By clicking on the Blue portal below, you can download a PDF of the July 3 San Bernardino County Sentinel.
By Mark Gutglueck
The rubber is now meeting the road with regard to a controversial proposal by University Realty LLC to construct 350 houses on 209 acres that currently fall within the City of Loma Linda’s jurisdiction at that city’s furthest extension westward. The property in question lies proximate to Reche Canyon in Colton, a once rustic area that has become more urbanized as a consequence of incremental development of the area that has been ongoing for three quarters of a century and the intensification of the use of Reche Canyon Road, once a little-used back passage linking San Bernardino and Riverside counties which became a far more popular thoroughfare in the decades since the 1984 incorporation of Moreno Valley. As a consequence, on a typical weekday tens of thousands of vehicles traverse through the canyon, using the road as a shortcut to bypass the 60 and I-215 Freeways to reach San Bernardino, the I-10 Freeway, Loma Linda, Redlands and elsewhere in San Bernardino County.
Reche Canyon residents, many of whom originally moved there because they considered it an idyllic rural island in the midst of the rapidly urbanizing Inland Empire, are resentful of the University Realty proposal, which to succeed will require that the City of Loma Linda fully forsake its claim to authority over the expanse to be built upon while the City of Colton annexes the property. That annexation is required because the property in question, lying at the extreme west end of Loma Linda, is separated by nearly a mile from the closest available municipal infrastructure and utilities further eastward in Loma Linda, on the other side of some 3,000 acres of undeveloped wilderness referred to as the South Hills. Thus, Loma Linda cannot economically provide the road access, water systems, wastewater treatment services or other infrastructure needed to support the subdivision University Realty is proposing. Colton, however, has long established municipal infrastructure proximate to the 209-acre site. Once the property is absorbed by Colton, those services could be provided by Colton. In this way, it appears that what University Realty is trying to do is move the land use decision authority with regard to the property it is intent on developing from Loma Linda to Colton.
A mélange of further complications besets the proposal.
One of those is the legality of what University Realty is attempting to do through the annexation. From shortly after Loma Linda’s incorporation as a city in 1970, the degree of development that was to take place in the South Hills and how much of that area is to be preserved and kept off limits from development has been the subject of repeated actions by both the city council in its many permutations over the years and Loma Linda residents. In the 1970s, the city council as it was then composed committed to a deal whereby what had been most of the totality of the hills were to be safeguarded against development into perpetuity, in return for the northernmost portion of the hills being opened up for development. Grading of the north end of the hills occurred and that development took place, and then in the 1980s, when memory of the guarantee against further development of the South Hills had dimmed, more development took place, again conditional upon the remainder of the hills being preserved. Then in the 1990s, further incursion into the South Hills took place, with an assurance that further development would be prohibited. In 2006, Loma Linda’s voters passed Measure V, which preserved two thirds of the more than 3,000 acres left in the South Hills as permanent open space. Given the various measures and ordinances the City of Loma Linda has and the layers of South Hills property preservation requirements and development prohibitions, there is grounds to conclude that what University Realty wants to do in developing the property is prohibited, indeed outright illegal.
Into the mix is the strong identification of the City of Loma Linda’s governmental structure with Loma Linda University Medical Center, an Adventist institution. Loma Linda is a charter city, and its charter provides the city with the authority to issue municipal bonds to support construction and operation of the medical center, which demonstrates the fashion in which City Hall is held to be a supporting mechanism for the University Medical Center. Many of the city’s elected officials, current and historic, have been employees of or administrators at the medical center. In its nearly 50-year history, the City of Loma Linda has never had a member of the city council who was not an Adventist.
University Realty LLC, also known as Arizona State University Enterprise Partners, is an an arm of Arizona State University which is engaged in raising money for Arizona State University by acquiring donations of property which can be developed commercially, residentially, and industrially to create a revenue stream, ultimately passed along to the the university, or to otherwise make investments in real estate that can subsequently be sold at a profit, and to engage in development projects including what University Realty founder and chief executive officer M. Randy Levin terms “full service, ground-up development including acquisitions and entitlements of land, master-planning and building design, construction, and financing of office, industrial and multi-family projects.”
Levin/University Realty and Loma Linda city officials/City Hall share a devotion to the educational institutions they are respectively connected with. By assuring Loma Linda University Medical Center administrators that the project planned for the property to be annexed to Colton, dubbed Rancho del Prado, will provide housing suitable for doctors and other medical professionals working at the medical center, Levin has created a commonality of interest with Loma Linda city officials relating to having the project proceed. In this way, Loma Linda officials have shown themselves amenable to going along with the annexation proposal.
The Loma Linda governmental structure, nonetheless, was not a monolith in supporting University Realty’s development agenda. Some officials expressed reservations about the city surrendering its land use authority with regard to the property. Under Loma Linda’s standards, no more than one home could be constructed on each ten acres of the property under discussion. What University Realty is seeking is 16.74 homes per ten acres. Planning commissioners Doree Morgan and Larry Karpenko, in particular, have expressed reservations about the wisdom of going along with University Realty’s proposal.
Despite that reluctance on the part of a handful of Loma Linda officials, the Loma Linda City Council in October 2017 voted to send a letter to the San Bernardino County Local Agency Formation Commission, which oversees governmental jurisdictional issues, in support of letting Colton annex the property, after Arizona State University Enterprise Partners/University Realty, represented by Levin and Christine Aghassi, suggested the property should be moved into Colton’s sphere of influence. The letter stated that the property now in the possession of University Realty “cannot be served by Loma Linda with fire, police, water and other public services, either now or in the future. The City of Colton is the logical provider of these services.” The letter is widely interpreted as a clear signal that the majority of Loma Linda’s decision-makers were in favor of the project.
Levin and Aghassi have in the meantime hosted several community meetings in Colton, specifically in Reche Canyon, where they have sought to persuade local residents that the project will be a beneficial one.
They have not done a very effective job of selling the project to Reche Canyon’s residents.
Indeed, the San Bernardino County Local Agency Formation Commission has been overwhelmed with Reche Canyon residents weighing in against the annexation and development proposal. The Sentinel was unable to find a single communication between Reche Canyon residents and the Local Agency Formation Commission which endorsed the project.
Among the letters and emails sent to the commission is one from Brenda Johnson, a resident of the Reche Canyon area. Johnson said it its improper for Loma Linda to be pushing the project. “If it is not going to defray the cost of mitigation,” Johnson stated for the record, the City of Loma Linda should have no role in convincing the Local Agency Formation Commission to allow the annexation to occur and no part in encouraging Colton to let the project proceed. Loma Linda “should shoulder the responsibility for the infrastructure” including “giving an alternative direction for traffic toward Loma Linda and away from Reche Canyon. Loma Linda should not be passing its congestion and growth problems onto its neighbors,” she said. Further, according to Johnson, “As it now stands, Reche Canyon is already a fire trap. Residents and 600 or more school children will be in grave danger if an evacuation ever becomes necessary.”
Cheryl Musee stated, “If there was a fire, major earthquake or flash floods, putting additional housing tracts in the canyon without a nearby fire station or proper road access to leave the canyon means that you will be putting us and thousands of others at risk of being trapped/dying should an emergency occur. Adding 200 homes in the future means increased fire risk to us all from human error or accidents, and overcrowding of a high fire risk area.”
Reche Canyon resident Mandy Miller said that in addition to fire safety reasons, she and her husband oppose the annexation and development plan because “It means our wildlife will be displaced. It means Reche ‘Canyon’ will become closer to Reche ‘City.’
According to Reche Canyon residents Patricio Rojas and Debbie Sabins, “The traffic is already out of control on that road because of the homeowners that live in Moreno Valley using our road for a shortcut.”
Toni and Art Quezada said they object to the “possibility of this turning into a doorway for someone to come in and develop this area.”
Bob Bennett said, “We already have to struggle with 25,000 cars a day, 99 percent of which come from Moreno Valley and surrounding areas. Not only would the additional traffic be frustrating, it would be life threatening.”
Danny Payne, an administrator for the Citizens for a Better Reche Canyon Facebook Page, said he was opposed to the annexation “without significant action toward addressing the congestion and traffic safety problems that plague Reche Canyon. On most weekdays it takes my family 20 to 30 minutes to navigate the traffic bottleneck at the mouth of the canyon. It’s a worsening problem that must be addressed before any significant new development is considered.”
Jim Eberle said the annexation and development is “not a good deal for anyone except the land developers, the Colton City Council and anyone who will profit from this who doesn’t live in the canyon.”
Lindsey Woods said the access to the project area would be limited to that “through an insufficient roadway and would demand resources from a city unable to accommodate the already established developments in the area. Having more residences developed in this area is irresponsible.”
Valarie Driskill lamented that the area is already marred by a “bottleneck. It is a solid line of cars from one end of the canyon to the other end. It takes 30 minutes to drive three miles.”
Faye Pribble asked the decision-makers overseeing the annexation request, “Are you out of your minds? Access would obviously be through Reche Canyon, which is already clogged with traffic. Are you simply trying to force a major highway through the canyon? We’re told there are ‘no plans in progress’ at present, but ‘somebody somewhere is planning, devising and developing’ and the end result will be to spread services and traffic control so thin as to disappear altogether.”
Reche Canyon resident Heather Tutton said that the canyon and its residents are being victimized by too many outside jurisdictions, including the County of Riverside and the cities of Riverside and Moreno Valley and Loma Linda, all of which are angling to keep outside traffic flowing through the canyon, clogging its streets. “We’re too many cities in too many counties and we do not have a voice that counts,” she said.
Robert Lewis said, “This whole proposal is unnecessary and dangerous. When I chose to move into this canyon, it was to move out of the city, away from the stress it brings. Yet, here I am, looking at a proposal that would bring that city life right into our canyon.”
Paul and Darlene McMIllan in a letter to the Local Agency Formation Commission wrote, “Since a city’s sphere of influence paves the way for annexation and since Loma Linda has allowed the area to retain its rural character, we oppose the proposed transfer.”
University Realty principals Christine Aghassi and M. Randy Levin have sought to put their best foot forward by asserting their company is “doing this the right way” and that it will abide by the letter of the California Environmental Quality Act in obtaining environmental certification for the project. The two emphasized that they have held multiple meetings with residents so far and will continue to do so in refining the project. They have given two figures with regard to the footprint of the project, one being 209 acres and the other being 203.
After more than two years of discussion, University Realty LLC, submitted a draft of its Rancho del Prado proposal to Colton in December 2019. That triggered some degree of protest, in both Colton and Loma Linda. A group of residents in Loma Linda asserted that the annexation proposal was an effort to dodge the restrictions of the South Hills preservation element of 2006’s Measure V, passed in November 2006 by Loma Linda’s voters with 2,132 votes or 52.73 percent in favor and 1,911 votes or 47.27 percent in opposition.
Levin and Aghassi sought to stay on point, not allowing that protest to distract them.
“University Realty is seeking to conserve significant open space and provide single-family residential opportunities that will fund needed improvements for the Reche Canyon area,” the company stated.
The 430-acre property University Realty has acquired east of Reche Canyon Drive and the historic Hitchin Post Market, will be developed in such a way that it will preserve 227 acres visible from Loma Linda as open space and place the houses on either 203 acres or 209 acres below the ridgeline to the south. That property will be proximate or coterminous with existing housing tracts in Colton on Prado Lane and Crystal Ridge Lane.
Levin and Aghassi insisted that the project will not worsen traffic congestion but resolve roadway issues, as it will involve creating a “funding mechanism” for Reche Canyon Road improvements, such as traffic control and congestion relief, a secondary access route to Reche Canyon Elementary School and the neighborhoods in the immediate vicinity of the school, they said.
The project will also increase the water main pressure in the area, according to Levin and Aghassi.
To allay the fire safety issue, Levin and Aghassi said the project proponents will pay for the establishment of a helipad to allow for quick emergency response.
Residents say that is nowhere near enough. They point out that the property was donated to University Realty, which can therefore afford to construct a roadway heading east-northeast or east through the South Hills, either reaching Barton Road in Loma Linda or stretching all the way to San Timoteo Canyon south of Redlands. In addition, residents insisted, University Realty should be required to construct a fire station.
Over the last two-and-a-half years, Colton Fifth District City Councilman Jack Woods, the self-proclaimed “Mayor of Reche Canyon,” whose district includes the canyon, has made contradictory statements about the project. Initially, he seemed to support it, suggesting at the time that it would provide significant road improvements that would alleviate gridlock. After Reche Canyon residents came out in opposition to the project, Woods changed tack, at one point suggesting there were sufficient votes on the council to keep the project from proceeding, and declaring the proposal “dead.”
Despite the residential opposition to the project, Colton city officials appear to be steering a middle path in the controversy, neither endorsing nor opposing the project, but still the same supporting the processing of University Realty’s application, maintaining that the city has to give the proposal fair consideration throughout the process.
On June 16, the city council voted 6-to-1, with Councilman Luis González dissenting, to kick off the environmental review process for the project. Pursuant to the vote, Michael Baker International will catalog the impacts of all aspects of the project. Michael Baker International is to receive $272,525 to do that analysis for the city. The company will be paid by the city, so that there is no suggestion that its employees are doing University Realty’s bidding. University Realty is to reimburse the city the entire $272,525 cost and also provide the city with a 15 percent administrative fee – $40,878.75 – for overseeing and coordinating that work.
There were suggestions from some Colton residents that the council agreeing to go forward with the environmental analysis of the project signals that the city is going to ultimately approve it. Three of those predicted the city will not require University Realty to mitigate the impacts the project will impose on already overburdened Reche Canyon, with two iterating the belief the city will allow University Reality to complete the project without carrying out an exhaustive environmental impact report, and that the city will gloss over the environmental impacts, in particular the traffic issues, by giving the project a mitigated negative declaration. A mitigated negative declaration is a finding by a governing board, such as a city council, that all untoward impacts of a given project have been reduced to tolerable levels by the conditions of approval.
Mayor Frank Navarro told the Sentinel that was absolutely untrue.
“The project is in the very preliminary stages,” Navarro said. “Nothing is guaranteed. We will not be giving them a mitigated negative declaration. They are going to have to go through a full blown environmental impact report.”
Navarro said that “Arizona State University Enterprise Partners and University Realty’s team have had numerous community meetings. I have attended two or three to see what they are bringing to the table. There are plenty of questions to be answered. They aren’t going to be able to just ask for a mitigated negative declaration. I say again: There will be a full blown environmental impact report – nothing less. I know there are a number of people who are saying this project will be approved no matter what. That is not true. We have a process and anyone who knows me knows I am a very by-the-book type of individual. Our staff will will work through the environmental document certification process and the processing of the permits for this application and this project will either pass on its merits or fail on its lack of merit. Once the EIR [environmental impact report] is prepared and staff makes its analysis and opens the environmental documents for public review and comment, the environmental process will go forward, including questions and comments from the public. Responses to those questions and comments will be prepared and posted or provided back to the people who had those questions. Once that is completed, it will then go to the planning commission and they will have the opportunity to hold workshops where the entire community will be able to look at everything involved and any documents associated with the project.”
Nothing is being rushed, and the city council will not allow the safeguards that are applied to land use decisions to be shortcircuited, the mayor said.
“It is going to be a long process,” Navarro said. “Before there are any stakes in the ground, I am guessing it will be two-and-a-half to three years, and all of Reche Canyon’s residents will have their say when the environmental documents are made public. We have a top notch staff and I am confident they and we will do everything the city can to make sure all of the land use issues are properly addressed, public safety concerns are met, there are adequate services and we know what this development is bringing to the city.”
Nothing is being hidden, Navarro said, and no favoritism is being shown to University Realty.
“When the EIR is prepared, it will be open for public comment and scrutiny for either a 45 day or 90 day period, whichever is deemed appropriate,” Navarro said. “Staff will look at all of the aspects of the application and make its analysis for us to consider.”
The council is not driving the examination process, but rather overseeing it, Navarro insisted.
“As a council, we will not get directly involved in this process unless the planning commission denies the project and the developer appeals and it becomes a de nouveau matter,” he said. “It is a long process. No one can say, ‘We want to build 300 homes,’ and then just expect us to give them the documents and permits and allow them to proceed. As long as I am mayor, I will make sure the merits and benefits of any such project are thoroughly examined and the interests of Colton’s residents are protected. We want to make sure we cover everything. That is what we should do as public officials and what the people who have elected us have entrusted us to do, to follow the right process.”
With what appears to be the sudden advance of the coronavirus throughout a significant portion of California’s population, in particular extending to a subset of the state’s counties including San Bernardino County, there is growing pressure to put the state, or much of it, back into lockdown.
In response to the COVID-19 crisis, Governor Gavin Newsom in March instituted a host of precautionary measures that remained in place throughout April and May. With the outset of June, the State of California and the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health began to progressively dismantle the regime intended to slow the coronavirus from spreading. Stay-at-home orders, closures of restaurants and service businesses entailing direct or close human contact, requirements that individuals wear masks in public, and both park and school closures were dispensed with.
Simultaneously, the number of coronavirus cases began to climb, both statewide and in San Bernardino County. Over the next three weeks, the spread of the disease began to pick up momentum.
On June 19, San Benardino County had logged 8,714 known cases of the condition. Over the next seven days, as of June 26, that total had grown by 2,576 to 11,290 cases of coronavirus, of which 248 had resulted in death. In the seven days since, there have been 2,386 new cases, pushing the total of county cases to 13,676, including 269 deaths. So, over the last two weeks there has been an average of 2,481 new cases per week or 354.43 per day, which translates to 14.77 per hour.
This is alarming, given that in the two weeks after the precautionary measures were put in place in March, there were an average of 32 new documented cases per week. That is, as of March 13, just one day after Governor Gavin Newsom made his first and most tame mandate relating to banning public gatherings of 250 or more people, there were no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in San Bernardino County. On March 27, eight days after Newsom issued his March 19 lockdown mandate, the county had logged 64 known cases of the malady, and three deaths.
While the greater degree of testing being carried out now as opposed to in March no doubt accounts somewhat for the larger numbers of detected cases, it appears the disease is spreading much more rapidly now then it was in the early stages of the crisis. This has led to the growing belief that the suspension of the precautions last month was premature.
In an effort to determine the validity of that perception, the Sentinel this week sought to engage with San Bernardino County’s public health officer, Dr. Erin Gustafson. On Wednesday, the Sentinel posted a letter to Dr. Gustafson in care of the county’s public spokesman, David Wert. Again on Thursday, the Sentinel sent the same letter to Dr. Gustafson, this time through the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health’s spokeswoman, Lana Culp. The Sentinel did not hear back from Dr. Culp by press time. The Sentinel’s letter reads:
Basically, the rate at which the coronavirus is spreading in San Bernardino County at present, based solely on the raw testing results, seems to be far more pronounced than it was in March, April and May.
Is this perception accurate?
Based on everything you know, in San Bernardino County is the virus spreading at a faster rate now, in late June and early July, than in May or April and March?
The county and the medical community are testing county residents at present at a more accelerated pace than in months past.
Does this fully account for the seeming acceleration of the spreading of the virus? Generally, has the percentage of those found infected among those tested increased as time has passed? Or has the percentage of those found infected among those tested stayed relatively the same? Or has the percentage of those found infected among those tested diminished over time?
To the best of your knowledge, does contracting COVID-19 and then recovering from it render one immune to the disease thereafter?
Does recovering from COVID-19 end one’s status as a carrier of the disease?
Given the greater numbers of county residents known to be afflicted with the coronavirus at this point than when the precautionary restrictions were in place, is it advisable to have dispensed with those precautions? Stated another way: If the circumstance in March, April and May, when a relatively minuscule percentage of the population was affirmatively known to be afflicted with COVID-19, was such that it was prudent to have the host of restrictions that the governor decreed and which you, as the county health officer, imposed locally, how is it that now, with far higher numbers of the county’s population confirmed as being currently infected, the restrictions are not warranted?
At this point, do you feel it advisable to reinstitute the precautions that were in place in March, April and May?
Is the population at serious risk by being as open as it is now?
How much risk do you, as public health officer, deem tolerable?
If, in your view, reinstituting those precautions is not advisable, can you explain why that is and what different situation exists now that renders taking those precautions unnecessary?
Is there a vaccine on the cusp of being widely available? Does that explain why the precautions previously in place are no longer deemed necessary?
Is there some other consideration that explains why the precautions are no longer needed?
As the county health officer, are you hamstrung by those higher up the chain of command in the county from instituting the full range of measures that you would apply if you had a free hand?
Are you free to impose any restrictions relating to public health that you deem fit?
Must you run your recommendations by the higher-ups in the county in order to convert them into an order?
If you were absolutely free to dictate public health policy in San Bernardino County, would you put the restrictions back in place? Would there be any other restrictions that were not instituted that you would, if you were at liberty to do so, impose?
Were the restrictions, in your view, ended prematurely?
The restrictions were in place, by my tally, just about 11 weeks before, in gradual stages, they began to be lifted. There was reluctance to comply with many of the restrictions by a given segment of the population all along. Protest against the restrictions began in earnest, if I am recollecting properly, at the end of April or early May. Was public unrest a factor in winding the restrictions down?
The economy was drastically impacted by the societal shutdown. Was this the major factor in dispensing with the precautions?
Do economic factors outweigh health concerns?
Have you run any projections as to what the cost of ending the restrictions prematurely is going to be in terms of fatalities?
That is, if the restrictions were still in place and remained in place either until the virus runs its course or a reliable vaccine comes along, what is your projection of how many fewer people in San Bernardino would die than is going to be the case now that most of everything is opened up?
Is everything that can be done to safeguard the public health in San Bernardino County being done?
I recognize, Dr. Gustafson, that you have far more pressing things to deal with than to answer my questions, and I appreciate you devoting time to answer them.
…Mark Gutglueck (951) 567 1936
Lana Culp was able to field a few of the questions. “We’re doing a lot more testing,” she said.
With regard to the disease spreading more rapidly at present than previously, Culp said, “It seems to be, but we can’t say it is spreading to more people,” because of the unevenness of the testing patterns over the past three-and-a-half months.
Culp said that there was significant social interaction in June even beyond what is normal, given the number of demonstrations and protests in reaction to the George Floyd killing.
She said she would seek more definitive answers from Dr. Gustafson.
In the meantime, Governor Newsom appears to have taken the upsurge in coronavirus cases in several areas around the state seriously. On June 18 he mandated that Californians wear masks in public settings. Then on Wednesday July 1, Newsom mandated a new round of lockdown measures, ordering indoor operations for several business sectors, including restaurants, wineries, drinking establishments, movie theaters, family entertainment venues, zoos, museums and cardrooms in 19 counties, including San Bernardino County, to remain closed until further notice.
Early in the process of selecting a replacement for Upland Third District Councilman Ricky Felix, it appears that Carlos Garcia has the inside track.
In 2018, when Upland held the first by-district elections of its then-112-year history, Felix won the three-way race in the city’s newly formed Third District, which covers the southwestern quadrant of the city. Felix, a political newcomer, managed to pull in 1,517 votes or 39.39 percent, slightly better than another political neophyte, Irmalinda Osuna, who captured 1,354 votes or 35.16 percent. Finishing a distant third was then-two-term city council incumbent Gino Filippi, with 980 votes or 25.45 percent.
Filippi had been a member in good standing of what at that time was the city council’s four-member ruling coalition, headed by Mayor Debbie Stone. The Stone-led council, acting with the support of some influential Upland institutions such as the Chamber of Commerce, San Antonio Hospital and Lewis Homes, had engaged in a number of actions that proved highly unpopular with the city’s electorate. That entailed selling 4.631 acres of Memorial Park, including a Little League baseball diamond, to San Antonio Hospital to be converted to a parking lot and trading 16-acre Cabrillo Park on 11th Street within the Third District to Lewis Homes for acreage in an abandoned gravel quarry near the 210 Freeway. Stone and then-Councilwoman Carol Timm joined with Filippi in supporting that action and then-Councilman Sid Robinson went along with the council majority. Robinson, sensing the community’s displeasure at what had been done, opted out of running for office in 2018 altogether. Timm, like Filippi, was defeated in the 2018 election, replaced by current Councilman Rudy Zuniga.
Irmalinda Osuna and Carlos Garcia were among a group of residents in the city’s southwest sector, joined by activists from elsewhere in the city, who opposed the trade of Cabrillo Park to Lewis Homes, one of the most successful corporations based in the city. Lewis Homes intended to convert the park acreage to a residential development. Osuna and Garcia also opposed the city’s sale of the 4.631 acres of Memorial Park, located within the southeast corner of the city in what is now the Fourth District. That sale was approved by the city council in March 2018, but was successfully contested in court by a coalition of city residents, legal action which forced the hospital to seek a citywide referendum in the upcoming November election to get permission for that sale to be finalized.
The 2018 election cycle, which ended with Stone’s firm council allies Filippi, Timm and Robinson out of office, seemingly disenfranchised Stone politically. But gradually, over the ensuing year, she reassembled a voting block that included Felix; and Bill Velto, who was appointed to the Council in January 2019. With the on-again, off-again support of Zuniga, Stone in recent months reasserted herself as the city’s political leader.
This galvanized a significant cross section of the Upland community, in particular the coalition of residents opposed to the city’s abandonment of its parkland. Even in the face of that sentiment, Felix appeared to be rather insensitive to the intensity of zeal the park desecration issue engendered. Nor did he seem to recognize the degree to which he had politically benefited in the 2018 race from the antipathy toward Filippi that was a consequence of his affiliation with Stone.
As Spring 2020 advanced, an apparently unrelated development rendered Felix politically irrelevant in Upland. A heating ventilation and air conditioning technician by trade, Felix was offered a more lucrative entrepreneurial opportunity in Utah than his business based in Upland, one that was opening up in early June. On May 11, Felix announced that he was resigning from the city councilafter being in office for 17 months. effective May 30 to move with his family – his wife and three daughters – to Utah.
A furious round of discussion, speculation, debate and intrigue followed, as Stone sought to maintain the fragile council alliance she had only recently reestablished. In particular, her goal was to fill the vacancy Felix’s exit created with her old council ally, Filippi. It was Stone’s hope that the stars would align just enough for her to carry that off. Velto and Filippi were childhood friends, Velto had endorsed Filippi when he ran for city council in 2010, they had endorsed each other in 2012 when Filippi unsuccessfully vied for mayor and Velto, then a planning commissioner, made an equally unsuccessful run for city council, and Velto endorsed Filippi when he successfully sought reelection to the council in 2014. Since Councilwoman Janice Elliott had been a consistent dissenter during the heyday of the council coalition that included Stone, Filippi, Timm and Robinson, Mayor Stone recognized that the prospect of getting Elliott to support the appointment of Filippi was dim, at best. Stone, nevertheless, saw a possibility that Zuniga, whose tenure on the council began just as Filippi’s ended, might be prevailed upon to support her in her effort to reinitiate Filippi’s political career.
Ultimately, however, Filippi’s political comeback was dashed as a consequence of, ironically, Velto’s ongoing political ambition. Jeff Burum, a deep-pocketed developer with several actual, tentative, potential or contemplated projects in Upland, has emerged as Velto’s most likely political sponsor going forward, whether he is to run for the First District city council seat in November or reach for the brass ring and run for mayor. Burum has a pronounced enmity toward Filippi and, as a consequence, Velto found it politic to not support appointing Filippi.
Conventional wisdom dictated that the next most logical candidate to replace Felix was therefore Osuna, who ran a relatively narrow 163 votes or 4.23 percent behind Felix in the 2018 election. Osuna at this point, however, has both professional and familial commitments that she told the Sentinel would preclude her from devoting the time she considers necessary to master the agenda items she would be called upon to vote on as a member of the city council. For that reason, she said, she is not available to serve on the council.
On June 8, the city council took up the issue of what it was going to do about the council vacancy created by Felix’s resignation. Among its options were making an appointment of a Third District resident immediately to fill the post until the next regularly scheduled Third District election in 2022; making an appointment of a Third District resident immediately to fill the post for five months until the upcoming November election, at which point an election to fill the post for the next two years would be held; making no immediate appointment and thus leaving the position unfilled until an election to fill the position for the next two years can be held in November; scheduling an election to be held at the earliest possible date; or postponing a decision on the matter until a later meeting.
The council made its decision on June 8 against a backdrop of some city residents and some Third District residents calling for the council to make an immediate appointment and others calling for the city council to ensure that the Third District’s residents have a final say in the matter through an election process. Some residents specifically advocated against the council appointing Filippi.
Among those who addressed the council that evening were Garcia and Osuna. They did so telephonically, as the meeting was one that was not conducted publicly but rather by a video conference involving members of the city council and audio connections which allowed certain city staff to participate. The meeting was conducted electronically as a precaution taken because of the coronavirus crisis.
Carlos Garcia said, “As a resident of District 3, I would like for the council to allow us to choose who will represent us in filling the current empty seat. I am keeping a positive outlook that we do not consider previous representatives for our district. We in District 3 would like the opportunity to move forward and have our area thrive, which in turn will continue to build upon our City of Gracious Living. I am hoping that you will listen to the residents in District 3 and not be distracted by all the negative chatter from people outside of our district. At the end of the day, our votes are the ones that are going to count for the seat. If you decide to appoint someone, I would like to formally be considered to represent our District 3.”
Irmalinda Osuna told the council, “I want to remind you that two years ago I actually ran for city council for this very district. I ran on an unprecedented campaign of knocking on thousands of doors and bringing people together as one, making sure that we increase civic participation, protecting our parks, and making our city more inclusive. I am reminding you of this because my message resonated with the community. I came in a very close second place against Mr. Felix, and Mr. Filippi was rejected by the voters here by a whopping 73 percent. I’m sharing this to remind you all that the election was a referendum from our community that wanted new leadership. We need to take this into account as we move forward into filling this vacancy.”
Osuna continued, “I’m here to publicly let everyone know that I endorse Mr. Carlos Garcia. Carlos and I have been working over the last few years on issues and advocating for our community. We teamed up to oppose the selling of part of our Memorial Park. Carlos and I are very passionate about increasing community engagement. He has demonstrated that time after time. We came back and facilitated the grassroots workshop to educate and raise awareness of the Amazon warehouse and the impact, and opening up a dialogue with the community. If you’ve seen Carlos, he’s been in action, live streaming and at city meetings to boost city participation. Mr. Garcia and I come from different political spectrums, as many of you know, but we both believe in the importance of respectful dialogue. Putting politics aside, he is a strong collaborator, very diplomatic and he’s always ready to focus on the issues. He’s ready to roll up his sleeves and do the hard work. He’s not afraid to challenge the system because he has a very strong backbone. Mr. Garcia is a family man with kids attending Upland public schools. He is deeply rooted in this community, and I urge all the voters, please support Mr. Carlos Garcia, and let’s work together. I’m personally concerned that as we face economic challenges, our public parks will be on the chopping block, and I’m really concerned about the fate of our public resources. Carlos has committed to continue to support and protect our parks, and continue the community engagement. I am so looking forward to teaming up with him and collaborating to represent our district.”
The council decided to leave the District 3 council position unfilled and to include a special election to replace Felix for the final two years of his term on the November ballot.
The police response to the activity in the City of San Bernardino that began on May 31 as a requiem for the death of George Floyd and a protest against the common police practice of employing brutality in particular against African-Americans which thereafter transitioned into a full-blown riot and looting that raged into the early morning of June 1 cost the city more than a half million dollars, it was disclosed this week.
The measured reaction of the city police department in conjunction with personnel from at 11 other law enforcement agencies concluded without any major physical confrontations with the rioters and no deaths or significant injuries to the rioters or the police.
San Bernardino Police Chief Eric McBride gave the city council an accounting of his department’s largely ineffective presence which failed to stem the damages sustained by property owners and the thefts from retail establishments.
According to a report authored by McBride and provided to the San Bernardino City Council by City Manager Teri Ledoux on Wednesday, July 1, “On May 31, 2020, the City of San Bernardino experienced significant civil unrest in various parts of the city. Originally, the incident was scheduled as a protest in the downtown corridor in response to a national conversation on race and policing. The previous day, information was received that there were several potential protests being planned downtown. The Police Department assigned 48 personnel to work the event. An executive manager, along with lieutenants, sergeants, and additional personnel were assigned” and “all surrounding agencies were also made aware of the potential need for mutual aid,” McBride wrote.
According to McBride, “The police department has adopted a philosophy over the years to allow groups to peacefully assemble to exercise their First Amendment Rights” and “The plan for this event was to ensure the police department was in position to closely monitor the protesters and the crowd dynamics but also to be in position to deploy if the protest began to become destructive.”
After “a crowd formed in front of City Hall” around 4 p.m., McBride said, its ranks swelled from around 300 to between 500 and 600 “and was now in front of Police Department headquarters. The crowd ascended the front steps of the police station and began banging on the glass doors leading to the front lobby. The crowd appeared hostile, but no property was being damaged. Several members from a local church were among the group. They engaged the group, asking them to remain calm, which ultimately led to the crowd leaving the police department without damaging any property. After leaving the front steps of the police station, the crowd broke up with a group heading back downtown and another eastbound on 5th Street from D Street.”
McBride’s narrative stated that “As one faction of the crowd moved eastbound on 5th Street, they encountered approximately 15 California Highway Patrol officers. The CHP officers were providing security for a state-owned facility, and they immediately formed a skirmish line to confront the crowd. The crowd immediately became hostile towards the officers and began throwing items. The CHP had about 75 officers on standby in the city. They requested their assistance and also asked for mutual aid from our agency and others. Up to this point, the crowd, while at times aggressive, had not damaged any property and had not been provided the confrontation with law enforcement that they may have wanted. The CHP skirmish line appeared to have provided the confrontation many of the aggressive protesters were seeking, and immediately, the crowd began to become destructive. Almost immediately, the crowd began to disperse and travel in different directions and was no longer a cohesive group. While smaller bands headed back downtown, others began heading to the area of 9th and Waterman Avenue. Due to the destructive nature of certain elements of the crowd and its growing size, mutual aid was immediately requested. Officers deployed to the Waterman Discount Mall and utilized the sheriff’s helicopter to provide a dispersal order. The crowd quickly grew to over 2,000 and was becoming very destructive. Additionally, the crowd was bombarding the officers with rocks, bottles, bricks, fireworks, and anything that could be hurled to injure an officer.”
McBride related that, “Since our regional law enforcement partners were on standby to provide mutual aid, we were quickly augmented by the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, and the Fontana, Ontario, Montclair, Colton, Rialto, Upland, Chino, Riverside, and Redlands Police Departments. The deployment of officers at 9th and Waterman grew to about 250 officers very quickly and the crowd continued to grow and become more aggressive. As the officers worked to disperse the crowd, the police department began to receive information of looting across the entire 60 square miles of the city. This dynamic had not occurred elsewhere in the region and required the department to send split resources across the city to combat the issue. Some areas being targeted were the Inland Center Mall, both Walmart stores, Target, Big 5, and Harbor Freight on Highland Avenue along with various other locations across the city both small and large. We continued to gather information, live as it was being posted, that individuals were attempting to rally other looters to target additional locations throughout the city and in the neighboring communities of Redlands and Highland. Both of these cities began to experience instances of looting and it also spread to the high desert communities. This necessitated some assets to return to their jurisdictions to combat the growing problems in their communities. Eventually, the major group of protesters at 9th and Waterman were dispersed. The department and allied agencies were left to provide asset protection to major retail locations to prevent looting and respond to calls of active looting. One issue that arose was the reluctance of businesses to send out board up crews to secure their locations against additional theft. This caused multiple calls back to the same locations as they were left unsecured. By approximately 0230 hours [2:30 a.m.], all mutual aid units had been released from the city. By the end of the night, 32 arrests were made on subjects involved in the events. Twenty-two of the suspects were not residents of San Bernardino. Additionally, there were 1,284 calls for service between May 31 and June 1, which is an exponential increase. Following the night of the incident, the department assembled a task force to follow-up on the crimes that occurred. As a result, we have arrested a number of suspects and have obtained arrest warrants for many others. Stolen property has been recovered and returned to the property owners.”
According to McBride “The city manager declared a local emergency and established a city-wide curfew from 1800 hours [6 p.m.] to sunrise. In response, the department developed a temporary modified staffing plan to increase the number of available resources to respond to protests, unlawful assemblies, or other incidents requiring a significant police response. Emergency staffing remained in place until June 5, 2020, at 0700 hours [7 a.m.].
McBride said that based upon the county fire department’s property damage assessment report from what had occurred on May 31st and June 1st, 127 properties sustained damage or had to be boarded. He said 24 were boarded with no damage; 89 buildings were impacted with 1-to-9 percent damage; 11 sustained minor 10-to-25 percent damage; three suffered major 26-to-50 percent damage and on buildings were destroyed or experience damage greater than 50 percent.
According to McBride, “The fiscal impact as of June 25, 2020, in reported overtime, salaries, and materials/supplies costs for this event totaled $488,603.40. In addition, costs to replenish less lethal supplies are $13,221.60.”
Multiple eyes are upon Third District Supervisor Dawn Rowe and her staff after the Democratic candidate in the 8th Congressional District had one of her on-line campaign events hacked, during which those taking part were subjected to Nazi, Ku Klux Klan and pornographic images.
Chris Bubser is the Democratic candidate seeking to succeed 8th District Congressman Paul Cook. She is engaged in a race against Jay Obernolte, a Republican and the incumbent Assemblyman in California 33rd Assembly District. Both Cook and Rowe, who are Republicans, have endorsed Obernolte, and are engaged in the effort to ensure his election. Cook who has been a member of Congress since his election in 2012, opted out of running to remain in the U.S. House of Representatives this year to instead seek election to join Rowe on the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors as supervisor in the county’s First Supervisorial District. Both Rowe and Cook were successful in their election campaigns that culminated with the March 3 California Primary Election.
Rowe was formerly a member of Cook’s Congressional staff.
Rowe employs two of the San Bernardino County governmental structure’s resident dirty tricksters, Matt Knox, who is her chief of staff, and Dillon Lesovsky, her policy advisor. Both Knox and Lesovsky were formerly members of Cook’s Congressional Staff, serving in their capacities simultaneously and along with Rowe.
Knox and Lesovsky were famously, or perhaps infamously, the architects of the “Dirty Donnelly” attack, which targeted 8th District Congressional candidate Tim Donnelly in 2018 when the two political operatives were working on behalf of Cook’s campaign. Of note is that both Donnelly and Cook are Republicans, who had captured first and second place in California’s open primary in 2018, thus qualifying for the November runoff despite the fact that they are members of the same political party.
Cook is a retired Marine Corps colonel whose political career is grounded in his representation of himself as a rock-ribbed conservative Republican. His electoral pedigree included a stint as Yucca Valley mayor and time in the California Assembly before he moved on to Congress. Cook and his political advisers had reason to consider Donnelly a formidable opponent. Donnelly’s political persona was anchored to his identification as the most conservative politician in California and one who is unrelentingly faithful to bedrock ultra-right principles, which matched perfectly with a solid plurality if not an outright majority of the voters in the overwhelmingly right wing 8th Congressional District.
Donnelly had taken a diamond-hard stance against illegal immigration, going so far as founding the California Chapter of the Minuteman to patrol the border with Mexico. Even more pointedly, Donnely is a die-hard Second Amendment advocate, and he lived up to the principle he espoused. While he was yet a member of the California Assembly, he would routinely carry a concealed gun onto the floor of the statehouse while the legislature was in session. He took an aggressive stand against a 2011 bill restricting the open carrying of handguns in California by labeling the measure “a form of tyranny.” He topped that when, on the way back to Sacramento after the Christmas and New Year holidays for the first state legislative session in 2012, he was stopped by Transportation Security Administration officers at Ontario Airport for having a Colt .45 handgun loaded with four rounds of ammunition and five addition rounds in his carry on baggage.
The gun was taken from him and he was cited for possession of a loaded firearm. It turned out that Donnelly, who had purchased the gun roughly five years before the incident, had never registered it in his name. He was not charged with failing to purchase the gun through a licensed dealer, which is prosecutable as misdemeanor under California’s gun laws. Ultimately, Donnelly pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges of carrying a loaded firearm in public without a concealed weapons permit and possessing a gun in an airport. He was fined $2,125 and placed on three years’ probation, but was not prohibited from carrying a concealed weapon thereafter, as long as, under the terms of his probation he did not “use, own or possess any firearm that is not registered to him.” Donnelly maintained he had done nothing wrong, going on record as saying, “I didn’t do anything other than exercise my Second Amendment rights as a free American.”
His action did not hamper him politically, as he was seen by gun owners as having stood up to unreasonable liberal efforts to curtail gun ownership and he was handily reelected in the November 2012 General Election.
Of particular concern to the Cook political machine were the large numbers of gun-toting constituents in the 8th District, which covers a large swath of the Mojave Desert and the San Bernardino Mountains, where gun ownership is a way of life for a majority of those living in isolated rural areas.
Knox and Lesovsky set about undoing Donnelly’s candidacy by constructing a website, dirtydonnelly.com, attacking Donnelly and augmenting it with signs to promote the website. Dirtydonnelly.com utilized doctored photos to paint Donnelly in the most negative of light, and dwelt at length on a number of derogatories relating to the former assemblyman, including that he had a criminal record, which was an unspecified reference to his gun-carrying conviction; accusations that he was scamming senior citizens; allegations that he had deserted his family; assertions that he had engaged in “political fraud,” which was again unspecified; and insinuations that he stole from his own wife. All that was punctuated by the contention that Donnelly was unemployed. In violation of state law, neither the website nor the signs directing voters’ attention to the website had any identifying California Fair Political Practices registration number nor the indicia required under California law for campaign signs and materials to show what entity, organization, committee or campaign paid for the materials. The campaign on behalf of Cook, which was directed by Knox as Cook’s campaign manager, and the hit perpetrated by Knox and Lesovsky proved highly effective, as Cook trounced Donnelly in the November 6, 2018 election, 108,414 votes or 61.33 percent to 68,370 votes or 38.67 percent.
After Third District Supervisor James Ramos was elected to the California Assembly in the same November 2018 race in which Cook defeated Donnelly, he was obliged to resign as supervisor to accede to the Assembly position. The remaining members of the board of supervisors, three of whom – Curt Hagman, Robert Lovingood and Janice Rutherford – are Republicans, in December 2018 voted to appoint Rowe, who once served on the Yucca Valley Town Council, to serve out the Democrat Ramos’s remaining two years on the board of supervisors.
Very shortly after Rowe moved into the position representing the Third District, which covers the cities of Grand Terrace, Loma Linda, Highland, Redlands, Yucaipa, Big Bear, Barstow, Twentynine Palms, the eastern portion of San Bernardino, the town of Yucca Valley and the unincorporated communities of Bryn Mawr, Mentone, Angeles Oaks and Forest Falls, she hired Knox and Lesovsky to serve on her staff. There have been indications that Knox, in his capacity as Rowe’s chief of staff, and Lesovsky, as Rowe’s policy advisor, were or are running multiple 2020 election campaigns from inside of Rowe’s office, including Rowe’s electoral effort for Third District supervisor, Cook’s campaign for First District supervisor, Obernolte’s campaign for Congress and Thurston Smith’s effort to capture the 33rd Assembly District position that Obernolte is abandoning in vying for the House of Representatives.
Those indicators have been ignored by the County’s Chief Executive Officer, Gary McBride, and the County’s Chief Operating Officer, Leonard X. Hernandez, as well as Curt Hagman, the current chairman of the board of supervisors. McBride and Hernandez, the county’s two top staff members, serve at the pleasure of the board of supervisors. Hagman, who was formerly the chairman of the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee, has made no objection to Knox’s and Lesovsky’s activities, which have consistently been, since their employment with the county began, in favor of Republican officeholders or candidates.
While the use of public and/or governmental resources, personnel, facilities and equipment for political or partisan activity is prohibited under the law, San Bernardino County District Attorney Jason Anderson, a Republican, is not inclined to prosecute Rowe, Knox or Lesovsky, and his office has not looked into the activity carried out by Rowe’s office.
The county’s information technology division can recover from the hard drives of county employees’ computers the history of their activity utilizing those devices.
The underhanded methodology that Knox and Lesovsky have developed and employed against political candidates they oppose, in the parlance of political operatives, is referred to as “ratfucking.”
Chris Bubser’s campaign in the 8th Congressional District was ratfucked on June 27, during a Zoom teleconferencing event involving roughly three dozen participants. Less than 30 minutes into that forum, which at that point involved Congressman Jerry McNerney fielding questions, there was an interruption of the proceedings by an individual who claimed to be a member of the Zoom technical support staff. Thereafter, swastikas, images of a Ku Klux Klan gathering, graphic sexual depictions and other photos flashed across the participants’ viewing screens.
In short order, the conference was curtailed.
Given Knox’s and Lesovsky’s history and the consideration that Bubser is in a political battle against Obernolte, whose candidacy is supported by Rowe, suspicion at once fell open Rowe and her two political henchmen.
Though Knox and Lesovsky had the motive, means, expertise and opportunity to have perpetrated the hacking of Bubser’s campaign event, no evidence implicating them has emerged. The county, including Rowe, Knox and Lesovsky, is steadfastly refusing to comment upon the political activity Rowe’s office is involved in.
Next Monday night will mark the 45th anniversary of Virgil “Sonny” Scott’s shooting of San Bernardino County Deputy Sheriff Frank Pribble.
The shooting took place at the now defunct rest stop off the westbound I-10 Freeway between Citrus and Cherry avenues in Fontana.
Fate, including the dissolution of Scott’s one-time idyllic-seeming marriage and the sheriff’s department’s utilization of the 6-foot-7-inch Pribble as a peacekeeper in the often highly volatile environment of Fontana, resulted that evening within one hour of each other the deaths of the 41-year-old Scott and the 39-year-old Pribble.
Virgil Scott was five years old when he moved with his parents from Oklahoma to Fontana in 1939. Ten years later, at the age of 15, he joined the National Guard. Eight months later, when it was realized he was only 16, he was given an honorable discharge. In 1952, at the age of 18, he went to work for Kaiser Steel, eventually settling into a job as a machinist. He proved to be a particularly accomplished and competent machinist. He was promoted early on to a supervisory role and he remained at Kaiser for the rest of his life.
In 1954, he married Diane Strand, whom he had met after she came to Southern California from Minnesota. The couple settled into a home on Redwood Avenue in the unincorporated, agriculturally zoned county area west of Fontana, where they raised their two children, Steven and Sharon.
Virgil and Diane purchased property in the area around their home, over time amassing 13 rental units located on Cottonwood, Redwood and Randall avenues.
In the 1960s, the ambitious Virgil set up a weekend business in the San Bernardino Mountains community of Crestline which rented Honda 55 dirt bikes by the hour to tourists during those months of the year when the ground was no longer covered with snow, usually from April until November. While he ran the rental business, Diane and the children would take the family boat out onto Lake Arrowhead. The family would spend Friday and Saturday nights in a rustic cabin in Crestline before returning to Fontana on Sunday night.
In the same timeframe, Virgil obtained a position as an instructor at San Bernardino Valley College in its industrial arts division, teaching machine shop courses at night.
Frank Pribble would come to bestride Fontana as something of a colossus after he arrived there in the late 1960s, just as he had virtually everywhere else that he had been. The epitome of a San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputy, Frank Pribble, at 6-foot-7-inches tall and 310 pounds was as oversized of a man as San Bernardino County, at 20,105 square miles, is an oversized jurisdiction. the largest county in the lower 48 states. The department assigned him to various spots around the far-flung territory, but eventually determined that he was best employed at the Fontana Sheriff’s Substation.
When Fontana had incorporated as a city in 1952, nearly half of the expanse of ground traditionally considered as the community of Fontana was left as unincorporated county land. Fontana was a hard city. In the 1920s and 1930s it was a haven for the mob, where the bootlegging mobster Al Capone had established his West Coast hideaway at 8775 Tamarind Avenue. Well into the 1980s, vestiges of gangsterism remained a part of Fontana life. Fontana’s unincorporated expanse was host to the Kaiser Steel Mill, which employed hardworking, grisly men, many of whom were family men, like Virgil Scott, while others were hard charging, hard living and hard drinking. Fontana bears the distinction of being the place where not one but two outlaw motorcycle gangs – the Hells Angels and the Devils Diciples – were founded. The American Nazi Party and the Ku Klux Klan, led by George Pepper, had active local chapters in Fontana throughout the 1960s and 1970s and into the 1980s. Into this melange, strode Frank Pribble, inserted there by the sheriff’s department. His size alone gave him the command presence ideal in an officer of the law and which was doubly desirable in a place like Fontana. Frank thought nothing of going into Fontana’s taverns, bars and drinking establishments to quell fights that had broken out. It was said that the denizens of those bars often sensed his arrival without looking up because his height and girth cast a huge shadow.
Consistent with this size, Pribble was known to possess sheer strength, indeed what came across as superhuman strength, which he was not reluctant to use if he were challenged, as inevitably he was in a place like Fontana, applying what was in those days referred to as “necessary” and by today’s standards what is referred to as “excessive” force to keep such situations from getting out of hand. He was looked up to throughout the department as an icon and many credited him as the inspiration for the department’s unofficial motto, “One riot, one deputy.”
Virgil Scott put his machining skill to work, acquiring a used U-Haul truck, a 1965 Ford one-and-a-half-ton flat bed, which he converted into a camper. This allowed the Scott Family to take extended road trips. Virgil and Diane Scott, with the assistance of their children, would collect bags of clothes from around the neighborhood and then drive to Tijuana and distribute the clothes to the impoverished people living in cardboard boxes on the side of the hill there.
In early 1975, after 25 years of marriage, the relationship between Virgil and Diane soured. Things deteriorated, and by late spring, Diane insisted on a separation.
The change in his life was hard on Virgil. He was reduced to living in one of the sparsely furnished rental units or in his converted camper. Though he was not physically distant, he was cut off from his family. Things grew worse still after Diane, using her maiden name Strand, contacted an attorney, Lawrence H. Freeman, to prepare divorce papers for her.
There is some indication that the family physician, to whom Virgil at one point turned, may have prescribed for him medication to reduce his anxiety and mental discomfort. Virgil Scott had never before been a drinking man, indeed he had a reputation as a teetotaler. After his separation, however, he began to seek solace in the bottle, at least sporadically.
July 7, 1975 was a Sunday. Virgil Scott had spent the previous couple of days at the Colorado River, where he had gone in what was an ultimately futile attempt to find consolation over his domestic situation. His inability to effect a reconciliation with the mother of his children had left him morose and in despair. He drove back to Fontana that afternoon, intending to speak with his wife. When he arrived in Fontana, however, she was gone. At the Scott home, however, was his mother-in-law, Lila Strand. The exchange between the two did not go well. Lila was unable to offer Virgil any hope or even glimmer of a prospect that her daughter would end their separation.
According to Virgil and Diane’s daughter, Sharon, “I never saw my father being violent toward my mother, ever.” Nevertheless, Sharon said, it is clear that on the night of July 6, 1975, “My father went off his rocker. He broke the picture tube out of the family television set. He smashed all the light bulbs in the home, using his bare hands, cutting one of them in the process. He broke every one of the house’s windows.”
Still fuming, Virgil then went into a closet and retrieved several guns, a .300-caliber Savage rifle among them. As he was doing this, he told Lila that if anyone tried to stop him, he would kill him. Lila left, walking to a neighbor’s home, from which she called the sheriff’s department. Virgil headed off, but before departing the neighborhood, drove to one of the rental units on Randall Avenue he owned with his wife, the tenant of which had purportedly recently failed to make a $50 rental payment to Diane. He fired several rounds into the house. Fortunately, no one was injured.
The two deputies scheduled to work the Sunday evening shift in the west Fontana patrol area out of the Fontana substation on July 6, 1975 were Frank Pribble and Bill Brown. They would have normally been driving alone in their own separate units, but the brakes on Deputy Brown’s patrol car were faulty and Frank Pribble was summoned to return to the substation to retrieve Brown, and they subsequently “doubled up” in Frank’s car.
A call came in reporting the mayhem that had occurred at the Scott home and the firing of shots into the nearby residence on Randall Avenue. Based upon Lila Strand’s call, Virgil Scott was described as the suspect and that he was driving a yellow 1965 Ford one-and-a-half-ton flat bed truck with a chassis-mounted camper. The substation’s watch commander, John Futscher, considering that Scott was in a camper, suggested that Pribble and Brown check the rest area on I-10 between Citrus and Cherry avenues to see if Scott might be there.
Upon arriving at there, the deputies drove through the section reserved for trucks and spotted the suspect vehicle parked near several motor homes. Bill Brown notified dispatch and requested backup and the assistance of the department’s helicopter. Frank Pribble parked at an angle behind the truck on the right side and both officers began walking to the truck. According to the official sheriff’s department report, Bill Brown went to the rear of the camper and attempted to look inside while Frank Pribble walked toward the door of the camper. From his position as he looked to the side of the truck, Brown later stated he saw the barrel of a rifle come out the camper’s window a few feet behind Deputy Pribble. Frank Pribble was positioned with his back to the gun, according to Bill Brown, who said he shouted a warning to his fellow deputy. As Frank turned his head toward Bill, according to the report, the rifle discharged and Frank fell onto the hood of the truck. He then slipped to the ground, falling to his knees. Brown responded by firing a single shot into the converted camper. He then hastened to the patrol car and radioed the dispatch center.
Brown’s call broadcasting “999: officer down” came in at 8:21 p.m.
Edith Cain was inside her motor home when she heard the shots. When she stepped outside and saw Frank Pribble lying on the asphalt parking lot, she said he looked up at her and told her “Get out of the way. I don’t want you people to get hurt.” His side arm was still in his holster.
Within minutes, sheriff’s deputies, California Highway Patrol officers and regional agencies converged on the scene. With the assistance of a CHP officer, Bill Brown forced entry into the camper and found Virgil Scott lying in a bunk. His single shot had struck Virgil Scott on the left side of his body, penetrating his liver, aorta and left kidney. The sheriff’s helicopter, known by its department nomenclature as 40 King, landed at the rest area with pilot Don Belter at the controls and observer Jim Benson next to him. Recognizing at once the gravity of Frank Pribble’s condition, they decided to transport him to the nearest hospital without waiting for an ambulance. Officers quickly carried Frank to the waiting helicopter and laid him across the rear floorboard. Frank Pribble’s height, however, would not allow the helicopter door to close. With Frank Pribble’s legs dangling outside the cockpit, Belter put the helicopter into full throttle and lifted off, with Benson standing outside the airship on the skids. As they flew to Kaiser Hospital in Fontana, Benson, yet poised outside the cockpit, held the door open and, buffeted by the wind blasts, cradled Frank Pribble’s legs between his.
There was no helipad at Kaiser Hospital in 1975. Don Belter radioed ahead, informing hospital personnel he would be landing near the ambulance entrance and they would need to clear the area. Within a few minutes, Belter adroitly landed the helicopter between the trees and within a few feet of the emergency room. Doctors and nurses were waiting and rushed Frank into surgery. Deputy Sheriff Frank Pribble died in surgery at 9:09 p.m. He was 37 years old. Virgil Scott was eventually transported to the county hospital in San Bernardino, where he, too, expired on that 6th day of July, 1975.
Within hours, Frank Pribble’s death was widely known throughout the county. His passing was mourned by those who knew him directly and those who knew him only by reputation. At his funeral there were significant numbers of bikers from the Fontana area, the same element he had kept in line and sometimes clashed with during his tours of duty out of the Fontana substation. So commanding was his presence, so much larger than life, that in death even those who did not particularly like him felt it fitting to give him one last token of respect. In 2001 he was honored again when his name was enshrined on the “Officer Down” memorial statues, commemorating the San Bernardino County law enforcement officers who had died in the line of duty, one of which was placed at the county administrative building and a duplicate in the West Valley Courthouse in Rancho Cucamonga. Then in 2009, the stretch of the I-10 near the rest stop that was the scene of the deadly confrontation between him and Virgil Scott was renamed the Frank Pribble Memorial Freeway.
Virgil Scott’s memory, in contrast, has not been honored. He is remembered, widely, as the man who shot and killed Frank Pribble. The last hours and minutes of his life, a very short duration during which the emotional devastation of the loss of his wife and family overcame him and he acted violently and foolishly, became his legacy. Members of his family, including his brother, children, nephews, and grandchildren and grandnephews, have been subjected to abusive treatment by local law enforcement officers because of what he did, despite the consideration that one of those relations, his nephew Sam Scott, later served as Fontana’s police chief.