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From the outset of his political career, Upland City Councilman Sid Robinson has militated hard to swim in the middle of the mainstream.
In 2016, he vied for electoral validation in the City of Gracious Living, and on election night, it seemed that he had achieved it. In the San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters Office’s first several tallies of votes from the November 8, 2016 balloting, the same night that Donald Trump was given his mandate by the totality of the American electorate over Hillary Clinton, Robinson was the top vote-getter in a tight race for a single position on the Upland City Council up for election in that year’s race, which featured himself, Janice Elliott, Dan Morgan and Ricky Felix. Robinson held the lead when the votes from the first arriving precincts were counted at 10 p.m., then at midnight, and again at 2 a.m. on November 9. The afternoon of November 9, he was still ahead of the pack. On November 10, 2016, however, as more and more provisional and late arriving mail-in ballots were processed by the registrar of voters, Elliott leapt past him. Over the next several days and weeks, as more and more of the provisional and postal ballots were verified and counted, Elliott’s margin of victory widened. At last, on December 6, 2016 when the final official certified results were posted, Elliot claimed 7,622 total votes or 28.1 percent, more than 300 votes ahead of Robinson, who polled 7,313 votes or 26.97 percent, to Morgan’s 6,474 votes or 23.87 percent, and Felix’s 5,711 votes or 21.06 percent.
Fortunately for Robinson, however, Councilwoman Debbie Stone had vied for mayor in the same election and was victorious. Stone had two years remaining on the council term she had been reelected to in 2014. Her elevation to the mayor’s post created a council vacancy, and at the first city council meeting in December 2016, after Stone and Elliott had been sworn in to their offices, the council took up the task of filling Stone’s now empty council seat. Rejecting the idea of holding a special election, which would cost the city upwards of $65,000, the council, in accordance with a motion made and seconded by Stone and Elliott, opted to select Robinson as the logical replacement, given his second-place finish in the previous month’s election.
Robinson fit in immediately. In short order he demonstrated himself to be a reliable member of the council majority, which in the early months of his tenure and that of Elliott, was a constantly unanimous one, as the council’s members voted in seeming lockstep on everything, with no disagreements on policy or the city’s direction.
It was not until March 2017, when a fissure in the monolith that was the Upland City Council betrayed itself. In November 2016, in one of the last acts of the city council as it was then composed before the addition of Elliott and Robinson, the city undertook to explore the possibility of shuttering its municipal fire department, which had existed for over a century, and instead arrange to have its fire safety, fire prevention, fire suppression and emergency medical response service provided by the county fire department. Under the leadership of then-Acting City Manager Marty Thouvenell, the city made further and further commitments toward the dissolution of the city’s fire department, thereby applying with the county’s Local Agency Formation Commission to close out its fire department and annex the entirety of the city limits into a county fire service assessment zone, entailing a $156 annual assessment on all parcel owners in the city, in so doing creating a new tax which was essentially achieved without involving a vote of the residents. The closure of the fire department together with the assessments created a revenue stream that was sufficient to pay the county for the county fire department’s services and provide the city with a recurring annual $3.2 million windfall, which could be used to defray many ongoing municipal costs, such as the ever-increasing pension burden consisting of stipends to retired city workers who in the early 2000s had been provided with generous salaries and benefits by the city council led by then-Mayor John Pomierski. The arrangement for the annexation into the county fire district included a provision that required that neighboring San Antonio Heights, an unincorporated county area north of the city, also be annexed into the fire service annexation district.
Initially, all of the members of the council acted and voted in favor of pushing the annexation through to completion, including Elliott and Robinson. But as city residents and residents of San Antonio Heights in ever increasing numbers began to question the move, then protest it and then openly resist it, Elliott made efforts to allow those residents to voice their concerns and get their protests on the record. This angered her council colleagues, who were fully committed to effectuating the close-out of the city fire department and the ratification of the fire service zone and its accompanying assessment district. Elliott’s indulgence of those seeking to stop the annexation transformed her into persona non grata at City Hall. The council sharply split into two factions, with Stone, Robinson, Councilman Gino Filippi and Councilwoman Carol Timm representing the city’s establishment and the status quo, and Elliott in the role of the dissident and outsider. The council gave all the appearances of abhorring anything less than a show of unanimity on all ranges of city policy. In the vast majority of the votes taken by the council, 5-to-0 approvals were given. But on those items of major or minor controversy, a pattern soon developed in which Elliott found herself cast in the role of the lone outsider, seeking to make a case for those out of the mainstream who had differences with the way the city was routinely conducting business. As Summer 2017 dawned, it was indisputable that Elliott was being ostracized, and the city council formally scheduled a review of Ellott’s status as an appointee to city committees and governmental entity adjunct panels in which city officials participate on joint powers authority boards or specific issue cooperatives with officials from other cities and the county. In an effort to bring Elliott to heel, her council colleagues, in June 2017, stripped her of those assignments.
Over the last six months of 2017 and into 2018, as Elliott became more rigidly cast as Upland’s political pariah, her council colleagues defined her dissent as a display of contempt toward them, the entitled members of the city’s peerage whose vision for the community as a consequence of their vaunted positions on the council gave them the inside knowledge to recognize what was in the best interest of everyone in the city. In their view, it was demeaning to be subjected to the petty dissension and constant negativism that Elliott represented. All four took pride in the harmonious approach toward governance that they considered to be the ideal that might be attained by the class of political cognoscenti they held themselves out to be. There was no manifestation of any difference relating to an issue of significance between the four of them over the 18 months between December 2016 and May 2018. Their identification of themselves as a ruling elite grew ever more apparent when they would be confronted during council meetings with a motion or alternate motion put forward by Elliott, all of which consistently died for a lack of a second. For them, it was impossible to see Elliott as an independent individualist with an open mind who was approaching the act of governance from an equally valid point of view that differed from their own. She was, rather, a prodigal and wrongheaded outcast, a heretic engaging in blasphemies, a reprobate who rejected convention for the sake, it seemed, of getting some sort of egotistical lift out of rejecting the group’s shared values by being the skunk at the garden party.
With each successive meeting, the quartet’s disdain with Elliott grew until it culminated, at the May 29, 2018 council meeting two-and-a-half weeks ago, with the council considering and then passing a motion of censure against Elliott 4-to-1, with Elliott casting the lone dissenting vote.
Ironically, at the Upland City Council’s June 11 meeting, the first one following the censure vote against Elliott, Robinson at last found himself on the down side of a 4-to-1 vote, putting himself dangerously close to the personification of nonconformist which he and his council allies have for so long considered unacceptable in Elliott.
At the root of both Elliott’s and Robinson’s political apostasy in Upland are a set of events which began more than a decade and a half prior to her 2016 election. In 2000, John Pomierski was elected mayor and almost at once he engaged in a series of depredations that would continue for a decade until they were exposed and he was indicted, resigned from office and was criminally convicted. Essentially, he used his position as mayor to shake down individuals and businesses with applications for project approval in the city’s planning division. Either directly or through his associates, Pomierski would approach those applicants, offering his services either as a consultant or as contractor on the projects under consideration once they were permitted. As higher ranking city employees learned of the mayor’s graft, to keep his illicit dealings under wraps Pomierski was obliged to cut those city staffers, primarily ones employed within the city’s planning, community development and public works divisions, in on the action. Yet showing favoritism to a select group of city employees carried with it the danger of creating a growing circle of curiosity, suspicion and exposure. Ultimately, Pomierski used a formula of essentially bribing everyone at City Hall by upping city salaries and benefits, keeping everyone contented and buying the silence of those in the know about what he was up to. This, however, exacerbated the city’s long term financial picture, as the primary element of the benefits were the pensions promised to city workers upon retirement, and with the upping of salaries, which are part of the formula by which the benefits are calculated, a circumstance was created whereby a larger and larger portion of the city’s general fund was being routed to pay for those pensions. At this point, in 2018, the city is already committed to future pension payments in the neighborhood of $120 million, to just those employees who have already retired. When currently working employees retire, the commitment to keep the retirement fund solvent will escalate further. Of the roughly $41 million that flows into and out of the city’s general fund every year, at this point nearly $8 million goes to the California Public Employees Retirement System to pay the pensions of former city workers. This has left the city well behind the eight ball financially. For Elliott, a certified public accountant with a strong financial background, fiscal discipline which includes efforts to hold the line on staff salaries while reversing or reducing the excessive benefits promised to the city’s employees during the Pomierski years loomed as the most logical possible solution to the challenges now facing the city, currently and in the years going forward. The four-member council majority, however, has what it considers to be a favorable relationship with city staff – nearly all of whom are the beneficiaries of the formula Pomierski utilized to keep them quiet – and Stone, Filippi, Timm and Robinson are unwilling to ask the city’s employees to give back that portion of the generous compensation packages conferred upon them as a consequence of Pomierski’s malfeasance. The council majority instead looks more favorably toward boosting revenue by imposing on the city’s residents new or higher taxes and fees.
While Robinson has generally gone along with the philosophy that the city must balance its budget not by cutting employee salaries but by increasing revenue through more taxation, this week he ran into a situation in which his own allegiance to those he considers to be his primary constituents required that he set out on an independent path.
Robinson’s status in the community, more than anything else, hinges upon his involvement, when his children were of the participatory age, in Upland National Little League. It was, indeed, largely upon his involvement with Upland National Little League that he garnered the name recognition, credibility, reputation and popularity to be able to compete as a candidate for city council as well as he did. Beyond that, Robinson truly believes that Upland National Little League is an asset to the city and community as a whole, providing an experience for Upland’s youth that is priceless, together with being a forum that strengthens the bonds between parents and children, in particular fathers and sons, as it involves them in the same American Pastime that has united generations of Americans since Abner Doubleday invented the game in 1839.
Simultaneously, parents going back three generations in Upland have volunteered time and money to maintain the baseball diamond and surrounding amenities where the league plays, above and beyond what the city provides in terms of facility upkeep. This charitable participation is replicated in many of the city’s other youth sports leagues.
This week, city staff, looking to shore up city finances and maintain their salaries and pensions, undertook to subsidize themselves further by proposing to have Upland’s youth nonprofit sports leagues defray the cost of using the city’s athletic fields. According to the proposal put together by Doug Story, the city’s recreation services manager, and approved for presentation to the city council by City Manager Bill Manis and Assistant City Manager Jeannette Vagnozzi, as of July 1, Upland-based sports leagues will be charged usage and lighting fees to help cover the city’s field maintenance and electricity costs. The schedule called for increasing the fees on January 1, 2020 and once more on July 1, 2021.
Story characterized the charge as “a small fee.” He said, “We’ll take that money and be able to use it for some of the maintenance requests that are coming through.” The city has $500,000 in annual field maintenance and lighting costs, Story noted, saying, “It does take a lot of effort, a lot of resources on our end. What we need to be really aware of is just the extent of that use from all these great nonprofits, all these great youth organizations.”
Andrew Decker, president of the Upland American Little League, which plays at Citrus Park, pointed out that the league already does a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of keeping the ball field in playable condition. “The nonprofit youth sports leagues of Upland have been left to fend for themselves to maintain the parks and facilities that the city owns,” Decker said. “We budget annually for repairs, field upkeep, aesthetics and more. Under this new fee schedule, approximately 5 percent of our budget will instantly be consumed to pay for these fees and that fee balloons to 10 percent by 2021.”
Starting July 1, lighting fees will be $2 per hour at the softball and little league fields, $1.25 per hour for the north fields at the Cabrillo soccer complex and $2.50 for the south fields.
On January 1, 2020, lighting fees will go up to $3 for softball and little league fields, $2 for the north Cabrillo fields and $3.75 for the south fields. On July 1, 2021, fees will be $4 per hour for the softball and little league fields, $2.75 for the north Cabrillo fields and $5 for the south fields.
The first year’s fee is 10 percent of what the city charges other groups, the second is 15 percent and the third is 20 percent. Those leagues will be eligible to get the discounted fees if they can establish that 75 percent of their participants live within Upland.
While current and past city councils have transferred the costs created by the legacy of fraud and mismanagement under Pomierski and his confederates at City Hall to city residents using a number of strategies, imposing a portion of that hardship on the city’s youth leagues was too much for Robinson. He asserted that league volunteers and participating parents have sacrificed by raising funds to carry out regular maintenance.
“I’m not sure the fee system is the way to go,” he said. “I don’t have a problem with charging for lighting on perhaps a metered basis, but I would just hate for us to try to be pennywise and in the end be pound foolish because we are putting our leagues at risk.”
Robinson, while conceding that “those leagues that are using those fields do need to cover something,” suggested that the city consider the leagues on a case-by-case basis, hinting that those heavily involved in maintenance on their own should perhaps be charged a lesser amount than other leagues.
So strongly did Robinson feel about the issue that in an historic moment for Upland, his was the lone dissenting vote when Stone, Timm, Filippi and Elliott approved the fees.
By Mark Gutglueck
Unlike six of their municipal counterparts elsewhere in San Bernardino County, the Chino Hills and Chino city councils appear to have demurred at requests by some of their residents to join in with or otherwise endorse legal challenges of Senate Bill 54.
Introduced during the first day of the 2017 California legislative session as a direct response to President Donald Trump’s stated plan to crack down on so-called sanctuary cities and step up immigration enforcement, Senate Bill 54, also referred to as the so-called California Values Act, was passed by the California legislature and signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown in October.
In effect since January 1, Senate Bill 54 limits state and local law enforcement cooperation with federal immigration authorities. Specifically, the state law prohibits police in California from assisting immigration officers by informing them of immigrants they have arrested for most non-violent crimes, and disallows releasing those in their custody to immigration officials without a warrant.
The U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the state, alleging Senate Bill 54 was violating federal law by aiding and abetting illegal aliens. In March, the Los Alamitos City Council adopted an ordinance that exempted that small Orange County city which snuggles up against Los Angeles County from Senate Bill 54. Shortly thereafter, the Orange County Board of Supervisors signed Orange County on as a plaintiff in the federal government’s suit against the State of California over Senate Bill 54. Thereafter, a raft of Orange County cities likewise joined the protest against the state law.
In April, the City of Huntington Beach filed suit against the State of California in an action that was separate from the federal lawsuit, alleging “Constitutional overreach,” and extending an open invitation for other California municipalities to join with it in that lawsuit.
In San Bernardino County, similar sentiment against Senate Bill 54 manifested. On March 20, the Hesperia City Council in closed session instructed its city attorney to author an amicus brief in support of the federal government’s position and on May 1, the Hesperia City Council in open session approved joining an amicus brief prepared by the Immigration Reform Law Institute in support of the Department of Justice lawsuit asserting the supremacy of federal immigration laws. On April 16, the Barstow City Council met in closed session and directed City Attorney Teresa Highsmith to facilitate having Barstow join the amicus brief if in her judgment by doing so the city would not face the prospect of accruing any legal fees. Highsmith took that as direction to sign on with the amicus opposition to Senate Bill 54. The Yucaipa City Council on April 23, by a 4-to-1 vote, went on record as being opposed to California’s sanctuary state law and directed its city attorney to pen a letter of opposition to Senate Bill 54. In the wee hours of April 24, following a tumultuous public hearing that began in the evening of April 23, the Upland City Council voted 4-to-1 to register its support of the federal government and against the provisions of California’s sanctuary state law. On April 25, the Adelanto City Council instructed City Attorney Ruben Duran to draft a letter opposing Senate Bill 54 and express support for the U.S. Department of Justice both in carrying out its efforts to curb illegal immigration and in its lawsuit against California over Senate Bill 54. On May 8, the Highland City Council voted 3-2 to send a letter of opposition to Sacramento taking issue with Senate Bill 54. On May 22, the Apple Valley Town Council unanimously passed a resolution relating to Senate Bill 54, calling upon both California and federal officials to “find cooperative solutions to the problem of illegal immigration that do not impact the ability of local law enforcement to interact with federal authorities.”
In the unincorporated county area of Lucerne Valley and Johnson Valley, the closest thing to that jurisdiction’s governing board, the Lucerne Valley/Johnson Valley Municipal Advisory Council, gave its president, Roger Peterson, authorization to write two letters, one to Third District Supervisor James Ramos importuning the board of supervisors to join other cities and counties in their protests and challenges of Senate Bill 54, and another to San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon, urging him to make a practice of posting to the internet the release dates of all inmates in the sheriff’s department’s custody.
A group calling itself the Chino-Chino Hills Coalition to Fight SB 54 some weeks ago began pressuring the city councils in both Chino and Chino Hills to add their collective cities’ weight to those municipalities who have endorsed uniformity in the federal government’s, state government’s and local government’s approach to collaring immigration scofflaws and deporting them, and they have called for eliminating the red tape that prevents cooperation between the various law enforcement bodies from exchanging information with regard to non-citizens who have been arrested or prohibits local and state authorities from handing those arrestees over to federal officials.
The Chino City Council has pretty much disregarded those calls.
On May 22, the group’s unofficial leader, Jason Tullai, accompanied by eight others of like mind, came before the Chino Hills City Council at its final meeting of the month to make the most concerted call yet for the Chino Hills City Council to go on record against Senate Bill 54 and the official declaration of California as a sanctuary state.
Tullai reiterated his persistent advocacy against the State of California’s liberalization of its immigration enforcement policy, calling for Chino Hills to sign on to the crusade against Senate Bill 54. Tullai said he wanted the Chino Hills City Council to “at a minimum vote to adopt a resolution opposing SB 54, AB [Assembly Bill] 450, AB 103, known as the Sanctuary State Laws. There’s no legal risk to the city in adopting such a resolution,” he said. “SB 54 is not about dreamers. It prohibits law enforcement from providing information to federal authorities about the release date of undocumented immigrants who are in their custody, and actually bans the transfer of these criminal immigrants to federal custody. This makes no sense and jeopardizes our safety.”
He cited the case of Jose Zarate, an illegal alien who had seven felony convictions but was released without notification to the federal authorities by law enforcement officers in San Francisco, a self-declared sanctuary city. Zarate subsequently shot a woman named Kate walking along a pier in San Francisco. “If Jose Zarate would have been transferred to federal officers, Kate would still be alive,” Tullai asserted. “You are elected officials. Don’t you feel any obligation to protect us, the citizens? Sacramento has turned this into a sanctuary state and criminals are being released. These criminals are committing additional crimes, and yes, killing people. These crimes are preventable. Don’t let blood be on your hands. Please put on your agenda a vote to address the state sanctuary laws. Stop hiding and playing games. We deserve to know where you stand.”
Linda Hazleton of Upland said her father was an immigrant who achieved citizenship upon coming to America. She appealed to the council “to make some statement concerning SB 54. There is a right way to become an American citizen and anything else is illegal. It puts the citizenry in a difficult position, because if we don’t speak up it means we affirm what city councils have decided to do, what the state has decided to do. If the tide ever turns, and with this president I hope that it would, and it comes to a question of who decided that the problem of dealing with illegal aliens was going to be dealt with the way it was, the citizenry that hadn’t spoken up would be just as guilty of braking federal law as any council member who decided not to speak up against it.”
Jim Gallagher said, “I’m here in defense of SB 54. Last week the California Senate and more than 20 cities and counties have come out in support of SB 54, which limits law enforcement agencies from cooperating with federal immigration agencies, but with caveats. Entangling state and local agencies with federal immigration enforcement usurps limited resources, blurs lines of accountability and distorts trust between officers and the community. I think in this community we have good trust between our residents and law enforcement right now. California has made a judgment that separating civil immigration enforcement, which is a federal duty, from local law enforcement, general policing, makes our community safer.”
Judi Neal said the Trust Act of 2014 protects illegal immigrants who come forth to report crimes, eliminating the need for Senate Bill 54. “You all swore an oath office first to protect the Constitution of the United States of America, secondly to the state,” she said. “Article Six circumvents any state law. Remember that when you consider what is going on.” She said there were 40 cities “that’ve signed on to opt out of SB 54. We have nine counties throughout the State of California that are also opting out. We need to protect American citizens who have the right to be protected. We do not need to have Immigration and Customs Enforcement running around in our neighborhoods looking for hardened criminals We have an obligation to our citizens to keep our state safe, our streets safe.”
Wendy Gish said many immigrants come into California illegally and that a significant number of those who come in legally eventually violate immigration regulations. “Forty percent overstay their visa,” she said. Of those who never registered, she said, “We have no idea who they are. Would you invite somebody into your house whom you do not know? I wouldn’t. Here’s the problem: We don’t know who is coming across that border.” She said the liberalization of California’s criminal laws had made many crimes that were formerly felonies misdemeanors, such that illegal immigrants are now free to violate those laws and not be deported for doing so. “They can steal up to $950 per day because that’s no longer considered a felony,” she said.
Linnie Drolet said, We’re asking you because you are on the ground right here – you are not in Sacramento and you’re not in Washington, D.C. – to hear our voices because this is an issue that has been created outside of this city, but now it is affecting your citizens. You need to take note and you need to let them be heard and you need to represent the citizens of your city and the citizens of California and the citizens of America, not people who are here because they came in the back door and they wanted something that we have. They are welcome when they come in the front door and when they do it the right way. My hope is you will opt out of SB 54.”
Carol Houghton called SB 54 an“unconstitutional law that threatens to sue and fine law enforcement agencies that do what law enforcement agencies have done for decades, which is turn illegal immigrant criminals over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. We are talking about people who are let out of jail. We’re not talking about people who are walking down the street. I know you have had discussion about this among yourselves. You are not telling us whether you are for it or against it, but you should. This should be an open discussion, where you tell us what you think and we tell you why we’re thinking what we do and why we believe what we do. We have no idea what your objections are or if you even agree with us. There are not many opportunities for the cities of California to tell Sacramento what they think. This is a wonderful exception.”
Dana Lamb said, “I do not feel it is right to burden our city council with a national and state dispute over sanctuary status. There is absolutely no evidence we have a crime problem in Chino Hills related to non-documented immigrants. I do not believe for a minute this is some kind of a crisis for our community on any level, just a ploy to incite more anger on both sides of this question. I would strongly recommend that the city council pass on any involvement in this debate. Please don’t get suckered into the strategy of political organizations that are outside our community and when the dust finally settles will not stick around to heal the wounds they inflict. They will drain our finances with pointless and expensive litigation. This is one of the ugliest aspects of the direction of our polarized country, and the symbolism of this empty gesture will only drive a deeper wedge between friends and neighbors of our town.”
Al Matta said he saw in the raising of the issue “a dilemma.” He referenced “veterans who fought and died” in America’s wars. “If they were looking down at this country now, they wouldn’t be too happy. Maybe a tear in their eye would come because this country of ours is becoming divided.” Matta said intolerance was becoming the watchword, though he did not seem to imply that it was intolerance of illegal aliens that was the problem, but rather intolerance of those who were critical of the liberalization of society. Matta referenced AB 2943, a legal prohibition against attempting to dissuade or convert someone from engaging in homosexuality, which in its body states “Contemporary science recognizes that being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender is part of the natural spectrum of human identity and is not a disease, disorder, or illness.”
Matta said, “Here is AB 2943, an attack on speech and religious freedom They are going to vote on that. So if you say something and give your opinion to someone, you could be put in jail. It would be a crime [to express an opposition to the practice of homosexuality]. That’s terrible. This thing we’re talking about: I’m first generation here. My parents were from Mexico. My father became a natural[ized] citizen in 1948. My mother didn’t want to do that. She held onto her green card. I was called ‘wetback, beanhead,’ everything you can talk about, but this was freedom of speech. My dad told me, ‘Al, don’t get mad. In America, you have freedom of speech and if somebody calls you an SOB, so be it. You know who you are. The integrity of the person, that’s important.’”
Matta continued, “I ran for city council. I didn’t have all that money, but I was able to run, like each and every one of you, and you won. The following day, I was still an American and I was entitled to freedom of speech. Let it be known, I’d rather have somebody cuss me out in front of my face than to smile at me and stab me in the back. I can fight any man, no matter how big and tall he is, provided his hands are tied, his feet are tied, and he’s gagged, I could be a winner. But it’s not like that. So, remember. You took an oath, and that’s a very important one. Today, the mayor led the pledge of allegiance. Pledge of allegiance,” he emphasized, “of the United States of America. It’s not the United States of a few.”
Dave Master said, “I love being in this city. I think the city is run well. I have no qualms with supporting most of the decision made by the city. You manage money real well. We’re one of the best run cities I have seen. I don’t like to see problems created when there are none, and I think sometimes not doing something is the best way [rather] than doing something that is wrong. Right now, is there a problem with illegal immigrants? We had the police people tell us, ‘No. Mostly it’s young people who break in on days off. That’s not an illegal immigrant problem. So, we don’t have that problem. What are we dealing with here? The second thing is I pay taxes here and most of us who are here pay taxes in this city. If the people in another city would like to pay taxes to go on a wild goose chase, they should do that. That’s their right as Americans, to do that in their city, but I don’t want to pay taxes and I don’t want to have my city council people running around, looking up things, doing this, doing that. That costs us money. They could be putting that to other things [such as] public works. I’d rather see our city concentrate on those things and not pay money to have people running which legal thing should we do. That all costs money. If we don’t have a problem, why create one?”
Chris Alcala from Chino told the council “I have been here all my life. I have family who are Mexicans and all that, some that are criminals and some that are not. I’ve got to tell you that those people who are criminals, I would not invite them into my house. I urge you guys to vote to opt out of SB 54 because all of you here, when you parked your car, did you lock your car, or did you leave it open? When you go to your house and you go to bed at night, do you lock your doors? It’s a safety issue. Whether we like it or not, it’s come to Chino Hills. Not now, but it’s coming and if we don’t stop it now, if we don’t do something, it is going to come here. The crime is going to come. I’ve seen a lot of it.”
Iris Mann, a resident of Diamond Bar said, “All this rhetoric about danger and criminal illegal immigrants, it is just not supported by empirical data. I would ask that you make your decision on research and facts and evidence rather than fearmongering, hate rhetoric that has no ties to facts or evidence. There’s no evidence to suggest immigrants, illegal or otherwise, are more prone to committing crimes.” Referencing the libertarian Cato Institute, the U.S. Census Bureau and the National Academy of Sciences, Mann said, “There’s a lot of data and research out there. I’d ask that you go to that before you go forward with listening to people who live way out of the district or in your town. I ask that you do research and make decisions based on that rather than divisive hate-filled unnecessary action that just will further divide, cause anxiety among the people living in your city.”
The council listened to those comments, which were delivered during the public input portion of the council meeting. As no item pertaining to any of the issues addressed was slated for discussion or action by the council, the panel merely took the comments under advisement.
Later in the meeting, Sheriff’s Captain Darren Goodman, who heads the Chino Hills substation, which functions as Chino Hills’ police department, thus making Goodman Chino Hills’ police chief, said “To the point that law enforcement cannot and does not release information on inmates being released from custody, we, the sheriff’s department, does put that information on the website. We don’t distinguish what their immigration status is, but that information is public, so if any federal authorities would like to check to see that, they could. The other issue that was misstated was that we are banned from transferring inmates into the custody of federal officials. What is true is that we need a warrant to do so. That’s where, I guess, the angst is, because we have to start following the law, which says we cannot hold them without a warrant. There’s another point about notification on serious offenses. That point is accurate. We don’t provide notification except for those more serious offenses. It requires it to be a felony. It requires them to have committed a felony within five years. Finally, there was a comment posed as a question as to whether the immigration issue in its entirety is affecting Chino Hills proper, our city, and the answer to that statistically is ‘no.’”
Mayor Peter Rogers asked Goodman if a letter of opposition to SB 54 was written, would it impact how the sheriff’s office functions.
“There has been a number of cities in the county that contract with the sheriff’s department that have done so,” Goodman said, “most recently the Cities of Highland and Yucaipa, to my recollection. That is not going to affect how we do business, because we are still going to follow state law.”
Despite the requests that the city place a discussion and action item relating to signing an amicus brief to support the challenge of Senate Bill 54, the Chino Hills City Council did not take up the issue at its June 12 council meeting, amid suggestions from the city’s leadership that it did not feel Senate Bill 54 is having a significant impact on the community.
In this way, Chino Hills has joined with Chino and Victorville as San Bernardino County cities that have elected to bypass taking action with regard to Senate Bill 54 and the political maelstrom it represents.
In Victorville, on May 15, at the suggestion of Councilman Eric Negrete, the city council took up a consideration of either supporting the federal suit by means of submitting an amicus brief or joining in as a plaintiff in the suit. Ultimately, however, though the majority sentiment on the council was that the California legislature was out of line in seeking to thwart federal authority, the panel collectively decided to allow the matter to play out in the courts without any official input from the City of Victorville.
A fight has apparently broken out between newly formed factions on the City of Industry City Council as well as with the company to which that city had entrusted the development of a massive solar farm on a huge swath of property lying at the southwest tip of San Bernardino County.
The City of Industry galvanized the attention of the Chino Hills and Diamond Bar communities in August 2017 when it maneuvered to have the Industry Oversight Board, by a bare majority 4-3 vote, sell it rustic 2,450-acre Tres Hermanos Ranch, which straddles the Los Angeles County/San Bernardino County border, for $41.65 million. The City of Industry had originally acquired the property through its redevelopment agency in 1978 with intentions of putting a reservoir on the land. But it had lost autonomy over the property with the State of California’s close-out of redevelopment agencies throughout the state in 2011. Vague talk of an effort to develop anywhere in the range from 10,000 to 15,000 residential units on the property ensued when GH America and South Coast Communities made a $100 million offer on the property in 2015. Concern that if such an undertaking were to proceed to fruition, even tighter gridlock on local freeways during prime commuting hours would result brought objections from the local populace and its political set. It was iterated that Chino Hills had land use and zoning restrictions that would have limited the maximum number of residential units to be built on the 1,750 acres of the ranch in San Bernardino County to 467, and Diamond Bar had limits on the developability of the 700 acres of the ranch in Los Angeles County that would allow no more than 624 homes to be constructed there.
With its acquisition of the property at a price discounted by some $59 million from what GH America and South Coast offered came the revelation that the City of Industry intended to construct a 450-megawatt solar energy project on the ranch. Though then-Industry City Manager Paul Philips asserted much of the Tres Hermanos acreage was to remain undisturbed or would otherwise be committed toward recreational and open space purposes, that claim was met with skepticism. An analysis demonstrated that, assuming the most efficient of photovoltaic cells were to be used, the 450 megawatt objective could be achieved by blanketing roughly 73.5 percent of Tres Hermanos Ranch’s 2,450 acres – 1.801.4 acres – with solar panels. This would leave some 648.6 acres, much of it nestled in the expanse’s canyons, available as open space. Nevertheless, the prospect that three-quarters of the land would be blighted with solar panels was not favorably received by many who were focused on the fate of the property.
What was revealed around that time was that the City of Industry had previously entered into an agreement, long before it had secured the property, with La Jolla-based San Gabriel Valley Water and Power to map out the creation of the solar farm. Two months after the city obtained the land, in October 2017, it was disclosed that the City of Industry had already spent $14 million, paid out to San Gabriel Valley Water and Power, on the proposal. At that time, Industry city officials voted to ratify a lease agreement and four amendments to the existing agreement with San Gabriel Valley Water and Power, which the city at that point officially identified as the developer of the project. That action allowed San Gabriel Water and Power, whose principal is William Barkett, to obtain up to $20 million in financing to proceed. It was revealed that Industry had initially authorized accepting the debt on $5 million in loans and later $11.5 million in loans relating to the project.
In a very short time, however, the situation devolved to the point that the prospect of the City of Industry seeing the solar project through to completion was brought into question. By December 2017, Barkett and his cohorts with San Gabriel Water and Power had burned through some $14 million in carrying out preliminary planning on the project and had spent another $6 million in legal fees and other nondescript expenses, and had yet to produce anything tangible in terms of physical assets on the ranch grounds or anything indeed beyond conceptual plans. Barkett and San Gabriel Water and Power submitted invoices for services relating to the solar farm proposal exceeding $1.5 million between January and March 2018 that the city has refused to pay. Some have interpreted that as an indication the City of Industry has given up on the solar farm concept at Tres Hermanos Ranch.
Throughout the close of 2017, reformist elements led by then-city ethics consultant Bill Lockyer were pushing for changes in the City of Industry’s governance structure. Philips, who was the leading advocate of the solar farm development at City Hall, was associated with Lockyer’s effort. At the same time, the city’s elected leadership, beholden to the city’s longtime political kingpin, David Perez, were not on board for the full set of reforms Lockyer was pushing. On January 11, 2018, the city council, dominated by Perez, voted 3-2 to end Lockyer’s contract. Two weeks later, the city council again adjourned into closed session and took up a discussion of firing Philips, city clerk William Morrow and Anthony Bouza, an attorney the city was employing with regard to the solar farm development issues at Tres Hermanos Ranch. Sufficient support to sack Morrow and Bouza manifested. Nevertheless, the council fell short of a necessary third vote to pull the trigger on Philips, as Mayor Mark Radecki and councilmembers Abraham Cruz and Catherine Marcucci were unwilling at that point to join with Cory Moss and Newell Ruggles in handing Philips his walking papers.
On the morning of February 27, however, the council convened into a specially called closed session meeting during which the entirety of the council voted to terminate Philips.
Within a week of Philip’s departure it was revealed that the City of Industry was beginning to rethink its tentative commitment toward the Tres Hermanos solar project.
Since that time, the City of Industry has pushed San Gabriel Valley Water and Power to provide it with a detailed accounting of what work toward the completion of the solar power project has been completed.
One problem that is now apparent is that there was a lack of clarity with regard to whether the money the City of Industry was putting up to usher the solar project along was considered seed money for the project or was being provided as a loan to San Gabriel Valley Water and Power to assist it in getting the project up and running, with an understanding that the money would eventually be paid back.
In recent months, the city has attempted to use a host of legalistic and procedural stratagems in an effort to force San Gabriel Valley Water and Power to provide the financial accounting the city is seeking. San Gabriel Valley Water and Power ignored a legislative subpoena the city council issued calling upon the company to produce documentation that the agreed-upon work had been performed, officials now say. In closed session, the council has authorized City Attorney Jamie Casso and Assistant City Attorney Bianca Sparks to obtain a court order requiring San Gabriel Water and Power to produce records of what the money the city paid the company was used for.
The relationship between the city and the company has declined to the point, the Sentinel has learned, that San Gabriel Valley Water and Power corporate officers have refused to take and return phone calls placed to them by city officials. Moreover, no representatives of the company have been in attendance at recent city council meetings when city officials intended to hold public dialogue with regard to the progress and status of the solar farm project.
One report was that some $3.5 million in money vouchsafed to the San Gabriel Valley Water and Power Company is now ensconced in a banking institution in Vanuatu.
In Chino Hills and Diamond Bar, where residents and public officials alike are hopeful of postponing development at Tres Hermanos Ranch for as long as possible or preventing it altogether, there is barely suppressed mirth at the contretemps between the City of Industry and the San Gabriel Valley Water and Power Company and the accompanying prospect that Barkett has absconded with a sizeable portion of the City of Industry’s treasury, which will make the current and future city councils there reluctant to embark on any further developmental adventurism on the wide open preserve’s rolling hillsides, canyon creeks, oak woodlands and verdant pastures teeming with owls, bobcats, mountain lions, skunks and opossum.
Patients at the Jerry L. Pettis Medical Center who were being cared for there over the last ten months have potentially been exposed to the bacteria that causes Legionnaires disease, it has now been acknowledged.
That bacteria known as Legionella was confirmed as being present in the institution’s water system Wednesday, ten months after medical professionals there gave indication of their suspicions there might be a Legionella bacteria outbreak. In early May, a group of employees at the hospital filed a federal whistleblower complaint against hospital officials alleging that they were avoiding coming to terms with the problem. That complaint alleged “gross mismanagement, abuse of authority, gross waste of funds, and substantial and specific danger to public health and safety.”
Wade J. Habshey, a spokesperson for Pettis Medical Center, downplayed the report.
“Veterans Administration takes Legionella prevention very seriously,” Habshey asserted at the time. “Our staff is trained on prevention of Legionella and the elimination of the conditions under which Legionella grows. We have a zero history of hospital-acquired Legionella cases.”
Subsequent tests found trace amounts of Legionella bacteria in the water system.
“This does not mean there is a Legionella outbreak,” Habshey said in a follow-up statement.
Legionnaires’ disease, so named because of a 1976 incident at an American Legion convention held at the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia during which 182 attendees contracted the disease and 29 of them died, is a severe form of pneumonia that can be contracted by inhaling the contagion in droplet, mist or vapor form.
Curiously, despite the VA Hospital’s denials, the VA quietly solicited bids for Legionella mitigation for the entire Loma Linda health care system in February.
Those mitigation efforts are now under way, as evidenced by out-of-service signs that have been placed in front of quarantined rooms. Several of the institution’s drinking fountains have also been shut off.
According to the May 3 complaint, the hospital’s administration knew of the Legionella condition last year but did not notify the medical staff and did not correct the problem, while denying the proliferation of bacteria at the facility.
Within the last fortnight, a cannabis-rights and policy reform committee headed by the wealthy and contentious real estate industry tycoon and social activist Stephanie Smith has stepped up its efforts with regard to altering the regulation of marijuana-related commercial activity in Colton and San Bernardino.
On June 14, the Colton Citizens for Good Jobs and Safe Communities Committee submitted a petition bearing the signatures of more than 2,800 of that city’s registered voters requesting that the city put an initiative on the November ballot that would create a licensing apparatus for businesses engaged in the cultivation, processing, distribution, and sale of marijuana, and impose taxes on those activities.
On June 18, 19 or 20, it is anticipated that another group Smith heads will deliver to the San Bernardino City Clerk’s Office a petition with the signatures of in excess of 8,600 of that city’s registered voters on a somewhat similar but nevertheless different initiative request than the one circulated in Colton. The proposed San Bernardino initiative calls for permitting a host of cannabis-related commercial activities to flourish in that city.
Smith is almost as, or maybe even more, controversial than the issue of intensive marijuana and cannabis-product commercialization she has taken up. The current political establishment, which is long steeped in the traditional societal norm of prohibiting cannabis consumption even upon pain of imprisonment, finds her objectionable because she represents the new wave of tolerance in California in which the drug, which since 1996 could be used for ostensible medical purposes, may now by the passage of 2016’s Proposition 64 the Adult Use of Marijuana Act be imbibed for its intoxicative effect. At the same time, a number of would-be marijuana purveyors are not pleased with her because, by the way she has sought to make a niche for herself in the industry, she has challenged the initial regulation regimes some governmental entities have structured with regard to how cannabis-related activity is going to take place in their communities and has, arguably, interfered with these competing entrepreneurs’ ability to turn a profit or capture what some consider to be a corner on or monopoly of the local market.
Smith is well-fixed financially and not reluctant to throw money into her efforts, which in practical terms means she is litigious. She has launched lawsuits against Colton, San Bernardino, Hemet and Moreno Valley, asserting, essentially, that the political leadership and municipal management in those jurisdictions have abused the discretion they are entrusted under state law which grants cities authority to regulate or ban cannabis businesses as they deem proper. Those cities have, those suits contend, through the wrongheaded implementation of regulations either conferred monopolies on certain cannabis purveyors or have created circumstances where such monopolies will be the logical outcome. To the extent that such a monopolistic hold on those communities is truly a reality, Smith’s crusade is hailed as salutary. Concern remains, nonetheless, that the combination of Smith’s political, procedural and legal efforts will bear the ultimate fruit of conferring a monopoly upon her.
Smith has been able to ascend into her current position in the financial stratosphere through a quintessentially American route, involving preparation, old fashioned hard work, innovation, charisma, risk taking and bold endeavors that skirted the boundaries of legality.
After educating herself in marketing and promotion in Boston, she next landed in Phoenix and Tempe, where she arranged to buy dilapidated properties, and after carrying out some renovation on them, managed to sell them for a profit. After building a nest egg in Arizona, she departed for Los Angeles in 2005 to, first, refine her technique by attending UCLA’s Anderson School of Management and, second, assess the opportunities abounding in the Golden State. She struck pay dirt when she formed a personal and professional relationship with Dr. Craig Alan Bittner, a successful plastic surgeon to the stars who also offered liposuction to the fabulously wealthy out of his office in Beverly Hills. So intimate was the relationship between Smith and Bittner that he permitted her on occasion to perform body sculpting procedures on some of his patients, despite the state not having provided her with the licensure to engage in that activity.
Smith parlayed the money she was making with Bittner into a series of shrewd investments as the real estate market was on the rise. Rather than being undone by the financial downturn that began in 2007, Smith prospered. As real estate values plummeted and many property owners were in a full-fledged panic, Smith remained calm, swooping in to pick up properties others were bailing out of, paying fifty cents, then forty cents, then thirty cents on the dollar of what those same buildings had been selling for just a few years before. She tenantized those buildings with anyone who could pay something, hung on into the economic recovery that inevitably began in 2013, and today her company, Industrial Partners Group, owns two million square feet of industrial space, primarily in Southern California. Some of her warehouse space is utilized by national corporations. Other smaller but successful industrial concerns lease space from her. In recent years, more and more of her properties are being utilized for indoor marijuana cultivation activity.
Not far from downtown Los Angeles, a warehouse she owns was being used for growing marijuana. Authorities there raided it, seized the crop, and arrested an individual believed responsible for the operation. Smith was not arrested, though her company was the registered owner of the property.
In December 2017, San Bernardino Police made three raids on marijuana growing operations or warehouses in the city, all of which were on premises owned by Smith. They seized 25,000 marijuana plants at two locations and another 4.49 tons of marijuana at the third location. Though eight men were arrested and charged with cultivating marijuana in connection with those operations, Smith was not arrested, though she was briefly detained with regard to the raids.
In the same timeframe, authorities served a search warrant at her home, taking documents and communications devices.
Largely because of her money and her ability to afford legal representation, Smith has yet to be prosecuted, though local authorities and federal authorities consider her to be the head of an illegal marijuana cultivation, distribution and sales operation.
It is in this way that Smith has found herself at the center of an energetic advocacy for a liberalized and uniform policy with regard to marijuana as a commercial product in Southern California. By earnest and open lobbying of local officials to have them rethink and redraft their regulations such that marijuana and cannabis-products are recognized as legal commodities, it is Smith’s hope, and her legal teams’ belief, that her already known status as “California’s biggest cannabis landlord” can be legitimized. The path to acceptance of cannabis as a societal mainstay, Smith and her lawyers believe, is through the codification of regulations relating to the commercialization of the substance. Accordingly, they are doing everything in their power to write those codes, whether they are ratified by the various cities’ elected leaderships or voted into law by citizens at the ballot box.
Smith’s game plan is to ignore the suggestions that what she is doing is illegal, while relying on the declaration by voters with Propositions 64 that trafficking in marijuana is not only legal, but defensible on ethical, moral, health and economic grounds. In doing so, Smith and her lawyers have taken aim at the inconsistencies and constitutional violations in local ordinances.
In Colton, they have detected a built-in bias in the city’s code that gives limited advantage, a monopoly or so-called “duopoly,” to two favored entrepreneurs. The ordinance to be created by the initiative brought forth by Citizens for Good Jobs and Safe Communities would cure that situation, Smith and one of her lawyers, Ben Eilenberg, contend. At present, Colton prohibits entirely the retail sale of marijuana to end users, but the council in November did okay an ordinance giving city officials discretion to permit two cultivation facilities this year. Eilenberg says that is too limited. The initiative would allow more than two indoor agricultural operations in Colton, as long as they are in areas properly zoned for that use. The initiative would also permit retail sales in areas of the city zoned for such retail activity and where what Eilenberg termed a “setback” exists, meaning the operations are a specified and safe distance from conflicting uses, including schools, churches, residences and the like.
Eilenberg said the initiative contains a “tax component,” meaning the voters are being given the opportunity to approve the levying of delineated fees and taxes on the cannabis-related operations. He said a per-square foot levy on cultivation operations is specified and a percentage-of-net-sales tax is applicable to retail, manufacturing, packaging and distribution operations under the proposal.
The initiative effort in San Bernardino differs from that in Colton in some degree because of the botched initiatives relating to marijuana in the past, according to Eilenberg.
Even after the passage of 1996’s Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use of Marijuana Act, which allowed marijuana to be sold for medical purposes, San Bernardino, like virtually every other city in San Bernardino County, prohibited the sale of the drug. This did not prevent, however, the eventual emergence of entrepreneurs willing to run bootleg operations within city limits. Over the last eight or nine years, such enterprises began to proliferate, not only in San Bernardino, but elsewhere in the county, as the younger generation of marijuana consumers began to cast off the social and legal restrictions relating to the drug that had been in place in California and nationally from the time of their great-great grandfathers, and which their fathers’ generation, large elements of which were heavily steeped in the cannabis culture, simply accepted.
To a significant degree, the illicit medical marijuana dispensaries in San Bernardino County were fronts for the distribution of marijuana ultimately used for recreational purposes. With the initial wave of those illicit marijuana operations that in the 2008 to 2010 timeframe tested the resolve of the old guard and the then-status quo, local law enforcement agencies made a game effort to respond. Simultaneously, the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office and in some cases the offices of various city attorneys sought to keep up. By 2012, however, the sheer numbers of those willing to run the marijuana distribution restriction gauntlet had come to overwhelm local civil authorities. With cannabis use mushrooming, the district attorney’s office de-prioritized simple marijuana cases and delayed filing on or ultimately failed altogether to file on criminal cases relating to the operation of medical marijuana clinics, leaving such matters to be handled civilly.
In some case, well-heeled clinic operators put those cities through their paces, requiring vast expenditures in terms of resources, money and effort in shuttering dispensaries. In Upland, for example, the city spent upwards of $310,000 in its effort to close down a single dispensary – G3 Holistics – operated by Aaron Sandusky. In July 2014, San Bernardino City Attorney Gary Saenz, taking stock of the number of pot shops sprouting up in the county’s largest city, offered his view that the cost and difficulty of closing down dispensaries made the city’s ban on the enterprises that had existed since 2010 “futile.”
The council formed a legislative review committee composed of three council members to study the issue and promised to reconsider the ban. Saenz said the city was contemplating allowing some dispensaries to function under a strict set of guidelines that would include significant licensing fees. Nevertheless, a majority of the council, consisting of John Valdivia, Henry Nickel, Jim Mulvihill, Fred Shorett and Mayor Carey Davis, were unwilling to embrace cannabis liberalization. Ultimately, the political establishment, which had assumed that “potheads” lacked the discipline and cohesiveness to mount any kind of political effort, were stunned to learn that the cannabis availability advocates had managed the daunting task of gathering sufficient signatures to put an initiative on the ballot calling for allowing dispensaries to operate in the city.
Randy Welty, who owned, operated or had an interest in 54 marijuana dispensaries and eleven adult entertainment venues throughout California, took the opportunity to apply money of his own to get a more self-serving initiative on the ballot, one that would virtually assure he would be one the city’s marijuana entrepreneurs. Outmaneuvered by the potheads for whom they had such disdain, the council sought to catch up, putting its own commercial marijuana initiative on the ballot, one that had far greater restrictions and regulations built into it than either of the measures that had evolved organically from the city’s residents and cannabis promoters. When the three competing measures came before the city’s voters in November 2016, the city’s commercial cannabis-activity-permitting-and-regulating proposal, Measure P, went down to defeat, with 23,106 votes or 48.45 percent in favor and 24,583 votes or 51.55 percent in opposition. Besting Measure P was the proposal put forth by the city’s homegrown marijuana aficionados, Measure N, which garnered 24,048 votes or 51.1 percent, with 23,015 or 48.9 percent in opposition. That should have been good enough for passage, except that the outsider Welty’s proposal, Measure O, topped it, with 26,037 votes or 55.12 percent and 21,196 or 44.88 percent in opposition.
As the city was on track some three months later to give Welty a license to operate, Smith and her attorney, Eilenberg, stepped in and alleged that Measure O conferred an unfair advantage on Welty. Things were put on hold while Judge David Cohn considered the issue. As the city delayed, Welty, using his attorney, Roger Jon Diamond, sued the city.
In December 2017, Cohn ruled that Measure O indeed imposed on the city so-called “spot zoning,” which unfairly delineates certain properties as eligible for commercially intensive activity and grants advantages to the owners of those properties to the detriment of surrounding or nearby property owners, while simultaneously and not coincidentally creating a virtual marijuana sales monopoly for the sponsor of Measure O, i.e., Welty.
Though they had been outsmarted and outhustled at the ballot box, the establishmentarian members of the city council were able to utilize Judge Cohn’s ruling disqualifying Welty’s Measure O to take a second bite at the apple. In February, the council passed an ordinance of its own creation allowing a limited number of marijuana-related commercial businesses in San Bernardino to function on one-year duration permits that will be renewed or discontinued annually dependent upon whether their owners and operators comply with state and local law.
The ordinance allows up to 17 cannabis-based businesses within the 61.95-square mile city, and is intended to supersede Measure O. The ordinance as drafted sets a ratio of one cannabis-oriented business per 12,500 residents, which translates into a maximum of 17 marijuana concerns. What was not specified is the ratio to be maintained among the types of businesses – that is, dispensaries, cultivation facilities, research facilities and testing labs, and wholesale distribution warehouses. Under the ordinance, the city council has ultimate discretion in determining what kind and how many such businesses will be permitted.
What the city did is highly problematic, Eilenberg told the Sentinel.
Part of the problem, he said, is the milieu in which Measure O and its competing ordinances were hatched. Measure O, passed the night that Proposition 64 was approved by voters up and down the state, applied only to medical marijuana dispensaries, which meant it was obsolete the moment it was approved, Eilenberg contended, since recreational marijuana is now being sold legally. That Judge Cohn has invalidated Measure O, Eilenberg said, should mean that Measure N, which passed with the next number of votes in favor, should become law. Eilenberg pointed out, however, that a typographical error in the language of Measure N disallowed cannabis related operations rather than permitting them.
As with the Colton initiative, Eilenberg said, the intention with the San Bernardino initiative is to allow operations to flourish wherever the zoning for them is applicable and in numbers dictated by the readiness of those with venture capital to start such businesses applying for and receiving operating licenses. He said that limiting the number of cannabis-related businesses in the city carried with it the possibility of creating a monopoly. As in Colton, Eilenberg said, the initiative specifies proper setbacks from incompatible uses and imposes a taxing system in which agricultural uses are assessed a fee based upon square footage and other operators pay a flat percentage of gross sales.
The ordinance proposed under the initiative will also, if the initiative is passed, Eilenberg said, do away with an unconstitutional element contained in the city’s current ordinance which allows the city to deny a license to any individual who previously violated the city’s ban on operating a marijuana-based concern.
“That provision in the city’s ordinance violates the due process clause because it allows the city to disqualify without a hearing anyone from getting a licensed based on the city deciding the applicant was involved in unpermitted commercial cannabis operations in the past, either as an owner or operator or employee or even as a customer,” Eilenberg said.
The proposed initiative, Eilenberg said, “is a simple petition. It says that if a particular use is proper for the zoning and meets the setbacks, then it is permitted. The city has light industrial properties that are proper for all [cannabis-related ] uses. And this is an application where you will not need to go through a conditional use permit process.”
Eilenberg suggested that the city council has previously allowed its ideological bias against marijuana use in general to be a swaying factor in how the city has come to terms with the will of the electorate, which with regard to marijuana availability runs counter to its own, while using the flaws in the past measures related to marijuana sales in the city to shut the door on cannabis-based businesses entirely.
“The initiative is there to take the discretion out of the city’s hands,” Eilenberg said. “So far the city has not done a good job of interpreting and instituting the will of the voters.”
This week, San Bernardino city officials communicated with the group circulating the San Bernardino petition, informing them that they would need to submit all of the petition signatures at once and could not submit a first batch on Monday and continue to collect signatures thereafter, which if done would be a violation of Sections 9114 and 9115 of the California Election Code.
The San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office has initiated what Barstow police officers have been promised would be an expedited review of the April 5 shooting of Diante Yarber.
That review, the police officers have been assured, will conclude before District Attorney Mike Ramos leaves office in January with a finding that criminal charges against the involved officers are unwarranted.
Yarber, 26, who was at the wheel of a black Mustang and accompanied by three passengers in that vehicle in the Walmart parking lot at 301 Montara Road in Barstow around 10 a.m. on April 5, was shot and killed by four Barstow police officers, at least two of whom believed the vehicle to be stolen. The officers were attempting to stop the vehicle after a department dispatcher had broadcast that the department had received a call pertaining to a suspicious vehicle in the parking lot.
Accompanying Yarber in the Mustang were Marlin Hawkins, Mariana Tafoya and Wesley Yarber. Diante Yarber had driven to the Walmart to pick up someone who was shopping in the store. Accounts differ as to what occurred when police attempted to effectuate the stop.
According to a lawsuit filed by attorney S. Lee Merritt on behalf of Diante Yarber’s heirs, Hawkins, Tafoya and Wesley Yarber maintain that Diante Yarber was surprised when three police vehicles with their sirens blaring converged on him, and that he was uncertain as to why they were attempting to detain him. The trio recounted that Diante Yarber opened the driver’s side door of the Mustang, displaying his hands as he attempted to step out of the car.
“B[arstow] P[olice] D[epartment] officers [Jimmy Alfred] Walker, [Jose] Barrientos, [Vincent] Carrillo and [Matthew Allen] Helms drew their weapons and began to shout profanity and other violent threats at Yarber as he attempted to step out of the vehicle,” according to the lawsuit. “In fear of his life and the safety of the passengers, Yarber put his hands back into the vehicle and closed the door. The BPD officers began to take aim at the vehicle and shout threats, profanities and racial slurs. The front seat passenger recalls hearing “Nigger we will fucking kill you!” as officers pointed their weapons at the driver and passenger seats. In order to get out of the eminent (sic) line of fire, Hawkins alighted from the vehicle, opening the passenger door and leaping face down onto the ground. In fear of facing imminent death, Yarber attempted to slowly maneuver his vehicle away from the pointed guns of the officers by moving the car forward and then backwards into a space between the police vehicles. As Yarber’s vehicle slowly reversed away from police vehicles, without warning, Barstow police officers Walker, Barrientos, Carrillo and Helms, upon and information and belief, began to fire an estimated thirty rounds into the windshield and driver side door of the vehicle. Mr. Yarber was struck at least ten times by the barrage of bullets by the defendant officers. Two rounds entered Yarber’s chest, six rounds entered his left arm, one round entered his back, and another in the back of his right arm.”
In the initial aftermath of the shooting, the police insisted the action the officers had taken was both reasonable and justified. Yarber, police said, drove towards officers, almost hitting one and striking a patrol car. It was only then that the four officers opened fire on the Mustang, killing Yarber, according to the department.
The department simultaneously sought to illustrate that Yarber had a history of entanglements with the Barstow Police Department. Information with regard to Yarber’s criminal record was made public, as was a report that Barstow police had grounds to believe he was yet engaged in criminal activity at the time of the shooting. On April 23, the department posted to Facebook that Yarber was the same individual who ran away from officers in the 200 block of Yucca Avenue on March 18 following a traffic stop of a blue Hyundai that had been reported stolen. “The owner of the vehicle reported to police that Diante Yarber stole the vehicle on March 16, 2018,” the post states. “Based on this information, the Barstow Police Department issued a probable cause declaration for the arrest of Diante Yarber for the charges of Vehicle Code 10851(a) – Unlawful Taking of a Vehicle and VC 2800.2 – Evading Police.”
It was subsequently determined that the black Mustang in which Yarber was mortally wounded was owned by Yarber’s aunt and was not stolen.
Shortly thereafter the Barstow Police Department ceased commenting on the case, stating all relevant information had been passed along to the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, which was conducting an investigation of the shooting, including the review of video footage from at least three sources.
Initial statements from the sheriff’s department conveyed a presumption that the officers had acted reasonably under the circumstances.
“Officers believed the driver was a subject wanted for questioning in a recent crime involving a stolen vehicle,” according to a sheriff’s department release. “Officers attempted a traffic stop of the Mustang when the driver suddenly reversed the vehicle and struck one of the patrol cars. When the driver again accelerated toward the officers and struck a second patrol car, the officer-involved shooting occurred.”
In addition to the sheriff’s department investigation, the Barstow Police Department did its own internal affairs review of the shooting. Both the sheriff’s department’s findings and the Barstow Police department report, the latter of which exonerates the officers, are now in the hands of the district attorney’s office. While conveying that his office might yet detail its own investigators to do further examination of the shooting and the events surrounding it, District Attorney Mike Ramos, who was defeated in the June 5 contest for reelection as San Bernardino County’s top prosecutor, is committed to his office making a determination that there is no basis for a criminal case being brought against any of the officers.
When advocates for the police officers said they were concerned that a spate of bad publicity over the Yarber shooting, including the revelation that Ramos’s office had prosecuted Jimmy Walker over a 2010 off-duty incident involving his use of racial slurs and taunting a black couple, Ramos offered them an assurance that no charges would be filed against the officers on his watch and that the matter would be laid to rest before he left office, with a certified finding of justifiable homicide that could not be countermanded by Ramos’s successor as district attorney, Jason Anderson.
Walker was arrested on August 26, 2010 by sheriff’s deputies in Hesperia responding to a disturbance call in the 11200 block of Fifth Avenue outside a bar. Walker, who is white, allegedly assaulted a 32-year-old black man and a 31-year-old black woman at the scene. In the presence of the responding deputies, Walker, who was apparently intoxicated, directed racial epithets toward the man, calling him a “stupid fucking nigger.”
In November 2010, the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office charged Walker with one misdemeanor count of violating the man’s civil rights, two counts of battery and one count of disturbing the peace. He was charged under a provision of the law known as the hate crime statute that makes it unlawful to use force, threats or intimidation to interfere with another person’s rights because of disability, gender, nationality, race, religion or sexual orientation.
Walker, who joined the Barstow Police Department in May 2009 after working as a San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputy, was placed off duty by the police department pending resolution of the case against him.
On March 26, 2014, Walker, who had remained suspended from the department for much of the intervening time, consented to a plea arrangement in which he entered guilty pleas to misdemeanor charges of public intoxication and inciting a fight in exchange for the dismissal of the battery and hate crime charges. He was sentenced to 36 months of probation, ordered to pay $285 in court fees, required to make a $200 donation to the NAACP and to attend 24 Narcotics Anonymous meetings. He was officially fired by the department after the two convictions were recorded, but was later reinstated, with $163,403 in back pay after he contested the firing with the civil service commission and an administrative law judge ruled that because the action for which Walker was charged and convicted was a misdemeanor that occurred while he was off-duty and outside the City of Barstow, he had been wrongfully terminated.
Ramos said the nighttime 2010 Hesperia incident was irrelevant to the shooting that occurred during daylight hours this year. The district attorney said that any and all of the prosecutors in the pool of attorneys to whom the evaluation for prosecution could be given – including Deputy District Attorney Alberto Juan, Deputy District Attorney William Lee, Deputy District Attorney Sean Daugherty, Deputy District Attorney Lynette Grulke, Chief Deputy District Attorney Julie Peterson, Supervising Deputy District Attorney Steven P. Sinfield or Supervising Deputy District Attorney Simon Umscheid – could be counted upon to return a finding that the shooting was justified. He further averred that Assistant District Attorney Gary Roth and Assistant District Attorney Mary Ashley would ensure that no criminal charges would be leveled at the officers.
Chino Valley authorities last week collared two men believed to have used the access their professional or business activity gave them to underage individuals to sexually abuse minors.
On June 5, detectives with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department arrested and jailed 63-year-old David William Robinson of Chino Hills on suspicion of previous and continuing sexual activity with young boys. He was subsequently booked into West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga, where he was incarcerated in lieu of $350,000 bail. Bail was posted for him on Wednesday, June 6.
In May, the sheriff’s department, which serves in the capacity of the City of Chino Hills’ contract police department, was approached by a 21-year-old man who said he was molested on several occasions by Robinson in 2008 and 2009, when he was 11 and 12 years old. According to information available to the Sentinel, the boy at that time was being cared for at a licensed in-home daycare operation in Robinson’s home, which was active from 1993 until 2016.
Following up on the information, investigators were able to engage Robinson in what Robinson believed to be communications with a 14-year-old male juvenile. An arrangement by text to meet for indecent purposes was made and sustained across several phone contacts. All the while, Robinson had been led to believe those exchanges were with the youth, when actually a detective was sending and receiving the texts. When Robinson arrived at Riverside Drive and East End Avenue in Chino to meet the boy, he was arrested.
On June 6, Emil Remo, 44 of Moreno Valley, was arrested on the basis of information suggesting he had molested two girls he had provided private music lessons to in 2004 and 2006, while he was working as a music instructor at the KYR Music Studio in Chino, located at 14560 Pipeline Avenue.
Remo’s two known victims were at that time elementary school-aged students who were receiving private music lesson from him. Both victims are now the age of majority. Investigators have determined that Remo was as of last week still working as a music instructor in which he was providing in-home music lessons for home-schooled students.
Efforts are now being made to determine if there are others victimized by Remo living in the Chino environs.
Giant Rock, a large freestanding boulder in the Mojave Desert near Landers is both geologically notable and of historic significance.
Native Americans for thousands of years considered it a spiritual site, and they used it in their ceremonies and read in it foretellings of the future. Roughly seven stories high and covering some 5,800 square feet of surface area, it has been touted as the largest freestanding boulder in the world, though this is not confirmed by any known geologic survey.
In the 1930s, a German immigrant and miner named Frank Critzer met George Van Tassel, a high school dropout who had become a pilot despite his lack of a diploma and who eventually hired on with Hughes Aircraft, where he became close to Howard Hughes and often flew many of the eccentric millionaire’s experimental aircraft. Critzer had the mindset of a prospector, and was willing to endure trying conditions in inhospitable locations in the pursuit of ore. Critzer and Van Tassel became friends and at one point Van Tassel loaned Critzer $30 dollars to buy mining equipment. Critzer put the equipment to use in digging out a 400- square foot home for himself beneath Giant Rock. Despite the heat of the surrounding desert, Critzer’s abode was remarkably cool, even when temperatures outside pushed the mercury well past 110 Fahrenheit. When others living nearby approached the quarters Critzer had set up for himself, he became gruffly territorial, and would on occasion brandish a shotgun in an effort to ward off those he considered to be trespassers. He was also a radio enthusiast, and he set up a radio antenna on top of the rock for better reception and transmission.
The combination of his German extraction, his secretive nature, the radio antenna and ongoing World War II proved unfortunate for Critzer. Whispers that he was a spy made the rounds and on July 24, 1942, Sheriff Emmet Shay sent a team of his deputies to Giant Rock to make a raid on the cavern and bring the supposed Nazi in for questioning. The officers used tear gas in an effort to extricate the suspect. One of the canisters ignited a small store of dynamite Critzer had for mining and that was the end of him. In an illustration of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department’s tradition for self-serving economy with facts, it was disseminated that Critzer had perished in a self-detonated dynamite explosion in his room.
Van Tassel, as Critzer’s last friend, fell heir to his effects, which consisted primarily of the Giant Rock property. Involved as he was with Howard Hughes and in the aircraft industry, Van Tassel’s thinking moved along those lines and he resolved to use the land alongside the boulder for aeronautical purposes, reopening what had been an old military airfield at Giant Rock, giving it the name Giant Rock Airport. His wife opened a restaurant there, which became popular.
Van Tassel was something of an eccentric himself, and was an early exponent of the theory that extraterrestrial life has visited earth. In 1952 Tassel began holding meditation sessions in Critzer’s old home under the Giant Rock, believing that at that location he was receiving communication from alien sources. Van Tassel claimed he had been contacted telepathically by beings from outer space and that later he was transported an alien space ship, where he met a wise group of aliens known as the “Council of Seven Lights.” Among the instructions he was given, Van Tassel said, were instructions for the preservation of human cell tissue and the construction of a “rejuvenation machine.” The device was intended to ward off aging by stemming the naturally occurring gradual discharge of electricity from the human body. Van Tassel asserted Nikola Tesla had likewise plans for such a device, which he called the “Integratron.”
Staging convocations of UFO enthusiasts known as the “Giant Rock Spacecraft Conventions” on the property he inherited from Critzer for over 20 years, Van Tassel used the proceeds from those conventions as well as money provided by Howard Hughes to defray the cost of constructing the Integratron, a 38-foot high, 55-foot diameter, non-metallic structure. Plans for the Integratron were drawn up in 1954 and work on it began in 1957. It reached a habitable stage in 1959, but work continued on it for 34 more years, until Van Tassel’s death. A domed structure built without nails, Van Tassel claimed it was capable of collecting up to 50,000 volts of static electricity from the air in order to charge the human body. According to Van Tassel, the Integratron created strong “intermittent magnetic fields,” resulting in the generation of plasma in the form of a coronal discharge and negative air ionization inside the building. Van Tassel believed that every biological cell has a unique resonant electromagnetic frequency and that the Integratron was capable of “resonating” with the cell’s frequency to recharge a body’s cellular structure as if it were an electrical battery.
The Integratron yet stands, and is billed as providing those who enter into it with a “sound bath,” in which people are “exposed to harmonic sound frequencies” produced by quartz bowls, producing what is claimed to have a deep calming effect. It is said that the Integratron is an “acoustically perfect sound chamber.” The Integratron was added to the National Register of Historic Places in April 2018.
The conception of Giant Rock as a touchstone of prophecy was boosted near the turn of the Third Millennium. Hopi shamans at least as early as the 1920s said that the events of the 21st Century would be foretold at the Giant Rock, based on how the rock cracked. In February 2000, a huge chunk of the rock broke off. Spiritual leader Shri Naath Devi interpreted the break in a positive light: “The Mother had opened her arms to us, cracking open her heart for the whole world to see,” she said. Others have a less cosmic interpretation. They believe the break occurred because of the heat generated by a fire in the chamber beneath the rock in what was once Frank Critzer’s underground home.
Giant Rock can be reached by by traveling south from Lucerne Valley on Highway 247 to Reche Road in Landers, or traveling north from Yucca Valley on Highway 247. Take Reche Road to Belfield Blvd, left on Belfield until the pavement ends. To your right will be the Integratron. Go past the property, turn right and then immediately bear left on the well-graded dirt road. The dirt road will follow the edge of the jumbo rock pile about 2 miles. Follow around the end of the rock pile until Giant Rock comes into view. Be cautious. There are snakes in the area. Bring extra drinking water. Cellular service is available at the site.
There are no wolves to speak of in San Bernardino County or Southern California at present, outside of venues of strict captivity such as zoos. Indeed, they had been very rare or non-existent in California for some time, although in recent years they are making something of a comeback in the northern part of the state.
That is not to say they have never been among San Bernardino County’s fauna. S.P. Young and E.A. Goldman, in their 1944 tome The Wolves of North America, Their History, Life Habits, Economic Status, and Control, note there were a number of credible 19th Century written records of what were referred to as wolf sightings in California, which can be interpreted as evidence of such occurrences in the Golden State, including its southern half. Young and Goldman differ somewhat from the assessment of J. Grinnell, S. Dixon and M. Linsdale, who in their 1937 Fur-Bearing Animals of California offering for the University of California Publications in Zoology held that “Unquestionably wolves ranged regularly over the northeastern one-fourth of the state and south along the Sierra Nevada to Inyo County at least” and that it “is not unlikely” wolves roamed to the coast of northwest California, while asserting there is no credible evidence placing wolves “one hundred years ago in west central California or southern California west of the desert divides.”
Grinnell, Dixon and Linsdale report that on December 14, 1922, in eastern San Bernardino County near the old Barnett Mine 12 miles west of Lanfair in the Providence Mountains of the Mojave Desert, a fellow by the name of Watson trapped an adult male Southern Rocky Mountains wolf, C. I. youngi. The wolf was kept alive briefly and photographed. Its body has been preserved and can be viewed at the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at the University of California, Berkeley. Goldman in 1944 indicated his belief that particular wolf wandered into California from Nevada. Another wolf, an adult male Cascades Mountains wolf, C. I. fuscus, with three legs that was near starvation was taken alive by a trapper employed by the government, Frank W. Kaehler, on June 13, 1924 in Lassen County, one mile east of Litchfield. Grinnell, Dixon and Linsdale theorized that wolf made its way into California from either Oregon or northern Nevada.
For nearly four decades, those two were the last wolves documented as being in California.
On March 22, 1962 in a chicken yard at Woodlake near the boundary of Sequoia National Park in Tulare County, a wolf was shot. Some believe that specimen may have been an indication that that wolves yet inhabited remote areas of the southern Sierra Nevada. Others are less sure, and suggested that wolf might have been one that escaped from a human who had it as a pet.
According to Young, “The occurrence of the wolf in most of California has been rare.”
Throughout the 19th Century, wolves, like bears, were extirpated by Americans, who feared them for their ferocity and willingness to prey upon livestock.
It can be said with certainty that California’s wolf population dwindled precipitously in the mid-1800s, as there was a concerted effort to eradicate them in all areas inhabited by man. They were yet being killed and trapped, in ever smaller numbers in the late 1800s and the first decade of the 1900s. It is believed that California’s indigenous population of wolves was essentially extinct by 1890 and that those trapped or killed in California thereafter were unfortunate stragglers from Oregon and Nevada.
Until recently, the physical record of their presence in California ended with the three wolves earlier alluded to which were found in Lassen County and just west of the Providence Mountains in the early 1920s and the one shot in Tulare County.
There had been some questionable and unverified sightings, however, off and on since then, and some signs of the creatures, such as tracks. Biologists are not convinced of the validity of those, and they have indicated that what people have taken for wolves in nearly all of those cases were actually either large coyotes, wolf-dog hybrids or perhaps captive-bred wolves that escaped or were released.
Biologists further believe that many, though not all, of the historical accounts of wolves abounding in California by explorers and even trappers, as well as miners, pioneers and early settlers trappers were actually sightings of coyotes, which in much of their aspect, aside from their smaller size, resemble wolves.
In the last decade, gray wolves have been returning in minute, yet increasing numbers, to California. Those wolves are gradually moving further south. They are migrating back to the Golden State because, unlike a century to a century-and-a-half ago, there is not a premium on their slaughter. Rather, they are considered endangered, and killing them is an offense.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife is monitoring the recovery of the endangered species.
Roughly a decade ago, a male gray wolf from Oregon wandered into California. It is believed that since that time, as many as three dozen others have crossed into California, either from Oregon or Nevada.
Over the last two decades, as many as 100 or more wolves have come back to California in the northern Sierra.
Oregon state biologists have been relatively aggressive in tranquilizing wolves in the southern portion of that state – 54 to date to be precise – and outfitting the slumbering creatures with GPS transmitters by which they monitor their whereabouts and migratory patterns after they shake off the effects of the narcotic. As many as a dozen of those wolves have crossed over into California for at least a short period of time. Some have headed even further southward, progressing all the way through Siskiyou and Modoc counties, which are contiguous to Oregon’s south border, as far as Lassen County.
Two years ago, a female with which the male wolf that crossed into California in 2010 mated gave birth to a female. The male had been collared with a transponder and is known as OR-7. His daughter, likewise collared and being traced electronically, is designated OR-54. She has inherited her father’s wanderlust and has moved further southward. Whereas over the previous five years, no wolves had been detected to have gone any further south than Lassen County, OR-54 made it through Lassen County, into Plumas County, beyond Sierra County and all the way to Nevada County. She has not yet ventured to Placer County, the next southlying county in the Sierra Madre. South of Placer County is El Dorado County, which borders upon Alpine County. Alpine County presses up against Mono County, which is but a 250 mile hope, skip and a jump to San Bernardino County’s northern border.
Six wolves with radio collars are currently being tracked in Plumas or Lassen counties. At least two litters of wolf pups have been born in Lassen County.
Mr. Gutglueck heavily relied upon The Former Distribution of Grey Wolves In California by Ronald M. Jurek, as well as postings on the websites of both the California Department of Fish & Wildlife and the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife, together with a telephonic exchange with Michelle Dennehy of the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife in putting this narrative together.