Victorville Escalates Defiance By Denying County Probation CUP

Victorville’s deteriorating relationship with the county of San Bernardino worsened this week when the city council refused to overturn two previous planning commission decisions to disallow the probation department permission to open a day reporting center for probationers near City Hall.
Not to be outdone, the county’s chief probation officer in the aftermath of the council’s decision indicated her department will  process an increased number of released prisoners out of its existing facility which lies a stone’s throw from the civic center.
The issue in contention is a conditional use permit by Heide Hart to allow her property located at 15456 West Sage Street to be used as a day reporting center where from 145 to a maximum of 175 released convicted offenders would report on weekdays and where roughly 75 county employees would work.
On January 12, 2012, the city of Victorville’s planning commission heard that matter and voted 5-0, based upon planning staff’s recommendation and input heard at the meeting, to deny the conditional use permit. According to a staff report, the proposed reporting center as proposed failed to meet standards specified in the Victorville Municipal Code.
Hart and the county probation department appealed the matter to the city council, which directed that the planning commission reconsider the matter. The planning commission did so on March 14, 2012 and again declined to issue the conditional use permit.
A petition for reconsideration was submitted to the city and this week, on Tuesday April 3, the city council heard the matter.
With councilman Jim Kennedy absent, the council voted 3-1 to uphold the planning commission’s original and follow-up denials of the conditional use permit.  Councilwoman Angela Valles cast the dissenting vote.

Michelle Scray

County officials, including  chief probation officer Michele Scray, along with attorneys Diana Carloni-Nourse and James Bruce Minton, who represented Hart, asserted that as many as 100 probationers already report to an existing smaller probation office that is proximate to City Hall. They maintained that denial of Hart’s and the county probation department’s application would not prevent convicted probationers from saturating the area, which is also host to the Victorville Courthouse, where large numbers of both criminal defendants and convicted criminals congregate. The larger facility was needed, probation officials insisted, to keep pace with the number of probationers already being seen as well as the increasing number of post-release prisoners from the state penal system placed into the community under county supervision, a consequence of Assembly Bill 109, the state’s prison realignment plan. County probation officials intended to shutter the current office on Civic Center Drive in favor of the more spacious facility on West Sage Street.
The county presented to the city letters from 41 business owners in the environs of City Hall who said they had not experienced problems as a consequence of the significant number of probationers massing in the area and that they did not believe the placement of the expanded office onto West Sage Street would endanger public safety or hamper the business climate.
Nevertheless, the city council voted against permitting the use.

Ryan McEachron

“It’s not compatible with the zoning in that area,” said mayor Ryan McEachron, speaking for the three-person majority.
One telling advocate against allowing the project approval was former Victorville mayor and councilmember Terry Caldwell, whose law office is located in the area. Caldwell called the probation reporting office in that section of town a “non-correctly permitted use” at the March 14 planning commission meeting.
Victorville continues to cooperate with the county on several levels, including contracting with the sheriff’s department for law enforcement service, and participates in a number of joint powers authorities and collectives with the county, such as San Bernardino Associated Governments (SANBAG), which serves as the county’s transportation agency, and the Victor Valley Economic Development Authority (VVEDA), which is overseeing the civilian conversion of the former George Air Force Base. Nevertheless, Victorville has been smarting ever since the county in 2008 elected to construct its major High Desert regional government center in Hesperia near Hesperia City Hall rather on property proximate to Victorville City Hall.
Scray indicated her department would not accept that Victorville could use its power to withhold conditional use permits to restrict probation operations and that the post-release community supervision program would simply function out of the existing smaller quarters.
“Irrespective of the decision by the Victorville City Council, the probation department is committed to public safety and will operate a day reporting center in the current Civic Drive location,” Scray said in a written statement.

Adelanto School At Ground Zero Of Parent Trigger Movement

In Adelanto, the seventh smallest of San Bernardino County’s 24 cities, a crucial test of an obscure provision of the state of California’s Educational Code is playing out, thrusting the mostly blue collar desert community of 31,765 into the national limelight.
A group of parents at Desert Trails Elementary School, backed and perhaps even prompted by a controversial organization advocating parental primacy over professional teachers in California’s public education system, is seeking to employ the Parent Empowerment Act, also known by the colloquialism parent trigger, in a bid to make a host of what they insist are necessary reforms, including sacking the school’s principal and a major portion of the faculty in favor of a parent-run charter school.
Adelanto, which is not a hotbed of intellectualism nor known for being on the cutting-edge of societal innovation, is an unlikely venue for the drama being played out. But a combination of factors, including disparate and even contradictory influences, is driving the effort to employ the parent trigger. Meanwhile, many parents in the district are opposing a parent takeover every bit as vigorously as others are encouraging it.
Under the state’s 2010 Parent Empowerment Act, authored by former state senator Gloria Romero, a majority of parents at a school at which students test out as low-performers on state academic tests can force a district to implement significant reforms, ranging from replacing the principal and up to half the staff to reopening the school as a charter academy.
In the Adelanto Unified School District, the “parent trigger” movement manifested at 642-student Desert Trails Elementary, located on Bellflower Street north of Palmdale Road, where pupils there have consistently scored among the bottom 10 percent of students statewide in California’s standardized testing program for the last eight years. The school has been on the federal Program Improvement watch list for failing schools since 2005.
Parent Revolution, a nonprofit promoting parental control of schools in the Greater Los Angeles area, last year undertook to use the Parent Empowerment Act to effectuate a parent takeover at low performing McKinley Elementary in Compton, but that undertaking ultimately failed in a tangle of bureaucratic, legal and political resistance from the Compton School District. As early as last summer, Parent Revolution organizers approached parents in Adelanto in an effort to interest them in the concept of utilizing the parent trigger.
In November, a handful of Desert Trails parents signed onto the effort and by January, the movement had become something of a juggernaut. Ultimately, petition gatherers for the group succeeded in gathering 464 parent signatures, putatively representing nearly 69 percent of the students at Desert Trails. Those petitions, which were turned over to the district on January 12, called upon the district to relieve David Mobley as Desert Trails principal and surrender to the school’s parents authority in hiring his successor, infuse in the new principal hiring authority for the school’s faculty, reduce class sizes and increase the number of school days and instructional hours, and include more science, history and art in the curriculum. If those demands were met, parents were amenable to keeping the school under the authority of the school district. If the demands were not met, they called for Desert Trails Elementary to be converted to a community charter academy operated under the aegis of the Desert Trails Kids First nonprofit.
Yet even as the group was experiencing success in its push for the so-called reforms, it suffered setbacks. As the movement progressed, it garnered attention from local media and the community at large. Some of the parents openly advocating for a parent takeover made statements at a variance with those made by other parent trigger advocates. Some publicly revealed they had withdrawn their children from the school, invalidating their participation as petitioners. It was soon revealed that the Parent Trigger movement in Adelanto was a less-than-indigenous one, with activists from the Parent Revolution organization having used donations from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to rent a house in Adelanto to serve as the parent union headquarters.
A counter-parental trigger group formed, initially consisting of parents from Desert Trails Elementary who questioned whether the parents of poor-performing students in the district had the education, understanding, intelligence level, expertise or sophistication to take on the function, individually or collectively, of school administrators. In time, though, that group would find its independence questioned, when it was demonstrated that it was being assisted by the California Teachers Association.
In February, the school district, to whom the parent trigger petitions had been entrusted, announced that it had validated the signatures of only 317 of the 666 signatures on the petitions.

Darrin Brawley

Thus, district superintendent Darin Brawley, maintained, the petition drive had failed.
According to Brawley, 252 of the invalidated signatures either did not match the signatures for the parents on file, or the attached information was plagued by wrong or missing grade levels, names and addresses. The district also invalidated petitions in English that were signed by the parents of children who had previously requested that the district provide them with communications in Spanish.
In addition, at least 97 parents rescinded their signatures, amid the accusations on both sides that harassment and intimidation tactics were used in the effort to have parents affix their signatures to or withdraw their signatures from the petition.
Overall, the district maintained, the percentage of parents endorsing the parent-led reform package dropped from the 69 percent initially claimed by the Desert Trail Kids First organization to 47.6 percent, less than the 50 percent plus one threshold required.
The district’s action at once prompted a virulent reaction. Kirkland & Ellis LLP, a multinational law firm with offices in Chicago, Hong Kong, London, Munich, New York, Palo Alto, San Francisco, Shanghai, Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles that represented Compton parents when they had sought to utilize the parent trigger law to force the overhaul of McKinley Elementary School last year, leapt into the breach.  Mark Holscher, a Kirkland & Ellis attorney, charged that the counter-reform parents group had been assisted by the California Teachers Association and had engaged in fraud and misrepresentations in inducing parents who had signed the petition to rescind their endorsements.
“I write to demand, on behalf of the parents and their children, that the Adelanto School District Board of Trustees immediately reverse its February 21, 2012 board findings and action with respect to the petition, which unlawfully returned the petition to the parents claiming it included signatures representing less than 50% of the students actively enrolled at Desert Trails,” Holscher wrote in a letter dated February 27. “Among other things, the board improperly discounted valid petition signatures from parents representing 97 students based on alleged ‘revocations,’ which are not authorized under the parent trigger law. Even more disturbing, we have uncovered improper conduct based on ample evidence that these improper ‘revocations’ were secured through harassment, false statements, and intimidation. Finally, and most alarmingly, we have also discovered compelling evidence of potential criminal conduct, that the revocations submitted here were falsified or forged. The petition submitted to the board on January 12, 2012 met all of the requirements set forth under the parent trigger law and regulations, including all disclosure obligations to ensure that parents were provided adequate and accurate information about the reforms sought.”
In his letter, Holscher charged that Brawley “and the board of trustees have failed to uphold the parents’ right to petition by your unlawful action. Among other things, the board discounted signatures representing 97 students whose parents signed and submitted valid petitions. Its basis for doing, relying on so-called ‘revocations,’ was improper. The Election Code forbids voters from withdrawing their signature from a petition once it is filed with election officials.  School districts are expressly instructed to determine the number of signatures based on the date of submission of the petition. There is no basis to discount signatures based on purported misunderstandings, particularly where the petition was already submitted to the district and complied with all disclosure obligations.”
Holscher said a review of the revocations received from the district showed they were “flatly inadequate. Here, the ‘revocations’ consist of nothing more than a check-list form providing a number of purported reasons for revoking a signature and a line for a parent to sign and identify his or her child. This form does not identify who created it, does not disclose the identity of the person or entity circulating it, and doesn’t provide any of the detailed information required for petitions themselves under the Parent Trigger law. All of the supposed ‘reasons’ listed on the form are nothing more than conclusory, boiler-plate, pre-printed statements, such as claiming the signor was ‘misinformed,’ ‘did not understand’ or was ‘given false statements or false promises.’ While the form provides parents’ space to ‘explain’ certain answers, almost none of the parents supposedly signing these forms provided any explanation. It is also obvious that the district made no effort to investigate the validity of these forms, nor did it purport to contact any of the parents who supposedly signed these forms. In several cases, the parent signing the revocation form was not even the parent who signed the petition form (in which case it would be absurd for that non-signing parent to make claims in connection with a petition he or she did not sign). Several of these revocation forms are not even signed. In sum, it is clear that the forms themselves are insufficient to justify discounting valid petition signatures, and the district compounded its improper conduct by failing to make any effort to investigate or authenticate the information or signatures supposedly provided in these forms.”
Holscher said his law firm had documented proof of “two examples where revocation forms submitted on behalf of two parents appear to have been fraudulently altered. In one version of the form, no boxes listing reasons for rescinding the petition are checked, and another version includes one or more boxes checked. The only plausible explanation is that some person or organization with access to these revocation forms filled in these boxes after the parent signed the form without checking any boxes. Both parents have signed sworn declarations stating that they did not check any boxes on the revocation form.”  According to Holscher, the parents also claimed they did not understand that they were revoking their earlier endorsement of the parent trigger plan.
District officials maintain that if any alterations of the rescission documents were made, they occurred before the documents were provided to the district.
Holscher said the district and those involved in the counter-trigger group engaged in “an improper campaign of harassment, false statements, and intimidation. Among other things, there are reports that parents were told blatant lies about the goals of the petition in order to secure signatures on these revocation forms. Some parents were told that their children would not be able to attend Desert Trails if it was converted to a charter school, despite a requirement under the regulations that any school transformed under the parent trigger law must continue to serve ‘all pupils.’  In other cases, parents were falsely told that if the petition succeeded, the school would be closed down, or that all of the teachers would be fired.”
Holscher warned Brawley and the board, “We are contacting the local district attorney to request that he investigate these falsifications. On behalf of the parents, we demand that the board reverse its findings to reject those signatures, and proceed with approving the petition.”
In response to Holscher’s letter, the district has agreed to reinstate as valid two of the revoked signatures.  Still the same, on March 28, the Adelanto School District’s board of trustees voted 5-0 to reject the Desert Trails Parent Union’s petition to transform Desert Trails Elementary into a charter campus, based upon its finding that the parent’s union failed to win the support of parents representing at least half of the school’s 642 students.
Parents on both sides of the issue maintain those on the opposing end have used deception, harassment and unacceptable intimidation in pursuing their ends. The California Teachers Association acknowledges it was opposed to the parent trigger bill when it was being considered by the legislature and that it had provided information and assistance in the way of advice and references to the law to anti-Trigger parents in Adelanto, but that the actual gathering of the rescission petitions was left to parents.
Holscher vowed his firm will proceed with a writ in San Bernardino Superior Court for an order for the district to comply with the parents’ request under the Parent Empowerment Act.  Thus, the matter appears yet to be resolved.
Some consider the bid to have Adelanto achieve notoriety as the locality where parent empowerment was first activated as a tribute to the community and the commitment and tenacity of its citizens as legislation similar to the California Parent Trigger Law is being considered in at least 18 other states. Others see the drama in the Adelanto School District as an unseemly spectacle, with agitators in the parent trigger movement seeking to exploit large numbers of parents at Desert Trail Elementary School whose own educational shortcomings, including a lack of facility in the English language, has contributed to the poor academic performance of their own children.

Twice Approved Mosque Now Hit With Third Legal Challenge

After twice succeeding at the county planning and governmental level with its application to establish a mosque in an unincorporated pocket of county land between Ontario and the Los Angeles County line on the east and west and between the Chino and Montclair city limits on the south and north, the Al-Nur Islamic Center will now have to sustain the expense of defending its effort to build a temple in court.
A group of homeowners living near the proposed project site on a 1.54-acre parcel at 4797 W. Phillips Boulevard approximately 330 feet east of Yorba Avenue have filed a lawsuit to block or delay the construction of the mosque, asserting it will harm the environment and overwhelm the rural character of their neighborhood with excessive traffic.
Rashid Ahmed, chairman of the Al-Nur Islamic Center, applied on March 12, 2010 for a permit that would provide for the establishment of a 16,763 square foot structure that was to include a variety of ancillary uses such as a caretaker’s unit, a multipurpose hall, senior citizen activity center, senior citizen library, kitchen, health clinic, and nine classrooms. Ultimately, the scope of the project was scaled back and the county planning commission by a 4-1 vote on December 8, 2011 granted a conditional use permit for the 7,512-square religious center, which is to have a maximum occupancy of 262 people.
Nearby residents, however, led by Jim Weedell, appealed the county planning commission’s approval to the county board of supervisors. On February 28, the board heard that appeal and voted 4-1, with supervisor Gary Ovitt dissenting, to follow county land use director Christine Kelly’s recommendation to deny the appeal and uphold the project approval. That approval of the project included conditions for the inclusion of 88 parking spaces at the site, limitations on motorists entering and exiting the project site such that they could do so by means of right turns only,  the requirement of a minimum 10-foot wide landscaped setback in conjunction with a maximum six-foot high decorative block wall to provide buffering between the mosque and the existing residences, which is intended to shield the adjacent properties from any headlights from cars exiting or entering the site. There was also an apparent requirement that the property be annexed to the city of Chino so the property could hook into that city’s sewer system.
Despite those conditions,  a local homeowners group calling itself “Save Our Uniquely Rural Community Environment” hired an attorney, Torrance-based attorney Victor Otten, who  filed a lawsuit last week on the group’s behalf in San Bernardino Superior Court.
Citing the California Environmental Quality Act, the suit alleges the approved plans for the mosque do not adequately mitigate negative effects on residents’ views, traffic, wastewater system and water runoff.
“This proposed project changes the quiet rural character of the neighborhood with an unwanted increase of vehicular traffic and parking,” the suit states. “It will also result in environmental impacts related to aesthetics, landscape, views, construction, sewage and runoff impacts from the project.”
The suit requests that the court cancel the county’s approval of the mosque and require the completion of an environmental impact report that must be incorporated into a future application for reapproval.

Embattled Upland Fire Chief Put Out To Pasture

After nearly a year of vituperation and criticism from a portion of the community, Upland fire chief Michael Antonucci has departed the city for good.

Michael Antonucci

Antonucci was forced into retirement in September, but was given a $78,163 six-month contract to remain as chief while his successor was sought.
Beginning last April, a campaign aimed at convincing the Upland City Council to terminate Antonucci was waged by a coterie of residents and former and current department employees. Many of the attacks on the chief manifested in the form of anonymous emails posted to the city council.
Antonucci was taken to task on a number of points, including allegations he had disciplined, fired or punished some department employees unjustifiably, promoted or kept in place unqualified personnel, and squandered money made available to the city from both the federal government and Lewis Operating Company on equipment that has been deployed in a way that endangers rather than enhances citizen safety.
One issue Antonucci was chastised for was the decision to purchase two vehicles for the department: a ladder truck and a Type IV engine.
The $1.5 million ladder truck was purchased with development fees paid to the city by Lewis Operating Company, the corporate parent to Lewis Homes, one of the city’s largest corporations and also one of the major builders of residential and commercial property in town.
The ladder truck is the capital engine at Fire Station 164, the city’s newest fire station, located at 1825 N. Campus Avenue. The ladder truck, which allows firefighters to access and exit from heights up to four stories, carries no fire suppression equipment, i.e., no water pump and no water tank. This use of the $1.5 million vehicle was questioned because as the primary first response piece of equipment run out of Station #164, which services the northeast portion of Upland, critics maintained, immediate fire suppression in that section of the city would be delayed because no pump truck is stationed at Station #164.
The $170,000 Type IV engine was purchased with a combination of redevelopment funds, Community Development Block grants and federal stimulus and recovery money. The engine had gone unmanned at Station 162, on San Antonio Ave., in the northern area of the city. The placement of the truck into that area has been criticized because Community Development Block grant funding of a project carries with it a requirement that the program benefit an area deemed a so-called CDBG fund area.  The area served by Station 162 is not designated as a CDBG fund area.
While Antonucci, at the insistence of  Upland’s city attorney Bill Curley, remained silent in the face of those attacks, other Upland municipal officials downplayed the charges, insisting that Antonucci was apportioning the city’s firefighting resources as sensibly as the limitations in equipment, facilities and manpower allowed.
Upland city manager Stephen Dunn pointed out that the ladder truck carries 500 gallons of foam and 60 gallons of water to make up to 1,200 gallons of air injected foam, which in the fire department’s estimation was more than enough for initial response, and the truck had the capability of tapping into the fire hydrants in most areas of the city and all of the fire hydrants in the Station 164 area, which Dunn said would buy sufficient time for a second response truck to arrive. Dunn defended the acquisition and use of the ladder truck, saying having a panoply of equipment and vehicles in a modern municipal circumstance enhanced public safety and did not harm it.
“In Upland there are not a whole lot but there are some buildings where a ladder truck would be advantageous and a better option than other trucks, which are advantageous in other scenarios,” Dunn said.
Antonucci was also criticized for having spent money extravagantly in outfitting Station #164 with granite counter-tops and full granite back-splashes and stainless steel appliances, and he came under attack for having the department purchase a command vehicle that could not be justified in terms of the austere budgetary climate and the simple mission of ensuring public safety.
In the spring of last year, even as the attacks against him were reaching a crescendo, Antonucci applied for the position of county fire chief but was ultimately passed over in favor of Mark Hartwig, an assistant chief then employed by the Rancho Cucamonga Fire Department.
Ultimately, Dunn resolved to winnow the city of much of its executive staff, including Antonucci, who was being paid a base salary and add-ons of $170,698, plus benefits of $71,692 for a total of $242,390 yearly. But no new fire chief was hired to replace him and before Antonucci left in September, he was permitted to write his own ticket as a consultant at $13,027.16 per month while the city sought to recruit his replacement. This led to stepped up criticism of the city.
It was announced this week that police chief Jeff Mendenhall will serve as interim fire chief in the aftermath of Antonucci’s departure.
Dunn’s move to place the police chief into that position broaches the possibility of the city eliminating the position of fire chief altogether and consolidating the police and fire chief positions into the single post of public safety manager, which was a system used in the city of Arcadia until 1936 and currently in Grants Pass, Oregon.
There is some precedent for this arrangement in Upland. In the 1990s, then-police chief Martin Thouvenell served as both police  and fire chief for almost six years.

Recent Colonies Case Developments Include Filing And Sentencing Delay

Judge Michael Smith last week continued the sentencing of former county supervisor and assessor Bill Postmus until July 19. In March 2011, Postmus entered into a plea deal with prosecutors, acknowledging he was guilty of perjury, conspiracy, bribe soliciting and bribe taking in connection with his vote as a member of the board of supervisors in November 2006 to confer a $102 million payment on the Colonies Partners. That payment was made to settle a lawsuit that development company brought against the county over flood control issues at the Colonies at San Antonio project in north Upland.

Bill Postmus

Prosecutors maintain Colonies co-managing principal Jeff Burum with the assistance of former county sheriff’s deputies union/assistant assessor Jim Erwin bribed Postmus and former supervisor Paul Biane, together with Mark Kirk, the former chief-of-staff to supervisor Gary Ovitt, by routing separate $100,000 contributions to political action committees Postmus, Biane and Kirk controlled. Postmus, Biane and Ovitt provided the three votes needed to make the $102 million settlement with the Colonies Partners.
Biane, Burum, Erwin and Kirk were indicted in May 2011 on extortion, bribery, and conspiracy charges. All four are maintaining their innocence. As part of his plea arrangement, Postmus agreed to testify against the four defendants when the case comes to trial.
Criminal proceedings in the case have been suspended pending an appellate court ruling on conflicting filings by both sides. The appellate court is considering the prosecution’s effort to reinstate some of the charges that were dismissed against three of the defendants last summer by Judge Brian McCarville in response to demurrers filed by defense attorneys. The appellate court is also considering motions by defense attorneys to dismiss even more of the charges.
The four defendants are set to return to court on April 20 for a discovery motion and lawyers said they seriously doubted the case will go to trial before July, which will perhaps entail a further delay in Postmus’s sentencing.
In the meantime, lawyers for Burum and the Colonies Partners are seeking dismissal of a civil lawsuit brought by two citizens groups seeking the return of the $102 million legal settlement to taxpayers.
In February, the Inland Oversight Committee and Citizens for Responsible Equitable Environmental Development filed suit, alleging that the indictment of Burum, Biane, Erwin and Kirk along with the guilty plea by Postmus presented grounds upon which to void the settlement and force the Colonies Partners to disgorge the $102 million.

Jeff Burum

Four lawyers from two different law firms – Stephen Larson, Steven Bledsoe and Jonathan Phillips of Los Angeles-based Arent Fox and Scott Summer of San Francisco-based Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman – assert in a demurrer on behalf of Burum that the citizens groups do not have standing to file the lawsuit, that their legal argument is flawed and that the statute of limitations has lapsed.
Because the nonprofit citizens groups were not parties to the initial litigation, according to the demurrer, they do not have standing to bring the lawsuit. Moreover, according to Larson, Bledsoe, Phillips and Summer, the suit is six years late and should have been brought at the time of the settlement, putting it beyond the statute of limitations for a civil proceeding.
According to the demurrer, a trial relating to the flood control issues had been held in which the judge, Christopher Warner, had found in the Colonies favor but had not ruled as to the amount of damages.  Therefore, the demurrer states, “Plaintiffs’ complaint is a misguided, untimely and legally unsupported attempt to unwind the settlement and force Colonies to return the $102 million paid pursuant to the judgment.”
The demurrer further states “because plaintiffs are not parties to the settlement, they lack standing to bring an action” and that the “Plaintiff’s complaint fails because it is legally unsupported and untimely on its face.”
According to the demurrer, a validation action was carried out and completed by early 2007, in which those wishing to contest the settlement could have done so. None did so by the deadline, according to the demurrer, and so the settlement is now validated and irrevocable, attorneys say. The demurrer states, “as recognized by the court the validation judgment ‘binds and permanently enjoins and restrains all persons or entities, public or private, from the institution of any action or proceeding or maintaining any action or proceeding challenging, inter alia, the validity of the settlement agreement [or] the judgment.’”
But the matter is not that simple, said Cory Briggs, the attorney representing the Inland Oversight Committee and Citizens for Responsible Equitable Environmental Development in the suit. He said there are provisions in the law, specifically Government Code Section 1090, which prohibits an elected official from having a financial interest in any matter he or she votes on and that bribes paid to an elected official in return for a vote benefitting the bribe giver constitutes financial interest on the part of the elected official. He said the statute of limitations on a civil suit runs from the time that a plaintiff has firm and convincing evidence that something actionable occurred. That evidence manifested for the public, Briggs said, when Postmus entered his guilty plea.
“Bill Postmus pleaded guilty of violating Code 1090,” Briggs said. “The Supreme Court has said that a violation of Section 1090 required the beneficiary to return all the money. For that reason, the Colonies Partners have to give back the $102 million they obtained through governmental action tainted by bribery.”

Legal Challenge Spurs Legislative Fix For Calico Solar Project

The approval and environmental certification process for the Calico Solar project has complexified, as legislation to allow the undertaking to proceed has advanced in Sacramento even as environmentalists intensified their opposition to the project.
The project, to be built on 4,604 acres of public land in the Pisgah Valley north of Interstate 40 roughly 37 miles east of Barstow, was originally intended to utilize a cutting-edge process for converting the heat of the sun to drive a turbine and generate electricity. In that form the project’s then-sponsor, Arizona-based Tessera Solar, in 2010 obtained from  U.S. Secretary of the Interior  Ken Salazar approval for the project and qualified for federal stimulus money to defray a portion of the cost of the project. But last year, Tessera sold the project to New York-based K Road Power.  K Road has elected to abandon the original design, which involved parabolic mirrors to catch the sun’s rays and produce heat, and instead substitute photovoltaic cells.
Late last week, a bill to allow the Calico Solar project to receive state approval to change the technology upon which the project will rely, AB 1073, moved closer to passage in the state Legislature. AB 1073 was authored and sponsored by Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes, D-Sylmar. The bill passed the state Senate 28-2 on March 28 and is now being considered by the Assembly.
AB 1073 is an emergency measure, and as such it will take effect immediately upon passage by both houses and its signing into law by the governor. AB 1073 closes a loophole in a bill passed and signed by Governor Jerry Brown last year, SB 226, which permits the California Energy Commission to okay changes to approved projects rather than requiring rehearings and a repermitting process before local land use authorities. Under SB 226, opponents can still force rehearings or repermitting on altered projects if they are challenged in court, even if the case was dismissed.
Environmental groups have long been opposed to the Calico Solar project on the grounds that it will destroy or disrupt the habitat of the desert tortoises and golden eagles in the environs of Pisgah. The National Resources Defense Council last week filed a suit related to those issues in federal court, a move that under SB 226 would have forced K Road Power to reapply for approval.
As first proposed, the Calico Solar plant was to employ SunCatcher units, computer controlled parabolic mirrors.  The SunCatchers were to track the sun during daylight hours and focus an intense beam of light, i.e. heat, onto a glass tube filled with a synthetic petroleum product known as therminol. Therminol, based on its grade and rating, is capable of absorbing heat up to 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit. The therminol was then to be pumped across the outside of the differing chambers of a Sterling engine to heat gases within those chambers to drive the engine’s pistons. The engine would then turn a turbine that generates electricity.
Tessera’s  design was an improvement upon a similar computer-guided parabolic mirror solar ray-focusing set up that heated therminol, which was then routed into a heat converter that was brought into contact with water to create steam, which was used to run a turbine. It was believed the use of the Sterling engines would boost the efficiency  by as much as 17 percent over the steam driven turbine approach.
In October 2011, K Road abruptly switched to a plan to employ photovoltaic panels on the project.
Part of the rationale for changing the technology stemmed from the September bankruptcy filing of Sterling Energy Systems, which rendered ready availability of the Sterling engines problematic. Another factor was the decrease in the cost of photovoltaic cells over the last three years.
“The switch to PV was primarily based on our decision to use a more proven technology and to be online faster than we could with the SunCatchers,” K Road put out in a public statement.
While the photovoltaic cells will not generate as much electricity as the mirror/therminol/Stirling engine configuration, they can be erected and be brought on line much more quickly. Originally planned to generate 850 megawatts, the plant has been pared back to 663.5 megawatts. When fully operational, the project will provide electricity sufficient to power about 250,000 homes.

Manhole Cover Thefts Plaguing Barstow

There have been a wave of manhole cover thefts in Barstow in recent weeks.
The covers are an attractive target for thieves because their weight fetches a decent monetary return at scrapyards.
The circumstance represents a hazard to the public as the thefts often occur at night and leave passersby vulnerable to injury or death if they fall into the uncovered manholes.
Upon discovery of the thefts, city public works employees endeavor to cover the holes with plastic materials.
City manager Curt Mitchell said the city is now looking to purchase lighter but durable composite manhole covers with locking mechanisms, which have virtually no salvage value, as a permanent replacement.

R.C. Councilman Decries Red Tape, Bureaucracy & Governmental Interference

Rancho Cucamonga City Councilman Bill Alexander this week told the Sentinel  he believes government in general has become too complex and is nearly as much of a burden on businesses and citizens as it is a civilizing influence with a positive impact on the community and society.

Bill Alexander

Alexander spoke with a Sentinel reporter on April 2, while he was at Rancho Cucamonga City Hall to clarify for the city clerk’s office information requested with regard to his statements of economic interest, known in California as Form 700s. Alexander had come to the civic center after he was requested to fill out forms pertaining to his membership on committees, joint power authorities and commissions on which he is not currently or never was a member.
“They’re asking me for information that isn’t applicable, since I haven’t been on some of the commissions they are talking about for years,” he said.  “I can’t just not fill out the forms and that’s a little frustrating since the information they are requesting in some cases doesn’t exist.”
Alexander is a creature of government. A former fire captain with the city of Ontario, he is retired and pulling a public pension of more than $100,000. He was a member of the Rancho Cucamonga City Council from 1988 to 2004 and mayor of Rancho Cucamonga from 1994 to 2006. He ran for city council again in 2010 and was successful.
Nevertheless, he said, he considers government “way too complicated. The bureaucracy is ridiculous. It makes things way too difficult for people and businesses. I sometimes wonder why I ran for office.”
Alexander said his current mood was impacted by the challenge of having to fill out the Form 700s and a recent brush with federal tax authorities. “I was on the phone with the IRS,” he said. “They had me on hold for more than an hour and I never did get to talk to anybody.”
Asked point blank if he thought government has outlived its usefulness, Alexander said he still believed government to be necessary. “We need it,” he said.
He suggested there were reforms that could be applied.
“Well, for one, they could change the language in the documents and forms so the common person can understand them and you don’t need a lawyer to interpret them,” he said. “That would be a start.”

Barstow Councilman Cites Potential Conflict In Declining Board Berth

Barstow councilman Tim Silva this week declined an appointment to the oversight board for Barstow’s successor to its redevelopment agency. The seven member board is to consist of  two appointments by the mayor, two by the county board of supervisors, one by the Barstow Fire Protection District, one by the county superintendent of schools, and one by the chancellor of California community colleges.

Tim Silva

Silva was formerly the chairman of the city’s redevelopment agency board, which was composed of the members of the city council. Mayor Joe Gomez was set to appoint Silva to the oversight board, which is being formed to look after the utilization, disbursement and return of the redevelopment agency’s assets to the state in the aftermath of the state legislature’s elimination of municipal redevelopment agencies throughout California. But Silva said he believed there could be a conflict between his role on the panel and his employment in the mortgage industry, since the oversight board might have an impact on home mortgage-related issues.
Gomez instead appointed councilwoman Julie Hackbarth-McIntyre. Gomez also designated Margaret Carter, the city’s housing coordinator, as his second appointee on the board.

Newcombe Appointed Director Of County Public Works Department

Gerry Newcombe, who was previously serving in the capacity of deputy county executive officer, has been transferred into the position of county public works director.
Newcombe replaces Granville “Bow” Bowman, who has retired.
“Gerry has tackled many difficult assignments during his time as an executive with the county. Public works is one of the county’s most complex and challenging departments, and I am confident it will be in good hands with Gerry at the helm,” said county chief executive officer Greg Devereaux, who appointed Mr. Newcombe to the position.
As public works director, Newcombe will oversee the  department’s  transportation, flood control, solid waste, and surveying divisions. The department’s responsibilities are to maintain county roads, administer special transportation projects, manage surveyor functions, provide administrative oversights for the operation and management of the county’s solid waste system, and maintain an extensive system of flood control and water conservation facilities.
“I’ve gotten to know many of the excellent staff at public works over the years and am looking forward to the opportunity to work with them all. I appreciate Greg’s confidence in me and I’m anxious to get started,” Newcombe said.
Newcombe has been with the county for more than 30 years, most recently in the dual role of deputy executive officer and manager of the department of public works solid waste management division. As deputy executive officer, Newcombe has been responsible for managing the oversight of renewable energy projects in the county, working with cities on the possible regionalization of animal control, and overseeing several major capital projects, including the $150 million expansion of the jail system.
At one time, Newcombe also simultaneously oversaw five county departments, including land use, real estate services, architecture & engineering, fleet management, and facilities management.