Third District Race Now Features Five Candidates

The race for Third District county supervisor has intensified, with four hopefuls now challenging incumbent Neil Derry.
Much of the media focus on the Third District race so far has been  San Manuel Band of Mission Indians tribal chairman James Ramos’ effort to unseat Derry and Derry’s counterfire at Ramos.
Three others, however, have tossed their hats in the ring, a development that could complicate and lengthen the electoral process. If no candidate achieves a majority of the vote in June, a run-off between the two top vote-getter will ensue in November.  Kenneth Hunter of Redlands, Robert Wilson of Colton and Jim Bagley of Twentynine Palms have entered the race.
Ramos, a Democrat, is aligned with district attorney Mike Ramos, a Republican. Mike Ramos is a member of what is often referred to as the “Redlands Political Machine,” which counts among its leaders Congressman Jerry Lewis, former Third District San Bernardino County supervisor Dennis Hansberger and former Assemblyman Brett Granlund, as well as political operatives Dave Ellis and Dave Gilliard, Republicans all. In embracing James Ramos, the Redlands Political Machine crossed political lines. Derry is a Republican, a one-time field representative for former Assemblyman Fred Aguiar. In 2008, Derry, who was then a San Bernardino city councilman, challenged and defeated Hansberger.
The Redlands Political Machine joined forces with James Ramos, who as the chairman of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, is independently wealthy and can infuse his own campaign with a substantial amount of cash. In 2008, Hansberger was outmaneuvered by Derry, who secured the endorsement and monetary backing of SEBA, the Safety Employees Benefit Association, the union that represents the county’s sheriff’s deputies. Last year, Mike Ramos had his office’s investigators look into how Derry had acquired money for his 2008 run against  Hansberger. When those investigators came across documentation to show that Derry had received $10,000 from a political action committee controlled by Bill Postmus, the Inland Empire PAC, and that the Inland Empire PAC had received $5,000 from a one-time Hansberger acquaintance, Arnold Stubblefield, a property owner and developer and a principal in the Highland Town Shop, they intensified their inquiry. Investigators learned that Stubblefield wanted to support Derry, but for political purposes, i.e., not wishing to offend Hansberger, he did not want to contribute directly to Derry’s campaign. Derry then, according to investigators, collected a $5,000 check from Stubblefield to Postmus’ PAC and passed it along to Postmus with the “understanding” that the Stubblefield funds were to support his campaign. That information was provided to the California state attorney general’s office, which charged Derry with one felony count of perjury, a second felony count of filing a false campaign report and a misdemeanor violation of failure to report a campaign contribution. Last summer, in a plea arrangement, the two felony charges were dropped and Derry pleaded guilty to the single misdemeanor of failing to report a campaign contribution.
James Ramos’ supporters have made much of the criminal charges against Derry and his admission to the misdemeanor. Ramos’ political operatives were able to use the plea to convince SEBA to back away from Derry and instead endorse Ramos.
Derry, meanwhile, has fired back, posting a mailer to more than 15,000 Third District voters, referencing Ramos’ connection to two of his relatives that are also tribe members who were convicted of an  attempted murder for hire, along with Ramois’ alleged connections to  “Mexican Mafia gang  members” and “drug dealers” who have operated with impunity from  the sanctuary of the San Manuel Reservation, allegedly under the protection of Ramos.
Previously, state Assemblyman Paul Cook, a Republican, had declared his intention of running for Third District supervisor. In his early campaigning, he had referenced Derry’s legal travails as a factor in his decision to run. Cook, however, abandoned the race for supervisor last month in favor of running for Congress in the 8th Congressional District.
Two relatively lesser known entities, Hunter and Wilson, have recently given indication they would seek the supervisorial post. Last week they were joined by a somewhat more renowned candidate, former Twentynine Palms Mayor Jim Bagley, who is currently the chairman of the San Bernardino County Airport Commission. Bagley was appointed to the airport commission by Derry. Bagley possesses the most extensive experience in government among Derry’s four challengers. He is a former president of San Bernardino Associated Governments, which serves as the county’s transportation agency; was the former chairman of the county’s Local Agency Formation Commission; and was on the boards of the California League of Cities and the Southern California Association of Governments.
Bagley, who serves on the airport commission at the pleasure of Derry, offered outright contradictory statements with regard to whether he thought Derry’s circumstance vis-à-vis his guilty plea to a campaign reporting-related misdemeanor was relevant to the campaign.
At one point he said that he was against “negative, divisive politics” and that he would “try to be an alternative to the negativity and mudslinging that’s already been part of this campaign.” Nevertheless, Bagley insisted he was a candidate who could reinstill “ethical leadership to the board of supervisors. I’m running because in San Bernardino County we have a long legacy of political corruption.” He accused both Derry and Ramos of being in league with “powerful moneyed interests. This has created an environment for corruption. I’m opposed to that. That’s why I’m running.”

Bare-Knuckled Brawl Between Baca And Negrete-McLeod In 35th District

An atypical internecine feud has broken out between two of San Bernardino County’s Democratic office holders.
Joe Baca, who has been the U.S. Representative for California’s 43rd Congressional District since 2003 and was the U.S. Representative for California’s former 42nd Congressional District from  November 16, 1999 to January 3, 2003, state senator in the former 32nd Senatorial District in 1998 and 1999 and assemblyman in the former 62nd Assembly District from 1992 to 1998, is having his Congressional tenure challenged by state Senator Gloria Negrete McLeod.
In the first primary race in the redrawn 35th Congressional District, McLeod is at present the only one  challenging Baca for the Democratic nomination.

Joe Baca

Negrete-McLeod has been state sentator in the 32nd Senatorial District  since December 2006. Prior to that, she served three terms in the California State Assembly from 2000 to 2006. Because of California’s term limits, she must vacate the state legislature.
For Negrete-McLeod, Congressman Joe Baca, Sr. is a logical opponent. In her drive to capture the state Senate seat in 2006, she defeated Joe Baca, Jr. in the Democratic primary. A degree of tension has remained between the Baca and Negrete-McLeod camps ever since, though Negrete-McLeod did begrudgingly endorse Joe Baca, Sr.  in his last two reelection efforts. Young Joe Baca went on to win a seat on the Rialto City Council. The Baca Family Political Dynasty suffered something of a setback when another of Joe Baca’s sons, Jeremy, was defeated in his effort to be elected to the Colton City Council in 2008.

Gloria Negrete-McLeod

Negrete-McLeod beat Joe Baca to the punch in declaring her candidacy in the new 35th Congressional District.  The state Citizens Redistricting Commission in May laid out the boundaries of California’s various political districts, and Negrete-McLeod, who lives in Montclair, almost immediately declared her candidacy in the 35th.  Baca, who lives in a portion of Rialto just outside the 35th District boundaries, was at that time contemplating running in the newly formed 31st Congressional District, which includes San Bernardino, Redlands, Loma Linda, Grand Terrace, Rancho Cucamonga and southern Upland.
The 35th District consists of Chino, Montclair, Pomona, Ontario, Bloomington and portions of Fontana and Rialto. Members of Congress do not have to live in the district they represent.
Throughout his Congressional career, Baca has consistently achieved election and reelection in districts in which the Democrats had a substantial voter registration advantage over Republicans. In his current 43rd Congressional District, the Democrats enjoy a 48 percent to 32 percent advantage over Republicans. In the newly redrawn 35th Congressional District, Democrats hold a sizeable registration lead over Democrats as well. In the newly redrawn 31st District, Democrats hold a registration lead, but it is far less substantial, of just under four percent. Given the propensity for greater Republican turnout at the polls on election day as well as the consideration that incumbent Republican Congressman Gary Miller, who has a substantial campaign war chest, is a declared candidate in the 31st Congressional District, Baca’s calculation is that he stands a better chance of securing the Democratic nomination in the safely Democratic 35th against Negrete-McLeod in the June primary and then cruising to an easy victory in November than going toe-to-toe with Miller for all of the marbles in the 31st next November.
On February 11, Baca was able to test that strategy when the California Democratic Party convened in San Diego for a session aimed at determining party endorsements well in advance of the primary. On that day, Saturday, Baca ended in a 24-to-24 tie with Negrete-McLeod in the competition for the endorsements of local party delegates.
A series of charges and countercharges between the Baca and Negrete-McLeod camps ensued, with each accusing the other of falsifying ballot signatures. Early on Sunday, February 12, the party’s credentials review committee adjudicated the conflicting accusations by Baca and Negrete-McLeod supporters, declaring that 49 ballots had been cast and that Baca had prevailed 25-to-24 in the battle for the party’s endorsement. In a contest between two non-incumbent Democrats vying for an elected position, party rules require that a candidate clearly prevail by obtaining 60 percent of the ballots cast. But as an incumbent Congressman, Baca needed only fifty percent plus-one to take home the party’s official support. The dead heat between Baca and Negrete-McLeod was the narrowest finish between any of the state’s Democratic races involving an incumbent and a non-incumbent challenger.
“Winning this hard-fought battle is a critical step as I move forward in my quest for re-election,” Baca said. Negrete-McLeod did not meet a deadline to gather 300 conventioneer signatures to request the convention to rescind the endorsement because it did not meet the 60 percent threshold.
Baca will be able to make note of his endorsement by the party in the sample ballots sent to voters in advance of the primary. But  observers believe Baca may have some rough sledding ahead, given Negrete-McLeod’s strong showing and her familiarity with voters in the 35th District.
Another consideration in this year’s primary contest is the top-two balloting being tried for the first time. If McLeod does well in the primary and outpolls all of the Republicans vying in the contest but does not defeat Baca outright, that will set up a run-off between her and Baca in November. Even if she is outdistanced by Baca in November among Democrats, she could still win if she captures the lion’s share of the Republican vote and has a respectable second place showing among Democratic voters.

County Tab With One Perchlorate Law Firm Up To $1.87 Million

The county is increasing by another $350,000 the $1.52 million it has already paid the law firm of Gallagher & Gallagher for assistance in staving off lawsuits relating to water contamination in northern Rialto.
The board of supervisors authorized increasing its tab with Gallagher & Gallagher by $350,000 to an amount presently authorized not to exceed $1,870,000, to provide legal services to the county related to the former Broco facility closure at the Mid Valley Sanitary Landfill and other specific perchlorate groundwater related actions.
In the late 1990s, a plume of contaminants containing perchlorate was found to be migrating through the local water table
It is believed that five corporate entities – Pyro Spectaculars, Ken Thompson Inc., Chung Ming Wong, BF Goodrich, and Emhart Industries – were engaged in manufacturing activities that resulted in the accumulation and release of the perchlorate.
Water agency officials, state officials and federal officials believe the county of San Bernardino may have engaged in activity that exacerbated the perchlorate problem.
The county runs the Mid-Valley Landfill in north Rialto.
Officials with the Rialto-based West Valley Water District and their lawyers have alleged that San Bernardino County razed and buried a haz-ardous waste-disposal facility at the site, an act those officials maintain was not only illegal but has worsened the contamination of the groundwater below Rialto.
Broco Inc. maintained the hazardous-waste disposal operation in northern Rialto from the mid-1960s until the late 1980s. The county purchased the property in 1994 and used it in the expansion of the Mid-Valley Sanitary Landfill.
According to attorney Barry Groveman, who represents the West Valley Water District, it appears the county simply knocked the hazardous waste facility down and spread the debris around before burying it. That action was against the law, Groveman said.
Groveman said the county was in violation of state hazardous waste handling regulations and the federal Resource Conservation and Re-covery Act.
Burying hazardous waste and storing it without a permit is illegal.
In the area around the Broco site, Pyro Spectaculars, Ken Thompson Inc., Chung Ming Wong, BF Goodrich and Emhart Industries had operations that were ongoing in the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Public health officials have identified that area as the origin of the plume of perchlorate.
Perchlorate is a product used in the manufacture of both fireworks and ordnance. In very minute quantities perchlorate can wreak havoc on the thyroid gland.
The site has been designated by the Environmental Protection Agency as one of its Superfund sites, which makes federal funding for the remediation available but also carries with it a requirement that the parties responsible for the contamination assist in the effort. Simultaneously, the EPA will apply the Superfund money toward the remediation. Eventually, if any of the parties deemed responsible for the contamina-tion refuse to sponsor or otherwise pay for a share of the remediation, the EPA will sue and under federal law, any party proven responsible will be required to pay triple the cost of that portion of the clean up for which they were the contaminating party.
The ability to impose triple damages serves as an incentive for the re-sponsible entities to undertake the clean-up on their own or participate in funding an EPA-sponsored remediation.
Previously, the city of Rialto sued BF Goodrich over the contamination issue. Rialto dropped that lawsuit after the company agreed to undertake a remediation effort. BF Goodrich did pay a total of $4 million – $1 million each to the cities of Fontana, Rialto and Colton as well as to the West Valley Water District. That money was used to treat specific wells that were producing perchlorate-laden water but did not redress the underlying problems in the aquifer. BF Goodrich, like the other companies, will yet likely be on the hook for millions of dollars more in decontamination efforts.
An EPA-designed program of remediation, consisting of contaminated water being pumped out of the ground to then be treated and distributed to water districts, is underway. It will likely take two decades or more for the perchlorate levels to be reduced to acceptable limits.
Rialto officials had initially resisted the call to have the area declared a Superfund site, largely because doing so could have a deleterious impact on property values in the area. As the expense of completing a remediation of the problem has been driven home to city officials, it is now accepted that the Superfund designation is the only realistic way of coming to terms with the problem.
The county of San Bernardino, nevertheless, appears to be poised to commit money to a court battle to obtain a finding that it is not responsible for the contamination.
In May 2009, then-county counsel Ruth Stringer convinced the county board of supervisors to increase funding for legal services provided by the law firm of Gallagher & Gallagher to set in motion an effort to contest the potential EPA pleading that the action related to the Broco facility destruction exacerbated the contamination problem. The county has also retained another law firm, Price, Postel & Parma, to assist it with legal issues relating both to the perchlorate contamination in Rialto and a State Water Resources Control Board investigation and proceeding in which the county is not a direct party but one with a stake in the outcome. Available records show Price Postel & Parma had been paid $4 million by the county as of December 2009.
Some see little rationale for the county spending millions of dollars to engage in a legal battle over the contamination issues rather than simply utilizing the money to fund a clean-up effort that would satisfy the federal and state government as well as the relevant water agencies and districts.
But current county counsel Jean-Rene Basle told the board of supervisors this week that the county remains committed to engaging in a potentially bruising legal battle over the perchlorate issue.
“[A]uthorization to increase the contract amount is requested to allow for the additional services needed,” Basle told the board of supervisors. Those services, he said consisted of “1. Assistance with the implementation of the now-approved Final Closure Plan for the Broco Facility under submission to the State Department of Toxic Substances Control (“DTSC”) including: a. Technical support from a specialized technical consultant, Geo-Logic Associates, who provides professional geologists, certified engineering geologists and certified hydrogeologists to address technical implementation questions; and b. Addressing the continuing vigorous opposition to the county’s proposed plan by the West Valley Water District; and 2. Coordination, communication, and meetings with other interested agencies and parties concerning other perchlorate issues in the Basin; and assistance with the defense of the Stout and Zambelli parties as required by the county’s settlement agreements with each of these parties; and 4. Various settlement issues to the extent not otherwise covered by county insurance policies.” Stout and Zambelli are entities named in the litigation.
“Gallagher & Gallagher APC currently represents the county in connection with the federal and state court litigation and federal and state agencies’ investigations of the perchlorate groundwater contamination in the Rialto-Colton Basin, and these costs are paid under general liability insurance policies,” Basle said. “As a result, Gallagher & Gallagher APC has gained significant experience with the groundwater contamination issues in and around the Rialto-Colton Basin and the issues concerning the county’s Mid Valley Sanitary Landfill. In addition, the firm has extensive experience working with the DTSC.”
The board of supervisors complied with Basle’s request and increased the contract amount by $350,000, from $1,520,000 to $1,870,000. The rate payable for legal services performed under this agreement ranges from $195 to $250 per hour.

Morongo District Shuttering Continuation High

TWENTYNINE PALMS—Morongo Unified School District will close Monument High School, the district’s alternative/continuation campus, with the onset of the 2012-13 school year. That closure will entail eliminating 18 teaching positions.
The students at Monument High, located in Twentynine Palms, and a portion of the faculty, will be relocated to Sky High in Yucca Valley.
District administrators will send out layoff notices to the 18 teachers to be eliminated in the Monument High closure, and layoff notices to two other high school teachers, 11 elementary teachers, and five special education teachers.
The cuts are part of the district’s efforts to deal with dwindling revenues passed through to it by the state.
In addition to the axing of instructors, the district is eliminating management and classified positions at the district office and at school campuses.
Superintendent Jim Majchrzak said the district is laboring under the state-imposed cuts but is also being forced to make economies because of declining enrollment.  Majchrzak said he hopes the closure of Monument High will prove to be a temporary fix that will be undone when revenues return to the district.
Sky High School Principal Ron Cox indicated students from Twentynine Palms who were attending Monument High will be able to obtain bus transportation to the Sky High Campus once the change goes into effect.
State law requires that teachers to be laid off in an upcoming school year receive tentative notice of the layoffs by March 15 and confirmation of the layoff in May.

Kwappenberg Brought In For Second Go-Round On Planning Commission

Theresa Kwappenberg has returned to the San Bernardino County Planning Commission nearly six years after she departed from that panel.
Kwappenberg was appointed to the post by Third District supervisor Neil Derry in a move that some perceived as pregnant with political implication.
Kwappenberg served as a planning commissioner for more than nine years, beginning in 1997. She was appointed the first time by her one-time political rival, Dennis Hansberer. In 1996, Kwappenberg had run in the primary election for Third District supervisor in a four-person race that included Hansberger, Bill Lemann and Chris Smith. In that June primary, Lemann had soundly outpolled the others, capturing 19,064 votes or 33 percent. Hansberger received 14,880 or 26 percent, only 2,510 more votes, or four percent more than Kwappenberg, who captured 12,370, or 22 percent.  But in the November 1996 run-off between Hansberger and Lemann, Kwappenberg, who had some philosophical differences with Hansberger, endorsed Hansberger despite those differences. Hansberger managed to eke out a 49,136 to 47.823, 50.6 percent to 49.3 percent victory over Lemann.
Hansberger, a Republican, nominated Kwappenberg to the planning commission and her appointment was confirmed by the remainder of the then-board of supervisors. Kwappenberg, a Democrat with an environmentalist bent, proved to be less than absolutely accommodating of developers during her tenure on the planning commission. She routinely pushed for full environmental reports on projects, rendering development projects more expensive for project proponents. Her positions occasionally pushed her commission colleagues to impose conditions on approved projects that likewise increased project costs or reduced their profitability. She occasionally was a lone vote against some projects and on a few rare occasions prevailed on the commission to withhold approval of a project.
In June 2006, Hansberger removed Kwappenberg from the county planning commission, replacing her with William Collazo, a Redlands resident who had worked in the real estate industry.  While Hansberger at that point praised Kwappenberg as someone who was knowledgeable and dedicated to the planning process and passionate about her ideals, he said that he had not “seen eye to eye with the commissioner on every issue. She has been independent and her views deserved to be heard and she was given a voice in the system.” Hansberger said he was removing Kwappenberg in part to free her of a conflict of interest that would allow her to participate in the development of property she owned in Crafton Hills.
At the same time, Hansberger said he was bringing Collazo into the picture because he had “level-headed views on the balance between business and community growth” and that Collazo represented “someone who has a broad view of the needs of our current economic environment.”
Two years later, Hansberger was defeated for reelection by Derry, another Republican. Now, almost four years later, Derry is being challenged by James Ramos, a Democrat who has been endorsed, and is being advised by, Hansberger.
Thus Kwappenberg is seen as being of some potential assistance to Derry as she can serve as a bridge to some of the Democratic constituency that might otherwise swing behind Ramos. Moreover, Kwappenberg has electoral experience of her own, albeit unsuccessful, in the Third District.  In addition to her 1996 run, she also ran against then-incumbent Third District supervisor Barbara Cram Riordan in 1988 and 1992, polling respectable numbers both times.
In 1988, Cram Riordan, captured  41,220 votes (51.8 percent)  to Kwappenberg’s 38,210 (48.2 percent).  In 1992, Cram Riordan edged her 55,505 (51 percent) to 52,510 (49 percent).
Bill Collazo recently resigned to pursue other endeavors, according to a press release from Derry’s office.
“Planning matters have an enormous impact on the future of our communities and their residents,” Kwappenberg was quoted in the same press release. “I believe in following the rules and documents and consistently applying the law in a fair manner.”
Derry said Kwappenberg is known for being a student of the issues she encounters and for being well prepared. “I have the utmost confidence and faith in her knowledge, experience and ability to serve with integrity,” Derry said. “Her entire life has been devoted to one form of public service or another and her passion for fairness will be a great asset.”

Volunteers Needed for Bighorn Sheep Survey On March 3 and 4

Volunteers are needed on the evening of Saturday March 3 and all day Sunday March 4 to assist in an annual bighorn sheep survey in the San Gabriel Mountains, conducted by the California Department of Fish and Game, US Forest Service, and the Society for Conservation of Bighorn Sheep.
No survey experience is necessary to participate but volunteers must attend a mandatory orientation on Saturday, March 3, at 6:00 p.m. at Verdemont Community Center and Library in San Bernardino. Volunteers will then reconvene early Sunday morning, March 4, to hike with expert representatives to designated observation sites in the San Gabriel Mountains to count and record bighorn sheep.
Participants must be at least 16 years old and capable of hiking one mile in rugged terrain, although some survey routes are longer.  In general, hikes will not be along trails and accessing survey points will involve scrambling over boulders, climbing up steep slopes, and/or bush-whacking through chaparral.
It is recommended that volunteers bring binoculars or spotting scopes in addition to hiking gear.  Mountain weather can be unpredictable and participants should be prepared to spend several hours hiking and additional time making observations in cold and windy weather.
For those who wish to camp, complimentary campsites will be available to volunteers on a first come, first served basis at the Applewhite Campground in Lytle Creek on the night of March 3.
To sign up online, visit or call (626) 574-5287 or (909) 382-2870 to receive a volunteer packet.
The Society for the Conservation of Bighorn Sheep, California Department of Fish and Game, and the Forest Service have conducted surveys for bighorn sheep in the San Gabriel range annually since 1979.  The mountain range once held an estimated 740 sheep, which made the San Gabriel population the largest population of desert bighorn sheep in California.  The bighorn population declined over 80 percent through the 1980s but appears to be on the increase with recent estimates yielding approximately 400 animals.

Sheriff’s Department Outfitting Helicopters With Video Broadcasters

Following the city of Ontario’s lead, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department is in the process of equipping its helicopter with video broadcasting devices to allow ground-based responders in emergency situations the ability to visualize the lay of the land and circumstances at the scene of accidents, crimes or life-threatening incidents.
The board of supervisors this week gave the sheriff’s department authorization to purchase $713,702 worth of video and broadcasting equipment.
According to sheriff’s captain Greg Garland, the spending authorization “will allow the sheriff’s department to purchase and install equipment on aircraft for the transmission of high definition and standard definition video to both fixed and portable receivers. The downlink system provides crucial real-time video to the fixed/mobile sites and first responders, via airborne helicopter units, enabling the best allocation of resources and the sharing of life-saving information during critical incidents.”
Garland said the city of Ontario, which operates two helicopters based at Ontario Airport to assist it police and fire departments, has applied the system with success.
“In November of 2010, the city of Ontario, after completing a request for proposal process, approved an agreement with Helinet Technologies for an integrated airborne, digital video downlink system,” Garland said. “The system was funded by the Department of Homeland Security Urban Areas Security Initiative under the Regional Aviation Downlink Project. The Regional Aviation Downlink Project included the city of Ontario Police Department, serving as the lead agency, San Bernardino County sheriff’s department, Riverside city police department, and the Riverside County sheriff’s department. As part of the Regional Aviation Downlink Project, the department received airborne  transmitters installed on two aircraft and portable/stationary receiving systems funded by the  Department of Homeland Security Urban Areas Security Initiative.”
Based on the performance of the program in Ontario, Garland said the department asked the board of supervisors for the $713,702 to buy equipment from  Helinet Technologies to outfit four of the sheriff’s department’s helicopters.
“The downlink equipment will be installed on the department’s four remaining helicopters and the receivers will be placed at additional locations,” Garland said. “The Helinet Technologies purchase is non-competitive due to the existing equipment and system compatibility requirements of the participating agencies.”

Rigney Appointed To Big Bear Wastewater Agency

Jeff Rigney, who is San Bernardino’s director of its special districts department, has been appointed to the Big Bear Area Regional Wastewater Agency.
Rigney was nominated to the post by Third District supervisor Neil Derry, in whose district Big Bear lies.
Rigney assumed the fourth seat on the wastewater agency board, which was occupied by former member Thomas Brandau, whose term expired on January 31, 2011 but had remained on the board until August 23, 2011. Rigney has been redesignated as the fifth seat on the board and his term will run for four years and expire on January 31, 2016.
Rigney is the son of the late Robert Rigney, who was San Bernardino County’s chief administrative officer from 1980 to 1986.
In appointing Jeff Rigney to the Big Bear Area Regional Wastewater Agency, the board of supervisors did not address any potential conflict his position on the board might present vis-à-vis his position as director of county special districts.

Opposition Forms Against Sending Desert Water To Orange County

Belated opposition is hurriedly forming to a plan that would pump an average of 50,000 acre-feet of water per year out of the aquifer in San Bernardino County’s eastern Mojave Desert and convey it in a pipeline to Riverside, Orange and Los Angeles counties to replenish the water supply there.
The Santa Margarita Water District, which services an area that is more than 200 miles from the Cadiz Valley, is the lead agency for what is called The Cadiz Valley Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project.  As the lead agency, the Santa Margarita Water District, the second largest water district in Orange County, will oversee the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review process for the project.
Santa Margarita will work with the Cadiz Land Company in the proposed undertaking, which is a modified version of the Cadiz Water Project floated by Cadiz Land and the Metropolitan Water District more than a decade ago. The original project called for the Cadiz Land Company pumping water from the Colorado River during wet years, storing it in an underground aquifer beneath the Cadiz Valley, and selling as much as 60,000 acre-feet of the native groundwater and Colorado River water mix to the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) in Los Angeles during dry years.  That proposal was ultimately rejected by the Metropolitan Water District’s board of directors after conservationists raised concerns over possible environmental damage. The  MWD’s rejection of the project led to expensive litigation between the Cadiz Land Company and the MWD.
The concept lay dormant for six years but in 2008, the Cadiz Land Company, also known as Cadiz, Inc., revived the plan in modified form, emphasizing less the drawing of water from the Colorado River and instead proposing to obtain much of the water from sources feeding the area’s dry lakes that are subject to evaporation.  The revived project was given a tentative budget of $536.25 million and is to entail the sinking of 34 wells into the desert and construction of a 44-mile pipeline along a railroad right-of-way until it meets up with the aqueduct that carries Colorado River water to the Los Angeles and Orange County metropolitan areas.
Through the arrangement with the Cadiz Land Company, the  Santa Margarita Water District will receive the lion’s share of the water. In addition, Cadiz, Inc. has entered into agreements with Three Valleys Water District, which provides water to   the Pomona Valley, Walnut Valley, and Eastern San Gabriel Valley; the Golden State Water Company, which serves several communities in Southern California, including Claremont;   Suburban Water Systems, which serves Covina, West Covina and La Mirada; and the Jurupa Community Services District, which serves Mira Loma in Riverside County.
The Cadiz Valley is located just south of the Marble Mountains  and northeast of the Sheep Hole Mountains near the National Trails Highway. Cadiz is home to a former railroad stop along the Santa Fe line, 17 miles east of Amboy and 70 miles from Needles.
The public hearings related to the Cadiz Valley Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project were held in Yucca Valley, which is 85 miles from Cadiz, and in Rancho Santa Margarita, which is 217 miles from Cadiz.  Many of those directly impacted by the project, including the Bolo Station Water Company, which serves the Cadiz Valley and the property immediately adjoining that of the Cadiz Land Company, was not provided notice of the hearings.
Among those at the forefront of the movement to oppose the Cadiz Valley Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project is former Needles city councilwoman Ruth Musser-Lopez, who was previously employed as a Bureau of Land Management Archaeologist assigned to the California Desert District and was active in opposing the Cadiz Water Project in its first incarnation.

Ruth Musser-Lopez

Musser-Lopez decried the project as one that would confiscate a vital and rare resource from the desert region. She said the Cadiz Land Company and the Santa Margarita Water District had formed an unholy alliance of a rapacious corporation and a quasi-governmental agency that was abusing the approval and environmental certification processes to violate the rights of the region’s residents, and depriving future generations of desert dwellers of access to water.
Both the Santa Margarita Water District and the Cadiz Land Company have represented the project as one that is aimed at “conservation” of water otherwise lost to evaporation. A major selling point is that the project will represent a $138 million boon to the East Mojave’s economy that will directly or indirectly create 2,090 jobs for four years, involving $53 million in wages or salaries to workers or proprietorships involved in building the pipeline and other elements of the project.
Musser-Lopez, however, charged that “the Cadiz Land Company and the Santa Margarita Water District are promising the residents of the desert a short term gain in the form of temporary construction jobs in exchange for this huge long term detriment.  What this project is about is having water taken from San Bernardino County’s desert to be used in Orange County. Why should we allow a small company to utilize that water resource elsewhere?”
Musser-Lopez found particular fault with the manner in which the public hearing process for the project was conducted. She said those with the greatest stake in the region’s water supply were practically excluded from participation in the approval process when the hearings were conducted in Joshua Tree and in Santa Margarita at locations far removed from the Cadiz Valley and its residents and land owners.
She further suggested that utilizing the Santa Margarita Water District as the lead agency on the project was a violation of both the California Constitution, the California  Code of Regulations and the California Environmental Equality Act. In particular, she cited 14 CCR § 15051 (b) of the California Administrative Code which states, “If the project is to be carried out by a nongovernmental person or entity, the lead agency shall be the public agency with the greatest responsibility for supervising or approving the project as a whole. The lead agency will normally be the agency with general governmental powers, such as a city or county, rather than an agency with a single or limited purpose such as an air pollution control district or a district which will provide a public service or public utility to the project.”
Musser-Lopez told the Sentinel, “This law is binding. I believe this is grounds for an injunction.”
Accordingly, Musser-Lopez lodged a complaint with the San Bernardino County district attorney’s office’s public integrity unit as well as with the San Bernardino County grand jury, alleging “the public was misled to believe that they would get a real hearing with regard to the content of the environmental impact report as the California Environmental Quality Act provides for,” according to a draft of the grand jury complaint acquired by the Sentinel. In that complaint, Musser-Lopez makes much of the consideration that the logical and legal lead agency on the project,  San Bernardino County, had been bypassed.
At a hearing for the project held in Joshua Tree on February 1, 2012, Lopez-Musser notes in the draft grand jury complaint, the Santa Margarita Water District’s “chief engineer who was running the meeting made a statement on the record that San Bernardino County authorized the Santa Margarita Water District to be the lead on the California Environmental Quality Act document.  If this is true, I did not see this stated in the environmental impact report. There are many people who would like to know when the supervisors made this decision and in what forum.”
Musser-Lopez cited “the unreasonable burden of travel expense to attend meetings 200 and 85 miles from the project site” in her complaint to the district attorney’s office’s public integrity unit.
Moreover, Musser-Lopez alleged, allowing the Santa Margarita Water District (SMWD), the jurisdiction of which does not include the Cadiz Valley nor any portion of San Bernardino County, to serve as the lead agency and oversee the compliance of  the project with the California Environmental Quality Act, including processing and accepting the environmental impact statements and reports with regard to the project, is improper and a conflict of interest that was an outright corruption of the process.
“Since its jurisdiction is in Orange County, the SMWD inappropriately misidentified itself as the ‘lead agency’ on the project when the lead agency is obviously San Bernardino County, since our own elected county supervisors have the most authority to approve or disapprove a project which is totally encompassed within the county of San Bernardino,” Lopez-Musser said. “How does being a potential customer of Cadiz Water make SMWD a ‘participant’ in the Cadiz Corporation Project which would justify an Orange County water district being in a position to certify an EIR [environmental impact report] in San Bernardino County?  There are lots of potential customers, including San Bernardino County water districts.   Interestingly, the Metropolitan Water District, which was originally involved in the project, is not identified as a participant in the project and their Colorado River canal  absolutely is a necessary component of the project, making the MWD a key agency on this project.   Citizens of San Bernardino did not elect the SMWD board or vote on the formation of their district. SMWD has no right to come up here and try to shove this project down our throats after we already defeated it once.”
Furthermore, Musser-Lopez charged, “They are withholding evidence from the EIR. They are saying the desert’s aquifers are not a complex hydrological system and that the water table is not connected to the springs up above and that the water tables are not connected. There is no evidence to back that. The water tables are connected and there are fissures in the bedrock and granite separating them. What is done to one aquifer impacts the adjacent water tables. It is rightfully San Bernardino County who should be the lead agency and the county planning department should be the lead in the preparation of the environmental impact report.”
Musser-Lopez was highly critical of supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt, in whose First District the Cadiz Valley is located.
“He completely abrogated his responsibility as our county’s representative,” she said. “It was absolutely shameful. At those hearings there was no one from San Bernardino County representing us. They left it entirely up to water district officials from Orange County to run the show and dictate how our water is going to be used and where.”
Mitzelfelt has not dwelled on the environmental aspect of the project. His only public pronouncement with regard to the plan was to hail it as one that would provide “an immediate infusion of economic stimulus” to the Eastern Mojave.
Since Mitzelfelt was appointed to the board of supervisors in 2007, the Cadiz Land Company has been one of his major political backers, having contributed a total of $48,100 to his campaign fund.
On March 13, 2007, the Cadiz Land Company gave the Committee to Elect Brad Mitzelfelt $10,000. On June 30, 2007 the Cadiz Land Company gave the Committee to Elect Brad Mitzelfelt $12,500. On November 20, 2007 Cadiz, Inc. gave the Committee to Elect Brad Mitzelfelt $5,000.
On June 18, 2008 the Cadiz Land Company gave the Committee to Elect Brad Mitzelfelt $5,000.  On October 30, 2008, Cadiz, Inc.  gave the Committee to Elect Brad Mitzelfelt $5,000.
On May 14, 2009 the Cadiz Land Company gave the Committee to Elect Brad Mitzelfelt $4,000.  On July 30, 2009 Cadiz, Inc. gave the Committee to Elect Brad Mitzelfelt $1,000.
On April 12, 2010, the Cadiz Land Company gave the Committee to Elect Brad Mitzelfelt $1,600. On October 6, 2010 Cadiz, Inc. gave the Committee to Elect Brad Mitzelfelt $1,500. On December 10, 2010 the Cadiz Land Company gave the Committee to Elect Brad Mitzelfelt $2,500.

Brad Mitzelfelt

The Cadiz Land Company’s heavy political activity appears aimed at propounding its water resource and water rights accumulation agenda. Ostensibly, the company has represented itself as an agricultural concern, for which the accumulation of water rights was an ancillary aspect. But the company has not been able to sustain itself as an agricultural operation for well over a decade. Beginning in 1986, the company established vineyards, growing organic table grapes exclusively. In 1989, the vineyards were augmented with an organic citrus grove. Seasonal crops, including melons, peppers, squash, asparagus and beans are grown on the Cadiz ranch. The Cadiz Land Company owns, or has options on, 45,000 acres, which, according to the company’s website, are “underlain by high quality groundwater resources.” Roughly 9,600 acres of that property is zoned for agricultural use. In the environmental impact report for the the water plan, reference is made to “approximately 1,600 acres of active agricultural lands” serviced by  “seven groundwater production wells located in the central portion of the Cadiz Property that supply irrigation water for the existing agricultural operation.” According to the company’s website, however, the farming concern has yet to grow beyond the 500-acre footprint that was established more than two decades ago.
Despite the fact that since 1993 the company has been celebrating the Cadiz Ranch as “the largest agricultural operation in San Bernardino County,” it has not had a profitable year at least since 1999, and sustained losses exceeding $50 million since 2007.  The company’s lenders have propped it up through regular periodic infusions of cash.
In 2008, when the company publicly announced that it was looking to revive the water conservation project, it lost $16 million. At that point, the company’s operating capital had dwindled to $4.3 million. The following year, the company again turned to its longtime lender,  L.C. Capital Master Fund, Ltd., for an additional $10 million in operating capital. L.C. Capital agreed to provide that money, and another $5 million the following year.
In 2010, the company continued to operate at a considerable loss, although the company continued to issue stock, and stockholders recouped an annual 4 percent return. Nevertheless, the company courted controversy when its board of directors voted to increase chief executive officer Keith Brackpool’s compensation by 210 percent for fiscal year 2010 and chief financial officer Timothy Shaheen’s compensation by 149 percent.
On June 2, 2011, a majority of the company’s shareholders expressed their disapproval, voting against the company’s 2010 CEO and top executive compensation increases.
In July 2011, San Diego-based Robbins Umeda LLP, a shareholder rights litigation firm, commenced an investigation into possible breaches of fiduciary duty and other violations of the law by certain officers and directors at Cadiz, Inc.
The outcome of that investigation has not been publicly revealed, though it appears that L.C. Capital Master Fund, Ltd. may have lost  faith in the company. More recently, Altima Partners, a privately held hedge fund company in England, has emerged as a major investor, having zoomed to being the third  largest shareholder in Cadiz, just behind  Water Asset Management, which lists as the second largest stockholder in Cadiz. Two months ago, Cadiz saw yet another $11 million infusion of funds, as Water Asset Management provided Cadiz with $5 million and Altima Partners put up another $6 million.
These investors have been brought in, and have so far stayed the course, not because of a belief in the company’s potential as an agricultural concern, but because of representations that the company is on the cusp of transforming itself into a major producer and purveyor of water. Company officials and Santa Margarita Water District officials have openly maintained that they will have unfettered access to the Cadiz Valley’s groundwater and have hinted that they will eventually obtain access to Colorado River Water at Lake Mead.
Questions exist, however, as to whether the company has the right to draft the water it is looking to market to the Santa Margarita Water District, Three Valleys Water District, Golden State Water Company, Suburban Water Systems, and the Jurupa Community Services District as participants in the Cadiz Valley Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project, let alone draft water in the quantities some of the company’s investors have been led to believe the company will secure in the future.
Under the auspices of the Cadiz Valley Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project, Cadiz Land is projecting pumping 50,000 acre-feet of water from the aquifer in wet years.
An acre-foot is equal to the amount of water that would cover an acre to the depth of one foot, i.e., 43,560 cubic feet, or 325,851.43 gallons, approximately the amount of water used by a typical household comprised of four people in a metropolitan area over the course of a year.
While water rights have yet to be adjudicated in that portion of the East Mojave, the Cadiz Land Company under the law pertaining to water use in the state of California would not be able to assert a right to pump any more water than it has established a pattern of using over a several year period in all of its operations. Information on the amount of water being used at the Cadiz Ranch is not publicly available. Agricultural experts, however, have told the Sentinel that under the climactic conditions prevailing in the Cadiz Valley for the type of farming operation there, a 500-acre ranch is not likely to use more than 2,000 acre-feet of water per year on average.
According to charts, formulas and calculation provided to the Sentinel by Dr. Charles Burt of the Irrigation Training and Research Center with the Agricultural Department at California Polytechnic University at San Luis Obisbo, a 500-acre farming operation in the East Mojave combining equal parts of grapes, melons, tomatoes squash and peppers   would consume 1,965.2 acre-feet of water per year if sprinkler irrigation were used.
“It depends on the crops you grow, but for what you are talking about that would be a ballpark figure,” Burt said.
Cadiz Land Company  officials have privately said they are utilizing closer to 5,000 acre-feet of water per year.
According to the company, the project will proceed.
“The Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project is designed to capture and conserve billions of gallons of renewable native groundwater flowing beneath our property in  California’s Mojave Desert that is currently being lost to evaporation and salt contamination at nearby dry lakes. Through the active management of the aquifer system and a state-of-the-art groundwater protection program, the project will reduce the loss of groundwater to evaporation from the dry lakes, put this water to beneficial use and create a reliable water supply without adversely impacting the aquifer system or the desert environment,” according to a company statement. “The total quantity of groundwater to be recovered and conveyed to project participants will not exceed a long-term annual average of 50,000 acre-feet per year.”
According to Cadiz, Inc., the project is an environmentally responsible one that should not alarm environmentalists or local land owners.
“The water project will be implemented in two phases,” the company stated. “As part of the first phase of the project, wells would be constructed on our Cadiz Valley property to actively manage the aquifer system and minimize loss of groundwater.  The project wellfield will capture and conserve water that is naturally flowing into the system every year and recover water that is moving toward the dry lakes and would otherwise be lost to salt contamination and eventual evaporation.  The wellfield will change the hydraulic gradient by pulling water back from its natural downward flow.  Safe, established groundwater management techniques will be employed by the project operators to ensure the project is operated without causing harm to the local environment.
“The recovered groundwater would be conveyed to participating water providers from the water project area via a 43-mile pipeline to the Colorado River Aqueduct for delivery throughout the region,” the company statement continues. “The pipeline will be buried underground within an active railroad right-of-way that crosses the project area and the aqueduct. Participating water providers will also have the option to decrease or forego their water delivery in certain years, such as wet years, and carry it over to future years when it may be needed. This carry-over water would be stored in the aquifer system at the project area.”
The company statement hinted at Cadiz, Inc.’s future intention of securing drafting rights from the Colorado River.
“A second phase of the water project would make available up to one million acre-feet of groundwater storage space in the aquifer system for water imported to the project area,” according to the corporate statement. “Under the imported water storage component, water from the Colorado River or potentially the State Water Project could be conveyed to recharge basins on our property in wet years to percolate into the aquifer system, where it would be held in storage. In dry years, previously stored water would be returned to the Colorado River Aqueduct via the conveyance pipeline.”
The corporate statement makes no mention of the possibility of directing Colorado River Water stored in the Cadiz aquifer to the Los Angeles County and Orange County metropolitan area.
In its references to the water project, the Santa Margarita Water District referred to it as one that will draw upon “a potential new water source from a large, renewable aquifer located in the eastern Mojave Desert in San Bernardino County. If implemented, the Cadiz Project would diversify SMWD’s water portfolio and help drought-proof the district to ensure its water demands are met regardless of the state’s supply.”
Both Cadiz, Inc. and the Santa Margarita Water District have succeeded in having the public input period relating to the project closed down as of February 13. As more of those to be impacted by the project have become aware of it, they are seeking, like Musser-Lopez, to revamp the terms of the approval and CEQA processes, and removing Santa Margarita Water District as the lead agency on the project.
“I’m one of over 1,100 property owners in the Fenner watershed that has never been directly informed that the Cadiz project could impact my groundwater,” said Chris Ervin. “I have a well on my Round Valley property, as do many of my neighbors. The purpose of  Cadiz’s pumping is to induce water from the high country–where our properties are located–to flow downhill to refill the Cadiz Dry Lake aquifer. We are therefore concerned the Cadiz water project may affect the quantity and/or quality of our groundwater upon which we depend in the desert.”
Leigh Adams, who maintains a residence in the Los Angeles County community of Altadena but is also a desert landowner with property in Rimrock above Pioneertown, considers herself a desert stakeholder. She harvests storm water on both her desert property and her Altadena area property.
“I am vehemently opposed to the Cadiz project,” she told the Sentinel. “It is water piracy, a vile theft from desert wildlife and human beings.  The concept of water evaporating being “wasted water” is simply ludicrous! This is a lousy idea.  Orange County has lush lawns and swimming pools that are thirsty for water.  Let Santa Margarita use the money they propose for this project for education of home and business owners around the topic of conservation. Fifty percent of the water in our communities is used for watering lawns.  We buy water from other areas to replace the water we’ve allowed to run off into storm drains and gutters.  When those areas, the Sacramento Delta, the Colorado River, Owens Valley, run out of water, we propose to steal it from somewhere else.  Reprehensible!”
David Fick, of Joshua Tree, said that he was highly skeptical of the project in its present form.  “Going back ten to 12 years ago, it was a water banking scheme  to put water in and out of the aquifer and this time they are just going to be taking water out. The proponents of the project say there is 32,000 acre-feet of natural recharge into the basin, but they have not proven that and I do not think that is the case.”
Fick said removing that much water from an already parched environment was not a good idea.
“The desert flora depend on the humidity in the air,” Fick said. “The vast majority of moisture in the desert comes from the dew point, which becomes available to the plants as condensation. When the night temperature drops the air’s moisture-holding capabilities, down comes the life-giving water  and it is that cycle which waters the plant life. Removing 50,000 acre-feet of water will have a devastating effect on the Joshua Trees and the desert ecosystem altogether.”
Paul Collett, who with his brother owns 40 acres with a well near Bolo Station, which is west of Cadiz and overlies the same aquifer, called the project “a down and out illegal use of our water. This is a violation of our water rights. The Cadiz Company has an entitlement to some of that water but it belongs to all of us out here, including the Bureau of Land Management.  To take that water and sell it to somebody that far away is more than a violation of the law. It’s an abomination.  The supervisors should know better than to allow Cadiz Land to draw water from everybody and sell it to Orange County for their profit. It is astounding that it has gone this far. Nobody that I know of along the National Trails Highway – Route 66 – was notified of any meetings or the intent to take our water. All of a sudden, we do not have any assurance that the water table we use and which the landowners along this highway depend on for their livelihoods will have water in the future. Something is drastically wrong here.”
Seth Shteir of Joshua Tree is the field representative for the California desert office of the National Parks Conservation Association.  He said he had “concerns about the potential impact of this project on ground water resources,  air quality, the desert’s ecosystems and the future of the Mojave National Reserve. There are shortcomings in the EIR. It is a document almost 3,000 pages long that raises more questions than it answers. What will the long term effects of this project be on federally designated wilderness areas and what will it be on the Mojave Preserve?  How will this project impact regional ground water resources? What will be the effects on air quality? The association raised funds and hired our own hydrologist to look into and examine the Cadiz Company’s claims because we believe their EIR modeling is flawed. Cadiz is claiming the recharge into the Cadiz Valley is 32,500 acre-feet annually, which is greater than the combined recharge in the stream flow of the Big Pine-to Bishop area in the Eastern Sierra Nevadas.  Our hydrologist has looked at that issue and thinks the recharge is more around 14,000 acre-feet per year in terms of the closed basin’s desert watershed. Because the modeling is flawed, it is difficult to assess the impacts of the project. It is also difficult to assess those impacts because of the scope and magnitude of the project.”
The opposition to the project includes one of Orange County’s leading citizens, former Huntington Beach mayor Debbie Cook.
“This is one of the most outrageous proposals I have seen in my 25 years as an environmental activist,” Cook said.  “That in this day and age a private developer would come in and extract groundwater from an ecologically sensitive desert aquifer without any kind of recharge is unbelievable. That a water agency from the coastal area is going that far inland to take water out of the desert, as if the desert has no need for the water, makes no sense. What entitles them to pull that water out of the ground and sell it elsewhere?”
“The EIR has numerous flaws,” Cook continued. “Their recent statements at the hearing in Joshua Tree make it clear they have no intent to do recharge. The EIR makes it clear they will not do recharge and that they are interested only in pulling water out of the aquifer and will never achieve phase two, which they have left for some future unknown entity to do.”
Musser-Lopez said, ““What entitles one small, barely break-even farm, Cadiz, currently using only 2,000 to 5,000 acre-feet  of water per year for their operations, the right to sell 50,000 to 75,000 acre-feet per year of San Bernardino County’s water at a fluctuating price of  $300 to $700  per acre-foot, for a potential profit of $15 million to $50 million per year?   Cadiz claims that they are entitled to this massive amount of groundwater based on the harebrained idea that a small amount of water evaporating on a desert dry lake, after a seldom rain, is a waste of water, and that this small amount of evaporation justifies Cadiz Corporation to take all the groundwater before it has a chance to reach a spot where it might evaporate.  Demonstrating the unsound reasoning behind this scheme, Cadiz also proposes to reclaim excess water during wet years by putting it back in the very place they say water is being wasted by evaporation.”
Ervin, Adams, Fick, Collett, Shteir, Cook and Musser-Lopez said they are resolved to a complete reexamination of the project under different terms. “We want to move the hearing process out from under an Orange County quasi-governmental entity to before the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors,” Musser-Lopez said. “We want individuals who represent us and who are answerable to us as part of the elective process to make this decision. We want to ensure an environmental review process that will not exclude data relevant to the conservation of the desert’s most precious resource and we want to have included in the environmental impact report by reference all of the data that was presented with regard to this project ten years ago, when it was rejected.”
Collectively, the project opponents are requesting a 90-day extension of the deadline for public input on the project.
Judie Panneton, a spokeswoman with the California Water Control Board in Sacramento, told the Sentinel, “Regarding the groundwater component of the Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery, and Storage project, based on the staff’s initial review, it does not appear that it is subject to the permitting authority of the State Water Board, Division of Water Rights. According to current law, the State Water Board does not have authority to issue permits for diversion of percolating groundwater.  In certain areas when groundwater is pumped,  it may be subject to regulation by a local entity, like the county or a groundwater management district, even if you do not need a water right permit. The law does require that anyone annually extracting more than 25 acre-feet of groundwater within the counties of San Bernardino, Ventura, Riverside, or Los Angeles to file an annual report of their extraction with either the State Water Board or a local groundwater agency.”

Dramatic Turns In Colonies Case

In less than a week there have been three developments with regard to the so-called Colonies political corruption case, two of which auger in favor of the defendants and one potentially benefiting the prosecution.
Last May, a specially impaneled criminal grand jury indicted the co-managing principal of the Colonies Partners, Jeff Burum, former county supervisor Paul Biane, former sheriff’s deputy union president and assistant assessor Jim Erwin, and Mark Kirk, the former chief of staff for supervisor Gary Ovitt, on conspiracy, extortion and bribery charges.
According to that indictment, Burum, who was then employing Erwin as a consultant, in 2006 arranged to have Erwin prepare mailers revealing Postmus’ drug use and homosexuality and Biane’s insolvency during that year’s election season, while Postmus, who was then chairman of the board of supervisors, was vying for assessor and Biane, who was vice chairman of the board of supervisors, was campaigning on behalf of a measure to boost supervisorial salaries. Ultimately, according to the indictment, Burum and Erwin withheld those mailers.

Bill Postmus

In late November 2006, after Postmus was elected assessor and the measure to up the supervisors’ salaries passed, Postmus and Biane joined with supervisor Gary Ovitt to approve a $102 million settlement of a lawsuit the Colonies Partners had filed in 2002 over flood control issues at the Colonies Partners’ Colonies at San Antonio and Colonies Crossroads residential and commercial developments in northeast Upland. Between February 2007 and June 2007, Burum then provided separate $100,000 checks to each of three political action committees (PACs) founded by or which prosecutors allege were secretly controlled by Erwin, Kirk and Biane, known as the Committee for Effective Government PAC, the Alliance For Ethical Government PAC, and the San Bernardino County Young Republicans PAC, respectively. In June 2007, Burum provided two separate $50,000 checks to two political action committees founded or co-founded by Bill Postmus, Republicans for a Conservative Majority PAC and the Inland Empire PAC. The latter political action committee was, prosecutors maintain, created by Postmus in conjunction with his business partner and political associate, Dino DeFazio. Upon becoming assessor, Postmus appointed Erwin to the post of assistant assessor.
Prosecutors allege that the contributions to the political action committees constituted bribes paid in exchange for the vote to approve the settlement. In a previously filed case, DeFazio was charged with six felony counts of perjury pertaining to what prosecutors allege were lies or misrepresentations DeFazio made when he was brought before a grand jury in October 2009 and said that the Inland Empire PAC was controlled by himself and two others, Mike Gallagher and Jeff Bentow, and was independent of Postmus. Gallagher and Bentow told investigators they were unaware that they had been designated as directors of the Inland Empire PAC.
In March 2011, Postmus pleaded guilty to conspiring to receive bribes, soliciting and receiving bribes, and conflict of interest pertaining to charges in an February 2010 indictment relating to the Colonies Case, along with other charges relating to corruption of the assessor’s office’s function and drug possession. Under the terms of that plea, he agreed to cooperate with authorities and testify against the other five defendants at trial in exchange for reduced charges. His testimony before the grand jury in April 2011 was a key factor in the May 2011 indictment of Burum, Biane, Erwin and Kirk.
On Monday February 6, Upland-based attorney Cory Briggs filed a lawsuit on behalf of two non-profit groups, the Inland Oversight Committee and Citizens for Responsible Equitable Environmental Development seeking reimbursement from the Colonies Partners for the $102 million 2006 settlement of the lawsuit.
The premise of the suit is that Postmus’s admission of bribe taking in his March guilty plea established a violation of California Government Code Section 1090 occurred in the forging of the settlement. Government Code 1090 prohibits public officials from having a financial interest in any decisions they make in their official capacities and provides for all money paid out as the result of such financial conflicts to be reimbursed to the governmental body that made the payment.
Briggs, whose most notable cases have consisted of lawsuits filed against various municipal governments over their ratifications of environmental impact reports for WalMart supercenters, on February 7 called upon the county board of supervisors to “help us get the money back from the developer and give it back to the taxpayers.”
The use of the discovery process in Brigg’s prosecution of the civil suit could conceivably assist prosecutors in the criminal case. But whatever advantage may accrue to prosecutors from Briggs’ suit was counteracted by two separate setbacks on February 7 and February 8.
On Tuesday February 7, DeFazio and his attorney, Victorville-based Rick Ewaniszyk, rejected prosecutors’ offer of a plea deal that would  have reduced the six felony charges against DeFazio to a single misdemeanor that would have resulted in a 90-day county jail sentence. Instead, Ewaniszyk informed Superior Court Judge Michael Dest that DeFazio would go to trial on all six counts and risk a sentence of up to nine years in state prison if convicted.
Ewaniszyk did not respond to questions posed in the wake of the decision to go to trial. It was widely suspected that prosecutors have misgivings about relying upon the testimony of Postmus and are worried that he might not hold up under cross-examination by Ewaniszyk during the DeFazio trial, leading to an erosion of the case against the other four.  The preliminary hearing for the case commenced yesterday, February 9.
The very next day, prosecutors’ misgivings about Postmus were given public demonstration when it was publicly disclosed that in October the FBI  learned that Postmus, while cooperating with the San Bernardino County district attorney’s office and the California state attorney general’s office, was continuing to use illicit drugs.
Selected statements taken from an interview Postmus had with FBI agent Jonathan Zeitlin and assistant U.S. attorney Jerry Behnke and Joseph Widman were posted on the San Bernardino Sun’s website late Wednesday.
According to that report, Postmus told those federal authorities that he had used methamphetamine “a couple dozen times” during 2011.
Postmus’ admission of continuing drug use while cooperating with prosecutors and under their guidance and protection as well as other statements made during that interview were turned over to defense attorneys for Burum, Biane, Erwin and Kirk two months ago because the interview contained what might be construed as exculpatory evidence. The drug use admission will perhaps strengthen the defenses’ contentions that Postmus is an unreliable witness. Other statements made during the interview were less clear cut, with Postmus librating between confirmations that he had an understanding with Burum before the November 2006 vote about receiving future financial support for his political career and indications that he wasn’t explicitly told that the $100,000 in contributions to his PACs were coming until after the settlement was voted on.