By clicking on the blue portal below, you can download a PDF of the October 13 edition of the San Bernardino County Sentinel.
By Mark Gutglueck
From unexpected and unlikely sources, apparent support for the concept of separating the functions of the San Bernardino County auditor-controller/treasurer-tax collector surfaced last week when two members of San Bernardino County’s political establishment made comments in which it seemed they looked askance at the practice of having a single entity safeguarding the public treasury and simultaneously auditing the county’s accounts and its financial ledgers. The remarks in question came while San Bernardino County Assessor/Recorder/County Clerk Bob Dutton and California State Senator Mike Morrell were giving brief public presentations at the beginning of the San Bernardino City Council meeting on October 4.
Morrell was there to provide a legislative update. His 23rd Senatorial District stretches from Rancho Cucamonga, Phelan and Pinon Hills in San Bernardino County and Wrightwood in Los Angeles County on the northwest to Big Bear City and Big Bear Lake in San Bernardino County on the northeast and Cabazon and San Jacinto in Riverside County on the east and down to Hemet and Menifee in Riverside County at its southernmost extreme with all or some of the cities or communities of Banning, Beaumont, Cedar Glen, Calimesa, Cherry Valley, Crestline, Homeland, Highland, Lake Arrowhead, Loma Linda, Mentone, Nuevo, Redlands, San Bernardino, and Yucaipa in between.
Dutton was there to provide a report on the increase in property value in San Bernardino County that was a general trend in 2016 and which was officially recorded into the county rolls by his office as of July 1.
Neither Dutton nor Morell made direct reference to the merging of the treasurer-tax collector’s functions with those of auditor-controller, which was done by the county seven years ago. Nor did they make direct reference to the controversy over that merger. Nevertheless, their comments bore inferentially upon the controversy.
Traditionally in San Bernardino County and at least since the 1960s until the late 1990s, the offices of sheriff, marshal, coroner, treasurer-tax collector, assessor, and auditor-controller were separate offices, though the coroner had the additional title and duties of public administrator and the auditor-controller also functioned as the recorder and county clerk. In 1999, the county merged the sheriff’s department with the marshal’s office, a change that was criticized in some quarters because the marshal’s main function was to provide bailiffs and general security at the county’s courthouses, and the largest number of criminal defendants processed or undergoing trial within San Bernardino County’s courts are ones arrested by the sheriff’s department. The change gave the sheriff’s department the opportunity to control the circumstances under which those defendants were to present themselves to the court and to the juries deciding their fates. In 2005, the county merged the coroner/public administrator’s office into the sheriff’s department, making the sheriff the coroner. Again this was subject to some second guessing, as this made the coroner’s office an arm of a law enforcement agency when a significant number of that law enforcement agency’s most important investigative cases involved actual or suspected homicides. This carried with it the possibility or at least the suggestion that the independence, thoroughness, reliability, focus, competence and integrity of some of the sheriff’s department’s investigations and the operations of the coroner’s office might be compromised. In 2010, San Bernardino County undertook a reorganization of its governmental structure such that the office of the auditor-controller/recorder-clerk shed its recorder and clerk functions, transferring them to the assessor’s office, and the stand-alone treasurer-tax collector’s office was merged with the auditor/controller’s office. There ensued objections that the merger represented an unwise consolidation of duties in which a primary disadvantage consisted in having the county treasurer serving as a watchdog over himself. Thus one person was given the county’s ultimate monetary collection, depositing, investing, accounting, disbursing and financial oversight authority. The incumbent auditor-controller/recorder-clerk, Larry Walker, citing the justification that some other California counties had made similar consolidations, willingly went along with the elimination of individual and independent layers of accountability, motivated, perhaps, by the inducement of the $74,000 annual increase in salary assuming the new position meant to him personally.
The county moved ahead with the consolidation despite the consideration that less than a dozen years before, the-then incumbent treasurer-tax collector, Tom O’Donnell, who was San Bernardino County treasurer-tax collector from 1987 to 1998, had immersed himself in a series of kickback schemes and corruptions of his office in which he, the county’s investment officer, Sol Levin – whom O’Donnell had appointed – and two of the county’s top administrators, Harry Mays and James Hlawek, all participated. Ultimately, O’Donnell entered a guilty plea to accepting a $4,000 bribe and a 1997 trip to London in exchange for helping to steer government contracts worth $372,000 to a county consultant, Richard Tisdale.
In January 2016, a federal investigation into irregularities throughout San Bernardino County’s government structure following two decades in which at least 22 high ranking county officials had been indicted, charged, or convicted of corruption, embezzlement, bribery, extortion, fraud or graft in their official capacities was intensifying. One focus of that investigation spotlighted instances in which lapses in Walker’s oversight as county auditor had allowed questionable activity to flourish, as well as Walker’s 2010 hiring and elevation of Matt Brown into the position of assistant auditor-controller. Matt Brown had been the chief of staff to former county supervisor Paul Biane, who was indicted in May 2011 and charged with participating in a massive political corruption scheme, an element of which involved the laundering of what prosecutors alleged were bribes through a political action committee Brown had set up. Walker, who had been Chino mayor and a council member prior to being elected to the board of supervisors in 1986, remained in the supervisor’s post 12 years before running successfully for auditor-controller/recorder-county clerk in 1998. When he ran for reelection in 2014, he had indicated he intended to remain in the auditor-controller/treasurer-tax collector’s office for the full duration of the four-year term. But unexpectedly, with the FBI seemingly looking under every rock in the county, he announced his retirement just 13 months into his fourth term as auditor controller. Though the county made a show of inviting applications of those seeking to replace Walker, attracting 17 applicants for the position, the determination of who would succeed Walker was never in doubt. A cursory consideration determined that nine met the basic qualifications for the post, which entail either possessing a valid certification as a certified public accountant or having a four-year degree in accounting or its equivalent or at least three years’ experience in a senior fiscal management position with a public agency. The county then interviewed five of those nine, bypassing in doing so Ensen Mason, a certified public accountant who had run against Walker in 2010 on a platform which questioned the wisdom of the merging of the auditor-controller’s function with that of the treasurer-tax collector. That year, Mason garnered 52,445 votes or 29.06 percent to the 128,033 votes or 70.94 percent polled by Walker as the incumbent. In 2014 Mason ran against Walker once more, that time capturing 37,183 votes or 25.68 percent to Walker’s 107,620 votes or 74.32 percent.
As was widely anticipated, the board of supervisors chose Oscar Valdez, the assistant auditor-controller/treasurer-tax collector who had been recommended by Walker, to serve as the county’s auditor-controller/treasurer-tax collector.
In accepting the post, Valdez said publicly that he was “very honored and humbled” for “this opportunity” and the “confidence” being shown in him. “As the auditor controller treasurer tax collector I will make sure that this department is run with integrity, with independent judgment, also making sure we run this department with clear transparency and efficiency,” said Valdez.
Since taking office, Valdez has consistently ducked invitations to discuss the propriety of having one individual hold the auditor-controller and treasurer-tax collector titles and exercising the authority those roles call for.
Last Wednesday, before the San Bernardino City Council, Dutton, in referencing the assessor’s office’s function, said, “I have found that people really don’t understand what the assessor does. We actually go back – the office of the assessor, not this one here in San Bernardino County, but historically we go back – to 6000 BC, to the days of the Pharaohs. As a matter of fact, Matthew the Apostle was actually a tax assessor.”
Dutton then spoke to the overlap of authority in such positions and the incompatibility of office issue represented by one individual carrying out interlocking governmental tasks. “As civilization moved forward, we discovered that it was probably not such a good idea that you have one person determining the value of property and who owned it and also be the same person who collects it – the taxes – and determines what the tax amount is.”
Dutton then expanded upon how giving one individual dual powerful roles in government can create a conflict of interest which redounds to the detriment of the community. “Back in those good old days, the tax collector used to actually get paid a percentage for every dollar they collected in taxes,” Dutton said. “Sometimes the sheriff was actually the tax collector. So there’s been a lot of changes in the history of the assessor’s office. Here in California in 1849, when we adopted our constitution, we separated the two functions and the office of the assessor is required by state law – the State Constitution – to be an elected position. They wanted to make sure the people have a voice, even though it was not directly tied to taxation. The bottom line comes down to the assessed value of property has a bearing on the amount of taxes you will pay in the way of property tax. The way I look at my job – my function – is to make sure we are not over-assessing people, that people aren’t being over-assessed and therefore being overtaxed.”
Dutton’s presentation followed Senator Morrell’s. Morrell’s comments, taken in isolation, did not seem to have any bearing on the county auitor-controller/treasurer-tax collector consolidation controversy. Nevertheless, viewed in the light of what Dutton had said and taking the senator’s comments into consideration with respect to the context of the expansion of governmental authority, Morrell’s statement in retrospect seems to have some relevancy to the issue.
“What is happening is government is continuing to expand and what that is doing essentially is taking our rights away as people,” said Morell. “We’re supposed to be a government of, for and by the people governed by consent. It is very dangerous because Sacramento is growing. We’re growing in debt in the wrong way – taxes, taxes and more taxes. Since we are governed by consent, we’re the first nation that no longer needs to bow a knee to a king. We have the ability to elect our own leaders, so we have to exercise our civic responsibility vigorously and upgrade those people we send to represent us. I’d like to suggest to you that we need to make sure our elected officials, including me, rank the citizen above the state and make sure we remind our politicians that they’re public servants and not masters, and they work for us.”
Neither Dutton nor Morell nor their staff spoke to whether they had coordinated their statements and whether members of the public were interpreting their statements accurately in inferring they were referencing the tangle of authority that exists in the auditor-controller/treasurer-tax collector position.
Mason this week told the Sentinel, “To understand the issues involved with having four roles in one position, start by considering the role of the auditor. An auditor’s job is to offer an opinion on financial statements as well as reviewing internal controls of financial transactions. The opinion states whether the financial statements reflect what really happened and whether the internal controls are adequate. They’re the last line of defense in financial matters. Treasurers and tax collectors create the internal controls and originate the financial transactions. What you have in essence with this position is the check and balance being the same person. It would be like getting rid of Congress and giving the president the power to write laws. Then he signs the law providing a check on his own power. The controller is responsible for oversight of everything financial. That would be like getting rid of the Supreme Court and giving that power to the president as well.”
Mason continued, “That being said, is it reasonably possible to achieve proper checks and balances? It is. The way to do it would be to have four separate people responsible for each function and to ensure proper separation of the departments into their individual roles. There should be physical and rules-based separation. For example, it shouldn’t be permissible for the auditor to date the treasurer. The elected auditor-controller/treasurer-tax collector should ensure that those separations are in place and provide oversight of each of the four individuals. Is that occurring? I have no idea, but I don’t have a high degree of confidence. I am running for the position in 2018 and that would be my first order of business.”
Looking beyond the objections of the cities of Chino Hills and Diamond Bar, the City of Industry yesterday signaled its intention of proceeding with building a 450-megawatt solar project on the grounds of Tres Hermanos Ranch and perhaps a portion of the property that city owns in adjoining Tonner Canyon.
The action comes after growing tension and contention between the City of Industry and both Chino Hills and Diamond Bar, where 2,450-acre Tres Hermanos Ranch is located and straddles the Los Angeles County/San Bernardino County border.
The City of Industry first acquired the ranch in 1978 through a 12.1 million purchase by its redevelopment agency. For nearly four decades, there had been no effort to develop the property, though there was recurrent talk of Industry using it as the location of a reservoir. Pursuant to state legislation that closed out redevelopment agencies up and down the state in 2011, Industry lost direct control of the property, the fate of which passed into the dual hands of the successor agency to Industry Redevelopment Agency, which the City of Industry had attenuated control over, and the oversight board to the successor agency, which Industry did not directly control.
With Tres Hermanos’ rolling hillsides, canyon creeks and oak woodlands beside verdant pastures for cattle, not to mention the bobcats, mountain lions, skunks and opossum that proliferate there, many Chino Hills and Diamond Bar residents have come to assume that the ranch exists as a wildland preserve. In reality the property has been subject to sale and eventual intensified use and development all along. In 2015, indications that the property might be developed residentially were given when GH America and South Coast Communities made a $100 million offer on the property. The City of Industry tentatively matched that offer. There were reports that GH America and South Coast Communities would push forth with an effort to develop anywhere in the range from 10,000 to 15,000 residential units on the property. That was problematic, however, since 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.
City of Industry officials continued to play their cards close to vest, signaling that the city was interested in reacquiring the land for potential use as a location for a reservoir or utilities. In Chino Hills and Diamond Bar, officials stewed over the vagueness in the description of the proposals for the property. Meanwhile GH America and South Coast Communities upped their offer to $101 million, which was taken as a clear sign that an effort to develop the property residentially was inevitable. On the San Bernardino County side of the divide, in Chino Hills there was confidence that a voter approved initiative, 1999’s Measure U – which prohibits zone changes increasing density designated in the Chino Hills Specific Plan, the Chino Hills General Plan, the city’s zoning map, or any finalized development agreements without approval by a majority vote of the electorate of the city – would most likely prevent GH America and South Coast Communities or any other entity that acquired the property from carrying out a development plan as aggressive as the aforementioned 10,000 unit to 15,000 unit proposals.
On August 24, the City of Industry stole a march on everyone when it induced the oversight board to the Industry successor agency to sell all 2,450 acres to it for $41.65 million. The oversight board approved that action by a bare 4-3 majority. Industry officials declared that the city intended to use the land to build a solar farm and that they would also maintain open space on the property. The description given of the project was less than definitive, however. This heightened the already fever-pitch state of alert in Chino Hills and Diamond Bar, and the same day, August 24, that the oversight board consented to the $41.65 million sale, the City of Chino Hills made a challenge of the sale with the California Department of Finance. Diamond Bar followed four days later with its own request that the Department of Finance, which is officially tasked with approving the liquidation of the various redevelopment agencies’ assets under the law that rendered the state’s more than 400 redevelopment agencies out of existence, look into the matter. Both cities began to prepare legal action as well, utilizing a number of anticipated causes of action which included that the discounted sale of the property means that Chino Hills missed out on tax revenue in the neighborhood of $5 million and Diamond Bar likewise lost $2 million. Another issue to be raised in the suits is Industry’s action, apparently taken in closed sessions in 2016, which charted the solar project and made financial commitments to make it come about. Such action must be taken in an open public session. At its September 18 meeting, the Tres Hermanos Conservation Authority Board, which oversees a joint power authority that includes the cities of Diamond Bar and Chino Hills, resolved to begin preparing legal action of its own against the City of Industry.
Chino Hills and Diamond Bar officials were skeptical and distrustful on multiple fronts. They perceived the rumors being started about the 10,000 to 15,000 units being developed on the Tres Hermanos Ranch property as a ploy to stampede the citizenry in Chino Hills and Diamond Bar to accept as an alternative the development of the property as a massive solar farm in which virtually all of the land would be covered with solar arrays. Another issue was the report, hinted at by the City of Industry but never quite confirmed previously, that the solar farm would be designed to produce 447 megawatts. Based on calculations done by Chino Hills and Diamond Bar officials, to generate 447 megawatts would indeed require that a significant portion of the Tres Hermanos Ranch property, as well as some additional property in Tonner Canyon, be blanketed with solar panels. This was at a demonstrable variance from Industry officials’ claims that some of the property – indeed a considerable portion of it – would be preserved as open space. As Diamond Bar City Manager Dan Fox put it, “The problem is we have a way different definition of what open space is than does the City of Industry.”
When confronted with those concerns, City of Industry officials and those authorized to speak for the city ducked the question, saying they had yet to quantify the wattage to be produced by the facility. And they questioned what the basis was for the reports about how the land was to be used, which was essentially a confirmation that the city had not been forthcoming with regard to what its plans actually are.
Yesterday, October 12, City of Industry officials at last provided some level of clarity, giving approval to a 450-megawatt solar project. Ironically, that number was very close to the number put forth by Chino Hills and Diamond Bar officials, which just last week City of Industry officials were lambasting as “pure speculation.”
At issue are the concerns previously raised by Diamond Bar and Chino Hills officials, particularly the intensity of use and whether the commitment to achieve a 450-megawatt output will obviate the City of Industry’s claim that it will preserve some degree of open space on the property. At issue is what type of photovoltaic cells will be used and whether they will be mounted on arrays that will track with the sun. Available data indicates that to produce a single megawatt of power through the most efficient photovoltaic means, 100,000 square feet for just the arrays is required. Extra space, however, is needed for spacing between panels to prevent shadowing. In addition, space for other accessories and appurtenances is required. Thus, it is probably not realistic to expect to yield one megawatt of electricity on anything smaller than four acres. Given the contour of the property at Tres Hermanos Ranch, some grading would then be necessitated. Fencing and other facilities would further reduce the usability of all of the property. Nevertheless, assuming the most efficient of photovoltaic cells were to be used, it is theoretically possible that a solar farm on Tres Hermanos Ranch could generate 612 megawatts, if it were to be covered wall to wall with solar arrays. Under this calculation, if the 450 megawatt objective is achieved, roughly 73.5 percent of Tres Hermanos Ranch’s 2,450 acres – 1.801.4 acres – would need to be devoted to the footprint of the solar panels. This would leave some 648.6 acres of open space.
Saying their city has already spent $14 million on the proposal, Industry city officials voted to ratify a lease agreement and four amendments to an already existing agreement with La Jolla-based San Gabriel Valley Water and Power, which is now officially identified as the developer of the project. The action taken yesterday allows 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.
Industry Councilman Newell Ruggles abstained from the vote, saying he had not been provided with enough information on the project to make an informed decision.
Documentation in the agenda packet for Thursday’s meeting that was made publicly available 72 hours before the meeting provided the first comprehensive synopsis of the project, showing how advanced the planning has been. This runs counter to Industry officials’ previous claims that such specifics were not known. Moreover, it might establish the Industry City Council engaged in violations of the Brown Act – California’s open public meeting law – in that the preparations had to have been considered and ratified by the council some time ago, and no public notice of that action was ever given.
Acting on the information that became available on Monday, the cities of Chino Hills and Diamond Bar hastily drew up written objections to the original lease agreement and amendments. Chino Hills, through its attorney, Mark Hensley, called upon Industry officials to suspend payments to San Gabriel Valley Water and Power and put the project on hold pending a review of the project and its impacts under the auspices of the California Environmental Quality Act.
Chino Hills Mayor Ray Marquez told the Sentinel he thought Ruggles’ unwillingness to vote on the matter was revelatory. “I feel for their council,” Marquez said. “It seems they’re not getting all the information, even in closed session.”
Marquez said the City of Industry’s withholding of the information to this point was inexcusable.
“What took them so long to be transparent?” he asked.
Chino Hills and Diamond Bar would yet have land use authority on any project to be built. On the Chino Hills portion of the project, a zone change, variance and general plan amendment would need to be obtained to accommodate a solar project. The city council has the authority to grant those, but it would also have the authority to limit the project in terms of scope and intensity. One piece of leverage that the City of Industry possesses is that it could make the assertion that public purpose uses have to be accommodated, and that the solar farm is a public purpose use.
The Upland Police Department has cashiered two veteran officers, including a captain with 29-year’s experience who up until six months ago was the highest ranking officer in the department below the police chief.
The sackings come as the result of apparently deep-seated personal differences between the chief of police, Brian Johnson, and both captain Anthony Yoakum and sergeant Marc Simpson.
What occurred played out against the backdrop of a municipal police department steeped in the tradition and ethos of loyalty up and down the chain of command in which officers have been rewarded for their career-long commitment to the City of Gracious Living and its department with promotions from within. Johnson cut across that grain. Having spent the previous 26 years rising through the ranks with the Los Angeles Police Department before he was hired in March 2015 as the full time successor to former police chief Jeff Mendenhall, Johnson vaulted into a command position over more than five dozen men with greater, and in several instances far greater, experience and knowledge of the streets and institutions of Upland than he did. Two of those were Yoakum, a 29-year department member who at one point had risen to become Johnson’s second-in-command in charge of operations, and Simpson, a 23-year member of the department who was the Upland Police Officer Management Association president.
Johnson appears to have outmaneuvered Yoakum and Simpson, functioning from a position of strength on the basis of his authority as police chief and with the solid backing of the city manager and city council.
At the outset of his tenure in Upland, Johnson strove to establish good relations with all members of the city council, despite the sometimes spirited differences between several of its members who were in place when he was hired. Johnson was lauded by many of the city’s outspoken residents and other department outsiders who reside or own businesses in Upland for his having prompted stepped-up patrol and enforcement activity upon taking the department’s helm. And with only a few false steps that were predictable in a newcomer, he seemed to navigate around the potentially hazardous political whirlpools in Upland.
One of those political hornets nests consisted of a seemingly insoluble dilemma brought on by Upland having the dubious distinction of hosting the county’s third largest homeless population despite being the tenth largest city population-wise overall among the county’s 24 incorporated municipalities. Another was the contentious, indeed often vituperative, battle over vice activity in Upland, which consisted of the proliferation of brothels under the guise of massage parlors and adult entertainment venues, unlicensed gambling operations in various venues including residences, and a brisk trade in all order of narcotics.
Before Johnson’s arrival, sharp differences had manifested between citizens intent on ensuring the availability of marijuana to those using it for medical purposes and others conversely determined to perpetuate Upland as a municipality in which medical marijuana dispensaries were banned. This battle between the strict marijuana prohibitionists and those at the forefront of the rapidly unfolding era of cannabis tolerance that came to ultimate fruition with the passage of the recreational marijuana use legalizing Proposition 64 in November 2016 was made more treacherous still by yet another Upland peculiarity. While by municipal ordinance the operation of medical marijuana dispensaries were prohibited in Upland, would-be marijuana entrepreneur after another cropped up in the city, willing to set up shop and test the city’s resolve, profiting in the interim until the city and its code enforcement division succeeded in spotting them, mounting an operation to target them, citing them and closing them down. Thus, the life expectancy of a marijuana clinic in Upland might run anywhere from a few weeks to several months, while its owner/operator might reasonably expect to make sales in excess of $100,000. One clinic, however, that one known as Captain Jack’s run by vice kingpin Randy Welty, the wealthy de facto owner of the Tropical Lei nightclub at the gateway into Upland and San Bernardino County on Route 66/Foothill Boulevard near the city limits/Claremont border, has remained in continuous operation at its location adjacent to the Tropical Lei for well over five years. Despite the city’s willingness to aggressively shutter other marijuana operations, its officials, ranging from the city council to city management, to the city’s community development and code enforcement divisions and its police department simply do not have the will and/or wherewithal to take on Welty’s operation.
Adroitly, Johnson chose very early on what public battles he would join and which ones he would not. Some major property owners and proprietors of commercial or professional concerns that are in highly visible and publicly accessible locales said they were under siege by the homeless population who were squatting upon their land. Johnson was responsive to them, endeavoring to have his officers run the vagrants off. While that gained for him the support of some wealthy, influential and vocal business interests, he simultaneously moved to effectively blunt the criticism of the department being made by homeless advocates by making an ostentatious show of compassion toward many of those unsheltered living in the city, cooperating with the incipient homeless assistance programs that were sprouting up, assigning two officers, at least temporarily, to function as homeless population liaisons, and supporting other efforts in that vein, in particular programs aimed at finding homes for homeless military veterans. From time to time, his department moved against the illicit sex trade being run out of certain establishments. Upon doing so, he had his department issue press releases to bring attention to the action, always emphasizing that the efforts were aimed at eradicating, or at least reducing, the scourge of human trafficking. And he played it politically safe, or relatively so, on the marijuana issue. He became an ally of that faction working to maintain the city’s existing ban on the operation of marijuana clinics. He also continued to enforce that ban, with the lone exception of continuing to honor the hands-off treatment of Welty, about whom there persisted reports of underworld connections that might prove nettlesome to those who interfered with him, and who was known to employ some topflight attorneys capable of embroiling the city in litigation if enforcement action against him was taken.
Thus, externally, Johnson appeared, and yet appears, to be in good shape. Rather it is internally, within the police department, that Johnson faced his greatest challenges. In the aftermath of Mendenhall’s retirement in December 2014, Captain Ken Bonson, a 30-year veteran, had assumed the position of acting police chief. Bonson had been in the running to accede to the position of chief. A year after he was passed over in favor of Johnson, Bonson retired. Johnson was the first Upland police chief not to have promoted to the top spot from within the department in over 70 years. The last time an outsider took over was in 1941, when Eugene Mueller was persuaded to leave the Pasadena Police Department to become Upland police chief.
Aside from being an outsider, Johnson faced some other challenges. Years of too-generous salaries and commitments to even more generous pensions when those employees retired drove the city to the brink of bankruptcy by 2011. In response, the city began to shed staff positions across the board. In the single month of June 2011, the city handed out pink slips to 27 municipal employees. City officials said they would seek to spare the police and fire departments from those reductions, but by 2015, the police department had 70 positions for sworn police officers funded, with four vacancies. Ten years before, it had 91 officers.
Johnson enjoyed something of a honeymoon, which lasted for close to a year. By early 2016, while there were few outward indicators of dissent within the ranks, discontent among officers was growing.
Early this summer, the Sentinel received a letter from an anonymous source, one clearly identifiable as a sworn member of the department, who claimed to be “writing on behalf of the men and women of the Upland Police Department.” The letter states that within the department “the work climate has been extremely bad” and that Johnson “has lied to us, lied to the public and committed several violations of the law in his short time as chief.”
According to the letter, officers became alarmed about Johnson consigning department personnel to engage in political activity and use department resources to thwart a signature gathering effort by some Upland residents to put an initiative relating to medical marijuana on the ballot. Three of the five members of the city council were strongly opposed to permitting marijuana sales in the city.
“In 2016, Johnson learned of the existence of a marijuana initiative that was gathering signatures to legalize the sale of marijuana in the City of Upland,” the letter states. “He ordered the detective bureau to go out on a Saturday and do surveillance of signature gatherers in front of local stores. Johnson wanted detectives to contact the signature gatherers and ask them about the initiative they were supporting to see if they would lie about the facts. When questions were asked of Johnson about the legality of the police being involved in election issues, Johnson got extremely mad that he would be questioned.” According to the letter, even though legal clearance was provided for the continuation of the operation, a review of the more than 3,700 signatures that were gathered on the petitions “involved hundreds of man hours that were taken away from investigating crimes in the City of Upland. In the end it was learned that even if the signatures were fraudulent they could not be removed from the count by law. This was a huge waste of time and in the end cost the city tens of thousands of dollars in wasted investigation hours. We still question the perception that is created when the police are involved with an election. It seems shady to us that we would be drawn into an election investigation to try to sway the outcome in the city’s favor.”
On other occasions, according to the letter, Johnson had allowed his personal crusade against marijuana use to overreach the limit of the law and potentially put the city into legal risk, and both himself and members of the department into harm’s way. “Johnson spearheaded a campaign to eradicate marijuana dispensaries from the City of Upland,” the letter states. “Several administrative warrants were served on dispensaries and Johnson told the officers to take everything from the dispensaries – marijuana but also every piece of furniture, display shelves, cash, office supplies etc. On January 18, 2017 a warrant was served at a dispensary at 1600 W. 9th Street (Case #17018018) and once again all property was taken. The next day we learned the dispensary opened up again and Johnson was furious. Another warrant was obtained and the plan was to serve it the following Monday or Tuesday when manpower was available. Johnson could not wait and on January 21, 2017 he went to the dispensary by himself and detained everyone inside at gunpoint (Case #17021018). Johnson was now by himself with a room full of people and did not know what to do. He requested several police units respond code 3 (lights and sirens) to assist him with the emergency he had just created. This tied up at least 6 units plus the supervisors, which left the city with no police coverage for several hours. The on-call detectives were called in from home and paid overtime at a very expensive hourly rate to clean up the mess. Johnson had at least six people detained and handcuffed. They were transported to Upland PD and put in jail cells. Johnson was then trying to figure out what he could arrest them for and was asking the detectives on scene if he could arrest them for violation of a court order, as there was a court injunction against the dispensary prohibiting their operation. He was told ‘No,’ because there was no proof the people who were detained knew about the injunction. Johnson was told by detectives and supervisors as well as a captain who was there that the people could not be arrested. Johnson detained the people for about eight hours and decided to book them on a misdemeanor violation of the Upland Municipal Code pertaining to operating a dispensary within 1,000 feet of a school. The issue is that our municipal code states that no one shall be physically arrested for these violations. Johnson ordered officers to book them anyway and convinced the jail to take the arrestees. The supervisors on scene did not agree with what happened and even stated that any of us would have been fired for doing what Johnson just did. The detention of the individuals was a clear violation of the Constitution and the booking was a violation of police department policy. During a meeting with detectives in March of 2017 Johnson was informed that no arrests could be made for violations of the Upland Municipal Code. He said he was changing that immediately, which he does not have the authority to do.”
Another Upland officer indicated that Johnson’s action on January 21, 2017 at the 1600 W. 9th Street dispensary was for many of his colleagues the last straw. “Chief Johnson had previously been to the dispensary during a warrant service and was aware there was an armed security guard protecting the business,” the officer said. “As with all dispensaries the entry and exit are controlled by an electronic locking door. The lock is manually controlled by the security guard. Without notifying any of the officers on duty or dispatch of his intentions, Chief Johnson walked into the dispensary and at gunpoint ordered every person in the business to the ground. He then contacted the Upland Police Department dispatch and asked for units to respond to assist him. Chief Johnson was not able to give his correct location and was only able to say he was at 9th and Benson. It was at this point that Chief Johnson realized that he was locked inside of the business. He requested units to respond with their lights and sirens to assist him. The first officer on scene, officer [Anthony] Kabayan, attempted to kick the door down because he was not able to gain entry into the business. Chief Johnson, realizing his mistake, was able to open the door and allow officers into the business. The officers on scene, including a patrol sergeant, the watch commander and the patrol division commander, were all extremely concerned with Chief Johnson’s tactics. The concerns were a lack of communication; lack of situational awareness; not taking into account that since he was not easily identifiable as a police officer that the security guard could have easily thought that the business was being robbed, thus resulting in an armed confrontation. His actions violated every officer safety protocol that first year officers are aware of. In addition, he placed the officers responding to the location and citizens at danger.”
According to the officer, “Initially, Chief Johnson wanted to arrest all of the employees for several penal code violations. He had to be told several times that the codes that he wanted to arrest for we’re not applicable. The on-scene officers, some with as little as a year on the force, didn’t want to be involved because they knew Chief Johnson had created an ethical dilemma for them. The problem: obey the chief and risk a violation of rights or question the chief and risk termination.”
The officer said, “Initially, Chief Johnson refused to write a report detailing his actions. Instead he gave his statement to Officer Kabayan. The report written by Officer Kabayan was unsatisfactory, according to the detectives handling the investigation. They requested Chief Johnson write a report. Eventually after seeking advice from the city attorney, Chief Johnson agreed to write a report. Chief Johnson never completed the report and placed it in the department’s report writing database. The case, minus Chief Johnson’s report, was initially submitted to the district attorney’s office. Realizing the numerous errors, a detective had to quickly take the case back from the DA. The arrest of approximately six citizens at the dispensary was never filed with the district attorney and no charges were ever filed because of Chief Johnson’s numerous tactical errors and ethical violations.”
According to the letter, Johnson has abridged the rights of subjects through illegal searches and seizures. “A month or so after the warrant service on the dispensary, Johnson asked for a laptop computer and a DVR from the surveillance system be brought to him from evidence,” the letter states. “He had our IT people make copies of the contents of those items. This is an illegal search under the Fourth Amendment and it violates SB 178, which is a 2016 law governing the search of electronic items. A separate search warrant is required to search these items and could not have been obtained because the original crime was a misdemeanor. That is not one of the misdemeanor exceptions for the issuance of a search warrant.”
According to the letter, Johnson cavalierly took possession of equipment belonging to a rental company that an electrical contractor was using at a site where renovation work that was not authorized by the city was taking place.
“An expensive generator on a trailer was impounded during a warrant service at the old Buffalo Inn, located at 1814 W. Foothill Blvd,” the letter states. “The generator was rented by an electrician while he was updating the breaker box and the rental company was unaware of the use of their equipment at an illegal business. When Johnson was asked under what authority we were taking the generator, he replied, ‘Everyone is gonna feel the pain.’ Johnson was told by other supervisors that he could not impound the equipment. That piece of equipment was worth about $100,000 and was impounded at UPD for several weeks until the rental business started lawsuit proceedings against the police department. The generator was returned to the owner about a month later. This is just one example of Johnson’s reckless behavior.”
One of the officers told the Sentinel, “It is common knowledge within the rank-and-file that Chief Johnson is just an administrator and lacks basic law-enforcement skills. It has been said numerous times that Chief Johnson has theoretical knowledge of police work and very little practical application of law-enforcement.”
In March, detective Lon Teague, who has been with the department for 21 years and is the president of the Upland Police Officers Association, and Marc Simpson, in his capacity as the head of the Upland Police Management Association, approached acting Upland City Manager Martin Thouvenell, who had been Upland police chief from 1988 until 2005 and had been a member of the three-person panel that had evaluated the police chief candidates in 2015 and recommended that Johnson be selected. Teague and Simpson asked Thouvenell to undertake an examination/investigation of Johnson’s conduct and address the concerns of several officers with regard to policy and procedures propounded by the police chief. At issue were more than ten complaints against Johnson, a primary one of which was his conduct on January 21 in initiating on his own and without any forewarning, assistance or back-up an operation at the 1600 West 9th Street dispensary.
Teague also contacted the city’s human resources director with regard to those concerns, and expressed the view that seeking to have the issues addressed within the confines of the police department’s senior staff, which included Johnson, would have little prospect of success. Thouvenell retained an investigative firm to look into the issues raised by Teague and Simpson. Based upon the findings of the investigation, Thouvenell elected to take no action against Johnson, other than having the police chief submit to what one officer said was “a minor informal counseling session.”
Roughly four weeks after Teague and Simpson approached Thouvenell, Johnson opened an internal affairs investigation on Teague. Simultaneously, he put Yoakum and Simpson on administrative leave, pending termination. Some five months later, i.e., within the last fortnight, Yoakum and Simpson’s severance from the department has been completed.
One unconfirmed report which came to the Sentinel from a source outside the department is that both Yoakum and Simpson invoked the so-called Skelly process in which they were apprised in detail of the grounds being cited by Johnson for their termination, and that both challenged the justification for the firings on factual and procedural grounds. According to that report, both were able to establish that the narrative behind the grounds as well as the justification given for terminating them was subjected to considerable contradiction. Nevertheless, according to the report, their termination was ratified on the grounds that each of their working relationships with Johnson had deteriorated to the point that they were no longer salvageable. According to the report, Yoakum and Simpson were separated from the department but a provision was made to adjust their retirement benefits so that the formula for their pensions they will be eligible to receive at age 55 will reflect that they accrued the same number of working years with the department had they remained employed until reaching minimum retirement age. The Sentinel was not able to confirm that report before going to press.
Repeated efforts to reach Johnson had not garnered a response by press time today. A call made today to Lieutenant Marcelo Blanco, who serves as a spokesman for the department, was fielded by another officer who said Blanco would not be available until Monday.
A pyromaniac seeking assistance with his compulsion at the San Bernardino County Department of Behavioral Health’s Victor Valley mental health clinic became upset and set himself afire Tuesday morning.
According to reports, Sean Eugene Flores was in the San Bernardino County Department of Behavioral Health’s Victor Valley Behavioral Health Center, located at 12625 Hesperia Road in Victorville after 9 a.m. on October 10.
For a reason that is yet unclear, Flores felt put out over some aspect of his interaction with a counselor. He went into a restroom at the facility, disabled a smoke detector and lit himself and a paper dispenser on fire.
Flores sustained injuries. Almost immediately, possibly because of Flores’ scream of agony from the burns he was sustaining, employees and patients at the center were aware of the fire. A call, which was initially logged as a report of a commercial structure fire, came into the dispatch center for the San Bernardino County Fire Department at 9:54 a.m. By 9:55 a call was relayed to firefighters who were dispatched immediately to the location.
Upon arriving, firefighters facilitated the evacuation of patients and staff, and quickly determined that the fire was contained entirely within the restroom. The flames were quickly knocked down.
Flores was taken to a local hospital for treatment. He was subsequently arrested on suspicion of arson.
Patients were temporarily moved into the center’s clubhouse building, located next door. The incident resulted in the cancellation of ongoing appointments and ones scheduled for later that day. By the following day, the center was operating on its normal schedule.
Flores was put into a specialized ward at the High Desert Detention Center, where he is being held in lieu of $250,000 bail.
San Bernardino County Counsel Jean-Rene Basle, who has been San Bernardino County’s top in-house attorney since 2010, has announced his plans to retire upon the board of supervisors naming his replacement.
Basle, who has been practicing law in California since 1988 when he passed the California Bar exam, began with the office of San Bernardino County Counsel the following year. He will be 59 in December.
Basle said, “It has been an honor working for the board of supervisors, the administrative office, and the various county departments, and a privilege to have worked alongside county counsel staff, all of whom are exceptionally professional, talented, and dedicated to serving the elected representatives of San Bernardino County.”
Basle replaced Ruth Stringer as county counsel in October 2010, two weeks after members of the board of supervisors learned that she had reported to the district attorney’s office confidential information she had picked up during closed session discussions of the board of supervisors. Stringer’s action, taken without prior direction from or a vote by the board of supervisors, touched off an internal board discussion about the propriety of what Stringer had done and whether it violated attorney-client privilege.
Stringer sought to justify her action by claiming that as an officer of the court she was compelled to report malfeasance upon learning of it, irrespective of her position as the legal representative of the board of supervisors.
Former supervisor Bill Postmus had been criminally charged with multiple counts of political corruption in February 2010, including conspiracy, bribery, misappropriation of public funds, fraud, perjury and conflict of interest. In March 2011 he pleaded guilty to all of those charges.
Stringer’s dilemma was a classic one for attorneys: Should she remain loyal to her client(s), even in the face of knowing that her client(s) were violating the law and that by remaining loyal she would very likely be assisting one or more of them in perpetuating further wrongdoing? As a public attorney, Stringer’s dilemma ran deeper. Just who was or were her client(s)? Were her clients the elected members of the board of supervisors? Or were her clients the voters who had elected the board of supervisors? In her decision to cooperate with the district attorney’s office, Stringer made a tacit decision to be loyal to the voters rather than those the voters elected. This did not sit well with some of the members of the board of supervisors.
With several members of the board having lost confidence in Stringer and at least one of its members contemplating filing a complaint for breach of privilege with the state bar against her, then-county executive officer Greg Devereaux worked out a deal under which the county conferred on her one year’s severance pay and she agreed to leave the county’s employ.
The board elevated Basle to take Stringer’s place. Stringer’s experience was an object lesson for Basle. Whereas Stringer was of the philosophy that she represented the people of San Bernardino County, Basle took the opposite approach, proceeding on the premise that his clients were the board of supervisors, that his first loyalty was to them and that whenever the board of supervisors had a conflict with any other entity or interest, be it governmental, corporate or the citizens the board represented, he was to do the board’s bidding and rely upon their wisdom and enable them to engage in whatever action they deemed appropriate in accordance with that wisdom. Throughout his tenure, Basle showed remarkable loyalty to the board. When questions arose over the legality and propriety of the board’s policy of hiring elected officials representing governmental entities within a given board member’s respective district, Basle did nothing to prevent the practice. Similarly, Basle made no effort to countermand or question the board’s policy of allowing a single personage to serve as the county’s treasurer, tax collector, auditor and controller.
Basle was given high marks by the members of the board. He was roundly praised by supervisors Robert Lovingood, the board chairman; Josie Gonzales, a past chairwoman; and Janice Rutherford, also a past board chairwoman.
Victorville, which has grown to become the fifth most populous of San Bernardino County’s 24 incorporated municipalities, finds itself in the midst of a curious political maelstrom this off-election year.
While Victorville’s municipal elections in which city council members are chosen are normally held in even numbered years and correspond with the general elections in which the gubernatorial and presidential elections take place, a political action committee earlier this year qualified a citywide initiative for the ballot, Measure K. Measure K, if passed, would levy a half cent sales tax within the city, the revenue from which, its language says, would be earmarked for public safety programs.
That it is going before voters in an odd-numbered off-election cycle year is not the only remarkable thing about Measure K. One group that would logically seem to be a natural supporter of the measure, the union representing the county’s firefighters, is not only opposed to Measure K, but is spearheading the effort to keep it from passing.
Measure K is sponsored by the Quality of Life Coalition, a political action committee that counts among its members prime movers in the development industry and Michael W. McKinney, an Irvine-based political consultant and the proprietor of MICA PR and Capitol Core Group, Inc. McKinney has run several successful and a few failed campaigns in San Bernardino and Orange Counties on behalf of federal, state and local candidates as well as initiatives, and recall campaigns to remove targeted office holders. McKinney was at one point, through his company MICA PR, the chief of staff to San Bernardino Mayor Carey Davis.
The Quality of Life Coalition maintains that Measure K, if passed, will generate somewhere in the neighborhood of $8.5 million yearly, which would come into Victorville’s municipal coffers with the proviso that the money can be spent only on public safety issues, meaning the fire department, the city’s paramedic program and law enforcement. At present, Victorville contracts with both the county fire department and the county sheriff’s department for fire safety and police services. As such, Measure K’s tax override would enhance services and safety in Victorville, its proponents have asserted, and that convinced the members of the Victorville City Council to endorse it.
Nevertheless, Measure K faces an uphill climb. It is one of the peculiarities of the California election code that simple tax measures which provide money to a governmental entity so its officials can do with that money as they wish and with no direction on exactly how that money is to be spent need garner only a simple majority of those to be taxed to pass. A taxing measure that is earmarked for a specific purpose, however, in which the governmental entity that receives the revenue is constrained from using the money it for any other purpose than that designated by the voters can be put in effect only if it passes with a two-thirds majority vote.
Thus Measure K must garner at least 66.667 percent of the vote on November 7 to pass. Added to that is the opposition of the Professional Firefighters Union Local 935, which represents the county’s firefighters.
While nine of the county’s cities – Montclair, Ontario, Rancho Cucamonga, Rialto, Colton, Loma Linda, Big Bear, Barstow and Apple Valley – have their own municipal or community fire departments and Chino and Chino Hills are served by their joint Chino Valley Fire Department, 13 of the county’s cities obtain their fire protection service from the county. Some have arranged to get that service under a contract. More recently there has been a trend toward annexing the entirety of a city into a county fire service zone. Such annexations bring with them a tax assessment – usually in the range of $135 to $155 annually on every parcel within those cities. Within the last three years, four county cities – San Bernardino, Needles, Twentynine Palms and Upland – have shed their local fire departments and been placed – through an application by those cities’ city councils with the San Bernardino County Local Agency Formation Commission – into such an assessment zone. In all of those cases, there was significant citizen discontent at the changeover.
At present, the City of Victorville contracts with the county for the service provided by the county fire department outside the regime of a fire safety service assessment zone.
The Measure K proposal has made for some curious political bedfellows. A major backer of Measure K in the form of being a primary financial source to the Quality of Life Coalition is the Building Industry Association. Indeed, many consider the Quality of Life Coalition to be a thinly disguised political arm of the Building Industry Association.
In 2014, Victorville Councilman Jim Kennedy, who was first elected to the council in 2010 and therefore had to stand for reelection that year, was blindsided by a blitz of political “hit pieces,” i.e., mailers and handbills that landed in voters’ mailboxes in the closing two weeks of the campaign and which excoriated him in a clear attempt to ruin his reelection chances. One of those strongly implied that Kennedy was on the verge of being indicted by a federal grand jury or being charged by the U.S. Attorney for his participation in graft and corruption. Under Kennedy’s watch, the hit piece said, the City of Victorville had squandered, lost or otherwise misappropriated $250 million, resulting in an “F.B.I. Probe.” Three years later, Kennedy has yet to be charged. A scrupulous examination of the funding trail on the mailers demonstrated that it was the Building Industry Association – using the Quality of Life Coalition – behind the hit pieces. Kennedy pretty much suffered the political broadside in silence, and managed to hang on in the 2014 campaign and get reelected despite the below-the-belt punches he sustained at the hands of the Building Industry Association and the Quality of Life Coalition. Jim Cox, however, who was the longest serving city manager in Victorville history before he ran successfully for city council in 2012 and thereupon became Kennedy’s closest ally on the council, did not remain supine in the face of the attacks on Kennedy. Cox took the Quality of Life Coalition, the Building Industry Association and Building Industry Association President Carlos Rodriguez to task for what they did. “I’ve been involved in government for over 40 years,” Cox said at the time. “These are the dirtiest political tactics I’ve ever seen.” He said what the Building Industry Association and Rodriguez had done went beyond maligning Kennedy and was tearing down the city. “The FBI is not investigating the city. Our budget is balanced,” he insisted.
Three years later, Kennedy and Cox find themselves in league with the Building Industry and Rodriquez. Kennedy said the council and city staff are in fact pinning their hopes on the Quality of Life Coalition making Measure K succeed. He suggested that if the measure doesn’t pass, it is practically inevitable that the City of Victorville will annex into county fire’s Service Zone FP-5 as did San Bernardino, Needles, Twentynine Palms and Upland, and that each of owners the city’s 37,884 parcels will be levied with a $153 annual assessment on top of the property tax they are already paying.
Professional Firefighters Union Local 935 is opposed to Measure K, its officials say, because despite the consideration that its revenues will be earmarked for “public safety,” the language in the measure is not specific about how that money will be apportioned between law enforcement and fire service, and the lion’s share of that money will go to bumping up the number of sheriff’s deputies assigned to the city. Moreover, they say, Measure K’s passage is likely to embolden city leaders, who have already made overtures about potentially contracting with other entities such as the Apple Valley Fire Protection District or the California Division of Forestry’s firefighting arm, known as CALFIRE, to consider closing out the city’s relationship with the county fire department entirely and forming a municipal fire department of its own.
The Quality of Life Coalition maintains that for those who count – Victorville’s residents – Measure K, which will help defray the cost of fire service through a modest half cent sales tax that will be applicable not just to city residents but to the more than two million travelers through Victorville on their way to Las Vegas and elsewhere every year who stop there to shop or dine. The sales tax, Measure K’s proponents say, will be far less burdensome on Victorville residents than the fire service assessment.
Joining the opposition to Measure K is the Inland Empire Taxpayers Association. One issue opponents of Measure K have raised is that no automatic sunset date was included in the measure.
Lost in the hullabaloo over Tuesday’s vote by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California to make a $4.3 million buy-in to what is now referred to as WaterFix was California Governor Jerry Brown’s “lobbying effort” in the days preceding that vote…
WaterFix is the proposed $17-billion project to re-engineer the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and construct two massive tunnels through the Delta to make it easier to facilitate the movement of water from the northern part of our great Golden State to the south, where two thirds of our population lives. The tunnels were originally conceived as a joint project between cities and farms served by California’s federal and state north-south water works. The two primary participants consisted of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, a consortium of 26 Southern California communities/cities/water districts and the massive agricultural Westlands Water District in Fresno and Kings counties…
WaterFix is a successor project to the Peripheral Canal concept, a succession of proposals dating from the 1940s to divert Sacramento River water around the edge of the San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta, thus creating a canal that would transport fresh water from the Sacramento River and bypass the delta instead of going through it, for uses farther south. The peripheral canal was intended to resolve water quality issues brought on by the inrush of saltwater which occurred as the result of the previous importation of water from the southern end of the Delta into the San Joaquin Valley. This saltwater flow came about as a result of the high-power pumps obliterating the somewhat insubstantial boundary between freshwater and saltwater…
In 1982, voters defeated a ballot initiative to build the then-current Peripheral Canal. The Peripheral Canal concept did not die, however, and over the years Senator Dianne Feinstein and former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, not to mention Governor Brown, have turned up as supporters of more recent incarnations of the plan…
It goes without saying that the canal concept has its opponents. A major contention against it is that it is an outright bald-faced ploy by the more populous southern portion of the state to politically outmuscle the northern portion of the state’ and steal its water, that it would further diminish the amount of freshwater originating with the Sacramento River flowing through the Delta needed to dilute delta pollutants; that it would greatly reduce the amount of water available to farmers in the Delta for irrigation purposes, and that the tunnels will be harmful to already imperiled native fish. Additionally, many maintain that the tunnels are an unimaginative approach to the water shortage problem in an era when other solutions, such as desalination and water reclamation, are becoming viable because of scientific and technical advances…
If you ask me how I feel about this, I must say I have mixed feelings. First off, I am a resident of Southern California, and as such, my own selfishness and self-interest pushes me toward wanting to see the tunnels completed so I can continue with my self-indulgent and profligate lifestyle, constantly refilling my swimming pool to the brim with clean water, ensuring the landscaping on the grounds of my estate, including my two-and-one-half acre lawn, remains verdant, and taking, as is my wont, three to four long and luxuriant showers per day. After all, I can more than afford financially to do all these things. On the other hand, I recognize how arrogant it is of us down here to want to simply foreclose on water outside of our region. It occurs to me that maybe, just maybe, the way we are running out of water in Southern California – despite having stolen the water from the Owens Valley a century ago and having constructed aqueducts that allow us to siphon off something approaching a billion gallons of water per day from the Colorado River – is God’s way of telling us that it is time for Southern California to end its growth, desist in building any further homes and resolve to accept no further increases in our population until we construct a comprehensive system throughout the entire Southern California region to capture as close as we can to all of the storm water that rains down upon us and using it to recharge our aqueducts rather than allowing, as we do now, more than 90 percent of that resource to simply evaporate or run out to sea…
So, last week our governor came to Southern California and undertook a lobbying effort to get everyone to go along with WaterFix. Because of my ambiguous feelings with regard to WaterFix, I am not going to condemn our governor for what he did. Rather, I am going to condemn him for how he did it…
He arranged a meeting with the members of the Metropolitan Water Board. Yet, to meet with the entire board, or even a quorum of the board, meaning at least one more than half of its members, the board would have needed to agendize the confabulation and allow members of the public to attend it to be in compliance with the State of California’s open public meeting law, known as the Brown Act. But our governor did not want to have the public at large hear his remarks or for them to be on the record in any way. So instead of scheduling that meeting with the entire 38-member board, he arranged to meet with 19 of its members at the agency’s Granada Hills Water Treatment Plant. If only one more member of the board had been present, the meeting would have fallen under the rubric of the Brown Act and members of the public would have been allowed to attend it…
This was a calculated move. Our governor was keenly aware that in the last several weeks the political tide has been flowing against WaterFix. Last month, the Westlands Water District, a jurisdiction that covers more than 1,000 square miles of prime farmland in western Fresno and Kings Counties and as such is the largest agricultural water district in the United States, voted against joining the project, saying it simply did not have sufficient funding to participate. The same day Brown was lobbying those 18 Metropolitan Water District board members, in a development he as governor had to know was coming, state auditor Elaine Howle released a report that was highly critical of the way the California Department of Water Resources administered the planning contract for WaterFix. Howle maintained that the Department of Water Resources replaced the program manager for WaterFix with an executive of the Hallmark Group, who “did not have the necessary qualifications” to act in that capacity…
Our governor, who after all is a Democrat, as in big D, does not appear to be all that comfortable with democratic, as in little d, principles. If he can swing it, as he did last week, he would prefer that his discussions with other politicians – the big people – take place in private, where those he is supposed to represent – the little people – don’t get a chance to hear what he is saying…
Howard Jones was an architect of note who worked in San Bernardino and elsewhere in Southern California in the early part of the 20th Century. It is believed he was born in San Bernardino on September 27, 1885, the son of printer Albert Prescott Jones.
There is no record indicating he was highly educated. However, his uncle, Charles H. Jones, of the firm Jones and (Theron) Palmer, was an architect and this may have been how Howard got his start in the profession.
In 1910 Howard was working as a “draughtsman” for an architect. He later moved to Los Angeles and went to work as a draftsman for one of the leading architects there, Norman F. Marsh. The Marsh firm designed some Carnegie libraries that were being built at that time, and Howard may have done drafting work on some of these as early as 1910. By 1915, he was designing homes.
It is known that by 1922, Howard Jones redesigned the front of McInerny’s Dry Goods Store in the 470 block of Third Street in San Bernardino. In 1923 Jones designed what was called a “business court,” a group of buildings located on Fourth Street midway between D and E.
In 1925, Jones, working in conjunction with J. P. McNeil, produced the design for the Platt Building, a multi-stored structure at the corner of Fifth and E Streets commissioned by the Frank C. Platt Investment Company. It housed nine shops on the ground floor, and had offices for doctors, dentists and lawyers on the upper floor. The entrance to the offices was through a marble vestibule, with elevator service provided. President Lyndon Johnson, who resided in San Bernardino in 1925, was employed as the first elevator operator in the Platt Building.
The county courthouse built in San Bernardino in the 1890s was designed by his uncle, Charles Jones. It was severely damaged in a 1923 earthquake. The county board of supervisors called upon Howard Jones to determine whether repairs to the old courthouse should be undertaken or whether an entirely new structure should be built. It was decided it would be better to replace the old courthouse. Howard Jones designed the new courthouse, which yet exists, with the assistance of another architect, DeWitt Mitcham. The courthouse was completed in December 1926.
His next major project was the Andreson Building, a five story structure above ground with a basement below that had a 56-foot frontage on Third Street and an 148-foot frontage on E Street. Jones designed the building in 1927, mainly to accommodate the original ground floor tenant, the Merchant National Bank.
Also in 1927, Jones designed the Harris Company, arguably the most iconic building in San Bernardino.
Later in his career, Jones designed a number of schools, including Eliot Elementary, Harding Elementary, Richardson Junior High, and the San Bernardino Valley College Administration Building.
The ringtail is a mammal of the raccoon family and is native to arid regions of North America, including the Mojave Desert. Scientifically it is known as Bassariscus astutus, and is also referred to as the ringtail cat, ring-tailed cat, miner’s cat or bassarisk, and is also sometimes called a “civet cat,” after similar, though unrelated, cat-like omnivores of Asia and Africa. The ringtail is not a cat and it is not a civet, despite the confusion with these creatures. It is also referred to as a cacomistle, which indicates further confusion with the Bassariscus sumichrasti.
Buff to dark brown in color with white underparts and a black and white “ringed” tail longer than the rest of its body that has 14 to 16 white and black stripes, the ringtail has short, straight, and semi-retractable claws and large and black eyes surrounded by a patch of light fur. It is smaller than a house cat and is one of the smallest extant procyonids. It measures 12 to seventeen inches long to the base of the tail with the tail adding another 12 to 17 inches. It can weigh from 1.5 to 3.3 pounds. Ringtails have occasionally been hunted for their pelts, but the fur is not especially valuable.
Ringtails possess superb hearing and eyes that allow them to move about at night. In addition to its tawny to grayish fur, it has a pointed muzzle with long whiskers, resembling in some degree a fox. The ringtail uses its tail for balancing when moving about its habitat. The tail also serves to distract some potential predators. The white rings provide predators with a focus other than the ringtail itself; by grabbing the tail rather than the body, the ringtail has a greater chance of escaping. Additionally, their semi-retractable claws and long tail provide the ringtail with tools ideal for climbing.
Ringtails are found in Central America, Northern South America, in the Cloud Forest of Panama where it is called the Cacomistle, California, Colorado, eastern Kansas, Oklahoma, Oregon, Arizona, New Mexico, southern Nevada, Texas, Utah and throughout northern and central Mexico.
Ringtails prefer a solitary existence but may share a den or be found mutually grooming one another. In areas with sufficient water, as many as 50 ringtails may occupy a square mile. Males are likely to have a territory of 50 to 100 acres, and their territories occasionally intersect with several females. Ringtails utilize excretions as a way to mark territory.
They exhibit limited interaction except during the breeding season. Occasionally they fall prey to foxes, coyotes, bobcats, lynxes, and mountain lions, raccoons, bobcats, hawks and owls, all of which will opportunistically prey upon ringtails of all ages, though most predominantly younger, more vulnerable specimens. The ringtail is rather adept at avoiding predators, which is largely attributed to its ability to excrete musk when startled or threatened. The main predators of the ringtail are the Great Horned Owl and the Red-tailed Hawk.
Ringtails feature very flexible ankle joints that are able to rotate over 180 degrees, a trait that makes them agile climbers. Their considerable tails provide them with balance for negotiating narrow ledges and limbs, even allowing them to reverse directions by performing a cartwheel. Ringtails also can ascend narrow passages by pressing all feet on one wall and their back against the other or pressing both right feet on one wall and both left feet on the other, a feat called stemming. They can also make their way within wider cracks or openings by ricocheting between walls.
They produce a variety of sounds, including clicks and chatters reminiscent of raccoons. A typical call is a very loud, plaintive bark.
Much like the common raccoon, the ringtail is nocturnal. It is also timid towards humans and seen much less frequently than raccoons. Despite its shy disposition and small body size, the ringtail is arguably the most actively carnivorous species of procyonid, as even the closely related cacomistle eats a larger portion of fruits, insects and refuse. Small vertebrates such as passerine birds, rats, mice, squirrels, rabbits, snakes, lizards, frogs and toads are the ringtail’s dinner fare in winter. Occasionally the ringtail will also eat fish, lizards, birds, snakes and carrion. The ringtail is nevertheless omnivorous, as are all procyonids. Berries and insects are important in their diet year-round and become the primary part of the diet in spring and summer along with fruit. The ringtail also enjoys juniper, hack and persimmon, prickly pear, and fruit in general. They have even been observed partaking from hummingbird feeders, sweet nectar or sweetened water. Ringtails tend to prey on whatever is most abundant during each respective season.
As adults, these mammals lead solitary lives, generally coming together only to mate. Mating occurs in the spring. The gestation period is 45 to 50 days, during which the male will procure food for the female. There will be two to four cubs in a litter. The cubs open their eyes after a month, and will hunt for themselves after four months. They reach sexual maturity at ten months. The ringtail’s lifespan in the wild is about seven years.