Curious Departure For Assistant City Manager

CHINO – Chino’s assistant city manager and community development director, Pat Griffin, inexplicably and unexpectedly departed from his post over the weekend.
Griffin, was last seen at his office on February 2, functioning in his normal capacity. On Friday, February 3, he was away from City Hall for a routine day off, referred to as a flex leave. He did not return to work on February 6, having apparently let himself into his office at some point over the weekend of February 4-5, at which point he slid his letter of resignation under the door of city manager Pat Glover’s office.

Pat Griffin

There was no immediate explanation of the reason for Griffin’s departure. His desk had been cleaned out when other employees arrived for work on February 6.
There was some speculation that Griffin may have been miffed that he was passed over for elevation to the city manager’s position.   Glover announced the first week of January that he will depart as city manager on February 27. The council undertook to recruit Glover’s replacement through a nationwide search to be conducted by the headhunting firm of Bob Murray and Associates. The council gave no consideration to the option of promoting from within to replace Glover, spurning both Griffin and Jose Alire, the city’s former public works director who was promoted to assistant city manager last year.
Griffin had been with the city of Chino for 18 years, having begun in 1994 as controller. In short order his duties were widened to include the position of deputy treasurer in 1995. A few months later he was made finance director and in April 1997 he became the city treasurer. Six months later he was promoted to assistant city manager. In 2009 he took on the added duties and title of community development director.
Brent Arnold, the city planner who had been serving in the capacity of Griffin’s deputy director of community development, will serve as interim assistant city manager and community development director.
On February 7, the city council designated  police chief Miles Pruitt as interim city manager.

San Bernardino Firefighters Union Proposing Election For Fire Chief

Asserting that San Bernardino city officials have politicized the operation of the fire department, the union representing the city’s firemen is proposing a change in the city’s charter that would make the position of fire chief an elected one.
The San Bernardino City Professional Firefighters Local 891, which represents 126 of the city’s firefighters, said it will seek the change through the ballot initiative process.
Firefighters said they saw no inconsistency in their complaints that elected officials and high level municipal administrators had injected politics into the running of the department and their own effort to subject the fire chief to the elective process.
The firefighters union offered a summary of the proposed ballot initiative that called for “an elected fire chief, who is a resident of the city, to be elected at the general election in 2014 and every fourth year afterwards.”  Candidates for fire chief would “be required to have an educational background consisting of California state chief officer certification, the equivalence of an associate degree in fire technology or related field, 16 years’ experience in fire suppression and at least five years’ experience as a company officer or higher.”
In the face of dwindling revenues, the city has made painful cuts to the fire department, which fared worse than the more politically powerful police department. Since 2009, 25 firefighters have been laid off or eliminated by attrition and the department’s fire engines are now manned by three-member crews rather than four-member ones. Union members believe that by creating an elected fire chief, they will be able to concentrate their political efforts on that election rather than diffusing their support among multiple candidates for city council and mayor and therefore have more impact on how the department is run. While the union said its members were looking toward “granting the fire chief power and authority over the fire department independent of the mayor and the city manager,” the  summary said the proposed amendment would also require the fire department to include an assistant fire chief and a chief of staff, “both appointed by the fire chief with the consent of the mayor and council.”
The proposal also calls for the assistant chief to “have the same qualifications as the fire chief” who “must be an existing employee of the San Bernardino Fire Department.”  The proposal further stipulates that the fire chief’s salary be set “at $1 over the assistant chief’s salary.”

PonTell Now Heading Burum’s Affordable Housing Nonprofit

RANCHO CUCAMONGA – National Community Renaissance, the non-profit corporation founded by Jeff Burum to provide affordable housing to low and moderate income homebuyers, has hired Steve PonTell to serve as its president and chief executive officer.
PonTell, founder of the think tank La Jolla Institute,  replaced Orlando Cabrera in early January.
Also known as National CORE, the company had faltered during the recession, and was unable to fully deliver on its commitment to make  affordable housing available to those in need. National Core’s board members struggled through the collapse of the housing market with Cabrera leading the non-profit while many properties being targeted for use in the program were being lost to foreclosures.
Last September, the FBI and IRS served search warrants at National CORE headquarters as part of an effort to obtain documentation relating to the business dealings of its founder, Burum.
PonTell, the founder and president of the La Jolla Institute, has been chosen to succeed Cabrera, who left National Core of his own volition a month ago, and will be a “very different” leader of the nonprofit, board members said.
An Ontario resident for the last quarter century who was very close to Gary Ovitt when he was mayor of Ontario, Pontell has maintained his relationship with Ovitt over the last eight years while Ovitt has been a member of the board of supervisors. Pontell was born in Loma Linda and raised in Big Bear Lake, where he continues to have some business interests. At one point he was the director of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce and he also headed the  Inland Empire Economics Council. Over the last two years, Pontell and the La Jolla Institute have completed, at a cost of $240,000, what is referred to as  a community indicators report, otherwise known as a vision project, for  San Bernardino County. That indicators report purports to provide a blueprint for the future of the county.
PonTell has been brought in to head National CORE at a crucial point, where its survival as an entity is being challenged. The nonprofit was previously dependent in some measure on subsidizations from redevelopment agencies and the state of California has now eliminated the charter of municipal redevelopment agencies throughout the state. In Rancho Cucamonga, where National CORE has its headquarters, it has received $46 million in subsidies through the Rancho Cucamonga Redevelopment Agency for the provision of low to moderate income and senior citizen housing.
National CORE, which is a national organization overseeing more than 9,600 affordable housing units in California, Texas, Arkansas and Florida, may end up closing shop in California.
National CORE is now scrambling to devise alternative funding for six projects on the drawing boards in California communities.

Public Should Scrutinize College Board Decisions, Lake Arrowhead Resident Says

Point Of View

A Sentinel Reader Opinion Piece
The primary job of the board of trustees of the San Bernardino Community College District is to oversee district spending and provide accountability.  There is scant evidence the trustees are doing their job.  In 2011, the trustees spent about $45,000,000 on about 199 different items.  Each of the votes was unanimous.  Not a single trustee voted “No”.  Were the costs on any of the $45,000,000 inflated? Was there not a single dollar of waste in any of the 199 spending projects?  If not, then the San Bernardino Community College District must be the most well run government agency in California, and perhaps the entire the United States.  Sadly, that doesn’t appear to be the case.  The district has had to cut classes due to lack of funds and tuition is going up by 33%.  The projects approved by the trustees included $300,000 for a “wellness pond.”  I’ve attended five colleges and have over 200 semester credits, never once using a “wellness pond.”
On December 8, 2011, I attended the trustee’s meeting and observed the lack of consideration they give before spending taxpayer dollars.  In about 15 minutes, they hurriedly voted to spend over $9,000,000 without any comments, questions to staff or even discussion among themselves. Every vote was unanimous, including one to make it easier to raise taxes. The taxpayers, students and faculty deserve more than a “rubberstamp” on every spending project. Instead of rushing through every spending project, the trustees should make sure each dollar is spent wisely. Pawning off the responsibility on a citizen’s committee doesn’t remove the trustee’s fiduciary duty to the taxpayers.  At the January 19th meeting, I addressed the board on these issues.
Our community college district is vital to the San Bernardino Valley.  Many high school graduates need an associate’s degree before they can attend a four year college due to finances and family responsibilities.  Other high school graduates aren’t seeking a four year degree, but need vocational classes offered at Valley and Crafton to learn the skills needed for good paying jobs.  About 20,000 students yearly attend our community colleges.  Recently reforms have been recommended cutting the  fat and instead focusing on the primary goals; assisting students to a four year degree and teaching vocational/ occupational skills.  It is questionable that the trustees are up to the job.  For example, instead of courses that prepare students for a four year degree or a good job, they recently approved classes like “walking” for four semesters (course #PE/I 127×4).  After graduating from “walking,” a student can take two semesters of “tap dancing” (course  # DANCE 107×2).  While billions are being cut from community college budgets, the trustees are walking away from their fiduciary responsibilities and tap dancing around the needs of students, faculty and taxpayers.
Since 2003, taxpayers have authorized $690,000,000 dollars in spending for new construction projects.  So far about $450,000,000 has been spent.  Based upon the trustees’ rubberstamping every spending project that comes before them, it’s questionable if the taxpayers’ money is being well spent.  Every property owner in the district is assessed $37.30 for every $100,000 in value of the property.  A typical homeowner pays about $100 or more each year.  In the last ten years, many homeowners have paid over $1,000 for these construction projects.  Are we getting our money’s worth?  We can’t be sure when the trustees rubberstamp each spending item without even asking a single question.
There’s other evidence of a lack of accountability.  Recently, four high ranking administrators have been placed on paid leave and relieved of their duties.  The trustees won’t say why.  Community colleges in San Diego and Los Angeles have been rocked by allegations of fraud and mismanagement of construction projects.  We don’t know what these four administrators did, but based upon the lack of oversight and accountability shown by the trustees in rubberstamping $45,000,000 of spending in the last year, there’s no reason to be confident that there hasn’t been an abuse of power.  The president of Valley College has left for a new job out of state. We don’t know if there’s been unethical conduct, but we do know that the combination of lack of accountability and oversight, combined with large amounts of money breeds corruption; especially in San Bernardino County.
How does such a lack of accountability occur?  The trustees’ bureaucratic structure could be one reason.  There are seven trustees, who are all elected at large.  The district serves hundreds of thousands of residents.  Instead of seven at large positions, trustees should be elected from districts with an equal number of residents.   Dividing the district into seven districts would increase the accountability.  Each trustee would get to know, and become known to, the voters of a much smaller district.  This common sense initiative would increase transparency and empower the citizens.  Another reform is to increase the number of meetings.  Currently, there is only one business meeting each month. Meeting for a few hours once a month is woefully inadequate to manage $690,000,000. Another reform would be timely posting of agendas and minutes.  The minutes for the December meeting weren’t posted online for 30 days after the meeting.  The agenda for the January meeting wasn’t posted on line until one week before the meeting.  Each agenda is hundreds of pages.  Less than two weeks to scrutinize the agenda is totally inadequate.  Without  adequate time to examine the agenda, meaningful debate is impossible. Increasing the number of meetings would decrease the volume of the agenda.  Copies of the agenda need to be available at the meetings for citizens to study.
I urge all citizens who share these concerns about the trustees spending habits to attend the next meeting and be ready to speak on agenda items.

John Wurm
Lake Arrowhead


LA And Ontario Are $400 Million Apart On Airport Sale Price

Ontario and Los Angeles are $400 million apart with regard to a sales price for Ontario International Airport, according to an analysis of information available to the Sentinel.
For more than two years Ontario city officials have been growing increasingly frustrated over the rejection of their overtures to have the city of Los Angeles, to whom Ontario deeded the airport in 1985, relinquish ownership and control of the aerodrome back to Ontario.
At varying points, Ontario officials have suggested that Los Angeles should merely deed it back to them at no consideration. While Los Angeles officials have refrained from making public statements that have conveyed their dismay, sources tell the Sentinel some of those officials within the division devoted to airport operations, known as Los Angeles World Airports, have been so insulted by what they consider to be the city of Ontario’s presumptuousness that they have refused so far to carry on a serious dialogue with Ontario over the matter. In particular, Los Angeles World Airports executive director Gina Marie Lindsey is  incensed with Ontario and its officials.

Gina Marie Lindsey

In the meantime, with a general contraction of the airline industry,  Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) has instituted billing practices and operational policies that have made it more expensive for airlines to operate out of Ontario as opposed to at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), resulting in an even further decrease in ridership out of Ontario Airport.
In Ontario and surrounding San Bernardino County communities, there has been growing concern that the downturn in passengers at Ontario Airport is harming the local economy.  Officials have suggested that by returning the airport to local control, policies can be put in place that will reduce costs for the airlines to operate out of Ontario. Nevertheless, the efforts to achieve that end have further alienated Los Angeles officials, exacerbating the situation.
A series of decisions over the last 45 years, each considered a practical and logical step toward resolving an exigent problem at that time, has led to the current circumstance.
Founded as Ontario Municipal Airport in 1929, the facility in 1946 had changed its name to Ontario International Airport because at that point it had begun to handle transpacific cargo flights. Nevertheless, it remained pretty much a small regional field. In 1949, the facility took a step forward when Western Airlines began flying into and out of Ontario, with sporadic flights to Palm Springs, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Sacramento. An east-west runway was built in the 1950s to augment the original northeast-to-southwest runway, and in 1955 Bonanza Airlines, with flights to and from Los Angeles and Las Vegas, set up operations in Ontario.
In 1957, well under 30,000 passengers passed through Ontario Airport. Over the next decade, use of the facility would increase, but at not much more than a glacial pace.  In 1959, Ontario was designated an alternative to Los Angeles International Airport when LAX was fogged in. By 1966, passenger traffic had increased to just under 200,000 passengers per year, but the prospects for further expansion seemed dim.
The main runway was dilapidating, with spots on the tarmac that were caving in. FAA inspectors issued warnings that repairs to the main runway would need to be made or the airport would be shut down. The facility did not feature a paved parking lot, but rather a gravel one. Efforts to lure other airlines to Ontario had been ongoing for years, but were unsuccessful, as airline executives saw insufficient financial reward to scheduling flights into or out of such a remote location.
The Ontario City Council formed a committee composed of then-mayor Howard Snider and then-councilman Sam Crowe to approach Los Angeles municipal officials and the L.A. Department of Airports to negotiate a “merger” that would result in upgrades to the airport and an increase in passenger traffic.
A deal was worked out  and accepted by the Ontario City Council on March 1, 1967 by which the city of Ontario and the city of Los Angeles created a joint powers authority for the purposes of managing, operating and enhancing the airport. The Los Angeles Department of Airports and LAX pledged to use their influence with the airlines to induce them to establish flights into and out of Ontario. Furthermore Los Angeles, through its Department of Airports committed to making improvements worth at least $20 million in 1967 dollars, to include the refurbishing of the east-west runway and the addition of a second heavy duty runway, the expansion of taxiways and improvements to the terminals and the purchase of 350 acres of vineyards to allow for expansion on the airport’s east end. The Los Angeles Department of Airports, which would later transform into the entity now known as Los Angeles World Airports, took on management of the airport on November 1, 1967. Under the terms of the deal, title on the airport itself was to be transferred to the city of Los Angeles after the achievement of several designated milestones, including passenger traffic levels, runway improvements, and terminal construction.
By 1969, flights out of Ontario dramatically increased. Continental started nonstop flights to Denver and Chicago, Air California started runs to San Jose, and PSA started flights to San Francisco. Western added flights to Salt Lake City. In 1970 United initiated flights to and from  Chicago.  American Airlines began flights to Dallas and, later, to Chicago. Nevertheless, a benchmark of 10 million passengers at the airport by 1975 was not  achieved as John Wayne Airport in Orange County expanded dramatically, becoming the second busiest airport in the region after LAX, a spot coveted by Ontario. In 1981, a modern, second east-to-west runway was built, necessitating the removal of the old northeast-to-southwest runway. Sometime thereafter, Los Angeles officials stepped up pressure on Ontario officials to have them cede ownership of the airport in total to Los Angeles.
Ontario, at that time led by mayor Robert  Ellingwood, resisted, maintaining that all of the criteria specified in the transfer portion of the 1967 agreement had yet to be met. Tensions mounted between the cities when Ontario began levying a parking tax at the airport, which L.A. objected to as unwarranted and illegal. That led to a lawsuit filed by Los Angeles against Ontario and a countersuit from Ontario. Ellingwood pressed for the recission of the joint powers agreement and for Ontario to take full control of the airport. Los Angeles, however, had at that time  control over the revenue being generated at the airport and was bankrolling the cost of operations there. Los Angeles threatened to itself stand down from the joint powers agreement, leaving Ontario in the position of paying all operational costs.  His four council colleagues differed with Ellingwood over the issue of Ontario reasserting control at the airport, believing the city did not have the financial means to operate it. On February 19, 1985, at a council meeting when Ellingwood was too ill to attend, the council voted 4-0 to transfer title to the airport to the city of Los Angeles. Ellingwood refused to endorse the transfer documents with his signature. Instead, the documents carried the signature of mayor pro tem Faye Myers Dastrup.  Los Angeles took over ownership officially on July 1, 1985.
In 1987, the departure runway was extended to the east.  In 1997 and 1998, Los Angeles built two modern 530,000-square foot terminals at the airport at a cost of $270 million. In 2005-2006, the airport’s departure runway was repaved, received storm drains,  and  runway lighting was improved. The airport’s taxiways were widened. The same year Aeroméxico started seasonal flights to Guadalajara and Mexico City, making Ontario a true international airport.  The airport was also renamed Ontario/LA International Airport, ostensibly to avoid confusion with an airport in Canada.
In 2007, use of the airport peaked, with 7.2 million passengers enplaning there and using its terminals. In recent years, Ontario Airport has seen its use decline. In 2008, 6.2 million passengers took flights from the airport, a drop of 13.5 percent compared to 2007. In 2009, the airport had 4.95 million passengers pass through it. That trend continued in 2010, with 4.8 million travelers flying from Ontario International. Simultaneously Los Angeles World Airports undertook a flurry of improvements at LAX intended to make traveling in or out there more convenient to passengers.
In the last year, passenger volumes in Ontario continued to decline, with travel at Los Angeles International Airport picking up. Just under 4.6 million passengers took flights out of Ontario International in 2011.  At Los Angeles International this year, passenger traffic has increased by nearly 6 percent.
In 2009, Ontario officials began a dialogue with Los Angeles World Airports officials about combating the downward trend in passenger traffic at Ontario. But  Los Angeles airport officials were not keen on surrendering any share of the market Los Angeles International had captured in the aftermath of extensive improvements to that airport.
Ontario officials gravitated toward the conclusion that reacquiring the airport was paramount and that not leaving its destiny in the care of Los Angeles officials, whose first loyalty consisted in keeping Los Angeles International Airport thriving, was the only realistic approach to the problem.
They began pushing Los Angeles to allow a public agency-to-public agency transfer of the airport at no consideration, reversing the 1985 action.
Los Angeles officials balked at that.
“Over the past 45 years, Los Angeles World Airports has made significant investments to modernize Ontario Airport,” said Gina Marie Lindsey, the executive director of Los Angeles World Airports. “Over $560 million in airport capital improvements have been made utilizing funds from a combination of Los Angeles and Ontario airport revenues, Federal Aviation Administration grants and bond proceeds secured by Los Angeles World Airports.”
Without publicly stating so, Lindsey and other Los Angeles World Airport Officials were privately advising members of the Los Angeles City Council to seek to recover as much of the money put into improvements at Ontario Airport since 1967 as possible.  One unconfirmed report that reached the Sentinel was that LAWA was prepared to write down $110 million of the cost of improvements but was insisting that the airport be sold for no less than $450 million.
Ontario has not received an official offer or proposed sales price from L.A.
Ontario city manager Chris Hughes dismissed as “untrue” and “not factual” the assertion that Los Angeles had invested $560 million at Ontario Airport.

Chris Hughes

“The city of Los Angeles has not spent a dime at Ontario Airport,” Hughes said. “If they could show me proof, I’d love to see it. What it takes to operate an airport is the money the airlines put up. The money consists of passenger facility charges and federal grants. It is a closed system. That is absolutely not the city’s revenue.”
Los Angeles taxpayers had not subsidized the operation of Ontario Airport, Hughes said, and did not deserve to be paid back for relinquishing control of the airport. On the contrary, he said, Ontario has spent its own money in uses dedicated to improving the airport.
“The city of Ontario has spent well over $100 million in federal grants and local matching funds dedicated to ground access projects to make the airport more accessible,” Hughes said.
He said he could not speak to the advisability of the past city council’s decision to cede the airport to Los Angeles. “We started our partnership with LA in 1967 with the joint powers agreement,” he said.” In 1985 we amended the JPA and transferred the property to the city of Los Angeles. I was not here at the time, so I cannot really comment on that.”
Hughes said the exchange could be made as a public agency-to-public agency transaction, at no consideration.
“A public-to-public transfer is done without any monetary exchange,” he said. “There is no value to the airport. The land is worth zero. By definition, the FAA controls airports.”
Hughes would not discuss reports that Ontario had offered Los Angeles $50 million for the airport.
“I have been very clear that what we’re doing is submitting a proposal to their elected officials in confidence and we will not discuss our proposal before the decision makers have a chance to discuss and vote on it,” Hughes said. “I do not feel it is appropriate to discuss the details of our proposal at this time. Negotiations are in closed session and behind closed doors for a reason.”
Hughes did acknowledge, however that “Ontario has made a proposal to the city of Los Angeles for the transference of title, management and operations of the airport that is comprehensive and fair.”
Hughes insisted that Ontario Airport is being mismanaged under the stewardship of Los Angeles World Airports.
“The airport continues on a downward spiral,” he said. “The marketing budget for Ontario Airport, which was one million dollars a year, is now in the range of $300,000 to $400,000. Why is it the most expensive medium hub airport in the county?  They are not marketing it. We are back to the same levels coming through there when we had the old terminal.
“I disagree with LAWA officials when they say LAX is not competing with Ontario,” Hughes stated.  “Ontario continues to lose flights and yet there are 1.3 million more people driving into Los Angeles annually because they are flying out of LAX instead of Ontario.  That should not be, and it is because Ontario is losing flights to LAX.  It is a health and environmental concern.”
Hughes continued, “The region has lost half a billion dollars since 2007 and lost 9,000 jobs.  Los Angeles World Airports has done nothing to stop the bleeding and improve passenger traffic at Ontario.”
Currently, airlines are paying nearly a third again as much in enplaned passenger rates at Ontario International as at LAX. At Ontario, that charge is $14.50 per traveler, including a passenger facility charge. The  cost per enplaned passenger at LAX is $11.
Hughes said that if Ontario had control of the airport it could immediately make it competitive pricewise with LAX.
“The city of Los Angeles imposes an administrative fee of 15 percent,” he said. “If Ontario took over, we could eliminate that and reduce the passenger facilities fee by four bucks.”
Hughes said Los Angeles World Airport’s neglect is threatening to kill Ontario Airport.
“We need an airport to sustain the economy. When LA and John Wayne fill up to capacity, we need to have it to handle the growth of southern California in the future,” Hughes said. “What is concerning Ontario is we are in a downward spiral and we are losing passengers. We have not hit bottom. What is the tipping point? Our relationship was fine until they started ignoring Ontario Airport. I don’t take our 40-year relationship lightly but I don’t take a half billion loss to our economy lightly, either. The airport is one of the largest economic drivers of this area. Why is it that every other local airport under local control fared better in the recession?”
Lindsey fired back at Hughes.
“As aviation industry data supports, LAWA has not mismanaged the airport as has been implied by the city of Ontario,” Lindsey said. “The airport is built to a capacity that is far above what the current economy of the Inland Empire can support.  Combined with airline response to the economic recession, including cutbacks in the number of flights and available seats along with airline consolidation and wholesale withdrawal from medium-hub airports, you have a situation that will not improve in the near future.   It is ridiculous for any governmental body to presume that an airport developed and modernized at the expense of another city is entitled to a ‘transfer’ of that asset.  Ontario has enjoyed decades of benefit from LAWA’s time and investment in Ontario Airport, and now with a slump in the economy, expects to wrest the asset back for a sum far below its real worth.
“LAWA has refrained from criticizing the City of Ontario because we continued to hope our consistent invitations (three to be specific) for them to participate in marketing ONT would be accepted,” Lindsey continued. “It is now clear they have only one objective:  to take the asset the city of L.A. built, at a foreclosure price.”
On January 23, the board of Los Angeles World Airports ruled out making a sale of Ontario Airport to Ontario and indicated that it would not entertain any transfer or change of operating and managing authority at the airport for at least two years.
On January 24, however, Los Angeles councilmen Dennis Zine and Bill Rosendahl called for a study of how to return LA/Ontario International Airport to Ontario. Their motion, which was not voted upon by the full council but instead referred to the council’s Trade, Commerce and Tourism Committee, requested the city’s Department of Airports, along with the city administrative officer and chief legislative analyst, perform a study within 90 days to “determine the fair market value of Ontario Airport, including the land, facilities, financial assets and liabilities, then report on the process by which a sale of this facility could occur between the city of Los Angeles and the city of Ontario.”
Hughes said he was heartened by Zine and Rosendahl’s motion.
“Ontario is optimistic and we are looking for an opportunity to revive our talks and sit down  with Los Angeles and effect a transfer,” he said.

McKeon Ethics Probe Ongoing

The action of Congressman Buck McKeon is now under review by the House Ethics Committee, the Sentinel has learned.
Following revelations that McKeon  received a discounted mortgage for his personal residence from the former Countrywide Financial Group, the House panel took up the matter.
“Congressman McKeon appears to have obtained a significant discount on his VIP loan as a direct result of personal intervention by [then-] Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozilo,” Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., ranking member of the House oversight panel, wrote in a letter released last month.
The House Ethics Committee has been asked to look into the matter and determine whether the loan amounted to an improper gift.
Countrywide Financial has been at the epicenter of the subprime mortgage crisis. In June 2009, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission charged Angelo Mozilo with insider trading and securities fraud. Since that time information has surfaced showing that large numbers of influential business executives and government officials received so-called “VIP” or “Friends of Angelo” loans from the mortgage lender,  in which loans were granted at lower rates than were available to the public.
In reaction to the House Ethics Committee’s action, McKeon told the Sentinel,  “I remain committed to transparency on this matter. I too want to get to the bottom of what Countrywide did to my loan 13 years ago. I chose a life of public service and ran for Congress because I believe that elected officials must live by the same rules as the people we serve.   That is why I was shocked and angered to learn that a loan I took out over a decade ago was supposedly given a special designation that I knew nothing about.  Countrywide’s actions are inconsistent with my principles, with my record, and with the expectations of the people of the 25th District.”
Of note with regard to McKeon and his political circumstance is that in January 2011, his California Republican House colleague Elton Gallegly was reported to have received a “Friends of Angelo” loan. Gallegly is also under investigation by the House Ethics Committee.  Gallegly, who has been in Congress since 1987, denied knowing that he was part of Countrywide Financial’s special loan program, but last month announced he would not seek reelection.
McKeon’s 25th Congressional District spans from Antelope Valley to the Nevada border, and includes parts of San Bernardino County, including Victorville and Barstow.  The district also runs through the Santa Clarita Valley, and  Inyo and  Mono counties.

HUSD Board Supports Superintendent In Firing Of Police Chief

HESPERIA—A divided school board last night sided with superintendent Mark McKinney, voting 3-2 to fire Hesperia Unified School District’s chief of police Mike Graham.
Graham chose to have a public hearing over issues relating to his ouster. In testimony before the board this week, McKinney maintained Graham had been insubordinate.

Mike Graham

Graham insisted that his firing was retaliatory and that he is being punished for speaking out against reductions the police department was forced to sustain earlier this year as well as for his efforts to get to the bottom of an alleged embezzlement of associated student body funds at Sultana High School more than two years ago. McKinney said that diminishing revenues required that the district make cuts and that the police division was a logical place to make those economies. He said that Graham had proven intransigent in carrying out that policy.
Graham, a  former San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputy, a one-time deputy marshal with  San Bernardino County, and a former security officer with the Air Force, was supported by the testimony of one of his subordinates in the school district police department, Hesperia city councilman Bill Holland, himself a former sheriff’s deputy. Holland told the board that it was he, rather than Graham, who had ridiculed as “absurd” the directives in one of McKinney’s memos to Graham calling upon him to reduce the activity and authority of the district police department.
Graham’s insistence that he had attempted to comply with McKinney’s instructions did not convince the board majority that he had not defied the superintendent. During his oftentimes public feud with McKinney, Graham occasionally made deprecating remarks about board president Chris Bentley.
When the board came out of a closed session Thursday evening, it was Bentley who announced, “The board hereby terminates Mr. Graham’s employment with the district, effective immediately.
Graham was joined in his vote to confirm McKinney’s firing of Graham by board members Eric Swanson and Niccole Childs. Board members Hardy Black and Anthony Riley voted to  sustain Graham’s appeal.
Graham hired on  with the district police department in 2001 and was promoted to chief in April 2008.

San Bernardino County Charter School Scandals Inspire Reform Legislation

School districts will have a wider degree of latitude in denying the petitions for charter schools if a pending Assembly bill is passed.
San Bernardino County school districts, in particular, have over the last several years fallen prey to charter school operations that were more focused on enriching their operators than educating students.
The California Education Code provides for the formation of charter schools under the aegis of a sponsoring local school district. Charter schools function outside the normal parameters of normal schools and can offer a curriculum and educational smorgasbord unavailable in traditional public schools while meeting the requirements of both special needs students and accelerated scholars. But the lack of strict oversight of charter schools has been abused in the past, leading to the squandering of hundreds of millions of dollars in educational funds, losses and liability to the sponsoring districts, and students who suffer as a consequence of educational neglect.
One of the most celebrated failures in the state’s charter school system took place in San Bernardino County in the early 2000s with the California Charter Academy debacle. The California Charter Academy, which was founded in 2000 by Charles Steven Cox, a former insurance executive, in short order grew into the largest charter school operator in California, with multiple campuses located throughout the state.
Cox chartered the first academy under the auspices of the Snowline-Joint Unified School District, which exists in the High Desert communities of Phelan and Pinon Hills. He then utilized the enthusiasm garnered from that formation to get Snowline to charter a second academy. In so doing, Cox made large donations to Bill Postmus, a board member with the Snowline School District who was then running for San Bernardino County First District supervisor. Cox also made Postmus a board member with California Charter Academy and provided his father, also named Bill Postmus, with a position as a teacher at one of the charter schools, instructing “leadership.” Cox then obtained two more charter sponsorships, one from the Orange School District in Orange County, and one from the Oro Grande School District, located in San Bernardino County’s High Desert.
Simultaneous to his founding of the non-profit California Charter Academy, Cox created Educational Administrative Services Corporation (EASC), a for-profit company which was then hired by all four charter schools to manage the day-to-day operations of the charter schools and provide academic supplies such as books, paper, pens, pencils, desks, chairs, projectors, computers, etc. The rates charged by EASC reflected in the billings were inflated. In some cases, educational materials that were paid for by the charter schools were never delivered.
Cox hired one of Postmus’ political associates, Tad Honeycutt, who later successfully ran for a position on the Hesperia City Council, to work with the California Charter Academy. In turn, Honeycutt created his own set of companies, Maniaque Enterprises and Everything For Schools, which like EASC delivered educational materials and services to the non-profit charter schools at a profit.
By 2003, teachers at several of the schools were going public with accounts of how students’ educations were being neglected and books and other educational materials were not being provided. In 2004, the superintendent of the California Department of Education, Jack O’Connell, launched an investigative audit into California Charter Academy, alleging financial irregularities. In August 2004, four years after California Charter Academy’s creation, it ceased operations abruptly, throwing teachers out of work and forcing students to hurriedly matriculate back into public schools, which were overburdened by the influx of unexpected numbers of students. The California Charter Academy’s records and books were in utter chaos. Student transcripts requested by the sponsoring districts were found to be incomplete or entirely unavailable. The California Charter Academy’s creditors and landlords in many cases made off with the academy’s assets.
On April 14, 2005, MGT of America, an auditing firm hired by the California Department of Education, and the state’s Fiscal Crisis and Management Team released their joint financial audit of California Charter Academy, showing $23 million in taxpayer money paid to the private management company Educational Administrative Services Corporation was misappropriated. Among the findings were that Cox had hired several of his family members into what were essentially do-nothing clerical and non-productive administrative positions, that Cox, his family members, other EASC and Charter Academy employees, and Honeycutt were provided with luxury automobiles, and that among the expenses accumulated by the Charter Academy were accommodations in Las Vegas, at Disneyland and the Disneyland Hotel, studio musical recording equipment, spa visits, fishing trips and jet skis.
The audit alleged multiple conflict-of-interest violations, the improper conversion of private schools to public charter schools, and the falsification of documents and claims to receive public funds
“The magnitude of waste of precious education funds outlined in the audit was appalling,” said O’Connell.
In late July 2007, public officials, including Bill Postmus, Postmus’ chief of staff and successor as supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt, Tad Honeycutt, Victorville councilwoman and charter school advocate JoAnn Almond and Hesperia School District board member Eric Swanson, who was one of Honeycutt and Postmus’ political associates and whose company had billed EASC/California Charter Academy for over $450,000 in computer equipment that could not be located, were subpoenaed as witnesses to speak on the matter before a special grand jury convened by the San Bernardino County district attorney’s office.
On September 4, 2007, Honeycutt and Cox were arrested after being indicted by a special grand jury for their alleged roles in the collapse of the California Charter Academy. Cox and Honeycutt were indicted on a total of 147 counts, including fraud, misappropriation of public funds and grand theft. Cox’s bail was set at $1 million dollars, while Honeycutt’s was logged at $500,000. Both were able to post bail. Law enforcement officials froze their assets, but little of the missing money that officials thought might be recovered was present in their accounts in local banking institutions. It is known that Honeycutt had made multiple trips to Vanuatu, Spain and Argentina in the early and mid-2000s. The criminal cases pending against Cox and Honeycutt have not yet gone to trial.
Some of the taxpayer money provided to the California Charter Academy was used to fund lawsuits brought by Cox and EASC against public entities. In one case, Cox and EASC filed suit against the California Department of Education, contending the state had illegally withheld funding from the California Charter Academy. Cox and EASC did not prevail in that suit. Cox brought another lawsuit alleging impropriety and political motivation on the part of public officials whose actions led to the closure of the California Charter Academy.
Another San Bernardino County-based charter school, the Public Safety Academy, fell short of both educational and accounting goals over the several years of its operation, then plunged into chaos last year, resulting in lawsuits that now may end up costing its sponsoring district hundreds of thousands or perhaps even millions of dollars.
What was to become the Public Safety Academy was founded as an unaccredited educational seminar in 2000 by Michael Dickinson, a one-time arson investigator, to prepare its attendees for careers in law enforcement and firefighting. In 2005, the school was given accreditation when Dickinson convinced the San Bernardino City Unified School District (SBCUSD) to charter the school as the Public Safety Academy. The academy appeared to have found a niche, with students intent on pursuing a career in fire science or law enforcement, as well as parents wishing to steer their children in that direction.  A number of local luminaries in those fields participated in the school as instructors, sponsors, mentors, and board members.
But the academy encountered difficulties along the way. Four years ago a financial review revealed the school had not kept accurate payroll and accounting records, and had spent $164,000 that was not budgeted for. There were also questions about $20,000 worth of expenditures for laptops that were either never delivered, misappropriated or stolen.  In January of this year, a report commissioned by the district found the academy’s accounting practices deficient and cataloged arrearages with regard to accounts payable.
Last spring, Michael Dickinson’s wife who served as a principal at one of the school’s campuses, Susan Dickinson, fell under the charter school board’s focus after a report surfaced that she had crossed the line in prepping her students for questions contained in the state’s Standardized Testing and Reporting exam. According to an inquiry into the matter, Susan Dickinson reviewed some of the material contained in the test with students at her school before the test was administered and recommended that other instructors at the academy do likewise.
The charter school’s head principal, Kathy Toy, had recommended that the board of trustees terminate Susan Dickinson. Before that vote took place, Michael Dickinson sacked the board of trustees.
On June 20, 2011 the Public Safety Academy board filed suit against Public Safety Academy Inc., an adjunct to the academy which was set up and controlled by Michael Dickinson, who received $121,000 per year in salary for his services. That suit sought to restore the authority of the board that Michael Dickinson had terminated. In July, the court ruled that the board had legal authority to run the charter academy, and the contracts of Michael Dickinson, as the chief executive officer, and Dickinson’s hand-picked chief financial officer, Mike Davis, who was paid $120,000 per year, were terminated.
Subsequently, the district was sued by the parents of one of its students, a 16-year-old girl. In that suit, it is alleged that the girl, who was then 15-years-old, had repeated sexual encounters with San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputy Nathan Gastineau, who was the girl’s mentor in her Police Explorer Scout activity that was coordinated at the academy. According to that suit, another student in October 2010 reported to officials at the Public Safety Academy an inappropriate relationship existed between the girl and Gastineau. A teacher told the principal at the school, who did not contact authorities, the lawsuit alleges. Depending on the outcome of the case, the San Bernardino City Unified School District, which chartered the Public Safety Academy, could be on the hook for millions of dollars.
In April 2011, the Adelanto Charter Academy was closed down when its sponsoring district, the Adelanto School District, revoked its charter after learning the academy was plagued with fiscal mismanagement, poor or non-existent record keeping, problems with teacher-to-student ratios and unsanitary food handling.
In February, 2011 the Victor Valley Union High School District Board of Trustees closed down the High Desert Academy of Applied Arts and Sciences based on the school’s failure, after nearly six years, to achieve accreditation.
In the Chino Valley Unified School District, the Oxford Preparatory Academy, a charter school, has had notable academic success, boasting the best Standard Testing And Reporting scores in San Bernardino County. The operation of the school, however, has put a financial strain on the district. Moreover, some parents of students who have not been accepted at the school have expressed disenchantment with what they consider to be an unjustifiable elitism in the arrangement that provides what appear to be unequal education opportunities to district students. The school board, under pressure from parents of children who attend Oxford Preparatory, in late December approved a five-year renewal of Oxford Preparatory Academy’s charter. But the district embittered critics when last month it denied a charter petition submitted by Neighborhood Arts and Sciences Academy because the school district lacked the financial means to fund that school.
Making its way through the legislature at this time is Assembly Bill 1172, which would permit school boards to turn down a charter school petition if that school would have a negative fiscal impact on the school district. The bill was recommended for a vote of the entire Assembly by a margin of 7 to 4 when it came before the Assembly Committee on Education on January 11.
Assembly Bill 1172 would amend existing charter school law so that school districts can deny a charter petition if the district has received a qualified or negative financial certification, or if the district demonstrates fiscal distress through its budget process, or if the district applies for or has received an emergency apportionment or loan under the oversight of a state administrator or trustee, or if the district, due to declining pupil enrollment, is closing a school that a charter school petition has identified as the proposed site for its charter school.
Under current law, a school board can deny a petition if the district has determined that the charter school has presented an unsound educational program in its charter request, or if the district makes a finding that the petitioners are unlikely to successfully implement the program, or if the petition fails to provide comprehensive descriptions of the school’s educational program, measurable student outcomes, governance structure and other operational requirements, or if the petition lacks the requisite number of signatures.
AB 1172 would provide many school districts  with grounds to deny a charter petition as most districts are reporting that they are likely to run deficits in 2013-14 without the imposition of severe cutbacks, including  laying off of teachers or other personnel.

Miller To Seek Reelection In SB County’s 31st District

Gary Miller, who has served as congressman in California’s 42nd Congressional District for nine years and was congressman in the 41st Congressional District for four years previous to that, will seek the Republican nomination this year in the newly drawn 31st District, he recently announced.
Miller’s residence is in Diamond Bar. The safely Republican 42nd encompasses all or portions of Chino, Chino Hills, Rowland Heights, La Habra, Brea, Yorba Linda, and Diamond Bar. The 31st District covers all or portions of Rancho Cucamonga, Redlands, Rialto, Loma Linda, Grand Terrace, Colton, Muscoy, Ontario and San Bernardino.
Miller remains a resident of Diamond Bar, which is now part of the new 39th  Congressional District. He has opted not to run there, since Ed Royce, like Miller an incumbent Republican, is vying in that district.
Miller will not need to relocate into the new 31st Congressional District to run there. Many voters will be surprised to learn that unlike city, county, and state requirements for elected officials as well as federal requirements for senators and the presidency, there is no requirement that members of Congress reside in the district each represents.
According to the U.S. Constitution, a member of Congress must be at least 25 years old, a citizen of the United States for at least seven years, and an inhabitant of the state from which elected.
In Article I, section 2 the Constitution states: “No Person shall be a Representative who shall not have attained to the Age of twenty five Years, and been seven Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State in which he shall be chosen.”
Congressional as well as state legislative districts are redrawn every 10 years following a U.S. census. California requires residency in legislative districts, but, like all states, cannot mandate the same of congressional candidates since the federal constitution trumps any state efforts.
Miller announced his candidacy in the 31st following an official announcement from Representative Jerry Lewis, R-Redlands, that he will retire after 17 terms in Congress. Mr. Lewis, is the congressman from the current 41st District, a portion of which has been folded into the new 31st District.
Miller couched his announcement in terminology suggesting his candidacy in the 31st District will be a stand against the Democratic Party and an effort to change the complexion of the California Delegation.
“California is losing a tremendous amount of influence in Washington with the recent retirements of Jerry, [Republican California Congressman from Northern California] Wally Herger and [Republican Congressman from Central California] Elton Gallegly. There are serious challenges ahead if we are going to rein in out-of-control spending, fight President {Barack]Obama’s efforts to increase taxes and fix our economy,” Miller stated in a news release. “We are losing decades of seniority with these retirements and it will mean California’s congressional delegation has to work that much harder to protect California’s interests.”
The most immediate issue facing him in the effort, however, is obtaining the Republican nomination. Miller appears on course for a potentially bruising internecine GOP battle with current state senator Robert Dutton,  who hails from Rancho Cucamonga, to capture the nomination.
Miller has more than $1 million in his campaign war chest. He is actively seeking more money for electioneering purposes, having retained the services of Revolvis Consulting to oversee his campaign.
But Dutton, who served two terms on the Rancho Cucamonga City Council, two years in the California Assembly and seven  years in the California Senate, the last two as Republican leader, is no slouch either. He is the scion of the Dutton Family. His father, Ted, is a wealthy speculator, landowner and developer.
Whoever claws his way to the top of the Republican heap in the new 31st will not have a free ride in November. Previously, local GOP Congressman – Miller, Lewis, David Dreier – enjoyed the comfort and advantage of running in districts where the Republicans held a decided voter registration advantage over Democrats. That is not the case in the 31st which leans slightly in favor of Democrats.
While the GOP predominates in Rancho Cucamonga and Grand Terrace and holds a marginal lead in Redlands and Loma Linda, the cities of Rialto, Colton, Muscoy, Ontario and San Bernardino are Democratic bastions.
Among the Democrats, Redlands mayor Pete  Aguilar and Renea Wickman are declared candidates for their party’s nomination.
Both Miller and Dutton believe they can win in November because of the Republican tendency for greater voter turnout and their relatively superior fundraising capability. Nevertheless, each will need to avoid a Donnybrook in which they bleed one another white in the race for the Republican nomination.

29 Palms Tweaks Development Code To Accommodate Phoenix Plan

TWENTYNINE PALMS—The city of Twentynine Palms has initiated a change in its development code, amending it to allow previously prohibited housing and governmental offices in the downtown commercial area.
Over the last two years, city officials have conceptualized and refined what is referred to as Project Phoenix, which calls for a makeover of the city’s central district with an eye toward  returning 21 currently vacant properties  to viability.
Project Phoenix was originally conceived of as an energetic effort to utilize funding that was anticipated to be available through the city’s redevelopment agency to rejuvenate the city’s core, including building a community center and performing center/theater, workforce housing, a wastewater treatment plant, underground utilities and improved alleyways, curbs and sidewalks.
The state’s discontinuation of municipal redevelopment authority has complicated but not eradicated the concept and city officials believe that the project can be seen to fruition through the use of creative financing means that will substitute for if not exactly replicate redevelopment authority, which provided for the eradication of blight through the issuance of bonds and use the proceeds from the sale of those bonds to build infrastructure or public works projects to spur economic development. Redevelopment law allowed the increase in property values prompted by those improvements to create a revenue stream devoted to debt service those bonds.
City Attorney Patrick Muñoz alluded to a private residential developer who would put up a large portion of the money needed to carry out Project  Phoenix.
Moreover, a lawmaker from another portion of San Bernardino County has suggested that cities may soon be able to form and utilize another type of municipal government adjunct to finance improvement projects if all of the governmental agencies sharing in the property tax in that particular area agree to the formation of such a district.
Assemblywoman Norma J. Torres, D-Chino, who chairs the Assembly committee on Housing and Community Development and represents the 61st Assembly District, said  “Our cities need a local source of funds to pay for economic development and affordable housing projects. We  need to find a new way to help cities and counties create jobs. One way is through the use of infrastructure financing districts. That is why I have drafted a bill, Assembly Bill 910, to allow affordable housing and economic development to be financed using infrastructure financing districts. Infrastructure financing districts can be used by cities and counties now to pay for public works improvements like sewer projects, highways and transit projects. Also, an infrastructure financing district allows a city or county to issue bonds and use tax increment to pay for projects. Projects are more limited because every local agency that will contribute property tax must agree to the plan.”
Whatever financing mechanism the city will use to proceed with Project Phoenix, the plan was hampered at the municipal planning level because of inconsistencies in the city’s development code.
The Twentynine Palms Downtown Specific Plan, which previously set development standards in the central business district, prohibits the construction of ground level housing or a civic center complex there.
On January 24, the city council unanimously approved a code amendment changing the land use standards in commercial districts, to allow the civic center containing a theater and workforce housing project to be built in the downtown area.
The changes have not yet been officially activated. They will need another city council confirmation, known as a second reading of the ordinance, followed by a 30 day period before they go into effect. The second reading is anticipated this month.
Some residents and property owners objected to the city council’s action. A few suggested that the council was far too ready to deviate from its own standards when it was convenient for its own ends and far less accommodating of property owners or developers who wanted to proceed with their own plans.
“I think the city should play by the same rules,” said Jamie Avels.
Of concern to some was the city’s readiness to raze several historic buildings to make way for the project. Jay St. Gaudens said his building was built in 1936 and is still sound and functional. He said that under the law, the city will need to relocate any existing businesses that are displaced by the project.  St. Gaudens said he valued his property at $1.2 million.
The council also provided what is known as a mitigated negative declaration for Project Phoenix, that is, it made a finding that there were no unmitigatable environmental impacts from the project. This eliminated the need for the city to do an environmental impact report on the project. The council took that action despite the city having received a notice from the California Department of Fish and Game that a biological survey of the burrowing owl needs to be conducted before the project gets underway.
Some residents indicated their belief that without the redevelopment agency to finance the project, the city will not be able to complete it.
Councilman Jay Corbin said he would reluctantly vote to approved the code amendment and negative declaration, but that the city should “acknowledge we don’t know with certainty whether Project Phoenix will go forward.” He said the city should use caution because the development code change would impact “what people can and cannot build.”
Previously, residents have questioned whether the income from a rejuvenated downtown will be sufficient to pay for and maintain the sewer system and the downtown community center complex.
City manager Richard Warne said it would cost roughly $115,000 annually to maintain the wastewater treatment plant. He said leases of space within the community center complex could defray its maintenance costs. There are a total of 39 properties in the Project Phoenix redevelopment area, 18 of which host active businesses.
There is concern among some property owners that the city will use eminent domain to seize properties, vacant or not, to undertake the project.