Deal For Colorado River Medical Center Transfer Falls Through

NEEDLES—The arrangement to have Needles Hospital, Inc. purchase and operate the Colorado River Medical Center has fallen through and the city is now seeking to sell the facility to a non-profit division of AM Pharmacy, Inc., a for-profit enterprise.
The non-profit Needles Hospital, Inc. lost its opportunity after it failed to meet an April 26 deadline to prove it had the funding to make the purchase.
The city council in January voted to sell the Colorado River Medical Center and the 5.71 acres it sits upon to Needles Hospital, Inc. for $3,587,002. For that amount, Needles Hospital Inc. was to take possession of most assets and liabilities of the hospital, including accounts receivable, operating inventory in place, outstanding bills and unemployment obligations. Unassumed debts were to  be deducted from the purchase price, but the city was to keep any cash in the hospital’s coffers at the time of sale.
On January 27, the city represented by Mayor Ed Paget, and the board of hospital trustees represented by chairman Jeff Williams, and Needles Hospital, Inc. represented by Rebecca Valentine, signed a purchase agreement, opening escrow. Needles Hospital, Inc. was given until April 26 to show proof of funding for the purchase of the hospital and until May 25 to close escrow.
“The principal of Needles HospitaI, Inc.did not produce proof of financing by the stipulated deadline,” Needles city manager  David Brownlee told the Sentinel.
Needles Hospital, Inc., headed by Valentine, a former Needles councilwoman, has been seeking to arrange an $8.46 million  loan through the U.S. Department of Agriculture that would allow the non-profit to purchase the hospital and make necessary repairs, including reroofing the building, and upgrades, including putting in new boilers and wiring, to keep it operational.
On April 23, Valentine learned that the Department of Agriculture had not finalized approval of the loan and would not be able to provide  documentation of  the financing by the deadline.
Needles Hospital, Inc. sought to have the deadline for proving it had the financing extended until May 25 and the closing of escrow. In a specially-called meeting on April 27, the hospital board refused to grant that extension, effectively ending Needles Hospital, Inc.’s chance of acquiring the institution. Hospital board chairman Jeff Williams, who formerly served as Needles mayor when Valentine was on the city council, was the lone vote in support of granting the extension.
The city immediately moved to find another buyer for the hospital.
“The hospital board will now enter into negotiations with Mr. Bing Lum, principal of AM Pharmacy,” Brownlee said.
Along with other entities, Needles Hospital, Inc. and AM Pharmacy last year submitted competing proposals for the takeover of Colorado River Medical Center. After the other proposals were rejected, the hospital board on January 5 considered both Needles Hospital, Inc.’s and AM Pharmacy’s offers. The board seriously entertained AM’s overture, by which it proposed to buy the hospital and 5.71 acres of surrounding property without the accounts receivable for $3 million, with any debts deducted from the sale price. AM, which is a for-profit entity, had agreed to create a non-profit arm with which to operate Colorado River Medical Center, and have one of its employees, Bing Lum, who was raised in Needles, oversee the hospital operation. The board, however, rejected AM’s offer by a vote of 2-4 before ultimately accepting Needles Hospital, Inc.’s offer on a 3-2 vote. On January 10, the city council followed the hospital board’s recommendation, and voted to approve the sale to Needles Hospital, Inc.
The city took on ownership of the Colorado River Medical Center in April 2008 after Brentwood, Tennessee-based Lifepoint Hospitals, a for-profit corporation, embarked on an effort to move the institution’s equipment and personnel to another hospital it owned in Arizona, roughly 12 miles from Needles.
Because of long-running inadequate billing practices, including failures to invoice Medicare and Medi-Cal as well as insurance companies and patients in a timely fashion, the hospital has lost money, representing a financial liability to the city. The city created the board of trustees to oversee the hospital, and that panel, together with the city council, has come to a consensus that spinning the facility off to an independent operator is the best solution for ensuring that the community has adequate medical care without soaking the taxpayers.
In June 2010, Needles voters passed Measure Q, which called for keeping the hospital open and absolving the city of the financial burden of subsidizing the facility by having a non-profit entity selected to run the hospital.

Jermaine Wright Running Against Old Guard

Jermaine Wright said that as a candidate for First District supervisor, he represents the true antithesis to the entrenched political establishment that has held the county and the High Desert in its grip for too long.
The proof of that, Wright pointed out, is that he is the lone candidate in the field of 8 running for supervisor who tossed his hat in the ring before incumbent supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt withdrew from the race to run for Congress upon Representative Jerry Lewis’ retirement announcement in January.
“We need a change,” Wright said. “I’m tired of the corruption. I’m tired of people not caring about the community and just trying to prop themselves up. Politicians should serve the people. We have not been getting the service we deserve. I am not tied to any of the past problems the county has had. Five of my seven opponents are tied to, worked for, or are friends with or have taken money from the corruption of the past. As supervisors we had Bill Postmus and then Brad. Bob Smith worked for both Bill Postmus and Brad. Michael Orme worked for both. Russ Blewett was Brad’s mentor. He says he worked for Proposition 13 more than 30 years ago but now he doesn’t show up at the Hesperia City Council meetings when he knows they are going to be voting on increasing taxes. Bret Henry is a county employee union president who says he is going to fight to make things better for his one special interest group. Everyone thought I would jump out when they jumped in but I’m still going to fight for what I believe in.”
Wright has been a member of the Adelanto School District Board of Trustees for a little over a year. As such, he is an established politician, but insists he is not an establishment politician. “When I ran I said I will serve as a politician for eight years, two terms, and that’s it, school board or supervisor or whatever. I believe we need term limits because politicians need to be changed like babies’ diapers and for the same reason. I will push for term limits to stop people from turning this into a career and being beholden to one group that is taking care of them.”
And if a ballot measure to reduce county supervisors to part time status succeeds, Wright said, that is fine with him. “Whether the voters say part time, full time, or three-quarter time, I’ll be somebody out there fighting for them as their true voice,” he said.
In sizing up what he considered to be the major issues facing the First District, Wright said “We have so many people unemployed because we are not receiving the services or the infrastructure we were promised. The First District at 15,000 square miles has all this undeveloped land, yet we have the least amount of representation. They gave us another supervisor in the area, with the Third District extended into Barstow, but that is absolutely no help for the people here in the Victor Valley. There is no effort to bring jobs in and move people forward in this area. They say they want to move business in but they forget about businesses that are already here. Nothing is being done for them. We have not backfilled over 200 positions in law enforcement, which makes this area very unsafe.”
Additionally, Wright said, “Hesperia has not gotten the return on property tax revenue it deserves for over twenty years. The entire district has been underserved and underrepresented for years.”
His solution, Wright said, would consist of “First, going in to try to streamline things. A lot of county departments are overstaffed. The money can be pulled out of those departments and put where it needs to be. I would improve things by backfilling departments that need the money instead of overfunding departments that don’t need it.”
The county is on the ropes, Wright said, because “There is no real management skill and no financial plan.”
Looking beyond the narrow needs of the First District to the major problem plaguing the entire county, Wright said, “I think the biggest issue is to end the corruption that has been going on. The board needs to have finance reform as well as setting term limits to make sure this does not become a career for anyone. These elected politicians are going to draw pensions. That is why they are in office, to get money, to make sure the government takes care of them for the rest of their lives. We need to end that.”
Wright said he is best suited of all of the candidates to serve as supervisor because “I’m a small businessman and I will bring the business mentality of how to run a business to the county. I am running this campaign 100 percent on my own money. I will be beholden to the people who vote and not the unions or the self-serving entities trying to take over the board of supervisors. I’m not about getting my name in the papers. I will work by showing up to get a job done for the people of this county. I will not rely on my staff to answer the phone. I will speak to the public I serve. I will never consider myself too busy to answer the phone and get my constituents what they need.”
Wright, 36, was born and raised in Monrovia, graduating from Monrovia High School. He attended Liberty University and Baker College. He owns and operates his own business, a transportation company. He is married with four children.

LAWA Officials Say Ontario’s Pessimism Is Harming Airport

Ontario International Airport is on the brink of failure because it lacks brand identity and because of the downturns in the national, state and local economies, according to an airline industry consultant to the division of the city of Los Angeles which operates its airports.
The city of Los Angeles has had responsibility for running Ontario Airport since 1967 and has owned it since 1985 when Ontario deeded it to the megalopolis for no consideration. Under Los Angeles’s direction, over $550 million in improvements were made to the airport and passenger traffic there increased dramatically from just under 200,000 in 1966 to 7.2 million in 2007. But over the last five years, passengers flying in and out of Ontario have dwindled considerably, with  4.2 million passengers in 2011, and further declines are expected to be registered this year.
Ontario officials blame Los Angeles, and Los Angeles World Airports, the non-profit entity L.A. created to own, maintain, administer and operate its division of airports, which includes Los Angeles International Airport, Van Nuys Airport, Palmdale Airport and Ontario International.
Ontario officials assert Los Angeles World Airports, known by its acronym LAWA, for the last five years has allowed Ontario International Airport to languish, as major improvements have been made to Los Angeles International Airport, where passenger traffic has increased despite the contraction of the airline industry.  Simultaneously, LAWA charges the airlines at Ontario International $14.50 per enplaned passenger, which is substantially more than the $11, $9.93, $5.34, $4.07 and $2.10 charged at Los Angeles International, John Wayne, Long Beach, Palm Springs and Burbank airports, respectively. Indeed, Ontario officials maintain, LAWA is purposefully mismanaging Ontario International as part of an effort to bolster the Los Angeles Economy.
Ontario has embarked on an effort to have Los Angeles relinquish ownership and control of Ontario Airport either back to Ontario or a regional entity. As part of that effort, Ontario has sought, so far unsuccessfully, legislation mandating the airport’s return, and undertaken a public relations campaign, now dubbed “Set ONTario Free,” which castigates Los Angeles and LAWA by celebrating the airport’s alleged mismanagement, emphasizes how the drop in airport use has damaged the local economy and touts local control as a panacea. Ontario has induced more than 70 cities, organizations and elected officials to endorse the concept of Los Angeles returning the airport to Ontario.
LAWA and Los Angeles, which speak from the experience of running the airport, see things differently. They maintain that the drop off in passenger traffic is in some measure a function of the downturn in the economy, local and national, the decline of the airline industry in general, and changes in the way airlines are operating. Additionally, LAWA faults Ontario and its persistent critical and negative comments about the airport and how it is run, as is typified in its public relations campaign, as contributing to the reluctance of passengers to fly out of Ontario.
Edward Shelswell-White, an airline industry expert and consultant to LAWA who was brougt in to look at the reasons Ontario Airport is sputtering and suggest the means by which the beleaguered aerodrome  could be turned around, cited the “negative dialogue” about the airport emanating from Ontario itself as a contributory factor in the perception of Ontario Airport as a destination or place of departure to be avoided. Shelswell-White noted that it is Ontario officials and not Los Angeles ones who are hinting about closing the airport.
Shelswell-White and other Los Angeles World Airport officials such as LAWA Executive Director Gina Marie Lindsey, director of external affairs Celine Cordero and director for air service marketing Mark Thorpe have all indicated that running an entity like Ontario Airport is an extremely complicated matter which Ontario officials ignore in making their highly critical assessments and statements. Lindsey said that merely transferring control of the airport to Ontario will not transform it into a successful and impeccably run aerodrome.
Shelswell-White offered his view that the airport is not capturing the imagination or confidence of its “target customers.” He said Ontario needs to strengthen its “brand identity” and contemplate a “rebranding.” To this end, LAWA offered to let Ontario take on the marketing of Ontario Airport and said it would provide money out of its own budget to help Ontario do that. Ontario officials rejected the offer, maintaining they did not want to market a product, i.e., airline tickets, when they had no control over ticket pricing.
Ontario’s rejection of the offer dismayed LAWA officials, who reference Ontario’s willingness to spend $635,000 in a negative public relations campaign attacking the city of Los Angeles and LAWA with regard to the airport ownership issue but simultaneously evincing unwillingness to run a positive marketing program for the airport. They see Ontario’s inability to take up the marketing campaign as an indication of its larger inability to run an airport.
While LAWA officials believe an improvement in the economy is the only likely cure for the situation dogging Ontario Airport, Ontario officials are hopeful that a currently ongoing study by the Los Angeles City Council subcommittee on trade and the city’s administrative officer, Miguel Santana, looking into Ontario’s proposal to regain control of the airport and a fair market price for Ontario Airport will advance their cause.

Dickinson Proposing New Charter School In Adelanto

Michael Dickinson, whose efforts at bringing the Public Safety Charter Academy into existence was widely lauded until he was ignominiously sacked as chief executive officer of that school last year amid charges he was exploiting it for personal financial profit, is attempting to start another charter school in Apple Valley under the aegis of the Adelanto Elementary School District.
Confidently predicting a start-up enrollment of 400, Dickinson in April submitted to the Adelanto Elementary School District a charter petition for True North Preparatory Academy, seeking $2.6 million from the state to run what  he described as a K-12 vocational training and college preparatory school in the 2012-2013 school year. His application projected steady growth in enrollment calling for the charter’s proposed budget to grow to $3.4 million in the 2013-2014 school year. When queried, his associates posited they would need $4.4 million in the 2014-2015 school year.
Dickinson, a one-time arson investigator, in 1999 initiated what at that time was an unaccredited educational seminar for teenagers pertaining to fire science. The seminars broadened to include law enforcement issues, and with the assistance of others, Dickinson established a campus at the former Norton Air Force Base. In  2005, the school received accreditation and Dickinson made a petition to transform the school into a charter academy under the sponsorship of the San Bernardino City Unified School District, achieving that goal in 2006.  The academy  found a niche among students who aspired to careers in the field of public safety.  Nevertheless, under Dickinson 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. 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 last 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 by showing them some of the questions contained in the test. When the charter school’s head principal, Kathy Toy, recommended that the board of trustees terminate Susan Dickinson, Michael Dickinson dismissed the board of trustees before they could do so.
On June 20, 2011 the Public Safety Academy board, led by Peggi Hazlett, filed suit against Public Safety Academy Inc., an adjunct to the academy 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. The board then terminated 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.
While the application with the Adelanto Elementary School District is being processed, district officials are skeptical of the application and Dickinson’s true motive on several particulars.
Adelanto school board member Jermaine Wright said it appeared to him that Dickinson was more committed to generating revenue than educating students through the establishment of a new charter academy.
“I believe they are trying to use the Adelanto School District, which is known for being a charter friendly district, to open up another charter to be a money grab. That sort of thing has been going on for a while with charter schools. People who can’t make money anywhere else are opening charter schools and trying to cash in.”
Wright said he found Dickinson’s claim of having an enrollment of 400 suspicious.
“That has to be the second biggest joke on the planet,” Wright said. “It took nearly ten years for him to reach 400 students at the Public Safety Academy. Now he has lost his position there and he is trying to get a charter school here. I don’t know of any charter school that could open the first year with 400 students.”
Moreover, Wright said, the numbers and details in the petition are dubious. “They talk a good game but they have nothing to back up what they are saying. They could not defend their budget. They said it was a K-to-12 school, but everything they had was geared to being a high school. Their budget numbers were incomplete. They are required by the educational code to have a three-year budget but what they had was for two years and their numbers were so far off. The numbers added up to 600 student but they project 400 students. Charter schools always show a low number and pray for a higher number. They did it the other way around.”
Most troubling of all was that Dickinson was a no-show at the May 1 school board meeting at which a public hearing for the True North petition was held, Wright said. Instead, a few of Dickinson’s associates stood in for him.
“He didn’t even take the time to come up and talk to us,” Wright said of Dickinson. Wright said he thought that maybe Dickinson thought he could selectively present his history to the school board, emphasize his success in getting the Public Safety Academy accredited and chartered and keep the derogatory information under wraps.
“He knew that we had closed Sheppard Middle School and he and his people saw we had an empty building, saw a way to get in somewhere and grab money. Those are just my personal thoughts on this. I have concerns they are coming to our district because we are a charter friendly district and they think we are not watching things very closely. Anybody who comes to our district should be subject to a thorough background check,” Wright said.

Legislation Excuses Calico Solar Plan From Tortuous Approval Review

The state Assembly has approved legislation that will allow the Calico Solar plant to proceed toward completion without having to  obtain approval from the county and other local regulatory agencies.
Environmentalists, concerned about the possible impact the proposed 663.5-megawatt plant will have on desert tortoises, golden eagles,  bighorn sheep and other fauna and flora that inhabit the desert valley where the development is to occur, had opposed the project.
The Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife and the Natural Resources Defense Council maintain that the project, proposed by K Road Power on 4,604 acres of public land in the Pisgah Valley north of Interstate 40 roughly 37 miles east of Barstow, will prove particularly ecologically damaging. They wanted the project to go through a tortuous environmental and land use review process.  The project 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.
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 to  generate 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 pho-tovoltaic 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.
While the photovoltaic cells will not generate as much electricity as the mirror/therminol/Stirling engine configuration, they can be erected and 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. Environmentalists maintained the change in the project proposal necessitated an entirely new project application and approval process.
In March, Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes authored emergency legislation, AB 1073, a bill to allow the Calico Solar project to receive state approval to change the technology without having to again go through the project approval and environmental certification process. The bill passed the state Senate 28-2 on March 28. On May 10, it passed 56- to-10 in the Assembly. Upon being signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown, AB 1073 will allow Calico Solar to apply for project approval directly to the California Energy Commission, which is favorably disposed toward renewable energy projects. San Bernardino County and its land use division will have no formal say in the process. Brown lobbied for the bill’s passage.
Opponents sought to have the bill defeated at the Assembly committee level. But Fuentes and Assembly leaders pulled the bill from committee on May 7 and sent it directly to the floor, declaring it “urgent” legislation to ensure that the Energy Commission would hold hearings on the project prior to a June 20 deadline.
While the passage of AB 1073 comes as a decided blow against environmentalist opponents of the project, K-Road yet faces a few hurdles. The company currently has no power purchase agreement with a utility for the project, no established financing and no construction start date. It also must stand down a pending lawsuit by environmentalists. Upon approval of the project by the Energy Commission, K-Road nevertheless will have turned a corner in the battle to move the project forward.

Rialto Water Division Will Not Be Outsourced Without A Vote

RIALTO—The final chapter in the effort to outsource the city of Rialto’s water department operations to a New Jersey-based company has yet to be written as a coalition of city residents and the union for the city workers who would have been displaced in the takeover have qualified a referendum on the matter for the ballot.
After more than two years of contemplating an arrangement by which American Water Works Co., Inc. would take over maintenance, operation and administration sans ownership of the city’s dilapidated water and wastewater system for 30 years, the city council on March 27 voted to do just that.
Under the terms of the deal, American Water Operations and Maintenance, Inc., a division of American Water Works, was to function as a local company known as Rialto Water Services and take over operation and maintenance of the water district. The city was to retain the district’s water rights.
The for-profit company would take on all aspects of operations, maintenance and billing, effectively running both the water and sewer utilities for the next three decades.
Some water and wastewater division employees were to be allowed to transfer into the city’s engineering or public works divisions, remaining as city em-ployees with their public pension plans intact. Others would go to work with American Water, which was to be required to guarantee those employees will remain employed for at least a year-and-a-half with salary and benefits equal to those offered by the city. That guarantee was to sunset after 18 months.
According to city officials, the company had agreed to make somewhere in the neighborhood of $45 million in upgrades to the water system. American Water has also agreed to assume all debt owed by the city’s water utility division.
In return, city officials agreed to a 114.8 percent increase in water and wastewater rates by 2016, such that the average water bill of Rialto households utilizing 17,000 gallons per month will jump from the current rate of $26.27 per month to $64.14 monthly and increase the wastewater treatment fee from $25.97 to $61.46 as of January 1, 2016.
Members of the Utility Workers of America together with citizens irate at the prospect of the rate hikes organized a signature drive to require that the outsourcing be approved by the city’s voters. The city council’s 4-1 vote with councilman Joe Baca, Jr. dissenting was an unpopular one, and a capacity crowd attended the March 27 meeting to lodge protests.  The petitions collected in April and early May requesting the referendum were handed off to the Rialto city clerk’s office on Saturday May 12, where they were immediately tallied. Over 6,400 signatures were gathered to meet the threshold of 3,800 valid signatures of registered voters needed to force the matter to a vote.
The vote will likely take place in November during the presidential general election.

29 Palms Water District’s Continued Control Of Fire District Untenable, Commission Says

The San Bernardino County Local Agency Formation Commission has recommended that the Twentynine Palms Water District relinquish control of the area’s fire department.
Twenty-nine years before the city of Twentynine Palms incorporated in 1987, the water district extended its responsibilities to include fire protection in 1958 after the California Department of Forestry ceased providing local fire service.
A quarter century after Twentynine Palm’s incorporation, the water district remains an independent agency.
The Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO), which oversees jurisdictional issues throughout the county, conducts community service reviews every five years. In a report dated May 7, 2012, LAFCO executive officer Kathleen Rollings-McDonald, assistant executive officer Samuel Martinez and project manager Michael Tuerpe state that the demands of operating the fire district are now outrunning the water district’s funding ability.
According to Rollings-McDonald, Martinez and Tuerpe, their review of the water district’s financial books “identifies a significant deficiency in funding” such that “the water district’s fire operations are unsustainable as presently financed.”
If the water district sheds the fire protection district, according to the report, state law mandates that the city of Twentynine Palms take on the responsibility of providing fire protection within its city limits, and the unincorporated areas now served by the water/fire district boundaries “would be unsustainable as a stand-alone agency,” thus requiring that the portion of the water district outside the city be annexed to the county fire division and its South Desert Service Zone. For the area outside the city, “County Fire would need to form a zone to isolate the special tax revenues generated,” according to Rollings-McDonald, Martinez and Turerpe. That arrangement would require an annual budget and audit.
Within the city’s boundaries, the city would have the option of forming its own fire department to directly provide fire service, or otherwise contract with the county fire division or the California Division of Forestry’s fire division, known as CalFire “for the service level that it can afford,” according to the report. If the city seeks a contract with the county for fire service, the city would have to allow itself to be annexed by the fire division’s South Desert Service Zone for the purpose of fire protection solely. “County Fire would succeed to all of the water district’s assets and liabilities and special tax,” the LAFCO report states. That portion of the water district’s revenues brought in to pay for fire service would be handed over to the county, subject to an annual audit.
Rollings-McDonald, Martinez and Tuerpe said the city could in the alternative seek to annex the water district as a subsidiary district and run the fire department out of the district. That ploy is complicated, however by the consideration that less than 70 percent of the water district’s territory lies within the current Twentynine Palms city limits, so a waiver would be required.
Last month, local voters rejected Measure H, which would have levied a special fire service assessment within the water district’s jurisdiction. According to fire chief Jim Thompson, Measure H’s failure will result in the district shuttering one of its two fire stations

Judge Rules Tossing Disputed Ballots Does Not Invalidate Election

SAN BERNARDINO – Gigi Hanna will remain as San Bernardino city clerk, Superior Court Judge Donna Gunnell Garza has ruled. Gunnell Garza dismissed a claim by 15 voters that the registrar of voters’ decision to discount their  ballots because of signature mismatches should have invalidated the narrow February 7 election results.
For the special run-off mail-in balloting held in February after no single candidate garnered a majority in November,  San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters  Michael J. Scarpello discarded 64 ballots with signatures election workers said didn’t match signatures on file. After all of the accepted ballots were counted, Georgeann Hanna, who goes by the name Gigi, had eked out a three vote victory over Amelia Sanchez-Lopez. Lopez called for a recount and on February 28, that re-examination increased Hanna’s victory margin to six votes.
In examining the voting process, Sanchez-Lopez and her supporters learned of the 64 ballots that had not been counted. They tracked down 15 of those whose votes had been disqualified and after determining that all of those were indeed eligible to vote, two Los Angeles-based attorneys, William Trejo and Sandra Garcia, filed suit on those voters’ behalf, seeking to have the election results overturned pending the inclusion and tallying of any of the discarded ballots determined by the court to be valid.
Gunnell Garza made a finding that Scarpello and his office were in compliance with the Elections Code in that the code calls for ballots with signatures that don’t match the casting voters’ registration cards to not be counted.
Scarpello maintained that in every case where a ballot was discarded, four of his employees examined the signatures and came to the conclusion that they did not match.
Gunnell Garza said fourteen of the fifteen complainants “were not denied the right to vote,” reasoning that “the right to vote involves the right to be counted properly.”
Gunnell Garza called for one discarded ballot, that of a disabled man whose wife signed the ballot for him, to be considered.
Hanna, who was sworn into office on March 5, will continue in the city clerk’s position, which currently pays $111,624 per year plus benefits.

Parent Trigger Effort In Adelanto Results In Teacher Layoff Rescissions

ADELANTO—In an ironic twist, the “Parent Trigger” effort at Desert Trails Elementary School achieved precisely the opposite end that its participants intended.
The Parent Empowerment Act, authored by former state senator Gloria Romero and passed by the legislature in 2010, enables a majority of parents at a school at which students test out as low-performers on state academic tests to 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. That process is known by the colloquialism “parent trigger.”
At Desert Trails Elementary,   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, a group of parents which was egged-on by a group committed to greater parental control of the public education system, Los Angeles-based nonprofit Parent Revolution, formed a parents union and sought to invoke the parent trigger. Their stated goal was to  sack the school’s principal, David Mobley, and surrender to the school’s parents authority in hiring his successor, infuse in the new principal firing and hiring authority for the school’s faculty, get rid of several inexperienced teachers, reduce class sizes and increase the number of school days and instructional hours, and include more science, history and art in the curriculum.
Though the parent union gathered 466 signatures, which it claimed was more than enough signatures to advance its petition, district officials reviewing those petition forms threw out 165 of those signatures for technical reasons or on the basis of rescissions anti-parent trigger activists gathered from some of the signers. Thus, the district is claiming, the parent union fell 20 signatures short of the 331 required to force the school takeover.
As fate would have it, the dire financial circumstance facing the entire state and the school district seemed on track to accomplish at least part of what the parent trigger advocates were calling for, with the district having provided preliminary notification to 18 of the teachers in the district with the least seniority, including four at Desert Trails Elementary, that they were going to be laid off with the commencement of the 2012-13 school year.
The Desert Trail Elementary parent union, with the backing of Parent Revolution and its legal representative, the Los Angeles-based law firm of Kirkland & Ellis, contested the district’s action in disqualifying the petition, filing suit in Victorville Superior Court on behalf of five of the parents in the parent union on April 6. Meanwhile, an administrative law judge, Coren D. Wong, was enlisted to see if some compromise could be mediated between the district and the parent union.
Amid the parent union pushing for a radical makeover of the school and greater control of academic operations and the district seeking maintenance of the status quo, Wong on May 4 ruled the district, despite the pending legal action, had grounds to proceed as usual and layoff district personnel as the district’s administrators and board deemed fit.
But the school board, concerned that enforcing teacher layoffs that would increase class size at Desert Trail Elementary would feed the charge that the district is not being diligent about achieving educational goals at the school, at a specially called meeting on May 9 rescinded the layoff notices.
The school board in March voted to issue the preliminary notices because such notification is required under state law by March 15 in advance of terminating teachers’ employment with the onset of the next academic year. Had the parent trigger application succeeded, the district could have seen its funding by the state cut in proportion to the 660 students enrolled at Desert Trails.
This morning, at 8:30, a hearing on the Parent Desert Trails Elementary Parent Union’s pending petition for the takeover of the school is to be heard in Victorville Superior Court.

Environmental Cooperative Protests Chino Hills Undergrounding

The California Public Utilities Commission’s agreement to enter into negotiations with the city of Chino Hills and Southern California Edison for the undergrounding of power lines Edison intends to span across the city elicited a protest from a coalition of environmentalists and companies devoted to producing non-polluting renewable energy.
In its effort to meet state-mandated renewable energy goals, Southern California Edison has undertaken the $2.1 billion Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project, which is intended to generate at least 1,500 megawatts of power from new windmills to be erected within a 50-square mile wind field in the Tehachapi area, an undertaking three times the size of any existing wind farm in the United States. In routing the lines carrying that energy southward from Kern County to the Los Angeles Basin, Edison sought, and in 2009 obtained from the California Public Utility Commission over Chino Hills city officials’ objections, permission to utilize the power line right-of-way through Chino Hills from Tonner Canyon to the Riverside County line. The city of Chino Hills sued Edison in 2010, claiming the company was on the verge of  “overburdening” the power line easements, but West Valley Superior Court Judge Keith D. Davis ruled the California Public Utilities Commission has exclusive jurisdiction regarding the route used by Edison. Chino Hills appealed Davis’s ruling to the 4th District Court of Appeal, but on September 12, 2011 the appeals court affirmed Davis’ finding that the California Public Utilities Commission and not the courts has exclusive jurisdiction over property rights issues between the city and Southern California Edison (SCE). That legal effort cost the city more than $2.3 million.
Beginning last year, Edison, which has long had a 150-foot wide right-of-way for its power lines that runs for 5.8 five miles through upscale Chino Hills, erected 12 of the towers within the city limits and another 5 in Carbon Canyon. In October, the city made a last ditch appeal to the California Public Utility Commission (PUC) and Public Utility Commission Chairman Michael Peevey in particular, and the commission in November moved to impose a temporary halt to the erection of more towers while a potential alternative, such as undergrounding the lines or rerouting them through Chino Hills State Park, is explored.
On May 3, the California Public Utilities Commission announced that confidential settlement negotiations between Southern California Edison and the city of Chino Hills on the routing of a 500-KV power line through the city were commencing. Those negotiations represent an effort by the commission, Edison and the city of Chino Hills to agree upon undergrounding the line beneath the existing right-of-way in the city. California Public Utility Commission President Michael Peevey said, “All of us at the CPUC are hopeful these negotiations, with the active involvement of our general counsel, will be successful and produce an outcome that satisfies the concerns of the citizens of Chino Hills, while fulfilling the transmission needs of SCE and its renewable energy suppliers.”
According to Edison officials, the cost of digging a six-foot wide, 3.8-mile long trench the entire length of the existing easement through town and burying a single 500 kV line will cost $300 million to $473 million and undergrounding a double-circuit line along the same span will cost from $703 million to $1 billion.
After the announcement that the confidential negotiations were ongoing, the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies, known by the acronym CEERT, filed a motion with the Public Utilities Commission, calling the negotiations on an issue already settled “an abuse of discretion” and asking the commission to halt the negotiations.
According to CEERT, straightjacketing Southern California Edison into negotiations which presuppose the specific requirement that Edison underground the lines constitutes “a due process violation.”
Moreover, according to CEERT, the confidential nature of the negotiations, together with the commission’s failure to give proper legal notice of the negotiation process, improperly excluded a number of parties, including CEERT, which had previously gone on record as being opposed to the reopening of the approval process for the lines.
Under discussion in the negotiations, which are being carried out behind closed doors, is how the additional cost of undergrounding the lines will be defrayed and by whom. At stake in those negotiations will be whether the city of Chino Hills will issue municipal bonds to pay for the undergrounding, whether SCE will place a surcharge on Chino Hills electricity customers to pay for the undergrounding, or whether Edison will spread the cost among all of its 15 million customers through general rate increases. Any municipal bonds issued by the city to pay for the undergrounding would be debt serviced by increased property taxes on Chino Hills homeowners and businesses for 25 to 30 years.