Navy Veteran Alleging Neglect & Bias At Loma Linda VA Hospital

By Mark Gutglueck
A local Navy veteran has gone public with complaints that staff members at the Loma Linda Veterans Administration Hospital have been both neglectful and unresponsive in rendering her needed medical care and assistance.
Phyllis J. Seleska, who is now 66, served in the U.S. Navy for more than twenty years, after enlisting at the age of 35 in 1986. She was a veteran of both Operation Desert Storm and Enduring Freedom, with multiple war zone deployments. Consequent to her service, she suffers from post traumatic stress disorder, and her rating has made her eligible for 100 percent of her physical and mental health issues being covered under the Veterans Health Care System for life.
More than fourteen months ago, on August 6. 2017, Seleska slipped on wet concrete at her home, injuring her arm and hand. Despite the pain and swelling, owing to the lateness of the hour on a Sunday night, she elected to wait until the following day to go to the hospital. She splinted her wrist in an effort to immobilize her hand and hold the swelling in check.
She went to the emergency room at the Jerry L. Pettis Veterans Medical Center the following morning. Upon attempting to check in, she was rebuked by the desk clerk for having splinted her wrist. Thereafter she encountered a several hour delay before she was taken in to the radiology department for an x-ray. When the splint was removed for the x-ray, swelling was immediate.  Thereafter, she was returned to the emergency waiting room. Seleska’s entreaties for attention were rebuffed with statements from hospital staff that patients with chest pains and shortness of breath had to be given a higher priority and that she would “just have to wait.” Meanwhile her wrist continued to swell over the hours, growing increasingly painful.
Some 14 hours after she had arrived at the hospital, at 11:30 pm, she was seen and treated by Dr. Willard Gilbert.  His first reaction, according to Seleska, was “Oh my God!  Had someone shown me these x-rays, I would have had you off to orthopedics hours ago. You’ve done a number on your wrist; it’s broken in three places.  That’s got to be unbelievably painful!”  Seleska was immediately administered a pain shot and a soft splint was installed, with orders to report to orthopedics the next day.
Seleska checked into orthopedics on August 8, 2017, just prior to her 9 a.m. appointment time. Following a two hour wait, she was ushered into a treatment room where, she said, “two impressively large attendants” undertook to set her wrist, doing so without administering any pain medication. The setting procedure took place while she was lying on a table, taking place in two ten minute installments punctuated by a short break. Seleska described this as an “excruciatingly painful process,” followed by the installation of a cast splint. That ordeal over, Seleska next dealt with the hospital’s front desk personnel to book a follow-up appointment. While doing so she was chastised for the “very loud ruckus” she had raised while her wrist was being set.
On August 16, 2017 a follow up x-ray confirmed a good set, and three more rolls of cast material were put on over the cast splint, ranging from Seleska’s fingertips to her shoulder, with most of the 8 pounds, 4 ounce weight and bulk of the cast in the area around her elbow area.
Being outfitted with the cast caused her right shoulder to hurt, Seleska said, but she chalked that up to lugging the heavy cast around for six weeks. The cast came off on September 19, 2017, at which point she was advised her wrist would take another year to fully heal. She was offered no rehab.
During an appointment to the orthopedics unit of the Loma Linda VA Hospital on March 29, 2018, Seleska informed the doctor who saw her of the discomfort she was experiencing in her right shoulder among other health issues. She was told, she said, to, “Pick your priority. I’m only allowed to write just one referral at a time.”  Seleska at that point could no longer lift her right arm over her head, and was experiencing significant weakness and pain in that arm.  She was referred to orthopedics and physical therapy, but was delayed in getting an orthopedics appointment until May 16. Previously she had inquired about the Veteran Administration’s Choice Program, by which she could potentially obtain treatment by a specialist outside the Veteran Administration (VA) system, but was told that difficulty would ensue in getting information relating to her treatment into her permanent record if she obtained treatment outside of the hospital. At the May 16 appointment, she received a thorough examination, during which the examining physician made observation of what he believed was a likely rotator cuff tear with other issues. Magnetic resonance imaging [MRI] offered the best means by which to determine the precise nature of Seleska’s problem, the doctor said. Nevertheless, the doctor told Seleska that a “new management team” was in place and that he was not allowed to request MRIs because, Seleska said the doctor informed her, “I guess we’re asking for too many of them. They’re about $3,000 a piece, so even though I think it will probably not help, they’re making us send patients to physical therapy for six weeks, 12 visits, with daily non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug treatment.  Just go and do what you can and when you come back, we’ll take care of it.”
At a May 31 appointment with the physical therapy department at the Veterans Ambulatory Care Center, Seleska said she encountered a therapist who told her, “You’re over 55, and unless you are an athlete or paid to use your body in some way, you should just learn to live with it, deal with it and suck it up.”  She was told she could not be seen. She responded, she said, with “But I’m here. Why can’t you see me?”  The response, she said, was, “We can’t see you.”
According to Seleska, she faithfully drove twice a week from her home in North San Bernardino to Redlands, the location of the ProCare Physical Therapy clinic, to which she had been referred. There, she engaged in exercises that were intended to improve her range of motion but which did not have that outcome and instead exacerbated her condition.
On July 17, a doctor in the VA Hospital’s orthopedics department conducted a rigorous examination of Seleska’s shoulder which included rotating her shoulder beyond the existing “pain points… to see how far you can really go,” Seleska quoted the doctor as saying, with another deep poke on the deltoid tear.  “I’d say you’re going to need surgery, you’ve got a tear and underlying symptoms,” Seleska said the doctor told her. “You definitely need an MRI.”
On August 2, 2018, Seleska was given an MRI. On September 5, she learned through her mental health provider results of recent blood work she had done. That blood work showed a drop in her kidneys’ estimated glomerular filtration rate, as well as an indication that her daily use of non-steroidal anti-inflamatory drugs had resulted in severe narrowing of her lower esophagus, which was causing her to have difficulty swallowing. According to Seleska, her mental health provider advised her that remaining under the care of the VA Hospital was inadvisable.
On September 6, 2018, Seleska waited over an hour-and-a-half beyond her orthopedic appointment time.  A resident who saw her initially advised her that “everyone over the age of 55 has some kind of rotator cuff tear,” telling her he didn’t see that much wrong, saying “It’s just a very small tear.”  When Seleska pointed out that notation on her MRI report indicated “attention needed,” and that she had been experiencing significant pain and range of motion limitations, the resident conferred with an experienced doctor who made a more thorough evaluation of the MRI. Some 20 minutes later, the resident returned with an entirely different outlook and prognosis, saying, Seleska said, “You need surgery!  There’s a lot more wrong than just the tear, including a deltoid tear, likely bursitis, and other conditions.” Seleska was told that in order to be eligible for surgery, she had to submit to a lidocaine/steroid injection into her right shoulder and if, over the course of two weeks that gave some relief, she was to return to see about getting onto the surgical schedule.
Seleska questioned why the evaluation of the outcome of the lidocaine/steroid injection would require a two week delay given that the effectiveness of that protocol could be ascertained within 20 minutes of the injection, and she noted that based on her prior experience it would not be likely she could obtain a return appointment in two weeks, given the degree to which the hospital’s appointment schedule was so densely booked. The resident insisted that the lidocaine/steroid injection was mandatory before any discussion of surgery could take place and that a two week delay in the evaluation of the effectiveness was standard procedure in the VA Hospital. The resident told her, she said, “Don’t worry about” the return appointment, since he would “put it in your record” that she was to be seen some 14 days hence. When the resident sought to inject the solution he had prepared into her rotator cuff, Seleska stopped him, insisting that he first provide her with a topical pain attenuator, which he did.
When Seleska attempted to schedule her follow-up appointment for the evaluation of the effectiveness of the injection, she was told there were no appointment openings available in two weeks. She advised the appointment clerk that she should check with the resident who had just injected her with the steroid/lidocaine concoction to confirm that her appointment was needed two weeks later. The clerk maintained that she was not permitted to make direct contact with physicians. Seleska then sought access to a patient advocate, but the clerk demurred, though at last Seleska was able to secure an appointment two weeks out. Nevertheless, according to Seleska, her concern that care for her shoulder was going to be drawn out has since been confirmed.
On September 18 she was seen in the orthopedics division, more than an hour after her appointment time, by Brian Tabatha, a physician assistant. She reported that the injection had worked. In going over a battery of pre-surgical questions, Tabatha asked if Seleska smoked. Seleska acknowledged smoking cigars. Tabatha said that for the surgery to proceed Seleska would need to “test nicotine-free for 60 consecutive days before we can consider you for surgery.” This was, Tabatha said, “departmental policy.” Upon Seleska’s request to see the policy in writing and speak with a patient advocate, Tabatha left and returned with Dr. Hasan Syed, a shoulder specialist within the orthopedics division. In response to Seleska’s request to see the draft of the departmental policy relating to not initiating surgery while a patient is yet using tobacco, Dr. Syed told Seleska it was his “personal preference that surgery patients be at least 30 days nicotine free.”  Syed emphasized, Seleska said, that “smoking attacks rotator cuffs. I cannot believe that you were not told about this and the direct dangers of smoking related to rotator cuff injuries and the overwhelming chance of infection. That’s why you’ve injured both shoulders!” Seleska countered that she smoked cigars but did not inhale. In response, Syed had Tabatha provide Seleska with two non-VA studies, both of which stated, “Smoking may increase the risk of rotator cuff tears, which could consequently increase the need for surgical interventions.”
Thereafter ensued a testy exchange between Syed and Seleska over a shoulder surgery she underwent in 1993 while she was smoking two packs of cigarettes daily. She readily recovered from that surgery, Seleska said, adding that she underwent a back surgery in 2005 after quitting cigarettes. “I recovered without infection or nicotine related issues,” Seleska insisted. She said she told Syed of that operation. She said Dr. Syed retorted, “Are you denying the dangers of smoking? All of your injuries have been caused as a direct result of smoking! You don’t dictate to me what protocol I use to treat patients!”
When Seleska requested a patient advocate thereafter, she was not provided with one, although Tabatha told her that the patient advocate office was on the first floor. Seleska went to the patient advocate’s office, but it was after 4:30 pm, at which time patient advocates are not available.
Seleska insists that Dr. Syed’s size-up of the causes for her previous injuries were in error, as her 1993 left shoulder injury came about as the result of an injury sustained during a time of war at Diego Garcia, an island in the Indian Ocean at which the United States has an extensive military presence, where she was lifting 225 pound APS-115 radar sets up and down the ladder of P-3 Orion aircraft. She said her later back surgery was necessitated by injuries sustained during deck operations immediately after the Navy’s September 11, 2001 first strike operations while she was aboard aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, and that the injury to her right shoulder was wholly due to her slip last year onto her concrete pool deck.
Seleska has not been able to get the surgery on her right shoulder, and she believes the Veterans Administration and its healthcare system have skipped out on the responsibility to provide her with needed medical treatment. She said, “I was walked out on by an over-the-top, extremely aggressive doctor, who left me with absolutely no plan for future health care for my shoulder. I was egregiously bullied by Dr. Syed, and since have suffered varying degrees of post traumatic stress that now require additional medication never before necessary. I acknowledge that tobacco is not healthy, but neither was more than 20 years of exposure to magnesium, beryllium, asbestos, high powered ship’s radar radiation, JP-5 jet fuel, hydraulic fluid, deafening decibels of noise and the daily requirement of hazardous materials handling and usage.  Let’s also not forget the ‘no choice’ anthrax shot series I was subjected to, all while in service, on the job.”
Seleska said she believed that Dr. Syed had wrongfully deprived her of the surgery she should have access to because her continued use of tobacco violated his “personal moral compass.”
Seleska continued, “For over a year now, I’ve had limited use of my right arm and significant pain. This is just me, just one particular evolution within an 8 year span. How many veterans are denied procedures or treatment because they smoke or because of some other fabricated ‘policy?’” she asked.  “How many veterans don’t return to this health care system due to unreasonable, unacceptable, unnecessary delays, being made to unduly endure pain and disability? How many veterans have had their surgeries or treatments cancelled at the last minute because they tested ‘positive’ on a nicotine test?”
The doctors she has encountered at the Jerry L. Pettis Veterans Hospital in Loma Linda have varying attitudes, Seleska said. “I’ve met them all, from doctors that tell me they believe that ‘a patient should not have to endure/be in pain for any reason,’ to ones who say, ‘Suck it up. You’re getting old, learn to live with it…deal.’” She said some providers told her that if she wanted any pain medication, she would have to submit to a urinalysis program. Yet other providers have simply provided her with the pain medication upon request, she said.
Seleska said, “This particular health care system is being run by a new ‘management team,’ with a ‘one size fits all’ treatment matrix.  Doctors’ requests for patients’ treatments are routinely denied or the doctors are just not authorized. You have to ‘request this and that and then that’ before you can get to what you actually need.  The pharmacy has authority to override doctors’ prescription requests. A case in point is I used to receive lidoderm (lidocaine patch 5%). It’s easy to open, easy to put on, but most importantly, it works. Currently, I can only get a topical anesthetic cream (lidocaine 4%), 30 grams at a time, with a child proof cap that I am unable to open. I’ve been diagnosed with carpel tunnel in both wrists, but was told they just weren’t serious enough for surgery. Now, both hands are swollen to the point that I am unable to make a fist with either hand without pain and have developed ‘trigger’ finger in my dominant hand. My provider searched her screen and said, ‘I would have to prescribe this, this, and then that before we can get to the patch. I have no control over that.’ So what good is this product to me if I can’t open it?”
On October 3, Seleska was informed by Orthopedics Case Manager Sherri Miranda, a registered nurse, that Dr. Syed and Dr. Barry Watkins conferred and decided her condition was “not serious enough for surgery and surgery was not medically necessary.” This decision was made, Seleska said, “after every other doctor stated that I need surgery.” Seleska said she was told by some Veterans Administration Hospital orthopedics department personnel that “the ‘no surgery’ decision was made due to my behavior.” She said that Miranda wanted to book a follow-up appointment for four to five months in the future to see if surgery may be required in another six months or so.  Seleska said she advised Miranda that she was unwilling to return to the Loma Linda Veterans Hospital orthopedics facility because of the bullying she had experienced in her dealing with Dr. Syed. “I no longer feel the trust, safety and confidence needed to go to the orthopedics unit at this facility again,” Seleska said. “If they’ll lie about ‘departmental policy,’ I believe they’ll lie whether a nicotine test is positive or negative.  I feel that I, like many other veterans who have Medicare/TriWest, are being purposefully denied care or thwarted, to the degree that veterans are being forced to seek alternative care elsewhere.” TriWest administers the Department of Veterans Affairs Patient-Centered Community Care and Veterans Choice programs.
“I will not tolerate being bullied again,” Seleska said. “A referral request has been submitted for a second opinion to the San Diego VA Hospital.”
According to Seleska, she made 46 trips to the Loma Linda Veterans Administration hospital, the Veterans Ambulatory Care Center, Pro Care Physical Therapy and other medical care providers to which she was referred, entailing 1,102 miles traveled in an effort to have her shoulder taken care of properly, to no avail.
She enumerated multiple points of dissatisfaction with the Jerry L. Pettis Veterans Administration Hospital in Loma Linda, including the repeated refusal of hospital personnel to provide her with a patient advocate.
“Any time a veteran utters the words ‘patient advocate,’ everyone goes into ‘duck and cover’ mode,” Seleska said. “Their first knee-jerk reaction is to immediately assume that you want to yell, cuss and complain or file a complaint.  It never occurs to them that the veteran may sometimes simply need a break, someone to step into our shoes to help navigate their processes.  Patient advocates are routinely denied or not available.”
Seleska further decried the insensitivity with which aging patients are treated, the unavailability of the hospital’s written policies for examination by its patients, the wholesale closure of the hospital’s Saturday clinics which makes it difficult for veterans who work or have child care concerns to be seen or get treatment, and the violation of the Health Insurance Portability Accountability Act, which she said entails veterans being made to confirm personal data by orally reciting sensitive identifying information for verification purposes as well as having to discuss their medical conditions and needs in usually full and open bay waiting rooms. She said it is her perception that women veterans are accorded a lower priority by the Loma Linda VA Hospital staff than are male veterans. Overriding all of that, Seleska said, is the neglect, lack of care and disrespect the hospital’s personnel have consistently evinced toward those they are employed to serve in general “The maddening back and forth of protocols, combined with the routine denial of treatment and procedures of not just me but many others has prompted me to discuss a growing desire to request a Congressional inquiry with multiple care givers, as well as with a vast number of veterans camped out for hours in waiting rooms,” Seleska said. “Other than my primary providers, I’ve been seen by a different provider nearly every visit, with ‘policies’ routinely pulled out of thin air. Watching my brothers and sisters in a state of mental anguish and pain, all I can do is hug them.”
Wade Habshey, the spokesman for the Jerry L. Pettis Veterans Administration Hospital, without referencing Seleska by name, said, “VA Loma Linda personnel are working with the veteran to resolve her concerns.  We appreciate the veteran’s service to our nation. We commend her for coming forward with the information she has provided.  She deserves the very best in health care and, as with all our veterans, to be treated with respect.  We will continue to follow up with the veteran’s inquiry.”
Habshey said, “Given the review of the patient’s concerns and her right to privacy, we’re not able to comment further.”

Amid Charges Of Residency Violation, City Clerk Exits

JoAnn Cousino, who had been Barstow’s city clerk for more than two decades, has abruptly resigned from that post after questions were raised concerning her residency and eligibility to hold office.
Cousino’s departure comes amid a significant increase of resident dissent with the direction of the city and accompanying controversy. Cousino’s retirement was effective October 1, some six months after local residents, galvanized by city officials’ move to have residents impose on themselves a 1 percent sales tax override just a year after a previous half cent sales tax proposal failed, have stepped up their questioning of the city’s elected leadership and its decision-making processes. A central element of the growing resident dissatisfaction centers on the pay and benefit levels that have been conferred upon city employees, which have depleted available funds for basic city services.
In an effort to backfill the city’s budget, the city council has gone along with city staff’s plan to increase revenue to run municipal operations by raising taxes. Working residents, meanwhile, most of whom are employed in the private sector, have salaries and weekly paychecks which are on average less than half of those provided to city workers, who have the added advantage over most city residents of being able to count upon pensions in retirement that will outrun the paychecks and salaries of common citizens. Many of those employees will be eligible for pensions exceeding $100,000 per year.
Cousino was a popular figure, both within the 24,000 population city and at City Hall. Known as JoJo, she had begun with the city in 1989 as what she described as a “casual” employee, her first position ever in the workplace.
Originally from a small city in Wisconsin, she would likely have remained there for the rest of her life but for an unfortunate circumstance that befell her sister. Cousino elaborated on that in 2014.
“My sister had gotten sick in Las Vegas, and she passed away from leukemia at a young age, leaving five children,” Cousino said. Before her sister’s death, Cousino had come to Las Vegas to help her sister. At some point thereafter, Cousino’s widower brother-in-law, who worked for the Union Pacific Railroad, was transferred to Yermo. Cousino remained in Las Vegas, taking care of her nieces and nephews, while her brother-in-law was engaged in California, working on the railroad. Five years later, Cousino married her brother-in-law, and, she said, “I moved with the children to live with him in Yermo.” She obtained what she described as her “first job” with the City of Barstow in 1989. She was hired, she said, as “a casual person,” with the city, vectored to assignments as they came up. Among the first of those was one converting city records from paper to a more compact format. “The city had sold the hospital and had Office B up in the medical center loaded with records, and so I was hired as a casual to do the microfilming of all of those records,” she said. “It took me a year-and-a-half to get those records done.”
In 1992, she became deputy city clerk, working under then-City Clerk Donna Sluder. After Sluder’s retirement. Cousino ran successfully for city clerk in 1996.
In Barstow, the city clerk is one of seven elected municipal officials, which include the mayor, four city council members and the city treasurer. The Barstow city clerk has responsibility for multiple functions, providing administrative, legislative, and secretarial support to the city council, the Barstow Fire Protection District, the successor agency to the now shuttered redevelopment agency and its oversight board, the city’s public facilities corporation, the city’s public financing authority, the Barstow Community Services Foundation and the foundation for the Harvey House, which is a major Barstow historical landmark. In addition, the city clerk’s office works in conjunction with the California Secretary of State and the San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters as the filing office for elected officials, committees, and designated employees. The city clerk’s office is the reception and cashier center for the city and provides administrative support in the registering of business licenses, collecting transient occupancy taxes, processing public records requests, receiving claims and subpoenas, processing U.S. passports applications, issuing Barstow Area Transit bus passes and preparing certificates of recognition.
Barstow’s city leaders have traditionally chosen to confer upon the city clerk duties other than the role to which that officeholder is elected. Those include that of city historian and manager of the city clerk’s services, which combined provide the city clerk with a substantial salary. In 2016, the last year for which salary and benefit figures for Barstow employees are publicly available, Cousino brought down $111,576 in salary, $23,487 in other pay, and $18,358 in benefits, for a total compensation package of $153,421.
Under Cousino, significant modernization of the city’s public information processes were made. In 2014, she said, “I have been able to bring our city into the 21st Century. We have webcasting for city council meetings and we have an agenda that is on the web so anyone can see them. They can select old agendas or prior to current meetings they can click on it and see the items verbatim, and they can pull the minutes from there. The city council has given us the opportunity to get our records in digital form. We have almost a half of a million records in digitized format. There are many cities in California that don’t have that opportunity.”
Cousino has consistently been very supportive of the city council, which she regularly lauded in superlative terms.
“I thank our great council and administrator for their foresight in letting me progress into the 21st Century,” Cousino said, “because that’s where we get the connection to our citizens and keep it transparent.”
Simultaneously, Cousino has been instrumental in facilitating of the city’s elected leadership in its collective agenda, including, her critics have said, thwarting the competing political efforts of those known to be interested in taking the city in a different direction than the city councils that shared the dais with Cousino over the years.
One such example is Cousino’s disqualification of the city council candidacy of Nathaniel Pickett, Sr. and others in 2016, which resulted in no city council election being held that year and all of the incumbents whose terms were up that year being returned to office without having to stand for reelection.
Her making a finding that some would-be office holders in Barstow were not qualified to run is now viewed as highly ironic, given that Cousino is now herself said to have not been qualified to run for the office she held.
Pickett, who said he had worked in the past with Cousino in efforts to redress homelessness in the community and considered her a friend, told the Sentinel, “JoJo did the dirty work of the council by not allowing certain people to run for office.  She was the enforcer. I have been trying to make a difference in this community for years. Two years ago, some people approached me and asked me to run. I submitted my papers and was told the following day after I certified my candidate papers that I did not live in the city. Most people in the city would have vouched that I resided in the city. To make sure I did not get in, the council voted to not allow me or anyone to be elected by cancelling the election, stating that no one submitted a package, and that the city would save $20,000. I sent a letter to the California Attorney General, asking why am I not allowed to run for office, and the city clerk, who lives outside of the city, has been allowed to assume office for many years.”
Cousino acknowledged that at one point she had lived in Yermo.
Pickett said, “She lives in Newberry. I’ve been to her house.”
The Sentinel is informed that earlier this year complaints about Cousino being out of compliance with the residency requirement went to the California Attorney General’s Office and the California Secretary of State. It is unclear whether an official investigation into the matter was opened. Prior to a finding being delivered by either agency, a determination was made by Barstow City Attorney Teresa Highsmith that it would be in the city’s best interest for Cousino to voluntarily leave. Reportedly, city officials, including the mayor, council, Highsmith, and City Manager Curt Mitchell agreed to offer Cousino a “golden handshake” to convince her to leave before the matter reached a critical stage and the city was subjected to what those officials consider “undue embarrassment.”
“Last month the city attorney told JoJo she had to resign,” Pickett said.
Had Cousino not left, there was a distinct possibility that a criminal prosecution would have ensued. In 2010, former Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alarcon was charged and in 2014 convicted of voter fraud and perjury for misrepresenting that he lived in a home in Panorama City and claiming it as his voting address so he would be qualified to run for his position on the council.
In a private exchange, Cousino essentially acknowledged that the council had made her resignation an attractive option.
“All is good,” she said. “God created an opportunity for me to retire and those papers were signed in June. The city gave an incentive and I will be able to retire and be debt free. I couldn’t argue with that. I had to protect my work investment and benefits, which might be changed or removed when times are tight, or the governor decides.”
In a statement to the Sentinel yesterday morning delivered through Tanya Gordon, who was deputy city clerk working directly under Cousino and is now considered to be, variously, the acting city clerk or interim city clerk, City Manager Curt Mitchell said of Cousino “She was not forced to resign. It was her decision to retire.”
Curiously, the agenda for the October 15 Barstow City Council meeting yet lists Cousino as the city clerk. That agenda, posted today, October 12, bears Cousino’s signature in blue ink, along with that of Mitchell, Mayor Julie Hackbarth-McIntyre and Finance Director Patricia Rosenberg.
-Mark Gutglueck

rble Tea

County Sued Over Expanding Fire Assessments Into Unincorporated Zones

San Bernardino County officials’ ploy to place virtually all residents and landowners in the county’s unincorporated rural areas into a fire service zone and impose on them assessments they were never before required to pay has prompted a citizens interest group to challenge the move in court.
In a two-year period from 2015 to 2017, government officials in the cities of San Bernardino, Twentynine Palms, Needles and Upland closed out their municipal or locally-controlled fire departments and used agency-to-agency privilege to have the San Bernardino County Local Agency Formation Commission give its blessing to annexing the entirety of those cities into the county’s Fire Prevention Zone Five (FP-5), which was originally formed to provide firefighting service to the desert communities of Helendale and Silverlakes. Accompanying each of those annexations, all of those cities’ landowners were placed into an assessment district which entailed the imposition of a $147-to-$153 per parcel per year levy. In each case, that added tax was ratified not by a traditional vote but rather by what is called a “protest process” in which each landowner was given mailed notice of a one-month “protest period,” during which the county would accept letters protesting the creation of the assessment district. Each such letter was tallied as a vote against the annexation and assessment imposition. Each landowner who did not deliver a letter of protest was deemed to be in support of the annexation and assessments being levied, and a vote ratifying folding those cities into Fire Prevention Zone Five was cast on their behalf. In all of those cities, the closures of the municipal/local fire departments were approved, the annexations were made and the assessments are now being placed on each landowner’s annual property tax bill in addition to the other property taxes already assessed against those properties. In this way, the cities of San Bernardino, Upland and Needles, which had previously covered the cost of providing fire protection to those communities by disbursements from their municipal general funds, transferred that financial burden to their citizens and realized a windfall equal to what the proceeds from the newly imposed assessments totaled. Many considered this to be highly unethical and/or illegal maneuvering that violated the California Constitution, which requires that all taxes be approved in a vote by those to bear those taxes. In Twentynine Palms, the fire department had not previously been operated by the city but rather the water district, which utilized a special tax previously approved by the community’s voters to defray the cost of fire protection service.
In June, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors in a 3-to-2 vote with supervisors James Ramos, Josie Gonzales and Curt Hagman prevailing over supervisors Janice Rutherford and Robert Lovingood ratified the expansion of Fire Prevention Zone Five to cover 19,078 square miles of unincorporated land in the county. That expansion brought all of the county with the exception of the incorporated areas of Chino Hills, Chino, Montclair, Ontario, Rancho Cucamonga, Rialto, Colton, Loma Linda, Highland, Redlands, Big Bear, Apple Valley, Barstow and federally-controlled land in the mountains and desert into the county’s fire service jurisdiction. Already, the cities of Upland, Fontana, Grand Terrace, San Bernardino, Hesperia, Victorville, Adelanto, Yucaipa, Yucca Valley, Twentynine Palms and Needles and multiple unincorporated areas of the county are within the county fire department’s service area.
The expansion of FP-5, which was recommended by County Fire Chief Mark Hartwig, would impose a $157.26 per year assessment on all parcels in the unincorporated areas of the county and add $26.9 million dollars per year in revenue to the county’s fire protection division. The county is in the process of finalizing the annexation process.
Members of the Red Brennan Group, however, have taken exception to the county’s action. That organization, named after the late government reform advocate Kiernan “Red” Brennan, maintains the Fire Prevention Zone Five expansion is illegal, unfair, and symptomatic of the county’s lack of respect for its citizens, landowners and taxpayers.
Accordingly, the Red Brennan Group partnered with the Lucerne Valley Economic Development Association, along with other named residents and landowners to file an injunction against the county to halt the FP-5 expansion. The suit contends that the expanded zone, which would be imposed only on landowners in the unincorporated areas, violates the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution. Additionally, Fire Protection Zone Five includes a special tax implemented without a vote of the affected landowners, a clear violation of the California Constitution, the Red Brennan Group asserts.
Fire Chief Hartwig’s recommendation was offered as a solution to cover the county fire department’s ever increasing budget requirements which have accelerated sharply in the past four years. During his presentation to the board of supervisors in June, Chief Hartwig identified a $29 million shortfall for the 2018-19 fiscal year and projected continued deficits even with the additional funding created by expanding FP-5.
San Bernardino County officials believe the additional tax is justified because, they say, unincorporated areas of the county do not pay their fair share for fire services. Unincorporated residents see it differently. The Red Brennan coalition points to the county fire department’s annual reports to demonstrate that fire suppression and firefighting resources have migrated away from the desert and mountain regions. For example, personnel assigned to these areas have decreased by a combined total of 108 employees since 2011. These regions contain the bulk of the unincorporated area of the county and would be, alone, saddled with the new tax. Budget requirements in the county’s valley region, which is composed largely of incorporated areas, have sky-rocketed during the same period. Budget authority for the valley region increased from $29 million in 2011 to $107 million for 2018. This is an increase of almost 260 percent in seven years.
County Supervisors James Ramos, Curt Hagman, and Josie Gonzales voted in favor of the FP-5 resolution. Given that the districts overseen by supervisors Ramos, Gonzales and Hagman include heavily populated areas of the valley region, they appear to have been willing to go along with the fire chief’s recommendation because their affirmative vote could ultimately increase funding to the county fire department and decrease pressure on the county general fund simply by placing a special tax squarely on the backs of landowners in the unincorporated areas which lie primarily beyond their districts. Because the constituent bases that Ramos, Hagman and Gonzales represent consist mostly of voters living in incorporated areas, there is little prospect that they will face a political risk from residents in their districts as a consequent of their June vote.
The Red Brennan Group contends the resolution to expand Fire Protection Zone Five as approved by the county board of supervisors violates both the California and United States Constitution. The organization, along with the Lucerne Valley Economic Development association and other residents of the county, has asked the court for an injunction to halt the process.
Those seeking more information about the legal action or who are interested in filing an amicus brief in support of the petitioners can liaison with the Red Brennan Group through Tom Murphy at (760) 810-5830 or email him at tmurphy@redbrennan.org. Additional information is available at www.youturnradio.com episodes 19 through 24. The YouTurn Radio Program is broadcast live on Sunday afternoon at 2:00 PM on AM frequency 1050 or 102.3 and 106.5 FM.
Mark Gutglueck

Osuna Says “Out Of Touch” Council Fueled Her Candidacy

Irmalinda Osuna said she is seeking a position on the Upland City Council “because recent events impacting my community have made me realize that the city council is out of touch with the needs and sensitivity of my district. I recently led a campaign to save our local park. Through a three-week campaign where we organized, communicated with and activated the community, I discovered residents felt under-served and neglected. We saved our park and it was then that people urged me to run as they yearned for new leadership. Saving the park helped me realize that I have the ability and passion to engage with the community.”

Irmalinda Osuna

Irmalinda Osuna

This is the first election in which Upland’s council contests are being conducted by-district. Throughout the city’s 112 year history, members of the council were elected at large by all of the voters registered in the city. The city has now been quartered into four districts that are roughly described as northwest, northeast, southwest and southeast quadrants, districts 1, 2, 3 and 4, respectively. The mayor is still to be elected at-large by all of the city’s residents eligible to vote. Henceforth, a single council member who lives within one of the city’s respective districts will represent that district. Only residents within each respective district can vote for their district council member and they will not be eligible to vote for council members outside their own district, though all residents registered to vote will be able to vote for the mayor and city treasurer.
In this year’s election, Osuna is running against incumbent councilman Gino Filippi, elected at-large in 2010 and reelected in 2014. Also vying in the Third District is Ricky Felix, who ran unsuccessfully in the at-large Upland council race in 2016.
Osuna has lived in District 3 for fifteen years, where she raised two boys who went to local schools. She cites her community involvement, educational background and professional experience as qualifications to serve as a councilwoman.
“I was involved in the community, first as a PTA board member, and I volunteered as a band mom for the Upland High School marching band, all while working a full-time job,” said Osuna. “I earned a bachelor of science degree in organizational management at the University of LaVerne. I am also certified in project management with the Project Management Institute. I worked twenty years for a multi-national tech company. Throughout my tenure with the company I learned, from high caliber management professionals, tools and methodologies on how to assess needs, engage with stakeholders, how to conduct stakeholder workshops/training, effective stakeholder communications and how to keep stakeholders informed and engaged in project implementations. These same tools and methods can be applied in the public sector, especially in local policy decision making.”
She is distinguished from her competitors for the District 3 council position, Osuna said, by the consideration that “My professional background gives me the skills to bring the community together, including many of the voices who have been left out of the process, to solve challenges as a community. I have demonstrated my commitment to the district as well as my skills with our successful campaign to save Cabrillo Park. I am also the only female candidate, so I can view issues and community engagement from the point of view of a busy, concerned mother.”
Osuna said, “I have two sons in college and like many residents struggle with cost of living while paying for their tuitions. I am not taking any corporate donations for my campaign. It is grassroots-oriented and I think all city council campaigns should apply the same principle. I have fresh perspectives on how we can modernize, how we engage and how we can communicate with citizens. I’ve volunteered and have donated my time doing outreach, both locally in Upland as a PTA board member and band mom for the Upland Highland Regiment Band and in my profession as a volunteer with the Project Management Institute California Inland Empire Chapter.”
Osuna said she considered “a lack of transparency and trust in the current city council, a lack of community engagement, homelessness, crumbling infrastructure, the lack of road repairs, poorly maintained yards and aging homes” to be the major issues facing the city.
Osuna said the city already had, or could create, the means to redress those issues. “With regards to transparency and trust, we need new leaders that will work independently and without any outside influences and start engaging with their constituents,” she said. “The new districts will enable that as each council member will work within their targeted area. Additionally, it’s imperative that each elected councilmember do as much community outreach and advocacy as possible,” she said, saying such focus on issues of consequence to the city’s residents was more important than attending “ribbon-cutting ceremonies.”
With regard to homelessness, Osuna said, “We need to invest in a grant writer to make sure we don’t leave money on the table from available state and federal grants. Overall, I would assess the scope of the problem and information about Upland’s current Community Response Team Program and determine what the gaps are in terms of funds and resources. It’s important to increase collaboration with all levels of government, local non-profits and churches, and run a rigorous campaign to recruit volunteers. Our city also needs to partner with Ontario and Rancho Cucamonga and establish a tri-city program to provide mental health services. This approach is more efficient and cost effective. I would also help build community/police partnerships to ensure our neighborhoods are patrolled and taking into account that all people should be treated with dignity and respect. We also need to address the root causes locally to prevent this from happening in the first place such as affordable housing, good paying jobs and mental health resources.”
The city’s crumbling infrastructure, poorly maintained roads and yards and dilapidating housing stock could in part be overcome, she said, by “investing in a grant writer to capitalize on available grants, by prioritizing improvements in older communities over newer areas, and involving citizens in the decision-making process and collecting as much feedback to ensure capital improvements are designated in the areas that need it the most. We should improve data gathering so we can reference what areas need repairs the most and implement a process that is more customer-service oriented.”
The city can reduce its costs and therefore the burden on taxpayers, Osuna said, “by requiring staff to increase efficiency using current technology and thus reduce operational cost, introducing participatory budgeting so citizens are involved in the budget decision making and thus set the priorities that align with citizens’ needs, and considering reducing the number of consultants in evaluating what costs should be offloaded from the city budget. Do we really need to have city employees handle [the city’s franchised tax hauler] Burrtec’s residential billing? Do we need to pay to maintain a local fire station [in the aftermath of the county’s takeover of the city’s fire protection service]?”
She said the city could increase revenue by “revitalizing Downtown Upland to draw in more consumers. We could make it a social hub with a local movie theater, nightlife venues, cafés, bookstores, etc. We could promote a ‘shop Upland’ campaign. We could promote local entrepreneurship among youth and local residents by hiring our youth into available positions. And we can keep spending in Upland by promoting local hiring. My platform also includes an emphasis on supporting entrepreneurship and small businesses to build local ownership, increase city revenue and local economic activity.”
She said community outreach is an important means to the end of a vibrant community. “We have many Upland residents that have time to volunteer and care about local issues, especially homelessness,” she said. “We need to do a better job of engaging and recruiting local volunteers because City Hall and councilmembers cannot do this alone.”
Osuna emphasized her experience relating to government.
“In my previous role as a project manager for Hewlett Packard, I led various data migration projects within the finance division and specifically for the US public sector unit. Our role was to ensure the project plan followed the Federal Acquisition Regulations System. This was very complex and we coordinated with internal acquisitions experts to ensure we met federal requirements for the procurement and management of contractors. Currently, I work for the State of California as a government contract analyst and part of my role is to audit task orders and invoices to verify they comply with California’s Division of Procurement and Contracts and all federal and state procurement and labor laws.”
Osuna said, “The role of the city council is also to do community outreach and that requires speaking in public forums. I am a Toastmasters alumnus and also have done academia outreach on behalf of the Project Management Institute California Inland Valley Chapter where we promote project management as a profession for university students.”
Osuna is not an Upland High School graduate, but her two sons, now aged 21 and 18, are. She has a bachelor of science degree in organizational management from the University of La Verne. She has been married for 22 years.
Further information about Osuna is available on the League of Women Voters platform called “Voters Edge,” at http://votersedge.org/ca/en/ballot/election/area/73/contests/contest/18588/date/143428?election_authority_id=36
-M.G.

Vedula Offers A Newcomer’s View In Making Redlands Run

Priya Vedula is seeking election to the Redlands City Council in the city’s newly drawn District 1, she said, “because I want to represent the views of my community and be its voice on the council. A council member’s job is to make important decisions that keep our city running. As a policy analyst, I have experience in understanding how to make those decisions that will provide the maximum benefit to the community in the short-and-long term. I believe I can bring in a fresh perspective to help develop a future for our community that is in line with the values and visions for the future of Redlands’ families and businesses. I also want to ensure that taxpayers are getting their money’s worth. As we move towards the future, making decisions to increase our economic prosperity, we must ensure that the culture and history of Redlands is respected and preserved. Redlands is my home and I want what every Redlands resident wants: a safe, affordable, thriving community for all generations.”

Priya Vedula

Priya Vedula

She has skills, talent and education that qualifies her to hold the position of city council member, Vedula said.
“I received my master’s degree in health policy analysis and I work as a health policy analyst at Loma Linda University Health,” she said. “I understand how to identify and critically think about the unintended effects of policies and thus, how to create effective policies. Moreover, my work has allowed me to study various issues that occur in our community, and I spend a great deal of my time finding solutions and offering recommendations to stakeholders to make life better for all people.”
She stands apart from her opponents for the council position, Vedula said, on multiple score.
“Firstly, I am the youngest person in the race,” she said. “I am passionate, driven, and motivated to help make necessary changes and I have the experience and necessary credentials to do so. Secondly, I am a minority. I have been through the experience of coming to our country as an immigrant, working hard to excel in studies, earning my citizenship, and then using what I learned to give back to my country and my community. Finally, I am a female candidate who understands the importance of having a seat at the table. I hope to be an inspiration for all young, minority females who are passionate about serving their communities through work in the government.”
In sizing up the major issues facing the city, Vedula said, “I’ve knocked on hundreds of doors and have spoken with residents from all over my district. Some of the major issues that are affecting our residents include the effects of having a large homeless population and the effects of the drought and policies that address water conservation. I also believe that a major issue that Redlands will be facing is learning how to adapt to a growing population and increasing revenue for our city while still maintaining the small-town feeling and preserving our city’s history and rich culture.”
Vedula said, “My plans for homelessness include a multi-pronged approach that targets various homeless populations. We will need to create collaborative partnerships with stakeholders to provide assistance to those with mental illness as well as those on the verge of homelessness. Our community has some amazing resources in place, such as the Redlands Family Services Association and Youth Hope that will always be in need of community support through donations and volunteering. By optimizing the resources in place through a communitywide initiative, we can empower individuals to get back on their feet and give back to our community. I would also like to come up with ways to enhance the role of our community outreach coordinator.”
“In terms of increasing revenue for our city, we must help recruit unique businesses that will thrive in Redlands,” Vedula said. “We also need to work with our local businesses to understand the barriers to entry that they faced and work to decrease those barriers and make it easier for them to operate. Redlands also has two very unique sources of untapped revenue: the local airport and its farmers. We need to continue to promote the airport in growing and becoming a hub for traveling, education, and dining. We also must work closely with our local farmers to help promote a local food economy that could only thrive in a place like Redlands.”
Taking on some of the city’s challenges will not require huge financial outlays, Vedula said. “For addressing homelessness, I believe the city doesn’t need to pay for it. There are plenty of resources already in place, and in fact, we may be able to cut down on wasteful spending by using a coherent and focused strategy,” she said.
Acknowledging “I don’t have any experience working in government,” Vedula said that nevertheless, “I am an avid reader who was inspired to take part in our government because of my love for the history of our country and the principles upon which it was founded. In no other country could I have had the opportunities that I did and now I am ready to give back and serve my government and my community. I am not interested in politics. I am interested in representing the voices of my community members. I promise to be accountable and transparent.”
Vedula has a bachelor of science degree from the University of Michigan where she majored in biology. She attained a master of public health degree from Columbia University where she specialized in health policy analysis.
“I am very excited about this opportunity and I am very passionate about finding solutions to problems through collaboration and listening to others,” Vedula said. “I have had the pleasure of meeting so many wonderful people and listening to their stories. I am committed to helping make their lives better. Whether or not I am elected, I promise the residents that I have heard you, and that I will continue to listen and fight for your cause.”
Priya Vedula is seeking election to the Redlands City Council in the city’s newly drawn District 1, she said, “because I want to represent the views of my community and be its voice on the council. A council member’s job is to make important decisions that keep our city running. As a policy analyst, I have experience in understanding how to make those decisions that will provide the maximum benefit to the community in the short-and-long term. I believe I can bring in a fresh perspective to help develop a future for our community that is in line with the values and visions for the future of Redlands’ families and businesses. I also want to ensure that taxpayers are getting their money’s worth. As we move towards the future, making decisions to increase our economic prosperity, we must ensure that the culture and history of Redlands is respected and preserved. Redlands is my home and I want what every Redlands resident wants: a safe, affordable, thriving community for all generations.”
She has skills, talent and education that qualifies her to hold the position of city council member, Vedula said.
“I received my master’s degree in health policy analysis and I work as a health policy analyst at Loma Linda University Health,” she said. “I understand how to identify and critically think about the unintended effects of policies and thus, how to create effective policies. Moreover, my work has allowed me to study various issues that occur in our community, and I spend a great deal of my time finding solutions and offering recommendations to stakeholders to make life better for all people.”
She stands apart from her opponents for the council position, Vedula said, on multiple score.
“Firstly, I am the youngest person in the race,” she said. “I am passionate, driven, and motivated to help make necessary changes and I have the experience and necessary credentials to do so. Secondly, I am a minority. I have been through the experience of coming to our country as an immigrant, working hard to excel in studies, earning my citizenship, and then using what I learned to give back to my country and my community. Finally, I am a female candidate who understands the importance of having a seat at the table. I hope to be an inspiration for all young, minority females who are passionate about serving their communities through work in the government.”
In sizing up the major issues facing the city, Vedula said, “I’ve knocked on hundreds of doors and have spoken with residents from all over my district. Some of the major issues that are affecting our residents include the effects of having a large homeless population and the effects of the drought and policies that address water conservation. I also believe that a major issue that Redlands will be facing is learning how to adapt to a growing population and increasing revenue for our city while still maintaining the small-town feeling and preserving our city’s history and rich culture.”
Vedula said, “My plans for homelessness include a multi-pronged approach that targets various homeless populations. We will need to create collaborative partnerships with stakeholders to provide assistance to those with mental illness as well as those on the verge of homelessness. Our community has some amazing resources in place, such as the Redlands Family Services Association and Youth Hope that will always be in need of community support through donations and volunteering. By optimizing the resources in place through a communitywide initiative, we can empower individuals to get back on their feet and give back to our community. I would also like to come up with ways to enhance the role of our community outreach coordinator.”
“In terms of increasing revenue for our city, we must help recruit unique businesses that will thrive in Redlands,” Vedula said. “We also need to work with our local businesses to understand the barriers to entry that they faced and work to decrease those barriers and make it easier for them to operate. Redlands also has two very unique sources of untapped revenue: the local airport and its farmers. We need to continue to promote the airport in growing and becoming a hub for traveling, education, and dining. We also must work closely with our local farmers to help promote a local food economy that could only thrive in a place like Redlands.”
Taking on some of the city’s challenges will not require huge financial outlays, Vedula said. “For addressing homelessness, I believe the city doesn’t need to pay for it. There are plenty of resources already in place, and in fact, we may be able to cut down on wasteful spending by using a coherent and focused strategy,” she said.
Acknowledging “I don’t have any experience working in government,” Vedula said that nevertheless, “I am an avid reader who was inspired to take part in our government because of my love for the history of our country and the principles upon which it was founded. In no other country could I have had the opportunities that I did and now I am ready to give back and serve my government and my community. I am not interested in politics. I am interested in representing the voices of my community members. I promise to be accountable and transparent.”
Vedula has a bachelor of science degree from the University of Michigan where she majored in biology. She attained a master of public health degree from Columbia University where she specialized in health policy analysis.
“I am very excited about this opportunity and I am very passionate about finding solutions to problems through collaboration and listening to others,” Vedula said. “I have had the pleasure of meeting so many wonderful people and listening to their stories. I am committed to helping make their lives better. Whether or not I am elected, I promise the residents that I have heard you, and that I will continue to listen and fight for your cause.”
-M.G

Irving Says Victorville Can Tap Her Savvy & Reach Its Social And Economic Potential

Her campaign for Victorville City Council, Leslie Irving said, is an outgrowth of her commitment “to public service and our City of Victorville and its future. As our city continues to experience rapid residential and business growth, I see an opportunity to use my experience and commitment to assist our city in realizing its potential to become the hub of economic, educational and social prosperity in the High Desert.”
She possess, Irving said, “the education and experience to serve as a strong steward for our city. I have previously served in elected office, as a former school board member and college board member. I have first-hand knowledge and experience of how to work together with other committed persons to accomplish our community’s mission. I will bring that knowledge and experience to our city to enable it to become the great city that it can become.”

Leslie Irving

Leslie Irving

In 2003, while she was then living in Los Angeles County, Irving was elected and served as a member of the Compton Unified School District Board of Trustees. In 2013, she served as a member of the Compton College Board of Trustees. She moved to Victorville two years ago after purchasing a home for her primary residence.
“During my tenure as a school board member, I experienced the complexities of leading the school district out of receivership and fiscal insolvency and to restoration of local control,” Irving said. “With sound knowledge of processes and systems, perseverance to stay the course and solid leadership skills, my former colleagues and I demonstrated a style of governance that made community control of the school district a viable and sensible reality.”
Irving said, “The major challenges facing our city relate to jobs creation, developing our infrastructure to accommodate our growing population, addressing our homeless population and providing more services for our youth and seniors.”
She said, “To address the issues facing our city, a comprehensive plan is required, and such a comprehensive plan calls for partnerships. We can partner with Victor Valley College and local high schools to bring more vocational training programs to our city, create career pathways and establish a Victorville promise program. This partnership will result in the creation of more local jobs and small business development.”
The California Promise ​Program, which is limited to students who are residents of California, enables entering first-time students who commit to completing a baccalaureate degree in four years to have guaranteed admission to one of several specific campuses of the California State University system.
“We can continue to develop and expand our partnerships with the California State University system,” Irving said. “A more developed partnership with CSU can potentially result in the establishment of our own four-year university within the City of Victorville.”
Additionally, Irving said, “There is the possible partnership to enhance the streetscape and lighting in Old Town. This partnership would include the creation of an economic development agency just for Old Town.”
She said, “Addressing homelessness within our city is a real opportunity for civic engagement and partnership. Together, we can partner to develop a coherent and coordinated plan to address this issue. This plan will require a commitment from all of us within our city’s community. Feeding homeless persons alone is not a coherent and coordinated plan. Short-term and long-term housing are critical components for the sustainable plan. If this plan is coordinated and developed with an entire committed community spirit, it allows us an opportunity to galvanize our city into action to develop a strategy to a problem that plagues other cities. It becomes an opportunity for us to realize an inclusive vision for our city to become an All-American City.”
Irving said, “As our population grows, we are moving from a retirement city to a city of young families. Our city services must reflect this demographic shift, and those services must take into consideration affordable housing, quality job opportunities, and strong educational services. Let us consider together the building of a public library on the west side of our city and a senior center. These types of developments engage all of our city residents and foster activities that increase their quality of life.”
Prudent financial management is crucial to the city, its future and its residents, Irving said. “I understand that there is one financial pie and we must prioritize how we will spend our dollars, she said. “We must be creative and responsible about identifying and pursuing potential funding programs, e.g., federal and state grants and private funding sources. Yes, the recession had an adverse impact on us; however, we are on the move again and we must seize the opportunities presented to us and created by us.”
Irving said, “While I did not attend a local high school – I attended Valley Christian High School in Los Cerritos – I am committed to education and making our city schools the best in the High Desert. I studied at the University of Southern California, and I was graduated with a bachelor of arts from California State University at Dominguez Hills in interdisciplinary studies with an emphasis in American Studies. I hold a master of science degree from National University in education administration, and next year, I will graduate from California State University at Dominguez Hills with a master of science degree in public administration with an emphasis in public management.”
Irving is employed full-time as a special education teacher with San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools. She is not presently married and has one adult son, Ian.
-M.G.

Longtime Town Employee Now Vying For Yucca Valley Council Berth

James Schooler said his intimate knowledge of the Town of Yucca Valley’s municipal function and his involvement in the community in general stands him in good stead to serve on the town council.
“As a longtime Yucca Valley resident who has been very active in community affairs, I believe I can contribute to the stability and forward progress of the town council,” Schooler said. “With several important projects in the pipeline and on the horizon, I feel that my experience and insights will be beneficial as a member of the council. I retired from the Town of Yucca Valley after nearly 21 years as a department director.  I understand how our local government works, the processes, opportunities and restrictions.  I have managed the budgets and operations of several divisions including parks and recreation, animal control, street maintenance, youth and senior services and the use and care of public facilities.  I have worked closely with several community groups and non-profit organizations, as well as other public agencies in the local area and the region.”
This is the first time in the town’s 27-year history as an incorporated governmental entity that it has conducted ward elections for town council. Previously, council members were elected in at-large contests in which candidates from throughout 40-square mile Yucca Valley were eligible to run town-wide and voters were free to participate in electing all of the council’s members. This year, races are being held in the town’s 1st, 3rd and 5th districts. Each district is to be represented by a resident from within its confines and residents can vote only with regard to the representation of the district in which they reside.
Schooler is competing against Edmund Shadman in the race for District 1 councilman.

Jim Schooler

Jim Schooler

The 69-year-old Schooler said he is distinguished from his 33-year-old opponent by virtue of his more extensive experience in government and Yucca Valley government in particular.
“I believe that my background, training and experience in this community are valuable assets to help lead as a town councilmember with a minimal learning curve,” Schooler said.
Schooler indicated that he did not believe the major issues facing the town represented unassailable challenges. “As I see it, the current issues are more like opportunities,” he said. “The local residents approved a tax measure last year that has provided needed revenue for previously deferred projects and operations.  The town has managed the additional funds under the eye of a citizen oversight committee and the results have been significant, with more improvements now possible.  Yucca Valley is currently experiencing a major tourism spike, largely due to the increased popularity of Joshua Tree National Park. Regulating vacation rentals, dealing with increased traffic and public safety concerns, and maximizing the economic benefit are all priorities at this point.  We are also in the midst of a major town-wide sewer installation project which is bound to affect the community’s growth.  Additionally, we have a partnership with the county for a new library and will also be accessing state funds for a new sports & aquatic facility. I am also very excited about the prospect of bringing broadband internet to the area. I have attended community meetings on the subject and am convinced that the economic benefit will be substantial when residents can work, receive medical care, and pursue higher education online with the improved infrastructure. I see the coming years as exciting times in Yucca Valley.”
Schooler said that “With the exception of the broadband, the funding is mostly in place for these community improvements and I believe the current town staff has proven themselves to be quite professional in managing funds and addressing priorities. A group of community leaders from various agencies is working with IEBroadband to clarify the goals and path forward on this issue. My understanding is that competitive grant funds are available to cover most, if not all of the cost.”
Schooler said he is a creature of government. “Counting my service in the US Navy, I have worked for government agencies at the federal, state, county and local levels.  I am currently employed as a field representative for California State Senator Jean Fuller.  In my career, I have gained an understanding of how things work and how agencies at all levels can work together to advance initiatives, projects and programs. My belief is that local government is the most responsible and accountable level of government – because elected officials are neighbors to the people they serve.”
Schooler has lived in Yucca Valley for 22 years. “I moved to Yucca Valley in 1996 to accept a job as recreation supervisor with the Yucca Valley Parks and Recreation District,” he said. “What I thought might be a two or three-year stay for my family turned out be an exciting conversion to the small-town rural lifestyle in our new hometown.”
Schooler attended and graduated from Crespi Carmelite High School in Encino. He graduated with a bachelor of science degree in parks and recreation administration from California State University Northridge. He also completed two years of graduate school at California State University San Bernardino with a psychology major.
In addition to being a field representative for State Senator Fuller, Schooler is a licensed real estate agent.
With his wife Dawn, to whom he has been married for more than 30 years, Schooler has five grown children, who live in the Bay Area, Central Coast and in San Diego County.
Those who wish to learn more about Schooler and his candidacy can do so at www.electjimschooler.com.
-M.G.

Yucca Valley Resident Weighs In Against Assessment Zone Expansion

San Bernardino County Supervisors have sunk to a new low of sleaziness with the misguided FP-5 expansion fee. I am offended by the excise tax of $157 per year per parcel and I am even more offended by the way this has been orchestrated. The disclosure letters were sent out in what appears to be a junk mail envelope, causing many recipients to throw the letters in the trash. Then we have this alleged means to protest where the protest letters are not voluntarily provided and people without a computer or internet access are left out and unable to protest. County officials should be ashamed of themselves for perpetrating this scam on the citizens.
It is obvious that my supervisor, James Ramos, feels it is more advantageous to cozy up to the firemen’s union than it is to represent his constituents’ needs and opinions.
Having followed the workings of the San Bernardino County government the last 15 years, some things have become very apparent to me.
San Bernardino County is two very different places. We have the lowlands of Yucaipa, Highland, Redlands, Ontario and the City of San Bernardino. Our elected representatives reside there.
Then we have the mountain and desert communities of Big Bear, Lake Arrowhead, Victorville, Apple Valley, Barstow, Needles, Joshua Tree, Yucca Valley and Twentynine Palms. Supervisor Lovingood is the only Supervisor who resides in one of these areas.
The residents of the lowlands and the desert really have nothing in common. The lowlander’s can’t understand why anyone would want to live in the desert and the desert dwellers can’t understand why anyone would want to live in the city congestion.
San Bernardino County is the largest county in the lower 48 states and the rural areas of the county have no representation. Proof of that consists of this latest FP-5 sham being perpetrated on the citizens. My elected representative, Mr. James Ramos, did not consult with his constituents about this.
According to the website, TransparentCalifornia.com, Fire Chief Mark Hartwig had a compensation package of $362,249.19 in 2017. Not quite as high as San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon, the highest-paid elected official in the State of California with a compensation package of $503,975.01 in 2017.
On the TransparentCalifornia.com website I counted 980 San Bernardino County employees with compensation packages in excess of $200,000 per year. Average citizens cannot feel much sympathy for people who make more money in one year than they make in five or six years.
For those of you who are not aware, the firemen have a good ole boy network set up to pad their pensions, and the way it works is that a fireman’s pension is based on the last couple years of his wages before retirement, so when a fireman is approaching retirement age he magically gets to work massive overtime so his income for the few years previous to his retirement is drastically inflated and the person ends up with a pension in excess of $100,000 per year.
Before any tax increases are requested, the pensions and compensation packages of the firemen need to be renegotiated.
Firemen are paid to sleep. The firehouses have weight rooms plus kitchens. I have been in line behind firemen at the grocery store and can tell you that they eat better than I do.
It is just plain wrong to expect the low-income residents of the desert, many who live below the poverty level, to pay for the extravagant benefits and wages for firemen and other county employees.
I suggest an across-the-board 10 percent reduction in all firemen wage packages be implemented.
Why is our representatives’ and politicians’ answer to every problem, “Raise taxes and fees?” Why is cutting the budget and reducing expenses never considered? Their constituents tighten their belts and reduce expenses to balance their budgets. Why is the county incapable of doing this?
According to the statistics, only 20 percent of fire department calls are fire-related, with the remaining 80 percent of calls for medical response. So in actuality, our firemen are emergency medical technicians. Has the possibility of contracting out a large portion of the fire department responsibilities to a private ambulance vendor ever been explored? For some reason, private industry always seems to be able to accomplish more with less money than a government agency.
I also suspect that monies from the FP-5 fire tax will be diverted to help pay for the tremendous multimillion dollar lawsuits now pending against the county.
Last year the citizens of the Morongo Basin suffered too many tax/fee increases, including a 20 cents/gallon tax hike on gasoline, that is $240 per year for me; an increase of 50 percent on DMV fees, that was $90 for me; where we shop, in the Town of Yucca Valley, the sales tax there went up 112 percent.
Now the proposed $157 per year per parcel tax will cost me an additional $1,413 per year. And on top of this the fire chief tells us that after this multimillion dollar inflow into the fire department budget, our services will be deteriorating and the fire station by my home on Yucca Mesa will be closed down, causing my homeowners insurance to be increased, costing me even more money.
Now the Morongo Unified School District wants to add an additional $50 per $100,000 of property value to our taxes, which will cost me another several hundred additional dollars per year.
Will there never be an end to the constant gouging of the taxpayers? People are leaving California in droves to Arizona, Nevada and other states that are more affordable to escape this perpetual rip-off.
The United States seceded from England because of taxation without representation and that is exactly what is happening here. We, the citizens have elected officials who do not care about our desires or opinions.
In the 1980s there was a movement for the desert and mountain areas to secede from San Bernardino County and become Mojave County, which was on the ballot in 1988. I believe it is time to re-visit Mojave County.
Richard R Sayers II
Property Owner/Taxpayer
Yucca Valley

Ein Mensch Mit Namen Ziegler

By Hermann Hesse

There was once a young man by the name of Ziegler, who lived on Brauergasse. He was one of those people we see every day on the street, whose faces we can never really remember, because they all have the same face: a collective face.

Ziegler was everything and did everything that such people always are and do. He was not stupid, but neither was he gifted; he loved money and pleasure, liked to dress well, and was as cowardly as most people: his life and activities were governed less by desires and strivings than by prohibitions, by the fear of punishment. Still, he had a number of good qualities and all in all he was a gratifyingly normal young man, whose own person was most interesting and important to him. Like every other man, he regarded himself as an individual, though in reality he was only a specimen, and like other men he regarded himself and his life as the centre of the world. He was far removed from all doubts, and when facts contradicted his opinions, he shut his eyes disapprovingly.

As a modern man, he had unlimited respect for not only money, but also for a second power: science. He could not have said exactly what science was, he had in mind something on the order of statistics and perhaps a bit of bacteriology, and he knew how much money and honour the state accorded to science. He especially admired cancer research, for his father had died of cancer, and Ziegler firmly believed that science, which had developed so remarkably since then, would not let the same thing happen to him.

Outwardly Ziegler distinguished himself by his tendency to dress somewhat beyond his means, always in the fashion of the year. For since he could not afford the fashions of the month or season, it goes without saying that he despised them as foolish affectation. He was a great believer in independence of character and often spoke harshly, among friends and in safe places, of his employers and of the government. I am probably dwelling too long on this portrait. But Ziegler was a charming young fellow, and he has been a great loss to us. For he met with a strange and premature end, which set all his plans and justified hopes at naught.

One Sunday soon after his arrival in our town, he decided on a day’s recreation. He had not yet made any real friends and had not yet been able to make up his mind to join a club. Perhaps this was his undoing. It is not good for a man to be alone.

He could think of nothing else to do but go sightseeing. After conscientious inquiry and mature reflection he decided on the historical museum and the zoo. The museum was free of charge on Sunday mornings, and the zoo could be visited in the afternoon for a moderate fee.

Wearing his new suit with cloth buttons he was very fond of it  he set out for the historical museum. He was carrying his thin, elegant, red-lacquered walking cane, which lent him dignity and distinction, but which to his profound displeasure he was obliged to part with at the entrance.

There were all sorts of things to be seen in the lofty rooms, and in his heart the pious visitor sang the praises of almighty science, which, here again, as Ziegler observed in reading the meticulous inscriptions on the showcases, proved that it could be counted on. Thanks to these inscriptions, old bric-a-brac, such as rusty keys, broken and tarnished necklaces, and so on, became amazingly interesting. It was marvellous how science looked into everything, understood everything and found a name for it oh, yes, it would definitely get rid of cancer very soon, maybe it would even abolish death.

In the second room he found a glass case in which he was reflected so clearly that he was able to stop for a moment and check up, carefully and to his entire satisfaction, on his coat, trousers, and the knot of his tie. Pleasantly reassured, he passed on and devoted his attention to the products of some early wood carvers. Competent men, though shockingly naïve, he reflected benevolently. He also contemplated an old grandfather clock with ivory figures which danced the minuet when it struck the hour, and it too met with his patient approval. Then he began to feel rather bored; he yawned and looked more and more frequently at his watch, which he was not ashamed of showing, for it was solid gold, inherited from his father.

As he saw to his regret, he still had a long way to go till lunchtime, and so he entered another room. Here his curiosity revived. It contained objects of medieval superstition, books of magic, amulets, trappings of witchcraft, and in one corner a whole alchemist’s workshop, complete with forge, mortars, pot-bellied flasks dried-out pig’s bladders, bellows, and so on. This corner was roped off, and there was a sign forbidding the public to touch the objects. But one never reads such signs very attentively, and Ziegler was alone in the room.

Unthinkingly he stretched out his arm over the rope and touched a few of the weird things. He had heard and read about the Middle Ages and their comical superstitions; it was beyond him how the people of those days could have bothered with such childish nonsense, and he failed to see why such absurdities as witchcraft had not simply been prohibited. Alchemy, on the other hand, was pardonable, since the useful science of chemistry had developed from it. Good Lord, to think that these gold-makers’ crucibles and all this magic hocus-pocus may have been necessary, because without them there would be no aspirin or gas bombs today!

Absentmindedly he picked up a small dark-coloured pellet, rather like a pill, rolled the dry, weightless little thing between his fingers and was about to put it down again when he heard steps behind him. He turned round. A visitor had entered the room. Ziegler was embarrassed at having the pellet in his hand, for actually he had read the sign. So he closed his hand, put it in his pocket and left.

He did not think of the pellet again until he was on the street. He took it out and decided to throw it away. But first he raised it to his nose and sniffed it. It had a faint resinous smell that he found rather pleasing, so he put it back in his pocket.

Then he went to a restaurant, ordered, leafed through a few newspapers, toyed with his tie, and cast respectful or haughty glances at the guests around him, depending on how they were dressed. But when his meal was rather long in coming, he took out the alchemist’s pill that he had involuntarily stolen, and smelled it. Then he scratched it with his fingernail, and finally naïvely giving into a childlike impulse, he put it in his mouth. It did not taste bad and dissolved quickly; he washed it down with a sip of beer. And then his meal arrived.

At two o’clock the young man jumped off the street car, went to the zoo, and bought a Sunday ticket.

Smiling amiably, he went to the primate house and planted himself in front of the big cage where the chimpanzees were kept. A large chimpanzee blinked at him, gave him a good-natured nod, and said in a deep voice: “How goes it, brother?”

Repelled and strangely frightened, Ziegler turned away. As he was hurrying off, he heard the ape scolding: “What’s he got to be proud about! The stupid bastard!”

He went to see the long-tailed monkeys. They were dancing merrily. “Give us some sugar, old buddy!” they cried. And when he had no sugar, they grew angry and mimicked him, called him a cheapskate, and bared their teeth. That was more than he could stand; he fled in consternation and made for the deer, whom he expected to behave better.

A large stately elk stood close to the bars, looking him over. And suddenly Ziegler was stricken with horror. For since swallowing the magic pill, he understood the language of the animals. And the elk spoke with his eyes, two big brown eyes. His silent gaze expressed dignity, resignation, sadness, and with regard to the visitor a lofty and solemn contempt, a terrible contempt. In the language of these silent, majestic eyes, Ziegler read, he, with hat and cane, his gold watch and his Sunday suit, was no better than vermin, an absurd and repulsive bug.

From the elk he fled to the ibex, from the ibex to the chamois, the llama, and the gnu, to the wild boars and bears. They did not all insult him, but without exception they despised him. He listened to them and learned from their conversations what they thought of people in general. And what they thought was most distressing. Most of all they were surprised that these ugly, stinking, undignified bipeds with their foppish disguises should be allowed to run around loose.

He heard a puma talking to her cub, a conversation full of dignity and practical wisdom, such as one seldom hears among humans. He heard a beautiful panther expressing his opinions of this riffraff, the Sunday visitors, in succinct, well-turned, aristocratic phrases. He looked the blond lion in the eye and learned of the wonderful immensity of the wilderness, where there are no cages and no human beings. He saw a kestrel perched proud and forlorn, congealed in melancholy, on a dead branch and saw the jays bearing their imprisonment with dignity, resignation and humour.

Dejected and wrenched out of all habits of thought, Ziegler turned back to his fellow men in despair. He looked for eyes that would understand his terror and misery; he listened to conversations in the hope of hearing something comforting, something understandable and soothing; he observed the gestures of the visitors in the hope of finding nobility and quiet, natural dignity.

But he was disappointed. He heard voices and words, he saw movements, gestures and glances, but since now saw everything as through the eyes of an animal, he found nothing but a degenerate, dissembling mob of bestial fops, who seemed to be an unbeautiful mixture of all the animal species.

In despair Ziegler wandered about. He felt hopelessly ashamed of himself. He had long since thrown his red-lacquered cane into the bushes and his gloves after it. But when he threw away his hat, took off his shoes and tie, and shaken with sobs pressed against the bars of the elk’s cage, a crowd collected and the guards seized him, and he was taken away to an insane asylum.