County’s Legal Costs On Cadiz Project Near $1 Million

(December 21)   The county of San Bernardino has sustained over $675,000 in outside legal costs and is on the brink of running up another quarter of a million dollars in lawyers’ fees as a consequence of its acquiescence in the Santa Margarita Water District’s approval of the so-called Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project.
All of that money will be recovered from those involved in the project, county officials said.
The Cadiz Valley water project upon completion will extract an average of 50,000 acre-feet of water from the East Mojave Desert and convey it via pipeline to Orange and Los Angeles counties for use there. The Santa Margarita Water District, which lies some 217 miles from the Cadiz Valley, assumed lead agency status on the project, which is an undertaking of Los Angeles-based Cadiz, Inc. The Santa Margarita Water District gave approval of the project, including signing off on an environmental impact statement, in July.
San Bernardino County contemplated but in March ultimately elected against challenging Orange County-based Santa Margarita’s assumption of that lead agency status on the project and instead on May 1 entered into a memorandum of understanding with that district and Cadiz, Inc. and its corporate entities, including the Fenner Valley Mutual Water Company, allowing Santa Margarita to oversee the environmental impact report for the project and conduct the public hearings related to project approval. On October 1, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors gave approval to a groundwater monitoring plan to facilitate completion of the project.
As a consequence of the project, San Bernardino County, Santa Margarita and Cadiz, Inc. have been named as defendants in nine separate lawsuits challenging the project’s approval. The county, on March 27, hired the San Francisco-based law firm of Downey Brand to assist county counsel in responding to any lawsuits it contemplated might be triggered by the project at what was then said to be a not-to-exceed cost of $449,322. Within four months, however, those funds had been exhausted and on July 24, the board authorized a $250,000 amendment to the Downey Brand contract, increasing the amount to $699,332.  Legal billings to the county by Downey Brand have now eaten up that funding, and this week, county land use services director Christine Kelly asked the board to give approval for the expenditure of another $250,000 to cover continuing legal costs, pushing the Downey Brand contract to $949,332.
Delaware Tetra Technologies, Inc., which operates a salt mining operation in the Cadiz and Fenner Valleys, has filed four suits, each based on separate causes of action and differing applications of the law against the county, Santa Margarita and Cadiz, Inc., on May 25 in San Bernardino County Superior Court, on June 13 in Orange County Superior Court, on August 28 in Orange County Superior Court and on October 30 in San Bernardino County Superior Court.
On August 28, the Colorado River Branch of the Archaeological Heritage Association filed suit in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles against the county of San Bernardino, Cadiz, Inc., Santa Margarita Water District, the U.S. Department of the Interior, its secretary Ken Salazar, and the Bureau of Land Management over Santa Margarita’s approval of the project.
On August 31, the Center for Biological Diversity filed suit against the county, Cadiz, Inc. and Santa Margarita in San Bernardino County Superior Court.
On August 31,  a group, Citizens and Ratepayers Opposing Water Nonsense, filed suit against the Santa Margarita Water District, the county of San Bernardino and Cadiz, Inc. in Orange County Superior Court.
Another lawsuit naming the county, Briones vs. Santa Margarita Water District, was filed in San Bernardino County Superior Court on August 31.
And the Center for Biological Diversity filed a second lawsuit against the county and the other defendants in San Bernardino County Superior Court on November 1.
In several of the lawsuits, the adequacy of the environmental certification of the project is under attack. San Bernardino County’s abdication of its land use and environmental oversight authority is also a recurrent issue in the lawsuits.
According to the memorandum of understanding the county entered into, Cadiz, Inc. and the Santa Margarita Water District are to reimburse the county for any of its legal costs relating to the project.
According to county spokesman David Wert, “The county has received $650,000 in reimbursements, $135,000 from the Santa Margarita Water District and $515,000 from Cadiz, Inc.”
Wert said, “The county has incurred legal costs [related to the Cadiz water project] of $675,994.02 to date.”
An issue in the lawsuit brought by Citizens and Ratepayers Opposing Water Nonsense pertains to the Santa Margarita Water District’s assumption of the financial liability of other parties involved with the project approval. Opponents of the project have questioned whether Cadiz, Inc., an agricultural and landholding company which has not shown a profit for more than 13 years, will be able to sustain itself in the face of mounting legal challenges to the project. Those inveighing against the project not on environmental grounds but financial ones have questioned who will assume the company’s liabilities if it folds or declares bankruptcy.
Land use services director Christine Kelly stated, “The county of San Bernardino is to be reimbursed by Santa Margarita Water District, Cadiz, Inc., and Fenner Valley Mutual Water Company for all claims, liabilities, damages, or costs arising from or relating to any administrative or judicial action brought by any third party against the county, its agents, officers, or employees, that may arise from or be related to the county’s approval of the memorandum of understanding and the groundwater management, monitoring and mitigation plan.”

State Agency Focusing On Potential Chromium 6 Contamination in Needles

(December 21)   NEEDLES—Pacific Gas & Electiric’s  disposal of material, some allegedly laden with highly toxic hexavalent chromium in washes and on relic river terraces adjacent to the Colorado River near Park Moabi more than two decades ago has resulted in complications now threatening public health as well as water and soil quality requiring a cleanup effort that will likely take decades to complete.
While a water remediation protocol has been established, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) has now initiated a massive toxic soil investigation which some Needles residents say is not properly focused upon the full extent of the Chromium 6 aspect of the contamination problem. Residents and at least one former municipal official have told the Sentinel a more comprehensive soils survey is needed on the ground beneath and around a local landfill where Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) is known to have disposed of toxic soils and materials.
As described in the notice for a draft environmental impact report, the project under consideration is not in itself an actual cleanup or soil remediation project, but merely involves the adoption and implementation of a “soil work plan” to further study the lateral and vertical extent of toxic contamination where data gaps now exist.   Included among the named toxics are hexavalent chromium, asbestos, various metals, polychlorinated biphenyl, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, dioxins/furans, and an unidentified white powder.    The full title of the soil work plan is “Soil RCRA Facility Investigation/Remedial Investigation Work Plan, PG&E Topock Compressor Station, Needles, California, prepared in September 2012 on behalf of Pacific Gas and Electric Company” by CH2MHill, a firm located in Oakland, California.
Should the soil work plan be adopted and implemented by the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), the “further investigation” or project under environmental review would entail the characterization of the nature and extent of contamination identified during previous soil investigations and would not involve actual remediation.  Despite the fact that no remediation or removal program has yet been proposed, the DTSC has determined that there may be a significant impact on the environment and has determined that an environmental impact report (EIR) will be necessary to fully evaluate the potential environmental effects of the various activities involved in investigating and characterizing suspect soils.
The project as currently described does not identify cleanup alternatives. The project is intended to provide additional data, which will be used in the preparation of a separate study that is not a part of the current proposed project.  The second and separate study has been described as a future “Soil Corrective Measures Study/Feasibility Study (CMS/FS)” which would identify remediation alternatives if necessary.   A third planned report, also not a part of the current project nor a remediation project, will “present a combined data set of all soils investigations.”  The currently proposed project involves the collection of surface and subsurface soil and sediment samples, and the chemical analysis of those samples for “chemicals of potential concern” (COPCs) based on the historical use of the area and previous soil investigations.  In addition, some areas would be investigated using geophysical methods to identify subsurface objects.  The proposed soil work plan activities for the project include acquiring permission or permits to access certain restricted areas, creating physical access to certain locations (e.g., grading, boulder or vegetation removal), drilling trenching or excavating to access soil samples, collecting and preserving soil samples, performing certain field analyses and collecting and preserving samples, properly abandoning boreholes and backfilling of trenches and excavations, transporting the samples to the analytical laboratory, analyzing the samples for selected COPCs, evaluating and presenting the data in a written report, managing investigation-derived waste, conducting preconstruction biological and archaeological surveys, and identifying potential conflicts with subsurface utilities.
Twenty-eight areas of concern are being evaluated and may have been contaminated due to past practices and/or proximity to the Pacific Gas & Electric Topock Compressor Station one-half mile west of the Colorado River, just south of Interstate 40 near the bridge. In addition, there are six areas that may be contaminated because proper protective practices were not in place when solid wastes were managed there.  An area called the “potential pipeline disposal area” is proposed to be included in a geophysical survey to identify the presence of historically buried asbestos-containing pipes.  Three oil/water units, the perimeter fencing area of the station and the onsite storm drain system which includes both active and inactive lines and outfalls are also proposed for investigation.
Hexavalent Chromium, also known as Chromium 6, is a highly toxic chemical that was used to combat corrosion in the cooling towers of compressor stations used to pressurize a natural gas line owned by PG&E that ran from the fields where the gas was extracted in west Texas and New Mexico across Arizona and the Colorado River and through California up to San Francisco in the 1950s and 1960s. Pacific Gas & Electric ceased using Chromium 6 as an anti-corrosive agent in 1966 and disposed of much of it in unlined trenches near Hinkley, resulting in extensive contamination of the water table in that area and leading to a lawsuit that resulted in a $333 million civil settlement in 1994, what was then the largest such settlement in American history.
The area in which proposed project activities could occur due to suspected unauthorized dumping of solid wastes potentially laced with Chromium 6 covers additional surrounding land owned and managed by a number of private entities and government agencies, including the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, lands managed by the Department of Interior, U. S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), rights of way for the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad and California Department of Transportation, and access over a portion of land owned by the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe.
The station, which occupies 66.8 acres of land owned by PG&E is 12 miles southeast of the city of Needles and one mile southwest of the Moabi Regional Park in California.  The station is one-half mile west of the community of Topock, Arizona, which is situated directly across the Colorado River from the Station and four miles south of Golden Shores, Arizona.
Three public scoping meetings were held last week, two of which were held in  Yuma and Golden Shores, both in Arizona.  The California scoping hearing was held in Needles.   Some members of the public attending the public scoping meeting held at Needles High School Auditorium on December 12 expressed both concern and indignation.  Concerns included the potential health effect of airborne toxic dust, contamination of local drinking water supplies while waiting for the studies to be completed, and the impact to the local economy by being stigmatized as a community inhibited by toxic pollution. Others expressed concern that the landfill where hexavalent chromium was disposed of in the early 1990s was not being included in the survey.
Former Needles councilwoman Ruth Musser-Lopez, who still lives in the area, told the Sentinel that two decades ago Pacific Gas & Electric’s disposal of hexavalent chromium at the city landfill located on federal land managed by the BLM, but at that time leased to the county and subleased to the city was an issue that was glossed over by municipal and other officials. Ultimately, Musser-Lopez said, the issue was side-tracked when officials focused on determining the identities of low-level Bureau of Land Management employees who had anonymously revealed what they claimed was illegal and unlicensed disposal of sewer sludge and hexavalent chromium in the landfill.
Musser-Lopez said she was heartened by the Department of Toxic Substances Control’s focus on PG&E’s disposal practices at the Topcock facility and the other areas of concern but that she was simultaneously disappointed that the focus did not extend to the contamination in and around the landfill, which is more proximate to the city and population of Needles.
“We’re talking about a toxic lethal chemical, chromium 6, and asbestos problems right next to the same river that Orange, San Diego, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Mexico drink from,” she said. “When I asked at the Needles scoping session on December 12 why the landfill was not being included in the survey, an explanation was provided that the landfill area is regulated by separate laws and thus was not a part of the current study. It’s been two decades since contaminated soil has been identified and the mess is still not cleaned up. I hold PG&E managers, those managers running the landfill—the city of Needles, the county of San Bernardino and the Bureau of Land Management responsible for what happened at the landfill.  They were more interested in silencing me and the speech of whistleblowers who talked to me.  If that effort and money would have been spent on the cleanup rather than hushing public outcry, speech and disclosure, we would be much further ahead. Our children and their children would be much safer and we would have a properly managed recycling and disposal facility.”
She called upon DTSC to widen its survey to include the landfill and the soil surrounding it.
Comments are presently being accepted during a 45-day scoping period that ends at 5 p.m. on January 14, 2013.   The public is encouraged to submit comments regarding the scope and content of the project and the environmental information to be contained in the draft EIR. Questions, information, concerns and comments of the public are to be considered by Department of Toxic Substances Control and for review in the draft EIR.  For more information, the public is directed to the Project Manager, Aaron Yue at (714)484-5439 or the public participation specialist, Jacqueline Martinez at (714) 484-5338.  Information is also available at

Los Angeles Signals Willingness To Sell Airport To Ontario At The Right Price

(December 21)   The Los Angeles Board of Airport Commissioners on December 17 approved a protocol for returning ownership and operational control of Ontario International Airport back to the city of Ontario and the joint powers authority Ontario recently created with the county of San Bernardino to manage the airport.
In 1967, the city of Ontario and the city of Los Angeles entered into an agreement to have the Los Angeles Department of Airports run the airport, which at that time had only two airlines flying two out-of-state flights per day and yearly passenger traffic of around 200,000. Los Angeles used its control over gate access at Los Angeles International to induce airlines to fly into and out of Ontario and the use of Ontario Airport increased dramatically. In 1985, after Los Angeles and its Department of Airports had met all of the conditions laid out in the original agreement between the two cities, Ontario deeded the airport to Los Angeles for no consideration. Los Angeles created an entity, Los Angeles World Airports, to manage and operate the several airports Los Angeles owned, including Los Angeles International, Ontario International, Long Beach Airport, Burbank Airport and Palmdale Airport.  Over the years, under Los Angeles’ and Los Angeles World Airports’ management, over $500 million worth of improvements were made to Ontario International, including the construction of two modern terminals, a new runway, improvements to the existing runway, improvements to the concourse and parking lot and ground access upgrades. In 2007, use of Ontario Airport peaked, with 7.2 million passengers passing through its gates. Since that time, however, travel through the airport has sharply declined, accompanied by a souring of relations between Ontario city officials and those with Los Angeles World Airports.
The airport still provides commercial service to 14 major U.S. cities and through service to many international destinations, with approximately 114 daily flights. At present the airport has only 7 carriers, fewer than half the number of airlines that operated out of the facility during its heyday.
Ontario officials have suggested that the downturn in the use of Ontario International has come about in large part because Los Angeles and Los Angeles World Airports are purposefully mismanaging Ontario Airport to increase passenger traffic at Los Angeles International. Ontario has initiated a campaign which has lambasted Los Angeles World Airports and its management practices at Ontario International in an effort to pressure Los Angeles to redeed the airport back to Ontario.
On October 10, 2012, the Los Angeles City Council instructed its city administrative officer, Miguel Santana, to facilitate negotiations between Los Angeles World Airports, the city of Ontario, the county of San Bernardino, the Ontario International Airport Authority (OIAA), and other primary stakeholders to determine the most effective and appropriate ownership and management alternative for Ontario International Airport and the sale value of the airport. The Los Angeles City Council also instructed LAWA to develop a set of guiding principles to assist with analyzing and pursuing alternative management and governance structures.
The Los Angeles Board of Airport Commissioners has not, to date, endorsed any sale of Ontario International Airport but favors actions consistent with the recommendations of the Los Angeles city administrator’s office and the Los Angeles City Council.
“The guiding concepts and principles are an initial roadmap for the terms of divesting Ontario International,” said Gina Marie Lindsey, Los Angeles World Airport’s executive director.  “It’s a solid place to start.”
The resolution outlines requirements for the future stewardship of the airport, protection of Los Angeles World Airports’ financial interests and city of Los Angeles employees at the airport, and incremental steps to the sale process. The city of Los Angeles is asking for all of these issues to be addressed in a letter of intent between the agency and the Ontario International Airport Authority to be delivered by April 1, 2013. It is anticipated the letter will establish the terms that would result in Los Angeles World Airports selling the airport to the Ontario International Airport Authority, which counts as its joint powers members the city of Ontario and the county of San Bernardino.
In the guiding concepts and principles document released by Los Angeles World Airports, protection of Los Angeles World Airports’ financial interests is defined as Ontario and the Ontario International Airport Authority offering to purchase the airport at a price equal to what another entity is willing to pay for the facility.
“Divesture of Ontario International Airport should not result in forgone value to Los Angeles World Airports when compared with divesting to another party or divesting at another time in the future,” the document states.
Moreover, the document makes clear that the new owner “must provide reasonable assurance that Ontario International Airport will continue to operate as a commercial service airport free of operating restrictions in the future” and that current Los Angeles city employees working at the airport retain their positions. “The parties shall make all reasonable efforts to ensure that any adverse effects of divestiture on current city employees are minimized,” the document states. Since 2008, Los Angeles World Airports has reduced the number of employees at Ontario Airport from 430 to 245.

Baca Feted In His Final Days As 43rd District Congressman

(December 21)   Outgoing Congressman Joe Baca has received a bevy of accolades in the waning days of his tenure in office.  Baca has been a member of the California delegation in the House of Representatives since he was elected in a special election to succeed former Congressman George Brown in the 42nd District after Brown’s death in office in 1999. He was reelected in 2000, and in 2002 was reelected to Congress in the redrawn 43rd Congressional District. A Democrat, he was reelected four more times, most recently in 2010. This year, running for reelection in the newly drawn 35th Congressional District against Gloria Negrete-McLeod, another Democrat, Baca lost.
Over the years he has had a number of committee assignments, including the Agriculture Committee and its subcommittees on Department Operations, Oversight and Credit; Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry; and Nutrition and Horticulture, of which he was once chairman and is now ranking member, as well as the Committee on Financial Services, including the subcommittees on Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit and on Oversight and Investigations. As chair of the Nutrition and Horticulture Subcommittee four years ago, Baca led successful efforts in drafting and passing the 2008 Farm Bill that secured record levels of funding for federal nutrition programs, created $40 million in new agriculture grant funding for Hispanic Serving Institutes, and established new outreach programs designed to expand USDA assistance to minority and other traditionally underserved farmers.  Rep. Baca continues to serve as a lead advocate in efforts to reach a just settlement to longstanding discrimination cases between Hispanic and female farmers and the USDA.
Baca is also a member and former chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus; the Corporate America, Technology, Communications and the Arts Task Force, of which he was chairman, and a member of the Blue Dog Coalition, a caucus of  Congressional Democrats who identify themselves as moderates and conservatives.
On December 17, Baca was recognized by the San Bernardino City Council in a resolution that commended him for securing over $85 million in appropriations for projects in the city of San Bernardino, including the sbX transportation project, the Intermodal Transit Center, the construction of the Verdemont Community Center building, groundwater cleanup and water recycling, the Metrolink expansion, San Bernardino Police Department equipment upgrades, English Learner programs, San Bernardino Boys and Girls Club after-school programs, the Cal State San Bernardino astronomy observatory, and San Bernardino National Forest Association training of youth in conservation work.
“I’m extremely proud of these accomplishments, which have improved the quality of life and will continue to benefit the city of San Bernardino,” Baca said.  “It has been a privilege representing the city and the entire 43rd Congressional District since I was elected to Congress in 1999.  I have always strived to serve the interests of the city and the district to the best of my ability.”
Last month, Baca was the recipient of a leadership award from the Rural Coalition for his work in Congress on behalf of socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.  The recognition was given as part of the Rural Coalition’s winter forum, and honored Baca for his efforts to advance greater opportunity and equality for minority farmers.
“I am honored to receive this recognition from the Rural Coalition, an organization that has done so much to empower minority, beginning, and other socially disadvantaged farmers,” said Baca.  “In Congress, one of my great passions has been to expand the civil rights of all Americans.  Listening to over 13 hours of testimony from disadvantaged Hispanic, African American, Native American, and female farmers has driven my efforts to implement sound agriculture policy that brings equity and justice to all corners of rural America.  I thank the Rural Coalition for their tireless dedication to advancing opportunities for all, and look forward to continuing to work with them in the future.”

SB Contracts With Burrtec and Republic To Keep Trash Flowing To Landfill

(December 21)   With its financial difficulties and unpaid bills mounting, the city of San Bernardino this week took action to prevent a further erosion of its reputation by ensuring that garbage service in the county seat with a population of 209,924 will be maintained. Roughly 357 tons of garbage are generated throughout San Bernardino on a daily basis. The county of San Bernardino had for the last decade-and-a-half a contract with the city to accept trash hauled by the sanitation department into its landfills. But that 15-year contract expired on Sunday December 16 and the city, which declared bankruptcy earlier this year, owes the county about $2.5 million in unpaid landfill fees. The county, which has threatened legal action against the city but has not yet actually filed suit over the unpaid bill, balked at renewing the contract with the city. That contract provided the city a very favorable disposal rate  – $38.79 per ton. The county insisted that if it was going to continue to accept the city’s garbage at its Mid-Valley Landfill in Rialto, it would up its tipping fee to $45.95 per ton. The city was on the brink of asking the federal bankruptcy judge hearing its case, Meredith Jury, to order the county to extend the contract indefinitely on the same $38.79 terms, while simultaneously deferring actually making payments to the county until some point in the future. Ultimately, city officials decided against such a gambit and just let the contract lapse without being renewed.
Instead, in action initiated at the city council’s December 3 meeting and then followed up on December 17, the city turned to Burrtec Waste Industries and Republic Services, companies which already process the city’s waste stream to cull out recyclables, to help the city out of its dilemma. Even before respective five-year contracts with the two companies were approved on the afternoon of December 17, that morning Burrtec and Republic began accepting all of the city of San Bernardino’s trash at their materials recovery facilities, located within the city and neighboring Colton.
Pursuant to a contract ratified in most of its particulars by the city council on December 17, Burrtec and Republic will now be responsible for disposing of the trash.
Under the terms of the contract, the city’s sanitation division will continue to haul the trash from residential and commercial users and deliver it to the Burrtec and Republic recycling centers. Whereas previously, the city sanitation division then transported the processed trash to the Mid-Valley landfill, henceforward Burrtec and Republic will dispose of the leftover trash. The city will pay Burrtec and Republic Services $1.04 less per ton to accept that trash than it was paying the county – $37.75. If the city fails to make timely payment to Burrtec and Republic, per the contract, the city will pay the companies 1.5 percent interest, i.e., 18 percent per year, as a penalty for the money it is in arrears on. It is anticipated that the city will not be able to remain current on its payments for some time to come. The city’s integrated waste fund, which exists to cover municipal trash service, has been entirely depleted since June.
The county has already filed a petition in the bankruptcy court to allow it to proceed into state court to get an enforceable judgment to be paid the $2.5 million the city owes it. A hearing on that matter is scheduled for January 22. The council is slated to hold a public hearing on February 18 at which increasing the city’s trash rates is to be considered.
Jim Morris, the chief of staff to mayor Patrick Morris, told the Sentinel that according to the contract, “The city will pay at the gate of their materials recovery facilities one fee and that is it. The city maintains responsibility and control of the refuse hauling from the city’s residences and businesses to the gate, and all of the billing and customer processing and interface. The change is that instead of taking it to the landfill we will be taking it to the materials recovery facilities. Those are local, so we will have a shorter distance to disposal, which represents some savings to the city.”
Morris said he did not know where Burtec and Republic will take the trash. He said it was not an issue for the city where those companies disposed of the refuse. Nor could he say whether the county would charge Burrtec and Republic the higher $45.95 per ton rate because the trash had originated in San Bernardino. That will be an issue those companies will need to tend to, he said. “I don’t know what their plan for disposal of the waste is, whether it is in a county landfill or another, I don’t know,” Jim Morris said. “If the county is going to up its fee to them, that is their challenge. We do not have built into the contract a cost adjuster if they can’t find a place and have to pay higher tipping fees.”
The previous contracts Burrtec and Republic had to process recyclable material out of the city’s waste stream remains intact.

Willie Hailey, Councilman, Hwy. Patrolman

(December 21)   BARSTOW—The week after he left the Barstow City Council, Willie Hailey Sr. died, felled by complications relating to congestive heart failure.
He was hospitalized at the Loma Linda University Medical Center   when he passed away early in the morning of December 12.
Hailey was a Barstow native, the sixth child born to Robert and Mary Hailey and a graduate of Barstow High School. In addition to the single term he served on the city council, he was twice elected to the school board. He had a 27-year career with the California Highway Patrol, retiring in 2007.
A 1980 graduate of California State University, Sacramento, Hailey held a bachelor’s degree in criminology and was active in local youth sports leagues as a coach. He declined to run for reelection in November.
Hailey is survived by his five children (Nicole, Willie Jr., David, Andrea and Taylor); his 13 grandchildren (Christian, Danielle, Arianna, Eileen, Gabriel, Daniella, Leslie, Elias, Alisaria, Jahnae, Kayron, Mia and Leila); and Karyn, his wife of four months.

Hesperia Unified School District Ends McKinney’s Tenure As Superintendent

(December 21)   HESPERIA—Mark McKinney, whose head has been on and off the chopping block for the last three years as a consequence of the constant twists and turns brought on by conflicting and changing alignments on the Hesperia School Board, was terminated as superintendent on December 18 and reassigned for the remaining 18 months on his contract to serve as vice principal at Hesperia High.
The critical mass that ejected McKinney from the district’s top spot consisted of the troika of Hardy Black, who had previously seemed intent on relieving McKinney of his command but held off on pulling the trigger two months ago, and Ella Rogers and Cody Gregg, both of whom were elected to the school board in November and were just sworn into office this month.
Niccole Childs and Eric Swanson opposed McKinney’s demotion.
Gregg, a 21-year-old college student and national guardsman, and Rogers, who previously served on the board from 2006 until she failed to garner reelection in 2010, signed onto Black’s on-again, off-again effort to dislodge McKinney without articulating the precise grounds for the action. The firing was made “without cause,” such that the board has to make good on fulfilling the terms of McKinney’s contract, which runs through June 30, 2014.
McKinney began with Hesperia Unified as a teacher, promoted into administrative positions and leapfrogged into the interim superintendent’s post in August 2007, overseeing a district that includes all levels from kindergarten to 12th grade with an enrollment of 22,821 pupils at 30 schools when the  previous superintendent, Hank Richardson, went into early retirement. McKinney was subsequently made full-fledged superintendent, but was hamstrung in several respects because of personality conflicts on the board.
He had a hot and cold relationship with Black, along with other members of the board. As early as 2008, McKinney fell out of favor, at least temporarily, with Black. That difficulty was patched over, but McKinney then suffered a rocky relationship with another board member, Chris Bentley. In March 2009, Bentley placed a discussion item on the school board’s agenda about the “potential replacement of the superintendent.” He withdrew that item before the meeting took place, however.
In 2011, McKinney got crosswise of Black when he suspended former Hesperia Unified School District police chief Mike Graham after Graham and other district police officers objected to what they said were McKinney’s efforts to prevent the police department from investigating accounting irregularities in Sultana High School student government funds. An investigation into the matter determined that McKinney had moved to handle the matter pertaining to the missing funds administratively but had not, as the officers alleged, sought to obstruct justice. Black backed Graham when McKinney dismissed him as school district police chief but Bentley supported McKinney in having treated the matter as a personnel issue. Bentley said at the time that McKinney had the authority as superintendent to run the district as he saw fit.
In October, the pendulum had swung and Bentley was again gunning for McKinney. With the initial backing of board members Eric Swanson and Niccole Childs, Bentley sought to schedule a special emergency meeting  that was to take as its agenda discussion of the possible termination of McKinney along with three other district employees, Jovy Yankaskas, David McLaughlin and Karen Kelly.
Bentley was counting on the support of two of his colleagues, Black and Anthony Riley, who had  previously given indication that they would be open to replacing McKinney. Together, the three appeared to have the requisite political muscle on the five-member panel to hand McKinney a pink slip. At that point, however, Bentley was at direct political loggerheads with Black and Riley on other issues, blunting the prospect that they would coalesce into a majority to terminate McKinney, at least at that time. Before the meeting actually took place, it was cancelled.
Bentley was turned out of office in November and Riley did not seek reelection. Rogers, who like Black was a strong supporter of Graham, came into office with an animus toward McKinney. On December 12, the board had likewise considered McKinney’s continuing tenure with the district, but was unable to come to a consensus.
This week, with young Gregg’s support, McKinney was forced to relinquish the superintendent’s post.
Curiously, but in keeping with the contradictions and twists that have abounded in the district’s decision-making process, it was a matter pertaining to Kelly under McKinney’s watch that was in some quarters credited with having sealed McKinley’s fate. That matter was Kelly’s personal relationship with one of the district’s contractors in 2008, when she was serving as assistant superintendent of personnel services and the contractor was working for the district. As a consequence of that relationship,  she was suspended and then demoted twice in four months, with a $60,000 cut in her salary. She sued over gender discrimination and obtained a $500,000 settlement from the district as a result.  It was widely rumored, but not confirmed at press time, that Kelly was being considered as McKinley’s interim replacement.

29 Palms Water District Rethinking Letting County Absorb Fire Deparment

(December 14)   TWENTYNINE PALMS—Faced with what has been characterized as “a total financial absurdity” imposed on it by the San Bernardino County Local Agency Formation Commission, the Twenty Nine Palms Water District is now balking at the demand that it divest itself of the Twentynine Palms Fire Department.
For fifty-four years, the Twentynine Palms Water District has overseen the Twentynine Palms Fire Department. In 1958, when the California Department of Forestry ceased providing local fire service, the Twentynine Palms Water District extended its responsibilities to include fire protection.
Under the water district’s guidance, the fire department has grown to boast two fire stations, Station 421 on Adobe Road, which provides first response to the 59-square mile incorporated portion of Twentynine Palms and some unincorporated pockets close to town, and Station 422 on Lear Avenue, which is the first logical responder to fire and medical emergencies in the 29-square mile unincorporated, outlying communities of Twentynine Palms, including the Desert Heights area. The department employs seven permanent/professional firefighting personnel, including the fire chief, two fire captains, and four engineers. The department also employs an administrative assistant. The department counts on 30 volunteers, who work one shift per week.
The fire department’s service area is not coterminous with the 29 Palms city limits. The city does not contribute to, participate in or subsidize the fire department’s operational budget. Under the arrangement that has been in place since 1958, fire department finances have been held independent of the water district’s water division operational budget, with water rates totally devoted to the provision of water to customers. Fire department operations are defrayed entirely by a special tax on properties throughout the service area of the district. That special tax currently generates slightly more than $1.24 million per year.
In 2007, the city and the district began earnest discussion of annexing the fire department to the city, but because of complications with regard to the authority for the special tax and the formula for the distribution of tax revenues, as well as the discrepancy between the city limits and the district’s service area, the city elected to forego the takeover.
The Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO), which oversees jurisdictional issues throughout the county, in its five-year service review of Twentynine Palms delivered on May 7, 2012 stated that the demands of operating the fire district have for some time been outrunning the water district’s funding ability. The report, authored by LAFCO executive officer Kathleen Rollings-McDonald, assistant executive officer Samuel Martinez and project manager Michael Tuerpe, said LAFCO’s 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.”
Rollings-McDonald on May 24 told the water district’s board members that the district would have to overcome the financial challenges facing the fire department or cede control of the department to another entity by July 1, 2013. On June 27, with director Nicholas “Bo” Bourikas not present but voting in absentia in writing, the water board moved to file an application with the San Bernardino County Local Agency Formation Commission to sever fire service from the district. On July 12, at a joint meeting of the Twentynine Palms Water District, including its legal counsel and staff, Twentynine Palms Fire Chief Jim Thompson, the Twentynine Palms City Council and its legal counsel, county fire chief Mark Hartwig and Rollings-McDonald, a decision was made to have the county’s fire department subsume the fire department.
Since that time, officials have gone back and forth over whether the operation of both existing fire stations will be maintained. There have been differing proposals to close out Fire Station 421 entirely and headquarter the entire department at Station 422; to scale back Station 421’s operations while relying on paid call firefighters; and to keep both stations up and running.
Crunching numbers and looking at fiscal realities, including the necessity of the department’s employees becoming members of the firefighters union representing San Bernardino County firefighters, who as such will be entitled under contract to hefty salaries and benefits, it appeared that four of the seven firefighters currently with the district would have to be laid off, given the $1.24 million in annual revenue into the district.
Immediately upon becoming a creature of county government, the department would have to begin paying into the state Public Employees Retirement System. With three employees, the department could sustain itself with $1.16 million per year. But upon hiring a fourth firefighter, the cost of running the department would jump to $1.3 million, and that assumes that the fourth firefighter would earn no overtime.
Under California Public Employees Retirement System rules and the county’s contract with the firefighters union, firefighters are eligible to retire at the age of 55 and then receive three percent of their highest annual earnings times the number of years they worked with the department. This would include all the years the firefighters were employed by the water district. The county has indicated it would not be willing to cover that portion of the contribution into the California Public Employees Retirement System pertaining to the previous years worked by the three or four firefighters to be hired by the county upon takeover of the district. That contribution or “liability” of the water district would be at least $700,000 for three firefighters and $940,000 for four firefighters.
At one point, Hartwig proposed having the newly-constituted Twentynine Palms Fire Department consist of one chief and one firefighter/paramedic at Station 421 in downtown Twentynine Palms and two firefighters/paramedics at Station 422 on Lear Avenue, with a total operating budget of  $1 million to $1.3 million annually.
Subsequently, after Hartwig spoke in depth with current fire chief Thompson and made a consideration of various staffing scenarios, it was determined that the most likely form the department would take would be three firefighters composing one engine company which would operate out of one station, most likely the one on Lear Avenue.
One proposal briefly looked at was laying off three firefighters upon the county takeover, and running the department as a two-engine, two-station department for one year, and transitioning to a three-member, one-engine department as of July 1, 2014.
More recently, Hartwig indicated a two-station department could be provided for $1.2 million per year, with the Adobe Road facility, Station 421, being  staffed by a single professional fire captain, a “limited term” firefighter/paramedic and one “limited term” firefighter and the Lear Avenue Station, No. 422, being manned by paid-call firefighters. The department would continue to rely upon its corps of volunteers/paid call firefighters, who are provided with training and equipment, including a pager that is used to summon them when an emergency so dictates. They are paid up to $10 an hour for their service but receive no benefits and no guaranteed minimum.
By utilizing volunteers/paid call personnel and the three professional firefighters, Hartwig said he could make do with $1.24 million per year and still “balance the books.”
Over the last several months, the reality of what is about to occur has begun to penetrate city officials, water district officials and the public at large. As the fire department is currently being operated, the water district anticipates revenues throughout fiscal 2012-13 of $1,241,000 and expenditures running to $1,480,202. Essentially, because the water district is $239,000 short in the revenue it needs to run a seven-man department, it is on the brink of reducing itself to a three-man department.
On November 28, the water district directors, after hearing from the district’s financial consultant Wayne Jones, voted unanimously to suspend the application to divest itself of the fire department.
On December 19, the water board will revisit the issue of keeping the fire district within its jurisdiction.
One element in the board’s thinking process is the changed political circumstance on the city council. On November 6, Cora Heiser was elected, displacing John Cole on the city council. To date, the city council has refused to consider providing any sort of augmentation funding to the water district to support fire department operations. In April, Twentynine Palms voters rejected the Measure H tax initiative by a substantial margin. Measure H would have levied an $80 to $120 per parcel assessment on customers of the water district to provide enhanced fire protection and emergency medical aid to the community Needing the endorsement of two-thirds of the voters to pass, Measure H garnered 850 votes of endorsement, or 48.27 percent, and 911 in opposition, or 51.73 percent, during the mail-in balloting concluded on April 17.
At this point, however, some are hopeful and water board president Philip Cisneros has hinted, city officials may be amenable to finding the $239,000 needed to keep the level of staffing in the Twentynine Palms Fire Department intact.
Rollings-McDonald this week told the Sentinel that the water district has not initiated the process with LAFCO to arrange for divesting itself of the fire department. That filing would have cost the district $15,400, and should have been initiated by October 1, she said, to ensure that the takeover could be effectuated by the start of the 2013-14 fiscal year on July 1.
“There  has been no submission to LAFCO regarding a proposal to change over fire services,” Rollings-McDonald said. “ My understanding was that at the last official meeting of the water board there was a decision to suspend the preparation of that application because there is a question about how the county fire department would respond to the takeover, particularly with the changing of manpower at the Lear Avenue Station. At LAFCO we have received nothing relating to that.  I don’t know why they are backing off. I just know there was concern regarding staffing at the Lear Avenue Station. I do not know what the county has proposed. We are not privy to that “
Rollings-McDonald said the district could not logically defy the LAFCO mandate that the district rid itself of the financial burden of the fire department.
“Their finances won’t change,” Rollings-McDonald said. “The special tax is a flat rate. It does not have an inflation factor. The only fluctuation is what comes when customers fail to pay. The district cannot use money from water operations to subsidize fire protection.  I do not know how they can continue run a deficit. They can’t increase their revenues. The only way would be for them to borrow money, but  how can they borrow if they have no money to pay it back? If the department adjusts operation at the Lear Station to live within its means, that is well and good. But they have to live within their means because they don’t have the discretionary funds to use. I do not know what they intend to do and how they intend to do it.”

Brulte In Effort To Overhaul State GOP

(December 14)   SACRAMENTO—In the wake of the most resounding electoral defeat the GOP has ever sustained in California, former Republican Party standout Jim Brulte is looking to seize the reins of the party’s state political machinery in an effort to reestablish Republican relevance in the nation’s most populous state.
Working from his native San Bernardino County, which is one of the last Republican bastions in the Golden State, Brulte is seeking step-by-step to regain the position of prominence he held in the Republican Party during the 14 years he served in California’s legislature.
Figuring that in this winter of the Grand Old Party’s discontent now is the time for all good Republicans to come to the aid of their party, Brulte has taken up the gauntlet and what will prove to be either a Herculean task or Quixotic effort to resuscitate the Party of Lincoln. Statewide, as a growing and energized contingent of Latino and younger voters registered as Democrats and voted overwhelmingly in support of candidates from their party, the Republicans suffered a defeat of catastrophic proportion, with the Democrats capturing well over two-thirds majorities in both houses of the legislature, locking in a Democratic advantage at the statehouse while governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, holds sway over the state’s administrative function. Democrats have firm possession of 84 seats in the state’s 120-seat legislature. This supermajority provides the Democrats with the ability to raise taxes without the support of any Republican votes. Emboldened by the position of power they now hold, elements within the Democratic Party in the state are calling for the elimination of any remaining tax breaks for businesses.
In California’s Congressional delegation, the outlook for Republicans is equally dismal, with just 15 of the state’s 53 members of Congress now being Republicans.
Whether the California Republican Party can stage a comeback at all, under Brulte’s leadership or that of anyone else, is a question of some moment. It appears highly doubtful that the party could turn things around within the next or even the next two or three election cycles, given the immensity of the electoral debacle last month and the trends it portends. Nevertheless, those most enthusiastic about the party and Republican issues and values, believe that Brulte, who is no stranger to political adversity and Democratic skullduggery, possesses the requisite mettle and strategic orientation to carry it off if it is to be done.
Known as the “Fat Man” as a consequence of the 349 pounds he carried around on his 6 foot 4 inch frame at the time he was the Republican leader in the Assembly in the mid-1990s, Brulte led a charmed existence within Republican circles. In his twenties, he was Nancy Reagan’s appointments secretary when she was First Lady. Subsequently, he went to work for then-Republican U.S. Senator S.I “Sam”. Hayakawa and then obtained a position with the Republican National Committee, and was a civilian employee in the Department of Defense during the latter years of the Reagan Administration. His last assignment in Washington was as a member of the advance staff for then-vice president George H. W. Bush. He was sent back to California as part of a party strategy to install him as an elected official. In 1990, 65th Assembly District Assemblyman Chuck Bader, a former Pomona mayor and an up-and-coming Republican, was instructed by his party to forego reelection in the 65th District, where he would almost assuredly have been victorious, to allow Brulte to run in his stead. Bader, ever loyal to the GOP, did as he was instructed, and futilely challenged longtime Democrat Ruben Ayala for his State Senate seat. The end of Bader’s tenure as an elected politician gave rise to Brulte’s career as an elected official, which lasted for 14 years, at which time the term limits Brulte had championed in the state Assembly forced him to leave office. During eleven of those fourteen years, Brulte was the Republican Caucus chairman or his party leader in whichever legislative house he occupied. In late 1994 and early 1995, Brulte came tantalizingly close to breaking Democrat Willie Brown’s 14-year-long reign as Assembly Speaker, widely viewed as the second most powerful position in state government. After the November 1994 election and recounts, the GOP held a razor-thin majority in the Assembly, and Brulte appeared destined to become speaker. In a classic example of backroom maneuvering, however, Brown was able to remain as speaker by persuading one of the Republican assemblymen, Paul Horcher, to vote for him in return for some prize committee assignments. Brulte and other outraged Republicans then moved to successfully recall Horcher from office but before a Republican replacement could be installed, Brown again reached across the aisle to appeal to Republican Assemblywoman Doris Allen, arranging for her to be installed as speaker with the vote of the entire Democratic contingent in the Assembly. Thus, Brulte was again thwarted from becoming Assembly Speaker. Willie Brown would eventually leave the Assembly to become mayor of San Francisco. When he did, the Republicans captured control, briefly, of the Assembly, but that eventuality came too late to allow Brulte, who was being termed out of the Assembly and was thus running for State Senate, to become Assembly Speaker. That honor instead went to Curt Pringle.
In his bruising battles against Brown, Brulte grew as a strategist. Whereas Brown had cultivated and amassed power by vectoring campaign contributions obtained from special interest groups that were at his disposal to his Democratic allies, Brulte in earnest began to tap into money from right-wing groups and dispensed it in the most efficient manner possible to further the Republican cause.
Basically a conservative, but a pragmatist who could reach across to moderates when some political mileage was to be gained, Brulte was nevertheless a cunning strategist ready to push the envelope and secure whatever advantage the leverage he and his party possessed at any given time with regard to any specific or general issue.
In November 1996 Brulte was elected in the 31st state Senate District and in April 2000 he became the State Senate Republican Leader. He departed as an elected official in 2004, having served the maximum time he could under California’s term limit law. He went to work almost immediately for  California Strategies, a lobbying and public affairs consulting firm, staffed in large measure by former elected officials and former high level government employees.
In jumping directly back into the partisan fray, Brulte has his work cut out for him. For the first time since party affiliation records have been compiled, fewer than 30 percent of the state’s voters are registered as Republicans. The state’s demographics show that portion of the population from which the GOP draws most of its voters – upwardly mobile young white professionals, non-unionized tradesmen and older white males – being eclipsed by minority voters, who tend to identify themselves as Democrats.
Moreover, the internecine fighting among Republicans reached fever pitch this year, partly as a consequence of California’s open primaries, which provided for the two top vote-getters in June regardless of party affiliation to qualify for the run-off in November. This resulted in several head-to-head contests between Republicans in the congressional, state senatorial and assembly districts in which Republicans still hold a registration advantage. Curiously, the state party devoted a significant part of its resources to some of its Republican candidates engaged in  campaigns against other Republicans while providing less funding to Republicans who were simultaneously waging campaigns against Democrats. Some of those Republican vs. Democrat races were highly competitive. In this way, the party actually ran campaigns against Republican candidates that were more vitriolic than those which were run against Democratic opponents. One of those was incumbent congressman Gary Miller’s congressional campaign against state senator Bob Dutton. Dutton had been the Republican leader in the State Senate. He was assailed in a number of attack pieces paid for by his own party. Brulte, if he is successful in capturing the party chairman’s position when the California GOP meets in March, will need to convince party donors, many of whom supported the Republican candidates who were the targets of those attack campaigns, that they should continue to stock the party’s coffers with money.
Despite the challenges, many of them daunting, Brulte comes across as hell bent on assuming the party chairmanship. He appears well on his way to doing that, having lined up numerous party stalwarts and current office holders to support him, while no other figure of equal or less gravitas than he  has emerged to oppose him.

Divided State Supreme Court Closes Door On Richards’ Request For New Trial

(December 14)   On December 3, the California Supreme Court closed out another but not the final chapter in the troubling matter of William Richards with a closely divided decision that did not put the controversy attending the case fully to rest. Ruling 4-3, California’s highest court upheld Richard’s 1997 conviction for the 1993 murder of his wife, Pamela.
There has been little about the Richards case that is clearly cut, other than that Pamela Richards was murdered and the entire circumstance lacks clarity.
The Richards case was beset with a myriad of difficulties from the outset, which in and of themselves resulted in three mistrials. It was only upon the prosecution’s fourth attempt that a unanimous vote to convict him was obtained. Then, while Richards was serving his 25-years-to-life sentence, further information emerged which cast, according to San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Brian McCarville, grave doubt upon his guilt, his conviction and the validity of much of the evidence used to obtain that conviction, exacerbated by evidence that indicated the presence of a person or persons unknown at the murder scene.
Then-deputy district attorney Mike Risley prosecuted Richards each time.
Richards’ story did not change from trial to trial.
He claimed he had returned the evening of August 10, 1993 from his machinist’s job in Corona at about 11:50 p.m. to find the motor home in which he and his wife lived on the five-acre Summit Valley property they owned dark and empty. The couple was living in the motor home  while efforts to construct a house on the property were ongoing. He went to look for his wife and found her dead in a pool of blood on another part of their property between the motor home and the Santa Fe railroad line.
He claimed he turned his wife’s body over and cradled her before summoning assistance.
In each of his prosecutions of William Richards, Risley suggested there was strife in the Richards’ 22-year long marriage. He put on an expert witness who testified that splatters of Pamela Richards’ blood that were found on William Richards’ shoes and clothes were tell-tale evidence indicating William Richards had wielded the cinder block used to crush his wife’s head.
Risley marshaled further evidence, accumulated by sheriff’s deputies and detectives, showing no car tracks or footprints other than those of Richards, his wife or the detectives and deputies or their vehicles were present on the property.
Risley displayed for jurors a “bite mark” on Pamela Richards’ hand and then followed that up with testimony from a forensic expert who claimed that by his analysis the bite could have only come from two percent of the population, including Richards, who had a certain peculiarity to their teeth.
The coup-de-grace was a tuft of 15 light-blue fibers found in a tear in the victim’s fingernail. According to Risley, the fibers matched those of the shirt Richards was wearing the night of the murder.
The first of the four times Richards was to be tried, the judge declared a mistrial before the matter was presented to a jury. In 1994, the first time the case went the distance, a jury deadlocked 6-6. A second full trial netted a 10-2 verdict for conviction. On the last complete go-round, he was convicted.
As in the first two complete trials, the third jury to hear the entire case reported that it too was deadlocked after seven full days of deliberation. The jurors, encouraged to return to deliberations, delivered a unanimous guilty verdict on the eighth day.
Richards has been imprisoned ever since.
Among those passionately inveighing against the verdict was Pamela Richards’ sister, Kathy Olejnik. Olejnik went to her grave in 2003 swearing her brother-in-law did not murder her sister, leaving behind multiple notarized affidavits asserting her conviction “that William Richards did not kill or murder my sister.”
There exists an accumulation of evidence that suggests Olejnik had solid ground for her belief.
Beginning in 1986 and continuing until 1999, a rash of murders had taken place around the country, now known or in large part proven to have been committed by a man identified as Angel Maturino Reséndiz, who was also known as Rafael Reséndiz-Ramirez, Angel Reyes Reséndiz and Angel Leoncio Reyes Recéndis, as well as the Railway Killer.
In the early stages of his murderous career, Reséndiz, a native of Mexico who continuously made undocumented trips between Mexico, the United States and Canada by riding the rails while using over twenty aliases and at least fifteen social security numbers, was not remarked upon by authorities or identified as the culprit. It was only in the final two years of his thirteen-year-long murder spree that suspicion coalesced around the entity dubbed the Railway Killer. Even after he was identified by Texas and federal authorities and placed on the FBI’s ten most wanted list in 1999, his itinerant lifestyle and his use of aliases allowed him to elude capture.
In July 1999, Reséndiz was apparently willingly lured into capture by Texas Rangers and FBI agents who negotiated his surrender through the intercession of his sister.
With a few exceptions, the murders Reséndiz committed fit within the same pattern. The victims lived or were found within a short distance of a railroad line and were killed by being beaten over the head with a rock or heavy object available at the scene. His primary motive appears to have been to steal money he used to purchase alcohol, drugs or gasoline to fuel vehicles he stole. He raped some, but not all of his female victims.
His known victims included:
* Christopher Maier, a 21-year-old University of Kentucky student who was walking along nearby railroad tracks with his girlfriend, Holly K. Dunn, on August 29, 1997 when they were set upon by Reséndiz, who bludgeoned Maier to death and then raped and severely beat Dunn, who survived the attack.
* Leafie Mason, an 81-year-old resident of Hughes Springs, Texas who resided 150 feet from the Kansas City-Southern Line. On October 4, 1998, Reséndiz let himself into her home through a window and used a tire iron to beat Mason to death.
* Dr. Claudia Benton, a 39-year-old pediatric neurologist at the Baylor College of Medicine who on December 17, 1998 was raped, stabbed and bludgeoned in her West University Palace, Texas home, which is proximate to the train tracks. Reséndiz then used Benton’s Jeep Cherokee to drive to San Antonio. Police recovered his fingerprints from the Jeep’s steering column.
* The Reverend Norman Sirnic, 46, and his wife, Karen Sirnic, 47, were bludgeoned to death by a sledgehammer-wielding Reséndiz in the parsonage of the United Church of Christ in Weimer, Texas on May 2, 1999. The parsonage was located near the Weimer railroad tracks. Reséndiz then used the couple’s Mazda to drive to San Antonio, where it was eventually found by authorities, who recovered Reséndiz’s fingerprints in it.
* Noemi Dominguez, a 26-year-old school teacher, bludgeoned inside her Houston, Texas apartment, located within short walking distance of the rail tracks, on June 4, 1999. On June 11, Dominguez’s Honda Civic was discovered by state troopers in a parking lot next to the International Bridge in Del Rio, Texas.
* Josephine Konvicka, a 73-year-old woman living in Fayette County, Texas was killed on the same day that Noemi Dominguez was killed, June 4, 1999. Konvicka’s farmhouse was located near the railroad tracks by Weimar, Texas. Konvicka was killed while she was asleep by means of a blow to the head from a pointed garden tool. Reséndiz’s attempt to steal Konvicka’s car failed, apparently because he was unable to locate the keys.
* George Morber, 80, and Carolyn Frederick, 52, were killed on June 15, 1999 by Reséndiz, who shot Morber in the head with a shotgun and then clubbed Frederick to death. Their home in Gorham, Illinois was located only 300 feet from a railroad line. Reséndiz took Frederick’s pickup truck and was seen driving it in Cairo, Illinois a short time later.
* Jesse Howell, 19, whom Reséndiz bludgeoned to death with an air hose coupling and left beside the railroad tracks in Ocala, Florida on March 23, 1997.
* Wendy Von Huben, Howell’s 16-year-old girlfriend, whom Reséndiz then raped, strangled and suffocated, also on March 23, 1997. Her body was not found until July 2000 when Reséndiz led investigators to a shallow grave in Sumter County, roughly 30 miles away from the spot where Howell had been killed.
* Michael White was found shot to death in July 1991 in the yard of a vacant home in San Antonio, Texas. When San Antonio police interviewed Reséndiz in 2006, he provided investigators with details about the murder.
By the middle of 2002, Reséndiz had recounted to investigators details of about 20 killings since 1986, though the investigations of only 12 of those have been officially closed out with his identification as the perpetrator. According to Texas authorities, Reséndiz provided details about eight murders he had not previously been associated with, including three in Texas and two in California.
Two of the Texas murders remain unverified but a third is considered to be the shooting death of an unidentified woman in Bexar County in 1986.
Reséndiz indicated he had killed two people in Southern California in the early and mid-1990s: a man near San Bernardino and a woman up in the desert.
Detectives with the Colton Police Department believe Reséndiz is the “likely” perpetrator of the 1997 death of a man beaten to death in the Southern Pacific rail yard in Colton, which is the city lying immediately to the west of San Bernardino.
One of Reséndiz’s arrests came on August 19, 1995 by Santa Fe Railroad police in San Bernardino on trespassing and possession of a firearm charges.
The murder Reséndiz claimed to have perpetrated in the California desert matches in all respects the circumstances of Pamela Richards’ murder.
At the time of William Richards’ trials however, Reséndiz was not a consideration to Richards, his attorneys, the prosecutors, or the judge hearing Richards’ case. Jurors never heard a word about the Railway Killer, and were instead faced with Richards’ explanation of arriving home near midnight to find his wife dead, with no plausible explanation as to an alternate suspect or motive on the part of anyone else.
Risley fortified his case by presenting evidence that the Richards’ marriage was a financially challenged and tempestuous one. Risley presented evidence that Pamela Richards was having an extramarital affair with a man, Eugene Price, who had called the motor home the night of the murder in response to a message Pamela Richards had left on Price’s answering machine. Risley further offered jurors testimony from Pamela’s coworkers that she on occasion came to work with bruises on her face which she tried to mask with makeup and that she had expressed fear of her husband and his temper. Risley who was also able to take advantage of the opportunity to hone his presentation and jury selection across four jury panels, pressed on relentlessly against Richards, whose financial resources and ability to employ a trial attorney were depleted after the first trial that went before a jury.
A key problem with the case put on against Richards was that the investigation of the crime scene had been compromised before forensic investigators arrived because the sheriff’s personnel who initially responded to the call failed to secure it at all during the early morning of August 11, 1993 in the immediate hours after the murder occurred, leaving Pamela Richards’ body out in the open, which resulted in several wild dogs and coyotes molesting her corpse and partially burying it.
In 2003, the California Innocence Project at the California Western School of Law in San Diego took up Richards’ cause. By that time, however, Risley through his political alliance with Mike Ramos had risen to the position of assistant district attorney, the second most powerful member of the prosecutor’s office in San Bernardino County. San Bernardino County prosecutors consistently opposed all requests for testing or the reexamination of evidence in the case.
While in custody, however, Reséndiz was questioned by attorneys associated with the California Innocence Project. During the time Risley was still assistant district attorney and no new trial for Richards was in the offing, Reséndiz was executed by the state of Texas on June 27, 2006.
Prior to his death, Reséndiz and Texas authorities consented to Reséndiz providing a DNA sample. Authorization for that sample was given by San Bernardino County judge Margaret Powers at the behest of the California Innocence Project and over the objection of the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office.
Tests were requested on bloody objects from the murder scene and on fingernail scrapings taken from Pamela Richards that may have contained blood, tissue and hair samples.
In June 2007, the 46-year-old Risley retired from the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office. Shortly thereafter, he moved to Oxford, Mississippi. He has since relocated to Florida.
In August 2007, four attorneys working with the California Innocence Project at the California Western School of Law in San Diego – Alex Simpson, Jan Stiglitz, Justin Brooks and Mario Conte – and their organization pressed forward with the previously stymied effort to obtain a new trial for Richards.
Countering Risley’s claims, the Innocence Project utilized the DNA testing on the cinder block and a hair found under Pamela Richards’ fingernail to show that William Richards was not the only person at the crime scene that night and someone other than Richards held the murder weapon and struggled with the victim. This undermined entirely, Stiglitz and Brooks asserted, Risley’s claims to all three juries that Richards was the only person at the scene. They entered into the record the presence of numerous defensive wounds that did not contain Pamela Richard’s husband’s DNA, along with the presence of  unknown male DNA under her fingernails and on the murder weapon.
The Innocence Project has also shed doubt on the bite mark evidence Risley relied upon in convincing the jury that Richards murdered his wife.
At the 1997 trial, Risley brought in forensic experts to tell the jury that a “bite mark” on Pamela Richards’ hand could only have come from William Richards and two percent of the population. The Innocence Project demonstrated that Risley had provided prosecution and defense experts with incomplete information and poor photos of the injury and withheld other exculpatory evidence. The more comprehensive evidence demonstrated the “bite mark” was similar to other injuries on Pamela Richards’ body and the shape of the injury matched tools found at the crime scene.
In January 2009 two of the dental forensic experts that had testified for the prosecution during Richards’ 1997 trial were subpoenaed to testify in a hearing before Judge Brian McCarville and acknowledged the testimony they gave at trial was “scientifically inaccurate.” Both testified that Richards could not have made the alleged bite mark on the victim. A third dental expert testified that Richards was not a match and that the mark found on the body might not have been a bite mark. A fourth forensic expert asserted that if the wound on the victim’s hand was a bite mark, it could not have been made by Richards. He also questioned whether the wound was even a bite mark.
The Innocence Project was further able to discredit what was perhaps the most crucial piece of evidence used by Risley to convict Richards, the tuft of fibers lodged into one of Pamela Richard’s fingernails. The Innocence Project attorneys introduced evidence to indicate the fibers were planted into Pamela Richard’s fingernail during the process of the criminal investigation or otherwise ended up there by some form of gross mishandling of the evidence.
Risley used the tuft, consisting of 15 light-blue fibers said to match the shirt Richards was wearing that fateful night and found in a crack in Pamela Richards’ fingernail, to place William Richards at the scene.
Photos of Pamela’s body taken just after the autopsy clearly show no fibers present in the crack in her fingernail. Days later, when several of her fingers were severed and delivered to criminalist Daniel Gregonis for tests, Gregonis made a video which shows him removing a rather large light-blue fiber from Pamela’s nail. “That fiber evidence was critical to Richards’ conviction and it was not present on Pamela’s fingernail when it was initially examined,” Brooks told McCarville.
In response to the Innocence Project’s presentation and request to throw out Richards’ 1997 conviction, McCarville on August 10, 2009, sixteen years to the day after the murder of Pamela Richards, found that the new evidence pointed “unerringly to innocence” and he granted the petition for a writ of habeas corpus, the vacation of the conviction and a new trial.
The district attorney’s office, however, appealed McCarville’s decision, such that the matter for the last three years  and three months has wended through the appellate system, ultimately being lodged with the California Supreme Court. California’s highest court found the case every bit as difficult as had those forums which previously considered the evidence. Three of the State Supreme Court’s members found the Innocence Project’s arguments compelling and persuasive, determining that Richards’ conviction was based on faulty or erroneous information, testimony, evidence or presentation of that evidence. The  other four members of the court, however, signed an opinion that “the petitioner has failed to establish that any of the evidence offered at his 1997 trial was false” and further that “his newly discovered evidence does not ‘point unerringly to innocence or reduced culpability.’” The prevailing opinion held that even if technological advances did cast doubt on the validity of the expert testimony provided in 1997, the testimony still “has not been shown to be false evidence.” Since the defense did not reach the threshold of proving that the evidence used to convict Richards was “false,” the court majority reasoned, the new evidence did not reach the point of “unerringly” indicating innocence, and the habeas corpus relief should therefore not be granted.
This divided ruling upheld the murder conviction. Had the Supreme Court sided with Richards, now 63, he would have been the first convicted murderer in California to be freed through the California Innocence Project’s efforts.
Thus, Richards remains imprisoned at the state penitentiary in Tehachapi, officially convicted of the murder of his wife. Nevertheless, the record with regard to the entire matter protrudes as a deeply troubling one which has left legal minds, such as McCarville’s and those of three of the members of California’s highest court, less than convinced of a convicted man’s guilt.
And there are the chilling words of Angel Maturino Reséndiz himself, who in seemingly deprecating remarks about the fallibility of the legal system in a letter to Texas State District Judge William Harmon in July 2001 appears to be stoking the fire of doubt from the grave.
In that letter, Reséndiz stated to Harmon “So now you . . . will think as you go to sleep, `Have I sentence[d] to death an innocent person for one of Reséndiz Angel Maturino’s killings?’”