By clicking on the blue portal below, you can download a PDF of the November 17 edition of the San Bernardino County Sentinel.
By Mark Gutglueck
District attorney Mike Ramos and one of his deputy prosecutors have left uncontroverted a report emanating from their office that they conspired to divert public money and personnel to support Ramos’ political efforts.
At the basis of the matter was an effort by both Ramos and deputy district attorney Dan Silverman to pressure the board of supervisors, in particular supervisors James Ramos and Robert Lovingood, to up district attorney’s office spokesman Christopher Lee’s salary by $21,000 while Lee engaged himself in an electioneering effort on behalf of Mike Ramos.
The central piece of evidence implicating both Mike Ramos and Silverman are emails they sent to James Ramos, who is no blood relation to Mike Ramos, and Lovingood in which the requests to advance Lee by six pay grades are clearly spelled out or reiterated. Though the emails from Mike Ramos and Silverman, which are in the main authored by Silverman, lay out the salary enhancements that are being sought for Lee, there is no mention of the justification for providing him the raise nor direct mention that he is to simultaneously work on behalf of the Mike Ramos campaign.
Mike Ramos has been district attorney since he was sworn into office in January 2003, following his election in November 2002. He faced no opposition for reelection in 2006 and turned back challenges in 2010 and 2014, winning both of those contests in the June primary elections and avoiding runoffs in the November general elections. In November 2014, he announced he would seek election in 2018 as California Attorney General. After then-California Attorney General Kamala Harris in 2015 began preparations to run for the U.S. Senate in 2016, Ramos stated he would accept an earlier appointment as attorney general from Governor Edmund “Jerry” Brown if Harris was successful in her Senate bid.
Lee was hired to serve as the district attorney’s office public affairs officer in 2011 at an approximate annual salary of $86,000. Available public records show that he was paid a salary of $86,403.20 and $507.01 in other pay and $36,490.24 in benefits in 2012; $85,684.88 and $41,943.77 for a total compensation of $127,628.65 in 2013; $87,166.02 and $42,246.18 in benefits for a total compensation of $128,412.20 in 2014; $88,565.34 in salary and $13,009.36 in other pay and $46,320.66 in benefits for a total compensation of $147,895.36 in 2015; and $95,789.92 in salary and $47,218.30 in benefits for a total compensation of $143,008.22 in 2016.
At least as early as 2010, the year before Lee became the official spokesman for the district attorney’s office, he did work as an internet site designer for Mike Ramos’ reelection campaign.
Between January 1, 2010 and March 17, 2010 Mike Ramos’ reelection campaign paid Christopher Lee Web Design, which is based in Redlands, $1,500; between March 18, 2010 and May 22, 2010 the Ramos reelection campaign paid Christopher Lee Web Design $1,500; between May 23, 2010 and June 30, 2010 the Ramos reelection campaign paid Christopher Lee Web Design $1,500; between July 1, 2010 and December 31, 2010 the Ramos reelection campaign paid Christopher Lee Web Design $640; between January 1, 2011 and June 30, 2011, the Ramos reelection campaign paid Christopher Lee Web Design $600; between July 1, 2013 and December 31, 2013 the Ramos reelection campaign paid Christopher Lee Web Design $2,500; between January 1, 2014 and March 17, 2014 the Ramos reelection campaign paid Christopher Lee Web Design $1,000; between March 17 and May 17, 2014 the Ramos reelection campaign paid Christopher Lee Web Design $1,000; between May 18, 2014 and June 30, 2014 the Ramos reelection campaign paid Christopher Lee Web Design $500; and between July 1 and December 30, 2014, the Ramos reelection campaign paid Christopher Lee Web Design $3,150.
Thereafter, payments from the campaign to reelect Ramos as district attorney to Christopher Lee Web Design ended. At that point, Ramos had seemingly abandoned his quest to be reelected district attorney in 2018, concentrating instead on his effort to transition into the office of California Attorney General. While it is known that Lee constructed the website promoting Ramos’ bid for California Attorney General, the precise amount of money Christopher Lee Web Design was paid for that work was not immediately available this week, as the Mike Ramos For Attorney General 2018 committee did not make electronic filings of its campaign finance statements.
What is known is that as Mike Ramos was settling in to begin his fourth term as district attorney in the fall of 2014 in the aftermath of his reelection victory that June and was retooling his political machinery to make a stab at capturing the California Attorney General’s position four years later, deputy district attorney Dan Silverman, considered to be one of Mike Ramos’s most faithful office loyalists, sent an email from his district attorney’s office email address – DSilverman@sbcda.org – to both San Bernardino County Supervisor Robert Lovingood at his official county email address – email@example.com – and to Supervisor James Ramos at his official county email address – firstname.lastname@example.org. That email went out on November 4, 2015 at 9:47:09 a.m. Pacific Standard Time, with an electronic carbon copy to district attorney Mike Ramos at his official department email address – MRamos@sbcda.org. The email had for a subject line “District Attorney personnel reclassification information.” The body of the email reads as follows:
Mike Ramos has requested that I provide you with some information regarding his request for an equity salary increase for the District Attorney Public Affairs Officer, Christopher Lee.
The District Attorney is requesting that the PAO be changed to Salary Range 73 from Salary Range 67. This would cost the department approximately $21,000 annually (taking into account the increased marginal benefit cost).
It is important to note that the district attorney’s office is not requesting any additional general fund dollars for these two items. There is sufficient departmental funding through savings in other areas to cover these increases within our current budget.
If you or any member of your staff has any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me or have them contact me. I am happy to answer any questions that you or they may have.
Beneath the body of the email, Silverman provided his phone number and email address, identifying himself as “Special Assistant to the District Attorney.”
As if to emphasize that Silverman was speaking with the full authority of the district attorney’s office, 28 minutes later, at 10:15 a.m. Pacific Standard time on November 4, 2015, Mike Ramos forwarded from his email address, MRamos@sbcda.org, the electronic carbon copy of the email from Silverman to Lovingood and James Ramos, again to their respective official email addresses of email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. The sole change Mike Ramos made was to add at the top of the email the phrase “Need your help!”
In some fashion, word of Silverman’s effort on behalf of Lee spread to several members of the district attorney’s office staff, and a copy of the email chain was obtained and distributed among at least a handful of deputy prosecutors. Silverman’s effort on behalf of Lee garnered resentment because, the Sentinel has been told, promotions of district attorney’s office personnel normally occur at a glacial pace, in all but the rarest of cases being done on a gradual and incremental basis. And while deputy prosecutors do see increases to their salaries over time, those raises, referred to as steps, are granted only as a consequence of serving at each preceding and succeeding step a required number of hours. The progress up this remuneration ladder cannot, a deputy prosecutor said, under normal circumstances be artificially bypassed to allow employees to get salary advancement credit for having spent time in a given assignment that they did not actually work. What was requested for Mr. Lee was seemingly unheard of within the district attorney’s office, as no such mercurial rise involving an employing vaulting six pay grades could be recollected by anyone the Sentinel had access to. Indeed, within the district attorney’s office, the majority of prosecutors cannot realistically expect more than one or two promotions up the chain of command over the course of a typical 30-year career.
Moreover, one member of the department suggested Mr. Lee’s intended salary enhancement coming as it did when it did was meant as a creative way for Mike Ramos to recompense Lee for the continuing work he was engaged in toward Ramos’ political efforts, in particular Ramos seeking election to the California Attorney General position in 2018.
Utilizing taxpayer money for political purposes is illegal under California law. California Government Code § 19990, while stating it is applicable to state governmental employees without specifying government employees generally, holds “A state officer or employee shall not engage in any employment, activity, or enterprise which is clearly inconsistent, incompatible, in conflict with, or inimical to his or her duties as a state officer or employee.”
Government Code § 8314(a) states, “It is unlawful for any elected state or local officer, including any state or local appointee, employee, or consultant, to use or permit others to use public resources for a campaign activity, or personal or other purposes which are not authorized by law.”
Uses of public facilities, equipment, personnel or funds for political purposes can also be prosecuted under Penal Code § 424.
Indeed, Ramos has himself prosecuted and convicted at least one elected official, former assessor Bill Postmus, and several of his employees for conducting partisan political activity from a public office and while employed as public officers.
Ultimately, the board of supervisors balked at the $21,000 salary increase that was proposed for Lee in Silverman’s email. Nevertheless, the following year, 2015, Lee did see his $88,565.34 salary augmented by $13,009.36 in other pay, and in 2016 Lee did see his salary jump by $7,224.58 over the previous year, going from $88,565.34 to $95,789.92.
While the consideration that Lee did not get the raise specifically sought by Silverman and Mike Ramos might have obviated certain criminal implications in the matter, there is precedent for adjudging co-conspirators guilty of conspiring to engage in a crime without the crime being fully executed as planned.
The Sentinel achieved no response to its efforts to engage both Lee, as the district attorney’s office’s spokesman authorized to speak on behalf of Mike Ramos, and Silverman in discussions about what had transpired with the emails sent and forwarded to Lovingood and James Ramos .
Lee did not provide any response to pointed questions about what the basis for providing him with the proposed pay raise was or why the salary enhancement was warranted, whether his superiors in the office believed his skill level exceeded his job classification, whether he had discussed with Mike Ramos or Silverman the salary increase proposal prior to the posting of Silverman’s email to supervisors Lovingood and Ramos, whether the pay increase was meant to offset his work being done for Mike Ramos’ political campaign, if there was any concern that his receiving the increase in pay while working on Mike Ramos’ campaign might be an actual or perceived violation of the law and whether Silverman’s emails and Ramos’ forwarding of them might qualify as a criminal conspiracy to pressure James Ramos and Robert Lovingood into an inappropriate, improper or even illegal provision of money to recompense him for his work on Mike Ramos’ campaign. Lee also declined to address the subject of the propriety or impropriety of his working as the district attorney’s office’s official spokesman while he was simultaneously working on behalf of Ramos’ political campaigns.
Similarly, Silverman opted for silence when asked whether the salary increase he had sought for Lee was actually intended to serve as pay for Lee’s work on the Mike Ramos campaign, if he disputed the notion his email to Lovingood and James Ramos in tandem with Mike Ramos’ forwarding of the same email to the two supervisors constituted a criminal conspiracy to violate the law by conferring on Lee a raise in his capacity as a public employee that was meant to pay for his political work on behalf of Mike Ramos, whether he took stock of the appropriateness, propriety and legality of his email to supervisors Lovingood and Ramos before he sent it, if he had been pressured by Mike Ramos to author the email, and whether, upon reflection, he now considers the email to have been inappropriate or if he regrets having sent it.
Reports have reached the Sentinel that Lee was not given the raise requested by Silverman because the board of supervisors would not support it, that Lovingood deemed the request improper and that James Ramos, who is otherwise a firm ally and backer of Mike Ramos, was made uncomfortable by the request.
It is unclear how Silverman’s email was compromised. One possibility is that an open server in the district attorney’s office allowed office staff members to access it. When it comes to their boss, district attorney’s office personnel appear to be divided into essentially three camps: line prosecutors and their supervisors composing a majority of the office earnestly intent on carrying out their prosecutorial function along lines that are in keeping with what might be considered professional norms who are generally accepting of and supportive of Ramos’ stewardship of the office and have either no consciousness of or are untroubled by indications or suggestions of anything amiss in the office; a relative handful of prosecutors, Silverman among them, who are aligned with Ramos and absolutely accepting of the standards of conduct, operation and focus he has espoused and whose professional advancement is linked to their support of and close association with him; and an equally small but growing number of prosecutors who have reservations about the way Mike Ramos has conducted himself and his guidance of the office in terms of prosecutorial priorities and what they perceive as the twisting of the office’s authority for either political or venal purposes. None, or very few of this latter group, it seems, are willing to voice their concerns publicly, though the occasional surfacing of internal documents, such as in this case Silverman’s email, attests to their presence.
One variant report was that Lovingood, outraged at the boldness with which Mike Ramos was seeking to promote Lee while he was engaged as a consultant on Ramos’ political campaign, shared it with others.
In response to an inquiry by the Sentinel about the various reports, Don Holland, a special assistant to Lovingood said, “There is no comment at this time.”
Molly Wiltshire, James Ramos’ chief of staff, was unwilling to discuss the matter.
In the aftermath of Kamala Harris’s 2016 U.S. Senate victory, Governor Brown appointed Xavier Becerra to serve the remaining two years of Harris’ term as California Attorney General. In March, Ramos said he would forsake trying to become attorney general and would again seek reelection as district attorney in 2018.
More than two months after three of the defendants in the Colonies Lawsuit Settlement Public Corruption Case were acquitted in total and a separate jury for the fourth defendant was unable to reach a verdict, the lead attorney for the central defendant in the case issued a $45.2 million demand against San Bernardino County.
Jeff Burum was one of the managing principals in the Colonies Partners, a Rancho Cucamonga-based company which in 2002 sued San Bernardino County and its flood control district over storm water drainage issues at the Colonies at San Antonio residential and Colonies Crossroads commercial subdivisions in northeast Upland. After more than four years of increasingly acrimonious litigation, the county board of supervisors voted 3-2 to bring the legal wrangling to an end by conferring a $102 million payout on the Colonies Partners. A little more than three years later, however, the California Attorney General’s Office and the San Bernardino county District Attorney’s Office filed criminal charges against Bill Postmus, one of the supervisors who had voted for the settlement, and former sheriff’s deputies’ union president Jim Erwin, who had worked as a consultant for the Colonies Partners.
That criminal filing against Postmus and Erwin alleged the settlement was tainted by extortion and bribery, and involved fraud, conflicts of interest, the misappropriation of public funds and perjury. After 13 months of maintaining his innocence, Postmus pleaded guilty to the entirety of the case against him and testified before a grand jury, which in May 2011 indicted Erwin along with Jeff Burum, a managing principal in the Colonies Partners; Paul Biane, one of the supervisors who had voted with Postmus to settle the litigation with the Colonies Partners, and Mark Kirk, the chief of staff to then-supervisor Gary Ovitt, who had supplied the third crucial vote in favor of the settlement. The indictment enlarged upon the charges filed in 2010 against Postmus and Erwin, and alleged conspiracy, bribery, conflict of interest, misappropriation of public funds, perjury, fraud, and income tax evasion. Allegations of extortion were wrapped into the narrative and description of the overt acts committed by the defendants, but extortion was not enumerated as a charge.
After five years of legal sparring between prosecutors and defense attorneys during which motions for dismissal were made, various charges were dismissed, appeals were made to both the appellate court and the California Supreme Court, resulting in dismissals of some charges being sustained and others overturned, the case went to trial in January 2017 before two juries, one hearing the case against Burum, Biane and Kirk, and the other panel considering the charges, evidence and testimony against Erwin.
Even before the first jury exonerated Burum, Biane and Kirk and the second jury deadlocked in its consideration of the charges against Erwin, talk was emanating from the defense camp about a civil action alleging malicious prosecution being brought against the district attorney’s office and the California Attorney General’s Office. The basis for such a suit, the defendants and their supporters said, was prosecutors’ willful presentation of false, fabricated or unreliable evidence and testimony to the grand jury to obtain the indictment followed by the presentation of the same evidence to the two juries hearing the case.
No such malicious prosecution nor civil rights violation lawsuit nor the claims relating to those types of suits have been lodged to this point. On Tuesday, however, Stephen Larson, a former federal judge who served as Burum’s lead defense attorney in the criminal matter and who is also representing the Colonies Partners as a civil attorney, signaled that the Colonies Partners is now intent on recovering from the county the costs the company incurred as a consequence of the legal contretemps with the county over the last 15 years.
The Colonies Partners is owed that money, Larson maintains, because the settlement the county and the Colonies Partners forged in 2006 contained an indemnification clause which committed the county and the flood control district to hold the Colonies Partners harmless in the event that any further claims, demands, damages or legal action relating to the settlement of the underlying litigation ensued. That commitment, the Colonies Partners contend, required the county to defend the Colonies Partners with legal counsel or defray the company’s legal costs.
Larson went before the board of supervisors at its Tuesday morning meeting after having presented the county with an indemnification claim. The gist of his statement, consisted of his reading the cover letter accompanying the claim.
“I am here on behalf of the Colonies Partners,” Larson said. “This morning I had delivered to each of your offices a binder which lays out the Colonies Partners’ indemnity claims against the County of San Bernardino and the San Bernardino County Flood Control District. I have also served a copy on Jean Rene’s office as well as Mr. Theodora’s office.” Jean Rene-Basle is the county’s top in-house lawyer, who has held that position since 2010 and is scheduled to depart at the end of the month. Todd Theodora is an attorney who heads a firm which represents the county in litigating the county’s claims against its insurance carriers.
“In 1999, Jeff Burum and Dan Richards co-managing partners of the Colonies, met with then-supervisor Jon Mikels in an attempt to amicably resolve the Colonies’ dispute with the County of San Bernardino. and the San Bernardino County Flood control district over flood control issues on the Colonies project,” Larson read from the cover letter, continuing, ”Mr. Burum and Mr. [Dan] Richards [a second co-managing principal in the Colonies Partners] offered to split the cost of building the now-famous basin, which would have amounted to a $12.5 million investment for each side, and further offered to donate the acreage required for the basin to the district. Mr. Burum and Mr Richard tried to give supervisor Mikels information substantiating and supporting the Colonies’ position, much the way that I am doing so this morning, and in response supervisor Mikels told them they could ‘take the information and stick it where the sun don’t shine.’ In the nearly two decades that have followed that unfortunate response, the Colonies has been forced to litigate three cases involving this dispute, and has won all three decisively. Colonies won the underlying civil action against the county and the district, winning two separate trials before two separate Superior Court judges, defeated a taxpayer lawsuit brought in 2011 on behalf of the county, with the Court of Appeal ordering the county to dismiss the lawsuit with prejudice, and now Mr. Burum has resoundingly defeated the district attorney in the criminal case with acquittals across the board.”
Larson continued, “As we have told the county’s attorneys on numerous occasions, Colonies sincerely wishes to end this wasteful and unnecessary dispute. As part of our effort to do so, we are providing the enclosed binder for your review. This binder sets forth the legal and the factual bases for Colonies’ indemnification claim against the county and the [flood control] district, pursuant to the November 2006 settlement agreement. All we ask is unlike supervisor Mikels, you carefully consider this material.”
At that point, Larson’s three minutes of allotted speaking time had elapsed, and he was cut off in mid sentence. The Sentinel has obtained from Larson’s firm the remaining verbiage in the cover letter. The final two sentences of the cover letter read, “All we ask is that, unlike supervisor Mikels, you carefully consider this material, consult with your legal counsel in closed session during your December 5, 2017 board meeting, and then do the right thing and fulfill your indemnification obligations under the settlement agreement. Otherwise, we will have no choice but to once again vindicate both Colonies’ and Mr. Burum’s rights through litigation.”
San Bernardino County Democratic Central Committee Chairman Chris Robles appears to have survived, at least for the time being, a concerted effort by more than two dozen committee members to depose him as the local party leader, with the ruling board of the California Democratic Party opting to admonish him rather than excommunicate him from the party.
Since spring, Robles has been scrambling to put down a series of insurrections by local party members who have been critical of what many Democrats consider to be his lackluster leadership. Robles is a transplant from Los Angeles County, where he was previously active in Democratic politics and politics in general as the owner of Vantage Campaigns, a political consulting company. Upon relocating to San Bernardino County, he acceded to a position on the county’s Democratic central committee, and was selected to serve as chairman in 2012.
Part of Robles’ appeal was that he had experience with a number of campaigns, as a manager, treasurer and consultant. It was widely assumed he would energetically apply his knowledge of the intricacies of fundraising and campaigning across a broad number of races, from ones at the local municipal level, to county contests and those for the state legislature as well as for Congress. Robles’ coordination of party efforts on behalf of Democratic candidates has been, his critics say, disappointing, as during his tenure the Democratic Party in San Bernardino County has failed to make gains commensurate with its growing demographic clout.
In 2010, the number of registered Democrats in San Bernardino County surpassed the number of registered Republicans, and the Democrats have held a growing plurality among registered voters ever since. That trend appeared to be reflected in the countywide results in the 2012 presidential race when Barack Obama outdistanced Republican Mitt Romney 305,109 votes or 52.55 percent to 262,358 or 45.19 percent. And again in 2016, Hillary Clinton in San Bernardino County outperformed her Republican rival, Donald Trump, by 340,833 votes or 52.64 percent to 271,240 votes or 41.89 percent. Nevertheless, those two races, among a few notable exceptions, remain as rare showings of Democratic political might in San Bernardino County over the last half dozen years. Despite Democrats currently having a registration advantage over Republicans in San Bernardino County approaching a 4-to-3 margin – 357,530 registered Democratic voters or 40.1 percent to 279,937 registered Republican voters or 31.4 percent among a total of 890,918 voters overall – three of the five members of the board of supervisors are Republicans; two of the county’s five Congress members are Republicans, with two of the Democratic Congress members having districts in which those portions outside San Bernardino County are heavily Democratic; three of the county’s four state senators are Republicans; five of the county’s eight members of the California Assembly are Republicans; and 17 of the county’s 24 cities have city councils composed of a majority of Republicans. Where the Democrats hold state or federal office in San Bernardino County they hold a commanding registration advantage. In those electoral jurisdictions where the Democrats have close to parity with the Republicans or hold a lead that is substantial but less than entirely overwhelming, they have consistently lost to Republicans. Such is the case in the 40th Assembly District where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans 91,615 or 40.4 percent to 76,234 or 33.7 percent, and a Republican, Marc Steinorth, holds office. In San Bernardino County’s Fourth Supervisorial District, where the registration numbers are lopsidedly in favor of the Democrats 71,859 or 43.1 percent to 47,128 or 28.3 percent, a Republican, Curt Hagman is in office, even despite the fact that his opponent in the 2014 election was a then-incumbent Democratic U.S. Congresswoman, Gloria Negrete-McLeod.
While Democrats expected Robles to utilize his electioneering expertise and his connections as a professional political consultant to boost the party’s fortunes, that failed to come about. Indeed, many Democratic candidates report, during party briefings for candidates which dealt with rudimentary and stock campaigning techniques, Robles provided them with his business card, telling them he could offer them further assistance if they were to retain him as consultant or employ him as their campaign manager. Some have suggested Robles is willing to assist them only if they can pay his substantial consulting fees.
For many San Bernardino County Democrats, Robles crossed the line last year when during the 2016 Ontario City Council campaign, Vantage Campaigns took on as one of its clients Gus Skropos, a former Ontario councilman, former Ontario mayor, former San Bernardino County supervisor and former Superior Court Judge, for the purpose of managing his campaign. Skropos was a Republican. While Robles did support Sam Crowe, a Democrat in the race, he pretty much ignored another Democrat vying for city council, Josie Estrada.
At the May 25 Democratic Central Committee meeting held at the rented California Teachers Association main conference room in San Bernardino, Robles was assailed with complaints about what was to be his less-than-energetic efforts with regard to promoting Democratic candidates generally. With prominent anti-Robles contingent members Ron Cohen, Bobbie Chavarria, Tim Prince, Leticia Garcia, Laurie Stalnaker, Debbie McAffee, James Albert, George Alfano, Socorro Cisneros, Ana Gonzales, Fernando Hernandez, and Marvin Sawyer insisting that the issue of his continued chairmanship be considered, Robles entrusted the officiating of the remaining proceedings to one of his closest allies on the committee’s executive board, Mark Westwood. As chaotic debate over Robles’ tenure and effectiveness ensued, Westwood twice refused to recognize motions for a vote of no confidence that had been seconded. To a cacophony of protests, Westwood, a bear of a man at 6 feet five inches and 360 pounds, managed to stand down those challenging Robles, largely on the basis of his physical presence and parliamentary maneuvering that tested the bounds of the committee’s bylaws and Robert’s Rules of Order.
Prior to the June 22 San Bernardino County Democratic Central Committee meeting, those intent on Robles’ removal had lodged with the California Democratic Party a complaint against him and a petition for his removal as chairman and then came to the meeting armed with documentation that in his capacity as a professional campaign consultant Robles had worked for Republican candidates. Seeming to anticipate that a renewed call for his immediate removal would be made that night, Robles had moved to ensure that he would have the maximum number of supporters present to support him in the event that he was forced to allow such a vote to occur. When the meeting commenced, Robles found himself under fire and unable to direct the proceedings to even the vaguest semblance of order.
He was not able to get the collective to allow a vote on considering the agenda for the night’s proceedings, as he was besieged with calls to amend the agenda with the question of his removal. Robles’ efforts to carry on with the meeting were further interrupted by an accusation that he was no longer chair because he had refused to respond to a certified letter with the grounds for his removal. Robles engaged in some back and forth over whether he could be considered to have actually been served with the petition, though he conceded he had received it, and then insisted he had responded to it as the chairman “out of an abundance of caution,” while nevertheless maintaining the move to remove him was procedurally flawed, tantamount to a “kangaroo court” and both wrongheaded and counterproductive. When he called for the approval of the minutes of the executive committee meetings, Robles was confronted by Laurie Stalnaker, the committee’s finance director, who stated that she had been consistently rebuffed in her efforts to obtain minutes of previous meetings so she could reconcile expenditures made out of the committee’s bank account with their authorizations. In his further exchanges with Stalnaker, Robles refused to grant her requests for a redetermination of the action tabled at the executive committee meeting to consider the certified letter and removal of Chris Robles. Over this issue the meeting erupted into chaos and at 8:27 p.m., Robles abruptly adjourned the meeting and called in the county sheriff. Four law enforcement officers arrived to herd the group out of the room. None of the remaining items on the agenda was discussed.
At the central committee’s July 27 meeting, chaos again descended onto the proceedings and after just 18 minutes, without action being taken on any of the items on the agenda, Robles adjourned the meeting without calling for a vote to confirm that motion and left along with most of his supporters, calling the police in as he did so. More than 20 central committee members remained, however, moving onto consider the agenda in Robles’ absence. When the police arrived, Ron Cohen, the second vice chair of the central committee and the highest ranking member of the central committee as well as the more exclusive executive committee, was at that point chairing the meeting. Cohen convinced the police that a quorum of the central committee was present and that the members were conducting committee business at a regularly scheduled meeting. With two police officers remaining on the premises of the California Teachers Association suite of offices, the meeting proceeded, during which consideration of the removal of Robles as chairman was added to the agenda. Following the discussion of that item, a motion to remove Robles as chairman was moved by Debbie McAfee, seconded, and the vote was counted by raising credentials. Chris Robles was removed upon approval by the aye votes of 27 with two abstentions and zero no votes.
Robles and his supporters disputed the legitimacy of the action taken by members of the central committee after he had called for the adjournment of the meeting. The California Democratic Party’s Compliance Review Commission took up the matter. On August 23, the commission found that all of the actions taken after Robles adjourned the July 27 meeting were out of order and that Robles was still county party chairman.
A further effort to dethrone Robles was made at the September 28 central committee meeting, but Robles used his control of the proceedings to thwart that.
Undeterred, the not insubstantial contingent of anti-Robles forces within the county central committee persisted. They insisted that a “removal from membership” challenge initiated by Cohen and several others on June 3, 2017 and amended on June 13, 2017 that would have bounced Robles out of the central committee altogether be pursued to a conclusion. That challenge alleged conduct by Robles in violation of California Democratic Party by-laws during the 2015-2017 Democratic State Central Committee term. Robles was notified of the challenge in accordance with the party’s by-laws. Robles responded to the allegations raised in the challenge and declined to resign as a Democratic State Central Committee member.
Enumerated in the challenge as grounds for his removal was Robles’ advocacy of a Republican candidate in 2016; his use of the position of chairman to advocate for personal gain as a candidate consultant; his failure to support certain candidates endorsed by the county central committee in the 2016 election; his delay in making committee appointments as provided in the by-laws for more than ten months since his most recent election as chairman and an accompanying failure to allow representation from each Assembly district in the county on those committees; having not exercised due diligence in spending San Bernardino County Democratic Central Committee funds for endorsed candidates in the November 2016 election, while cutting the executive board of the central committee out of the decisions on the expenditure of that money; the more than 66 percent failure rate of Democratic candidates countywide in the 2016 election; the lack of auditing on central committee funds and failure to adhere to the policy of having fund expenditures authorized by the committee; and his general lack of availability to central committee members.
Key documentation supporting the complaint consisted of campaign finance disclosure forms showing that Robles’ consulting firm, Vantage Campaigns, Inc., received payment from the Skropos campaign, as well as an email, from Skropos to Laurie Stalnaker in her capacity as the executive secretary/treasurer of the San Bernardino and Riverside Counties Central Labor Council, in which Skropos sought that body’s endorsement for his 2016 Ontario City Council run and which noted that his campaign consultant was Robles.
In his answer to those charges, Robles contested the allegations against him on procedural and factual grounds. He maintained the complaint was procedurally flawed because the issues with regard to the November 2016 election fell under the 2015-2017 Democratic Central Committee term and not the current 2017-2019 term, making the complaint late and untimely, such that his removal during the current term should not be permitted. Robles pointed out that the gist of the complaint was that he had assisted a Republican candidate, Skropos. Robles said this came about because through Vantage Campaigns he was working for Sam Crowe, a longtime Democrat who had the endorsement of the San Bernardino County Central Committee in his run for the Ontario City Council, and Crowe had conducted polling, the cost for which Crowe chose to split with Skropos. It was in that way that Skropos had come to pay Vantage Campaigns, Robles insisted.
Robles contended he had never advocated that “voters should not vote for the endorsed candidates.” Robles further contended that his consulting firm, which received payment from Skropos, is a corporation and not a California Democratic State Central Committee member and thus, its activities could not be imputed to Robles. Robles provided documentation which he said demonstrated he supported and advocated for party-endorsed local candidates, including the Ontario City Council race, by means of press releases, news articles, and robo-calls.
The complaint was considered by a committee known as the “Statewide Officers of the California Democratic Party,” consisting of the highest ranking Democratic Party members in California. The panel’s members are Eric C. Bauman, the chair of the California Democratic Party, as well as the four next highest Democratic Party officials in the state under him, Alex Gallardo-Rooker, first vice chair; Daraka Larimore-Hall, second vice chair; Jenny Bach, secretary; and Dan Weitzman, controller.
While the Statewide Officers of the California Democratic Party ruled that the membership challenge was filed in a timely fashion and that Robles’ action with regard to the 2016 election was a legitimate area of focus for examination, it held that under the party’s by-laws, local endorsements are not considered to be California Democratic Party endorsements, which more properly apply to statewide and national office. And the Statewide Officers of the California Democratic Party concluded the state party’s by-laws do not provide grounds for Robles’s removal from membership on allegations relating to his advocacy of voter support of a non-Democrat in a local election contest.
“There was no evidence that Mr. Robles publicly avows preference for another party,” the statewide officers stated in their memorandum on the matter, dated November 14, 2017. The statewide officers found that “there are insufficient grounds to remove Mr. Robles for other allegations in the challenge pertaining to Mr. Robles’s conduct as San Bernardino County Democratic Party chair.”
Nevertheless, the Statewide Officers of the California Democratic Party declared the panel “will issue a letter of admonition to Mr. Robles with respect to (1) Mr. Robles’s engagement of non-Democratic candidates, especially in election contests in which there are local Democratic Party-endorsed candidates, and (2) Mr. Robles’s inaction on seeking California Democratic Party approval of San Bernardino County Democratic Party by-laws provision on endorsements during his time as San Bernardino County Democratic Party chair.”
Robles told the Sentinel that challenges of his authority as head of the Democratic Party in San Bernardino have now been brought to a close with the statewide officers’ finding, “The state party has determined that there are no grounds for my removal,” Robles said. “This is it. There is nothing further. It is over and it is not accurate to say that I am surviving just for the moment. Ron Cohen and his small group of people sent a complaint to the state party claiming I would not allow them to vote on my being removed. The state party asked me to put it on the agenda before all the members. So, I put it on the agenda and I won by an overwhelming margin. Then Mr. Cohen challenged that. That was rejected by the state party.” Once again I am vindicated and cleared of any wrongdoing. It is time to put this nonsense behind us so that we can move forward in electing Democrats. That is why I’m here.”
Robles glossed over the issues mentioned in the admonition.
“In this most recent go-round, the state party made clear that the bylaws need to be sent to them,” Robles said. “I can assure you and everyone that annually since I have been chair, we have sent the state party the bylaws. I am shocked that they do not have a copy.”
Robles continued, “Second, they mentioned my having this connection with this other candidate [i.e., Skropos]. What no one told you is he is a registered Democrat, not a Republican.”
Robles fastidiously avoided referring to Skropos by name. According to the San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters Office, Skropos, who had been a Republican the entirety of his political and professional career to that point, on May 31 reregistered as a Democrat. Robles took credit for that transition, enlarging from that point to insist that the Democrats are now dominating the Republicans number-wise in the county.
“I recruited him to the party,” Robles said, “and that’s why we have incredible success, because we’re attracting more and more people to the Democratic Party in this county. I did my job in bringing in new blood to our party.”
In mounting a defense of his stewardship of the party, Robles consistently referenced the party’s registration numbers rather than the electoral results at the polls, where the Republicans, by virtue of a significantly higher percentage of turnout of their smaller numbers of registered voters yet managed to eke out victories for a majority of their party’s candidates in the face of a much weaker percentage turnout of the numerically superior Democratic voters. Robles similarly downplayed the numbers of dissidents within the central committee opposed to his leadership. He discounted the 27 votes to remove him that manifested at the July 27 meeting, saying that nearly half of those votes were ones by alternates to actual members who do not have authorization to vote unless the central committee member they are designated to replace is not present. He rounded the 27 votes down to two dozen and said, “It’s not 24 who are dead set against me. When you discount the alternates it’s only a dozen, not two dozen. When we held the vote that counted, 85 percent of the members supported me.”
The perception that he is constantly under fire does not fit the reality, Robles said, with the same complaints against him being constantly recycled. At the same time, he countered the suggestion that he was militating, as a political consultant, on behalf of Republican candidates, many of whom have more money to put into campaigns than do Democrats. “Every time this microgroup of malcontents loses, they file another complaint in an attempt to sidetrack our main goal of getting more Democrats elected,” Robles charged. “The 85 percent of the party supporting me remain undaunted and will continue to do the good work we have already begun and enjoy the success we have had. We will not let this small group put us off of our goal of electing Democrats.”
Cohen told the Sentinel that Robles was continuing to ignore political reality, and was failing to promote the party’s fortunes in a way that was effective. He said it was Robles’ failure to guide the Democrats in a way that capitalized on their registration advantage in the county that was fueling, and would continue to fuel, the movement to oust Robles from his leadership role. “The preliminary results of local elections in 2017, with three out of seven local endorsed Democratic candidates elected were hardly better than the 2016 local elections, with 14 out of 40 local endorsed Democratic candidates elected. The only way to turn this around is to remove the leadership of the San Bernardino County Democratic Party. We will not rest until that is complete.”
The Sentinel has learned that the challenges against Robles have not relented. Cohen and other members of the central committee have taken issue with the California Democratic Party’s August 23 ruling that the vote to defrock Robles at the July 27, 2017 meeting was invalid because no evidence could be found to show that Robles had improperly adjourned the meeting prior to that vote. They have appealed that ruling and that appeal is being heard tomorrow, Saturday November 18, by the California Democratic Party Executive Board in San Francisco. Cohen will attend that hearing, at which two videos with audio tracks captured on cell phones by the participants are to be considered as evidence.
Additionally, the Sentinel has learned, those intent on displacing Robles as San Bernardino County Democratic Central Committee chairman are purposed to demonstrate to state party officials that Robles’ work on behalf of Skropos was not an isolated example of his having promoted a Republican against Democrats. They are preparing to show that Robles is working as a campaign consultant on behalf of a Republican-led group seeking to recall Artesia Mayor Ali Taj and councilmen Victor Manalo and Miguel Canales. Taj, Manalo and Canales are Democrats.
By David Buckley
Although the City of Needles established itself as the early leader among San Bernardino County’s 24 incorporated cities in the development of the burgeoning California cannabis industry, the Needles City Council at its November 14 meeting voted 6-0 to ban recreational marijuana businesses in the City of Needles. In it next action, however, it voted 4-2, with Dr. Robert Richardson and Tona Belt dissenting, to reduce the required distance from schools for cannabis cultivators from 1,000 feet to 600 feet.
On the agenda there were three new cannabis rules lumped together in a single item relating to “distance requirements for marijuana businesses, prohibition of commercial recreational marijuana businesses” and “adding regulation related to personal use cultivation.”
Decrying the conflation of the three issues, Robertson said, “This is very confusing and creates representational issues,” adding “All my constituents want it [the distance of marijuana-related establishments from schools] maintained at 1,000 feet.” During the debate on the distance from schools issue, a quasi-justification for the reduction surfaced in which it was asserted that the Needles Unified School District was being operated as a business and not as a school district, and was allegedly preparing to sell a parcel of school district property on Eagle Pass Road to a cannabis business.
Some in attendance evinced in their attitudes elements of the past stigmatization of cannabis. On the adult recreational use issue, Needles City Manager Rick Daniels said “I refuse to call it recreational.” The Needles City Council voted unanimously to prohibit recreational cannabis businesses in the City of Needles. It was unclear whether that prohibition extended to the four existing medical marijuana collectives already established in Needles. Recreational marijuana is readily available in nearby Laughlin, Nevada.
On the personal cultivation issue, which also passed unanimously, the Needles City Council voted to enact restrictions tougher than state law, allowing only six plants per household, instead of six plants per adult resident as allowed by state law.
Needles City Council Member Louise Evans, who proclaimed that she had undergone a “whole change of perspective” on cannabis issues and cited the medical benefits of cannabis, yet voted for the City of Needles to be more restrictive than the state with regard to personal cultivation of the plant.
Concurrent with these developments, the city council has referred to the planning commission a proposal to prohibit cannabis businesses from operating in the downtown area by creating a Downtown Needles Improvement Zone, but has not yet delineated the area to be subject to the proposed restrictions. There are, however, already in the downtown district two permitted retail cannabis collectives, three doors up the street from a large cannabis growing operation. It appears these already existing or scheduled operations will be grandfathered in under the new regulation, but that issue has not been explicitly addressed by city officials.
Thus, the concept of prohibiting cannabis businesses in downtown Needles after the Needles City Council has approved or is ready to approve at least six cannabis businesses in the proposed zone of exclusion stands as something of a paradox, lending weight to the suggestion that the proposed prohibition is prejudicial toward landowners who have not already locked in arrangements with City Hall. At no previous point was there any mention of the downtown Needles cannabis business restriction zone by either the Needles City Council or the planning commission.
During the meeting’s public comment session, it became apparent that the prohibition on marijuana-related concerns downtown was going to have a collateral impact on some of the closest associates of some members of the Needles City Council.
Larry DeAtley, owner of Deco Foods, who has buildings on West Broadway, stands to lose a small fortune if he is not allowed to proceed with the prospective sale of his buildings to a cannabis business. Said councilwoman Evans, “Larry, I am sorry if you have taken a bid for your building, but I will never vote for it.”
DeAtley repeatedly asked the city council the reasoning behind the proposed reduction in distance between cannabis businesses and schools. No one volunteered an answer. What has been suggest is that the driving motive for the reduction in distance to schools was to facilitate the complete usage of a lot in downtown Needles, part of which was within 1,000 feet of a school facility. This was the “nursery project,” owned by real estate developer Dino Defazio.
More than a generation ago, Needles city officials failed to anticipate the impact of the early 1970s bisection of the city by Interstate-40, which exacerbated the decision made the previous decade to strip downtown Needles of both the local hospital and police station. This led to the deterioration of the downtown area into what locals came to regard as “Needles Skid Row.”
The neglect continued for decades, with city officials failing to come up with plans for the improvement of the once proud city, which had long served as the gateway to the Golden State to overland travelers. By the early 1980s, the “Needles Elite” class – the Needles City Council and its circle – administered the city through a series of afterhours cocktail parties, with the Needles City Council meetings being purely window dressing. The marriage of that benign neglect by Needles’ elected officials with the advent of the methamphetamine era nearly destroyed what was left of “Old Needles.” Soon, a contingent of wraith-like zombies – so-called tweakers – were wandering the streets of Needles. Soon, the residents of the downtown Needles area were obliged to fortify their homes against burglaries by drug-crazed street people searching for an easy score to facilitate their intake of another needlefull of liquidized crystal meth.
The city was slipping into a near coma, with the hospital being the only flourishing enterprise, made profitable – or semi-profitable – by the dangerous environment and the unhealthy lifestyles of many of the city’s inhabitants, and whose penurious status qualified them to have their medical bills satisfied by Medi-Cal, Medi-Care or other forms of welfare. The downtown area became a ghost town, replete with its own brand of ghoulies, as shop after shop went out of business until there was very little left, to be followed by the coup de grâce in the form of the Crash of 2008. The next five years marked Needles’ lowest level, with the city council cluelessly going about its well-scripted charade, until in 2013 the City of Needles teetered on the brink of insolvency.
According to a Cal-Trans traffic study, forty thousand people a day travel through Needles, the “East Coast of California” on the west shore of the Colorado River, that figure being the sheer number of tourists and local commuters. That did not seem to be a formula for bankrupting a city, but years of neglect and the manifestation of what locals termed the “Needles Attitude” had seemingly doomed the city. The Needles Attitude is a description of the elitist, self aggrandizing world view professed by a few long time Needles residents, ones who had land, wealth and power, and who had burnished a reputation for engaging in a series of petty clique battles, warfare in which they had prevailed but which had created a successive set of destructive scandals driving wedges even further into the community, compromising justice and ensnaring both local and San Bernardino County officials at the highest levels. An element of this ethos was a marked anti-competitive business environment that catered to the few remaining businesses in town and excluded any new businesses. This anti-competitive environment was furthered by the Needles City Council itself, which in 2008 created three 501 corporations, one being a legally questionable anti-competitive trust, the Needles Downtown Business Alliance. Also created were the now defunct Needles Economic Development Corporation and a 501 created to facilitate the sale of alcohol in downtown Needles.
Large numbers of Needles youth, usually upon graduating from high school or shortly thereafter, abandoned Needles for greener pastures. With the flower of Needles’ population leaving, no new residents willing to move to a drug-infested ghost town, its business community contracting and fifty percent of its ever declining population on some form of government subsidy, the city council in 2012 embraced the dreaded concept of profiting off medical marijuana.
But even the desperate move of permitting four medical marijuana collectives in Needles did not alter events, and the City of Needles continued to deteriorate, as if the ghosts of the city’s journey through the 20th Century – replete with its links to mobster Hollywood, bootleggers, dead bodies buried in the desert and the quiet acceptance and assimilation of varied forms of vice – were hovering like specters above, about and within it. Needles was haunted as well by the legacy of it having reacted during the Great Depression of the 1930s to being the gateway to California where droves of refugees fleeing westward on the Route 66 “Mother Road” by slamming the gate shut on those great unwashed masses clamoring to come in. The tradition of telling would-be transplants to Needles that they are not welcome in the city fomented the original Needles Attitude: “We don’t take trash in, so we don’t have to take trash out.” The City of Needles never saw fit to retire this sentiment, which lingers on in the hearts of the Needles Elite.
At the far remote end of the largest county in the lower 48 states, well removed from other population centers and across the border from Arizona, Needles fell outside the gaze of prying eyes and free from media scrutiny. This furthered enabled those – the elite – who had locked up authority in the town and were intent on getting ahead by victimizing their fellow men.
It was into this troubled background that the eleventh and twelfth new residents of Needles arrived in 2013. The growth rate in Needles was so slow that the city staff actually numbered the new arrivals. But there was something decidedly different about these folks, something very threatening to the Needles Elite, who reacted as they always had to newcomers by various manifestations of the “Needles Attitude.” In this case the usual tactics of social ostracization and bullying backfired on the purported “Needles Elite.” Needles will never be the same.
The month of January 2016 proved to be a major month in the history of Needles and saw a miraculous 180 degree shift in the closed market, anti-competitive economic policies of the Needles City Council, which in a two-week interval between meetings, suddenly shifted to an open market policy on cannabis cultivation. The heretofore unexplained shift to an open market economic model was a sea change in Needles. Its economic policy over the previous three decades prior to that vote had always been based on exclusion, limiting the market and directing profits to a few businesses.
Until that point, Needles’ remote geographic location, 200 road miles from the county seat of San Bernardino, and the paucity of media attention had granted the Needles City Council a free hand to operate as it sees fit without fear of exposure by traditional media coverage. It was into this closeted environment that the new Needles residents mentioned above moved into town. It took a while for the ramifications of complete censorship of local news to sink in, but when it did it was in the worst way imaginable. The case that fully revealed the degree to which Needles is a closed system where what happens in Needles stays in Needles was that of the serial rape of multiple young boys at the Needles Skate Park by Willie Thompson et al, Thompson was a pedophile on the run from charges in Las Vegas, a chickenhawk who swooped down on Needles in search of additional victims. When agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested Willie Thompson at gunpoint in the parking lot of Needles Lilly Hill apartments, it garnered little attention. What media coverage was given to the arrest omitted that a number of young boys had been viciously sodomized at the Needles Skate Park, or left the erroneous impression that the crimes had occurred elsewhere and not in Needles. This case, according to prosecutors, was the most heinous human trafficking case in memory.
But the incident did not elude the attention of the burgeoning electronic media. It seems new arrivals 11 and 12 from 2013 had an on-line blog, and they brought a spotlight to Needles. To say that the Needles City Council was highly susceptible to outside media coverage, and was fully cognizant of the source of this new attention and its ability to throw the entire town under an unfavorable light, would be an understatement, so when the blog’s focus shifted to medical marijuana, the impact of coverage was tremendous.
A series of articles published online on the proposed Needles cannabis ordinance, which triggered further coverage in some regional media outlets, resulted in a shift by the Needles City Council away from its traditional closed market, anti-competitive model. The Needles cannabis market had been limited to four retail collectives, the only city permitted retail operations in all of San Bernardino County. The Needles City Council originally had been adamant that the proposed new ordinance would enable only the four existing collectives then operating in Needles to engage in cultivation. When the concept of an open market was broached at a meeting, Needles City Councilman Shawn Gudmundson tabled the item, allowing no further discussion of what had been a foreign concept. The night of the vote on an open market actually saw the hierarchy from the San Bernardino County Republican Party drive out to Needles. It was represented as a truly momentous occasion and the salvation of the nearly insolvent City of Needles.
But was it? There are indications that the city’s readiness to welcome a fifth cannabis operation to Needles was actually a ploy by city officials – or some city officials – to clear the way for an entrepreneur who would kick back a portion of the profits he stood to generate through his lucrative cannabis operation.
It was during the development and ensuing promulgation of the proposed cannabis ordinance that the tactics of the Needles City Council in providing favorable treatment to a select few became readily discernible to all observers, especially so to owners and management of the four existing Needles collectives. Suddenly, it was alleged that there were not four but five collectives in Needles and it was revealed online that the Needles City Council had been holding exclusive meetings with Paradise Wellness, an Arizona based collective formerly doing business in Needles, but barred from reopening by the then current ordinance as it had been closed for more than ninety days.
Paradise Wellness is owned by Curtis Devine, who operates a string of Arizona collectives including Mojave Green Collective, located across the river from Needles in Mohave Valley Arizona. Curtis Devine had at the time recently purchased a large commercial property in Needles, in an attempt to establish a 20,000 square foot cannabis grow operation to supply the Arizona collectives under Devine’s control.
Needles City Manager Rick Daniels and City Attorney John Pinkney held numerous private meetings with Curtis Devine and his attorney, Sarah Presler, seeking input on the proposed new cannabis ordinance, but failed to meet with any owners or management of the four legitimate Needles collectives. Sarah Presler repeatedly stood at the podium and thanked the city for these exclusive briefings.
During the public hearings on the proposed new cannabis ordinance, the issue of prohibiting felons from participating in the Needles cannabis industry was repeatedly raised. In the new atmosphere brought on by the online media scrutiny in the wake of the Willie Thompson arrest, references were publicly made to the potential of the criminal underworld utilizing the marijuana industry to establish a toehold in Needles.
A review of Paradise Wellness’ history in Needles followed. Needles City Manager Rick Daniels, perhaps inadvertently, released the entirety of the 2014 Needles cannabis tax schedule. That schedule documented that Paradise Wellness was closed for more than ninety days, a violation of a provision in the Needles City Code pertaining to cannabis operations which by ordinance should have triggered the revoking of its license and prohibited it from reopening in the City of Needles. Thrown into stark relief was that Rick Daniels had been militating to preserve Paradise Wellness’s license to operate, despite the business having forfeited its licensure by its extended closure and despite the readiness of other applicants to step up to take its place in competing within the highly profitable stable of locally-based cannabis-related businesses.
Deeply placed sources in the Needles cannabis industry in positions to know the details of this case have alleged that Daniels allowed Paradise Wellness to utilize the address of a private residence to operate a cannabis collective and that a bogus address was also submitted to the State of California. Daniels now contends that previously public tax schedules are confidential.
Last week the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Agency and the U.S. Attorney’s Office moved forward with action against Adelanto City Councilman Jermaine Wright, arresting him on a bribery charge in the aftermath of a nearly year-long probe by the FBI into allegations that Adelanto officials were seeking to personally profit from their city’s adoption of ordinances allowing for the commercial cultivation and sale of marijuana. Word on the streets is that federal officials are now sniffing around Needles.
A move by the California State Lands Commission in asserting its regulatory rights in the Mojave Desert could entail Cadiz, Inc. having to carry out an exacting and comprehensive environmental impact report on that company’s controversial project to siphon water from beneath the eastern Mojave for importation to and use by communities near the coast.
Project opponents and environmentalists have long maintained that the ecological impact assessments that accompanied the project’s approval were flawed. The approval process and environmental certification of the project was carried out by the Santa Margarita Water District, which is more than 200 miles removed from the project’s desert well sites, and also had a direct interest in the water importation scheme.
The second and current version of the Cadiz desert water extraction plan was approved by the Santa Margarita Water District more than five years ago, but the projects proponents have encountered a series of post-approval legal, regulatory and procedural challenges that delayed it. With the changeover from the Barack Obama to the Donald Trump administration earlier this year, the prospect increased that necessary federal acquiescence in use of governmental rights of way for the pipeline to carry the water would be forthcoming. At that point, however, project opponents reinvigorated challenges to the undertaking at the state level. The California State Lands Commission’s demand that Cadiz submit a project application for its pipeline construction is the latest manifestation of that opposition.
Beginning in the late 1980s, what was then known as the Cadiz Land Company, which had been created by Ted Dutton and Keith Brackpool, sunk a well in the Cadiz Valley and initiated an organic farming operation growing tomatoes, peppers, melons, grapes and citrus. 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. By the late 1990s, it was clear that the Cadiz Land Company’s true design was on securing water rights in a remote locale in the Mojave Desert to then sell that water for use elsewhere. 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 water from sources feeding the desert area’s dry lakes that are subject to evaporation. The revamped 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. Then, 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 muted that by 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 vault from his position as county supervisor to Congress. In the June 2012 primary, Mitzelfelt proved unsuccessful in his effort to get into the 8th Congressional District race runoff in November 2012, placing a distant fifth among thirteen candidates, in no small part because his support of the Cadiz Project was so unpopular with his constituents that the hefty political contributions from Cadiz, Inc. proved to be of no avail to him. In seeking to transition into Congress in 2012, Mitzelfelt had to forgo seeking reelection as supervisor that same year. Thus, he was consigned 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 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.
Over the next five years, a succession of environmental challenges and lawsuits delayed the implementation of the project. Cadiz, Inc. has succeeded in overcoming those lawsuits, nearly all of which were heard in Orange County Superior Court.
One remaining snag holding up the project was 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. At issue was 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. The Bureau of Land Management office for California later found that “conveyance of water for public consumption is not a railroad purpose.”
In March, the Donald Trump Administration, in the form of a blanket memo from a Bureau of Land Management acting assistant director, revoked two of the legal bases for the agency’s 2015 decision blocking the Cadiz project. This prompted Cadiz, Inc. to reapply with the federal government for permission to proceed, in turn galvanizing Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-California, who was the lead sponsor of the 1994 California Desert Protection Act signed into law by President Bill Clinton, the sponsor of the California Desert Protection Act of 2011, the sponsor of the California Desert Conservation and Recreation Act of 2015 and the sponsor of the California Desert Protection and Recreation Act of 2017, and a longtime opponent of Cadiz, Inc.’s designs on desert water. Feinstein consulted with Assemblywoman Laura Friedman, who in July altered the language of pending legislation, AB 1000, which originally pertained to water meter standards, to halt significant desert water pumping until state land and wildlife officials review the proposed groundwater extractions to first certify they will not harm the desert’s ecology.
Though the Cadiz Project was not mentioned specifically in the legislation, Friedman acknowledged the alteration of AB 1000 came in response to the 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 triggered 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.
The bill did not make it past the California Senate Appropriations Committee, where it lay dormant at the end of the legislative session.
In September, State Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens and Kevin de León D-Los Angeles, the state Senate’s president pro tempore, effectively blocked the bill’s release. Lara, asserting the project had already been subject to the rigors of the California Environmental Quality Act, said, “That process should be allowed to play out.” De León in whose district the Cadiz corporate headquarters is located, has received $9,100 in political contributions from Cadiz, Inc., $4,100 for his California Senate campaign in 2014 and $5,000 in June of this year for his planned run for lieutenant governor next year.
Thereafter, the environmental wing of the Democratic Party in California began casting about for another stratagem to block the Cadiz Water Project. Last month the State Lands Commission, which is chaired by Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, proclaimed ownership of and passage rights over a 200-foot swath of property a mile long upon which a portion of the Cadiz pipeline is to be laid. Newsom, like current governor Edmund J. “Jerry” Brown and Feinstein, was a supporter of Friedman’s AB 1000. Newsom is vying against De León for the Democratic nomination for governor next year.
The Lands Commission is requiring that Cadiz complete an application for use of the property. That application will undergo an analysis of relevant issues by the Lands Commission staff, and a determination of what criteria will need to be met to allow the pipeline to pass over the property. The discussion on the state’s end of the equation has extended, the Sentinel has learned, to what environmental certification will be required for the pipeline passover, which some want to be expanded to include a full-blown review of the adequacy of the earlier environmental analyses that were done for the project as a whole. Environmentalists and project opponents have contended that the environmental impact report on the project which was ratified by the Santa Margarita Water District in 2012 was flawed and inadequate on a number of grounds, including what they say was a gross miscalculation of the natural annual recharge of the aquifers in the East Mojave, which in actuality falls significantly below the amount of water to be extracted by Cadiz, Inc. They contend the Santa Margarita Water District board members, who do not represent the residents of San Bernardino County or the East Mojave in particular, were insensitive to the full implication of the inadequacies in the environmental report and therefore did not fairly and adequately size up the impacts of the project, being blinded by their own interest in seeing the project approved. For that reason, they are pressing for a comprehensive reevaluation of the environmental impact report and the approval of the project that was based on it, such that Cadiz, Inc. is required to, essentially, redo the environmental impact report so the environmental certification is made under the watchful eye of a panel that does not have a stake in the financial outcome of the decision.
Efforts to obtain input from Scott Slater, the current head of Cadiz, Inc. were unsuccessful.
San Antonio Regional Hospital on Tuesday broke ground on a new annex that will make the oncology services of the City of Hope available to patients locally.
San Antonio Hospital, which has been in existence in Upland since 1907, over the last six years has been engaged in a series of planned expansion stages intended to increase the number of beds at the institution from 271 to over 400.
The $160 million four-story Vineyard Tower at 999 San Bernardino Road, which expanded the number of stations in the hospital’s emergency room from 34 to 52, created and outfitted 12 more intensive care units and added 92 more beds, opened earlier this year. Tuesday’s groundbreaking was for a $30 million, 60,000-square-foot structure at 1100 San Bernardino Road that is to house an ambulatory care center as well as a City of Hope outpatient cancer center on the first floor.
The City of Hope facilities will offer chemotherapy, radiation, and surgical services, said Letisia Marquez, the media relations manager for the City of Hope in Duarte. The opening target date is early 2019, according to Marquez.
The Upland location will be of benefit to local cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, as the treatment regimen they are subjected to can greatly weaken and fatigue them. Having the outpatient center in Upland can reduce the traveling distance for many of those patients and their families by as much as 24 miles.
Upon opening, the City of Hope’s outpatient oncology center in Upland will represent what Harlan Levine, MD, the chief executive for the City of Hope Medical Foundation characterized as the “most comprehensive facility between Duarte and Loma Linda.”
The second floor of the new building will house a women’s imaging center, featuring the latest versions of mammography scanners.
By Count Friedrich von Olsen
Merriam-Webster’s second definition of schizophrenia is as follows: a state characterized by the coexistence of contradictory or incompatible elements. Merriam-Webster’s first definition of schizophrenia is as follows: a severe mental disorder characterized by some, but not necessarily all, of the following features: emotional blunting, intellectual deterioration, social isolation, disorganized speech and behavior, delusions, and hallucinations. Accordingly, if we accept Merriam-Webster’s second definition of schizophrenia, I have some bad news for the rest of you: You are all schizophrenics. If the first definition holds true, egad, I’m a schizophrenic…
I have been reduced to the verge of being carted off to a mental institution because of this marijuana thing. No, not because I have smoked too much of it. In fact, I do not smoke it at all. But I am being sent into convulsions over the way everyone else is carrying on about it…
My lone personal experience with cannabis took place three-quarters or four fifths of my life ago when I was in Port Said and imbibed some hashish. Together with a handful of associates and acquaintances, I had smoked a minute amount of this resin together with some Turkish tobacco from a hookah, something of an after-lunch digestif. I am not prepared to say that it was entirely unenjoyable; indeed, it seemed to take me to the threshold of or maybe into the province of euphoria. Unfortunately, that feeling was accompanied by a simultaneous sensation of utter and complete disorientation. That is, I could still, barely and quite possibly with the assistance of gravity, discern up from down, but I am less certain that I could, during the two hours or so that I was under the influence, differentiate between left and right. My recollection these many years later is that forward and backward were similar challenges. Shortly thereafter, I attempted to make my way back to the hotel in which I was staying. I did a competent enough job of setting off in the right direction and managed to put one foot in front of the other along the lion’s share of the way for however many blocks it was toward my destination. The thing was, having arrived at the intersection catercorner from where my hotel was located, my ability to negotiate the double crossing of the street abandoned me. That is, simply getting to the hotel looming in front of me barely 100 feet or so away had become an impossible task, a hurdle I was seemingly incapable of mounting. I simply stood there overmatched, seemingly paralyzed for something like 45 minutes or an hour until it came to me that I merely needed to simply continue easterly across the street, and once there, go left, or north, across the street to put myself where I was trying to go. That the hashish rendered me into such a state in which I was incapable of performing even, it would seem, the simplest of tasks with any dispatch convinced me that seeking refuge in the shelter cannabis provided from the world was not something in my own best interest, given the level of commitment and responsibility I had in running and managing a worldwide shipping, transportation and logistics operation. Given a choice between euphoria and being productive, I chose the latter…
Despite my own avoidance of cannabis, I attempted to remain nonjudgmental. As a man of the world, I fully understood that in places such as the South Mediterranean, the Near East, and the Middle East, hashish was a standard complement to the social scene. And sometime around a half century ago, hashish and its less pharmaceutical and unconcentrated cousin, marijuana, began to gain a growing popularity in the West. To each his own. I did not indulge myself, but within my own circles and among certain of my friends and acquaintances, there were some who did. Nevertheless, the authorities, as it were, had a far different attitude. Marijuana was an illegal substance. It was considered to be a dangerous narcotic, one that ruined lives. There was a policy that included imprisoning those involved with it in any way, including those who grew it, trafficked in it at the wholesale level, packaged and sold it at the retail level, and those who bought it, smoked it or simply possessed it. This was accompanied by an incessant informational campaign in which we were all told of its dangers, that it ruins lives, that it leads to a serious psychological addiction and propels one toward the use of other equally or even more destructive substances, that a lifestyle involving it is to ipso facto engage in moral turpitude, that its use could lead to psychosis, that possessing it was an illegal act that would result in criminal prosecution, that those who were selling it and profiting off of it are societal parasites. And indeed our governmental officials backed that up, throwing, over the last fifty years or so in the state of California alone tens of thousands of people into prison for smoking it, possessing it or selling it, and hundreds of thousands if not millions in the United States into prison for the same offenses over the same time span…
How determined has the government been to keep marijuana from being sold? In 1996, the voters in California said that marijuana could be used for medical purposes. But the federal government has regulatory control over banks, and banks are federally insured. Bank managers ran the risk of not only losing their charters but risked having the insurance on their customers’ deposits outright cancelled if they allowed dispensary owners to deposit money at their institutions…
In less than two months, the use of marijuana is to be legal in California. I am not talking about it being used for “medical purposes.” That has been legal for 20 years. What will be legalized is using it for “recreational” purposes, That is, people will soon be free to use it for what everyone has been using it for all along, despite all those warnings government officials have been enunciating over the years…
Now, the State of California and city after city are jumping on the cannabis gravy train. Along the way they are setting up rules under which marijuana can be grown, processed, handled and sold in both the state at large and within each municipal jurisdiction…
In case after case, the laws and statutes and ordinances are being drawn up to so that the cultivation and processing and sale of marijuana will commence seamlessly and without any great fanfare, while at every level the government is moving in to get a piece of the action The state and the cities want the money, that is for sure. They are ready to cash in on a substance just a short time ago they insisted was the source of misery…
The State of California is now looking at layering a 45 percent tax on marijuana. Cities are looking to make money on the product coming and going, that is, in its production and in its sale. Cities are discussing annual fees of anywhere from $3 per square foot to $25 per square foot for space used to cultivate marijuana, or roughly $120,000 to $1 million an acre. And when the marijuana gets sold, cities are looking at a 10 percent to 15 percent tax. The government – the combined levels of government – will make more off the sale of marijuana than the people selling it. The state is set to put restrictions in place that will make sure that every sale is recorded. Oh, and the difficulty of the federal government not allowing legitimate banks to open accounts for customers? The State of California is ready to work its way around that…
State Treasurer John Chiang and his task force are now pressing for legislation that will require that pot shops entrust their proceeds to armored car companies for safekeeping, a stratagem by which the state will know exactly how much each dispensary is raking in. And by the way, the state is looking at imposing an armed transport tax on top of everything else. Mr. Chiang is only trying to keep us all safe, since having bags of cash lying around in the backrooms of these dispensaries just won’t do, and he says using this armored car protection scheme, whereby the money will be transferred to a secure state-run counting and holding facility will short circuit the possibility of the dispensary owners being taken advantage of by unscrupulous robbers and becoming the victims of theft. And this will also ensure that no one cheats the state out of its percentage of the haul. It will also provide the opportunity for the state to cash in, since the staff employed at the counting houses will need to be paid as well, that’s right, from the revenue stream they will be counting…
We’re so lucky to have a guy like Mr. Chiang looking after us!
Estimates are that the marijuana market will run to at least $6 billion in California in 2018, more like $7 billion, and maybe even $8 billion. I don’t know, myself, how the estimators came up with those figures. But let’s take the most conservative one – $6 billion and work with that. What that means is that our state – its morality, its ethics, its principles – are for sale for $6 billion. The devil’s weed that was a bane to civilized society is now to be readily available, as long as it pumps another $3 billion or thereabouts in revenue annually into our government coffers…
Why is it that I am the only one who is troubled by this? In January, our state and local government will be engaging in action which if anyone – today or last year, or five years ago or ten years ago or any time during the last 40, 50, 60, 70, 80 or 90 years – engaged in would have consigned them to prison. It seems I’m headed for the sanitarium for sure. But wait, I think there is a way I can bypass the rubber room and the straitjacket. The way this makes sense is the acceptance that our past policy was a mistake. That is, we can reconcile that what we are going to be doing very soon isn’t illegal and morally wrong when for generations doing just that was illegal and considered morally wrong by simply acknowledging we had formerly made a mistake and that it was never morally wrong and it should not have been illegal. Now that makes sense. But it’s not that simple, it seems to me. If we admit the law was wrong, that means we wrongfully prohibited marijuana possession and use, we wrongfully arrested and jailed marijuana possessors and smokers, we wrongfully prosecuted them, we wrongfully convicted them, we wrongfully fined them, and we wrongfully imprisoned them. What are we going to do about that?
Here is my proposal: Reparations! First we get a comprehensive list of everyone yet living who was convicted and imprisoned under our wrongheaded marijuana laws. Then we expunge their records. Those would be the first two steps. The third step would be to calculate for each of them how much time they spent in the big house over this. The fourth step would be to provide each of them a modest amount of money – say $1,000 – for every day they were incarcerated. That will settle the moral score…
And how will we pay for this? That’s the beauty of it! It’s already in place: the $3 billion per year or thereabouts that these new state and local taxing regimes are going to generate! And if that turns out to be insufficient, then we simply tap into the retirement funds for our state’s legislators, its judges, its prosecutors, its police officers and its prison guards who participated in and themselves profited under California’s now discredited anti-marijuana ethos regime…
Botrychium simplex is a type of fern, a pteridophyte, known variously as least moonwort, little grapefern, little grape fern and least grapefern. The botrychium species are known as moonworts. These seedless vascular plants in the family Ophioglossaceae are small, growing 2¾ inches to 5½ inches tall, with fleshy roots. They reproduce by spores shed into the air. One part of the leaf, the trophophore, is sterile and fernlike; the other, the sporophore, is fertile and carries the clusters of sporangia or spore cases. The spore-bearing fronds are dramatically different from the sterile fronds.
The fronds of least moonwort are less dissected and lobed than in other species, hence the specific epithet of simplex. However, this species is, in other respects, highly variable.
The sterile frond is a single leaf, pale green in color, smooth and fleshy, about 1½ inches long, simply compound, and close to stem; often clasping. The sterile frond’s position on the leaf stalk is variable.
The fertile frond rises above the leaf as a single, unbranched stalk with prominent spore cases.
The stem is pale green, slender, succulent, and fragile; about ¾ of an inch long.
The rootstalk is small and upright. Roots tend to be few; smooth, fleshy, and spreading; they descend to about 2 inches below the surface.
There are no scales on the leaf stalk and there are no hairs on the leaf stalk. The veins go all the way to the edge of the leaf blade.
Individuals tend to be inconspicuous and scattered. One way of identifying these plants is by there diminutive size, succulent stem, and single compound leaf, as noted most often clasping, combined with its unbranched fertile frond.
The least moonwort is spotted in dry fields, marshes, bogs, swamps and roadside ditches.
This fern is present in high elevations from Southern California to North Carolina and northward to Alaska and Newfoundland; it is also widespread in the Old World, but in many places it is considered endangered because of extreme rarity. In Europe, particularly, botrychium simplex and other vascular plants are threatened with extinction and declining, as a result of urbanization and expanding infrastructure. The presence of ferns are considered by scientists to be an indicator of healthy ecosystems.
From Wikipedia, GoBotany website and http://www.rook.org
It’s all about cape and bomber this week in autumn. Capes are fashionably warm and perfect for the cool California fall weather. You can find them in different prints and solids. Open your eyes and you will see the cape everywhere.
The bomber jacket has a way of jazzing up an outfit and keeping things warm during the cool seasons of fall and winter. You can get historic with the bomber and try an original leather piece these days. The neat thing is that today’s bomber is available in different fabrics. The jacket, in its neat cuffs, the zipper, and versatile neckline, is available in solids and other prints for your liking. You can go with a classic black bomber to wear with denim, or a leather and suede jacket to get a dressier look for a night out. It’s going to be great this fall with all the new trends that keep popping up. Until next week, enjoy the crispy autumn weather of inland Southern California.
“If you like something, rock it. If you want to rock a cape every day, go for it.” -Post Malone