Native Americans used the acorns of this species as a food staple, after leaching of the tannins; moreover, its roasted seed is a coffee substitute. After forest fires, canyon live oak regenerates vigorously by basal sprouting, and the clonal diversity of this species has been shown to be high.
This evergreen has significant-sized spreading, horizontal branches, and a broad, rounded crown; it attains a height of 20 to 100 feet and is often found in a shrubby growth form. The trunk diameter can range from 12 to 40 inches. The elliptical to oblong leaves are 1 inch to 3.2 inches in length with widths of about half that dimension. The leaves are short-pointed at the tip, but rounded or blunt at base. Although the leaves appear generally flat, they may have edge margins slightly turned under, typically with spiny teeth, particularly on young twigs. These leathery leaves are a glossy dark green above, with a nether surface a dull golden down, often becoming gray and relatively smooth the second year.
Bark of the canyon live oak is of a light gray coloration, and ranges from being smooth to rough and scaly. Acorns occur solitarily or in pairs, exhibiting lengths of just under an inch to two inches. They variable in shape, but generally ovoid, turban-like with a shallow, thick cup of scales densely covered with yellowish hairs; the stalk is barely evident.
Pollination occurs in the spring.
The canyon live oak is found in a variety of forest communities in the southwestern United States. It is common in the mountainous regions of California, including the Sierra Nevada, Coast Ranges, Klamath Mountains, Cascades, San Gabriel Mountains and the San Bernardino Mountains, with additional populations in southwestern Oregon, western Nevada, northern Baja California, Arizona, southwestern New Mexico, and Chihuahua.
Canyon live oak is tolerant of a variety of soil types, including very rocky or cobbly environments. It is hardy to cold temperatures down to −11 °F, and will grow in neutral to moderately acidic soils with pH ranges of 4.5 to 7.5. Canyon live oak grows at elevations of about 1.600 feet to 4,800 feet in southwestern Oregon; in Northern California, from 300 feet to 4,300 feet; and in Southern California, up to approximately 8,200 feet. Quercus chrysolepis can be the dominant tree on steep canyon walls, especially in locations of shallow rocky soils. In areas of moderate to high rainfall, it occurs on south facing slopes, and in the hotter, drier parts of its distribution, on northerly slope faces.
Besides the prehistoric use of canyon live oaks as a human food source, the acorns are consumed by a variety of wildlife as diverse as acorn woodpecker, California ground squirrel, dusky-footed wood rat, western harvest mouse and black-tailed deer. Surprisingly there seems little difference in food preference by wildlife among different oak species.
Extensive hybridization of quercus chrysolepis has been documented with several other sympatric oak species, probably to a greater extent than for any other quercus species. The ability of quercus chrysolepis to compete with other dominant trees within its range has been analyzed from the standpoint of leaf architecture and photosynthetic capability. The study results explain that, in low light environments, Q. chrysolepis out-competes species with superior leaf size and crown mass per unit volume by its greater photosynthetic efficiency and leaf lifespan.
Canyon live oak gives functional habitat for many fauna by providing perching, nesting, resting, or foraging sites for numerous species of birds, and shade and cover for diverse other mammals. Canyon live oak woodlands serve as excellent mountain lion habitat because of the large population of deer frequenting these areas. Many species forage on canyon live oak foliage including black-tailed jackrabbit, beaver, brush rabbit, red-backed vole, Sonoma chipmunk, cactus mouse, deer mouse, and porcupine. Pocket gophers often feed on the cambium of young canyon live oaks.
In southern California Q. chrysolepis is the food plant of a small moth, Neocrania bifasciata.
The Canyon Live Oak is a severe allergen.
From Wikipedia, https://www.fs.fed.us/database and https://calscape.org/loc-San_Bernardino_National_Forest,CA
To download a PDF of the December 6 edition of the San Bernardino County Sentinel, click on the blue portal below.
By Mark Gutglueck
A relatively unique power struggle is playing out between a majority of the members of Upland City Council and the San Antonio Water Company over the direction the company wants to take in managing its assets. The matter is complicated by the consideration that the City of Upland is a majority owner of the company’s stock, and as such is seeking to impose its will on how the company is operated.
Despite the city’s majority interest in the company, its past and especially recent-past mismanagement of its own water division operations, which have included the imposition of what many of the city’s residents consider to be exorbitant rate hikes, is leaving the city council and senior staff members vulnerable to countercharges that could expose City Hall to revelations of incompetence that would potentially have far-reaching political consequences in the City of Gracious Living.
The San Antonio Water Company was created by the City of Ontario’s founder, George Chaffey, and was incorporated on October 25, 1882. It exists today as a California mutual water company organized under the California Corporations Code.
Over the years, the City of Upland, which has two wells of its own, has accumulated more and more of the San Antonio Water Company’s stock, such that at present it owns 4,341.25 shares, or 67.95 percent, of the outstanding 6,389 shares in the company. The remainder of the company stock consists of 623.5 shares divided among slightly more than 1,300 homeowners in San Antonio Heights, 329.75 shares in the possession of the Monte Vista Water District, 295.25 shares controlled by the City of Ontario, 218.25 shares owned by Red Hills Golf Course, Holiday Rock Company’s 132.25 shares, 50.25 shares among remaining citrus grove owners, 10 shares belonging to the Red Hills Homeowners Association and the Cucamonga Valley Water District’s 4 shares. Upland’s water division relies not solely, but in significant measure upon the San Antonio Water Company as its water provider, with the Metropolitan Water District being its other primary supplier, augmented by the West End Water Company, another mutual, 90 percent owned by the city and operated directly by the city.
In addition to supplying roughly two-fifths of the water used in the City of Upland, the San Antonio Water Company is the sole water source for all of San Antonio Heights, an unincorporated pocket of county land located north of Upland.
With its wells and aquifer lying toward the eastern extreme of the foothills at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains, which includes Mount San Antonio, also known as Mt. Baldy, Ontario Peak and Mt. Harwood, the San Antonio Water Company has ready and reliable access to a substantial amount of water. The company does not import any water. Instead it is dependent on the local San Antonio Canyon watershed and groundwater basins. In this way, the San Antonio Water Company delivers an acre-foot of water, enough water to cover an expanse of one acre to a depth of one foot or 325,851.4 gallons of water, for $296, treated or untreated. In comparison, the Metropolitan Water District, which serves as the water purveyor to 19 million people in six counties, including a majority of the cities in Los Angeles County, as well as to Upland, charges $731 for an untreated acre-foot of water and $1,050 for a treated acre-foot of water. The City of Upland, which owns the conveyance system for the water that is provided to the household, commercial and industrial water users in Upland, has variable water rates intended to encourage water conservation that range from $901.75 per acre-foot at the lowest unit cost to $1,420.15 per acre-foot at the high end. Thus, unbeknownst to the vast majority of Upland residents/water customers, the city marks up by at least 304 percent the water it receives from the San Antonio Water Company before passing it along to its residents and businesses.
At present, the water company, which involves 10 wells, four steel tanks and one concrete basin for domestic water storage, four concrete reservoirs for irrigation water storage, five reservoirs, six booster stations, two surface water intakes and 25 miles of pipeline located primarily north of the City of Upland or in northernmost Upland, is headquartered in a more than 90-year-old 1,200 square-foot home sited on a 7,400 sq-foot property on Euclid Avenue between 8th and 9th streets. Its corporate yard is on a 14,000 square-foot property near downtown Upland on First Avenue. The company has been looking to consolidate facilities since 2015.
Brian Lee, the general manager of the water company since 2018, explained what is pushing the company’s move to upgrade its holdings.
“The primary reasons behind our efforts are the age and condition of our existing facilities,” Lee said. “The administration building was constructed in 1928. The operations building was constructed some time prior to that and housed the blacksmith and mules used to pull the trolley up Euclid Avenue. The blacksmith’s pot-bellied stove and anvil are still located at the company yard. Until a couple years ago, the pot-bellied stove was the only heating, ventilation and air conditioning unit at the operations building. The company utilizes both buildings. The administration building acts as the hub of the company, a central location for planning, organizing and strategizing. It also serves as the public face of the company where shareholders come to conduct business. Additionally, the administration building houses company hardcopy records (on paper) and our electronic records (data servers for company files and billing records). The operations building is where we store our trucks and parts for pipelines and pumps. It is our warehouse. If either one of these buildings became inoperable, service to our shareholders would be impacted. This impact will be even more dramatic in a catastrophic event such as an earthquake.”
Lee continued, “Given the age of these facilities, it should not be surprising that structural and design issues exist. Of primary importance are seismic deficiencies and Americans with Disability Act deficiencies. The administration building is a block-wall design with questionable structural steel (rebar). The technical understanding of seismic events has improved significantly since the 1920s and current building codes reflect that understanding. The operations building is a wooden structure with an unknown foundation. The company could conduct a forensic review of the two buildings, but the study would just confirm that a 100-year old building is not constructed to modern codes.”
Moreover, Lee said, “The Americans with Disabilities Act requirements are even more pressing, given that the Americans with Disabilities Act is the law and there is no ‘grandfathering’ for older buildings. If we conduct public business, which we do, then we must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Ramps, steps, doors, bathrooms and hallway widths are all deficient. Modernizing the administration building to conform with Americans with Disabilities Act requirements would be impossible without giving up critical space and would require moving all administration functions to another location during construction and then back again. It is apparent to me that consolidating company functions onto a single property would serve multiple purposes; needed modernization of our buildings and increasing efficiency between staff and shareholders.”
In 2016, the company derived a preliminary budget for a new company campus combining the administration and operations functions at one site and obtained architectural renderings for what the new facility would look like. That preliminary budget was $3,184,070.
The company’s intention at present is to sell off the current administration headquarters and the company yard as well as a few other pieces of surplus property to entirely fund the facilities modernization.
The company has purchased an available 5.267 acre (229,436 square-foot) property on Benson Avenue upon which it intends to locate the combined headquarters and corporate yard, paying $3,440,000 for it. As it will need only half of that land for the project, earlier this year the company sold 2.6335 acres (114,718 sq feet) of that property to the city for $1,720,000.
The company believes it can sell the house which hosts its administrative headquarters for $500,000, its operations property on First Avenue for $700,000 and 2.41 acres (105,000 sq-feet) of vacant surplus property the company owns on 20th Street for $1,500,000.
“If the market holds and we are able to sell it, we believe we can get $2.7 million for those properties,” Lee said. “Combined with the $1.72 million the company made from the sale of the Benson Avenue property to the city, the company will have $4.42 million as an overall budget for the project. During our ad-hoc deliberations in 2019, I proposed a budgetary number of $4,000,000, given the uncertainty of the project. My ‘gut’ estimate was established by assuming a site development cost of $40 per square foot multiplied by a roughly 100,000 square-foot site (the northern half of the Benson Property).”
In this way, Lee said, “Funds for the project are expected to come from property sales, not rates charged to our water users. We already have sold one property to the City of Upland. The old administration and operation properties would be sold to fund the remainder. If additional funds are required, the company has additional property on 20th Street that was a potential site for the relocation. Once we have relocated our combined facilities onto Benson, that property could also be considered surplus. We want to conduct appraisals to solidify the numbers of the three unsold parcels, but preliminary budgetary numbers are that we can count on getting $500,000 for the Euclid property and $700,000 for the company yard.”
In early 2019 an ad-hoc committee composed of a subset of the San Antonio Water Company’s board of directors revisited the 2016 architectural renderings, concluding they did not align with the company’s history and future needs, and directed staff to jettison the earlier plans and issue a request for proposals for architectural services. A request for qualifications was sent to five different firms and posted on the company website. Two firms responded, including Claremont-based CEDG, which had drawn up the 2016 architectural renderings. The ad hoc committee reviewed the proposals and selected CEDG as the most qualified.
The company’s board of directors consists of San Antonio Heights residents Martha Goss and Bob Cable, Upland residents Jose Sanchez and Will Elliott, along with current Upland City Councilman Rudy Zuniga and former Upland councilmen Tom Thomas and Gino Filippi.
Word reached the city as to the company’s progress toward its facilities consolidations. Over the summer, the city reacted to the discussions relating to the company’s proposed action. On July 9, 2019, Upland Interim City Manager Rosemary Hoerning wrote Lee, saying “The city has concerns about the construction of the new centralized office headquarter building, given the existing maturity of the service area and limited growth of the San Antonio Heights Community. Upland is concerned a new office headquarter facility may be perceived by the public as not an essential facility in comparison to other physical plant structures, which are needed for the delivery of water to your various customers. This perception may be further heightened, given the recent significant rate adjustments that were implemented last year.”
Hoerning’s reference to rate adjustments relates to ones that were imposed on Upland’s residents and businesses by the city in 2018. The San Antonio Water Company had at that time increased the cost of the water it was selling to customers. The company’s adjustment accounted for 39 percent of the city’s 2018 rate increase.
“I believe the implementation of this new facility could present strong and critical responses within the Upland community,” Hoerning’s letter continued. “Sufficient public outreach and project marketing should be undertaken to understand the climate and project acceptance by the community. The city has expressed verbally our concerns regarding the subject project and understands the funding used will be one-time money and not rate revenue. However, the concerns do include the recent significant increase to water rates, which contributed to the city need to increase its customer rates to ensure there is adequate revenue to meet operational and capital investment requirements. I believe it is essential to demonstrate the need for the investment of these funds in a new office versus applying the money to needed capital improvements to reduce the need for future rate adjustments. At this time, I believe most of the discussion has occurred internally and with the board on office design elements and project costs. I am not sure how much public outreach has been undertaken to determine whether there will be potentially negative public concerns over the proposal.”
Hoerning’s letter continued, “I believe it is important to ensure the company’s capital improvements and facility rehabilitations are well documented and appropriately addressed. Finally, I think the San Antonio Water Company should develop a business case demonstrating that this is the best use of funds on behalf of the shareholders versus investing in other needed company assets.”
Lee shared the city’s communication with the company’s ad hoc committee. He responded to Hoerning and the city council by letter, indicating the company would address the city’s expressed concerns. He similarly responded to inquiries from the company’s shareholders.
In October Lee met with Upland City Councilwoman Janice Elliott, Upland City Councilman Bill Velto, San Antonio Water Company board members Martha Goss, Tom Thomas and Jose Sanchez and three shareholders. In the course of that meeting Lee provided the city’s representatives with a scope of work for the facility replacement project, which he said, “clarified the company’s needs and tightened our budgetary numbers. In effect, we proposed to do exactly what the city asked us to do. I shared the proposed scope with all those who attended the October meeting and received only positive comments in return. The company moved forward and approved the scope at our November board meeting.”
At the November 25 Upland City Council Meeting, at the instigation of Councilman William Velto the council held a discussion relating to the company’s plans. Velto questioned the necessity of the company constructing a new facility, suggesting it could store its equipment at the City of Upland’s corporate yard and have its management, administration and business operations function out of a trailer parked at the city’s corporate yard as well. Councilman Ricky Felix proved more aggressive than Velto. Felix suggested that the city, which based on its majority ownership of the company’s stock appoints the members of the San Antonio Water Company Board of Directors, replace the board wholesale. Velto stated he was not prepared to make that radical of an adjustment, but propounded the belief that the company’s stated intent was if not profligate, extravagant. Members of the public who spoke in general questioned the expense of the construction of a new headquarters. Councilmembers Janice Elliott and Rudy Zuniga, the latter a member of the San Antonio Water Company Board of Directors, were less dismissive of the company’s statement of need with regard to both consolidating and modernizing its facilities. Zuniga, in particular, sought to temper the rising fervor against the company that Velto and Felix were whipping up, suggesting that it is the city rather than the company which is responsible for the higher water rates Upland’s residents are now chaffing under. The San Antonio Water Company is selling water to the city for $296 per acre-foot, while the city is delivering water to its residents at prices between $901.75 an acre-foot and $1,420.15.
Zuniga’s citation of the price the city was charging did not sway his colleagues from the position that the water company’s intent was untenable. The upshot of the discussion was that the council voted to send the company a ‘cease and desist’ letter, enjoining it from all activity related to the acquisition of a new campus.
The fashion in which Velto and Felix have cast the issue and the rhetoric used to steer much of the public conversation about the water company has portrayed the company’s board and management in a comparatively negative light. An element at play is a possible move toward a merger or takeover of the company by the city. Both Felix and Velto are believed to have political aspirations beyond the city council, including what many perceive as Velto’s ambition toward becoming mayor, or in Felix’s case, a publicly stated desire to move on to Congress. Thus, portraying the water company as an entity that has squandered money, resulting in rising water costs, appears to be in both men’s interest, conditional upon the city being able to effectuate a takeover in which it is perceived that a vital public asset – water – is preserved, and customer/ratepayer/resident interests are being well looked after. A real question, however, attends whether the council’s portrayal of the circumstance matches reality, and indeed whether it has been the city and not the company that both historically and within the last several years is responsible for residents being gouged at the water tap.
Specifically, the Upland City Council in 2018 increased water rates 17 percent effective April 1, 2018; 9 percent further effective January 1, 2019, 9 percent on top of that January 1, 2010, 5 percent more as of January 1, 2021; with a 3 percent hike to come on January 1, 2022. The initial increase upped the cost to $1.76 per 100 cubic feet of water unit used in households or businesses up to the first 20 units; thereafter that below-threshold unit rate increased to $1.91 on January 1, 2019, will go to $2.07 on January 1, 2020; $2.18 on January 1, 2021; and $2.34 on January 1, 2022. Water used beyond the 20 unit threshold and up to 50 units will thereafter cost $2.32 per 100 cubic foot unit beginning April 1, 2018; $2.52 as of January 1, 2019, $2.73 as of January 1, 2020; $2.87 as of January 1, 2021; and $2.96 as of January 1, 2022. Cost on water use beyond 50 units increased to $2.78 per 100 cubic foot unit as of April 1, 2018; $3.01 on January 1, 2019; and will rise to $3.26 on January 1, 2020; $3.43 on January 1, 2021; and $3.54 on January 1, 2022.
The fixed bi-monthly charge for those using the system with 5/8s inch pipe, the type used by virtually all of Upland’s domestic water users, went to $46.90 as of April 1, 2018; then $52.25 as of January 1, 2019; it is to escalate to $57.85 as of January 1, 2020; $60.80 as of January 1, 2021; and $62.75 as of January 1, 2022. As a comparison, the San Antonio Water Company charges a $20 bi-monthly fixed cost for a 5/8” service.
With Upland’s residents sore over those increases, city officials, including Velto and Felix, have not been reluctant to divert that discontent toward the water company, despite the consideration that the city is the deliverer of water to its residents, the rate increases are the city’s doing and not that of the water company and the water company had no veto power over what the city has done with its water once it sold it to the city.
“I have not indicated nor spoken that I believe that the San Antonio Water Company has squandered money,” Velto asserted. “My contention is that due to the City of Upland’s past leadership and the economy, the city failed to accurately increase costs for water gradually to assist in the maintenance required to keep the water delivery system updated. I do believe that the San Antonio Water Company and Upland should investigate a potential agreement whereby the city’s public works department takes over the operations for the San Antonio Water Company.”
City officials are loath to acknowledge, generally and specifically, where and how the San Antonio Water Company’s operations have proven more efficient than those of the city’s water department, despite available documentation to that effect.
Hidden, as well, is a darker secret city officials are keeping. By California law, municipalities which run their own water divisions must utilize the revenue generated in those operations for obtaining water, delivering the water and the construction of further water-related facilities or their upkeep. Rules are exacting relating to how water operation money is to be accounted for, including its deposit into sequestered accounts so that it is not used for other purposes or municipal operations unrelated to its water system. In Upland the tracking and accounting of water department operations over the last decade or more has been slipshod at best. No purely sequestered account for water operations exists, and the money has been pooled with funds used for other operations. Indications, unofficial because documentation and strict accounting information is unavailable, is that water department revenue has on multiple occasions been diverted to other city programs.
Since shortly after he was elevated from the planning commission and appointed to the city council, Velto has resisted repeated calls for the city to undertake a comprehensive auditing of its finances. During the tenures of former City Treasurer Dan Morgan and current Treasurer Larry Kinley, who was elected in 2016, senior administrators have isolated them and limited their function. Domineering city administrators in recent years, faced with financial challenges and focused on day-to-day operations that not infrequently have required that they rob Peter to pay Paul and juggle city finances in ways that are less than fully kosher, have burned through several finance managers who wore out their welcomes by constantly remarking on how funds were being transferred or applied toward unauthorized uses.
Velto said it was “factually incorrect” to say he is opposed to a comprehensive audit, but indicated he wanted proof in hand of misfeasance at City Hall before consenting to a forensic audit.
“I have always been in favor of audits,” he said. “The city has had numerous audits. A call for a forensic audit has been requested by a small group of residents, and if during any of the required audits a discrepancy was found that could not be explained or corrected and a potential crime was discovered, then I would agree a forensic audit would be needed.”
It is apparent that the threshold of preliminary proof city officials feel is needed to trigger a searching inquiry into certain elements of the public’s perception of the irregularities in the use of Upland’s water department funding has not been met. That, however, represents a Catch-22 situation, many residents feel, because without an audit there is no way to show that the city is upping its water rates and then diverting that money to the general fund to help balance its books. At that same time, the diversion of the water department’s revenue is an issue city officials would obviously rather its residents not focus on. The San Antonio Water Company’s move toward selling off its existing premises and moving into new ones provided the council a welcome opportunity to divert the public’s attention away from at least some of the uncomfortable reality at City Hall.
Deriding the administration building the company wants to construct as a “Taj Mahal,” and the water company board’s determination to hold meetings on its own premises as an unnecessary vanity, Velto said, “They don’t need a $4 million facility. They can use City Hall. Theirs is an operation of 11 people. Our water department has 25 people. Their billings and whatnot should be handled by the City of Upland’s water department. They need a 60-seat auditorium for what? They can continue to use City Hall. We can lease them land at out corporate yard where they could build a smaller building there and put an office in it. We have facilities there for storing equipment.”
Velto rejected contentions that the company has outgrown its current grounds. “There is no need to build a $4 million facility,” he repeated. “If they want to sell their house on Euclid and sell their yard on Second Street, they should invest that money in reservoirs in case of a catastrophe. There is no need for them to create a new campus on Benson. To spend the money for that would be a violation of their fiduciary duty to their shareholders.”
The councilman dismissed as irrelevant comparisons between the city’s past misadministration of the city’s water department and the San Antonio Water Company’s more favorable and successful management of its assets. Velto acknowledged neglect of the city’s water delivery system but seemed to suggest there was no carryover from that circumstance to the way the city is currently being run.
“The city in the past deferred maintenance,” he conceded. “Over the last 20-to-30 years, rates have gradually increased. The past leadership did not take care of the problem. Why that is, I have no clue. I cannot apologize for what happened in their time on the council. I’m not interest in dwelling on the past. What I am interested in is moving forward.”
By the same token, Velto said, the San Antonio Water Company’s ability to deliver water at anywhere from 28 percent to 40 percent of the cost charged by the Metropolitan Water District softens no soap with him.
“Water rates are not the issue,” Velto said. “This has nothing to do with water rates. It is fiscally irresponsible to build a $4 million building they do not need, or a $2 million building they don’t need or a $1 million building they don’t need. If they want to buy something, they should buy an existing building downtown. Those brick buildings can be easily retrofitted. When someone doesn’t want to look at other options before they spend this kind of money, they are being irresponsible. It is reasonable for the city to not let the San Antonio Water Company, in which it is the supermajority stockholder, spend that kind of money. That money could be used for other systems and to build other resources instead.”
Velto said the water company should put whatever money it has accumulated into refurbishing its infrastructure.
“It is my understanding some of the pumps are from the 1930s,” Velto asserted. “There is so much more that they can be doing with the four million than building a new headquarters. We have let them know we are not in favor of this and that they are showing no accountability to the residents.”
The attitude among the water company’s leadership is generally out of step with what he and other members of the council expect, Velto said. “[Company Board Member and former Upland City Councilman Gino [Filippi] was the only one who voted no,” Velto observed.
During the November 25 meeting, Councilman Felix sought to usher his colleagues toward cashiering all or most of the members of the water company’s board and replacing them with ones who will carry out the council’s dictates. The council receded from putting such an action on a future agenda, with Velto suggesting the board as it is currently composed should be afforded the opportunity to amend its course of action first. But Velto said the board member replacement remedy is an option. “The mayor appoints the company’s board members and the council approves or confirms them,” he said. “We’re not at the point where I want to replace the board. That’s a little premature.”
Velto said he and other members of the council were working to “build a consensus” on how the city can best employ the water company’s assets and he was dismayed and miffed that the company’s board was “being irrational” with regard to an unnecessary expansion of its facilities.
Without saying so explicitly, Velto, who makes no secret of wanting to be able to exercise more influence by guiding the entire council in its policy determinations and setting managerial objectives, hinted that the city’s eventual direct takeover of the water company is not out of the question.
“There is some redundancy with our water department and San Antonio,” Velto said. “I think it is wise to consider how those overlapping responsibilities can be consolidated, how those resources might be consolidated to one organization. That is the direction I am proposing. My take is, my position is, there are overlapping functions.”
Velto bristled somewhat at the observation that given the city’s past poor management of its own water department and the efficiency with which the San Antonio Water Company has conducted its affairs historically, if a merger were to take place, the water company absorbing the city’s water department would be the more logically appropriate acquisition than the other way around, and that the construction of a modernized and more substantial centralized facility for the water department now rather than later when the price will further escalate falls in line with that.
“If you or anyone wants to say the city has botched its water operations, bring the evidence,” Velto said. “That’s easy for people to say.”
Such evidence is slim, given the city’s reluctance to audit its own books.
Velto, as does everyone on the council, has an investment in demonstrating the competence and proficiency of city staff functioning under his watch. He earnestly sought to propound that the city has turned a new leaf with the elevation of the city’s public works director, Rosemary Hoerning, to the role of acting city manager. He sounded genuinely wounded that someone would suggest that others are less sanguine than he about the city’s situation or that some think his confidence is unwarranted and his trust in the overarching competence of city staff might be misplaced.
“We will always have those that believe otherwise,” he lamented “We have someone [Hoerning] right now who has a strong background in water.” He suggested Hoerning can ensure as city manager that future water department functions are competently carried out in accordance with vectoring revenue from water operations back into the water department rather than to fill funding shortfalls elsewhere in Upland’s municipal monolith.
Confronted pointblank with suggestions that doubt about the city’s reliability in handling its own affairs is much more widespread in the community than Velto is prepared to acknowledge and the suggestion that the water company’s directors might have been seeking to assert independence and thereby construct some insulation to protect the company from a dysfunctional city government that is looking to cannibalize the company and its assets to balance its red ink-hemorrhaging books, the councilman momentarily sounded a note of conciliation. “I don’t think it was the water company’s intent to create any kind of controversy,” Velto said. He then said that it was the nonchalance in San Antonio Water Company General Manager Brian Lee’s approach to expending a significant amount of the water company’s money that provoked the general alarm.
“Some people at the October meeting were taken aback when he acted like it wasn’t important that he was spending $4 million,” Velto said. “He didn’t think there was going to be any repercussion to that. The people in Upland want leadership, they want transparency and they want fairness.”
Previously, Velto said, he just had questions about the water company’s proposal to transition out of its current facilities.
“I just thought they should have had members of the board of directors present it to the city council,” Velto said. “What I wanted at that point was transparency. I thought if we had the relevant information there would not have been any public backlash. But with what I now see, I want this stopped and want the city council to direct that it be abandoned. There is nothing they could do or say to justify spending $4 million on a 4,000 square foot office and a 60-seat auditorium.”
Lee told the Sentinel the company had been upfront with both the public and the city council from the time the concept of consolidating and modernizing its facilities was first broached in 2015.
“All of our meetings have been conducted in the public forum and all agendas and minutes are available for review,” Lee said. “City staff and councilmembers attended some of them.”
He further clarified that some of the company’s wells date from the 1930s but that all of the pumps servicing them are modern and up-to-date.
For many Uplanders, the issue is complicated by a tangle of considerations, not the least of which is a succession of city scandals, followed by political instability at City Hall. In 2011, former Mayor John Pomierski was indicted by a federal grand jury on bribery charges, along with two of his business associates and one of his appointees to the Upland Housing Authority. All four were convicted. In 2012, Pomierski’s hand-picked city manager, Robb Quincey, was charged by the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office with three felony political corruption/abuse of public office counts. He too was convicted, albeit to a reduction in charges. Hoerning is the city’s ninth city manager since 2005. As of Pomierski’s resignation from office a day before his indictment, there has been a complete changeover in the membership of the council, with 12 people serving as mayor or councilman since that time. In the last election cycle in 2018, three members of the city council were displaced.
The degree to which the San Antonio Water Company is restrained from acting with autonomy has led to confusion among locals as to precisely what type of entity it is. While some believe it to be a private company, it is perceived by others to be a public entity and by some to be a quasi-public agency/quasi-private company or some order of public/private entity. In actuality, it is a private entity, a mutual water company that just happens to be slightly under-70 percent owned by a public entity.
Velto told the Sentinel he wanted to make clear that his concern about the water company’s facilities modernization plan is unrelated to his personal political issues. “I have no ambition to run for mayor,” he said. “I have been asked, but that’s not something I am thinking about at this moment. I am flattered that people have suggested I could be mayor but I have no aspiration to become mayor. It’s not on my bucket list. If I said something that gives anyone that impression, it was something taken out of context. I’m not interested. To tell you the truth, I was surprised when I was appointed to be on the city council. I know I ran before and I did apply but I was happy serving on the planning commission. I have no clue as to why they picked me. All I can say is that while I’m here I want to make the right decisions.”
In a roundabout way, Velto let on that he sees his role as a city councilman to be an enabler of the city’s authority and action, and less as a watchdog who is critical of its function and continually hamstringing city employees in their efforts.
“Showing confidence in city staff is a part of leadership,” he said. “The job of the city council is to govern and set policy, not to manage. The city council can hire and fire the city manager and the city attorney. Beyond that, the running of the city is all on the city manager. I have no choice but to trust the city manager. That is my job, to govern. Governing is a lot different than managing. I don’t care how much experience you have, in your role as a councilman you are there to oversee the city manager but not to do the managing yourself and certainly not to micromanage. You allow the city manager and senior staff to use their judgment and run things – that’s why they were hired – until something is discovered and then you say, ‘Hey, it’s time to look into this and investigate.’”
Velto’s position is that he has not seen anything grossly amiss at City Hall. “We’ve had audits and they haven’t shown anything criminal. If they do come in with something suspicious, then we act.”
At the same time, he said, as a councilman he has license to jump in when his overview of the city gives him an inkling of something heading down the wrong track.
“If I am going to be up there on the council, I can sit there and do nothing or I can make sure I hold the water company accountable to the constituents,” he said. “Now, if the water company holds a shareholders meeting and the shareholders agree to build this building for $4 million, then even though I might personally see it differently, I would agree that the company and the board have the right to proceed. But until that occurs, I am here to say they need to stop. My questions are, ‘Why do you need this?’ and “What are the other options?’”
In what was intended as and may yet prove to be a brilliant political masterstroke, outgoing West Valley Water District Board President Michael Taylor last night engineered the hand-off of his gavel to incoming board member Channing Hawkins, against whose election Taylor had been assiduously working right up until the closure of the polls on November 5. Whether Taylor’s gambit in seeking to transform a potentially implacable political foe into an ally has worked and will last yet remains to be seen, but its very boldness and the skill with which Taylor executed it stands as a testimony to the impressive political panoply he has himself developed in the last two years.
Taylor, who has exhibited a degree of competence in a wide variety of endeavors and disciplines in cultivating an image as something of a Renaissance Man while rising to the top of the law enforcement profession, came to the world of politics relatively late, seeking political office for the first time in 2015. Despite an initial setback that year when he failed to capture a spot on the West Valley Water District Board, he successfully networked with the well-connected and in-place forces that could assist him, and was successful in his second run for that office in 2017.
A key affiliation Taylor had made which allowed for his 2017 election was that of his neighbor, Dr. Clifford Young, a San Bernardino State University professor, a former member of the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors and a longtime political activist who is now counted among San Bernardino County’s leading African-American Republicans. Young, who had devoted most of the decade after he left the board of supervisors in 2004 to his professorship, reinserted himself into politics in 2013 when he successfully ran for a position on the West Valley Water Board. In 2017, when he was due to run for reelection himself, Dr. Young encouraged Taylor to run once more, lending him money from his own electioneering fund to assist him. At the same time, Young was supporting Kyle Crowther, an officer with the Fontana School District’s police department and like him and Taylor a Republican, in the special race being held that year to fill out the last two years of the term to which Alan Dyer had been elected in 2015 but from which he had resigned earlier that year. In a trifecta, Young was reelected and both Taylor and Crowther were elected in the November 2017 election, advancing Dr. Young into a dominant position on the board. Greg Young, a member of the Republican Central Committee who is no blood relation to Clifford Young but was still the same one of his existing political allies who had been elected to the West Valley Water District Board in 2015, joined with Dr. Young, Taylor and Crowther to form a rock solid ruling coalition on the water board. At that point, Don Olinger, the then-90-year-old longtime member of the water district’s board and its only Democrat, had been reduced to a political irrelevancy.
In the aftermath of the 2017 election, his board colleagues elevated Dr. Young to the position of board president. Moreover, based upon Taylor’s recommendation, the board at its first meeting with him in place, voted to hire Baldwin Park’s city attorney, Robert Tafoya, to serve as the West Valley Water District’s general legal counsel. Several months later, again based on Taylor’s recommendation, the board voted to bring in Ricardo Pacheco, a Baldwin Park city councilman, to serve as the district’s assistant general manager overseeing external affairs. Further, in the aftermath of the district’s jettisoning of its general manager, Matthew Litchfield, with whom Clifford Young had developed differences, and following the short term tenure of Interim General Manager Robert Christman, a close associate of Dr. Young, the board consented to Taylor’s recommendation of bringing in Clarence Mansell to serve as the district’s interim general manager replacement. Subsequently, Mansell would be elevated to the position of full-fledged general manager.
At some point in late 2018, differences developed between Dr. Young and Taylor. Hidden and seemingly subtle at first, the dispute grew and became more pointed when Dr. Young was deposed as board president and replaced with Taylor. This occasioned a transition of alliances on the board, with both Dr. Young and Greg Young hewing to one side and Taylor, Crowther and Olinger forming a ruling coalition on the other.
The already tense relationship between Clifford Young and Taylor deepened in Spring 2019 when Dr. Young joined with West Valley’s former chief financial officer, Naisha Davis, and the district’s administrative services analyst, Patricia Romero, in filing a Qui Tam legal action alleging that Taylor, who was chief of the Baldwin Park Police Department from 2013 to 2016 and was subsequently re-hired to a one-year contract to again serve as Baldwin Park police chief on December 1, 2017, utilized his position as a West Valley Water District board member to hire Robert Tafoya as a reward to him for arranging his rehiring as Baldwin Park police chief. Taylor was brought back to serve as police chief by the Baldwin Park City Council, which counted among its members Pacheco, some 25 days after being elected to the water board and six days before he was sworn in. Taylor’s contract to resume his duties as police chief was drafted by Tafoya, who was also Baldwin Park’s city attorney, according to the lawsuit. Upon being sworn in as a water board member and assuming his duties in that capacity on December 7, 2018, according to the suit, Taylor effectuated the hiring Tafoya as the West Valley Water District’s general counsel on a contract with no end date. In the ensuing 18 months, according to the lawsuit, Tafoya’s firm billed the West Valley Water District approximately $395,000.
Further, according to the suit, less than four months later, after Taylor assumed his position on the West Valley Water Board dais, Pacheco, a Baldwin Park City Councilman who had voted for Taylor’s reinstatement as police chief, was hired by the West Valley Water District as assistant general manager, eventually earning a salary of $192,000 per year, the suit alleges. Since his hiring, Pacheco and the California Education Coalition PAC he controls donated a total of $8,000 to Taylor’s campaign and $1,000 to Kyle Crowther’s campaign, according to the lawsuit.
The suit further maintains that in 2018 Taylor spearheaded the effort to hire his associate, Mansell, as the West Valley Water District’s interim general manager and subsequently as the permanent general manager, at an annual salary of $225,000.
The lawsuit alleges that in 2017 and 2018, Tafoya provided Taylor and Crowther with a mixture of gratuities and political contributions, and that Tafoya further militated or lobbied on behalf of the Law Firm of Albright, Yee & Schmit, the Kaufman Law Firm and Robert Katherman in getting the two former entities legal work for the water district and a consulting contract for the latter while those firms and/or their principals were providing gifts, travel accommodations, entertainment and political contributions to members of the water board, in particular Taylor and Crowther. Additionally, the lawsuit states that West Valley Water District Human Resources and Risk Manager Deborah Martinez and other law firms and consultants connected to Taylor and Tafoya “have engaged in illegal kickbacks and bribes to ensure contracts with the district and subsequent approval of invoices for payment.”
As the 2019 election approached, with Greg Young, Kyle Crowther and Don Olinger up for election, the fragile coalition of Tyler, Crowther and Olinger was in jeopardy. To keep his political hold over the district intact, it was imperative that Taylor maintain two votes on the board to join with his own. Thus, he needed to keep the status quo intact, returning both Crowther and Olinger to the board in the election in the event that Greg Young was also victorious, or, if either Crowther or Olinger failed to gain reelection, ensuring that Greg Young lost and was replaced with someone who would join with his coalition.
In a remarkable demonstration of his command of the political electioneering process, not to mention his generosity with funds from his own political war chest, Taylor followed a strategy of supporting both Olinger and Crowther, while working against the reelection of Greg Young.
Whereas in years past, elections in the West Valley Water District were held at-large, this year for the first time board members were elected within the geographical division of the district in which they reside by those also living in that section of the district.
Taylor provided Crowther with $6,192.50 provided directly from his campaign fund to assist Crowther in his reelective effort against challengers Betty Gosney and Linda Gonzalez in the district’s newly-formed Division 1, consisting primarily of eastern Fontana.
In the district’s Division 5, covering virtually all of Bloomington, Greg Young was in a contest against Angel Ramirez and Jackie Cox. Taylor put up $19,128.04 to help Ramirez, using money from his own campaign fund that went either directly to Ramirez’s campaign or which was spent to pay for pro-Ramirez materials provided by a third party or independent expenditure committee.
Olinger, competing in the district’s Division 4 which is contained within Rialto, found himself up against another Democrat, Channing Hawkins. In support of the effort to keep Hawkins from replacing Olinger, Taylor utilized $22,620.48 from his own campaign war chest to help the incumbent by either transferring funds from that account to Olinger’s campaign fund or purchasing electioneering materials in the form of ads or mailers for Olinger.
Once the dust settled after the November 5 election, Crowther had prevailed with 282 votes or 53.41 percent; Greg Young had held off his two challengers by capturing 340 votes or 52.63 percent; and Hawkins had trounced Olinger by capturing 623 votes or 64.83 percent.
Quietly, behind the scenes, Clifford Young had supported Hawkins. Thus, Taylor’s political hold on the West Valley Water District appeared to have elapsed. With Olinger gone and Greg Young reelected, the reascension of Dr. Young was at hand.
Last night, at the water board’s December 5 meeting, the installations of Greg Young, Kyle Crowther and Channing Hawkins as board members for the next four years were scheduled. It was widely assumed that shortly after that the replacement of Taylor as board president would take place and he would be replaced by either Dr. Clifford Young or Greg Young.
After Rialto Mayor Deborah Robertson and Fontana Mayor Acquanetta Warren performed the swearing in of Hawkins, Crowther and Greg Young, the meeting proper convened. At that point, Taylor was yet in the post of board president, in control of the proceedings, perched on the verge of surrendering control of the district to either Greg Young or Dr. Clifford Young.
At that juncture, Taylor had one last opportunity to utilize the leverage which he yet possessed to extend his political primacy.
It is a matter of legitimate debate at this time as to who – Dr. Clifford Young or his one-time political protégé and ally now-turned rival Michael Taylor – has the greater degree of sophistication, gravitas and agility. Last night’s proceedings might well indicate that Taylor has the stronger claim to that distinction.
Dr. Young is at present the longest-serving member of the West Valley Water District Board of Directors. He is among the top two or three leading African-American Republicans in San Bernardino County. Born in Midland, Texas, Clifford Odell Young, Sr. moved to California at the age of 15, graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School in Los Angeles and then California Baptist College in Riverside, where in what he now considers to have been an act of youthful indiscretion he hooked up with the Democrats and formed a group called the Riverside Young Democrats. Following his graduation, he went to work for the Shell Oil Company. By the early 1970s he had obtained a masters degree in divinity, was ordained as a minister and converted to Republicanism, running for Congress in 1976, gaining the GOP nomination for the 32nd Congressional District but losing in the general election. In 1980, he was appointed by the Reagan Administration to the post of deputy director of minority business in the Department of Commerce. He thereafter spent the next seven years as the pastor of the Hope Presbyterian Church and in 1989 began his career as an educator when he joined the faculty of Cal State San Bernardino, teaching public administration and business, rising to become head of the department.
In 2004, Young was selected to serve as Fifth District San Bernardino County supervisor when Jerry Eaves, a Democrat, was removed from office as the consequence of his prosecution on political corruption charges. Young did not seek election at the end of that term but remained at Cal State San Bernardino as a professor and special assistant to the college president.
Michael Taylor began as a patrol officer with the Baldwin Park Police Department in 1982, rising through the ranks such that in 2013 he was appointed chief of police. He served, in total, four years in that post. In addition, between December 2013 and August 2014, he served as Baldwin Park’s interim chief executive officer/city manager.
Taylor possesses a bachelor’s degree in political science from California State University San Bernardino, a master’s degree in political science/national security studies from California State University San Bernardino and a doctorate in education from Redlands University. In addition, he graduated in 2012 from the FBI national Academy in Quantico, Virginia where he studied law enforcement leadership.
Last night, with the gavel yet in Dr. Taylor’s hand, the West Valley Water Board as one of its first items of business considered the reorganization of the board’s officers. As soon as the item was taken up, Taylor used his control over the proceedings to avoid the recognition of anyone else and immediately nominated Channing Hawkins to the position of board president. Without hesitation and not waiting for Crowther to second the nomination, Hawkins himself voiced the second. The vote was then taken. Clifford Young, who had hopes of being returned to the position of board president before the evening was over, abstained from the vote. Greg Young, who as the member of the board with the second most seniority after Dr. Young, likewise had a shot at being chosen board president. He recognized, however, by virtue of Taylor’s astute and quick action, that possibility was foreclosed to him. Greg Young joined with Taylor, Crowther and Hawkins in voting to establish Hawkins as the new board president.
Through his gambit, Taylor may have headed off the manifestation of any hard feeling that perhaps existed on Hawkins’ part toward him over his support of his opponent, Olinger, in the November 5 contest, in particular the $22,620.48 of Taylor’s own campaign funds that had been used in the effort to keep Hawkins out of office. By forging a bond with Hawkins through ensuring his elevation to board president immediately after coming into office, a highly unusual advancement in the world of politics where such honorifics are not normally extended until an office holder has gained some years of experience in office, Taylor may have obstructed the formation of a natural and what otherwise might have been an inevitable alliance between Hawkins and Dr. Young, and put himself into position to make further amends with Hawkins and establish a working political relationship with the board’s newest member that will stymie Clifford Young’s vision of once again asserting his own control over the district.
In making his nomination of Hawkins, Taylor said of his new colleague that he perceived him to be “a very bright and gifted person who has an amazing degree of maturity for a person of his age.”
Hawkins, following the meeting, told the Sentinel that he believes the board “must make sure that we are more transparent. We need to be accessible. We need accountability in evaluating our effectiveness and being responsive to our ratepayers. We should build our reputation for accountability by instituting new fiscal controls and through investing in our infrastructure. For too long, we have not paid attention to fixing our infrastructure. Some elements of our system are broken. We should begin by fixing wells and by making sure routine maintenance takes place.”
Richard Harpole, who as a Barstow city official became emblematic of the moral dilemma in California’s transition from a state that had criminalized for multiple generations the use of marijuana for any purpose to one that allowed its use first for medicinal and then abruptly for its intoxicative effect, is resigning from the city council.
Harpole was 25 years old and nearing the end of his hitch in the U.S. Army, serving in the capacity of a military policeman, when he was assigned to Fort Irwin as an investigator in 1983. It was at that time when he met his future wife, Donna, whom he married just about a year later. Shortly thereafter, he was discharged from the Army, and he hired on with the Barstow Police Department as a police officer.
Harpole spent just under 24 years with the Barstow Police Department, rising to the rank of lieutenant before retiring. A primary element of his assignment during his last decade-and-a-half with the police force was overseeing drug interdiction efforts.
Harpole was born in 1958, which put him in the middle of a generation that had a far more liberal attitude with regard to the use of drugs than was the dominating ethos of previous generations or those who were yet in control of society’s governmental institutions including the courts, prosecutors’ offices and law enforcement agencies. As a law enforcement professional, Harpole functioned in lockstep with the continuing restrictions on cannabis and other drugs that remained in place throughout the 20th Century. At the same time, an underground traffic in marijuana had established itself throughout the United States that was every bit as pervasive and even more sophisticated in many respects than the one that facilitated the continued use of alcohol during the 13 years of prohibition from 1920 until 1933 during which mobsterism flourished. Officialdom considered those participating in the marijuana culture to be elements of the criminal underworld, encompassing anyone who used the drug and possessed it in relatively minute quantities for personal use, as well as those who sold it and those who transported it, grew it or imported it into the country from elsewhere. Those members of the subculture who were caught by law enforcement at whatever level of their involvement were subject, almost uniformly throughout the United States, including California, to increasingly harsh, sometimes brutal and even draconian efforts to suppress marijuana at a multitude of governmental levels, both state and federal. Barstow, a railroad town and a major transportation juncture into the Golden State, was a place where a considerable degree of the transportation of and trafficking in marijuana was ongoing. Harpole, as a member of the Barstow Police Department, was a functionary in the war on drugs and as such spent more than two decades in arresting and consigning those involved in the use and sale of marijuana to prosecution and conviction.
In 1996, at what was roughly the halfway point of Harpole’s career in law enforcement as a civilian, California’s voters provided the first indication of the sea change in attitude within the general population toward marijuana when Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use of Marijuana Act, passed statewide. It called for allowing marijuana to be dispensed to anyone who obtained a prescription for the drug from a licensed physician. While doctors for patients suffering from maladies and conditions in which the drug was of some remedy indeed wrote out prescriptions for what were ostensibly legitimate purposes, medical marijuana prescriptions very soon became a means by which that portion of the population seeking to be able to use cannabis recreationally without being subjected to arrest, prosecution and imprisonment indulged in its use. Simultaneously, the political establishment and reactionary elements utilized that portion of the act that allowed local governmental entities to regulate or outright ban dispensaries selling the product from locating within their jurisdictions to keep the vast majority of California’s cities and counties marijuana-free zones. Most cities and counties in the state had city councils or county governing boards composed of elected officials who yet considered marijuana to be anathema to a well-ordered society and community. Those officials, in league with zealous opponents of cannabis, used their dominant political authority to employ local law enforcement agencies to prevent marijuana purveyors from establishing a toehold in their communities. Routinely, medical marijuana distributors would set up dispensaries or clinics, in some cases straightforwardly or in others surreptitiously or through obtaining a business license by representing the operation as a health food store or spa, reap a considerable but short-lived profit that would in most cases offset the considerable start-up costs, and then be shut down by code enforcement or zone enforcement or law enforcement action. In due course, these entrepreneurs would move on to reinvent their operation at a different location in the same jurisdiction or perhaps another jurisdiction, repeating the process. In some cases, emboldened clinic operators would reinvest their profits in legal action challenging the efforts by local authorities to shut them down, occasionally succeeding by obtaining a usually temporary injunction to prevent enforcement action or their closure.
As marijuana remained under federal standards a Schedule 1 narcotic indistinguishable from heroin and cocaine, those yet determined to stem the rising marijuana tide in California endeavored to utilize authority from up the governmental evolutionary chain to reestablish that the revolutionary forces all about them were in fact nothing more than moral reprobates and criminals. Either at the request of local authorities or in some cases on their own initiative, federal authorities, i.e., the U.S. Attorney’s office working in conjunction with the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Agency, pursued federal criminal cases against some dispensary owners, operators or their landlords, particularly in those cases where the operators were deemed to be particularly defiant, asserted challenges to federal law, or were particularly persistent in their operations.
Simultaneously, the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office and in some cases the offices of various city attorneys sought to keep up. Initially what had been fewer than a dozen individuals willing to brave the legitimate marijuana sales frontier – running a medical marijuana dispensary in local venues where municipal ordinances did not allow for them – could be corralled into court and in some cases jailed and in all cases fined substantially in an effort to convince them to desist.
In 2008, Harpole retired from the Barstow Police Department. He was at that point eligible to receive a pension, which he at once began to draw and which currently stands at $77,700 per year.
By 2009 the number of medical marijuana sales venues countywide had jumped to a score or more. By 2012 that number had zoomed to several hundred. The same year, Harpole was elected to the Barstow City Council.
At that point, the sheer volume of those willing to run the marijuana distribution restriction gauntlet had come to overwhelm local civil authorities. In July 2014, San Bernardino City Attorney Gary Saenz, taking stock of the number of pot shops sprouting up in the county’s largest city, offered his view that the cost and difficulty of shutting down dispensaries made enforcement of the city’s ban on the enterprises “futile.” Two years previously, Needles, lying at the extreme east end of the county on the shore of the Colorado River, the gateway to California, was the first of the county’s 24 cities to bow to the new social reality, clearing the way for five licensed marijuana dispensaries to operate in what, at 4,900 residents, is the county’s least populous city.
Three years later, the City of Adelanto, led by then-Mayor Rich Kerr, became the second city to seek to cash in on the marijuana bonanza, enacting an ordinance by which the city was at liberty to permit large-scale indoor nurseries cultivating medical marijuana to operate within the city’s industrial park.
Adelanto and Needles, however, were the dual exceptions in San Bernardino County, with the other 22 cities and the county maintaining the ban.
When 2016 dawned, the minority of social conservatives in San Bernardino County whose philosophy held that the only form of moral and legal intoxication was to be found in a bottle continued with their generations-long success in ensuring that those who felt differently would be effectively labeled as criminals. Before the year concluded, however, those marijuana prohibitionists would be overtaken by events. A statewide movement succeeded in achieving the passage, in the November general election, of Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, which legalized, for those of the age of majority in the Golden State, the possession and use of marijuana for its intoxicative effect, and legalized the cultivation and sale of the drug for the same purpose.
In one fell swoop the anti-marijuana crowd had been both discredited and ineffectualized as a driving social and legal force, at least in California.
There ensued what many observers consider to be the hypocritical adaptation of the new ethos that is breathtaking in scope. Officials who for years or decades and until quite recently insisted that pot smoking was not only illegal but a severe moral failing and that those who profited by the sale of the substance were parasites feeding upon society and trafficking in human misery such that they were deserving of decade-long prison sentences plunged headlong into a rush to get in on the ground floor of the new economy with marijuana at its core so their cities can cash in, like the drug dealers of just a few years ago, on the public’s appetite for inebriation.
Among those individuals was Richard Harpole.
Of note was that Harpole was not merely in years past a city official whose participation in the general societal disapprobation toward cannabis and marijuana was passive as forces about him militated against pot smokers and weed dealers, but was rather someone who was actively involved in the prohibition, whose bread was buttered by marijuana’s illegality, who had a financial stake in the enforcement of the law against marijuana because it kept him employed and provided him with a paycheck and put food on the table for him and his family.
In the aftermath of the passage of Proposition 64, Barstow, like most of the other cities in San Bernardino County fell into a state of paralysis, either deliberately or inadvertently stalling in the face of the change in the law. By early 2019, somewhat belatedly, the City of Barstow, perhaps prompted by citizens inquiring as to when the city was going to get around to updating its ordinances regarding both medical and recreational marijuana sales, undertook an effort to reconcile itself with reality. Curiously, however, at least initially the city did so very quietly, carrying out backroom discussions that were not done publicly. Thus, unbeknownst to the public was that Harpole was not only participating in that effort, which many people considered to be ill-advised, but that he was actually the one leading it. An ad-hoc committee, chaired by Harpole, was looking at the ins and outs of allowing the cultivation, sales, distribution, and manufacturing of marijuana, cannabis or cannabis-based products in the city, pursuant to a licensing or permitting regime, one that would entail requirements that such operations meet a set of criteria, be licensed as businesses within the city and be subject to a tax specifically levied on the growers of marijuana or the manufacturers and purveyors of cannabis or cannabis-based products. Curiously, in spite of and perhaps even because of Harpole’s history as a crusader against marijuana, his council colleagues saw no difficulty, problem or conflict in his overseeing the framing of the policy which would provide for the eventual legalized commercialization of cannabis in the City of Barstow.
It was not until April of this year that Harpole himself let it be known publicly that he and the committee he headed had been working “for several months,” he said, on finalizing the city’s proposed marijuana policy. In May, it was revealed that the committee had tentatively worked out placing on the ballot during a special election this fall a measure that the city’s voters could approve, by a two-thirds vote, putting a taxing scheme in place for commercial, agricultural and industrial marijuana and cannabis-related businesses in Barstow. Ultimately, it turned out, a measure very similar or identical to the one Harpole and his committee brought forth is to be considered by the city’s voters, albeit not this year but rather as part of the March 3, 2020 California Primary Election.
This week, a little less than two months after the Barstow City Council consented to put the rules framed by Harpole and his committee relating to how the city will allow and profit by marijuana commercialization before the city’s voters, Harpole announced that he will be resigning from the city council shortly because he is leaving Barstow for Texas. The ostensible reason given for his departure is that he and his wife want to live more proximate to their daughter and their grandchildren.
On Monday, December 2, Harpole was not in attendance at the city council meeting. Whether Harpole remains a member of the council at present was not clear. His name was called during the roll call for the meeting. When a resident inquired as to Harpole’s status, no answer was provided by the city council.
For months, Harpole’s role in shaping the city’s cannabis policy has been an issue of some controversy.
Harpole specifically and pointedly came under fire for having spent all of his law enforcement career participating in throwing people in prison for their involvement with marijuana and disfiguring them with criminal records that in some fashion compromised or destroyed their reputations and ability to obtain employment. He then did a 180-degree flip in which he personally involved himself as a city official in arranging for the city to avail itself of revenues to be generated from the sale of marijuana, money which as a pensioner with the city, he will share in. Asked whether in the aftermath of the change in California law and Barstow officials’ acceptance of a taxing scheme on using marijuana sales as revenue source he felt he could justify to himself having engaged in applying the authority of arrest and initiating the prosecutions of individuals which had the potential or actual effect of subjecting them to incarceration, Harpole remained mute.
When queried directly about whether he saw any contradiction or conflict in the current circumstance vis-à-vis the past or if he perceived there was for him any sort of personal moral dilemma or if he felt any qualms with regard to it, he steadfastly maintained his silence. Nor was he willing to say whether he had abandoned his earlier belief that the sale of marijuana was rightfully deemed a felony that mandated prison time, and he was equally reticent in the face of inquiries as to how he felt it justifiable for the city and city officials to participate in a financial free-for-all and be recipients of a windfall involving the sale of marijuana.
One reason Harpole is refusing to be drawn into a discussion of the issue is concern on his part and that of California’s law enforcement officers generally that it will lead to the broaching of the subject of the State of California making reparations to all surviving current and former state residents who were arrested, convicted, jailed and imprisoned for marijuana offenses. Such reparations could run, calculations vary, from anywhere from $4 billion to $25 billion. One means of the state defraying the cost of those payments would be to redirect a significant portion of the money held in the retirement funds for police officers, prison guards and prosecutors to a trust fund to make payments to those convicted of marijuana-related crimes over the last 60 years who are yet alive. Such a move, it is estimated, would reduce those retirees’ pensions by as much as fifty percent.
Pope Francis has named Bishop Alberto Rojas, who currently serves as an auxiliary bishop and Episcopal vicar for the Archdiocese of Chicago, to succeed San Bernardino Diocese Bishop Gerald Barnes. Rojas, who was born in El Zapote de la Labor, Mexico on January 5, 1965, will serve as coadjutor bishop with Barnes until Barnes’ 75th birthday next year, at which point Rojas will succeed him as bishop.
The Diocese of San Bernardino was created in 1978 as an offshoot of the Diocese of San Diego. Geographically, it covers about 28,000 square miles and is the fifth largest diocese population-wise in the nation and the second largest in California after the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, which is the largest in the country with roughly 5 million parishioners. The San Bernardino Diocese boasts one of the highest concentrations of Latinos in the United States.
San Bernardino County at the time of the 2010 Census was 39.2 percent Hispanic. Latino numbers have grown since then, such that virtually half of the county’s residents are Hispanic.
Catholicism is significant element of the culture in the footprint of the San Bernardino Diocese. Within it, which includes much of San Bernardino County and extends into Riverside County, roughly 38 percent of the population – 1.7 million – is Catholic. The diocese employs 151 priests to minister to the faithful.
Rojas was named an auxiliary bishop of Chicago by Benedict XVI and ordained bishop there in August 2011. In Chicago he served under Cardinals Francis George and Blase Cupich.
Rojas studied for the priesthood at Santa Maria de Guadalupe seminary in Aguascalientes, Mexico and at Mundelein Seminary in Illinois. He was ordained as a priest for the Archdiocese of Chicago in 1997, at the age of 32.
As the Chicago Diocese’s auxiliary bishop, Rojas was Cardinal Francis George’s delegate for the archdiocesan Hispanic-American council and for both bishops George and Cupich he was the Hispanic-American council delegate, the liaison to Hispanic Catholics, a member of the U.S. bishops’ conference’s Hispanic Affairs Committee, and a regional liaison for the National V Encuentro of Hispanic and Latino Ministry.
Rojas was also a member of the seminary formation faculty at Mundelein Seminary from 2002-2010.
Barnes has headed the Diocese of San Bernardino for 23 years, and is now the longest serving bishop in the United States. Diocesan bishops are required by canonical law to submit upon achieving the age of 75 a resignation to the pope, who then has the discretion to accept or reject the resignation. Barnes turns 75 in June 2020.
At a press conference to introduce Rojas to the community on Monday, Bishop Barnes said, “In church language we call this an episcopal transition. In layman’s terms, you might call it a changing of the guard.” Barnes said Rojas would become “the leader and shepherd of the diocese. It is with a great deal of gratitude to our Lord that I present to you our coadjutor bishop, Bishop Alberto Rojas.
“My wish and hope is that we begin this journey united in the name of Jesus Christ, trusting in the spirit of the Holy Spirit to lead us in doing the will of God in our ministries,” Rojas said. “I thank God for the opportunity to serve him in this capacity and am also very grateful to the Holy Father, Pope Francis, for trusting in me for this service. With an open heart and mind, I’m looking forward to working with all of you, my brother priests especially, deacons religious men and women, the youth, young adults, the parish leaders, the ecclesial movements, and all the people of good will in the diocese.”
The United States Justice Department on Monday filed a lawsuit alleging both the City of Hesperia and the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department in pursuing a municipal program aimed at reducing crime discriminated against African American and Latino renters in violation of the Fair Housing Act.
The federal lawsuit alleges that the city, with substantial support from the sheriff’s department, enacted a rental ordinance with the intent of addressing what one city councilmember called a “demographical problem,” which was defined as the city’s increasing African American and Latino population. The ordinance resulted in the evictions of numerous African American and Latino renters, according to the U.S. Justice Department.
The City of Hesperia’s “Crime Free Rental Housing Ordinance,” which was in effect between January 1, 2016 and its amendment on July 18, 2017, required all rental property owners to evict tenants upon notice by the sheriff’s department that the tenants had engaged in any alleged criminal activity on or near the property. The complaint further alleges that the sheriff’s department exercised its substantial discretion in enforcement to target African-American and Latino renters and majority-minority areas of Hesperia. Although the ordinance purported to target “criminal activity,” the sheriff’s department notified landlords to begin evictions of entire families – including children – for conduct involving one tenant or even non-tenants, evictions of victims of domestic violence, and evictions based on mere allegations and without evidence of criminal activity, according to the civil complaint.
“Our office is committed to defending the civil rights of everyone,” said United States Attorney Nick Hanna. “Protecting the public is one of the most important duties of local governments and police departments, and the public entrusts them with enormous power to carry out that duty. We will not allow them to abuse that power by depriving people of their rights.”
“The Fair Housing Act prohibits local governments from enacting ordinances intended to push out African American and Latino renters because of their race and national origin, or from enforcing their ordinances in a discriminatory manner,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband. “The United States Department of Justice will continue zealously to enforce the Fair Housing Act against anyone and any organization or institution that violates the law’s protections against race, national origin, and other forms of unlawful discrimination.”
“Individuals and families have a right to live where they choose, regardless of their race or national origin,” said Anna María Farías, Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). “HUD applauds today’s action and will continue to work with the Justice Department to address policies and practices that violate this nation’s fair housing laws.”
The Justice Department’s lawsuit is based on an investigation and charge of discrimination by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which found that African American and Latino renters were significantly more likely to be evicted under the ordinance than white renters, and that evictions disproportionately occurred in areas of the city where both black and Hispanic populations predominated. According to the complaint, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development determined that African American renters were almost four times as likely as non-Hispanic white renters to be evicted because of the ordinance, and Latino renters were 29 percent more likely than non-Hispanic white renters to be evicted. Sheriff’s department data showed that 96 percent of the people the sheriff’s department targeted for eviction under the ordinance in 2016 had lived in what the federal government refers to as “majority-minority Census blocks,” meaning districts in which white residents are outnumbered by Latinos and Negroes. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development came to a determination that reasonable cause existed to believe the city and county engaged in illegal discriminatory housing practices.
The lawsuit alleges that city officials enacted the ordinance to drive African-American and Latino renters out of Hesperia. During city council hearings, city officials and others made numerous statements that demonstrate the city enacted the ordinance to reverse “demographic” changes in Hesperia, including focusing on purported newcomers from predominantly minority Los Angeles County, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. City officials expressed a desire for the ordinance to drive supposed newcomers “the hell out of our town,” according to one statement the suit attributed to a councilmember. The city enacted the ordinance despite civil rights-related objections to many of its provisions from various segments of the community, the federal government maintains.
The names of both William P. Barr, the U.S. Attorney General, and Eric S. Dreiband, the Assistant U.S. Attorney General, appear on the suit, as does that of Sameena Shina Majeed, the chief of the office’s Housing and Civil Enforcement Section, and the section’s deputy chief, R. Tamar Hagler. Also listed as representing the government are Nicola T. Hanna, the United States Attorney in Los Angeles, and David M. Harris, the chief of the civil division in Los Angeles, Karen P. Ruckert, the chief of the Los Angeles Office’s Civil Rights Section, and Matthew Nickell, the head of the civil division within the Los Angeles office’s Civil Rights Section.
Megan K. Whyte De Vasquez, who is a member of the bar in Washington, D.C. is to be the trial attorney.
According to the suit, “The Sheriff’s Department, which the city tasked with enforcing the ordinance, …demanded evictions of entire families for conduct involving one tenant or even guests or estranged family members, evictions of victims of domestic violence, and evictions in the absence of concrete evidence of criminal activity. It also threatened and took action against housing providers that failed to evict tenants under the ordinance’s strictures. Defendants enacted and enforced the ordinance with the intent and effect of disproportionately impacting African American and Latino renters.”
The suit states “The city—with substantial support from the sheriff’s department—enacted the mandatory eviction ordinance to address a perceived ‘demographical problem’: the growing population of African American and Latino renters in Hesperia. The African American and Latino population in Hesperia grew rapidly in the late 20th and early 21st centuries while the percentage of non-Hispanic white residents declined. In 1990, non-Hispanic white residents were 76.8 percent of the city’s population, but by 2000, this had dropped to 62.4 percent. By 2010, Hesperia’s non-Hispanic white population was 41.1 percent. According to Census Bureau estimates, the percentage of non-Hispanic whites in Hesperia had further declined to 35.8 percent by 2016. The number of Latino residents in Hesperia rose by 140 percent between 2000 and 2010, from 18,400 to 44,091. The number of African American residents rose by 103 percent during the same period, from 2,388 to 4,853. According to the 2010 Census, the city was 5.4 percent African American and 48.9 percent Latino.”
The lawsuit continues, “On November 17, 2015, Hesperia enacted ordinance no. 2015-12, entitled ‘An Ordinance of the City Council of the City of Hesperia, California, Requiring the Registration and Regulation of Housing Rental Businesses for Crime Free Rental Housing.’ The ordinance went into effect on January 1, 2016, and remained in effect until on or about July 18, 2017. The ordinance applied exclusively to rental properties. It contained four core requirements relevant to the United States’ claims. First, it required all owners of rental property in the city to register their properties and pay an annual fee, and it imposed fines for failure to register those properties. Under the city fee schedule for the ordinance, an owner had to pay a $350 fine for failing to register a single-family rental property, and a fine of $50 per unit for failing to register a multifamily property. The ordinance also made the failure to register or to comply with the provisions of the ordinance a misdemeanor. Second, it required owners to submit the names of all adult tenancy applicants to the sheriff’s department for a background screening. In addition, it required owners to use a commercially available service to conduct a criminal background check of their tenants, at the owners’ expense. The city fee schedule for the ordinance imposed a $250 fine for an owner’s failure to screen a tenant or applicant. Third, it required all owners to incorporate a ‘crime free lease addendum’ into all new and renewed residential leases. The addendum mandated that if any occupant, guest, or ‘other person under the [occupant’s] control’ engaged in a single instance of any criminal activity ‘on or near’ the property or, in the case of drug crimes, ‘at any location,’ this ‘w[ould] result in a three-day notice to quit.’ Neither the ordinance nor the addendum required a conviction or other criminal disposition, or even an arrest, to trigger the three-day notice. The addendum allowed landlords to serve the three-day notice requiring that ‘every member of . . . [the] household . . . shall vacate the premises within three days.’ The city fee schedule for the ordinance imposed a $500 fine on owners for failure to initiate an eviction in accordance with the addendum, as well as a $250 fine for failure to incorporate the addendum in a lease. Fourth, the ordinance required all rental properties in the city to undergo annual police inspections for items related to actual or potential criminal activity, for example, whether poor lighting or landscaping offered places for individuals to hide. The city fee schedule for the ordinance provided a $100 fee for each reinspection and a $400 fine for failing to make any required corrections. The city amended the ordinance as of July 18, 2017, during the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s investigation. The language of the ordinance changed, but the components of the crime free rental housing program implemented under the original ordinance remain largely the same, although certain provisions are no longer mandatory. The current city fee schedule provides for many of the same fines under the amended ordinance as it did under the original ordinance.”
The suit states, “The ordinance’s stated rationale was a purported connection between rental properties and increased ‘illegal activity’ and ‘law enforcement calls for service.’ However, statements by city and sheriff’s department officials leading up to the enactment of the ordinance belie this rationale. Instead, statements by city and sheriff’s department officials indicate that the ordinance was enacted with discriminatory intent and with the purpose of evicting and deterring African American and Latino renters from living in Hesperia.
“In city council hearings prior to the ordinance’s enactment, the mayor, mayor pro tem, and other city councilmembers made numerous statements that demonstrate the city enacted the ordinance to reverse perceived ‘demographic’ changes in Hesperia. During hearings, city officials focused on the places from which renters had moved when discussing the need to expel the perceived newcomers from Hesperia. Although approximately three-quarters of new Hesperia residents between 2012 and 2016 moved there from other parts of San Bernardino County, city councilmembers focused many of their statements on purported newcomers from Los Angeles County, whose population in 2016 was estimated to be only 26.7 percent non-Hispanic white. City Councilmember Russ Blewett stated the purpose of the ordinance was ‘to correct a demographical problem.’ He stated he ‘could care less’ that landlords and organizations including ‘the Apartment House Association, and the Building Industry, and the Board of Realtors’ disagreed with him about the ordinance, and stated that the city needed to ‘improve our demographic.’ Blewett also stated that ‘those kind of people’ the ordinance would target were ‘no addition and of no value to this community, period,’ and that he wanted to ‘get them the hell out of our town,’ adding ‘I want their butt kicked out of this community as fast as I can possibly humanly get it done.’ The mayor, Eric Schmidt, stated ‘I can’t get over the fact that we’re allowing . . . people from LA County’ to ‘mov[e] into our neighborhoods because it’s a cheap place to live and it’s a place to hide.’ He also stated that ‘the people that aggravate us aren’t from here,’ and that they ‘come from somewhere else with their tainted history.’ Mayor Pro Tem Bill Holland stated ‘[w]e are surgically going after those elements that create an inordinate amount of problems in every single neighborhood,’ and ‘[y]ou are trying to eliminate them, you are trying to pluck them out and make them go somewhere else.’ He also stated that the ordinance’s purpose was to get each landlord ‘to rid his rental . . . of that blight,’ similar to ‘call[ing] an exterminator out to kill roaches, same difference.’ City Councilmember Mike Leonard stated that ‘we’ve had a lot of people from over the hill move up here that are not very friendly people,’ and ‘we need to work on getting them out of here.’ He also stated ‘[w]e need to get [the ordinance] going because we are falling further and further behind on our ability to cut down some of our problem areas.’ During a hearing on the proposed ordinance, Mayor Schmidt asked a property manager what percentage of his renters came from outside San Bernardino County. The property manager testified that people were moving from specific parts of Los Angeles County—all of which were well known as having significant minority populations, including the ‘323 area code’ (which is concentrated in central Los Angeles city) and the cities of Compton, Inglewood, Long Beach, and Los Angeles. According to Census estimates, in 2016 the non-Hispanic white population in Compton was 1.1 percent; in Inglewood, it was 3.7 percent; in Long Beach, it was 27.7 percent; and in Los Angeles, it was 28.5 percent.”
The suit notes that “Captain Nils Bentsen from the sheriff’s department, who later became Hesperia’s city manager, was present at the hearings during which the statements described were made. Captain Bentsen and the city councilmembers described Hesperia’s renters—a group in which African American and Latino individuals are overrepresented in comparison to their share of homeowners—as dangerous because they were ‘antisocial’ and ‘victimized’ homeowners. According to 2016 Census estimates, 58 percent of renter households in Hesperia were African American or Latino, compared to just 44 percent of homeowner households. Captain Bentsen and the city councilmembers also disparaged Hesperia’s Housing Choice (‘Section 8’) Voucher holders—three-quarters of whom were African American or Latino. For example, Councilmember Leonard stated the ordinance would ‘straighten . . . out’ Hesperia’s ‘issues with a lot of Section 8 housing,’ and told the other councilmembers “[y]ou just pay more taxes to support these people that are sucking up the Section 8 housing,’ and added ‘[w]e need to get them out.’ Captain Bentsen compared the ordinance to his previous efforts evicting people in ‘a Section 8 house’ where ‘it took us years to . . . find some criminal charges [and] arrest the people.’ The sheriff’s department provided significant support and resources to help the city create and prepare to implement the ordinance before it was enacted. According to Hesperia’s City Manager at the time, Mike Podegracz, Captain Bentsen was the ‘driving force’ behind the ordinance. Bentsen testified in uniform before the city council over six months before the ordinance’s enactment ‘to see if the council [was] willing to establish a mandatory [crime free rental] program.’ In his testimony, he cited data that he claimed showed a nexus between rental properties and increased crime. However, these data were misleading and incomplete, and he provided no testimony demonstrating that any of the data points were appropriate measures of crime rates. First, Bentsen claimed that in 2014 one-third of 911 calls in the city came from rental properties. But he failed to exclude from his data those 911 calls that were unrelated to criminal activity, and did not provide any additional data about the remaining 911 calls to enable the decision makers to determine whether the proportion of 911 calls coming from rental properties was disproportionate to the percentage of occupied housing units that were rental units (which was approximately 37 percent in 2014), and if so, by how much. Second, Bentsen cited the proportion of ‘multiple response’ citations that the sheriff’s department issued at rental properties. According to Bentsen, the sheriff’s department issued ‘multiple response’ forms when its officers had responded multiple times to a particular residence, including for loud music. Although Bentsen claimed that 80 percent of ‘multiple responses’ from law enforcement were for rental properties, he omitted from his count those ‘multiple responses’ involving alarm calls, which typically occurred at homes. Bentsen also did not testify about the circumstances in which the sheriff’s department issued ‘multiple response’ forms. Finally, Bentsen asserted that nine of the ten homicides in Hesperia from 2012 through 2014 occurred at rental properties. He presented no statistics for other types of crime, however, claiming that it would be ‘very difficult’ and take ‘a lot of time’ to compile the data necessary to determine whether crime rates for any other offenses vary depending on whether a property is owner- or renter-occupied. He asserted that he presented only data on homicides because that information ‘was an easier one for me to pull up because we don’t have that many homicides, thank God.’”
The suit states “Captain Bentsen testified to the city council that, ‘[u]nder Crime Free, you don’t have to be convicted of a crime’ to be evicted.’ Captain Bentsen testified to the city council that the ordinance was designed to be ‘lighter on the requirements and more heavy on the enforcement.’ The city tasked its ‘police department’ and ‘chief of police’—i.e., the sheriff’s department and a designated sheriff’s captain—with enforcing the ordinance. Enforcement was specifically handled by a special crime free housing team within the sheriff’s department comprising a deputy, a service specialist, and an office specialist. The ordinance made the sheriff’s department the only entity with discretion to decide whether the ordinance required an eviction. It made the sheriff’s department responsible for maintaining a ‘crime free’ database and for sending crime notifications to property owners. If the sheriff’s department staff sent a crime notification to owners about their property, the ordinance mandated that the owners begin an eviction process. The sheriff’s department exercised discretion in all aspects of enforcing the ordinance. Neither the ordinance nor the city provided much guidance to the sheriff’s department regarding enforcement. The ordinance explicitly gave ‘discretion’ to the ‘chief of police’—i.e., sheriff’s department staff—to determine whether and what ‘evidence and documents’ would be sent to housing providers notifying them to evict a tenant. Sheriff’s department staff stated that the ordinance was applied on a ‘case-by-case basis of course’ and that they ‘handl[ed] each situation differently’ and applied ‘more of a ‘spirit of the law determination’ than a fixed set of rules.”
According to the suit, “Under the ordinance, the sheriff’s department routinely determined that tenants should be evicted despite the absence of any conviction or court judgment. Sheriff’s department staff stated that ‘a copy of the call [to 911] for service,’ a ‘negative law enforcement action [as opposed to a] conviction of a crime,’ or a ‘multiple response citation,’ which could be issued if the sheriff’s department responded to a property multiple times for ‘noise disturbances’ such as ‘loud music,’ could all trigger eviction. Even conduct that was legal under California state law could justify an eviction. Sheriff’s department staff explained to a housing provider, ‘even if your tenant has a [medical] marijuana card . . . they will be in violation of the Crime Free Program [even though] as the police, we can’t arrest someone for smoking marijuana who has a card.’ Sheriff’s department staff pressured property owners to ensure evictions took place and dedicated or offered to dedicate significant attention and resources to assist. The Sheriff’s department also encouraged owners to use extra-judicial tactics to eject tenants from their homes. Sheriff’s department staff told a housing provider to use ‘whatever method fits the situation’ to evict tenants, ‘as long as [the tenants] leave.’ Sheriff’s department staff encouraged the use of threats of eviction to get tenants to vacate through a ‘voluntary move,’ ‘especially after explaining that an official eviction could have a negative impact on their credit.’ The sheriff’s department encouraged housing providers to evict entire households when one member of the household engaged in purported criminal activity. For example, a staff member told a housing provider, ‘[n]ot sure which one [of your tenants] was arrested, but under the new city ordinance any arrest on the premises means the whole house is subject to eviction anyway.’ Sheriff’s department staff also demanded the eviction of an elderly Latino couple who lived in a majority-minority Census block after their adult son, who did not live with them, was arrested. The sheriff’s department also notified landlords to begin evictions of victims of domestic violence even though the ordinance contained language purporting to protect them. For example, one woman was evicted together with her three children from a majority-minority Census block after she called 911 to report that her husband was beating her with a television cable. Sheriff’s department staff explained to another landlord that, under the ordinance, the sheriff’s department ‘would be notifying you to begin eviction on the entire household’ of a domestic violence victim ‘if the victim ends up allowing [the abuser] back in, and the problems persist.’ Also, the sheriff’s department told the landlord of an African American domestic violence victim that the victim ‘is allowing the problem to continue,’ and that the landlord could ‘warn [her] that if she allows [her husband] back in, and the problem persists, she would be subject to eviction.’ Residents reported to the Department of Housing and Urban Development that they were scared to call the police due to the fear of eviction. Evicting crime victims who called 911 undercuts defendants’ assertion that a principal purpose of the ordinance was to reduce crime and make neighborhoods safer. Defendants retaliated against housing providers that hesitated to evict tenants as demanded by the sheriff’s department. If owners did not begin evictions, the sheriff’s department threatened them with fines. When a property management company raised concern about the ordinance’s legality, the sheriff’s department emailed the company’s clients to inform them the company was noncompliant with the ordinance, and thus the city could fine the clients.”
The sheriff’s department’s own internal documentation bears out that the housing discrimination took place, according to the lawsuit.
The suit states “The city failed to exercise meaningful oversight over the sheriff’s department in its enforcement of the ordinance. The sheriff’s department tracked the progress of the eviction campaign it directed with a document listing more than 250 people it had targeted for eviction and the status of their housing. During its investigation, the Department of Housing and Urban Development obtained an ‘eviction tracking spreadsheet’ from the sheriff’s department purporting to list those residents and households that the sheriff’s department had targeted for eviction in 2016 and the status of their housing. Based on an analysis of the residents on the spreadsheet whose race and national origin could be identified, the Department of Housing and Urban Development determined that African American and Latino renters were significantly more likely to be evicted under the ordinance than non-Hispanic white renters. Specifically, the Department of Housing and Urban Development determined that African American renters were almost four times as likely as non-Hispanic white renters to be evicted because of the ordinance, and Latino renters were 29 percent more likely than non-Hispanic white renters to be evicted. The sheriff’s department’s data further show that 96.3 percent of individuals and 96.9 percent of households evicted under the ordinance had been evicted from majority-minority Census blocks, even though only 79 percent of rental households in Hesperia are located in majority-minority Census blocks. The Department of Housing and Urban Development further determined from the sheriff’s department data that of the Census blocks in Hesperia with at least 25 percent renters and at least four rental units, 24 percent were majority-white, but only 2.5 percent of evictions occurred in those blocks. Moreover, the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s analysis showed that the rate of evictions under the ordinance increased in relation to the percentage of minorities residing in the Census block. The higher the concentration of minority population in an area, the more likely households in that neighborhood were to be evicted under the ordinance.”
City officials strongly denied a previous report by the Department of Housing and Urban Development alleging housing discrimination in Hesperia and they were equally adamant in their denials in the face of the U.S. Justice Department’s filing of the lawsuit.
“The information in the U.S. Department of Justice press release is factually incorrect and grossly misleading,” Rachel Molina, an assistant to City Manager Nils Bentsen and the city’s spokeswoman, said. “At no time did the city’s crime-free ordinance discriminate against residents of any ethnicity.”
Furthermore, according to Molina, “There are crime free programs across the United States aimed at providing residents with safer communities. In the recent past the Department of Housing and Urban Development supported such programs.
Molina continued, “One of the best things about Hesperia is its diversity. The city loves and embraces its diverse community.”
She asserted, “The city will defend against the false allegations in this lawsuit.”