Robinson Denies Upland’s Contract With His Affiliate Constitutes A Conflict

By Mark Gutglueck
Upland City Councilman Sid Robinson this week denied that there was anything improper or illegal in the city’s contractual arrangement with the 20/20 Network, a company with which he has been professionally affiliated.
Robinson’s denial came on the heels of a reliable report that an investigation by the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office which originally focused on alleged Brown Act violations by the Upland City Council had escalated into a larger and more comprehensive inquiry into criminal conflicts of interest and conspiracy involving Robinson and other Upland city officials relating to deliberate acts undertaken by the council as a whole which have had the potential effect of enhancing the earning potential of the 20/20 Network and its principal, Steve Lambert, one of Robinson’s affiliates and business partners.
While acknowledging a “previous” relationship with the 20/20 Network, Robinson told the Sentinel that relationship came to a close in the days just prior to his having been elevated to the city council.
Information turned up by investigators includes indications that Robinson’s council colleagues provided him with appointments to adjunct governmental and regional committees, commissions, boards and joint powers authorities that would potentially allow him to churn business for the 20/20 Network, a company which is essentially a creature of Steve Lambert, who was once the publisher of the largest daily newspaper serving and circulating in the communities on the west end of San Bernardino that include Upland, the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin.
There were conflicting reports as to whether Robinson ever had, or may still have the vestige of, an ownership stake in the 20/20 Network, which had become an area of inquiry for investigators.
One issue being focused upon by district attorney’s office investigators is a determination as to what stage Lambert’s buy-out of Robinson’s interest in the 20/20 Network has progressed and what percentage of 20/20’s ongoing proceeds are being returned to Robinson, if any.
A critical issue in the investigation is that the 20/20 Network was provided a $3,500 per month contract by Upland City Manager Martin Thouvenell to carry out under the rubric of “strategic communications,” a number of tasks relating to what are called “core services,” which include, according to the contract, “strategic planning, strategic counseling to the city manager, staff and elected leadership; communications services, the development and execution of a strategic communications plan, brand development, ongoing media relations, news releases, story development, media introductions and crisis management, development of op-ed pieces and columns for local publications, coordination of editorial board meetings, general messaging and communications, internal and external.”
Further, according to the contract, 20/20 is to provide “additional services, upon agreement” which relate to, the contract says “social media: development and management of a Facebook page, with 1-2 posts per day; social media monitoring and responses; a monthly newsletter; and a quarterly magazine.”
Some have sought to defend the contract and its circumstance, asserting such efforts are de riguer in modern times given the ubiquity of social media and its current status as a communication medium, while pointing out that the contract with 20/20 was dated October 11, 2016 and became effective November 1, 2016, which was prior to Robinson becoming a member of the city council. Others, however, maintain that elements of the contract, particularly those relating to the strategic counseling of elected leadership, crisis management and social media monitoring and responses, constitute an illegitimate effort toward information management. And the timing of the 20/20 network’s hiring is even more troubling, they say, since it occurred during the height of the 2016 Upland municipal election season, when Robinson was a candidate vying for city council. While Robinson led in the early returns on election day and the day thereafter when the ballots cast at the city’s precinct and the earliest arriving of the mail-in ballots came into the registrar of voters office and were tallied, he was in a neck-and-neck race against Janice Elliott for the one position on the council up in the election, which in presidential years in Upland is paired with the mayoral election. With the later arriving mail-in ballots and the counting of straggling provisional ballots, Elliott surpassed Robinson and hung on to that victory when the official results were certified. In the mayoral contest, however, Debbie Stone, an incumbent councilwoman with two years remaining on her term, was herself victorious, necessitating that her vacant position on the council be filled. At its December 12. 2016 meeting, the city council held a swearing-in ceremony for both Stone and Elliott, whereupon the four members of the city council took up the issue of filling the gap on the council. Citing the rationale that Robinson was a close runner-up in the just concluded election, the council, which at that point was being strategically counseled by the 20/20 Network, chose Robinson as Stone’s council replacement on a motion by councilman Gino Filippi that was seconded by Elliott. The vote to appoint Robinson to the council carried unanimously. Thus, an issue for investigators is whether Lambert may have had some undue influence on the city council in its decision to elevate Robinson to the position he had vied for but failed to attain through the elective process.
It was in the aftermath of Robinson’s acceding to the city council that questions about the propriety of the City of Upland’s relationship with his business associate came to the fore. Unbeknownst to the public, Lambert has been granted access to the city council inner sanctum, and was permitted to take part in its closed door sessions.
Generally, the governing boards of local governmental entities conduct their affairs in a public forum, with only narrowly defined exceptions for issues which, if publicly discussed before they are internally and externally resolved, might represent a liability for the governmental entity, its constituents and taxpayers and the public at large. The principle of open government in California is embodied in the Ralph M. Brown Act, the State of California’s open meeting law, referred to colloquially as the Brown Act. The Brown Act sets out guidelines for the behavior of public officials with regard to their action on issues that face the agency they represent, including restricting a quorum of a board’s members from meeting or discussing together or in even a serial fashion discussing any issue before the board [i.e., school district board, water district board, fire district board, city council, county board of supervisors]. Such discussion, decisions and votes can only take place in a public meeting, to which the public has been alerted at least 72 hours in advance and for which an agenda containing all such items to be discussed or upon which action will be taken has been published and is publicly available. As most public boards in California, including the Upland City Council, consist of five members, this practically means that it is illegal for three of its members to meet or hold discussion in any capacity outside of an agendized public meeting. The Brown Act narrowly defines four specific topics that a board such as the Upland City Council can discuss in private, again, only in the context of an agendized meeting, though in the case of any of these four topics, behind closed doors and outside the scrutiny of the public. Those four topics are performance reviews or the termination of an employee; litigation or pending litigation; contract negotiations; or negotiations for the purchase or sale of real estate. The discussions taking place at these closed door meetings are deemed confidential until such time as a decision of definitude with regard to the issue discussed is made, such as firing the individual employee in question; giving direction to the city’s legal team to settle or file a lawsuit; or a vote to enter into a contract or finalize the acquisition or sale of property. Consequently, attendance at these closed door meetings is limited to the elected body and senior staff whose participation is needed to assist in the elected body’s decision-making process. In a municipality this translates to the mayor and city council, the city manager, the city attorney and on occasion, a department head or even more rarely an employee whose input can help inform the decision.
In March, Elliott grew concerned that the Upland City Council was routinely violating the Brown Act by discussing issues which did not qualify as being among the four general areas given exception under the Brown Act. One element of these alleged violations was that Lambert was involved in the discussions, offering what was secretive input to the entire council in the presence of the city manager and the city attorney but beyond the view of the general public and the citizens of Upland. Lambert’s input touched on issues that had no application to personnel issues, litigation, contracts or real estate transactions but rather policy decisions that should have been subject to open public discussion and scrutiny by the public, including comment from residents with regard to the advisability of that policy.
Accompanying Elliott’s concerns with regard to the Brown Act violations were her reservations with regard to the very policy that was a subject of the illicit closed door discussions at which the policy was being formulated and relative to which Lambert was mapping out a strategy to actuate or execute so that it was met with public support or minimal public resistance. When Elliott sought, at city council meetings or in public forums such as op-ed pieces or her own self-styled town hall meetings, to shed light on elements of the policy or actions the city council was taking or to question the rationale for the policy or action or engage in or encourage an open public dialogue with regard to those issues, she began to experience pushback from her council colleagues and Thouvenell, the city manager.
One issue in particular, the city council’s move to close out Upland’s 106-year-old municipal fire department and simultaneously annex the city into a county fire service zone so that the county fire district would become the city’s de facto fire department, resulted in city officials encountering far greater resistance than they initially anticipated, particularly after the county division in charge of hashing out jurisdictional issues – the San Bernardino County Local Formation Commission – elected to group neighboring San Antonio Heights together with Upland into the fire service zone without a ballot vote and impose on the residents of both of those communities a $152.68 per year assessment with annual increases into perpetuity to defray the county’s cost, while allowing the City of Upland to pocket the net savings it realized in the shuttering of the department.
Elliott, who had taken her place on the council after the previous council had set the annexation process in motion, for the first two months of her tenure on the council went along with the council’s intent, indeed was persuaded to publicly support the shuttering of the city’s fire department and help move the transition to county fire department along. But in her interaction with many of her constituents she encountered arguments that countered those being made by Lambert to justify the changeover and when she picked up on those points and enunciated them in discussions for the sake of debate and a fuller examination of the implication of the proposal, her colleagues accused her of no longer being a team player. Privately, Thouvenell and the others, including Lambert, began pressuring her to get with the program. When the council doubled down, again using closed sessions to strategize on how to ensure the annexation went through and avoid any negative consequences for having brought it about, Elliott in May went to the public integrity unit of the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office, alleging the council she was a part of was violating the Brown Act.
The retribution Elliott suffered was swift and vicious. At its June 12 council meeting, the council acted to remove her from all of her adjunct committee assignments.
Ironically, the council utilized Lambert to write Stone’s speech justifying the action taken against Elliott.
More ironic still was that Lambert’s assistance in this crisis management – lashing out at Elliott and attempting to discredit her by having her ignominiously removed from the assignments that routinely are accorded to elected officials – had the effect of confirming with the district attorney’s office investigators that there was some substance to Elliott’s complaint. Moreover, Lambert’s move backfired in that it has brought to both him and Robinson attention the pair might have otherwise avoided.
The Sentinel has learned that the public integrity unit’s preliminary investigation has unearthed a smoking gun establishing a violation of the Brown Act at the Upland City Council’s May 8 meeting that was compounded by a fraudulent representation that the council was going to engage in a review of Thouvenell’s performance as city manager in order to engage in a policy discussion relating to the comportment of city council members that was aimed at dissuading Elliott from engaging in any activity that might be construed as open encouragement of the public in opposing the fire department annexation. While under the most strict interpretation of the statute, a violation of the Brown Act can be deemed a misdemeanor, practically speaking violations are virtually never considered criminal in nature and are most often dispensed with through a letter of warning or admonishment, and may be dealt with civilly in which the most severe remedy is a court declaring a decision made in violation of the Brown Act void. Nevertheless, the action of the council on May 8 went beyond a simple Brown Act violation, with the misrepresentations of the council as to what it was discussing moving into the realm of fraud, falsification of public documents and conspiracy, all of which could be charged criminally, potentially against all five members of the city council, with the possible exception of Elliott, with identical or parallel charges potentially applied against Thouvenell, city attorney Jim Markman and assistant city clerk Jeannette Vagnozzi for having facilitated the fraud. The smoking gun consists of a document that outlines the presentation that took place during the closed session bearing the heading “In House Polices of the Upland City Council,” which was signed by Stone, Robinson, councilman Gino Filippi, councilwoman Carol Timm and was initialed by Elliott. Lambert was present during the May 8 closed door meeting.
Yet more significant and serious is information and documentation now in the hands of the public integrity unit’s investigators which outline the details of the relationship between Robinson and the 20/20 Network that have the potential of not only derailing Robinson’s political career but resulting in the filing of criminal conflict of interest charges against him under California Government Code Section 1090 and misappropriation of government funds under California Penal Code Section 424. Both are felonies. A conviction under section 424 of the penal code carries with it a prohibition against ever holding public office.
Those documents, several of which have been obtained or examined by the Sentinel, indicate the district attorney’s office has traced several links between Lambert and Robinson and the 20/20 Network and Robinson.
Further, documentation in the possession of district attorney’s office investigators suggests that Robinson has been vouchsafed positions with governmental agencies and boards which put him in place to ensure the 20/20 network’s continuing profitability. For example, Lambert and the 20/20 Network handle publicity for Southern California Associated Governments, a regional planning agency. At its April 24, 2017 meeting, the Upland City Council appointed Robinson as the delegate to represent the City of Upland at the Southern California Association of Governments General Assembly Meeting on May 4, 2017.
A factor cited in mitigation of Robinson’s alleged conflict of interest is that the City of Upland entered into its contractual arrangement with the 20/20 Network prior to his appointment to the city council. Thus, Robinson did not vote to have the city contract with the 20/20 Network. Be that as it may, Government Code Section 1090 violations are considered to be strict liability crimes, such that intent is not a requirement to convict a public official of an offense under Government Code Section 1090. So, while Robinson did not vote to give the 20/20 Network the $3,500 per month contract with the City of Upland, he has, since coming on to the council voted to ratify those monthly payments to the 20/20 Network, which, if his connection to the 20/20 Network can be established, would appears to be an outright violation of Government Code Section 1090, as well as Penal Code Section 424.
Robinson maintains that there is no basis for any insinuation of impropriety or criminality against him, as he is no longer working with, on behalf of or under contract to the 20/20 Network.
“I have no present affiliation as an employee or independent contractor with the 20/20 Network, either as an individual or under my company of Robinson and Associates,” Robinson told the Sentinel. “While I have worked as a subcontractor with 20/20 in the past, our last affiliation was Dec. 1, 2016, which is before I was appointed to the city council.”
He was not part of the decision to hire the 20/20 Network, Robinson asserted.
“During my tenure on the city council, which began on January 9, 2017, the council has not taken any action approving, modifying or extending a contractual relationship with 20/20,” he said. “All such contracting has been between the city manager, utilizing his purchasing authority, and 20/20. I have not in any way participated with the city manager’s decisions and actions to contract with 20/20. Since no contract with 20/20 has been council considered or approved during my tenure, there absolutely is no basis for asserting or inferring that I violated Government Code section 1090 concerning the city’s relationship with 20/20.”
Any payments he approved as a city council member are immaterial, Robinson said. “With respect to the city’s retainer payments to 20/20, the council has not taken any action which I, or any member of the council reviewing meeting agenda materials, could have identified individual payments to 20/20,” Robinson said. “The warrant registers provided as agenda materials do not include individual line items identifying specific vendors who have received payments.”
While the city’s payments to the 20/20 Network may have been hidden from plain view, Robinson said he had been completely up front with regard to his connection to the company.
“I have been completely transparent in reporting my previous professional relationship with 20/20,” Robinson said. “Again, there has been no such relationship since I was appointed to office, and I have not voted on any actions identified as concerning 20/20 since taking office.”
Upland City Attorney Jim Markman did not respond to Sentinel inquiries with regard to whether he had advised Robinson with regard to any limitations on his action as a city councilman when it came to issues relating to the 20/20 Network.

Assembly Bill Would Stop Cadiz Inc.’s Mojave H2O-To-Orange-County Plan

The seemingly interminable back-and-forth between the advocates and the opponents of a Los Angeles-based company’s effort to capitalize by diverting billions of gallons of water from aquifers beneath California’s East Mojave Desert to Orange and Los Angeles counties has now shifted in favor of the conservationists, pursuant to action by the California Legislature.
Since the late 1980s, what was then known as the Cadiz Land Company, has had designs on securing water rights out in a remote locale in the Mojave Desert to then sell that water for use elsewhere. After obtaining more than 3,000 acres of land near Cadiz, the company began growing organic vegetables and fruits, including beans, melons and tomatoes on a portion of that land. Throughout its existence, the Cadiz farming operation failed to operate at a profit. But in the meantime, it was able to make an assertion, based upon the irrigation of the crops at the Cadiz farm, to water rights from the Cadiz/Fenner aquifer.
The company seemed to hit pay dirt with its plan when in 1997, the Metropolitan Water District bought into a proposal from the Cadiz Land Company to convey up to 1.5 million acre-feet of what was referenced as “surplus” Colorado River water to Cadiz and “store” that water by pumping it into the water table there. In “dry years” the Cadiz Land Company proposed allowing the Metropolitan Water District to extract water from the aquifer and conduct it through a 35-mile pipeline that was to be constructed between Cadiz and the Metropolitan Water District’s existing Colorado River aqueduct.
After five years of environmental studies, in August 2002, the federal government gave approval to the project. In October 2002, however, the proposal was rejected by the Metropolitan Water District’s board of directors after conservationists raised concerns over possible environmental damage. An extensive round of litigation between the Cadiz Land Company and the Metropolitan Water District ensued.
The concept lay dormant for six years but in 2008, the Cadiz Land Company, by then known as Cadiz, Inc., revived the plan in modified form, emphasizing less the drawing of water from the Colorado River and instead proposing to obtain the water from sources feeding the desert area’s dry lakes that are subject to evaporation. The revived project, to entail the sinking of 34 wells into the desert and construction of a 44-mile pipeline to meet up with the aqueduct carrying Colorado River water to the Los Angeles and Orange County metropolitan areas, was given a tentative budget of $536.25 million. Cadiz, Inc. first arranged to find potential buyers of the water, lining up the Santa Margarita Water District, in Orange County; the Three Valleys Water District, which provides water to the Pomona Valley, Walnut Valley, and Eastern San Gabriel Valley; the Golden State Water Company, which serves several communities in Southern California, including Claremont; Suburban Water Systems, which serves Covina, West Covina and La Mirada; and the Jurupa Community Services District, which serves Mira Loma in Riverside County. To obtain environmental certification of the project, Cadiz, Inc. turned not to the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors, but to the Santa Margarita Water District, which was to be the largest recipient of the water. The Santa Margarita Water District is the second largest water district in Orange County, serving the affluent communities of Rancho Santa Margarita, Mission Viejo, Coto de Caza, Las Flores, Ladera Ranch and Talega.
A contingent of San Bernardino County residents protested the Santa Margarita Water District’s assumption of lead agency status on the project, officially known as the Cadiz Valley Water Conservation and Recovery Project, based on the consideration that the district lies 217 miles from the Cadiz Valley across the county line from San Bernardino County. San Bernardino County could have contested that arrangement in court, but Cadiz, Inc. effectively moved to block that challenge from occurring, providing then-San Bernardino County Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt, in whose First District the Cadiz and Fenner valleys and much of the East Mojave were located, with $48,100 in political donations as he attempted to leapfrog from his position as county supervisor to Congress. In the 2012 primary, Mitzelfelt proved unsuccessful in his effort to capture outright or get into the 8th Congressional District race, placing a distant fifth among thirteen candidates. In reaching for the Congressional brass ring, Mitzelfelt had to forgo seeking reelection as supervisor, consigning him to leave office later that year. He was still in office as a lame duck when on July 31, 2012, the Santa Margarita Water District’s Board of Directors certified the environmental impact report for the Cadiz Water project, clearing the way for Los Angeles-based Cadiz, Inc. to extract an average of 50,000 acre-feet of water per year – more than 16 billion gallons of groundwater annually – for the next century from the eastern Mojave Desert and send it via pipeline westward to Los Angeles, Orange and Riverside counties.
In this way, the Cadiz Water Project, officially called by its proponents the Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project, became known as the Mitzelfelt’s lasting political legacy, the final product of his failed attempt to trade the trust of his constituents and his authority over the fate of their regional resources for cash he believed would be the key to higher political office.
Over the next five years, a succession of environmental challenges and lawsuits delayed the implementation of the project. Cadiz, Inc. has succeeded in overcoming all of those lawsuits or having them dismissed. The only snag holding up the project at this point is a 2015 U.S. Bureau of Land Management decision that Cadiz, Inc. could not use the existing federal railroad right-of-way for the water pipeline it intends to construct to convey water drawn from the aquifer to the Colorado River Aqueduct. This carried with it the requirement that the company go through a federal environmental review, under the National Environmental Policy Act, delaying the project and adding to its expense. In March, however, the Donald Trump Administration, in the form of a memo from a Bureau of Land Management acting assistant director, revoked two of the legal bases for the agency’s 2015 decision.
At issue is the degree to which railroads are at liberty to allow their rights-of-way to be used for non-railroad purposes. A railroad right-of-way can accommodate a water pipeline if the water is to be used by the railroad, but the use of steam engines went out of vogue last century. In 1989, an Interior Department solicitor concluded that an 1875 railroad law allowed railroads to authorize other uses without Department of the Interior approval. A subsequent solicitor’s opinion altered that conclusion to state other uses had to “derive from or further”a railroad purpose. Both solicitors’ memos held that an involved process was required to determine what constituted secondary uses and what furthered railroad purposes. The California Bureau of Land Management office later found that “conveyance of water for public consumption is not a railroad purpose.”
Based on the March memo, which did not specifically note the Cadiz project, Cadiz, Inc. is asking the federal government for permission to proceed. Environmental groups, however, are at the ready to file further court action based upon the underlying law.
A little less than two months ago, on May 24, Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-California, called on the Trump administration to continue a policy of preventing the use of a Mojave Desert railroad right-of-way for the Cadiz Water Project.
In a letter to U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Feinstein requested that his agency uphold the Bureau of Land Management’s 2015 determination that Cadiz cannot use the railroad right-of-way on federal property to convey water drawn from beneath the fragile Mojave Desert without further federal environmental reviews.
“If Cadiz is successful in building its project, a major aquifer that sustains life in California’s Mojave Desert will be destroyed,” Feinstein said publicly. “This would be a terrible legacy for this administration to allow the destruction of all that we’ve done to preserve this amazing desert for posterity.”
Feinstein simultaneously produced a letter from the U.S. Geological Survey which stated that an analysis done by the agency in 2000 found that the Cadiz, Bristol and Fenner basins naturally recharged water at rates of 2,000 to 10,000 acre-feet a year, far below the rate at which Cadiz, Inc. would be drawing water for its project.
Early in her tenure as a senator, Feinstein authored and successfully pushed for the passage of the California Desert Protection Act of 1994 that created the Mojave National Preserve, which introduced a number of protection regimens for 69 wilderness areas falling between the Mexican border and the town of Bishop.
At noon on July 10, the deadline elapsed for public input on President Donald Trump’s Executive Order 13792 issued on April 26, calling for a review of the status of national monuments larger than 100,000 acres that were created or expanded since 1996 under the authority of the Antiquities Act of 1906, which he said occurred “without adequate public outreach.” Trump’s order calls for U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to determine whether any of the 27 national monuments were created without proper input from the public and local, state and tribal governments. It says designations made without such input may impede “energy independence” or “curtail economic growth.” The Mojave Trails and Sand to Snow are among the 27 monuments covered by Trump’s order. By reversing those expansions, the Trump Administration would remove a further potential roadblock to Cadiz, Inc. drawing water from the East Mojave.
Two weeks ago, Assemblywoman Laura Friedman, D-Glendale entered the fray, potentially bringing with her the weight of the entire California Legislature. Using her legislator’s pen, she moved to amend pending state legislation such that before water can be sucked out of the desert in the quantities envisaged by Cadiz, Inc., a host of reviews of the impact must first be carried out.
Friedman altered the language of pending legislation, AB 1000, which originally pertained to water meter standards, to halt significant water pumping until state land and wildlife officials review the proposed groundwater extractions to first certify they will not harm the desert’s ecology.
Friedman, a freshman legislator, acknowledged the alteration of AB 1000 came in response to Trump Administration’s prioritization of the Cadiz Water Project. “When the federal government refuses to undertake these environmental reviews, the state must step up and make sure they are done,” said Friedman.
Friedman’s move to amend the bill brought howls of objections from Cadiz, Inc. and its corporate officers, who characterized what she was engaged in as “flawed legislation” and an effort to derail the project.
“We are disappointed that the California Legislature’s Senate Committee on Natural Resources voted yesterday on a party line 7-2 vote to pass out of committee Assembly Bill (AB) 1000, a bill just introduced by Assemblymember Laura Friedman over the Independence Day holiday. Assemblymember Friedman utilized the ‘gut and amend’ process to quietly change a pre-existing bill and load it with new language that seeks to derail reliable water supplies in Southern California without consultation with those who may be impacted by such legislation,” said Scott Slater, Cadiz, Inc.’s chief executive officer and president.
“AB 1000 is a deeply flawed, unconstitutional bill that targets a single project, usurps local control and undercuts the revered California Environmental Quality Act to review environmental impacts,” said Slater. “Setting a terrible precedent, AB 1000 would overrule the judgment of local agencies even where California’s courts have already reviewed and approved their decisions. The bill faces substantial opposition and numerous steps remain ahead of AB 1000 before it could become law. We will work vigorously with the broad, growing coalition of opposition to block this bill from advancing and demonstrate that such an extraordinary action is both unlawful and unwise.”
According to Slater, “The Cadiz Water Project is a California project that has been thoroughly and publicly reviewed and approved by two separate California public agencies in accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act, widely known as the most stringent environmental law in the U.S. During this review process, project operations were found to have no adverse impacts on the environment, including state and federal lands referenced in AB 1000.”
If passed by the legislature and signed into law by the governor, AB 1000 would be called the California Desert Protection Act of 2017.
Under AB 1000, taking groundwater from beneath that part of the Mojave that is not already urbanized would be prohibited unless the State Lands Commission in conjunction with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife determines pumping “will not adversely affect the natural or cultural resources of those federal and state lands.”
If AB 1000 passes, Cadiz, Inc. could yet put the project into place, but would need to convince those without a stake in the project’s outcome that the water siphoning at the level of intensity envisaged by Cadiz, Inc. would do no harm. That was not the case with the board for the Santa Margarita Water District, which has committed to purchasing at least 20 percent of the water to be made available from the project. -Mark Gutglueck

After 6 Months Of The Prosecution’s Case, Colonies Defense Rests After Half Day

By Ruth Musser-Lopez and Mark Gutglueck
In an unexpected turn in a trial that by its sheer length has already exhibited serpentine bends to rival the switchbacks on Highway 18 from San Bernardino to Lake Arrowhead, defense attorneys in the Colonies Lawsuit Settlement Public Corruption Case on Monday rested without calling a single witness to the stand.
More than seven months have elapsed since jury selection for the case was initiated in December. Opening statements began on January 4, after which 39 witnesses called by the prosecution testified over nearly six months, with the prosecution resting its case against defendants Jeff Burum, Paul Biane and Mark Kirk on June 28 and the case against Jim Erwin on June 29. Thereafter, the two juries hearing the case – one of which is to consider whether the state has met its burden in establishing guilt beyond a reasonable doubt with regard to Burum, Biane and Kirk, and another which is to decide the fate of Erwin – were given a two-week hiatus which included the July 4 Holiday. In jurors’ absence, the prosecutors and the defense attorneys dealt with hammering out the language in the jury instructions with regard to the remaining charges that the judge presiding over the matter, Michael A . Smith, will give to the jurors before they begin their deliberations. Also considered were what are known as 1118.1 motions. Penal Code 1118.1 provides the opportunity for defendants in a criminal matter to appeal to the judge, after the prosecution has put on the totality of its case, to consider the evidence that has been presented and dismiss those charges which in his or her estimation have not been sufficiently supported by the evidence and testimony.
Even before the trial began in January, the case against the defendants had been significantly reduced from the 29 counts and 40 separate charges against the defendants to 17 counts and 25 separate charges against the defendants. In that winnowing process, what many considered the most important and damaging count of all, conspiracy, which accounted for one charge each against the four defendants, had been eliminated from play. The prosecution had sought to reestablish the crucial conspiracy element, but failed at both the state appellate court and California Supreme Court levels. During the trial, in May, Judge Smith threw out two of the counts and two of the charges against Erwin based on the California Supreme Court’s upholding of a ruling by an appellate court with regard to a case involving similar charges to two of those brought against Erwin relating to his having failed to report, on economic interest disclosure documents known as California Form 700s which must be filled out by public officials, gifts provided to him by Colonies Partners managing principal Jeff Burum.
When the prosecution rested, 16 counts and 23 separate charges remained. By the time Judge Smith had moved through all of the 1118.1 motions, four counts and seven charges had been thrown out, so that 11 counts and 16 charges remain, none of which carries a mandatory prison sentence.
In this way, Burum yet faces count 4, a charge of violating Penal Code Section 165: aiding and abetting former supervisor Bill Postmus in receiving or agreeing to receive a bribe to influence a vote; count 5, a violation of Penal code Section 165: aiding and abetting Biane in receiving or agreeing to receive a bribe to influence a vote; count 7: a violation of Penal Code 86, aiding and abetting Postmus in receiving or agreeing to receive or asking for a bribe to influence a vote; and count 8: a violation of Penal Code 86, aiding and abetting Biane in receiving or agreeing to receive or asking for a bribe to influence a vote.
Biane is yet up against count 2, a violation of Penal Code Section 165: receiving or agreeing to receive a bribe to influence a vote; count 6, a violation of Penal Code Section 86: receiving, agreeing to receive or asking for a bribe to influence a vote; and count 10, a violation of Government Code Section 1090, engaging in a conflict of interest.
Mark Kirk still stands accused in count 9 of a violation of Government Code Section 9054, the improper influencing of a public official; and count 10, a violation of Government Codes Section 1090: engaging in a conflict of interest.
Erwin still faces more charges than any of the others, including count 4, a violation of Penal Code Section 165: aiding and abetting Postmus in receiving or agreeing to receive a bribe to influence a vote; count 5, a violation of Penal Code Section P.C. 165: aiding and abetting Biane, in receiving or agreeing to receive a bribe to influence a vote; count 7, a violation of Penal Code Section P.C. 86: aiding and abetting Postmus in receiving, agreeing to receive or asking for a bribe to influence a vote; count 8, a violation of Penal Code Section P.C. 86: aiding and abetting Biane, in receiving, agreeing to receive or asking for a bribe to influence a vote; count 14, a violation of Revenue & Tax Codes Section 19706: failure to file a tax return; Count 15, a violation of Penal Code Section 118: perjury on his 2007/2008 Form 700; and count 18, a violation of Penal Code Section 118: perjury by failing to disclose receiving $7,500 on his Form 700.
The prosecution, consisting of the California Attorney General’s Office and the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office, alleges Burum in 2006, impatient with progress toward a resolution of the litigation the Colonies Partners had filed in 2002 against the county over flood control issues at the Colonies at San Antonio residential and Colonies Crossroads commercial subdivisions in Upland, employed Erwin to blackmail then-supervisors Bill Postmus and Paul Biane in an effort to get them to settle the suit. After Postmus and Biane did so by joining with then-supervisor Gary Ovitt in November 2006 to confer on the Colonies Partners a $102 million payout to make that settlement, the prosecution alleges Burum filtered bribes to Postmus, Biane and Kirk, Ovitt’s chief of staff, as well as to Erwin in the form of separate $100,000 donations to political action committees they controlled. These allegations were made in an indictment handed down against Burum, Biane, Erwin and Kirk in May 2011.
Because Mark McDonald and Peter Scalisi, the attorneys for Biane and Kirk, respectively, had not provided opening statements, as was their prerogative, in January, both gave those statements on Monday, as the launch of the defense case in the trial.
Mark Kirk, Scalisi said, was not in the closed sessions of the board of supervisors wherein the ultimate decision to settle the Colonies lawsuit against the county for $102 million was made. “Mark got some of the information but not all of it,” Scalisi said, indicating that Kirk was thus not armed with an understanding of where the debate stood with regard to the settlement and was not equipped to influence the vote.
Scalisi referenced and quoted from Ovitt’s testimony at trial. Ovitt’s words “absolutely it was my decision, my decision alone and I stand accountable for it,” Scalisi said, exonerated his client. “The bottom line is that evidence has shown you that Gary Ovitt said under oath that he voted for the settlement because it was the right thing to do, and Mark Kirk never influenced him in any way to vote that way.”
Scalisi went on to quote himself in questioning Ovitt in March “Knowing Mark Kirk the way you do, is Mark Kirk the kind of guy who could take a bribe or not take a bribe?” Scalisi then quoted Ovitt’s response, “Absolutely not. I would not think of him that way at all. Absolutely, he is honest and you can trust him.” Scalisi said, “That is a guy that knows Mark Kirk very well.”
Scalisi turned his focus to Bill Postmus, upon whom the prosecution had relied to provide the narrative of wrongdoing that was to illustrate the criminal case. But Postmus had done more to vindicate Kirk than implicate him, Scalisi insisted.
Referencing Postmus’ open acknowledgment of his profligate drug use, Scalisi said, “Bill Postmus came in aired his dirty laundry and testified in the most honest and trustworthy way he could.” Scalisi then offered his theory that the district attorney’s office’s investigators had preyed upon Postmus in his drug addled state to prevail upon him to concoct falsehoods implicating the four defendants in a patently false tale of threats, coercion, blackmail, extortion, graft and bribery which had been originally suggested by Adam Aleman, Postmus one-time protege but eventual betrayer, who had, Scalisi said, supplied a false and entirely unreliable story to investigators in his effort to get out from under criminal charges he was facing. Those investigators,whom Postmus had referred to as the “thug squad” were dubbed by Scalisi as the “Bud squad” in reference to lead investigator, Hollis “Bud” Randles, Postmus story changed, Scalisi said, when he was out from under the influence of the “Bud squad,” which had, Scalisi said “cherry-picked” Postmus statements to construct the prosecution’s false case.
Scalisi said of Postmus, “He had an interview with the FBI when he was without the Bud squad,” referring to Postmus voluntary statements made during an interview he had with FBI agent Jonathan Zeitlin and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jerry Behnke and Joseph Widman on October 14, 2011. Scalisi, offering his assertion that at that point Postmus was in his waning days of drug addiction, quoted from that interview:
“Like for instance, I mean I’ve been told, I don’t know if it was the DA’s office, that someone had read, you know the transcripts that came out you know publicly, it was my understanding that (during the Grand Jury) Mr. Aleman had stated that Mr. Kirk told him that, you know, I’ve been told this, he had taken a bribe or he had solicited a bribe or was going to take something,” Postmus said. “Well I know for a fact that is not true because Adam and I talked about that. The fact that, you know, $100,000 that anyone had solicited, and in the assessor case, there’s dozens and dozens and dozens of things where he changes his statement in the interviews.”
When the district attorney’s investigators ambushed Kirk to inveigle him into an intensive grilling session in which they held a tremendous psychological advantage over him and thereby sought to break him down and have him implicate himself, Scalisi said, Kirk had not wavered, holding up under the interrogation, while continuing to maintain in the face of the hard-charging investigators “that no way is that PAC [political action committee] contribution a bribe.”
In the prosecution’s presentation of the audio recording of that interrogation, Scalisi said, Kirk can clearly be heard telling the investigators, “There was no quid pro quo. There was never anything offered there.”
Kirk had cooperated with Randles, which Scalisi said was the mark of an innocent man.
“He sat down and answered Mr. Randles,” Scalisi said. “He answered all the questions. Twice he said there was never any quid pro quo.”
In November of 2004, when Ovitt was just elected to the board of supervisors and before Kirk had become his chief of staff, Scalisi said, Ovitt had already resolved to support the settlement of the litigation with the Colonies Partners. That was supported by the testimony of Bill Postmus, Scalisi said, who had said “Gary told me he was always in favor of the settlement before he was even elected.”
The lawsuit should have been settled, Scalisi said, and he suggested the county had saved money by entering into the settlement when it did, although it had squandered money previously by dragging its feet on settling the litigation and thus causing the Colonies Partners to “blow a bunch of money on lawyers, pumping up the settlement. “$102 million is a big settlement,” Scalisi said. “But you don’t have to look at it that way. The flip side of it is that the vote saved the county $198 million,” the difference between the $300 million the Colonies Partners were starting to demand toward the end of 2006.
Mark Kirk was described by Scalisi as, “a stand up guy” who emphatically did not cheat the county out of $102 million. In actuality, Scalisi said, it was the county that got its money’s worth out of Kirk.
“He was an employee working for Mr. Ovitt, putting in the hours that he was supposed to put in,” Scalisi said. “He was a hard working guy. The county got its money out of him.”
And Scalisi said, “The evidence is going to show you beyond all reasonable doubt that it was perfectly legal, perfectly okay for Mark Kirk to be involved in a PAC [political action committee]. To have a PAC is perfectly legal. All of the PAC’s 460s [California Form 460s are campaign finance disclosure documents] were filled out. Everything was open to the public. There was no effort by Mr. Kirk to hide his involvement in the PAC.”
McDonald told the juries, that as Biane’s attorney, he had remained silent throughout most of the trial because the evidence presented against his client had not been strong enough to merit a response and where issues of import to Biane had been raised, the other defense attorneys had addressed most of those. “I did not ask many questions of many witnesses or even make objections,” McDonald said. “You don’t need to have me ask questions that have already been asked. By the time things got to me, there was not much to ask.”
On a few occasions, McDonald said, he had gotten animated when an issue “just had to do with Mr. Biane,” but otherwise, he said he felt no need “to reinvent the wheel.”
McDonald said, “My client has asked not to testify. The only reason I would put my client on the stand to tell any kind of story is if he had anything that he had to justify or explain. So, Paul Biane does not have anything to say.”
McDonald acknowledged that Biane had supported the $102 million settlement. Nevertheless, McDonald maintained the inducement the prosecution has alleged – the $100,000 donation to the political action committee set up by Biane’s chief of staff Matt Brown – had nothing to do with his client’s decision to support the settlement. There was sound reasoning in support of the settlement which Biane among all of those on the board of supervisors had the wherewithal to understand, McDonald said.
“I don’t need to repeat that Paul Biane was heavily involved in real estate,” McDonald said, enumerating, “the Las Osos Development, four buildings, a car wash, the Jack in the Box, property north of the 210 [Freeway] on Haven [Avenue in Rancho Cucamonga]. Paul Biane developed that. He is a real estate developer in his own right. He did not need to be a Jeff Burum to understand the intricacies of development. Look at the mountains. We have heard all about the basins, the easements, the problems that come with development. Paul, like everyone who develops, has to deal with that. His voice comes with his real estate development. He was the expert on the board of supervisors” with regard to the “fundamental issues” relating to the Colonies development and the ensuing lawsuit, “easements and land rights,” McDonald pointed out. When, during the mediation sessions involving the county’s representatives and the Colonies Partners’ representatives, a presentation with regard to those issues was made by a Colonies Partners’ lawyer, McDonald said, Biane watched and listened. “Paul was saying, ‘I get it,’” McDonald said.
Biane understood, McDonald said, that in the mediation, for the county “there must be one voice of what to do.”
Biane came to the board of supervisors from a culture that recognized the primacy of those seeking to engage in aggressive economic development.
“Mr. Biane wasn’t elected to settle the Colonies [lawsuit],” McDonald said, but noted, “The people who elected him were pro-development. This was an easy step to make in their minds. That is why he was sitting on the board of supervisors. From day one, while he was on the city council in Rancho Cucamonga [before his election to the board of supervisors], he was in favor of some kind of settlement.”
Biane is a good guy, McDonald said.
“I could talk about all of his accomplishments, as a dad, as a husband, his children: Bella Philo; his wife Leah. That is not part of this case. I am not going to put any of those people on the stand, as wonderful as they are. The evidence is in. The cross-examination is complete.”
Stephen Larson, Burum’s lead attorney, then provided to the jury a synopsis of the information that had been provided by five witnesses subpoenaed by the defense which the prosecution had stipulated to. This obviated the necessity of actually having those witnesses testify under direct examination by the defense attorneys and then being subjected to cross examination by the prosecution. Those witnesses were supervisor Josie Gonzales, who had previously testified as a prosecution witness; Gonzales’ chief of staff in the 2006-2007 time frame, Bob Page; the now-retired judge who had heard a portion of the litigation between the Colonies Partners and the county as a bench trial in 2006, Christopher Warner; the former president of the Red Hill Country, James Piatt; Colonies limited partner Ted Hopson who was also an attorney representing some of the other Colonies Partners’ limited partners; and Scott Sommer, an attorney for the Colonies Partners representing it in the litigation against the county.
The prosecution and defense agreed to forego recalling Gonzales to the stand and stipulate to the existence of a pin messages between Gonzales and Page sent in November 2006, while Gonzales was on a trade mission to China. Gonzales had testified previously about an encounter with former California State Senator Jim Brulte in China, which she at first identified as taking place in September 2005 and later indicated was in November 2006, after it was demonstrated she was not in China in 2005. Gonzales said that Brulte invited her out to a night on the town with Burum. It has been established that Burum was in China in September 2005 but not in November 2006. Both the prosecution and the defense stipulated to an interview Page did with defense investigators in which Page said he was aware that Postmus was on the trade mission trips to China and that he had heard that members of the Colonies Partners had been to China on some of the trade missions. Page further said that he had not attended the 2006 trade mission to China because he had remained stateside with his pregnant wife but that he heard from Matt Brown, Biane’s chief of staff, that Colonies Partners representatives were in China. He said he sent a pin message to Gonzales using their BlackBerry communication devices saying he heard members of the Colonies Partners were there. Page told investigators that Gonzales emailed him and told him that on the day Page sent her the pin message she had encountered Brulte in the bar at the White Swan Hotel and that after seeing him, she did not leave her hotel room. According to Page, Gonzales did not indicate that she saw Jeff Burum in China in 2006 and she did not at that time mention being pressured by the Colonies Partners or anyone at all with regard to the settlement. Also according to Page, Gonzales acknowledged that documentation provided by the Colonies Partners which was purported to lay out the company’s costs to justify the $102 million settlement had been available to her but she had deferred looking at it until she would have the benefit of being able to review it with the assistance of county attorneys. While elements of Page’s statements shore up a portion of Gonzales’ testimony in March which was attacked by the defense, Page’s statements in some measure contradict Gonzales’ testimony, including her claim that Burum was visible at a distance across the lobby of the White Swan Hotel when she encountered Brulte there, and that she had not been provided materials from the Colonies Partners to justify the $102 million settlement figure on a timely enough basis for her to review it before the settlement vote.
The prosecution and the defense attorneys stipulated to a statement from Judge Warner that he had no personal relationship with Jeff Burum prior to the Colonies trial and that he did not know who Jeff Burum was until he was pointed out to him in court in 2006 during the civil litigation trial.
Further stipulated to was a statement from Piatt accompanied by documents to establish that the Red Hill Country Club in Rancho Cucamonga, where Aleman had testified that he had attended some meetings between Bill Postmus and Jeff Burum on a couple of occasions between January and June of 2006, was undergoing extensive renovations from November 15, 2005, through April 26, 2007. These renovations entailed the closure of the clubhouse and the substitution of temporary trailers where food was cooked and from which that food was served to members and guests during the demolition and construction period, according to Piatt, who also described the seating accommodations there which included plastic chairs and tables with umbrellas that were proximate to the tennis courts. One of Burum’s defense attorneys, Jennifer Keller, had elicited statements from Aleman under cross examination that the fairways were visible from the tables, which is contradicted by Piatt’s statement that the outdoor seating by the trailers did not overlook the golf course. The defense maintains this tends to disprove Aleman’s claim to having been present at what he estimated were “six to twelve” meetings between Postmus and Burum in the first half of 2006.
Both the prosecution and defense stipulated to Hopson’s statement that the Colonies Partners were pursuing the completion of the residential and commercial portions of its Upland project in 2007 and 2008, and that Burum was also involved in several major developmental efforts, including a joint venture with the Lewis Operating Company which never came to fruition wherein they cooperated under the heading the Rancho Alliance, other efforts to initiate master planned communities through the Diversified Pacific Opportunity Fund, as well as Burum having joined in with other developers in 2007 to explore building a NFL stadium off of the I-10 Freeway in Ontario. Hopson’s statement suggested that the generosity Burum was displaying in 2007 with the $100,000 donations to political action committees controlled by Postmus, Biane and Kirk was intended to smooth over feelings that may have been hurt by the hard fought effort to settle the lawsuit, so that those development efforts might proceed. This controverts the prosecution’s contention that the donations were simply disguised bribes.
Sommer, who was a leading element of the Colonies Partners’ legal team in the litigation against the county, would not be called to testify, Larson said, but the defense attorneys and the prosecution stipulated to a Power Point presentation he had prepared during a mediation sessions in 2004 which put forth the Colonies Partners’ case that the damages the company had sustained could be valued at $178 million.
At that point in the proceedings, it was agreed that the jurors would be presented with those stipulated statements or documents from those six witnesses, who would not need to testify.
A 15-minute break ensued. Thereafter, with all of the accused, their attorneys and many of their supporters and family members in the courtroom together with the prosecution team and observers anticipating the initiation of the defense’s case after more than a half year of the prosecution driving the tempo of the proceedings, Judge Smith asked Larson if he was prepared to call his first witness. Thereupon Larson informed Smith that the defense on behalf of Burum was resting. Rajan Maline on behalf of Erwin followed suit, as then did McDonald and Scalisi.
The decision by the defense to bring testimony in the trial to a close without putting on any type of a defense case beyond the set of stipulations, while foregoing calling witnesses entirely, came as an unexpected development to nearly all of the regular attendees of the proceedings, including the entirety of the press corps reporting on the case since it opened in January. And indeed, the lopsided nature of the case in terms of the time and effort devoted to the prosecution’s case – a few days shy of a full six months and 39 witnesses in contrast with a half-day and no actual on-stand witness examination and cross examination – is glaring. The defense move, which some observers referred to as a gamble and which some in the defense camp called perfectly logical, hinges on the stated belief in the defense camp that despite all of of the prosecution’s efforts, it had simply failed to meet its burden to prove its case against any one or all four of the defendants.
Part of the defense strategy – and the uniformity among each of the defense attorneys would seem to be an intrinsic part of that strategy – was to make such a show of confidence in the strength of the defense’s position vis-a-vis the weakness of the prosecution that it carries over into the separate jury rooms in which the two panels will deliberate. Yet, the strategy was still something of a gamble, as the prosecution managed to put together a case that was long on circumstantial evidence and elliptical suggestion, even if it was relatively short on irrefutable or indisputable evidence that the money that changed hands was clearly understood by all parties to be the bribes as the prosecutors claimed.
Yet to come are the closing arguments. On July 10, during her response to the several defense attorneys’ 1118.1 motions to have all of the charges against their clients dismissed, California Supervising Deputy Attorney General Melissa Mandel put on a passionate two-hour duration oration – by far her most dynamic showing in the entirety of the proceedings – in which she gave a tour-de-force recapitulation of the case in its entirety and simultaneously illuminated pieces of evidence and disparate snatches of testimony that had seemed irrelevant and orphaned previously, all in an effort to convince Smith to allow the case to proceed. That presentation for Smith’s benefit, which was as heavily weighted in emotional appeal as it was in its impressive factual delineation, is very likely to be the blueprint for her closing arguments. That the collective defense squandered the opportunity it had to bring in some witnesses who might have laid out information that could complicate that anticipated presentation or could serve to hamstring Mandel in proceeding as forcefully as she did with Smith on July 10 baffled some observers.
But for Stephen Larson, a former federal prosecutor and federal judge as well as the architect of Burum’s defense and portions of the strategy being pursued by the attorneys for the other three defendants, the reason for getting the case into the hands of the juries as soon as possible is as simple as it is compelling.
“The prosecution had six months to prove its case, and they failed,” said Larson. “We used those six months to cross examine their witnesses – which of course never happened before the indicting grand jury – to expose the rest of the story and establish that these men are innocent and these charges should never have been brought.”
As Mandel and the other lead prosecutor on the case, San Bernardino County Supervising Deputy District Attorney Lewis Cope were leaving the courtroom, they were asked if they anticipated the defense’s action in abruptly moving to take the case before the jury without calling any witnesses to testify. Cope said, “We knew that was a possibility. We remain confident in our case.”

Sully-Miller Gets $700K To Fix Sugarpine Road In Big Bear

The county will expend something less than $700,000 to refurbish Sugarpine Road and the area around it near Big Bear.
Last week the board of supervisors awarded a contract to Brea-based Sully-Miller Contracting Company in the amount of $668,400 for the Division Drive and Sugarpine Road project.
Kevin Blakeslee, the director of the county department of public works, asked the board to “award … a contract to construct the project, which consists of pulverizing existing roadway, removing surplus pulverized material, constructing cement treated base and placing hot mix asphalt concrete, cold planing, placing asphalt concrete leveling, and an asphalt rubber binder seal coat. The work on Sugarpine Road involves the placement of asphalt concrete leveling course, asphalt rubber seal coat and fog seal coat. All work for the project will be done within existing road right-of-way. The roadwork at these locations will preserve and improve the structural integrity of the existing road surface.”
The county previously entered into a cooperative agreement with the City of Big Bear to act as the lead agency in completing the various phases of the project, including the construction phase. Construction is anticipated to commence the end of July 2017 and be completed by end of September 2017.
The project was advertised in the Daily Press on May 30, 2017, in the Precinct Reporter on June 1, 2017, on the County Electronic Procurement Network (ePro) and with specified construction trade journals. On June 15, 2017, three bids were received, one from Sully-Miller Contracting Co. of Brea for $668,400; one from the Matich Corporation of San Bernardino for $780,016 and one from Hardy & Harper, Inc. of Santa Ana for $838,000. All three were deemed responsive, and a contract was entered into with Sully-Miller, the lowest responsible bidder.

County Gives Riverside Firm $1.5M Contract For Fire Hazard Weed Abatement

San Bernardino County has entered into a $1.5 million contract with a Riverside company to mow and disk weeds that present a fire hazard.
With the wet winter and the resultant growth in vegetation that is now browning in the summer heat, the county board of supervisors last week at the recommendation of Tom Hudson, the director of the county’s land use services department, authorized the county purchasing agent to issue a purchase order with AB Landscaping, in an amount originally slated not to exceed $1,500,000, for the period of July 30, 2017, through June 30, 2022 for on-call fire hazard weed abatement.
In a presentation made to the board of supervisors made on Hudson’s behalf, Andy Wingert, the county’ chief code enforcement officer, said, “The land use services division provides fire/weed hazard abatement services through the fire hazard abatement program in the mountain, desert, and valley regions. The hazard abatement program process begins when hazard abatement program conducts inspections of properties to determine whether hazardous fire conditions exist. Mountain region parcels are inspected once per year during the summer. Desert and valley regions are inspected twice per year, during the spring and fall. When hazardous conditions are identified, the owner is notified and given 30 days to abate the hazard. After 30 days the property is re-inspected and, if the property is not in compliance at that time, the hazard abatement program brings the property into compliance by abating the hazard. These abatement services are performed by county employees or contractors, and the property owner is billed for labor and administrative costs related to these services. The impacts
of these efforts are two-fold: reduction of fire hazards to provide defensible space around properties and structures; increased safety for community members, firefighters, and other first-responders.”
On April 11, 2017, a request for bids was made by way of the county’s electronic procurement network, known as ePro, seeking proposals from qualified vendors to provide fire hazard abatement services on an as-needed basis. The request for qualifications was sent to all vendors within the ePro system with a vendor code that aligned with the services being requested. The sole bidder was AB Landscaping at 17150 Frankland Lane in Riverside, which had, according to Wingert, “performed satisfactorily for fire hazard abatement program during the last contract cycle.”

Camp Cady

Camp CadyBy Walter Feller and Colonel Herbert M. Hart, USMC (retired)
Located about 20 miles east of Barstow, Camp Cady was posted on April 14, 1860, in compliance with an order by General N. .S. Clarke, by Major Carleton with Company K, 1st Dragoons, aggregating 80 men, near the Mojave River Road. The encampment was called Camp Cady for Major Albemarle Cady, 6th Infantry, then in command of Fort Yuma. For three months the Dragoons quartered themselves in temporary shelters of brush and mud or dugouts similar to those used later by the region’s miners.
The makeshift quarters were finally replaced by permanent structures built by Army regulars. ‘The post had a parade ground 300 yards square, with the buildings arranged along three of its sides. The buildings were of adobe, floored and shingle roofed, plastered out side and plastered and whitewashed inside. The officers’ quarters was the only structure with ceilings. Camp Cady served as the base for a whole series of camps, redoubts, and forts along the Old Government Road to Fort Mojave and the Salt Lake Road, with campaigns waged against the Paiutes and Shoshones. The post was abandoned on April 24, 1871.
“Half a days pull through heavy sandy and gravelly wastes brought us to this God-forsaken Botany Bay of a place,” wrote Elliott Cones when he visited Camp Cady in 1865, “the meanest I ever saw for a military station, where four officers and a handful of men manage to exist in some unexplained way in mud and brush hovels.”
The comparison of Cady to the notorious Australian convict colony was apt, although not calculated to raise the morale of the troopers manning the desolate outpost. It had been built in early 1860 by then Major Carleton at the site of a “Depot on the Mojave,” a temporary camp of the preceding September.
Carleton’s men had no intention of staying at the spot and were content to live in a scattering of adobe and brush huts, half underground dugout style. There was a central building which could lay some claim to fortress like attributes, a 40-foot adobe square that stood man-high and was surrounded by a ditch.
From here, Carleton vigorously scoured the countryside for traces of Indian marauders. Surgeon Jonathan Letterman, the originator of the Army’s ambulance service and after whom Letterman Army Medical Center was named was with Carleton at the time.
An officer “killed two Indians on the 19th in the mountains southwest of our camp,” Letterman later wrote. “In the affray two men were seriously wounded, one in the neck and one in the abdomen, by the Indians. Both are doing well, but the one wounded in the abdomen is not out of danger yet.” The Los Angeles Star carried news of a Carleton expedition in May, 1860 in which he destroyed a Piute rancheria 50 miles from Cady, bringing away several trophies highly prized by the Indians.” A civilian teamster was missing “and it supposed that he was killed by the Indians. These Piutes must get a thorough drubbing.”
Rather than a drubbing, Carleton held a peace conference at Camp Cady with 24 Piutes spokesmen, one of them a woman. He told them that the white man and his “Great Father” was powerful and wanted to be a friend of the Indians. The chiefs agreed, gave their pledges, took their gifts, and, for the moment, keep the peace. Camp Cady was abandoned.
Two years later the post was temporarily reactivated, but this time as an early warning outpost against feared Confederate attack. Orders were issued on April 5, 1862 for an 11-man detail to to to Camp Cady “and there shelter yourself and party in a field-work which was thrown up at that point by Colonel Carleton two years since. It is reported that there is a large body of men east of Beale’s Crossing on the Colorado River, and it is possible, though not probable, that they will attempt to enter California by the Mojave route.”
“The object of sending you to Camp Cady is to give the colonel commanding timely notice, if such be their purpose, and to send to him any intelligence which you may receive of their movements. By putting your men and animals inside of the work, spies or a small number of scouts from such a party, coming up the river, would not know of your presence until they come so close that their escape would be impossible.”
The officer commanding the detail was told to stay out 11 days, “when if you receive no intelligence of the body of men alluded to above, you will return by easy marches to your proper station.”
A month later, the patrol was back. It had stayed at Cady from April 14 to 24 “seeing and hearing of nothing unusual.” Enroute they had heard of wagon loads of powder and small groups of armed men moving on other routes, but their direction was generally northeasterly, and did not seem to pose a threat to California.
The Indian depredations finally caused Cady to return to the official orders on July 26, 1864. Captain John C. Cremony and his B Company of the Second California Cavalry were ordered to patrol from Cady to Rock Springs and “to protect travel, clear the road of thieving, troublesome Indians.” A year later, the murder of two men 18 miles from the post, and activities of Indians who “come down from the mountains on either side of the road, steal stock, rob houses, lay forced tribute on travelers, threaten lives” forced the reopening of Camp Cady by a company of cavalry.
They were told to maintain a camp guard of 15 men. “The balance of the men will patrol the road constantly … keeping it clear … and particularly to keep Indians away from the watering places,” was the guidance to the first detail sent out in March, 1865.
While reestablishing the post, three soldiers were wounded and government stores burned in an Indian attack. The camp was officially reactivated on April 23, 1865, when Company C, 4th California Volunteer Infantry arrived. They manned Cady until July, 1866, rebuilding its collapsed buildings. “The quarters are made entirely of brush and are intended for shelter from the sun only.” wrote an observer.
On January 10, 1866, Inspector Brevet Brigadier General C. A. Whittier visited the post. “Great credit is due to Captain West for the construction of neat and comfortable houses with the means at his disposal save the adobe and at no expense to the government Whittier reported, “for the cleanliness and good order prevailing through the camp and for the care of his command and general good administration of affairs.”
The following day, the Cady garrison was officially commended by General McDowell for building 35 adobes at the post.
An attempt was made to abandon the camp in 1866, but public and political pressure was too great. Hardly was the post back in business again when a party of Indians approached the fort in a hostile demonstration. Twenty troopers charged after them. Five soldiers were killed in an ambush set up in the dense undergrowth along the river.
In the aftermath, a posse arrived from San Bernardino to reinforce the fort and chase the Indians, but the enemy had disappeared.
Attacks continued on the road. With requirements for pursuit patrols and train escorts, upwards of 120 men manned the fort at times.
In 1868 the post was moved a half mile to the west. Here was sufficient level ground for a parade field, something missing at the first cramped site. A more formal post was built in a rectangle, but a year later the garrison was cut to a token force. By this time, the trail was known as the “Old Government Road” for it had been supplanted by a more direct and safer route.
In 1871 the buildings were sold to civilian men. The mission was finished and the unsentimental Army no longer had any use for shanties. reported to “be of adobe and . . . of little value.”

Taken with permission from, a site devoted to history put together by Walter Feller. Reach him at 760 244-2353

The Preying Mantis

MantisThe preying mantis is of the mantodea order of insects, related to termites and cockroaches, which are all within the superorder dictyoptera. Distributed worldwide in temperate and tropical habitats, mantises fall within 15 families that contain over 2,400 species in about 430 genera, the largest family being mantidae (“mantids”). They have triangular heads with two bulging compound eyes, three small simple eyes, a pair of antennae, a beak-like snout and mandibles. The articulation of a mantis’s neck is also remarkably flexible; some species of mantis can rotate their heads nearly 180°. All mantises have forelegs that are greatly enlarged and adapted for catching and gripping prey; their upright posture, while remaining stationary with forearms folded, has led to the common name praying mantis.
Mantises have two spiked, grasping forelegs (“raptorial legs”) in which prey items are caught and held securely by a set of discoidal spines, usually four in number, preceded by a number of tooth-like tubercles, which give the foreleg of the mantis its grasp on its prey.
Mantises are long-winged, short-winged, vestigial-winged, or wingless.
Mantises have stereo vision. They locate their prey by sight; their compound eyes contain up to 10,000 ommatidia. A small area at the front called the fovea has greater visual acuity than the rest of the eye, and can produce the high resolution necessary to examine potential prey. The peripheral ommatidia perceive motion; and a mantis will rapidly move or rotate its head to bring the object into the visual field of the fovea. The eyes are widely spaced and laterally situated, affording a wide binocular field of vision and precise stereoscopic vision at close range.
As their hunting relies heavily on vision, mantises are primarily diurnal and when engaged in nocturnal flight can be attracted to artificial lights. Nocturnal flight is especially important to males in locating less-mobile females by detecting their pheromones. Flying at night exposes mantises to fewer bird predators than diurnal flight would.
Mantises are generalist ambush predators of arthropods, feeding upon live prey within their reach. They camouflage themselves and remain stationary, waiting for prey to approach.
Most mantises chase tempting prey if it strays close enough, and will go further when they are especially hungry. Once within reach, mantises strike rapidly to grasp the prey with their spiked raptorial forelegs.
Mantises are preyed on by vertebrates such as frogs, lizards, and birds, and by invertebrates such as spiders and ants. Generally, mantises protect themselves by camouflage, most species being cryptically colored to resemble foliage or other backgrounds. When directly threatened, many mantis species stand tall and spread their forelegs, with their wings fanning out wide. If harassment persists, a mantis may strike with its forelegs and attempt to pinch or bite. As part of the bluffing, or deimatic, threat display, some species may also produce a hissing sound by expelling air from the abdominal spiracles. When flying at night some mantises are able to detect the echolocation sounds produced by approaching bats as the frequency rapidly increases, and they will stop flying horizontally and begin a descending spiral toward the safety of the ground.
The mating season in temperate climates typically takes place in autumn, while in tropical areas, mating can occur at any time of the year. To mate, a male usually leaps onto the female’s back, clasping her thorax and wing bases with his forelegs. He then arches his abdomen to deposit and store sperm in a special chamber near the tip of the female’s abdomen. Sexual cannibalism is common among most predatory species of mantises in captivity and has sometimes been observed in natural populations, where about a quarter of male-female encounters result in the male being eaten by the female. Adult males typically outnumber females at first, but their numbers diminish as females selectively eat the smaller males. Upon beginning orgasm, an undisciplined male’s head may droop forward over the female’s shoulder. She will use the agile dexterity and flexibility of her neck to place her mouth at the back of her mate’s head and she will then begin to eat her way into and through his brain. So engaged is the male at the point that he hardly knows what is happening. Upon the devouring of his frontal lobes, the male xperiences the most powerful climax imaginable and that’s all there is, brother! There is no more. Chinese mantises that had been fed to the point that they were no longer hungry displayed elaborate courtship behavior when left undisturbed. The male engages the female in a courtship dance, to change her interest from feeding to mating. The reason for sexual cannibalism has been debated; experiments show that females on low quality diets have a higher chance to engage in sexual cannibalism compared to females on high quality diets. Some scientists believe that submissive males gain a selective advantage by producing offspring, which is supported by a quantifiable increase in the duration of copulation among males which are cannibalized, in some cases doubling both the duration and the chance of fertilization. However, males are likely to approach hungry females with more caution, and some males that actively avoid cannibalism may mate with multiple females. Hungry females generally attracted fewer males than those that were well fed. The act of dismounting after copulation is dangerous for males, for at this time, females have an opportunity to cannibalize their mates. An increase in mounting duration appears to indicate that males wait for an opportune time to dismount a hungry female, who would be likely to cannibalize her mate.
The female lays between 10 and 400 eggs, depending on the species. Eggs are often preyed on, especially by several species of parasitoid wasps. In a few species, female mantises guard the eggs. In temperate climates, adults do not survive the winter and the eggs undergo a diapause, hatching in the spring. Mantises go through three life stages: egg, nymph, and adult. Eggs hatch in three to seven weeks. The lifespan of a mantis depends on the species; smaller ones may live 4–8 weeks, while larger species may live 4–6 months.

Grace Bernal’s California Style: T-Topping

Style 07 21Feminism has become a trend this summer and with that come slogan Ts. Nowadays it’s not about believing in fantasy and more about stating your mind. Some Ts are getting more and more provocative, too, one of which the editor won’t let me display for you.  And this current fashion obsession has gripped the streets in such a way that I have a feeling slogan Ts are here for a while. People love them as weekend and fun wear pieces to the beach, shopping, or a museum, of which there are many in Southern California. It’s all about expressing who you are and empowering others and the Ts do just that. Even celebrities are in love with Ts that have an expressive mission. You see them walking on the streets of Los Angeles, wearing their statement proudly. Everyone is a feminist in some way and why not express as women that we love truth and have always been passionate about what we do. And what is more true than fashion?  Have fun T-topping around this weekend in your slogan T.

“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will.” Charlotte Bronte