Sentinel 09-08-17By clicking on the blue portal below, you can download a PDF of the September 8 edition of the San Bernardino County Sentinel.
By Mark Gutglueck
Chino Hills city officials and residents find themselves faced with a multitude of unpalatable options in the aftermath of the City of Industry’s purchase of 2,450-acre Tres Hermanos Ranch.
Immediately following the determination by a Los Angeles County-based redevelopment agency dissolution oversight board allowing the City of Industry to purchase Tres Hermanos Ranch, the City of Chino Hills asked the California Department of Finance to examine that sale and audit the history of the offers to purchase the property. There were previous offers to buy the land that were more than double the $41.6 million that was ultimately accepted as the sales price. The City of Diamond Bar made a similar request of the California Department of Finance.
There is little about the Tres Hermanos Ranch circumstance that is straightforward. The ultimate resolution of issues emanating from it will impact three different counties – Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Orange – and the matter is greatly complicated by the consideration that the state of California’s wholesale elimination of municipal redevelopment agencies more than five years ago foreclosed the ability of the City of Industry to utilize the property for utilities, as it says it intends, at no further land acquisition costs.
On one hand, Industry’s stated intended purpose for the property – converting it into a massive solar power generating plant – represents to a sizable contingent of Chino Hills residents a far more desirable utilization of the property than the designs of developmental interests which are angling to cover the property with wall-to-wall residential units, some 15,000 homes, condominiums or apartment units on the land straddling both Chino Hills and Diamond Bar on either side of the border separating southwest San Benardino and southeast Los Angeles counties. But Chino Hills officials and citizens are distrustful of the City of Industry all the way around, from its elected officials, to its staff, and even its status as a governmental entity answerable to a minuscule population. The total population of the 12.06 square mile city within the greater Los Angeles megalopolis at present is 206, which is 13 fewer than the 219 counted in the 2010 Census. An entirely different ethos applies in the City of Industry, where, like its name implies, industry is king. Those living there are a breed unto themselves.
One of the city’s founders, James Marty Stafford, employed his status in the community and his control of city officials to orchestrate a number of questionable deals enriching himself and those in his circle. Ultimately, one of those deals, the construction of the 660-acre, $65-million Industry Hills and Sheraton Resort, involving kickbacks and bid-rigging, came to the attention of the FBI and the U.S. Attorney. Stafford and five others were indicted and they all entered guilty pleas to a variety of criminal charges in 1984 and agreed to pay $4.5 million in fines. Stafford spent three years in federal prison. Miraculously, John Ferrero, who was the city’s first mayor elected after its founding in 1957 and who remained in office an astounding four decades, was never charged, despite having been installed into – and maintained in – his position by Stafford. The ground charted by Stafford and Ferrero was covered by one of Ferrero’s successors, David Perez, who would use his position as a councilman and then mayor to steer more than $326 million in city contracts to his family over a period of two decades.
But just as Chino Hills and Diamond Bar officials are wary of the motives, intentions and ethics of the City of Industriy’s leaders, likewise, given the stakes involved, many Chino Hills residents are growing distrustful of their own city officials.
For residents on both sides of the Chino Hills/Diamond Bar boundary, those stakes involve the relative tranquility of their neighborhoods and preventing further impaction of the clogged roads they use during the initial part of their commute to work every morning and then back home in the late afternoon or early evening. For the City of Industry, those stakes, at least ostensibly, relate to its plans to utilize a significant portion of those 2,450 acres for a renewable energy project which will generate enough electricity annually to service the debt Industry will have accrued for the construction of the plant plus $19 million in revenue on top of that. For GH America and South Coast Communities, who had previously teamed together to offer to buy Tres Hermanos Ranch for $101 million, their stake in this is a potential $2.25 billion profit. For Chino Hills’ politicians, their stake in the deal is enough money to virtually ensure their election to any higher office they choose to seek in the form of guaranteed political donations from GH America and South Coast Communities.
From its inception, Tres Hermanos Ranch had money all through and all over it. Lying at the confluence of San Bernardino, Los Angeles and Orange counties, it was acquired and created as the shared asset of three fabulously wealthy men – oil baron Tom Scott; Harry Chandler, former publisher of the Los Angeles Times; and William Rowland, son of John Rowland, who led pioneers over the Santa Fe Trail to California and the San Gabriel Valley in the 1840s – three capitalist brothers.
The ranch lies within and abuts Tonner Canyon, consisting of oak woodlands, riparian habitat, rolling hillsides, canyon creeks, cattle pastures and grazing land for longhorn steers, chaparral that offers cover for bobcats, mountain lions, skunks and opossum, scattered black walnut trees and glades that hum with the buzz of honey bees at certain times of the year. Nearby residents treasure the property as open space. But the march of progress and the profit to be had by development render the wishes that the property will remain undisturbed for the next several generations unrealistic. In 1978 it was purchased from the Scott, Chandler and Rowland heirs by the City of Industry’s Redevelopment Agency for $12.1 million.
Last year, a signal that something was up came when the City of Industry bought 800 acres of land in Tonner Canyon near Tres Hermanos Ranch and the Firestone Boy Scout Camp for $7.2 million.
City of Industry officials have given conflicting signals as to what their intention is with regard to the property. The sheer enormity of the GH America and South Coast Communities offer, which carried with it the tacit understanding that there would be no restriction on developing the land residentially, was taken as an indication that the land would host massive residential subdivisions. At the same time, however, Industry officials have indicated they were sincere about using the property for utility related purposes.
Two entities held sway over the property – the successor agency to the Industry Redevelopment Agency and the redevelopment agency dissolution oversight board. The first is an absolute creature of the City of Industry in that its board members are the members of the Industry City Council. The oversight agency consists in large measure of representatives of Los Angeles County and other local agencies, which have an interest in the funds to come available for education and public safety uses as a consequence of the 2011 state legislation shuttering the redevelopment agency. Among its members are its chairman, Santos Kreimann, the chief deputy assessor for Los Angeles County, Michael Gregoryk, vice president of Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut and Congressman Esteban Torres. In this way it is less of a creature of the City of Industry than the successor agency, although it does count among its board members Industry City Manager Paul Phillips.
On August 24, the oversight board, in a 4-3 vote, bypassed the $101 million offer from GH America and South Coast Communities and elected to sell the property to the City of Industry for $41.65 million.
In something of a kneejerk reaction, the cities of Chino Hills and Diamond Bar asked the state Department of Finance to undertake a 60-day review to determine if the sale is legal and reject it if any anomalies are discovered. Chino Hills sent a letter to the Department of Finance immediately, on August 24. Diamond Bar followed four days later with its request. Both cities are calling for the sale to be vacated, as the price – discounted by some $59 million from what GH America and South Coast offered – is what they claim is tantamount to a gift of public funds. Both cities, upon which a portion of Tres Hermanos Ranch sits, say they will sustain a significant loss of tax dollars as a consequence of the nearly $60 million reduction in sales price. In its letter, Chino Hills maintains that the City of Industry’s intended use of the property to host a solar farm makes the property more valuable than the $101 million GH/South Coast offered.
The California Department of Finance acknowledged it had received the two letters but offered no further comment.
Among Chino Hills and Diamond Bar officials there is distrust of the City of Industry. One issue is the inexactitude and waffling attending the City of Industry’s representation that it will limit development of the Tres Hermanos Ranch to the solar plant and attendant utility augmentations. There is concern that the City of Industry will make future add-ons to the development scheme on Tres Hermanos Ranch that will go beyond the solar plant.
Coexisting with the distrust of the City of Industry is pointed concern by some that GH America and South Coast Communities have a development and intensity of land use agenda that is far more onerous than the stated intentions of the City of Industry. Reliable sources report that GH/South Coast intended to construct 15,000 units on the Tres Hermanos property and that it was and yet remains prepared, if it can obtain title to the property, to push ahead with building entitlement applications, litigation and political donations to key decision-makers to get clearance to build the 15,000 units. An insinuation in all of this is that GH/South Coast has the will and the financial means to bankroll the future political careers of any or all of several Chino Hills and Diamond Bar council members as an inducement to modify the zoning restrictions on the property that currently limit the maximum number of units to be built on the 1,750 acres in Chino Hills to 467, and on the 700 acres in Diamond Bar to 624. Simple majority votes on the city councils of either city could alter each city’s general plan and zoning map. In this way, skeptics maintain, the GH/South Coast consortium could obtain an entitlement to build to a magnitude of ten times or more the intensity of development represented by the 1,091-unit limit there now.
In this way, it comes across to many that the City of Chino Hills, by its challenge of the sale to the City of Industry, is continuing to hold the door open for GH/South Coast.
Mayor Ray Marquez sought to address these perceptions.
The major issue, Marquez said, is the City of Industry’s lack of transparency. “In the last two years, I have reached out to the Industry city manager,” Marquez said. “I had a meeting with him and then another meeting with him which our city manager attended, and nothing of any substance was discussed or disclosed. I reached out to the mayor of Industry, Mark Radecki, whom I like and have a good rapport with personally, but I was able to get nothing out of him either. About a year ago, we had another meeting with Mark Radecki and councilman [Abraham] Cruz. Councilwoman Cynthia Moran was there. [Industry consultant] Frank Hill was there and he gave us some information about solar panels. That was the last thing he said to us. Initially he had talked about three reservoirs. One was a holding pond for rainwater run-off. Another was for recycled water and another to store water from the California Water Project, water brought in by the aqueduct. That is what they led us to believe they were working toward. When Frank Hill threw in the stuff about the solar power project, Mark Radecki and councilman Cruz didn’t say much of anything. But that [a potential solar project] was laid out for us at that time, so we learned about this maybe a year ago, that a solar farm was a possibility. There were no details. We shared what we had heard with [the City of] Brea. Brea has concerns with a reservoir being built because there is a fault line that runs through Carbon Canyon.”
Marquez said he had only recently learned about Industry’s acquisition of the acreage in Tonner Canyon. “I didn’t know anything about that,” he said.
Marquez said there has been a constant discrepancy between remarks Industry officials have made and their intent as revealed in official filings and applications. He said he and other city officials had tried to verify the verbal representations with what is put down on the verifiable record. That has not always been easy, he said. One way of gathering information, Marquez said, was to attend Industry’s successor agency and oversight board meetings. “Something like eight meetings were cancelled,” he said. “We were not able to get the information through attending public meetings, so we basically had to file public records act requests. It took a long time to get most of what we asked for. A lot of what we received was redacted. But from that, we had a rough idea of what they are going to do. They have said certain things but we really don’t have a commitment from the City of Industry on what their plans are. They have never reached out to our city with specific plans. I don’t really trust them. I’ve reached out to get information about the project but the City of Industry has not been transparent or truthful. We don’t know what they are going to do there.”
With regard to the development plans on that portion of Tres Hermanos Ranch in Chino Hills, Marquez asked, “Is it going to be solar panels? A lot of the land around Grand Avenue would probably be used for that because it is flat. I anticipate that is where they will put solar.”
Despite the ostensible relative desirability of a solar farm to an intensified use residential development, Marquez said he was leery of his constituents’ eventual displeasure with a high profile renewable energy project. He analogized it to the city’s experience with the Tehachapi Line, the high tension electrical cables and accompanying 197-foot high towers Southern California Edison sought to place in the city.
“Southern California Edison said they were going to put power lines through Chino Hills,” Marquez said. “No one was concerned initially. They didn’t see them and they weren’t involved. They heard about them but it was no big deal. The day they went up, a majority of the people in Chino Hills knew at that point they didn’t want them and that is when the fight started. If they [the City of Industry] put in solar panels, we are going to have the same thing. As soon as they come in here it will register directly with everyone who can see them, and people are going to feel in their hearts that the city didn’t do anything to fight it. We have to be proactive in the community. We have to hold more meetings and use social media to engage in community outreach so people can be involved. If people would rather see solar panels than houses, they may believe there should be more open space. If the City of Industry is going to spend $41 million in buying that property, they expect to make money. So we are looking at the possibility that we are going to have all of the property covered with solar panels, and very little open space.”
Marquez was dismissive of suggestions that the challenge lodged with the Department of Finance over the sale to the City of Industry would lead to the resurrection of the sale of the land to GH America and South Coast Communities, and would result in the intensive residential development that the lion’s share of the Chino Hills community is adamantly opposed to.
“They [the City of Industry] can’t really develop it as residential,” Marquez said. “They must keep it as either open space or a public facility. If another developer bought it without restrictions on the property, then our general plan still allows a maximum of 670 units on the 1,750 acres in our city. Nobody is going to spend $100 million to build 670 units.”
Marquez acknowledged that hidden or unanticipated forces might be at work which could result in a move to develop the property residentially and which could saddle Chino Hills with having to accept greater density than it wants.
“This is what I am afraid of: The governor is pushing affordable housing,” said Marquez. “Right now or within the last couple of months there are or were five or six senate bills pushing affordable housing. Under some of those bills, a developer could come in and not have to honor the general plan. The state legislation is looking to streamline everything and that would give the developers license to build whatever they want.”
Another area of concern with regard to the City of Industry is its willingness to dispense with crucial elements of the environmental certification process, Marquez said. “They were going to put in a stadium in their own city and CEQA [the California Environmental Quality Act] was not a consideration for them,” he said. If the City of Industry is willing to do that within its own borders, it will have no scruples in doing the same thing in Chino Hills, Marquez said. He said buying into Industry’s proposal blindly would subject Chino Hills to long term consequences it might not be prepared to live with.
“Per our general plan, solar panels are not something that is allowed there [on either side of Grand Avenue near the city limits],” Marquez said. “I don’t think they are sensitive to that.”
With regard to the suggestions that GH America and South Coast Communities would spread around political donations to buy radical increases in the intensity of development on the Tres Hermanos property, Marquez said, “Paying off politicians? I don’t like that terminology. Could it happen? Yes.” But he said, anything along those lines would “supersede our regulations and our general plan and our numbers. I have to apologize if I have given anyone the impression that I am the type of politician that can be bought off,” adding, “I did run for the state legislature. And I did get money from developers, but whatever money I received or might receive in the future is not going to change my morals or my integrity. This is Chino Hills, not the City of Bell or the County of San Bernardino, where the assessor was on the take. If anyone thinks we are going to have 10,000 homes built on the Chino Hills portion of Tres Hermanos Ranch, they’re smoking dope. The city council here would not do that. We’re not perfect and we do make mistakes, but I can say with 100 percent certainty we are not going to change the general plan or engage in any kind of zoning variances so some company from Irvine can cover that property with wall-to-wall houses. I would stake my reputation on it. The kind of money you are talking about can buy a lot of influence up in Sacramento but that has nothing to do with Chino Hills. I love this city.”
Before anything is done with the Tres Hermanos property, Marquez said, “I want a consensus from our community. I want there to be in-depth talk about transportation. Carbon Canyon is already severely impacted. So is Grand Avenue. There has been talk about a road in Tonner Canyon. That would be a very expensive road to build. That would be a conversation that I would like to see between the County of San Bernardino, the County of Orange and the County of Los Angeles. I would like to see hiking trails from Chino Hills to Brea and from Brea to Diamond Bar. I spoke with Claire Schlotterbeck of Hills For Everyone. There is an area in Tonner Canyon that is part of what they are trying to protect and which they would like to acquire to help with the wildlife corridor they are committed to getting. That is a nice trail through Carbon Canyon. I want to see if it is possible to keep most of it open. If there is going to be a developer other than the City of Industry, then we need to keep the minimum residential density. We have to balance it out. We are serious about no more than 467 units. My belief is they should all be north of Grand Avenue so that area by the lake going into Tonner Canyon is kept as natural as possible.”
Marquez returned to the subject of the City of Industry’s unreliability.
“We have been trying to get from them what they are going to do for the last two years,” he said. “Before they were talking about a reservoir. From what they are saying now, it still could be a reservoir, but that is only partially true.” Marquez lamented, “The only person on their end who has been straight with me is Frank Hill, but he has a lot of baggage.”
Industry retained Hill, a former state assemblyman and state senator from Whittier, to represent the city with regard to a number of issues, including the overhaul of its public utility division and in conjunction with the Tres Hermanos Ranch proposal. Hill is with the consulting firm Cordoba Corporation. Hill has long had a close relationship with the City of Industry, and in particular the Tres Hermanos Ranch, predating his time with Cordoba. While he was a legislator, he log-rolled legislation that removed requirements that the city develop affordable housing as part of a trade off in which the Industry Redevelopment Agency granted the Pomona Unified School District clearance to construct Diamond Ranch High School on a tract within Tres Hermanos Ranch. Hill served in the California State Assembly and California State Senate from 1982 until 1994. In 1994, Hill was convicted of taking a $2,500 bribe during an undercover FBI sting in exchange for his agreement to assist with legislation. He spent four years in prison.
Marquez says he is in an unenviable situation, having to rely upon Hill as the most credible and forthcoming representative of the City of Industry. “Do I believe everything he says?” Marquez asked “No.” The contradictions emanating from Industry are perplexing, he said. “People are believing what they [Industry officials] are saying,” Marquez said. “That is because they have a propaganda machine, and are engaging in very intense PR [public relations]. Publicly, they are saying the land on Tres Hermanos Ranch will be preserved for open space, public uses, and public facilities. At the same time, their city attorney has said ‘We are going to have 10,000 homes built on Tres Hermannos.’ The City of Industry is also on record in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune that it is going to put 10,000 houses on Tres Hermanos Ranch. That’s doubletalk, plain and simple. They are trying to lead people to believe they will do something everyone will accept in Tres Hermanos. First, they had someone who was going to spend $100 million for it and now they end up getting it for $41.6 million themselves. I was there when it happened and I was left scratching my head. I don’t know how it happened. There is a lot of misinformation. I want to keep my community abreast of what is going on as far as Tres Hermanos Ranch is concerned. We are going to need to reach out to our citizen and keep them informed. They are misinformed as far as the City of Industry goes if they are trusting them as to what they said they are going to do.”
Repeated efforts to obtain input from Industry City Manager Paul Phillips and Industry Mayor Mark Radecki were unsuccessful.
Industry officials in the past have said that city officials in other cities who are answerable to tens of thousands of residents do not have an understanding or appreciation of the situation in the City of Industry, which has just over 200 residents and is committed to industrial expansion. They maintain their city’s imperative with Tres Hermanos Ranch is to secure it for the creation of utilities, in particular those for the production of power and the availability of water, which are industrial necessities.
By Harvey M. Kahn
While statistical clear- inghouses show San Bernardino has one of the higher poverty rates and lower academic achievement scores in the state, those charged with administering that student population are not living hand-to-mouth. San Bernardino City Unified School District Superintendent Dale Marsden just negotiated a four-year contract worth $1.2 million in base pay. Transparent California projects that when adding his annual salary, benefits and pension, Marsden will get at least $1.7 million over four years based on a $432,817.32 total compensation package per year.
Marsden oversees 49,000 students at 71 schools, making him superintendent in the tenth largest school district in the state. The San Bernardino City Unified School District website shows that 90 percent of its student population lives below the federally defined poverty level and most are eligible for a free lunch. About 2,800 of its students are homeless. Great Schools.org and other rating agencies say the San Bernardino City Unified School District is performing below average when computing test scores and student readiness for college. The San Bernardino City Unified School District acknowledges that only 28.3 percent of its students met college course requirements in 2014-2015. However, it does graduate 91 percent of its high school seniors.
Statistics from the California State Department of Education show in 2016 that 49 percent of students in San Bernardino are performing below state standards in math, 39 percent are not meeting standards in English language arts/literacy and 45 percent are testing below standard in reading. Dropout rates in San Bernardino could not be located.
Hired in 2012 to replace Dr. Arturo Delgado, Marsden accepted the challenge of moving to San Bernardino, a region trying to fight the stigma of bankruptcy, crime and political corruption. Marsden’s decision to leave the Victor Valley School District for San Bernardino appeared noble when considering that NBC News has gone on record to claim San Bernardino is per capita California’s most dangerous city.
When comparing Marsden’s salary, he makes more than Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Michele King whose total pay/benefits is $397,987 per year, according to Transparent California. King manages the second largest district in the nation with 734,000 students in 900 schools. Her 60,000 employees are paid from the district’s $7 billion annual budget. San Bernardino has a $650 million annual budget to help pay 8,000 employees.
San Diego Unified School District Superintendent Cynthia Marten receives an annual package of $345,919 to manage 135,000 students in 231 schools. About 16 percent of Marten’s students live below poverty. Neighboring Riverside Unified School District Superintendent David Hansen is the CEO for 53 schools that instructs 42,500 students and receives an annual package of $328,453. The state department of education shows that 44 percent of Riverside’s graduates are meeting college course requirements.
Transparent California shows the Riverside Unified School District Board has approved six administrator’s salary packages exceeding $200,000 and another 116 receiving annual compensation over $150,000. The San Bernardino City Unified School District has seven employees receiving over $200,000 and another 111 getting packages over $150,000. San Bernardino’s deputy superintendent Harold Volkommer totaled $261,469 and assistant superintendent John A. Peukert $233,202 in 2016.
Marsden negotiated his recent contract with the school district board just before the 2017 school year. His annual base pay is $307,546, but that amount increases when additional pay and total benefits are computed. In a copy of a five-page contract provided by the district, it states that Marsden has been issued a district credit card for expenses he incurs while representing the district. In addition, he can be reimbursed for all necessary business related expenses paid in the conduct of his duties. His contract did not specify a spending limit in those two entries.
Two “other pay” items in Marsden’s contract are $24,000 worth of annual life insurance deposited into a trust account, and another $12,000 per year he receives that is deposited in a tax sheltered account. Other inclusions are a $14,400 annual housing allowance and a $9,120 auto allowance. He gets 24 vacation days and 30 sick days per year and full lifetime medical and dental coverage for himself and his wife if he retires from the district.
Marsden received $185,212 in total pay/benefits when hired by the San Bernardino City Unified School District in 2012. Since then his salary package has more than doubled. He was renewed at $303,298 in 2013, up to $343,728 in 2014, increased to $385,414 in 2015, and $430,329 in 2016. At that rate, Marsden will receive over $2 million before his contract expires in 2021.
Numerous attempts to reach Marsden through the “proper protocol” over a one week time span were unsuccessful. San Bernardino City Unified School District communications officer Maria Garcia said she could not respond to questions regarding Marsdan’s salary, as it is the school board that sets his salary. “Dr. Marsden’s salary is comparable to that of other urban school superintendents in California,” said Garcia.
Although Marsden’s salary exceeds others in his position from much larger districts, his pay does not match that of Ontario-Montclair Superintendent James Hammond who receives $516,573 per year. Hammond manages kindergarten through eighth grade in a district where 85% of his 22,000 students are eligible for a free lunch.
In a fashion befitting the nearly eight-month duration of the trial that preceded them, the deliberations of the jury considering the guilt or innocence of one-time sheriff’s deputies union boss Jim Erwin entered their third week yesterday. While that panel is gamely making an effort to weigh the totality of the evidence presented to it during the marathon proceedings to determine whether or not Erwin aided and abetted the pair of men who in 2006 were San Bernardino County’s two top elected officials in taking bribes, details relating to the nature of those deliberations revealed in competing motions by the prosecution and Erwin’s defense attorney considered by the judge this week seem to indicate the jury is very likely deadlocked.
Beginning in January, two juries heard testimony against four of the six total defendants charged in the Colonies Lawsuit Settlement Public Corruption Case. In that matter, prosecutors alleged Rancho Cucamonga-based developer Jeff Burum by 2006 had grown increasingly frustrated at how the litigation his company, the Colonies Partners, had filed against the county four years earlier was failing to achieve its desired effect of allowing his project, the Colonies at San Antonio residential subdivision in northeast Upland, to proceed. This led Burum, prosecutors maintained, into blackmailing and then bribing then-county supervisors Bill Postmus and Paul Biane to forge a $102 million settlement of that litigation. According to a 29-count indictment handed down by a grand jury in May 2011, Erwin assisted Burum in threatening both Postmus and Biane, then the chairman and vice chairman of both the board of supervisors and the San Bernardino County Republican Party, with exposure relating to the former’s drug use and homosexuality and the latter’s precarious financial condition. According to the prosecution, that induced Postmus and Biane to vote in November 2006, along with then-county supervisor Gary Ovitt, to approve conferring the $102 million payment on the Colonies Partners to end the litigation. Thereafter, between March and the end of June in 2007, the Colonies Partners provided each of two political action committees controlled by Postmus with separate $50,000 donations; and $100,000 donations to each of three political action committees controlled by Biane, Erwin and Mark Kirk, who was Ovitt’s chief of staff. The indictment alleged that the $300,000 paid out to Postmus, Biane and Kirk was bribe money, kickbacks provided to Postmus and Biane in exchange for their vote to settle the litigation and a kickback that went to Kirk for his assistance in delivering Ovitt’s vote in favor of the settlement. The $100,000 received by Erwin, the prosecution maintained, was a reward provided to Erwin for his assistance in inducing Postmus and Biane to support the settlement. Two months prior to the indictment, Postmus pleaded guilty to a raft of criminal charges relating to his vote in favor of the settlement that had been filed against him in 2010, including bribery. He was the star witness before the grand jury that indicted Burum, Biane, Erwin and Kirk, and he was a central witness in the trial this year that was presided over by Superior Court Judge Michael Smith.
Two juries heard the case, one for Burum, Biane and Kirk and the other for Erwin, because Erwin had previously made statements to investigators implicating himself and the other defendants. Because it was anticipated Erwin would invoke his Fifth Amendment right not to testify, which he in fact did invoke, the case against him was heard by a separate jury, which heard those statements. Because all criminal defendants have a right, guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment, to confront their accusers with regard to any evidence presented against them, the jury for Burum, Biane and Kirk were excluded from the courtroom during the presentation of the evidence relating to Erwin’s statements to the investigators, as the lawyers for Burum, Biane and Kirk would not have the opportunity to cross examine Erwin with regard to what he had said in implicating their clients.
Beginning on August 14 and concluding on August 24, California Supervising Deputy Attorney General Melissa Mandel followed by the attorneys for Kirk, Biane, Burum and Erwin – Peter Scalisi, Mark McDonald, Stephen Larson and Raj Maline, respectively – provided the jurors with final arguments. On August 23, the jury for Burum, Biane and Kirk began deliberations on the charges, which by that point had been whittled down to four against Burum, three against Biane and two against Kirk. The following day, the jury for Erwin began its deliberations on the seven charges still in play against him.
After just two days of deliberating, the panel for Burum, Biane and Kirk returned with not guilty verdicts on all nine remaining charges against the three defendants, which were read to a packed courtroom on August 28.
No such quick resolution of the case against Erwin, however, was forthcoming. That jury continued its deliberations throughout the week, breaking for the three-day Labor Day Holiday. On September 5, dual motions from the prosecution and the defense were heard. In a somewhat irregular filing, the prosecution on August 31 submitted by email rather than through a paper document filing with the court a motion, which reportedly sought the removal of two jurors, citing potential juror misconduct. It referenced, according to verbal representations at the courthouse, pre-judgment of the case by the jurors in questions, their refusal to deliberate, and concealment of information as grounds for discharging them. In response, Maline filed a motion of his own seeking the removal of two other jurors, including the foreman. To all appearances, the upshot of the motions was that the prosecution was seeking to remove two jurors believed to be steadfastly in favor of acquittal, and the defense was seeking to remove the two jurors believed to be most passionately in favor of conviction.
The actual contents of the prosecution motion have not been made publicly available, and are known primarily on the basis of Maline’s motion, which references several of the prosecution’s motion’s elements.
In the title of his motion, Maline laid out that he and Erwin were seeking “to remove for good cause Juror Number One and Juror Number Seven pursuant to California Penal Code Section 1089 or, in the alternative, for mistrial.”
According to Maline, “It has become clear that defendant James Erwin’s jury is deadlocked in its deliberations over most, if not all, of the claims against Mr. Erwin. Rather than bend to this reality, the prosecution has used this development to launch a last-minute attack on an apparently large jury faction that has sat through this eight-month trial and concluded, as is its right, that the prosecution has not made its case. Rather than accept the judgment of these citizens, the prosecution has already expressed its intent to use the deadlock to launch a full inquiry into the entire panel’s deliberations. Only these prosecutors could conclude that mere disagreement with the prosecution’s self-serving conclusions rises to the level of misconduct. But in their zeal to disqualify and remove jurors who have expressed Erwin’s innocence, they run roughshod over Mr. Erwin’s constitutional rights – not to mention the sanctity and secrecy of jury deliberations.” The motion continues, “Instead of considering these paramount issues, the prosecution requests an inquiry into the jurors that have concluded Mr. Erwin’s innocence, and this on the hearsay-based statements of two jurors that disagree with their fellow jurors. These accusations have been hurled – literally at the last hour – at the jurors favorable to Mr. Erwin. These supposed statements were made weeks or months ago – at a time when all of the jurors should have been maintaining, as repeatedly instructed by the court, that each of the defendants including Mr. Erwin are presumed innocent – and are only now being reported in the wake of the jury’s evident deadlock. We do not know what precipitated these belated accusations, and no reasonable inquiry – an inquiry that would have to take place in the middle of the jury’s deliberation – could ever resolve their he-said-she said character.”
At that point, Maline initiated his call for the removal of two of the jurors believed to be pushing their colleagues in the direction of findings of guilt.
“In truth, it is Juror Number 1 and Juror Number 7 that have committed misconduct by publicly revealing the jury’s deliberations to the court and to the public,” Maline stated in the filing. “Juror Number 1 and Juror Number 7 should be removed for this misconduct, and no further inquiry is necessary. The only other alternative is an immediate ruling of mistrial. Juror Number 7 indicated in her complaint to the court that she called Juror Number 1 on Wednesday August 30, 2017 at night. When the court questioned Juror Number 7 about this call, Juror Number 7 indicated that the only thing discussed was her plans to tell the court she wished to be removed. That does not appear to be true. Rather, it appears based upon her nearly identical list of complaints submitted by Juror Number 1 (in his written letter) and Juror Number 7 (in her in camera disclosure to the court) that the two have fully coordinated their story and list of complaints outside the presence of the other jurors. That is manifest misconduct.”
Maline’s motion continues, “Jury deliberations should be conducted in secrecy. If jurors are not permitted to deliberate in secret, it will chill the debate, deliberation, and free expression of thought necessary to the deliberation process. Juror Number 1 and Number 7 have colluded in breaching the sanctity of the deliberations and hopelessly poisoned the proceedings. Unsurprisingly, the prosecution has leapt at this opportunity to wreak havoc on these proceedings, jumping immediately to endorse an all-encompassing and intrusive investigation into the jurors who did their job but happen to disagree with the prosecution. In doing so, they treat the deliberation process with the same dilatory contempt with which they treated their presentation of evidence. Of course, the investigation the prosecution urges upon this court both invades the jury’s ability to freely express diverse and varying options without fear of reprisal, and naturally carries with it the significant likelihood of prejudicing the defendant’s right to a jury trial. Complaints by Juror Number 1 and Juror Number 7 about their fellow jurors do not even merit inquiry, much less removal, under the relevant legal standards. First, we know that the problem is not a failure to deliberate, as demonstrated by the fact that these concerns only came to light (1) after several days of deliberation; (2) after the jury, in the presence of the court, clearly reflected their engagement in deliberations by listening to the court’s answer to a question by the jury; and (3) after the jury reported their division. If the situation were truly as it has been represented, one would have expected these reports long before this late date.”
Continuing, the motion states, “The problem, to the extent one exists, is that the jurors disagree about the state of the evidence. The jury foreperson, Juror Number 1, has told us so. His letter demonstrates that deliberation has occurred, and that several jurors do not agree with his assessment of the evidence. For example, he believes, per his letter to the court, that the ‘Postmus plea deal’ is evidence that some crime was committed. Others do not – more than a reasonable conclusion, particularly given the conclusion reached by the other jury as well as the court’s instruction on the significance of the guilty plea. But rather than accept this disagreement in the course of deliberation, Juror Number 1 has now revealed the jurors’ disagreements to the court – including the particulars of the jurors’ disagreements – and thus to the world. Ironically, the failure of Juror Number 1 and Juror Number 7 to honor the secret and sacred nature of jury deliberations is the only provable juror misconduct in this case.”
Maline said they “conspired… for the purpose of sabotaging the deliberations altogether.”
Though the prosecution’s motion is not available, Maline’s motion reveals that one of the grounds cited by the prosecution for removing one of the two other jurors represented as leaning toward acquittal is an “incident when one juror was texting instead of listening to the read back of testimony” during deliberations.
According to Maline’s motion, the prosecution’s motion also referenced “one juror’s declaration that she wanted to have ‘100% no doubt,’” which is distinct from the standard of beyond a reasonable doubt. Maline’s motion further states that “Both Juror Number 1 and Juror Number 7 also complained that several other jurors ‘disregarded evidence.’”
Maline’s motion made the claim that “The prosecution is strategically using Juror Number 1 and Juror Number 7 to target minority jurors for removal. Juror Number 1 and Juror Number 7 are both white, while each of the jurors identified by Juror Number 1 and Juror Number 7 as the ‘crew’ of Erwin supporters is of minority heritage – either African-American or Hispanic. It is no surprise that the prosecution strategically seeks to have the court ‘investigate,’ then no doubt exclude, these minority jurors from further deliberation. Rather than embark on an investigative jeremiad against the jurors who have concluded that Mr. Erwin is innocent, what should happen is that the jurors that have revealed the jury’s deliberative process – Jurors Number 1 and Number 7 – should be removed and the panel instructed to begin deliberations anew.”
Despite Maline’s assertion that “The only way to restore any kind of sanctity for the jury’s deliberative process is to remove Juror Number 1 and Juror Number 7, and proceed anew with deliberations with a reconstituted panel” and “The only alternative is for this court to declare an immediate mistrial,” Judge Smith did neither. He did, however, late Tuesday morning in his chambers and beyond the view of the public, make inquiries of the 12 jurors on issues brought up in the motions.
Thereafter, the entire jury returned to the jury box in Smith’s courtroom on the sixth floor, at which point Smith made no reference on the record with regard to the motion to remove any of the jurors, but rather signaled the panel would remain intact when he instructed them all to return to deliberations. Before sending them back to the jury room, however, he gently admonished them to remain engaged during their discussion and avoid “completely tuning out” when disagreements among the panel members manifest. “You can’t just turn off,” Judge Smith said.
The judge said that despite the jurors coming to loggerheads over some of the charges, they should continue to deliberate on the charges they have yet to come to a verdict on and with regard to which there is some chance of reaching a consensus.
The charges against Erwin consist of two counts of aiding and abetting Postmus in receiving or asking to receive a bribe, two counts of aiding and abetting Biane is receiving or asking to receive a bribe, intentionally failing to file his state tax return for 2008, and two counts of perjury prosecutors say he committed when he did not fully disclose on statements of economic interest that must be filled out by public officials that he had received a $12,765 Rolex watch from Burum and travel and accommodations on a trip to New York and Washington D.C. Erwin took on with Burum in January 2007 as a show of appreciation for his part in helping to achieve the settlement.
Erwin, once a sheriff’s deputy, was until 2004 the elected president of the sheriff’s deputies’ collective bargaining unit, the Safety Employees Benefit Association, known as SEBA. In 2006, he was no longer SEBA president but was working as SEBA’s executive director. In November 2006, Postmus was elected county assessor and in January 2007, Postmus appointed Erwin assistant assessor.
Six individuals were charged in the criminal case growing out of the Colonies lawsuit settlement. With Postmus’ 2011 guilty pleas and the acquittals of Burum, Biane and Kirk last month, the case against four of those has been concluded, though Postmus has not yet been sentenced, as the punishment to be meted out against him was to be conditional upon his cooperation in the prosecution of the others. Erwin represents the fifth defendant in the matter. A sixth defendant, Postmus’ business partner and political associate Dino DeFazio, is charged with assisting Postmus in laundering the bribes he is alleged to have received from the Colonies Partners. He is awaiting trial. –Mark Gutglueck
Randy Welty, the colorful vice czar who has cut a wide swath throughout Southern California, has emerged as the power behind what is slated to be the City of San Bernardino’s first licensed marijuana clinic.
The precise extent of Welty’s reach is difficult to ascertain. This is largely by design. His holdings are in many cases not directly held, but rather under the control of his accountant, shadow companies, entities or individuals in which someone other than Welty is, or appears to be, the principal or operator, or chief executive or owner or chief agent. Reliable information, nonetheless, indicates Welty is the actual principal or owner of scores of enterprises in a sizeable empire. Welty owns, or principally owns, at least six adult live entertainment venues – that is, topless or topless/bottomless/ fully nude or partially nude theaters or bars. One report, unverified, is that he actually owns eleven such enterprises. He owns another seven adult bookstores. As of early 2016, he had an interest in 56 medical marijuana dispensaries.
How much of Welty’s legend is fact, or based on fact, and how much is hyperbole is a subject of debate. This inexactitude with regard to Welty is a part of his approach to life and business. Even his name, his very identity, is less than exact. Though his actual name is Waldon Randall Welty, he does not go by Waldon but rather by Randy. What is more, he has a son also called Randy. Both have had run-ins with the law. The younger Welty appears to have been involved in some of his father’s business ventures, leading to further confusion.
There is no doubt, however, that Welty is a larger-than-life figure, a Vietnam War veteran and successful entrepreneur, a First Amendment advocate and provocateur, a self-admitted and unabashed smut peddler and fleshmonger, described by his friends, rivals and foes alike as a genius, who has long recognized and taken advantage of the opportunities local governments present by their predictability, complacency, indolence, corrupt nature and self-centeredness. He is condemned by some as a mobster, an operator of illicit enterprises, the kingpin of an underworld organization with tentacles reaching to scores of cities throughout California.
As the owner of adult entertainment venues, Welty has made money both directly and indirectly. One of the remarkable things about Welty is he has a legion of admirers or, to put it another way, qualified admirers. Some who admit they admire him say they don’t really like him. But they acknowledge, nonetheless, that he is a formidable entrepreneur, one with virtually unerring instincts on how to make a buck and a facile mind that allows him to come out on top, even when his business ambition is thwarted. Part of Welty’s formula, it has been alleged, is to acquire, by taking over or buying, what is a marginal or maybe even failing night spot – either a bar, pool hall, night club, comedy club or sports bar. Welty will initially, sources say, try, or at least appear to try, to have the night spot make a go of it. At some point, he will, perhaps with or perhaps without local government approval, transition the business into one with a sexual theme – usually one featuring some order of nude female dancing. He will keep the business operating at what ostensibly is a profit. When the city or county moves to shutter the business, Welty will then embroil the government in costly litigation pertaining to contractual, First Amendment and zoning issues, almost invariably prevailing and achieving a settlement which more often than not includes the city paying Welty handsomely – typically in excess of $1 million – for lost profits.
An indispensable element of Welty’s success consists of the friendship/professional alliance he has with his lawyer, famed civil rights attorney Roger Jon Diamond. Diamond has no hesitation whatsoever to take on, indeed seems to thrive on, cutting edge freedom of speech and freedom of expression issues where public and social sensibility is being tested. Time after time, public entities, led by elected officials seeking to hold the line on what they consider to be issues of common decency and social conservatism, and encouraged by a vocal element of their constituencies, overstep their authority in preventing Diamond’s clients from engaging in constitutionally protected activity, whereupon Diamond will give the lawyers representing the government a sound drubbing at the trial court or appellate court levels.
As a result, Welty cuts an imposing and intimidating profile. He can be impressively articulate, having made moving, impassioned and eloquent speeches before public bodies. Originally from Texas, he is a respected and successful racehorse owner and breeder, the owner of Hidden Meadow Farm and a part owner of Emerald Greens Horse Training in Riverside. His mounts have included Paying Dues, Reckless Warrant, Proper Motion, Jet Set Swinger, Rock Opera, Hussie Home and Simple Truth.
Welty has also cultivated, it seems, an image of being slightly mentally unhinged, indeed dangerous, right over the red line into being prone to violence. On one occasion, in what was apparently an argumentative mood, he came before the Upland City Council wearing a T-shirt which read “You say tomato. I say fuck you.” In 2008 at his Santa Barbara estate, which includes his 13,333-square-foot mansion and 2,500-square feet of horse stables, when Welty began to lose an argument he was having with his wife on debating points, he attempted to even the score by taking a baseball bat to her. He was arrested and charged with felony assault. His lawyer was able to have the charges whittled down, and Welty pleaded guilty to misdemeanor aggravated trespassing.
In Upland, Welty is the de facto, though not the official, owner of the Tropical Lei strip club, which stands at the far west end of the City of Gracious Living on Foothill Boulevard, just east of the Claremont/Upland border, the gateway into San Bernardino County from Los Angeles County. A generation ago, Welty withstood the City of Upland’s effort to shut the Tropical Lei down. A half dozen years ago, a medical marijuana dispensary set up operations on property controlled by Welty adjacent to the Tropical Lei. The City of Upland had a strict ban on medical marijuana clinics within its city limits. Beginning in 2007, the city had waged a protracted legal battle with one of Welty’s competitors, another determined dispensary operator, Aaron Sandusky, who on three occasions succeeded in standing the city off in state court over its efforts to shut down his operation, G3 Holistics. Ultimately, however, Upland officials coordinated with the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which prosecuted Sandusky, taking him to trial and getting a conviction in Federal Court in October 2012. In 2013, Sandusky was given a ten-year sentence in federal prison. He remains incarcerated in a federal facility in Texas. Having made an example of Sandusky, the City of Upland stepped up its enforcement against cannabis clinics operating in the city. Simultaneously, Upland voters have twice voted through the initiative process to prohibit the sale of marijuana in the city. Over 15 marijuana clinics have been shut down through a coordinated effort involving the police department, the municipal code enforcement division and the city attorney’s office. Yet through it all, the city has maintained a hands-off posture with regard to Welty’s operation next to the Tropical Lei.
In 2014, Welty bankrolled an effort by the California Cannabis Coalition to qualify a ballot measure to permit three medical marijuana clinics to operate in Upland. Ultimately, the coalition, in the names of Upland residents Nicole DeLaRosa and James Velez, qualified that initiative to go before the voters. The measure called for the those dispensaries to operate legally in the relatively confined zoning district along a limited stretch on the north side of Route 66 – Foothill Boulevard – and south of Cable Airport, east of Monte Vista Avenue and west of Airport Drive, precisely where the Tropical Lei is located. Before the voters in Upland soundly defeated that measure, Welty on more than one occasion came before the Upland City Council, advocating on behalf of the initiative, alternatively pleading with and then demanding that the council dispense with the citywide vote and simply pass the measure using its own authority. In doing so, he brazenly inveighed against “the black market” in the marijuana trade, propounding the measure would eradicate that black market in Upland. He conveniently omitted that he was one of the operators in that black market.
Part of the way across the county, last year three measures pertaining to permitting marijuana clinics to operate in the City of San Bernardino were qualified for the ballot. As in Upland, the political establishment in San Bernardino was conceptually opposed to allowing marijuana to be commercially available within the city. But after two separate initiatives – measures N and O, the latter sponsored by Welty – were qualified for the ballot through the initiative petition process, city officials, seeing the writing on the wall, put together their own clinic-permitting initiative, Measure P, that was more restrictive than the others. N and O passed by 51.1 percent and 55.12 percent, respectively, while Measure P fell short, with 48.45 percent support. Based on its greater number of votes, Measure O was deemed the binding law with regard to marijuana sales regulations in San Bernardino.
In the aftermath of Measure O’s passage, city officials said they would move expeditiously to actuate it, but then delayed, saying they needed time to redraft elements of the city code to make it compatible with Measure O. That had not been completed when in February the city was hit with two lawsuits challenging Measure O’s provisions legally and procedurally. One of those lawsuits originated with a group that had sponsored the competing dispensary permitting initiative, Measure N. City Attorney Gary Saenz, citing that litigation, suspended the full implementation of Measure O.
Four months after the passage of Measure O, the city had not yet put any of the elements of the protocol for the marijuana dispensary permitting process provided for in Measure O into place. The following day, on March 9, Diamond, on behalf of Welty, filed suit against the city. Three months passed before the city’s community development department provided applications for dispensary operations to interested parties. On August 24, the city issued a permit for its first legal marijuana dispensary operation to an entity functioning out of the address at 100 W. Hospitality Lane. 100 W. Hospitality Lane is the address of the Flesh Showgirls club. The de facto owner of Flesh Showgirls is Randy Welty.
As is typical of so many of Welty’s operations, the permit for the dispensary is not in Welty’s name but rather in that of Quiang Ye, who has been identified as the general manager of Flesh Showgirls.
This was not the first time the City of San Bernardino found itself legally challenged by Welty. Welty had previously, in defiance of the City of San Bernardino’s city code and zoning restrictions, opened a previous incarnation of Flesh Showgirls, called the Flesh Club. The city moved to close the enterprise, whereupon Welty brought in Diamond to bloody the city’s, and then-city attorney James Penman’s, noses. The Flesh Club remained shuttered for four years while Welty pursued a $2.6 million suit challenging the city code and the specific ordinance cited in the Flesh Club’s closure. Welty obtained a court order calling for the city to allow the club to reopen along with a $1.4 million judgment to recover lost income suffered during the closure.
At present, attorney James DeAguilera, the one-time city manager of Adelanto, is representing one set of plaintiffs alleging Measure O is flawed. Though DeAguilera is pursuing the case, it is San Bernardino City Attorney Gary Saenz’ judgment that the city has more to fear from Diamond and Welty than from DeAguilera and his clients.
Twentynine Palms City Manager Frank Luckino recently suggested to city leaders that some level of a cooperative effort involving the city and the Marine Base be effectuated to construct a municipal sewer system.
The Marine Corps has a wastewater treatment plant on the base, but Luckino noted, “It is 50 years old and needs to be replaced. We are talking to them about collaborating and getting one plant capable of taking their capacity and the city’s capacity.”
Luckino said the undertaking would likely take place under the auspices of the city. The Twentynine Palms Water District, an agency that is independent of the city, he said, “doesn’t have the authority” to undertake such a project. In Yucca Valley, the nearest municipality to Twentynine Palms, that area’s water agency, the Hi-Desert Water District, did take on the leadership role in seeing that a water treatment system is being put in place. Luckino, who was once the chief financial officer and assistant general manager of the Hi-Desert Water District, said, “The Hi-Desert Water District went to LAFCO [the San Bernardino County Local Agency Formation Commission] to get the authority. The Twentynine Palms Water District never got that authority. So, we’re taking the role of the lead agency here.”
Luckino said the replacement plant will likely be built on the site of the existing plant, which is referred to by the Marines stationed on the base as “Lake Bandini.” He said the likelihood is that the new plant would be operated by municipal staff. “The Marine Corps has a very important mission, which is protecting the country,” said Luckino. “What we would envision for sufficiency purposes would be that the city do what we do best, which is to provide municipal services. So, under theory, it would be city workers running the plant, which would be located on the base. The model for this exists with other military bases, like China Lake. Elements of this, of course, need to be worked out.”
While the city will take the lead, at least at present, Luckino said, the water district will eventually be brought in. “As we move forward, it makes sense at some point to have the water district involved,” he said, noting the district is involved in the laying of water pipe on a continuous basis.
The impetus for the project is the long term protection of water quality in the area, said Luckino, but he insisted there is no pending threat to the water supply. That was not the case in Yucca Valley, where that community was under a mandate from the State Water Board to construct a sewer system.
“There is no current crisis,” said Luckino. “The water quality in Twentynine Palms is good. There is no enforcement action pending against the city because of threats to our water quality. However, the state maintains as a general rule that septic systems are not acceptable for treating water.” Luckino explained that “The biggest issue is [population] density. Density is what triggers issues with the groundwater. The EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] says septic systems work ideally on a five-acre lot. That is the perfect scenario. With more houses and businesses and the more of a load you place on the water table, the potential for damage increases.”
In this way, he said, the more heavily populated area of 59-square mile Twentynine Palms “is a ticking time bomb. The reliance on septic systems could become an issue in the future in maintaining water quality. That is why the state encourages us to make progress. As long as they are satisfied we are making some form of progress, they stay off the regulatory path.”
That regulatory path could be onerous. In the case of Yucca Valley, the state mandated certain dates by which phases of the project had to be completed. The threatened penalty for not meeting those deadlines was rather draconian and angled to obtain compliance. Where the mandated system was not in place, the state said it would either methodically move to seal off every septic system in use within each of the specified areas, essentially rendering the affected homes inhabitable, or would use a somewhat more capricious methodology as was employed against Los Osos, a California community that failed to come into compliance after repeated warnings from the state. In Los Osos, the entire community became subject to an enforcement action, which was done in a lottery fashion, in which random property owners were selected to receive cease and desist orders with the potential of daily fines for non-compliance. They were ordered to discontinue the discharge from their septic systems, seal them off and pump them at regular intervals. If they did not, they were subjected to fines of up to $5,000 per day.
Luckino said “We are going forward with a United States Geological Survey study to understand how our ground water is being affected by the septic discharge.”
With regard to the price, Luckino expressed confidence the city can greatly minimize the sewer plant construction cost through its cooperation with the Marine Corps and the federal governmental assistance represented by the Defense Department defraying the cost of the sewer plant rebuild.
Luckino was able to make cost estimates based upon extrapolations from known figures. In terms of the plant’s planned capacity, he said the base currently processes 1.2 million gallons of sewage per day. Likewise, he said, in Yucca Valley, it is estimated the plant there will treat roughly 1.2 million gallons per day once it is up and running. According to the 2010 Census, Twentynine Palms had a population of 25,048. Yucca Valley had a population of 20,700 at that time. Thus, Luckino said, the planned capacity for the plant will be “in the two to three million gallon per day range.” He said “The federal government’s estimate for the replacement of the current plant is $22 million. The add-on cost for greater capacity from the city would be incremental.”
There will be economies of scale in the construction, Luckino said. “There is a lot of basic infrastructure that would not have to be doubled or reproduced,” he said. “The full portion of the local contribution is one thing we will have to determine.”
Luckino noted that the area’s congressman is Paul Cook, formerly a colonel at the base and later Yucca Valley mayor and a state assemblyman. He said “Congressman Cook is very engaged,” and he suggested Cook would be helpful in achieving federal subsidies to assist in paying for the sewer plant.
The more expensive element of the project, which he referred to as the ”second phase,” Luckino said, will be the collection system.
Luckino said that the collection system will be concentrated in the most heavily populated area of Twentynine Palms. “The plan is to connect through time regionally those who are closest to the center of town and gradually moving outward.”
He said that a 2003 study determined that the city will need to lay roughly 415,000 linear feet of pipe to complete the municipal portion of the collection system. He said that there has been only minimal growth in Twentynine Palms, so the 415,000 linear feet requirement very likely holds. The estimated cost of the 415,000 feet of pipe in 2003, Luckino said, was $53 million. But costs have risen, he said. A closely comparable figure he referenced is the 430,000 feet of sewer line to be put into Yucca Valley. That cost in 2017 dollars is $92 million.
Luckino said getting ahead of this inflation curve is one of the reasons for moving ahead with the project. Still, he said, first things should come first. “The first phase we are talking about is getting the capacity at the plant,” he said. “Getting the pipe in the city is the second phase and we are not at that phase yet. The bigger challenge is the collection system, without a doubt.”
Asked how he envisioned the project being paid for, Luckino said, “assessments, sales tax, water rate increase, fees, all of the above. Yucca Valley has looked at how to make it affordable. We have not gotten to that level yet.”
After years of resisting sales tax increases in Yucca Valley, the voters there last November approved measures Y and Z, each of which raised sales tax by a half-percent each starting April 1 and lasting for ten years. Measure Z is devoted entirely to paying for the cost of the sewer system. Measure Y is to cover a fuller range of government services, and it is anticipated some of its proceeds will pay for the water treatment system as well.
A portion of Twentynine Palms could be hooked up to the sewer system in another five years, Luckino said. “The base is hoping to get this through what the military calls micon dollars by 2020,” he said. “They would then have construction complete in 2021. We are working through these issues hand-in-hand with the Marine Corps and Congressman Cook. For the military, this is mission critical because without a wastewater treatment facility, the base could be shut down. Getting the system is important for the city for our community’s growth and economic development.” – Mark Gutglueck
How is some of California’s taxpayers’ money being spent? On high priced lawyers who are constructing criminal defenses for corrupt current and former California Public Utilities Commission members who are the targets of criminal investigations. How much money is being used in this way? The best estimate at the moment is $7.4 million. And what is the money being used for? The California Public Utilities Commission members under the microscope hope it will prevent a full-blown investigation from transitioning into a prosecution, the end result of which would very likely be that commissioners or some commission staff members would end up in prison…
It is edifying to see how the arrangement for legal services evolved. Initially it was done in secret, when the commission retained the law firm of Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton for $49,000, just $1,000 below the $50,000 amount that triggers an examination of the expenditure by other state officials, including the Department of General Services and a public approval process. That $49,000 paid for a few minutes more than 55-and-a-half hours of legal services, given that Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton charges $882 per hour. Eventually, the arrangement for legal services became a matter of public record, and Michael Picker, the commission chairman proved unabashed about extending the contract with Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton. At present, California taxpayers have paid the law firm at least $7.39 million to represent various members of the California Public Utilities Commission…
The California Attorney General’s Office initiated a criminal investigation relating to the California Public Utilities Commission in 2014. In 2015, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge authorized three search warrants stemming from that investigation. One part of the investigation involves looking into how former board chairman, Michael Peevey, a former Southern California Edison president, traveled out of the country to hold a secret meeting with Edison officials at the swanky Bristol Hotel in Warsaw, Poland, where he cut a deal with Edison whereby Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric ratepayers were consigned to coughing up $3.3 billion, roughly 75 percent of the cost of shuttering the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, which grew inoperable because of Edison’s technical mismanagement of that facility…
Another relates to Dr. Tim Brown, who from 2011 until early 2014 was a senior scientist in the Advanced Power and Energy Program at the University of California at Irvine and was also serving as a consultant to the Energy Commission in drawing up a map for determining the best locations for hydrogen refueling stations throughout the state to serve the hydrogen fuel cell cars which are soon to become commercially available. After serving as the architect of the “hydrogen highway,” Tim Brown resigned his position and then formed a company, First Element Fuel, which tapped into the hydrogen station grants being handed out by the Energy Commission, reportedly to the tune of $10 million…
A third investigation relates to what happened up in San Bruno, where a pipeline blast killed eight people there in 2010. When the City of San Bruno filed a lawsuit against Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), San Bruno lawyers during the discovery process came across a cache of internal PG&E emails as well as exchanges with commissioners and commission staff that indicate there was something less than an arm’s length relationship between the commission and PG&E. In particular, San Bruno officials consider some of the communications between commission member Mike Florio and PG&E to be a “smoking gun,” showing that PG&E was dictating California Public Utilities Commission policy and that Florio was involved in a conflict-of-interest under California law. An indication that there is substance to San Bruno’s suspicions is the manner in which PG&E fire the officials demonstrated to have had the cozy relationship with Florio…
Nothing has happened to the commission members, largely because the high priced lawyers paid by taxpayer dollars are putting stumbling blocks in the way of anyone, including investigators and journalists seeking public documents relating to the commission, thereby making sure that the commissioners will never be held to account let alone be punished for their criminal neglect and betrayal of the citizens they were sworn into office to protect…
The area around Mount San Antonio, also referred to as Mt. Baldy, saw its first significant development during the time of the Civil War, shortly after Mormon settlers set up ranches in nearby Lytle Creek.
The area’s resources were of some value to those in the populated lowland areas. A tributary of San Antonio Creek flows through what is now known as Icehouse Canyon, where along its north-facing slope snow is retained late into the spring and early summer. As early as 1859, Damien Marchessault and Victor Beaudry, later Los Angeles mayor, built an icehouse there. The ice was brought down from the mountains to Los Angeles by mule and wagon and sold door to door, as well as being used at Beaudry and Marchessault’s ice cream saloon, the only one in the city.
Oranges were grown near what is now Mount Baldy Village by Madison Kincaid in 1865. A sawmill was built in 1870 upstream from the village, but was destroyed, most likely in the flood of 1884.
Beginning in 1882, the San Antonio Water Company took control of the water rights in San Antonio Canyon, including its three hydroelectric plants.
In 1880, W.H. Stoddard, brother-in-law of railroad baron Collis P. Huntington, built a resort in what is now called Stoddard Canyon. This precipitated the area’s popularity as a resort destination. Frank Keyes converted Dell’s Camp from a mining support station into a rental resort, and by the turn of the century Dell’s Camp attracted as many as a hundred guests in a weekend. Charles Baynham built a second camp nearby in 1907, and in the following year the canyon became accessible by automobile. By the early 1920s there were numerous trail camps and resorts such as the Icehouse Canyon Resort, Bear Canyon Resort, Eleven Oaks, Baynham Camp, Alpine Woods, Trail Inn, Snow Crest, and Kelly’s Camp, the latter of which was originally a logging camp. When the area became a national forest in 1908, the U.S. Forest Service began offering 99-year leases on plots of land in Icehouse Canyon for vacation cabins. By 1938 there were 105 cabins and additional cabins at a resort owned by the Chapman family.
By the 1960s, the Ice House Lodge, at an elevation of 5,280 feet and roughly a mile north of Mr. Baldy Village proper, had become a popular Friday and Saturday evening night spot for those risking the drive up from the flatlands below. In March 1988 it burned down.
The pale swallowtail or Papilio eurymedon, which is also called the pallid swallowtail, is a butterfly in the Papilionidae family and the Papilioninae subfamily. It is found in San Bernardino County, and is common throughout much of western North America, particularly along the Pacific coast from northern Baja California to southernmost British Columbia. Its territory reaches inland to northern New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and as far east as the Black Hills of South Dakota. It is absent from most of Nevada and western Utah.
The pale swallowtail prefers open woodlands, forest clearings, foothills and chaparral, especially near permanent bodies of water such as ponds and streamsides, but also urban parks. They are occasionally seen in suburban areas. Though not as common as the western tiger swallowtail, the pale swallowtail can be seen in large numbers at puddling parties where up to a dozen or more males may be gathered. There they join other species to sip water from damp soil to obtain nutrients for mating.
Their appearance is quite similar to that of the western tiger swallowtail, except they are a white-cream color or very pale yellow. Some pale swallowtails also have differing amounts of red-orange patches on the wings just above the tail. Tiger stripes and borders are thicker than those of western tiger swallowtails. The wingspan is typically 2.8 to 4.5 inches. The front wing is narrow and pointed; the tail of hindwing is long, slender and twisted.
Males perch and patrol for receptive females. Females lay eggs singly on host plant leaves, which include members of the Ceanothus genus, including buckbrush, mountain balm, and mountain lilac, trees and shrubs in the Rosaceae, Rhamnaceae and Betulaceae families including cherry (Prunus emarginata), bitter cherry coffee-berry (Rhamnus californica), and ash (Fraxinus spp.), as well as red alder, ocean spray, and serviceberry species. Caterpillars feed on leaves and rest on silken mats in shelters of curled leaves. The pale swallowtail has a single brood throughout most of its range, but two or more along the Pacific Coast. Adults fly from March to October and are most common in May and July. In southern California, they fly from March until August. Caterpillars enter their pupal stage in the fall. Pupae hibernate and overwinter before emerging as adults.
Adults feed on flower nectar, including that of the California buckeye, yerba santa, and wallflower.
Caterpillars are plump green with a single yellow band behind the thorax. The have two eye-shaped spots on the upper thorax, which may help frighten predators. Like most swallowtails, they have a red wishbone-shaped organ called the osmeterium, which pops out from behind the head and releases a foul odor to warn off predators. Caterpillars turn brown just before the fifth moult. The pupa is brown and looks like a piece of bark. As they pupate, they face upright, secure the tip of their abdomens to a branch with a silk thread, and hang freely.
Autumn is just around the corner, and with that comes embroidered garments. This means embroidered bags, embroidered shirts, embroidered dresses and embroidered jackets are about to be a highly visible element of daily attire. I am also seeing embroidered shoes. This autumn embroidery is the trend! Embroidery is something that has been around a long time. Would you believe cultural anthropologists have traced this phenomenon all the way back to the Iron Age? The jackets with embroidery are stunning! Denim along with leather add a strong statement on the streets. Denim, in my view and just about everyone else’s, based on its popularity, looks spectacular embroidered. If you want to add to the hype, try a pair of embroidered leather lace-up boots to match. Also, accessories are trending, like handbags in stitch work and beaded embellishment. I think autumn is going to fill the streets with a hint of romanticism, and embroidery will lead the way. Enjoy!
“If you take away print and embroidery, you have to challenge yourself a bit more on the cut.” -Joseph Altuzarra