By Mark Gutglueck
In multiple communities around San Bernardino County this election season, as has been typical in previous ones, political races have been marred by both mudslinging and a lack of civility, to say nothing of underhanded tactics and skulduggery.
Those tactics include outright false representations and the presentation of half-truths and quarter-truths, proxy attacks, both false and unauthorized impersonations, and the destruction and/or theft of the opposition’s signs and electioneering material.
In Needles, at the county’s extreme eastern end, the signs of various city council candidates are being defaced, displaced, removed and stolen.
In Adelanto, the campaign team associated with city council candidate and Planning Commissioner Daniel Ramos has been spotted knocking down campaign signs posted by other city council candidates.
In the county seat, incumbent San Bernardino County Councilman Jim Mulvihill is locked in a run-off election against Damon Alexander after the two captured second and first place, respectively, in a race involving five candidates in the March 3 California Primary race.
Within the last fortnight, hit pieces of questionable provenance assailing Mulvihill have been landing in the mailboxes of the voters in San Bernardino’s Seventh Ward whose past voting history indicates they are most likely to vote in this year’s election. According to that mailer, Mulvihill “violated the law” and engaged in “corrupt behavior.”
Without attribution to any specific individual, the mailer offers a quote “He should resign!”
With reference to the accusation that Mulvihill violated the law, the mailer offers a scant reference to how “Mulvihill [was] caught illegally lobbying on council votes.” The basis for that is a faux letterhead from the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office which cites a quote of unknown origin, “we have determined that a violation of the Brown Act occurred.” There is no further delineation of the allegation other than a date October 1, 2020. There was no meeting of the San Bernardino City Council on October 1, 2020.
The so-called corrupt behavior referenced in the hit piece is laid out in the form of a question, “Selling his vote for pot shop campaign $$?”
The terse allegation/question states, “On August 12, Councilman Mulvihill received a $3,000 campaign contribution from pot shop owner Merv Simchowitz… The very next city council meeting Mulvihill voted to give Simchowitz’s pot shop special treatment by the city.”
Indeed, on August 12, 2020, Simchowitz, the chief investment officer of Anglo American Financial Investments Inc. of Newport Bach made a $3,000 contribution to Mulvihill’s campaign. On September 19, Mulvihill, along with the remainder of the city council, considered what is called a “second reading,” that is a confirming vote of a vote previously taken on August 5, 2020, passing an ordinance amendment to allow up to 11 retail and/or combined commercial cannabis cultivation, operation, or retail activities for commercial purposes, known as microbusinesses, to set up within the city, and allow for an unlimited number of permits in other cannabis business categories approved by the city council in accordance with previous guidelines in the San Bernardino Municipal Code. The vote was not specific to Simchowitz or any cannabis operation he may have an interest in. The action taken did not involve Mulvihill exclusively, but rather action that was taken by the entire city council. His was one of seven votes relating to the ordinance.
The hit piece fails to mention that Alexander, a former special agent with the U.S. Department of Justice, received money from Mark Estermeyer, the owner/operator of AM-PM MGMT., which does business as Cold Creek Organics, a marijuana cultivator and retailer. The federal government yet considers marijuana and cannabis to be illegal narcotics, despite their having been legalized for medical and recreational use in California. An attorney, Ben Eilenberg, in court papers has alleged that Estermeyer, AM-PM MGMT and Cold Creek Organics have provided inducements to city officials that are tantamount to bribes. That is not mentioned in the mailer, either.
The mailer further stated that “Mulvihill’s actions have cost city taxpayers millions of dollars in lawsuit payouts.”
The mailer gives no specific breakdown with regard to what actions Mulvihill took that resulted in the lawsuit payouts. In all cases, the lawsuits the city was involved in were filed against the city as an entity, with some, though not all, naming the mayor and city council.
The hit piece stated it was “not authorized by a candidate or a committee controlled by a candidate,” implying that Alexander and his campaign were not involved in the mailing.
The mailer is credited with having come from Californians For A Better Future, headquartered at 9070 Irvine Center Drive #150 Irvine, CA 92618, which is the business office of JenEve Slater, who is listed as the treasurer for Californians For A Better Future.
Slater is also the principal in the Campaign Compliance Group, which bills itself as an entity which “assists a wide range of clients, including candidates, political action committees, and major donors in complying with complex campaign reporting requirements under federal, state, and local laws. We provide a combination of daily bookkeeping services and campaign reporting services to ensure compliance with the Fair Political Practices Commission and the Federal Election Commission. We have substantial experience with the laws and regularly advise our clients on the ever changing rules and regulations.”
The Campaign Compliance Group is likewise headquartered out of Slater’s address at 9070 Irvine Center Drive #150 in Irvine.
JenEve Slater and Campaign Compliance Group have previously found the integrity of their services under question, when candidates, such as Assemblyman Bill Brough, who makes $1,250 monthly disbursements to Campaign Compliance Group to ensure that he remains in compliance with the laws relating to the use of his campaign funds, made illegal use of electioneering funds, spending the money on non-campaign related activity.
Hesperia, which was founded as a municipal entity in 1988, for the first three decades of its existence held at-large elections. That changed in 2018, when the city switched to by-district voting. This year’s city council races, in the newly formed District 1 and District 5, feature, respectively, incumbents Rebekah Swanson and Larry Bird. Swanson is up against former Councilman Mike Leonard and Anthony Rhoades, the former chairman of the Hesperia Public Safety Commission. To remain in office, Bird must turn back a challenge by Hesperia Unified School District Board Member Mark Dundon.
The races have been marked by constant theft and destruction of political signs, as well as hit pieces of dubitable provenance and accuracy circulating throughout the community.
While Hesperia exists as a strongly Republican jurisdiction, a dividing line in the community consists of the attitude with regard to development. In 2018, Republican Party operative Jeremiah Brososwke was appointed by a 3-to-1 vote of the city council, with Bird dissenting, to replace the late Mayor Russ Blewett, who had died in office in May of that year. Councilmembers Swanson, Bill Holland and Paul Russ supported Brosowske’s appointment. Brosowske had a reputation for utilizing political contributions to the Republican Party from deep-pocketed donors, in particular those in the development community, to support Republican candidates for local elected office in his capacity as both the executive director of the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee, a position he previously held for nearly three years, and as a political consultant and campaign manager. After his appointment to the city council, Brosowske successfully vied for election to the council in the 2018 election in the city’s newly-formed District 4, besting the only other candidate in the race, Brigit Bennington. Simultaneously, Holland, considered to be like Brosowske strongly pro-development, was retained on the council, elected to represent the just-created District 2, while the equally pro-development Russ was defeated by then-28-year-old Cameron Gregg, the older brother of Cody Gregg, who had been elected as the youngest member ever of the Hesperia School District Board of Trustees when he was elected at the age of 21 in 2012, and the son of Hesperia Recreation and Parks District Board member Kelly Gregg.
The election of Cameron Gregg to the city council had an at-first subtle and then later a profound effect on the city in that he advocated against further development in the city until its historic infrastructure deficit issues were redressed. Meanwhile, when the otherwise pro-development Holland failed to keep pace with stridently pro-development Brosowske’s call for completely unfettering the building industry and allowing it to proceed at virtual will and without the imposition of restrictive land use and zoning standards or requirements that it defray the cost of all infrastructure needed to accompany that construction, discontent flared within the building industry, which had invested so heavily in Holland’s political career. Hostility between Holland and Brosowske ensued when the latter supported a building industry supported but ultimately unsuccessful effort to recall Holland from office. In September 2019, on the basis of what they insisted was Brosowske not actually living in the apartment he had rented in Hesperia prior to his run for the city council in 2018, Holland, Gregg and Bird voted to remove Brosowske from the city council on the grounds that he did not meet the residency requirement to hold office in Hesperia, with Swanson and Brosowske dissenting. The council chose Bennington, whom Brosowske had narrowly defeated in 2018, as his replacement.
The Hesperia community appears to be divided with regard to the grounds and motivation for, as well as the necessity, legality and constitutionality of removing Brosowske from office. A fair sampling of the city’s residents are of the opinion that Brosowske had multiple priorities that he placed above serving the city’s residents as their faithful representative at City Hall, and some of those residents along with others are convinced Brosowske was not actually residing in the city. Still, there are those who considered him to be the city’s legitimately-elected District 4 councilman whose views, attitudes and votes reasonably reflected their expectations in how local government should be administered. And there is strong sentiment among some residents of the city, including Brosowske’s supporters and detractors, that the city council overstepped its authority by removing him from office, even if his residence in the city was subject to question. To them, the council majority violated the constitutional rights of District 4’s voters when they nullified the 2018 election results by removing Brosowske without due process.
In this year’s election, Dundon and Swanson represent the city’s pro-development faction. They are being supported by Brosowske. The electioneering machinery that Brosowske has at his command, which entails the financial support of the building industry, is being provided to Dundon and Swanson if not entirely directly then through independent expenditure committees over which Brosowske to some extent holds sway. Those independent expenditure committees are likewise engaging in savage attacks upon Bird, considered by the building industry to be unreasonably anti-growth, as well as Kelly Gregg, who is one of Bird’s political supporters and is himself up for reelection for his position on the Recreation and Parks District board, and Cody Gregg, likewise running for reelection to the school board. Cody Gregg has little or no say over land use policy in the city, but his status as an elected official lends support and authority to the political movement and milieu of which his father and Bird are a part.
In the weeks after campaign signs from a multiplicity of candidates for local and statewide offices as well as for Congress were posted at locations across the High Desert including Hesperia, there was widespread vandalism to those features of the political season.
Dundon told the Sentinel that both he and Swanson have been subject, since September 21, to “an organized campaign of intimidation and vandalism” by Bird’s supporters and those opposed to Swanson’s reelection. Both Kelly Gregg and Cameron Gregg are central players in this campaign, Dundon said, and he claimed that the father and son had “staked out” his and Swanson’s homes “in an obvious effort to intimidate us as candidates and our families.”
Dundon pointed out that “on an unspecified night, 11 of Rebekah Swanson’s large roadside campaign signs were cut down and stolen, all by the same person. We know that is the case due to the same battery powered saber saw having been used to cut the signs down and the same shoeprints being present at each place that vandalism occurred. On the morning of October 16, 2020, nine of my large roadside campaign signs were cut down along with 12 more of Rebekah Swanson’s signs.”
All 2 of Swanson’s cut down signs were refurbished and remounted. According to Dundon, “On the morning of Sunday, October 18, 2020, eight of the original 12 Swanson signs cut down were cut down a second time.”
Dundon said that between 5:10 a.m. and 5:14 a.m. on October 16, a security camera captured a “low resolution video” of what he said was Kelly Gregg cutting down one of Dundon’s large campaign signs. “Even though this copy is low resolution, Deputy A. Dorsett of the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department has the original copy along with shoeprint evidence and witness accounts of the vandalism.”
As a member of the Hesperia Unified School District Board of Trustees, Dundon is technically Larry Bird’s superior within the district’s chain of command, given that Bird is the principal at Hesperia Unified’s Sultana High School. Dundon alleged that Julie Bird, a school district employee and Larry Bird’s wife, and Cynthia Schmidt, a school district employee and the wife of former Hesperia City Councilman Eric Schmidt, Larry Bird’s campaign manager, “have posted videos online in which it is clear they are illegally abusing their positions as Hesperia teachers, since those videos are intended to unduly influence students and parents in support of Larry Bird.” Both Julie Bird and Cynthia Schmidt did so, Dundon maintains, by “utilizing school classroom settings, school property, school devices, school internet, and school instructional platforms. Mrs. Schmidt’s video was posted on October 11, 2020. Mrs. Bird’s video was posted on October 20,2020.” Dundon said, “Both are currently under investigation by Hesperia Unified School district officials for the violations.”
Kelly Gregg acknowledged there was widespread political skulduggery afoot in Hesperia, replete with the destruction and vandalism of campaign signs. He insisted he was not involved in those underhanded tactics, and rather was himself a victim of it, as both his son Cody and Bird have been. For the last several weeks, he said he has been constantly engaged in trying to redress the damage to the signs promoting his candidacy for reelection and the candidates he is supporting.
“I challenge anyone to show a video of me knocking down signs,” Kelly Gregg said. “I have multiple things going on right now. I am running a business and involved in my own campaign and those of my son and Mayor Bird. I am too busy to be doing anything other than working on what I have right in front of me. I do not have time to spend or waste cutting down signs.”
Gregg said, “My son [Cody] just had two of his signs destroyed. We were just removing graffiti from some of the other signs. Earlier today we were repairing signs that were damaged but still standing. Signs get destroyed. Everyone who is running [for office] right now is seeing their signs getting wrecked. It’s the nature of the beast. I saw Smitty’s [Assembly candidate Thurston Smith’s] signs on the ground today. Some of Rick Herrick’s [Smith’s opponent in the Assembly race] are down. There is a group of people out there who are saying, ‘It’s the Greggs.’ I would challenge any of them to produce a video of us removing anyone’s signs. That video doesn’t exist.”
At around 5:26 a.m. this morning, a security camera near the corner of Escondido Avenue and Muscatel Street captured video footage of a white Toyota Tundra, license number BC10263, said to have been engaged in the vandalizing of signs. Preliminary indications are that the truck belongs to “A Door Company,” the logo for which is visible on the truck. It is suspected the owner’s son was involved in the vandalism.
Politics is a dirty business that is getting dirtier with every election, Gregg said.
“There are these groups from down the hill [in lower San Bernardino County] in the form of the Inland Empire Taxpayers Association and the High Desert Taxpayers Association who are pouring money into our elections up here,” Gregg said. “They are being financed by the developers, who are putting money into these hit pieces and into social media ads. They just put out $35,000 in mailers against Larry [Bird]. These are people coming from down the hill, trying to convert our city into Downtown Los Angeles. Developers try to buy elections. Every two years we have to deal with this. All they want is power. You see them spending $100,000 on getting one person elected in a city council race. People wonder why. To me it is no secret. By spending $100,000 during one election year, they can make $600,000 on one of their dirty deals.
“Unfortunately, people are making accusations that either border on or are outright slandering my name,” Gregg continued. “I would sue them, but because I am a public official and because of the latitude that the public has in commenting on public figures, it would be very difficult to prove malice. That’s politics.”
Gregg pointed out that he had been the target of a hit piece alleging he had personally squandered $264,000 in taxpayer money, the wording of which suggested he had embezzled or made off with Hesperia Recreation and Park District funding. In actuality, Gregg said, the basis for the accusation was action taken by the district and its officials collectively. As a single member of the board, Gregg pointed out, he does not have the authority to set policy, and the matter referenced in the hit piece involved an approval of policy made in a unanimous vote of the entire board. The hit pieces now landing in mailboxes all over Hesperia and the rest of the county, for that matter, are intellectually dishonest rhetorical renderings intended to fool an electorate that has little knowledge or understanding of the public issues the mailings are purported to address, Kelly Gregg said.
“People shouldn’t be making their voting choices on that kind of misinformation,” Gregg said. “The people behind this are Jeremiah Brosowske, Bill Postmus, Dino DeFazio and developers like Jim Previti and Jeff Burum, who have a huge monetary stake in getting pro-development candidates elected who will roll over when they have project proposals.”
Bill Postmus is a former First District county supervisor, former chairman of the board of supervisors, former county assessor and former chairman of the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee, who a decade-and-a-half ago bestrode San Bernardino County like a political colossus until he disintegrated in scandal and pleaded guilty in 2011 to 14 felony political corruption charges. DeFazio was a Postmus political associate who was criminally charged in the midst of the Postmus scandal for assisting the one-time supervisor/county assessor in laundering political funds. One of Postmus’s convictions relating to engaging in a criminal conflict of interest as a public official prohibits him from ever again holding public office in California. He has nevertheless sought to remain politically active through the operation of a political consulting business he has founded, Mountain States Consulting Group. Brosowske is a Postmus protégé who was at one point employed by Mountain States Consulting Group.
Hit pieces put together by Brosowske targeting Bird refer to him as a “liar,” and accuse him of subjecting Hesperia to “increased crime, higher taxes and backroom deals.” The hit pieces state that there has been a 300 percent increase in the murder rate in Hesperia in the last year, which occurred under Bird’s watch as mayor. Those hit pieces were financed by the High Desert Taxpayers Association. The High Desert Taxpayers Association has spent $15,901in favor of Dundon, $3,000 in favor of Paul Russ’s candidacy for the school board and $22,397against Bird.
Brosowske is also making use of funding from Firemens Local 935; Hesperia Venture I LLC, which is related to the Tapestry project; Citizens Against Wasteful Spending, and NOV8 Consulting.
Citizens Against Wasteful Spending received $9,300. from Tri-Land Inc., which is controlled by DeFazio.
In Rancho Cucamonga, District 1 candidate Jon Hamilton has been assailed in hit pieces of an inexact provenance which play fast and loose with fact and are contexted on misrepresentations as to the line of authority in government, and which falsely attribute to Hamilton responsibility for decisions or actions over which he had no bearing. Moreover, those mailers make spurious, indeed provably untrue, claims about the pending economic collapse of the City of Montclair.
Hamilton is employed as the director of administrative services and human resources with the City of Montclair. According to a hit piece that was distributed by mail to high propensity voters in Rancho Cucamonga’s District 1, Montclair is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, having accumulated a $7 million budget shortfall that has forced it into the desperation move of increasing taxes, a ploy devised by Hamilton, who is further blamed for having decimated the ranks of the city’s public safety division through the firing and laying off of police officers and firemen. The mailer cautions District 1’s voters and implores them to deny Hamilton entry onto the city council in Rancho Cucamonga lest the devastation that has befallen Montclair because of Hamilton pernicious incompetence be visited upon their city.
In actuality, City of Montclair officials, in reaction to the COVID-19 crisis and concerned that the downturn in revenue from the city’s substantial commercial base would leave the city with a critical budget gap, carried out a special audit to ascertain the degree of revenue drop-off the city had experienced by the close of the 2019-20 Fiscal Year at the end of June. That survey determined the loss was less than $500,000.
Moreover, the City of Montclair, which is the second-smallest of San Bernardino County’s 24 municipalities geographically, is more densely inhabited than most of the county’s cities, ranking as the 9th smallest in terms of population while boasting a more extensive commercial element than 13 of the county’s other cities and incorporated towns. There had been previous discussion, well prior to the coronavirus pandemic, of enhancing the city’s financial position by imposing an additional one percent sales tax within Montclair’s city limits. A limited survey of residents, Montclair officials said, found that more than 65 percent of the city’s residents supported the tax increase when framed as one that would generate added revenue for City Hall in large measure through sales tax collected at the city’s mall formerly known Montclair Plaza and now called Montclair Place, as the tax is to be paid in significant measure by shoppers from outside the city. A second poll done after the pandemic had hit found, city officials said, that support of the sales tax had increased among Montclair residents surveyed to 75 percent. As the director of administrative services and human resources, Montclair officials said, Hamilton had no part in placing what is now designated as Measure L, asking voters whether they will support the one percent sales tax increase, on the November 3 ballot. That action followed as the consequence of a unanimous vote made on August 3 by the city council, which stated in doing so that the measure, if passed, was anticipated to generate from $7 million to $9 million annually to fund city services.
Moreover, assertions in the hit piece that Hamilton was instrumental in gutting Montclair’s public safety division, attributed to retired members of the police and fire departments who left the city before Hamilton first began working there in 2017, is not borne out by the actual circumstance. Montclair, while Hamilton has been in the role of human resources director, has not seen any attrition in the number of its police officers and has increased the number of its firefighters by one.
More accurately, in the timeframe referenced within the hit piece, that being the more than three years that Hamilton has been employed by Montclair, the City of Rancho Cucamonga, under the direction of the incumbent on the city council Hamilton is challenging, Councilman Sam Spagnolo, has experienced a greater diminution of its public safety function than did Montclair. Spagnolo was previously, in 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016, elected at large, and is now standing for election in Rancho Cucamonga’s newly created District 1,
The hit piece on Hamilton was generated by an entity, Business Leaders For Ethical Government, an independent expenditure committee which is a creature, in large measure, of developer Jeff Burum, who was active in the support of political candidates in the first decade of the Third Millennium and thereafter took a hiatus from heavy duty political involvement for nearly a decade. Burum began to actively involve himself in San Bernardino County politics once more beginning in 2018.
In his campaign, Hamilton has presented himself as a prospective elected official intent on “defending our neighborhoods against high-density housing.”
An examination of contributions to Burum’s independent expenditure committee from others than Burum himself reveals that two separate $2,250 donations from Dieter Dammeier and his wife, Julie Dammeier, were made to Business Leaders For Ethical Government on October 5. Previously, on August 8, Dieter Dammeier had contributed $3,800 to Spagnolo’s council campaign directly and Julie Dammeier the same day donated $3,700 to Spagnolo’s electioneering fund. A campaign expenditure disclosure document known as a California Form 496 filed with the California Secretary of State’s office shows that there were three disbursements from the Business Leaders For Ethical Government’s campaign war chest on October 13, one with the designation “mailer” for $4,174,54, another with the designation “graphic design” for $400 and one designated “voter file” for $210.93. Those three expenditure documentations bear the sequential identification markers of, respectively “Memo reference: EDT: S496:116” and “Memo reference: EDT: S496:118” and “Memo reference: EDT: S496:119,” apparent references to the mailer pertaining to Hamilton.
Dieter Dammeier is an attorney who was the chief negotiator for the Rancho Cucamonga Professional Firefighters Association- IAFF Local 2274 in contract talks between the firefighters and the City of Rancho Cucamonga. Dammeier’s former law firm – Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir – previously represented SEBA – the Safety Employees Benefit Association, the union for San Bernardino County’s sheriff’s deputies, in its labor contract negotiations. The City of Rancho Cucamonga contracts with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department for the provision of law enforcement services and serves as the City of Rancho Cucamonga’s police department.
Spagnolo was employed for 31 years as a firefighter with the Rancho Cucamonga Fire Department and its predecessor, the Foothill Fire Department.
This year so far, the Rancho Cucamonga Professional Firefighters Association- IAFF Local 2274 provided Spagnolo’s campaign with non-monetary contributions valued at $13,841.77 and SEBA provided his campaign with non-monetary contributions valued at $6,474.21 in the form of electioneering material informing Rancho Cucamonga’s District 1 voters that the city’s firefighters and sheriff’s deputies endorsed Spagnolo in his bid for election.
Both Spagnolo and Hamilton had sought the endorsement of Montclair Mayor John Dutrey for campaigning purposes in this year’s election. Dutrey originally sided with Spagnolo, electing to support the Rancho Cucamonga incumbent councilman over one of his city’s key administrative staff members for election in a city outside his own but lying within San Bernardino County’s West End region.
Upon being informed about the hit piece on Hamilton and then provided with it, Dutrey released a statement in which he said, “I …condemn this flyer’s tone and that Montclair was included in Rancho Cucamonga’s election. The flyer was issued by an independent political action committee, which by law is independent of the Rancho Cucamonga City Council candidates. The tactics by this independent political action committee are cruel, erroneous and mudslinging. Including another city and its citizens negatively in a political campaign is reprehensible. Both Montclair and Rancho Cucamonga are great communities with great citizens. Rancho Cucamonga and Montclair have worked well and supported each other on many important regional projects. It is unfortunate that an independent political action committee has interjected both cities in this dirty political act.”
Dutry’s statement continued, “I emailed Rancho Cucamonga Mayor Dennis Michael and Council Member Sam Spagnolo, informing them that ‘My community is very upset’ and condemns such flyer. I also asked Council Member Spagnolo to remove me as an endorsement including on his campaign website and literature. I trust this disrespectful act will not be an impediment of both cities’ working relationship on regional boards for the betterment of our region and its citizens.”
Around October 13, high propensity Democratic voters in the southwest quadrant of Upland began receiving a mailer with a postal return designation of the West End Leaders Political Action Committee P.O. Box 141, Montclair, CA 91763.
A hit piece, it targeted Upland District 3 candidate Carlos Garcia, who is competing against four other candidates in a special election being held in November to fill the currently vacant District 3 position. The vacancy ensued last May, following the resignation of Ricky Felix, who had been elected to the District 3 post in November 2018. Felix’s resignation was necessitated by his move to Utah, where a more lucrative employment opportunity than that represented by his locally-based heating, air conditioning and ventilation servicing entrepreneurship had presented itself. Lining up to run for the post were Garcia, former City Councilman Gino Filippi, Tauvaga Hoching and Lamonta Amos.
On one side of the blue background hit piece, a repetition of the word no in capital letters is utilized to encourage a rejection of Garcia’s candidacy. Garcia, the mailer states “is wrong for District 3. Why? The last thing Upland needs is another politician with no experience no platform no plans.”
In all capitals, the piece commends the voter to “stop corruption,” stating, without elaboration that “The same developers that backed Ricky Felix want you to vote for Carlos Garcia.”
On the flip side of the hit piece, there is a black and white photo of Garcia with a red x superimposed on it. Banner yellow lettering against the blue background states “Reckless, Divisive,” from which a red arrow points to what is represented to be a social media posting by “Carlos A. Garcia.” The posting states, “I’m just gonna put this right here. Merry Christmas. I Love my Guns. Bacon Rocks! The NFL Can kiss my ass! Obama was an ass! Hilllary needs to go to jail! GO TRUMP! You should STAND for the National Anthem! God Bless America!”
The mailer calls upon the voter to “Be smart! An inexperienced short-term resident is NOT the right person to represent us in District 3. Vote for someone with skills, knowledge and a plan to help!”
At the bottom of the mailer is stated, “This advertisement was not authorized or paid for by a candidate for this office or a committee controlled by a candidate for this office.”
No other candidates in the District 3 race are mentioned. The theme encouraging that voters choose a candidate other than Garcia because of his alleged lack of experience suggests that the hit piece is intended to usher the voter toward a candidate with experience, which could be interpreted to refer to Filippi, who held an at-large position on the council for two terms from 2010 until 2018 until he was obliged to run in the District 3 race in 2018, when he finished third in a three-way race behind Felix and runner-up Irmalinda Osuna. Neither Garcia nor Hoching nor Amos have served on the council previously. Garcia has for the last two years served on the City of Upland Community Development Block Grant Committee. He has also live-streamed city meetings that are not broadcast in an effort to heighten resident engagement and knowledge of city government and its actions.
The hit piece featured two glaring irregularities. An exhaustive search of state and local databases, including the California Secretary of State’s website and that of the California Fair Political Practices Commission, provides nothing with regard to the West End Leaders Political Action Committee. State law requires that all such entities that engage in more than $1,000 worth of political advocacy be registered with the California Secretary of State. As significantly, the social media posting attributed to Garcia within the hit piece is not genuine, but rather one that was generated by someone with an identical name or fraudulently created altogether to appear to be one of Garcia’s postings.
The Sentinel has ascertained that the address provided for the purported West End Leaders Political Action Committee – Box 141 at the Montclair Post Office – is actually the mailing address for the current and 2018 campaigns to elect Ben Lopez to the Montclair City Council. Lopez is in the thick of a race for two open positions on the city council, the ones currently held by Tenice Johnson and Carolyn Raft. Raft is not seeking reelection. Competing in the contest are Lopez, Johnson, Robert Pipersky, Oscar Miranda, Juliet Orozco and Michael Tadrous. Ben Lopez has an election committee, Lopez For Council 2020, which has a California Fair Political Practices Commission identification number of 1371786. Lopez sought a position on the Montclair City Council previously, in 2016 when he finished third in a five-candidate race for two open seats and 2014 when he finished third in a six-person race for two spots on the council. The Garcia hit piece does not bear Lopez’s identification number or any other. Montclair Post Box 141 is also associated with Lopez’s business, Lopez Mobile Notary.
There does appear to be, or to have been, a connection between Lopez and Filippi. On Lopez’s webpage for his 2018 city council campaign, which remains intact on the internet, Filippi and Filippi’s city council ally, Carol Timm, are shown as being among 11 local or county officeholders who endorsed Lopez. Carol Timm, who was elected at large to the Upland City Council in 2014, lost her berth on the council when she was defeated in 2018 for the Upland District 4 post by Rudy Zuniga. Nevertheless, in Lopez’s internet presence for the ongoing campaign, consisting of a Facebook page, no mention of Filippi is made. Filippi’s 2020 election campaign website lists his endorsement. Lopez is not among them.
Measure K on this year’s ballot in San Bernardino County would substantially reduce the pay of the county’s highest ranking government officials. The campaign for the initiative’s passage is an effort to resurrect an earlier reform measure that was passed by the voters eight years ago but which was never put into place because the politicians it applied to – the members of the county board of supervisors – were able to maneuver their way around it. In a replay of what occurred previously, the supervisors are again offering voters an alternative measure which they hope will sidestep the pay reduction element of the measure reformists say is at that heart of the movement to revise local government.
In 2012, government reform advocates Kiernan “Red” Brennan and Eric Steinmann gathered the signatures of 73,672 county voters to qualify a countywide ballot initiative intended to bring the remuneration of the county government’s ultimate decision-makers into line with the residents they govern and discourage career politicians fixated on money and thereby influenced by political donations from monopolizing the positions on the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors.
Brennan’s and Steinman’s initiative, designated as Measure R on the November 2012 ballot, called for downscaling the five individual San Bernardino County supervisors’ then-yearly $151,971 salaries and $67,500 in benefits to $50,000 in salary and $10,000 in benefits annually, a drop in total compensation from $219,471 per year to $60,000.
The members of the board of supervisors, alarmed at the prospect that they would be subject to seeing their pay reduced by more than two thirds but simultaneously recognizing that the public’s appetite for reform was intense, used their authority as government officials to place what they said was a “substitute reform” initiative onto the ballot. That initiative, Measure Q, called for instituting reform by reducing the supervisors’ individual salaries by $5,269 to $146,702.per year, while allowing their annual benefits then valued at $67,500 to remain in place. Because of their status as supervisors, they did not need to gather any signatures to put the Measure Q reform initiative reducing their total annual compensation to $214,202 on the ballot.
Adopting the Measure R advocates’ calls for reform, the supervisors and their supporters, as the proponents of Measure Q, did not in any overt fashion campaign against Measure R, but rather expounded in generic terms what they represented as Measure Q’s “sensible” and “moderate” approach for achieving salary reduction for the supervisors.
In the November 2012 election, Measure R passed by a convincing 64.25 percent to 35.75 percent, with 326,939 voters in favor of it and 181,907 opposed. Measure Q passed as well, by a 67.28 percent to 32.72 percent margin, 344,226 votes in support to 157,369 against it. Because Measure Q garnered more votes than Measure R, the former went into effect rather than the latter. Instead of the supervisors seeing their $219,471 per year total compensation packages reduced to $60,000, they were instead cut back to $214,202.
Brennan died in 2013. Those involved with him in his government reform efforts founded the Red Brennan Group shortly thereafter, dedicating it to reducing the depth, breadth and cost of county government while aiming at improving its efficiency.
For many in the Red Brennan Group, there was lingering resentment over the manner in which the board of supervisors in 2012 had diverted what they considered to be a legitimate reform effort that was aimed at breaking the hold that money has on politics and elected officials.
In 2017, the Red Brennan Group undertook petition drives to qualify two countywide initiatives, one aimed at reducing members of the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors to part time status and imposing on that panel’s members a commensurate reduction in pay, and another more comprehensive measure dubbed the “Leadership Accountability Initiative.”
The second measure called for reversing the county’s 2010 move which changed the title and authority of the county chief administrative officer to the county chief executive officer, which had also conferred on the holder of the post higher pay. In addition to eliminating the chief executive officer post and reestablishing the county administrator position, the Leadership Accountability Initiative proposal called for pegging the compensation of elected officials – supervisors, sheriff, district attorney, treasurer/auditor/controller and assessor – to a multiple of the median family income in the region, and eliminated increased accrual of retirement benefits by elected officials. The proposed initiative further sought to restrict bloat within the county’s governmental structure by placing a per capita limit on the number of county employees. It also required the supervisors to use every legal means available to ensure San Bernardino County government employee pay and benefits were equal to private industry pay and benefits within its jurisdiction.
After the initiative proposals were submitted in 2017 to the county’s stable of in-house lawyers, known as the office of county counsel, the county sued the initiatives’ proponents, claiming the initiatives violated the California Constitution, the current legal authority of the supervisors, and the single subject rule for initiatives. In its lawsuit, the county contended it therefore should not be required to complete its ministerial duty of providing a ballot title and summary for the initiative proposals.
At that point, the Red Brennan Group postponed its efforts, consulting with legal authorities before proceeding. Following that legal guidance and a delay of nearly two years, the group resumed its efforts, and began circulating a petition last year to force a referendum on a measure to reduce the total compensation of each of the members of the board of supervisors to $5,000 per month. The group gathered 75,132 signatures, which were affixed to copies of the petition. Those documents, consisting of 10,121 pages, were handed over to the San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters Office on March 20.
According to Registrar of Voters Bob Page, a “3% random sample,” of the signatures, consisting of 2,255, were examined. Of those, 1,840 were found to be the valid signatures of registered county voters and 415 were what Page deemed “insufficient.” He found among the valid signatures one duplicate. Thus, he projected, were the full 75,132 signatures to be examined, 60,228 would be determined to be valid. The three percent sampling standard can be used to certify an initiative petition drive, Page indicated, if the sampling projection shows that more than 110 percent of the required number of voter signatures have been attained. The 60,228 signatures, after adjustments, was deemed equal to 112.1 percent of the 53,725 signatures needed to qualify a countywide initiative. “Therefore,” Page said, “the petition has been signed by the requisite number of qualified electors needed and based thereon is deemed sufficient.”
The language of the Red Brennan Group’s initiative states: “The total compensation of each member of the board of supervisors shall be five thousand dollars ($5,000.00) per month, which amount shall include the actual cost to the county of all benefits of whatever kind or nature including but not limited to salary, allowances, credit cards, health insurance, life insurance, leave, retirement, memberships, portable communications devices, and vehicle allowances. This compensation shall be in full compensation for all services by the respective member of the board of supervisors.”
Furthermore, the initiative, if passed, would limit board members from serving more than six years on the board altogether, allowing them one elected term of four years, while permitting them to also serve an additional half term of up to two years if the officeholder is appointed or elected to the unexpired term of another officeholder who left office.
At the behest of the board of supervisors, the county’s top-ranking personnel, including then-County Chief Executive Officer Gary McBride, County Chief Operating Officer Leonard Hernandez and County Counsel Michelle Blakemore and their staffs, cast about to find some administrative flaw or legal fault in the process that the Red Brennan Group pursued in qualifying the measure for the November election to justify disqualifying the measure from appearing on the ballot. Similarly, county staff sought to summon up sufficient facts to support a determination that the measure might adversely impact the county’s operations or have a fiscal impact on the county which could be used as a pretext to prevent the voters from considering it.
While the board of supervisors initially declined to certify it for the ballot at its April and May meetings, during which time county staff arduously sought but could not find legally adequate grounds to keep it off the ballot, at the board’s June 9 meeting, its members somewhat reluctantly voted to fully certify the petitions and call for the measure to be put on the November 3 ballot. Then, taking a leaf out of the previous board’s book, the board, again on the basis of its own authority and without having to obtain signatures of the county’s voters as had been required of the Red Brennan Group, after coming to a determination that the county’s existing charter is antiquated and need of a redraft, placed a measure aimed at county charter reform measure on the ballot, doing so at the last possible moment, at the July 13 board meeting, just before the county registrar of voters office’s deadline for the submission of items to be placed onto the ballot. Though there had been scant discussion of charter changes previously and no expression of a public consensus on what elements of the charter should be redressed, the office of county counsel virtually overnight delivered the language for the charter reform initiative. Of tremendous importance, the board said, was modernizing the charter to eliminate what is now considered outdated and genderist language, such as the charter’s reference to the board’s designated leader as “chairman” and what “his” duties consist of. Further, since the previous charter does not directly address the compensation of supervisors, their level of pay was deemed an important issue for the redraft. There was no public discussion of an appropriate remuneration level. Rather, the office of county counsel, working from the premise that the supervisors current salary of $163,000, further/add-on pay of roughly $17,000 and benefits of $77,000 for a total annual compensation of $257,000 is what the supervisors deserve, hit upon setting the supervisors’ salaries at 80 percent of the salary of a Superior Court judge and benefits equal to county department heads. In this way, if the charter reform measure is passed and put into effect, the supervisors would stand to make $260,000 to $290,000 per year in total annual compensation, depending upon the amount of further/add-on pay they are provided with.
The supervisors directed the county registrar of voters to put the charter reform measure on the ballot.
Curiously, just as was the case in 2012 when the county’s alternative reform measure was given the designation of Measure Q, placing it on a higher position on the ballot than Red Brennan’s and Eric Steinmann’s Measure R despite the consideration that Brennan’s and Steinmann’s initiative was submitted first, this year the registrar of voters designated the county board of supervisors’ petition Measure J, placing it above the Red Brennan Group’s Measure K.
Analysis of voter behavior demonstrates that when casting their ballots with regard to competing candidates or initiatives, voters statistically favor the candidate or measure higher up on the ballot.
As was the case eight years ago, whichever of the measures gets the most votes will go into effect with regard to any conflicts the measures involve, such as that pertaining to the supervisors’ pay level.
One of the reasons the Red Brennan Group is seeking the reduction of the supervisors pay is the belief that at their inflated salary and benefit level, the supervisors have fallen out of touch with the vast majority of constituents they represent. In 2018, the most recent year for which statistics are available, the median household income in San Bernardino County was $63,857. That average includes situations in which there is a single earner in a family as well as two or more earners in a given household.
In reaction to the Red Brennan Group qualifying Measure K for the ballot, after initially offering views that $60,000 was too little remuneration for the post they hold, the current supervisors with the exception of Josie Gonzales have pretty much avoided weighing in on it, preferring to address its alternative, Measure J, which they have praised as important to bringing the county into the 21st Century in accordance with modern principles of governance. They have avoided getting into a polemic with regard to their salaries and benefits, as their salaries run at well over three times what the average person in San Bernardino earns and their benefits are four times as generous than the average worker in the county.
In contrast to Measure K generally limiting supervisors to a single elected term with the allowance that someone could serve an additional two years in a circumstance in which he or she had been appointed to finish the remainder of another elected supervisor’s term, Measure J keeps the current term limit policy set with the passage of Measure P in 2006 of allowing a single individual to serve three four-year terms as supervisor. It does eliminate a current loophole in that regard. Presently, a politician could serve as supervisor for up to three terms in one district, then relocate to another district and serve up to three terms there, and so on. Measure J will limit an individual to three terms as supervisor from any and all districts.
As it stands, supervisors Josie Gonzales and Robert Lovingood are not seeking reelection this year – Gonzales because as Fifth District supervisor she is termed out under the Measure P restriction and Lovingood because he has elected to retire after two terms as First District supervisor. As such, it does not appear that Measure K, if it passes, will impact them at all personally. Similarly, Supervisor Janice Rutherford, first elected in 2010, reelected in 2014 and reelected in 2018, would not be subject to Measure K’s passage. She is termed out after her current term, and Measure K, if it passes, is not applicable to her pay in relation to the term she was elected to prior to the measure going into effect. Supervisor Dawn Rowe, appointed in 2018 to complete the term of former Third District Supervisor James Ramos after he was elected to the Assembly and elected in this year’s March 3 Primary election in her own right to the term that will run from December of this year until December 2024, will not see her pay or benefits impacted by Measure K if it passes for four more years. Nor will the term limit aspect of Measure K prevent her from seeking reelection in 2024. If Measure K passes and she seeks reelection in 2024 and is successful, however, her remuneration and benefits will be curtailed to $60,000 for the four years thereafter, and she would not be eligible to run for supervisor in the Third District in 2028. Paul Cook, who was elected in March to replace Lovingood as First District supervisor, will, if Measure K passes, start at a salary of at least $163,000 per year when he is sworn in this coming December and be provided with benefits of roughly $77,000 for a minimum total annual compensation of $240,000 without counting any further/add-on pay he might receive. He will be entitled to that for all four years of the term he was elected to in March. Under the provisions of Measure K, he will be eligible to run again in 2024, at which point he will have eclipsed his 80th birthday, if he in fact chooses to do so, but will see his salary reduced to $50,000 per year and his benefits dropped to $10,000 annually if he is reelected. He will then be termed out in 2028, and will not be able to seek reelection. Supervisor Curt Hagman, who is currently the chairman of the board of supervisors, was first elected supervisor in 2014. He was reelected in 2018 and will be at liberty to stand for reelection in 2022, even if Measure K passes this year. He will remain at his current salary of approximately $267,000 to $270,00 for the next two years. If he indeed seeks reelection and is successful in 2022, under the terms of Measure K his combined salary and benefits will be reduced to $60,000 over the next four years. Whether or not Measure K passes or fails, he will be termed out of office in 2026. Currently, Rialto Councilman Joe Baca Jr. and Fontana Councilman Jesse Armendarez are in a run-off in the November 3 election to determine who will succeed Gonzales as Fifth District supervisor. The winner will be entitled to total annual compensation ranging from $240,000 to $290,000, contingent upon how much supplemental/add-on pay he receives on an annual basis. He will then be eligible to seek reelection in 2024, and receive a total annual compensation of $60,000 per year for the following four years if he is victorious. Thereafter, he will be termed out of office.
Supervisor Gonzales, who will be departing as supervisor later this year after 16 years in that capacity, decried the spirit of Measure K and the impact it will have if it passes. Gonzales does not share the perspective of the Red Brennan Group and its supporters, who hold that the supervisors are overpaid and out of touch with the constituents they were elected to serve. On July 13, when she and her board colleagues voted to put the charter reform initiative now designated as Measure J on the ballot to thwart Red Brennan Group’s supervisors’ pay reduction effort now designated as Measure K, Gonzales chided the measure’s sponsors, saying, “I am appalled… at the cheapness, at the crass way, the lack of respect that this office is being treated by the group that is behind this issue. This is wrong. If you do not like your electeds, if you don’t like your governmental representatives, I’ve said it once and I’ve said it a hundred times and I’ll say it again, then vote them out of office.”
Gonzales continue, “I would welcome anyone who would like to come and join me and shadow me on a day to demonstrate the depth, the intensity, the great responsibility that this job brings,” Gonzales said. “It’s not just a fancy title. It is an extremely difficult job that challenges the very character, the integrity, the will to serve to the max.”
At that same meeting, however, Natalie Zuk, the spokeswoman for the Red Brennan Group, sought to remind Gonzales and the other members of the board that the effort to limit the supervisors’ pay was not an isolated one being waged by petty and small-minded people who begrudge the board the money it is being paid. Rather she said, the principles of proportionality and fair and compassionate representation were at stake.
“Over 70,000 county voters signed a petition setting elected supervisor pay roughly equal to what normal county households earn,” Zuk said. “This small government initiative also sets term limits at one four-year term of service. A one-term supervisor compensated the same as most households in the county will have different incentives to govern. This approach will allow elected representatives freedom to exercise courage to restrain government’s ever-expanding appetite for the citizens’ tax dollars.”
In the argument in favor of Measure J contained in the sample ballot sent to all San Bernardino County voters, it is stated, “San Bernardino County’s charter – the laws that govern our community – was written more than 100 years ago. It’s time to modernize our charter. Measure J will: remove sexist language; close political loopholes; put a stop to future governors meddling in local matters; and increase transparency and accountability in our local government.”
The rebuttal to the argument in favor of Measure J contained in the sample ballot sent to all San Bernardino County voters states, “The county supervisors, now in a panic, want you to believe their charter ‘reform’ is a modern update expanding transparency and creating good governance. Actually, the charter ‘reform’ is an attempt to maintain their ridiculously high compensation.”
In the argument in favor of Measure K contained in the sample ballot sent to all San Bernardino County voters, it is stated that Measure K will impose stricter term limits and “reduce compensation for county supervisors and make supervisors accountable to you. Term limits and reduced salaries will finally attract representatives interested in public service and committed to following the will of the people. Obligated to financial backers for reelection, the board of supervisors has chosen to ignore voters and their rights. They imposed new taxes, specifically property taxes, without your consent. While approving ever-increasing fees, fines and taxes on the public, the supervisors collect a salary and benefits package of over $250,000 annually – nearly six-times the median income of San Bernardino working families. This initiative provides the same income that a working family receives. With such current lucrative compensation, it’s no wonder supervisors pander to special interest groups who fund their reelections, like property developers and employee unions. A single four-year term will help shut out these outside interests and focus our leaders on doing what’s best for us all.”
In the rebuttal to the argument in favor of Measure J contained in the sample ballot sent to all San Bernardino County voters, the measure’s opponents dwelt nearly as much on what Measure J will not do as they focused on what it will do.
“Despite the claims made by proponents of Measure K, this initiative doesn’t solve any of the purported ‘systemic’ problems mentioned in their argument,” the rebuttal states. “Measure K doesn’t prevent the board of supervisors from imposing new property taxes without voter consent. Measure K doesn’t limit the amount of money that candidates for county supervisor can accept from lobbyists and special interests. Measure K doesn’t reduce the authority granted to the non-elected county chief executive officer position. Measure K doesn’t eliminate multi-million dollar legal settlements. Paying county supervisors what effectively amounts to minimum wage will encourage them to accept more money from lobbyists and special interests, not less. This increases corruption and a return to pay-for-play politics.”