could be carried out. That does not appear to have happened in this case. Here, both parties, the hospital and the city, created a melange of incompetence, misleadership and mismanagement, based, perhaps, on the hospital’s attorneys’ belief that the city was above the law.
Unfortunately, at this point, city and hospital leaders do not seem to have engaged in critical analysis, nor to have drawn adequate conclusions from the episode relating to the hospital and parkland that grew out of the poor planning engaged in by city management, then-City Manager Bill Manis, then-Community Development Director Jeff Zwack, then-Parks and Recreation Director Doug Story and then-City Attorney Jim Markman, not to mention hospital management.
In March 2018, the rationale cited in the city staff report relating to the sale stated that the 4.631 acres was needed to provide a parking lot to accommodate the influx of patients as a consequence of the Vineyard Tower expansion. Now, at this juncture, hospital officials say that increasing parking is no longer a consideration, and that “the primary focus” for the land acquisition “is the necessary growth of San Antonio Regional Hospital to meet the healthcare needs of this community.” This implies that the hospital is contemplating in the relatively near term further expansion. At this time nothing has been presented to the city to indicate that any such expansion is on the horizon. Moreover, in 2011, when the hospital was preparing to embark on the now-completed expansion, Moody’s Financial Service had given the hospital a bond credit rating of AAA, a top-of-the-line ranking. In 2013 Moody’s revised the hospital’s credit rating to AA. In 2014, the hospital’s credit rating dipped to A. By 2016, the rating stood at BBB. In 2018, the rating had declined to BB, and in 2019 had scaled down to B, which is one grade above junk bonds. As of June of this year, the rating yet stands at B. The reasons Moody’s gave for the downrating that occurred subsequent to 2017 was that the hospital had overexpanded itself with facilities that outran its patient demand, that the hospital’s infection rates were climbing and that its Medicare reimbursement percentages were dropping.
All of these factors are strong indicators that the hospital does not have access to sufficient capital to engage in any further yet-to-be-fully-envisioned-and-determined expansion, at least in the near or middle term. Indications are, rather, that the hospital is now engaged in land banking to obtain and hold onto property that at some indefinite point in the future will be useful.
It would thus appear that the acquisition of the 4.631 acres that is at stake in the Measure Q vote is an effort by the hospital to land bank for some future and yet-to-be-fully-envisioned-and-determined expansion. The hospital is engaging in this acquisition as a preamble to some unidentified construction project in the future, and wants to grab land now while it can do so at a bargain basement price. Many Upland residents find it baffling that city staff and the city council appear to be willing to accommodate the hospital in this acquisition at the expense of the residents of the city who value the parkland as a precious recreational use.
If sold, our parks are a cash cow for a financially-challenged city. Once any parkland is sold, that sale is irrevocable. And while it may be represented that the money received by the city in exchange for that property is to be committed for park improvements or the purchase of other parkland to replace it, the reality is that once public memory of what has occurred fades, city officials are free to divert the proceeds from the parkland sale to other uses, such as defraying the cost of escalating city pensions.
An example of this exists in the not-too-distant past, when former Mayor John Pomierski engineered the sale of approximately 20 acres of parkland on the north side of 18th Street between Pioneer Junior High School on the east and the Chaffey Communities Cultural Center on the west. The proceeds from that sale disappeared into the dark hole of city finances and no substituting park was ever created. More recently, citizen resistance saved Cabrillo Park from a similar fate.
In conclusion, it is obvious the city council has failed to utilize the skills and talents that its members tout themselves as possessing. At this point, city staff has essentially absented itself. Well-meaning attorneys in the presence of Judge Cohn have attempted to clarify the matter. The language of Measure Q as it has now been redrafted falls short of informing voters of what its actual implication is, which entails the city going along with the hospital’s open-ended and unclear future intentions. The hospital has not given any firm date with respect to a future expansion schedule, nor what that expansion will entail. Neither is economic financing available for such an undertaking by an institution with a credit rating that classifies any financing instruments it might issue at one level above junk bonds. If Measure Q passes, the city will have incurred a portion of the burden of defraying the cost of meeting the hospital’s future construction requirements. This will be done by means of a low land acquisition cost up front, what is essentially city taxpayers’ subsidization of the hospital.
It is unconscionable to think that the hospital management and lawyers are suggesting that the money to purchase the park be used to solve and pay for the damages to the remainder of the park left over after the 4.631 acres has been torn from the main body of the park. Hospital management and city staff have done a poor job in assessing the true costs and impacts of depriving the city of parkland that has been in existence for 81 years. Instead, the hospital is embarking on a wholesale land grab, all to the detriment of Upland’s citizens.
The city’s failure to adequately plan for development and expansion had been demonstrated two decades ago. When the city failed to make clear ahead of time what the lines of responsibility were for flood control infrastructure at the Colonies project in the northeast quadrant of the city, that debacle cost the county’s and city’s taxpayers $102 million.
The Sentinel Recommends That Upland’s Residents Vote No On Measure Q.
“Our city must get its financial house in order,” Greg Bradley said in explaining what is prompting him to seek the treasurer’s position in this year’s Upland Municipal Election.
Over the last couple of years and then peaking with the recent resignation of City Treasurer Larry Kinley, just how critical the financial situation has grown in the City of Gracious Living gradually became clearer to Bradley and a closely-knit group of residents and local business owners of which he is a part, Bradley said. The seriousness of the matter led to a determination among them that something had to be done about it.
Previously, Bradley said, he and others had been confident that the city’s finances were being competently minded by Kinley, a former vice president with the Bank of America who had overseen that bank’s problem loans division. Kinley was elected Upland treasurer in 2016. But alarmingly, when Kinley became concerned over the city’s runaway pension debt which had reached somewhere approaching $100 million around the time Kinley took office and had climbed to $121 million by the close of the 2019-20 fiscal year in June, other city officials undercut the treasurer and his function as Kinley crusaded to fix the problem as he saw it. Kinley had sought to directly address the pension cost escalation issue by informing the city’s residents about its implication, which includes the consideration that, given the current trajectory of city finances and the growth in Upland’s pension obligation, by 2028 the city will be paying its retired former employees more annually than it will be paying its working employees, requiring a serious downscaling in the municipal services the city will be able to provide to its residents. Rather than embrace Kinley’s call for reform, the city council and former city managers Marty Thouvenell, Bill Manis and Jeannette Vagnozzi and current City Manager Rosemary Hoerning denied him a place at the public meeting dais and then censored his efforts to make reference to the unfunded pension liability in the city’s monthly treasurer’s report. All four of those city managers stood to reap substantial pensions upon retirement, in most cases approaching or exceeding one of $200,000 per year. To Kinley, this was a conflict of interest on their part that he could not overcome. Ultimately frustrated at the way in which he was being thwarted by city officials who were more interested in ensuring that city employees continued to receive their lucrative pensions than seeing that adequate means existed to cover the cost of providing city services, Kinley earlier this year resigned, leaving the city without a treasurer.
Though Bradley is aware of what befell Kinley, he is not daunted by it.
“I’ve been distantly aware of issues at Upland City Hall and the growing financial crisis for some time,” Bradley said. “Due to some of my family members’ health issues, for more than a decade I was too busy to pay much attention to the city’s problems. As I was able to refocus on the city’s financial issues more recently, I realized things had declined even further. I am not a politician, so I looked for ways to help. When Larry Kinley resigned, this came to a head. Many other people and I were all putting our heads together to try to find a qualified candidate and support him or her. Finally they all started pointing at me and I realized I was ‘it.’”
In sizing up what he thinks he might be able to accomplish as treasurer, Bradley said, “Upland has traditionally provided a narrow range of duties for the treasurer. Those duties were further limited when Larry Kinley tried to warn of imminent disaster. If I am elected and the new city council and city manager continue that limitation, I will have a tough time doing much, but I will do what I can. I will have a title that may allow my warnings of financial conditions to be taken more seriously and I may be able to help with information. If the duties are restored, I will be able to do more. If the duties are expanded to match those of the treasurer in some other cities, I will be able to do even more, still.”
In considering what his qualifications are and what distinguishes him from Stephen Dunn and Darwin Cruz, the two others seeking the treasurer’s position in Upland, Bradley said he is capable of intense focus on making a company, collective or institution function within the confines of its financial means and conducting itself responsibly based upon its fiscal reach.
“I am a total nerd in basic personality, but have started to become more vocal in my old age due to becoming irritated with the condition of my beloved city,” he said. “I was the 10-year-old kid reading encyclopedias from cover to cover. I skipped grades and went to one of the best prep schools in the country. I was the youngest nerd in a school full of nerds from all over the world. I learned to deal with lots of people who were very different from me. I was in college at 15. I was accepted to several of the best universities, but went to Cal Poly so I could work in my business ventures while attending. While others were out partying, I figured out ways to make money and bought a house and a new Jaguar at 19 that I still own. I was partially retired at 30 and spent the 1980s with a nice house on 20th Street but spent winters skiing at my house in Park City and summers at my house on Admiralty Island. I’m not a plodder who’s main asset is the other people in public office who were his buddies in community college. I believe in producing something and getting things done. I have a wide variety of friends in various fields whom we refer to as our brain trust. I have experience in building businesses and recovering businesses that many consider beyond saving.”
Bradley enumerated what he considered to be the major financial issues facing the city.
“The California Public Employees Retirement System needs to have a plan on how to deal with its unfunded actuarial pension liability,” he said. “The city has already started investigating the details of issuing pension bonds, which is great. The city will likely want to make a decision on if we should move forward on that. We will then have more current information on the financial environment that may be heavily affected by the results of the national election.”
Bradley said, “We need to stop digging a bigger hole on the California Public Employees Retirement System’s unfunded actuarial pension liability.”
He said, “We need to work on ways to bring more money into the city and minimize any downsides from those actions.”
In addition, he said, “We need to improve the efficiency of certain operations in order to use the money available from the savings we can realize by doing that.”
He observed, “There is much deferred maintenance on infrastructure. We need to start working on that. We need to prioritize District 3 and District 4, as they have been lower on the priority list and deserve to be on the top for a while.”
Bradley said he was acutely aware of what the lines of authority are at City Hall and that the treasurer does not have a vote with regard to policy as does the city council, but is rather a watchdog over the city’s financial affairs. He said it was therefore unrealistic for the treasurer to attempt to dictate policy, but that if elected he would instead seek to influence the council by offering quiet counsel that is well considered and thought through and based upon confirmed facts.
“If someone tries to convince me I should listen to him, I become suspicious of his motivation,” Bradley said. “Salesmen sell. I work quietly and let people learn that my statements are carefully considered and worth hearing. My consulting business has had an unlisted phone number for 30 years. I do not make quick statements and hope to be right more often than wrong. Any recommendations I make would need to be considered carefully. I won’t gamble with my city and hope for the best. We have far too many politicians who just say something they think will be popular and hope to be right or bury it in the next news cycle. We are going to have to make some tough choices to make it through the next few years and we need to make sure the public understands the full reality in order to make the best choice.”
The city is facing an unforgiving financial reality, Bradley said, and is in need of someone with the fiscal discipline to see it through these tough times.
“We have some work to do to make things better,” Bradley said. “The city has tried to further limit the duties of the treasurer, which are already far more limited than most people realize. Once those limitations are determined, I will be the one who collects facts and opinions, adds my own, and presents a recommendation. If Upland is to remain solvent and maintain a basic level of services including public safety, infrastructure upgrades, and community services, the city must find new revenue streams. Since the city generates revenue through fees, property taxes, and sales tax, the logical and most equitable course of action is to place a sales tax increase on the next ballot for the voters. However, before this happens, the city must undertake a sincere effort to educate the community on why the sales tax increase is needed and how it will be used by the city to support services. The residents must have reassurance and trust that the city will use the sales tax revenue to enhance city services and not to pay unfunded pension obligations.”
In speaking to her intention in running for First District Councilwoman in Upland this year, Shannan Maust said, “I believe I have the experience and vision necessary to ensure that as Upland changes and grows, it remains an inclusive and vibrant community where everyone can be put in a position to succeed and thrive.”
This November’s election will be the first-time an election is held to select a representative in Upland’s District 1 following the city’s switch to by-district voting in 2018, after a 112-year tradition of electing its city councilmembers in at-large elections. Two years ago, the city held contests for District 2, which blankets the northeast portion of the city; District 3, which covers the southwest corner of the city; and District 4, which overlays the Upland’s southeast quadrant. This year, the mayor’s position is up for election, and the voters in the city’s northwest sector, designated as District 1, will be choosing their council member. Vying against Maust for that honor is David Hazelton.
“This year, Upland will have the opportunity to elect its very first District 1 City Councilmember,” Maust said. “I am asking for the votes I need to be our community’s voice and representative on the Upland City Council. As a life-long resident, I know that Upland is a great city to live in, raise a family, own a business, enjoy retirement and a place anyone would be proud to call home.”
Maust said, “District 1 residents desire a variety of shopping options and experiences that are lacking in our city. I also see significant challenges coming our way from revenue loss due to the pandemic. I will work on bringing economic development and tax generating business to Upland to offset the financial loss.”
She is qualified to hold the position of city councilwoman, Maust said, through her experience in the private sector.
“Prior to becoming a business owner with my husband, I was employed at Nordstrom for 23 years,” she said. “My career in sales, customer service and public relations has provided me with skills and insights that I believe would be useful at the council dais, in serving the public, and in dealing with our neighboring municipalities. Over the years at Nordstrom I was tasked with challenges requiring creative solutions and problem-solving, and at the time of my retirement, I directed training programs. While I understand city government operates differently from the private sector, providing a positive customer service experience is the shared denominator. This basic foundation is a tool I intend to utilize in my role as a city council member. One of my responsibilities included managing several million dollars in retail accounts as an account executive. I interfaced with many employees, conducted selling quotas, executed events, designed programs, trained employees on workplace efficiency and managed multiple stores’ schedules. My priorities also included balancing and satisfying the needs of both retailers and vendors.”
She contrasts favorably with Hazelton, Maust said.
“Though I have not met or ever spoken with my opponent, I believe that experience is one of many distinctions between us,” she said. “I am a wife, a mother, a business owner, a community volunteer, and an active participate in community affairs. I have a comprehensive understanding of the numerous challenges our city is facing and a vision to help navigate through those challenges.”
She offered her view that “Upland’s success is determined by our residents, businesses, and city leaders all working together for the betterment of our community. I believe effective municipal government must begin with institutional policies designed to promote transparency, foster community participation and awareness, and deliver services for residents with quality customer service. My professional career with Nordstrom instilled in me a deep respect and appreciation for quality customer service. I intend to collaborate with residents and city staff to develop and implement a ‘resident first policy’ aimed at improving the overall customer service level experienced by Upland residents when interacting with the various city departments.
“I believe that taking on a leadership role requires an individual to lead by example,” Maust continued. “I will make myself accessible to the residents I represent. As your city councilmember, I believe it is my fiduciary responsibility to listen to the ideas, concerns, and opinions of all residents and not just the voters in District 1. If as a resident, you need to reach out to me, I will get back to you. I know how frustrating navigating government institutions can often be. I will always do my best to facilitate and navigate your comments or concerns through the proper channels at City Hall in order to best address the matter. I believe if residents need to contact City Hall or contact their city councilmember, their experience should always be professional, courteous, and respectful.”
She has demonstrated her commitment to Upland, Maust said.
“I have spent many years volunteering in Upland,” she said. “I treasure every experience and opportunity with one goal in mind; bringing people together and improving the quality of life in our community. My experiences have allowed me to see the best of what Upland has to offer and a front seat view of the incredible potential for our community. Improving and protecting Upland’s fiscal future will require out-of-the-box thinking. Upland needs dedicated leadership from its elected city leaders with the skill set, knowledge, and courage to make tough decisions, while also affording residents opportunities and access to participate in planning and goal-setting endeavors for Upland.”
In sizing up the major issues facing the city, Maust said, “Our city has always struggled to increase revenue and offset increasing expenditures while remaining a bedroom community. The Upland Police Department is underfunded, causing our officers to seek employment at other municipal police departments which offer higher pay. Underfunding also creates challenges for recruiting new police officers to come and serve the Upland community. Unfortunately, with the current pandemic, several factors are yet to be determined regarding our already challenged general fund. The expansion of development without the ability to provide first responder and public works services to the increased population is an issue. The California Public Employee Retirement System’s unfunded liability has placed our city on the financial ‘at risk’ list, like many other cities. It is a continuous issue to watch.”
To overcome those challenges, Maust said the city should “increase revenues to properly fund and staff the Upland Police Department and other city staff departments, focus on building an economic development department and marketing the city to attract new viable tax generating businesses, continue building relationships with our current businesses and streamline the planning process for new businesses in-house, making it easier to conduct business in Upland. The economic development department would help facilitate workshops for new businesses being established in the city.”
Furthermore, Maust said, “We should regroup with our directors, mainly the public works department, on service priorities and protocols. We need to generate a monthly report of accomplishments in our city for the residents to view progress. The California Public Employees Retirement System should be a topic of continuous conversation with regard to options for satisfying our commitment to current and past employees in terms of their pensions, and we should build relationships with other cities for further options or ideas.”
Maust said City Hall should champion rejuvenating the city’s commercial base. “I believe we can increase the visibility of and buy in on the Shop Upland campaign,” she said. “We need to educate residents that when internet shopping increases, the city’s sales tax revenue decreases. We would be well-advised to promote the necessity of shopping local.”
In coming to terms with the city’s stagnating financial condition, Maust said, “Realistically the city leadership will need to prioritize with the residents on services provided. Without a known influx of revenue, the city will not be able to expand on any program or increased needs of the city. The council will need to communicate effectively to our residents our situation as it unfolds from the loss of revenue.
“I will be a trustworthy steward of public funds, improving programs while respecting budget limitations,” Maust continued. “I will protect infrastructure investments by planning ahead for future maintenance projects. We need our council to work together with the public, openly and enthusiastically. As a lifelong resident, a graduate of Upland High School, a small business owner, and longtime community volunteer and advocate, I have the relationships and history of working with the community to make this happen.”
Maust said she advocated “redeveloping the city website to be more user friendly and serve as a community resource for residents, developing a ‘resident first policy’ designed to empower city staff to create a positive customer service experience when engaging with residents, and promoting resident participation and develoing new avenues to increase communication and outreach with the public.”
She possesses previous experience relating to government, Maust said.
“My recent experience includes being a member of the city council advisory committee for the past two years,” she said. “This committee researched and advised the council on multiple items. This opportunity has permitted me to have interaction, insight and a close view on how government operates. Over the past 3 years, I have attended every committee meeting, read agendas and packets for city council meetings and I am now or was involved in other areas of volunteerism in the city, including as an Upland Police Department Business Watch volunteer, a member of the Shop Upland Committee, a member of the Say No to Panhandling Committee and the Cooper Museum Christmas Parade Committee. I was the fundraising vice president of the Upland High School Choir Board, a member of the Upland High School Theatre Booster Board, a participant in the Southern California MCC Conference for Hunger Relief, a member of the Parent Teacher Association and I was the administrator of the Eat Upland Facebook Page. I have also been a Neighborhood Watch Captain from 2010 to the present, and received my certificate in 2017 as a graduate of the Upland Police Department Citizens Academy.
Proudly, Maust said, “I am a lifelong resident of Upland, 51 years. I attended Upland public schools, graduating from Upland High School in 1986.”
Additionally, she said, “I graduated Cal State University, San Bernardino in 1994 with a degree in business management.”
Maust said, “My husband Mark and I have been married for 24 years. We have two daughters who attended Upland schools. Both children have enjoyed being involved in numerous activities at school. Our oldest daughter graduated from California State University, Fullerton in 2020 and our youngest daughter will graduate from Upland High School in 2022. My husband and I own an investigations business and our office is in Upland.”
Maust said, “I have watched Upland grow from being a spacious, tight knit community with strong homeowner pride and a wonderful hometown feel to the Upland we see today. Every city faces unique challenges. However, how a community and its elected leaders rise up to respond and overcome those challenges are what defines the very essence of a community. I am running for city council so I may be part of the discussion and decision-making that will direct the future of our city. Upland has many unique strengths and positive qualities which continue to draw future residents from throughout Southern California. I wish to continue that tradition by working together with all stakeholders to enhance those unique qualities that make Upland our home.”
Maust said, “As a wife, mother of two daughters, homeowner, and community volunteer, I am invested in the future success of Upland. If elected, I will continue to be a dedicated advocate for our community. I will support ideas and programs that bring services and people together with the goal of improving the quality of life in our community. Decisions from our policymakers must always reflect the values of residents they represent, free from the false claims, misinformation, distortions, and conflicts of interest of outside elements.
“If elected, I will advocate for enhancing public safety by supporting our Upland Police Department, enhancing a continued high level of safety for residents through retaining and recruiting quality police officers and proactive policing and timely response to calls for service,” she continued. “I endorse fiscal viability and accountability, pension reform with sustainable goals, undertaking a review of existing systems with an eye on making operations more efficient and reducing cost. I will evaluate what will be needed to align for our residents’ service needs with making sure the city prioritizes and works in an efficient manner. I will increase transparency and visibility for contract bidding. I pledge to strengthen our local businesses, which will help to support our local economy, provide jobs, and increase sales tax revenue while generating new revenue generating opportunities. I will market Upland to attract companies and business opportunities and support policies that increase sales tax revenue.”
Three months after a controversial move by Upland’s mayor and city manager to abruptly suspend Police Chief Darren Goodman followed by his equally sudden reinstatement, Upland City Council Candidate Carlos Garcia offered his perspective on the performance of the department under Goodman’s watch.
In doing so, Garcia sounded a note of caution to the council, pointing out that city officials need to carefully consider the full implication of their actions. He said the council should not seek to transfer blame for difficulties in the city’s ongoing operations to an overburdened staff which has been saddled with overwhelming assignments exacerbated by financial challenges that are the outgrowth of mismanagement at the top of the municipal organization as well as misdirection by the council itself.
Garcia indicated that he considers efficient and equitable law enforcement operations to be a key component of Upland living up to its reputation as The City of Gracious Living. It is his opinion that Police Chief Goodman embodies the requisite qualities and the nuanced appreciation of the Upland community to allow the police department to calibrate its operations and responses to the city’s varied needs and the demands of the wide range and character of its neighborhoods.
Garcia said he was concerned that the cavalier treatment of Goodman that occurred earlier this year had the potential of depriving the city of someone he said arguably represented the city’s premier human resource.
The precise reason why the city manager abruptly placed Goodman on paid leave of absence has never been fully explained officially. The rapidity with which the police chief was returned to his assignment overseeing the department – within seven days – and the firestorm of protest his brief departure provoked was a demonstration that the action, which was effectuated without the full backing of the city council, had not been fully thought through. Moreover, revelations that leaked out in the midst of Goodman’s suspension suggested City Manager Rosemary Hoerning, with the consent of Mayor Debbie Stone, had proceeded with placing Goodman on leave based on incomplete information.
What is known is that on Friday, June 19, a specially-called meeting of the city council, one hastily convened on the basis of what was said to be an emergency that dispensed with the normal 72-hour notification provided in advance of governmental board meetings, was held. At that meeting, the council discussed the potential of the city being sued by a member or members of the police department.
Less than a month earlier, on May 31, Third District Councilman Ricky Felix’s resignation tendered on May 11 had become effective. Thus, the council that met on June 19 stood at four-fifths strength, consisting of Mayor Stone, Second District Councilwoman Janice Elliott, Fourth District Councilman Rudy Zuniga and Councilman Bill Velto, who had been appointed into what was the council’s last remaining at-large council seat. The Sentinel is reliably informed that no discussion of, nor consensus to effectuating, a suspension or firing of Goodman was arrived at during the June 19 closed door meeting. Velto was lukewarm on the idea and both Zuniga and Elliott were less than sold on the necessity of any precipitate action.
What is unclear is whether Hoerning explained during the course of that meeting that the grounds she felt justified Goodman’s placement on leave was an accusation leveled at Goodman by Luz Barrett, a police department clerical worker who had temporarily been elevated by Goodman shortly after he became police chief to serve as his executive assistant. Barrett charged that Goodman had availed himself of her services as a translator in dealing with his Spanish-speaking housekeeper, what Barrett had represented as being a misappropriation of department resources. It was Goodman’s contention that he had compensated Barrett for her translation assistance. Just prior to Barrett unleashing the accusation at Goodman, he had acted to return her to her former position, based on his judgment that Barrett’s function as executive assistant was below the standard needed in the position.
In lodging her accusation against Goodman, Barrett contended that she had, at Goodman’s behest, forged a timecard to obtain city payment for her translation work for Goodman. An examination of the timecard, however, demonstrated that it did not bear Goodman’s hand signature but rather a stamp of his autograph, not his physical signature, which is contrary to Goodman’s established policy of actually signing with a pen the timesheets he personally reviews. Thus, the prevailing evidence is that Barrett never submitted the timesheet to Goodman and instead added his stamped signature to forge the timecard on her own initiative before forwarding it to the city’s payroll division. Neither Hoerning nor Stone informed the other three members of the city council that Barrett had forged the timecard in her effort to implicate Goodman.
The Sentinel was told that Hoerning has developed some level of resentment toward Goodman, potentially because her $230,000 annual salary before benefits is less than the roughly $250,000 the city council earlier this year indicated it was prepared to pay Goodman to stay in place as police chief beyond this year to prevent him from jumping ship to take the assistant police chief’s position that has reportedly been offered to him in Riverside. Goodman’s academic credentials exceed those of Hoerning, as he holds a PhD from USC’s Rossier School of Education.
Three days after the June 19 closed-door meeting of the council, on Monday, June 22, Hoerning acting solely with the authority of the mayor’s backing and without the backing of the remainder of the city council, suspended Goodman. When informed late that morning about the suspension of the police chief, Councilman Zuniga said he had not been informed in advance that it was going to take place. He said neither he nor the council voting together had authorized the suspension.
On June 29, after the city had attempted but failed to prevent the widespread public surfacing of information relating to Barrett’s accusations against Goodman forming the grounds for the police chief’s suspension, Hoerning at the direction of Zuniga, Elliott and Velto reinstated Goodman.
Carlos Garcia is running in a specially-scheduled election in the Third District, which is located in the city’s southwestern quadrant, to fill the gap on the council created as a consequence of Ricky Felix’s resignation. The winner of that race, which also involves candidates Gino Filippi, Tauvaga Hoching and Lamonta Amos, will serve as Third District councilman for the two-year-period between December 2020 and December 2022.
Garcia said, “As a candidate running for office, the first item on my platform is public safety. I am grateful to the women and men of our Upland Police Department for their great sacrifice in keeping our community safe.”
Garcia indicated he would have been a strong voice against the effort to discredit Goodman that took place in June if he had been a member of the council.
“I am a big supporter of exemplary leadership, and Chief Goodman sets that example,” Garcia said. “As a city, we are very blessed to have such a great individual leading our police department. During the short amount of time Chief Goodman has been here, I have seen him work hard to undertake a number of enhancements to the department’s operations and the safety of Upland in general. He has improved efficiency; doing more than any other chief has done with less by operating with frozen positions two consecutive years. He has established creative deployment of reduced resources through developing proactive enforcement teams to address serious crime and quality of life issues. Unfortunately, those teams are now being disbanded due to cuts the city made and staffing shortages. The chief has increased training and executive development. He has advanced investigations, emphasized de-escalation during confrontational department operations and improved tactical proficiency. He has also restructured the city’s homeless coordinator position and achieved improved homeless outreach. The improved program utilizes someone with expertise in homelessness, and who works collaboratively with the police department, behavioral health, and other support services. Chief Goodman has improved public engagement and transparency. Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, he held quarterly community forums in each district; coffee with a cop events; open houses; and had a heavy social media presence. Chief Goodman has produced results, having reduced the homeless count two consecutive years; lowered crime; improved morale; and increased community confidence in policing.”
Charles Morton, 39, the leader of the Big Bear Interagency Hotshot Squad, was killed September 17 while battling the El Dorado Fire, which from its inception on September 5 has ranged over 22,588 acres in the foothills and mountains above Yuciapa.
At the time of his death, Morton was working with his crew near Pinezanita, which is northeast of Angelus Oaks, at a spot along the periphery of where the central portion of the fire had migrated.
So-called hotshot crews have been in existence since the 1940s in California, where they were first used in the Cleveland and Angeles National Forests. They are highly mobile and specially skilled hand crews intended to be flexible with the migration of a fire, and are trained, conditioned, equipped and qualified to be utilized in combating wildland fires. Hotshots are often employed in using shovels and other tools in seeking to reroute the direction of a fire’s progression, often on very difficult terrain at locations remote from the main body of firefighters in a given area. In many of those cases, hotshot crews function without water or hoses. Morton was particularly accomplished and proud of his firefighting capability under such demanding conditions.
The U.S. Forest Service has been less than fully forthcoming in providing details with regard to Morton’s death, which occurred, an analysis of available information unearthed by the Sentinel, at sometime around 10 p.m. in the evening of September 17. There was word that a firefighter had died in the line of duty over the weekend of September 19 and 20, but no identity of the fallen fire line employee was provided at that time. Morton was identified in a statement put out by the San Bernardino National Forest’s office of administration on Monday night, September 21. The Forest Service statement said that Morton had died while “engaged in fire suppression operations” late Thursday.
Accompanying that statement was a quote from U.S. Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen. “Charlie was a well-respected leader who was always there for his squad and his crew at the toughest times,” Christiansen said. “Our hearts go out to Charlie’s loved ones, coworkers, friends and the Big Bear Hotshots. We will keep them in our thoughts and prayers.”
The Sentinel has obtained the firefighter fatality notice put out by the Forest Service in reference to Morton. According to that document, death overcame Morton as he was in an “advance hose lines/fire attack” on “September 17, 2020 22:00.”
Of the modicum of biographical detail relating to Morton that the Sentinel has been able to assemble, he comes across as a rugged individual who rushed to meet the challenges of life, doing so in an environment that makes the path he cut all the more impressive because of its proximity to death.
Morton was born on August 7, 1981, in San Diego. He graduated from Ocean Shores High in Oceanside in 1998. At the age of 21, he committed to a career in firefighting, eschewing the staid assignments of a firehouse in an urban environment for the more intensive and challenging work of combating wildland fires.
His first primary job in the field was as a corpsman with the California Conservation Corps at the Butte Fire Center in Magalia in 2002. A notable experience he had relatively early in his career was that of the firestorms that beset Chico during the 2006 fire season. That same year, his 4-year Forest Service career began when he became a member of the Truckee Interagency Hotshots on the Tahoe National Forest. Morton then moved south to join the San Bernardino National Forest in 2007. He worked on both the Front Country and Mountaintop Ranger Districts, for the Mill Creek Interagency Hotshots, Engine 31, Engine 19, and the Big Bear Interagency Hotshots.
It was with the Big Bear Interagency Hotshots that be acceded to the position of a crew leader, burnishing his reputation as an intrepid lion among a den of paladins unwilling to give in to fear.
Tributes were paid to him earlier today, September 25, at the Rock Church in San Bernardino where a memorial service was held in his honor. Following the posting of colors, an agency dispatcher initiated a “last call” to Morton, imploring him to report to duty. When he did not respond, a second call was made. Morton’s second silence was then received as a recognition that his end of watch has been reached. Thereafter followed the Hotshot Prayer and a knelling of bells.
Most of the last month of Morton’s abbreviated life was spent on continuous duty. Prior to taking on the task of battling the El Dorado Fire, Morton had been leading the Big Bear Hotshot team in the effort to arrest the Apple Fire that had begun south of Oak Glen and migrated toward Beaumont, Banning and Cherry Valley in Riverside County.
The El Dorado conflagration began at 10:23 am on September 5, 2020, in the El Dorado Ranch Park in Yucaipa, when an as-yet-unidentified couple held a gender reveal party which featured a smoke generating pyrotechnic device, intended to emit blue or pink smoke. The device sparked the fire, which thereafter raged out of control.
Toni Atkins, president pro tempore of the California Senate said, “San Diego, and the state, lost a true hero last week.”
The U.S. Hotshots Association’s tribute to Morton told him to “Rest easy brother. May the wind be at your back.”