Upland’s Park Land Giveaway Plan Reported To Have Failed With State’s Discovery Of Fraud In Grant Application

The City of Upland’s recreation manager abruptly departed the city last month, becoming the fourth casualty among Upland’s high-ranking municipal and institutional employees tripped up over what opponents of the city’s effort to reconstitute city parkland into a parking lot for San Antonio Hospital say is an unacceptable and illegally orchestrated disposition of city property.
In addition to those four departures, the parkland-to-parking lot debacle is widely perceived as having been a factor in the 2018 political demise of three of Upland’s former city council members.
Doug Story,  who began with the City of Upland in October 2015 as a development services specialist, remained in that capacity until September 2017, at which point he was provided with a promotion to the position of Upland’s recreation manager commencing in October 2017. A condition of that promotion was that Story had to do the bidding of a number of city higher-ups, which benefited the board of directors and president of the City of Upland’s major private sector entity, San Antonio Hospital. That task entailed a paradoxical giveaway of a portion of the city’s premier recreational amenity – Memorial Park – and the compromising of the function of the municipal division Story had been promoted to lead. Story gamely sought to carry out the assignment he had been given, boldly seeking to obtain an infusion of state money to offset the reduction in parkland the city was sustaining in its effort to provide the hospital with property for parking and future expansion. The hospital needs hundreds of more parking spaces than it currently has to accommodate the influx of patients it is experiencing following the 2017 conclusion of six years of construction on the hospital campus. That construction involved a series of planned expansion stages which increased the number of beds at the institution from 271 to over 400, saw the addition of the $160 million four-story Vineyard Tower at 999 San Bernardino Road, as well as another $30 million, 60,000-square-foot structure at 1100 San Bernardino Road, upped the number of stations in the hospital’s emergency room from 34 to 52, and created and outfitted 12 more intensive care units. Provision for parking was not included in the application/plans approved by the City of Upland for any of these projects as required by law.
Story applied for the maximum amount of money the city could get under Proposition 68, which was passed by the state’s voters in 2018 and reallocated a portion of California’s $7.545 billion in general obligation bonds for expanding and enhancing parks around the state. In his application, Story put together an energetic park makeover plan to utilize the $8.5 million Upland was requesting under Proposition 68 to refurbish or replace Memorial Park’s playground equipment, add a water feature splash pad, an amphitheater and an artificial turf multi-sports competition field, augment the park with walking and exercise trails, a basketball court and an intensified outdoor nature conservancy with trees and plants hospitable toward bees, hummingbirds and the like. In this way, Story hoped, Upland’s citizenry would ignore that accompanying the park enhancements would be the reduction of the 38.5 acre park by 4.631 acres.
Some five months after Story had been promoted to recreation manager, the Upland City Council as it was then composed on March 26, 2018, with 72 hours notice from city staff, was presented with a proposal that had emanated from Story’s immediate boss, then-Development Services Director Jeff Zwack, along with then-City Attorney Jim Markman and then-City Manager Bill Manis. The Zwack/Markman/Manis proposal called for the city selling 4.631 acres of the southwestern portion of Memorial Park, which contains a baseball field that is actively used by the city’s youth sports leagues. The main campus of the hospital immediately adjoins the park, and the hospital wanted to convert the baseball diamond and some of the greenland around it to a parking lot to accommodate the hospital’s burgeoning clientele.
In compliance with the recommendation by Manis, Zwack and Markman, the city council voted 3-to-1 to approve a purchase and sale agreement between the hospital and the city, with San Antonio Hospital committing to paying $906,931.55 per acre, or a total of $4.2 million, to acquire the 4.631 acres. Mayor Debbie Stone and then-council members Gino Filippi and Carol Timm went along with making the sale. Councilwoman Janice Elliott opposed it. Then-Councilman Sid Robinson, who normally voted in lockstep with Stone, Filippi and Timm, was not present at the meeting.
Manis, Zwack, Markman and the three prevailing members of the council, sensitive to San Antonio Hospital’s status as the city’s major institution and largest employer, considered accommodating its needs to be paramount.
In approving the sale, the city council also authorized City Attorney James Markman to undertake a so-called validation proceeding intended to foreclose any procedural or future legal challenge to the sale. In its validation action filed with the court, the city invited anyone opposed to the sale to lodge a protest. A challenge to the validation had to be filed within 60 days. Once the court validated the sale, any future lawsuits contesting the sale would be barred. The calculation by those favoring the sale was that no one would go to the expense of hiring an attorney to make an answer to the validation petition.
The validation procedure was directed to the courtroom of Superior Court Judge David Cohn in San Bernardino. To the chagrin of city and hospital officials, Marjorie Mikels, an attorney living in the city, as well as the Inland Oversight Committee represented by Cory Briggs, an attorney based in both Upland and San Diego, filed answers to the validation action. Those responses took issue with the sale on multiple grounds, among which was that the city selling off a slice of the park – in particular the one sold by the council on March 26, 2018, which included the long extant and actively used baseball field – is tantamount to abandoning public property. Such abandonments, under state law, cannot be effectuated without a vote of the citizens residing in the jurisdiction that owns that property.
Faced with not one but two challenges to the sale he had not anticipated, City Attorney Markman sought to convince Judge Cohn that the city council, acting on its own authority, was within its rights to sell off city land. In response to the argument that a municipality’s abandonment of property it owned and was putting to beneficial public use had to be subjected to a vote, Markman asserted that selling the property did not constitute an abandonment.
Ultimately, some 14 months after the sale of the park property was approved by the city council, on May 29, 2019, Judge Cohn, after hearing the responses to the city’s filing, dismissed its petition for validation. Judge Cohn’s ruling cleared the way for anyone with standing – meaning essentially any city resident – to file a lawsuit challenging the sale.
Penultimately, hospital officials have resigned themselves to the necessity of subjecting the sale of the property to a citywide vote. It earlier appeared that balloting would take place in conjunction with the March 2020 California Primary election. Now, however, it appears that the vote, if it is to take place at all, will not come until the November 2020 general election.
Before 2018 had fully run, the fallout from the move to sell the city park property was settling hard. In June of that year, Zwack abruptly retired as the city’s development services director. In September, Manis resigned as city manager, effective November 1, 2018. Councilman Sid Robinson, whose status in Upland had largely been based upon his involvement in the city’s youth sports leagues, suddenly found his position as a member of the city council whose voting record was virtually indistinguishable from those of Mayor Stone and council members Filippi and Timm untenable, given Stone’s, Filippi’s and Timm’s support of eradicating one of the city’s baseball diamonds. He announced he would not seek election that November. When that election was held, Filippi and Timm, who had become the object of a large number of voters’ wrath in part due to their March 28 vote to sell off 12 percent of Memorial Park, were voted out of office, while Councilwoman Janice Elliott, who had opposed the parkland sale, emerged victorious in her effort to gain election in the city’s newly created Second District, as the city held its first by-district election.
City Attorney Jim Markman, the other architect of the parkland sale, managed to survive the close of 2018. But with Judge Cohn’s ruling in May of last year dismissing the validation action the city had filed to keep the sale of the park property from being challenged, Markman found himself under siege. Not only was his legal expertise and judgment subject to question, it was painfully obvious that his militating on behalf of the hospital in its effort to obtain the park property for a parking lot was out of step with a sizable cross section of the most civically-active residents of the city. In October, as the city council was making preparations to terminate him, he resigned as city attorney.
A month before Markman’s forced departure, San Antonio Hospital CEO and President Harris Koenig had been fired by the San Antonio Hospital Board of Directors. Koening had been named the president and CEO of San Antonio Hospital in June 2011 and, using financing that consisted in large measure of $125,000,000 in certificates of participation issued using the City of Upland’s bonding authority, immediately thereafter embarked on the earlier-described six-year-long series of planned expansion stages intended to transform San Antonio into a regional hospital.  Among the board’s concerns that had brought about Koenig’s termination was the hospital’s continuing lack of profitability two years after the expansion had been completed in 2017.
The hospital’s parking lot is no longer able to accommodate the number of people seeking care who check in to the hospital, either on an in-patient or out-patient basis, to say nothing of those accompanying or visiting the hospital’s patients. Consequently, some individuals who have been treated at the hospital over the last several years, reluctant to have to deal with the torturous effort to find a place to park, are now going elsewhere in search of medical care. With adequate parking being the one element of the hospital’s expansion that had been overlooked by Koenig and others, the situation had grown acute by the spring of 2018, resulting in city officials undertaking the park property sale in an effort to mitigate the hospital’s problem.
After Judge Cohn’s ruling in May 2019, those yet hoping that the city might be prevailed upon to let go of some of the park acreage so the parking structure could be built turned to Story in a last ditch effort to formulate some way to have the city’s residents hold still for a reduction in the footprint of Memorial Park. That is when Story threw together the application for the Proposition 68 grant money.
The hope was that the community, aware of how Memorial Park for more than a decade had been neglected in its upkeep because of dwindling municipal financial resources, would be enthusiastic about the upgrades Story’s Proposition 68 application would provide – the playground equipment, the amphitheater, the splash pad, the artificial turf multi-sports competition field, the walking and exercise trails, the basketball court and the outdoor nature conservancy. The calculation was that the enthusiasm to be created by the upgrades would be so great that a critical majority of city’s residents would be willing to accept the loss of the 4.631 acres.
Some residents, astutely, questioned how it was that Story could be so confident that the city was going to receive any grant money at all based on Upland proving the Memorial Park environs was an “economically disadvantaged” area and other competitive criteria, let alone the entirety of the $8.5 million that had been applied for to ensure the Memorial Park makeover was to take place as he said it would. Story would brook no suggestion that the state would turn the city’s supplication for the grant down, and he was equally dismissive of suggestions that the city might get less than $8.5 million, which was the maximum amount a municipality could receive. He indicated that he had been assured by state officials the city would be informed of the grant reception by last month.
Word has now come that Story has left the city. Unbeknownst to Upland’s citizenry, some time ago he had applied for a position with the City of Beaumont. Beaumont’s human services director, Kari Mendoza, this week confirmed to the Sentinel that Story will begin as an employee with Beaumont on January 6.
According to a source the Sentinel deems reliable, Upland city officials were informed last month that Upland will not receive any of the Proposition 68 grant money it applied for. The Sentinel is told that an Upland resident upon review of the city’s submitted grant application determined that some of the data forwarded to the state by the city as part of the application process had been falsified and notified Proposition 68 application review staff. Furthermore, several residents over multiple council meetings asked interim City Manager Rosemary Hoerning to officially disclose this misinformation in the application to the state. It is not clear whether the city accordingly amended its application.
Specifically, according to this account of events, two criteria are applied by the state in releasing Proposition 68 money. One test pertains to an applicant demonstrating that it has a “deficit” of parkland throughout its jurisdiction such that its park area is less than three acres per 1,000 people in the city overall. A second test relates not to the entire city but to the specific park for which a grant is being sought. That test uses a factor of determination in which the park is considered as providing recreational opportunities for a specific “service area” within the city, county or jurisdictional entity making the application. If those living within that service area can be demonstrated as having an average per-household annual income of less than $51,000, the state considers that park to be eligible for improvements a Proposition 68 grant could provide, the Sentinel was told. Apparently what occurred was that the Upland resident who had access to both the grant application and city demographic data provided that data to the state to either demonstrate or convincingly allege that the city has park acreage or public recreational amenities in excess of three acres per 1,000 population and that in the neighborhood surrounding Memorial Park the average gross annual household income exceeds $51,000. Accordingly, the Sentinel is told, the state denied Upland’s grant application.
Lois Sicking-Dieter, who has been among the forefront of a contingent of city residents resisting the city’s sale of the park property to the hospital, told the Sentinel that Upland city officials’ faith that the Proposition 68 grant money would become available was an example of unjustifiable overconfidence. “Throughout California there is a lot of competition for that grant money,” she said. “For Doug Story to think the city would get any money, let alone $8.5 million, was very ambitious on his part.”
Sicking-Dieter said it was at least possible that the failure of the city to get the grant money “is the reason he [Story] no longer works for the city. Rumor is we are getting no Proposition 68 money and now, he’s off to Beaumont. He was gaining momentum in support of the changes to the park and then it all fell apart. It started to become clear, I think, when [James] Markman, who crafted a lot of the park sale, left before he got fired.”
John Chapman, who has succeeded Koenig as CEO and president of San Antonio Regional Hospital, is making the same mistake as his predecessor, Sicking-Dieter said. “At the hospital, they still believe the parkland sale is going through,” she said. “A group of us met with John Chapman, who was thinking he would convince us the hospital needs all 4.6 acres of the park property. Then, Chapman admitted that he was hoping that park supporters like us would be satisfied with the possibility of the hospital taking a smaller portion of the property instead of the original 4.631 acres. When one of our members told him that we would not give up one square inch of the park, he told us that the hospital was not going to abandon its plans to purchase some portion of Memorial Park and until our position changed future discussions would need to involve other items.”
Councilwoman Janice Elliott yesterday, January 2, indicated that it was yet the city’s official position that the Proposition 68 grant may come through. “I asked [interim City Manager] Rosemary [Hoerning] on Monday about this grant and she told me that we have not yet been informed about the grant but we should hear about it soon,” Elliott said.
Thus, the assumption that the city will not obtain the grant is premature, Elliott suggested, and attributing Story’s departure to the city’s failure to obtain the money he was seeking to wrest from the state to carry out the promised improvements at Memorial Park was not based in fact.
“Doug was offered a new position in Beaumont that he accepted,” she said. “He told me it was a significant promotion.”
-Mark Gutglueck

Yucaipa Council Remaining Blasé In Face Of Burgeoning Graft Suspicions

By Mark Gutglueck
Yucaipa’s mayor and city council are maintaining an air of nonchalance in the face of the growing perception of impropriety in the city’s sell-off to commercial developers property bequeathed to the community two generations ago with the proviso that it be used for public or institutional purposes.
Multiple irregularities attended the city’s action in divesting, or preparing to divest, itself of the property in question, including the city council’s approval of the sale of .87 acre to a Wyoming Corporation in March of last year and the city planning commission’s less than fully-transparent consideration of and recommendation to the city council last month that the city sell another 1.67 acres of public land to a yet-unspecified entity. The intended purchaser of the 1.67 acres has not been disclosed, though there are suggestions the property is to be sold to the same entity that purchased the .87 acre parcel. In both cases, the city either consented or is purposed to consent to a changing in the land use designation/zoning from public use to commercial. In each case the city took the action it did despite a deed restriction that committed the property to being utilized for public rather than private benefit into perpetuity.
The property at issue lies proximate to or at the corner of 13th Street and Yucaipa Avenue, on either side of the Crafton Hills Fire Station.
Brothers Lester and Ruben Finkelstein were the president and vice president, respectively, of the Southwest Steel Rolling Mill in Los Angeles. Among the several corporate offshoots of their company were Lester Ruben Corporation No. 1, Lester Ruben Corporation No. 2, Lester Ruben Corporation No. 3, the  Finkelstein Foundry Supply Company and the Finkelstein Supply Company. In the 1950s, Lester and his wife set up a weekend home in Yucaipa, and shortly thereafter Lester and Ruben purchased some 670 acres surrounding Lester’s homestead upon which they established the L and R Cattle Company.
In 1964, Ruben and Lester Finkelstein gave indication that they would potentially provide, through their foundation, property upon which a community college in the then-unincorporated community of Yucaipa would be built. In 1966, the Finkelsteins made good on that offer with an initial donation of 167 acres, following that original bequest with the provision of 76 more acres in 1970 and subsequently donating 251 acres of additional land.
Those donations entailed deed restrictions that limited the use of the land to those for charitable, educational and recreational purposes. In 1970, Yucaipa High School at 12358 Sixth Street relocated to its current campus at 33000 Yucaipa Boulevard on the property donated by the Finkelstein Brothers.  A significant portion of the donated land was used for the campus of Crafton Hills College, which opened in 1972.  The Crafton Hills Fire Station was built on the property the brothers provided. Recreational facilities, including four baseball diamonds now grace part of the property. The land was also used for a water district flood retention basin.
When the City of Yucaipa incorporated in 1989, title to the remainder of the property not comprising the college and high school campuses and facilities owned or operated by other agencies transferred to the city. The deed restrictions remained in effect.
In 2018, machinations with regard to a portion of the property donated to the community by the Finkelstein Brothers to the Yucaipa community took place, the progression of which have brought the forthrightness of the city council and other Yucaipa civic officials into question.
On November 19, 2018, the city received a letter from JADE Real Estate Holdings that expressed interest in the company purchasing 0.87 acres of property located at the northwest corner of Yucaipa Boulevard and 13th Street. JADE’s intention related to possible commercial development of the property. Shortly thereafter, during a closed session at its December 9, 2018 meeting, the city council gave direction to staff, despite the deed restriction relating to the property, to pursue disposition of the parcel.
For the property to be developed commercially, the deed restriction had to be removed.
At the Yucaipa City Council meeting on March 25, 2019, that panel’s members conducted a consideration of what that evening’s agenda designated as “the disposition of city property: 0.87 acre parcel, northwest corner of Yucaipa Boulevard and 13th Street (portion of assessor parcel number 299-321-62).”
In a report to the city council relating to the item, Paul Toomey, Yucaipa’s director of community development, wrote that he recommended the city council “Find the city disposition of a portion of assessor parcel number 299-321-62 is consistent with the general plan; and adopt a categorical exemption pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act of 1970 guidelines; and direct staff to file a notice of exemption; and approve the sale of city-owned property located at the northwest corner of Yucaipa Boulevard and 13th Street, further defined as a portion of assessor parcel number 299-321-62, for an amount of $500,000 to JADE Real Estate Holdings, Inc.; and authorize staff to establish an amount from the proceeds of the sale of the property sufficient to pay the city’s share of closing costs and expenses; and authorize the city manager to make any necessary non-substantive revisions and execute a purchase and sale agreement and other necessary documentation in order to complete the property disposition process; and allocate the net proceeds from the sale to the general fund one time capital projects fund for recreational facility improvements.”
Anticipating that the city council was amenable to designating the 0.87 acres as “surplus property” which could be sold, Toomey asserted in the body of the report that a necessary requisite of the rescission of the deed restriction on the property had been met. “In July 2018, the Finkelstein heirs executed a termination of deed restriction, permitting the property to be developed as proposed, subject to the condition that the net proceeds from the sale of the land be used for recreational purposes,” Toomey wrote in the report. Nowhere in the report, dated, March 25, 2019, did Toomey explain how it was that someone with the city had the prescience to obtain the termination of deed restriction from the Finkelstein heirs in July 2018, some four months before JADE Real Estate Holdings, Inc. sent the city a letter indicating its interest in purchasing the property.
Late last year, at its December 18, 2019 meeting, the Yucaipa Planning Commission took up a proposal that the city make a minor general plan amendment to change the land use designation of approximately 1.67 acres adjacent to the Crafton Hills Fire Station, yet another portion of the land gifted to the community by the Finkelstein Brothers, to general commercial zoning. The land use designation change requested is to impact portions of vacant property adjacent to 32664 Yucaipa Boulevard, referred to as assessor parcel numbers 0299-321-61, 84 and 85. The 1.67 acres of land is proximate to the 0.87 acres sold to JADE near the corner of Yucaipa Boulevard and 13th Street. One of the lots is east of the Crafton Hills Fire Station, and the other west of the fire station.
As part of the March 25, 2019 action, the city council approved along with the sale agreement a land use designation/zoning change that was applicable to the 0.87 acre piece. Last month the planning commission recommended that the city council make the same change to the two other parcels totaling 1.67 acres.
In his capacity as director of community development, Toomey recommended that the planning commission upon conducting a public hearing on December 18 adopt a resolution approving the general plan amendment/land use district change to alter the zoning on both pieces on either side of the fire station to general commercial, make the necessary amendments to reflect the change in the city’s zoning ordinance and find that the commercial project to be built on the property is exempt from the environmental review requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act, despite the consideration that no specific use for the site or sites is planned.
The planning commission did as recommended by Toomey.
The city council, now armed with the planning commission’s recommendation, has what its members now consider to be sufficient political cover to proceed with making the change to the zoning of the 1.67 acres and proceed with the sale, as was done with the .87 acre parcel last year.
While multiple questions attended the city’s action, the city council and mayor, City Manager Ray Casey, Toomey and the planning commission were able to shunt them aside through a time-tested stratagem government officials use when they want to conceal from the public action that may prove controversial, problematic or embarrassing, consisting of hiding the action in plain sight during an official proceeding during which public interest is flagging and public attendance and participation is virtually nil. Historically, such meetings correspond with major holidays, the classic manifestation of which are those just prior to Christmas. In the instant case, the Yucaipa Planning Commission took up the matter of the general plan amendment to change the land use designation of the 1.67 acres of property that had been part of the Finkelstein Brothers’ bequest one week before Christmas and four days before the onset of Hanukkah.
Thus effectively buried and removed from the table of open public discussion was the issue of whether the city, as the inheritor of the property donated under conditions specified by Ruben and Lester Finkelstein, can defy the Finkelstein Brothers’ wishes as articulated in the deed restriction.
Exacerbating the transparency issue is that Yucaipa, unlike the vast majority of municipalities in San Bernardino County, does not video its council meetings to broadcast them live and post them to its website, nor does the city video its planning commission meetings. Yucaipa city officials have also opted out of imposing on themselves exacting reporting and disclosure requirements that are increasingly the norm in other cities. California Government Code § 84615 (f) requires that if a local filing officer such as a city clerk receives campaign finance disclosure documents from an elected official or candidate for elected office that the were filed electronically, those campaign financing disclosure documents must be posted on the internet “in an easily understood format that provides the greatest public access.” While some cities have passed ordinances mandating that their elected officials make electronic filing of their campaign disclosure documents, thus ensuring that those cities’ constituents can monitor in a timely fashion where and from whom their representatives are receiving campaign cash, Yuciapa is not among them. Either coincidentally or calculatedly, individually or in concert, Yucaipa’s elected officials have uniformly made a practice, without exception, of filing their campaign disclosure documents on paper rather than electronically. Thus, Deputy City Manager/City Clerk Jennifer Crawford is not constrained by California Government Code § 84615 (f). Nor has she elected, as she is at liberty to do, to convert the paper campaign disclosure filings the members of the city council have lodged with her office to an electronic format by scanning them, and then posting the mayor and city council members’ campaign disclosure filings to the city’s website, not out of legal necessity but rather in the interest of ensuring the Yucaipa citizenry’s easy access to information relating to who may be influencing the decision-making of the city council.
In the aftermath of the December 18 planning commission meeting, a relatively small contingent of Yucaipa residents who had previously shown concern over the city’s sale of the .87 acres in March took note of the city’s intentions with regard to the sale of another 1.67 acres of the property that had been deeded to the community by the Finkelstein Brothers, remarking the way in which the city was engaged in an effort to fly the sale under the radar of the public in general by having the planning commission put its imprimatur on the sale during what was arguably its most obscure meeting of the year. Shortly after the meeting, city officials shuttered City Hall for the period between Christmas and New Years Day, rendering efforts by members of the public and the press to inquire about the proposed sale and the legal basis for obviating the deed restriction the Finkelstein Brothers had insisted upon when bequeathing the 494 acres to the community in the 1960s and 1970s futile. While no specified buyer for the 1.67 acres was officially identified by the city, word on the street was that the city’s intent was to sell the property to the previous purchaser of the 0.87 acres, JADE Real Estate Holdings, Inc.
JADE Real Estate Holdings, Inc. is registered in Wyoming as a corporation and in California as a foreign limited-liability company. The filing with the California Secretary of State’s Office was made on April 9, 2018. The registered agent on file for the company in California is Debra Hanna, with the company headquartered at 25772 Lawton, Loma Linda, California 92354. The company’s principal address is 25772 Lawton in Loma Linda. The company has two principals on record, Hanna, who is shown as residing in Loma Linda, and Janet Jones, who lives in Redlands.
According to a Wyoming-based company, Wyoming Corporate Services Inc., which handles the registration of companies based outside of Wyoming as Wyoming corporations, an “advantage” of being registered as a Wyoming corporation is that the officers of those companies do not have to be publicly declared and can remain hidden. “Wyoming has no requirement for the names of shareholders to be filed with the state,” according to the Wyoming Corporate Services Inc. website.
Former San Bernardino County Supervisor and Assessor Bill Postmus, who served in those elected capacities from 2000 until 2009, after which his career imploded in scandal following revelations relating to his acceptance of bribes and kickbacks while serving in the position of chairman of the board of supervisors and using his position as assessor to hire political operatives in the assessors office from which they carried out partisan political activity, was convicted on 14 felony political corruption counts in 2011, for which he ultimately was sentenced to three years in state prison. One of those convictions, violation of California Government Code Section 1090, precludes him from holding political office in California ever again. Postmus, however, has remained in the political game in California and San Bernardino County, utilizing a Wyoming Corporation, Mountain State Consulting Group, to launder political contributions to local politicians, such that the donors of the political cash are obscured from the public. Postmus and Mountain States Consulting have garnered considerable negative publicity in recent months as a result of this activity.
A perfect storm had evolved, with the City of Yucaipa having engaged in a controversial, indeed perhaps illegal, set of actions in actual or potential connection with a company that had made a deliberate effort to obscure who its corporate officers were in making its corporate filings out of state, while the city council members, in conjunction with other city officials, had themselves engaged in deliberate acts to limit the public’s ability to make a determination of whether they had received money from that company or any of its corporate officers, either in the form of campaign contributions or payments either for work rendered or as investment returns. Given the entirety of the circumstances surrounding the city’s sell-off of the Finkelstein Brothers-bequeathed properties, some Yuciapa residents found themselves inexorably pushed to the conclusion that the sales arrangement was riddled with fraud, the primary issue in which was the influence that JADE Real Estate Holdings, Inc. is exercising over Yucaipa city officials.
This week, on Thursday, City Hall reopened after the prolonged holiday closure, with the council enmeshed in the controversy. In the face of the contretemps, city officials and the city council in particular were having difficulty gaining their footing. Perhaps overwhelmed by the suggestions that their integrity was in question, four-fifths of the council proved unwilling to respond to questions relating to the matter.
Generally, three members of the council and Mayor David Avila spurned the Sentinel’s efforts to get them to go on record with regard to a number of issues the controversy has raised.
Neither Avila, nor Councilwoman Denise Allen-Hoyt, nor Councilman Bobby Duncan responded to the Sentinel’s written questions relating to whether they were fully cognizant of the deed restriction relating to that property, whether in their views individually or collectively violating that deed restriction for any purpose was justifiable, whether they were personally convinced there was grounds to violate that deed restriction, whether they could articulate the grounds for violating the deed restriction and justify the sale of the property along with transitioning the zoning/land use designation on that property from public use to commercial use. None of the three seemed particularly anxious or motivated to dispel the widening impression that there were improprieties with regard to the anticipated land sale. Efforts to reach Avila at a phone number – (909) 790-5336 – were met with a constantly rapid busy signal. He did not respond to a request for a return call lodged with the board secretary of the Omnitrans Executive Committee, of which he is the chairman. Efforts to reach Allen-Hoyt at Crafton Hills College, where she is an instructor, were not successful.
Additionally, Avila, Allen-Hoyt and Duncan did not respond to written questions with regard to how city staff was foresighted to obtain from the Finkelstein heirs, in July 2018, an authorization for the sale of the assessor parcel number 299-321-62 property when an offer to purchase that property was not made by JADE Real Estate Holdings, Inc. until November 2018. Avila, Allen-Hoyt and Duncan did not respond to an inquiry as to whether they believed the Finkelstein Brothers’ heirs had the authority to waive the stated intent of the Finkelstein Brothers as spelled out in the deed restrictions on the property in question and they did not, in response to the Sentinel’s request for them to do so, cite the language in the deed restriction that authorized the Finkelstein Brother’s heirs to rescind the conditions of the deed restriction.
The Sentinel did succeed in reaching Councilman Dick Riddell on January 1. He said he would attempt to make a response to the questions provided to him in writing relating to the sale and proposed sale of the deed-restricted property, but had not done so by press time on January 3.
Councilman Greg Bogh, with whom the Sentinel spoke on January 1, said he had not previously known that anyone in the Yucaipa community was opposed to the rezoning to commercial use of the old L and R Cattle Company property that had been deeded to the community by the Finkelstein Brothers or its sale to entities intent on developing it.
“I never heard that people had any issue with the conversion of that property to commercial zoning,” he said, adding that the proceeds from the sale would have been used either to purchase property elsewhere that would have been kept for a public purpose or to defray the cost of improvements to the public facilities already in place on the property that had originated with the Finkelstein Brothers. “We were looking for different ways to fund improvements to the baseball fields and put in parking lots. If you are saying anyone had an issue with that conversion, that’s a first to me.”
As to the suggestions or accusations that there was a venal element in the city’s sale of the property to JADE Real Estate Holdings, Inc., Bogh said, “I don’t know where those accusations are coming from.”
Bogh said that JADE had not provided him with any money or contributions “at this point. I wouldn’t take anything from them anyway.” He noted that 2020 is an election year and that “We have a political season coming up. It shouldn’t surprise me but politics is turning into a different animal, unfortunately.”
Bogh emphasized his perception that the city’s action with regard to the property in question was benign. “I’m not an expert, but we were looking at converting that property so the city could improve the ball fields in that area,” he said. “I know very little about it. The idea sounded legitimate, which was to make the sale and use the proceeds to make the improvements that needed to be done.”
Statements of economic interest, known as Form 700s, filed by each the city council members with the California Fair Political Practices Commission, show no business or financial interaction between any of them and JADE Real Estate Holdings, Inc.
A public records request made to the Yucaipa city clerk’s office by the Sentinel for the campaign financing documents filed by the council members had not been responded to by press time.
The Sentinel made a further inquiry with Yucaipa City Attorney David Snow with regard to the legality of city’s unilateral obviation of the deed restriction relating to the gifting of the property to the Yucaipa community, if the Finkelstein Brothers’ heirs have the authority to waive the stated intent of the Finkelstein Brothers as spelled out in the deed restrictions on that property, and whether there was language contained in the deed restriction that authorized the rescission of any elements of the deed restriction. Snow responded to the Sentinel’s inquiry just before press time today, saying he was reviewing the issues inquired about and was looking toward providing a response next week.

Third District’s Five Candidates Include Appointed Incumbent

Dawn Rowe, the former Yucca Valley Town Councilwoman and staff member to Congressman Paul Cook who vaulted into the position of Third District San Bernardino County supervisor in December 2018 when she was chosen by her current board colleagues to replace James Ramos, is being challenged by four candidates in California’s upcoming March 3, 2020 Primary Election.
In county office elections, such as that for supervisor, a candidate can be elected outright in the primary election by capturing at least fifty percent plus one vote, bypassing the need for a run-off in the November general election. In simple head-to-head contests in which only two candidates for county office vie against one another, one candidate or the other in San Bernardino County has emerged victorious as no ties have ever occurred in such races historically. When more than two candidates are involved, the possibility that no single candidate will pull down a majority of votes exists. In situations where no candidate gets a majority of the vote, the two top vote-getters go toe-to-toe in the November election.
Technically, though Rowe is an incumbent, she is not seeking reelection, as she was not voted into office by the Third District’s voters. The board appointed her after Ramos, who had originally been elected as Third District supervisor in 2012 and was reelected in 2016, ran successfully for the California Assembly in the 40th District in 2018, and was then obliged to resign as supervisor with two years remaining on his supervisorial term.
Of note is that Ramos is a Democrat and Rowe a Republican. Upon his election to the Assembly, Ramos had suggested that his erstwhile board colleagues appoint his deputy chief of staff in the supervisorial office, Chris Carrillo, another Democrat, to replace him. Three of the board’s members – Robert Lovingood, Janice Rutherford and Curt Hagman – are, however, Republicans. They rejected elevating Carrillo to the supervisor’s position, even as the lone Democrat on the board, Josie Gonzales, advocated on Carrillo’s behalf. Though county elected positions are considered to be nonpartisan, party politics plays a major role in the election process at virtually every level of government in San Bernardino County, including races for Congress, the state legislature, county office and at the municipal level.
Upon assuming office, Rowe hired as her staff members three individuals – Suzette Swallow, Dillon Lesovsky and Matt Knox – who had been heavily involved in electioneering efforts for Republican candidates in the past. Word spread that Knox, as Rowe’s chief of staff, Lesovsky, as Rowe’s policy advisor, and Swallow, as Rowe’s communications director, were actually in place to ensure her election in 2020, as well as to work on behalf of other Republican candidates in the same election cycle.
In early 2019 it was widely assumed, and indeed Carrillo indicated, that he would challenge Rowe in this year’s election. In June, however, Carrillo reversed course, announcing he would not run for supervisor. It was bruited about the county that Carrillo, an attorney and board member of the East Valley Water District whose wife works as a prosecutor in the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office, was in some fashion being blackmailed by the Swallow/Lesovsky/Knox political operations team functioning out of the Third District supervisorial office based upon information they were able to obtain using the agency-to-agency privilege at their disposal through their status as government officials.
All four of Rowe’s opponents in March are Democrats. One of them is Redlands City Councilman Eddie Tejeda. Another is Kaisar Ahmed, who previously ran for Redlands City Council in 2016 and for Congress in the 31st Congressional District in 2018. Also vying is Karen Ickes, a human services manager. Latron Lester, a minister from Barstow, rounds out the field.
Going into the election, Rowe enjoys a sizable fundraising advantage over all of her opponents, with more than 33 times as much money to spend on her campaign than all of the others combined. At present, she has $190,492.69 in her electioneering fund.  Available documentation shows that Ickes has $1,000 at her disposal for her supervisorial run. Ahmed’s campaign filings give no indication of how much money his campaign has on hand. Similarly, Lester’s filings give no indication of any money in his campaign account. Tejada, as of December 31, had $4,750 in his political war chest.
Mark Gutglueck

County Quadruples Number Of Houses On Property In Montclair’s Sphere-Of-Influence

In what is doubtless a sign of the times, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors last month granted a developer a major variance allowing the construction of 42 units on less than five acres where previously the zoning would have permitted 11 units.
The project site is currently vacant and located at 5553 Mission Boulevard east of Vernon Avenue and west of Benson Avenue on the south side of Mission Boulevard within the sphere of influence of the City of Montclair. The subject property was previously used as a commercial site until the buildings were demolished in 2003.
Broker William Lee has a listing on 4.68 acres of the raw land on Mission Boulevard, which comprises the lion’s share of the 4.97 acres in question. The property, which is listed at $3 million, had gone unsold for 609 days as of November 17, 2019. Redfin’s estimate on the value of the 4.68 acres is $2,667,264.
The property was split zoned, with what is roughly the northernmost half most proximate to Mission Boulevard zoned general commercial and the bottom half zoned single family residential, with potential access from Bel Air Avenue on the south. Several new medium and high density residential developments have been completed or are currently under construction nearby along the southern frontage of Mission Boulevard in both Ontario and Montclair.
The applicant, Crestwood Communities, requested from the county’s land use services division a general plan amendment to change the land use zoning district from general commercial and RS-20M, which allows the construction of single family residential house with minimum lot sizes of 20,000 square feet, to RM, which provides for multiple residential on a portion of the subject site and from general commercial to RM on the three adjacent parcels to the east; a conditional use permit for a 40-unit detached condominium development; a tentative tract map consisting of one lot for condominium purposes and two single family lots for individual sales; and a major variance for a reduced front yard setback at 15 feet, instead of the required 25 feet.
A project analysis provided by the county’s land use services division, after noting the proposed general plan amendment will change the land use zoning designation from the lower density residential and commercial to higher density residential on the northern portion of the project site and additionally alter the land use district from general commercial to high density residential for three adjacent parcels, said the southernmost portion of the project site will remain zoned for the lower intensity 20,000 square-foot minimum lot size residential use. “The project also includes a tentative tract map (TT 20267) to subdivide the lot into one lot for condominium development and two single-family lots for individual sale. The proposed multi-family development of 40 detached condominiums within the proposed RM zoning designation and the two proposed single-family residential lots within the RS-20M designation will comply with the applicable development code standards with approval of the conditional use permit and major variance for a reduced front yard setback. The proposed variance will allow for a reduced front yard setback at 15 feet, instead of the required 25 feet in the RM zoning district. The reduced front yard setback was necessary to allow for code compliant driveways and fire access lanes on the project site. The inclusion of the single-family homes also allows for the completion of an unfinished right-of-way along Bel Air Avenue, at the southern end of the project site.”
According to a report to the board of supervisors from San Bernardino County Land Use Services Department Director Terry Rahhal presented in advance of the December 17 board of supervisors meeting at which the action relating to the property was considered, her department was recommending the major density upgrade be granted because there was no outcry from local residents in protest of the intensification of the use of the property.
“The planning division received no comments or objection letters regarding the project,” Rahhal wrote. “In accordance with Title 14 of the California Code of Regulations Section 15070, an initial study has been completed. The initial study concludes that the project will not have a significant adverse impact on the environment with the implementation of recommended conditions of approval and mitigation measures contained in the initial study, which have been incorporated in the conditions of approval. A notice of availability/notice of intent to adopt a mitigated negative declaration was advertised and distributed to initiate a 30-day public comment period, which concluded on September 20, 2019. One comment e-mail from the city [the City of Montclair] was received, in which the city asked for clarification on the proposed variance and exemption of the single family lot sizes, as well as updates to the environmental document. The city’s comments are included in the final initial study/mitigated negative declaration.”
A mitigated negative declaration is a statement asserting that any negative environmental impacts as a consequence of a development have been mitigated through conditions imposed on the developer in the granting of the project approval.
The project was considered in a public hearing by the San Bernardino County Planning Commission on October 3, 2019. The planning commission recommended approval of the project with a vote of 5-0. No comments were received from the public during public testimony.
-Mark Gutglueck

SBIAA Board Ratifies Ground Lease To Hillwood For Eastgate Cargo Facility

Seven days after the Federal Aviation Administration issued a finding that the construction of the massive-scale Eastgate Air Cargo Facility on the northeast portion of what was formerly Norton Air Force Base will have no significant impact on the environment that can not in some fashion be mitigated, the San Bernardino International Airport Authority on Monday December 30 approved a 35-year ground lease with master developer Hillwood Enterprises for roughly 100 acres of land at the aerodrome to move that project toward reality.
Some hailed the securing of Hillwood’s commitment to proceed with the Eastgate project as the most significant stride the Inland Community has made toward a practical adaptation of the long dormant property at the base, the closure of which a quarter of a century ago represented a financial blow to the region which sent the City of San Bernardino and its environs into an economic tailspin from which it has yet to recover. Others, however, see the project as one that is fraught with potential and real environmental havoc, while offering in the long term only marginal employment for local residents in the logistics and warehouse industry.
The Eastgate project was brought forth by Hillwood Enterprises, LP, of which Ross Perot, Jr. is the chairman. Hillwood in January 2017 obtained from the San Bernardino International Airport Authority’s board of directors an exclusive right to negotiate for a ground lease on a 2 million square foot expanse located on the airport property for the creation a cargo logistics center. The keystone to the project is the 35-year ground-lease agreement with the San Bernardino International Airport Authority which was achieved this week. Based upon Hillwood’s representations, the center is to be subleased to an as-yet unnamed eventual tenant/operator.
The undertaking entails the creation of a new hub at San Bernardino International Airport which will mean a substantial increase in cargo flights out of the facility.
The San Bernardino International Airport Authority Board vote ratifying the lease and its terms followed by four months a public vetting and hearing process culminating in August which involved an extended environmental review of the project’s implication. That review entailed standards embodied in the California Environmental Quality Act and the National Environmental Protection Act, along with the input of local jurisdictions, the Federal Aviation Administration, the South Coast Air Quality Management District, other governmental entities and consulting environmental specialists.
According to the environmental impact report on the project, “San Bernardino International Airport Authority proposes to develop the Eastgate Air Cargo Facility to accommodate the demand for air cargo logistics operations” and the project will involve “construction of taxilanes and an aircraft parking apron to accommodate up to 14 aircraft, a 658,500-square-foot distribution center with connecting aircraft ramps, two 25,000-square-foot maintenance buildings, and automobile parking with approximately 2,000 parking stalls.” The upshot of the environmental impact report, which was paid for by Hillwood, was that the environmental review of the project was comprehensive, and measures built into the conditions of approval for the project will ensure mitigation of air and noise pollution and increased truck traffic.
Project opponents contend the environmental review was less than exhaustive and that the impacts from the project will have a deleterious affect on the environment and quality of life of those in close proximity to the project. Opponents of the project said the impact on the air quality over San Bernardino, Highland, Loma Linda, Redlands, Grand Terrace, Colton and as far away as Yucaipa and Mentone would prove onerous, and efforts to mitigate or offset that impact had not been adequate. Environmentalists said the project would wreak untold havoc on critical habitat for the spotted owl, a near-threatened species.
The decision-making body overseeing operations at the airport is the San Bernardino International Airport Authority. Currently, the San Bernardino International Airport Authority’s board consists of San Bernardino Mayor John Valdivia, San Bernardino Councilman Theodore Sanchez, Loma Linda Councilman Ovidiu Popescu, Highland Councilwoman Penny Lilburn, Colton Mayor Frank Navarro and Third District San Bernardino County Supervisor Dawn Rowe.  As a panel, the board functions under the specter of past boards, which for more than two decades tolerated a circumstance in which the authority signed off on the expenditure of hundreds of millions of tax dollars redirected from the participating jurisdictional entities to run the airport and make improvements there while very little was accomplished in terms of making the air facility and its accompanying structures and facilities viable operations.
Before the base closure, in accordance with federal requests, the governmental entities surrounding Norton formed two separate joint powers authorities intended to facilitate the civilian use conversion of the property. One of those was the Inland Valley Development Authority, known by the acronym IVDA, which was chartered to deal with zoning, land use and planning prerogatives to include the creation of light and heavy industrial, office/professional, commercial and residential development on approximately 600 acres on the former base property and roughly 14,000 acres surrounding it. The San Bernardino International Airport Authority was formed to convert the airbase and its airfield and runways into an international airport.
Initially, the County of San Bernardino and the cities of San Bernardino, Colton, Grand Terrace, Loma Linda and Redlands participated in both the agency and the authority, with the county and the City of San Bernardino most heavily involved and invested in the two joint powers authorities.
An infusion of substantial amounts of money into the authority and agency to fund their operations was made by the rerouting of property tax away from the county and the cities, primarily Highland and San Bernardino, and to a lesser extent Redlands and Loma Linda. Despite that, the former air base and its surrounding property languished in a holding pattern, essentially for the next two decades. A series of individuals were brought in to act as the authority’s and the agency’s executive directors, several of whom were political appointments and/or former elected officials provided with six figure salaries. Token efforts toward transforming the base into an airport were made, but no real progress in that direction was achieved.
Specifically, the authority board conferred executive directorships, which existed as sinecures paying in excess of $200,000 per year in total compensation, on a series of their various political associates, without any accountability with regard to performance. Moreover, a past board in 2007, without any competitive bidding, brought in Scot Spencer to serve as the contract developer and manager of the airport. Spencer had served a four-year prison term from 1995 until 1999 as a result of his fraud conviction relating to his having, in conjunction with financier Jeffrey Chodorow, absconded with $14 million of company and investor funds by hiding payments to a shell company they created after they swooped in to create Dallas-based Braniff International Airlines, Inc. after Braniff Airways, which had been in operation since 1928, had faltered and fell into bankruptcy in 1982.
Spencer used his position as airport manager at San Bernardino International to provide businesses he owned favorable leasing arrangements while obstructing other aviation-related companies from operating. As the contract developer of the airport, Spencer was paid to oversee what was supposed to be a $38 million renovation of the airport’s passenger terminal and a $7 million development of its concourse. Spencer undertook that assignment amid confident predictions that upon completion of those projects, the airport would attract at least one and perhaps as many as a half dozen commercial passenger carriers.  In carrying out that project, Spencer used two corporations he owned, Norton Development Company, LLC and SBD Properties, LLC. The cost of the passenger terminal and the concourse escalated to $142 million. While that effort did deliver a first class terminal, that facility has for nearly a decade sat fallow and virtually unused, as the airport has yet to host any commercial airlines, although corporate jets and other private pilots did land at the Million Air corporate aviation facility, for which Spencer was the franchisee, from 2010 until 2012.  Another $210 million was invested in airport facilities, which have gone largely unused over the last decade.
In March 2013, Spencer was arrested by the FBI and charged with engaging in a conspiracy to steal $1.75 million in public funds, a gambit which ultimately netted him $1.03 million, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Attending the arrest were suggestions that Spencer had kicked back payments to various San Bernardino International Airport Authority officials. No arrests of any local officials were made, however, and no charges were filed against them. In March 2018, Spencer pleaded guilty to a tax evasion charge, and the remainder of the case against him was dismissed.
Some minor progress at the airport over the years has been achieved. Beginning in 2016, UPS began operating four weekly flights at the airport during the run-up to Christmas and in the years since that UPS Airlines has expanded its operation at the aerodrome. In July 2018 San Bernardino International Airport Authority and FedEx Express have agreed to begin regularly-scheduled air cargo flights into San Bernardino International Airport
Given the airport’s poor track record, San Bernardino International Airport Authority officials, including the board and current Executive Director Mike Burrows, are anxious to achieve milestones in converting the airport into a regional economic engine.
Hillwood’s Eastgate project, variously referred to as the Eastgate Logistics Center and the Eastgate Air Cargo Facility, which is to occupy 101 acres west of Victoria Avenue and south of Third Street, represents that first major milestone, airport officials insist.
Those with an interest in the project coming to fruition have banded together under a consortium dubbed AllianceCalifornia. According to the consortium, “AllianceCalifornia is committed to finding a tenant for Eastgate that offers [its employees] robust benefits, including medical, dental, vision, paid leave, and other financial assistance.”
The statement referenced one of the controversial aspects of the project, which consists of Hillwood’s reluctance to identify the tenant, or tenants, that will occupy the cargo center. There has been significant speculation the tenant is Amazon, the on-line marketing giant, but there has been no confirmation of that. According to AllianceCalifornia, “The average wage of the jobs created at Eastgate is projected at $26 per hour and will include new aviation-specific occupations.”
At the December 30 special session of the San Bernardino International Airport Authority Board held at the Norton Regional Event Center to consider the approval of the final and binding draft of the ground lease agreement as the sole item on the board’s agenda that day, an overflow crowd was on hand. The vast majority of those in the audience seemed to be strongly in favor of the arrangement between the San Bernardino International Airport Authority and Hillwood Enterprises. In addition to Hillwood personnel, financiers and investors with a stake in the outcome and public officials, there were significant numbers of construction union members who stand to benefit from the short term employment opportunities the project will result in. The Highland Chamber of Commerce also had a contingent of its members present who were vocal in their support of the project.
Hillwood Senior Vice President John Magness said Eastgate will link San Bernardino with commerce centers across the globe.
“This facility will see freight and people and commerce coming from around the world,” Magness told commissioners. “It’s an exciting time to see that come to the region.”
Not everyone was as enthusiastic about the prospect of the project, and during the more than two-hour hearing/meeting many clamored to offer their perspectives. Because several of those present perceived that they were not going to be allowed to weigh in with regard to the project before the vote took place, several of those in the audience attempted to speak over the citizens who had signed up for public comment. Airport officials chided them for doing so, and threatened to clear the room if order was not maintained.
Members of the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice expressed opposition to the project, stating the economic benefits of the project were slim at best, given the low wages in the warehouse and logistics industries, such that the financial trade-off in terms of financial gain vs. environmental damage was a decidedly negative one. There were others who conceded that the project did offer some progress forward in terms of jobs creation, but they suggested the authority was not being exacting enough in terms of forcing Hillwood and its eventual tenant(s) to incorporate more favorable elements into the project. Some called upon the authority to include a “community benefits agreement” into the project approval that would require Hillwood or its tenants to provide funding and support to educational and social programs in the community.
Tom Dolan, executive director of Inland Congregations United for Change, said the citizens he represents are not seeking to block the project and have reconciled themselves to the reality that large numbers of warehouses are being built in the Inland Empire. At the same time, he said, it was incumbent upon public officials such as those on the airport authority board to impose conditions on the development of that warehousing to offset its impacts. “As residents of San Bernardino, we’re seeing and feeling the impact on our health and on our families,  and every year it gets worse and worse,” Dolan said. “We have to fight, and demand our public leaders represent the community.”
Dolan characterized as “disgraceful” that the region’s elected leadership “won’t attempt to work for community benefits. They are walking away from their responsibilities as elected leaders when they sell out in the face of this.”
Mike Burrows, speaking as the San Bernardino International Airport Authority’s executive director, insisted that the authority was legally precluded from imposing a community benefits agreement on any entity engaging in development of the former Air Force base.
The meeting was not without its political import.
Dawn Rowe is on the airport authority board as a consequence of her role as Third District San Bernardino County supervisor. The airport lies within the county’s Third District. Rowe was not elected to the board, but rather appointed in 2018 after former Third District Supervisor James Ramos resigned the position with two years left on his term after being elected to the California Assembly. As a supporter of the project, Rowe drew the verbal fire of two of the candidates who are running against her in the upcoming March 3 election.
One of those, Karen Ickes, said she was opposed to the project. Another candidate in the Third District race,  Redlands City Councilman Eddie Tejeda, said information crucial to the public’s understanding of the deal that was cut with Hillwood was being withheld. “There is a lot of missing information” from the lease documents that were being voted upon, Tejada said.
The San Bernardino International Airport Authority Board, swayed by Hillwood Senior Vice President John Magness’s assertion that “Sustainability and job creation are at the core of Hillwood’s values,” and that the Eastgate project embodied “the economic potential for environmentally responsible air cargo facilities at AllianceCalifornia,” voted unanimously to approve the ground lease project.
-Mark Gutglueck

Two Democrats, An Independent, And A Single Republican On Ballot In The 5th District

At the end of the year, Josie Gonzales, the senior member of the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors who has represented the county’s Fifth Supervisorial District since 2004, will leave office, being obliged to do so as a consequence of the three term limit that was placed on the board as a consequence of the 2006 passage of Measure P, which raised the annual salaries of the members of the board of supervisors from $99,000 to $151,000 but reduced the time they could remain in the capacity of county supervisor from that point going forward. As the first term to which Gonzales was elected, running from 2004 to 2008, did not fall under the Measure P restriction, she was eligible to be reelected in 2008, 2012 and 2016. She was successful in remaining in office with each of those election cycles.
Gonzales is now looking to turn the Fifth District’s reins over to her chief of staff, Dan Flores. Like Gonzales, Flores is a Democrat.
Though county offices are considered nonpartisan ones, in San Bernardino County party affiliation is a major factor in the determination of who will hold public office. For some 40 years beginning in the mid-to-late-1960s, San Bernardino County was a Republican Party stronghold, with the number of registered Republicans outnumbering registered Democrats. The lone area of the county where the Republican command was attenuated was in the county’s heavily blue collar Fifth District. Even so, the Republicans often asserted themselves there, where Republican Bob Hammock was the Fifth District supervisor from 1976 until 1992. In 2009, the number of Republicans in San Bernardino County were eclipsed by the number of Democrats. Nevertheless, the number of Republican officeholders continues to outrun the number of Democrat Party-affiliated elected leaders overall in San Bernardino County, largely on the basis of much stronger voter turnout among Republicans than Democrats.
At present, the Fifth District is overwhelmingly Democratic, with 49.7 percent, or 91,248 of its 183,646 voters registered as members of the Democratic Party and 33,607 voters or 18.3 percent registered as Republicans. At present, the Fifth District is the only district in the county with a Democrat serving as supervisor. Although in all of the county’s districts registered Democrats outnumber Republicans, nowhere is that disparity as pronounced as it is in the Fifth District.
Another Democrat, Joe Baca, Jr. is also running for supervisor in the Fifth District. Baca, a Rialto City Councilman, is the son of former California Assemblyman, State Senator and Congressman Joe Baca. As such, young Baca enjoys somewhat better name recognition than Flores, who in addition to being Gonzales’s top staffer, is also a member of the Colton Joint Unified School District’s Board of Trustees. Three factors, however, offset Baca’s name recognition advantage with regard to Flores. First, Flores has Gonzales’s endorsement. Second, he has a substantial fundraising lead over the rest of the field, including Baca, with $231,100 in his campaign war chest. Third, Gonzales has $691,237.10 in her electioneering kitty, and she is free to expend that money in support or other candidates, including Flores.
Baca currently has $25,290 in his campaign coffer.
Another candidate in the race is Nadia Renner, a businesswoman, who until recently served as a bilingual radio host for Entravision Communications and was a regular interviewer on a local talk show covering county issues. Available records show she has $4,700 in her supervisorial campaign fund. Renner has no party affiliation.
Fontana City Councilman Jesse Armendarez, a Republican, is also running. He outmaneuvered another Republican, Dr. Clifford Young, for the endorsement of the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee earlier this year. Young was the appointed Fifth District supervisor in 2003 and 2004 before Gonzales was elected to that position. Young was contemplating again seeking the Fifth District supervisorial post, but ended his preparations to run when Armendarez captured the GOP endorsement.
Armendarez, who is a member of the ruling coalition on the Fontana City Council headed by Mayor Acquanetta Warren, has also obtained Warren’s endorsement for the supervisorial position.
Armendarez currently has $44,636.49 in his political account.
While any Republican vying for supervisor in the Fifth District is considered to be a long shot given the voter registration numbers therein which so heavily favor the Democrats, Republican strategists hold out hope that the Democratic vote in the March 3 contest will be split between Baca and Flores in such a way that Armendarez can capture first or second place in that race. Thereafter, the Republicans hope to concentrate their firepower on Armendarez’s November opponent, whoever that proves to be, in a way that will give Armendarez a chance to win.
-Mark Gutglueck

SB County Voters In Ten Communities To Decide On Local Ballot Measures On March 3

Ten local measures will appear on the March 3 ballot, one each in as many localities throughout San Bernardino County. All but one involves proposed taxes or assessments, with the lone exception being a proposed general plan change in Redlands. In the cases of two of the places where the request for a new tax is to be voted upon, within the San Bernardino Mountains Communities Hospital District and the Rim of the World School District, there is a geographical overlap.
Measure Z is a bond proposition to be voted upon by residents within the Mountain View School District in southeastern Ontario.
Known also as the “Mountain View School District Student Safety and School Repair Measure” it will if passed by 55 percent or more of the district’s voters authorize $33 million in bonds for School Facilities Improvement District No. 3 at legal rates, levying on property owners an assessment of 2 cents per $100 of assessed value of their property. The proceeds will be used to update science, technology, engineering, art and math classrooms; upgrade air conditioning, electrical, fire safety, security, lighting, communications/camera systems, classroom locks; and construct, acquire, repair or equip classrooms, facilities and sites.
Measure A is a bond proposition to be voted upon by residents within the Rim of the World School District in the San Bernardino Mountains.
Known also as the “Rim of the World Unified School District Quality Education, Safety, Repair, College/Career Readiness Measure” it will if passed by 55 percent or more of the district’s voters authorize $55.5 million in bond sales to repair deteriorating school facilities, including roofs, plumbing and electrical facilities and improve classrooms and labs for math, science, engineering, arts, skilled trades and college readiness. It will levy on property owners 3 cents per $100 assessed value of their properties.
Measure B is a bond proposition to be voted upon by residents within the Beaumont School District to improve safety and security systems and replace roofs, plumbing and electrical facilities and improve classrooms and labs for math, science, engineering, arts, skilled trades and college readiness. It will levy on property owners $50 per $100,000 of assessed value of their property.
Measure C is a bond proposition to be voted upon by residents within the Morongo Unified School District authorizing the issuance of $55.6 million for classroom safety, renovation and construction projects. It will levy on property owners an assessment of 3.686 cents per $100 of assessed value of their property. It will need at least 55 percent of the vote to pass.
Measure D is a bond proposition to be voted upon by residents within the Victor Elementary School District that if passed by a margin of 55 percent or more will provide for the issuance of $48 million in bonds to increase safety and security of the schools and build more facilities to relieve overcrowding, and support science, technology, math and engineering education. It will levy upon property owners an assessment of $19 per $100,000 of assessed value of their property.
Measure E is a sales tax proposition to be voted upon by residents in the City of Yucaipa. If passed by 50 percent plus one of the voters, it will adopt the City of Yucaipa Transactions and Use Tax Ordinance of 2020, known also as the “Sales Tax Ordinance.” Measure E would increase the city’s existing sales tax rate by 0.5%, or one half of one cent, on every dollar of taxable sales of goods in the city, and on the taxable storage, use or consumption in the city of goods purchased.
The measure proposes a general tax. The city has estimated the tax increase will raise approximately $2.1 million per year in new local revenue for use in the city.
Measure F is a proposition to be voted upon by Barstow residents that would impose a city tax on the sale of marijuana and marijuana products within that municipality.  If passed by two-thirds of the city’s voters, Measure F will impose on those in the city growing marijuana an annual tax of $30 per square foot of cultivating area and impose on businesses engaged in selling marijuana a 15 percent tax on their gross receipts. The city expects the tax to raise roughly $100,000 per year. Fifty percent of the proceeds will go to augment law enforcement function in the city and the other 50 percent will go to the city’s general fund.
Measure G is a general plan amendment to be voted upon by the residents of Redlands. If passed by 50 percent or more of the city’s electorate, Measure G would eliminate a host of previous voter-approved limitations on the intensity of development that can occur in Redlands.
Specifically, Measure G would eliminate the current requirement that a four-fifths vote of the city council is needed to approve residential densities exceeding 18 dwelling units per acre. Measure G would eliminate the current requirement that a four-fifths vote of the city council is needed to approve residential buildings exceeding two stories or 35 feet in height. Measure G would eliminate the need for developers to ensure that the level of traffic flow that exists at the intersections proximate to their projects prior to the construction of their projects be maintained after the projects are completed. Measure G would eliminate the requirement that the voters of the city rather than the city council be solely authorized to establish any new land use designations in the city. Measure G would eliminate the requirement that the proponents of certain new development projects prepare a socioeconomic‐cost/benefit study before approval of those projects. Measure G would eliminate the requirement that certain residential subdivision projects be subject to competitive review for issuance of building permits. Measure G would eliminate the requirement that the developers of new projects pay 100 percent of the development impact fees that are imposed on those projects. Measure G would rescind voter‐approved measures R, N and U, which prohibit more than 400 residential dwelling units being constructed within the city in any year. Recent state legislation has suspended the city’s enforcement of the measure R, N and U limitation through the year 2025. Approval of Measure G would permanently exempt residential dwelling units constructed within Redlands’ Transit Village Planning Area from the 400 dwelling unit limitation.
Measure H is a special tax proposition to be voted upon by residents within the San Bernardino Mountains Community Hospital District which would make permanent an existing tax that must be renewed every four years. The Measure H tax would as of 2021 impose for each calendar year an assessment of $40 per unimproved parcel, $80 for each parcel containing a single family residence or multiple dwelling units, and $200 per parcel for each parcel developed for commercial purposes. Each calendar year thereafter the amount of the special tax shall increase (but not decrease) by a percentage corresponding to the Consumer Price Index published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for all urban consumers in the Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario region, not to exceed three percent.
Measure H must be approved by two-thirds of the district’s voters.
The San Bernardino Mountains Community Hospital District encompasses Twin Peaks, Grass Valley, Rimforest, Agua Fria, Crest Park, Lake Arrowhead, Skyforest, Cedar Glen, Enchanted Forest, Fredalba, Smiley Park, Running Springs, Arrowbear Lake, Snow Valley, Green Valley Lake and Deer Lodge Park.
Measure I is a special tax proposition to be voted upon by residents within the Big Bear Fire Authority Community Services District that must pass by a two-thirds vote to go into effect. It will levy an annual six cents per square foot assessment on developed property floor area, with a minimum of $35 per assessor’s parcel and a maximum of $2,500 per assessor’s parcel upon developed properties, residential rental properties and hotels, together with a $78 per room hotel tax. It will also impose on two of the area’s ski resorts $375,000 annual assessments. The proceeds are to be used to provide fire protection services.
-Mark Gutglueck