Cox Commands Council Colleagues’ Respect From His First Day In Office

(December 14)   VICTORVILLE—In a rare development, Jim Cox last week was elevated to Victorville mayor less than an hour after he was sworn in as a city councilmember for the first time.
In Victorville, the mayor is not elected directly by voters but is rather chosen by the city council from among its members. Traditionally, the council has made a practice of choosing a mayor who has been seasoned by at least two years or in most cases a four-year term or more in office as a councilmember. The last and only Victorville mayor to assume the mayor’s gavel upon election to the council was Willard Wade, who was chosen as mayor by the city’s maiden city council shortly after incorporation in 1962.
Cox, however, is an exception. He is at least as, if not more, familiar with Victorville’s municipal issues than his council colleagues. He was hired as Victorville city manager in 1969 after serving an apprenticeship in the capacities of administrative assistant, treasurer and finance director under former city manager Fred Baxter. He remained as city manager for thirty years, until November 1999, when Cox retired from the top administrative post. He remained as a consultant with the city until March 2000, serving as an advisor to the man who succeeded him, John Roberts, who had been the city engineer for the last seven years of Cox’s first tenure as city manager.
In 2009, Cox was brought back as city manager following the departure of Roberts for the city administrator’s position in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Roberts’ departure as city manager came as the city was foundering financially, staggering under a budget deficit that had come about in large measure due to the city’s participation is several electrical power plant ventures that resulted in losses exceeding $100 million.
Cox, who had a reputation as a strong fiscal conservative who had perennially balanced the city’s budget and maintained hefty reserves, was faced with restoring the city’s fiscal health. Accordingly, he carried out far-reaching restoration efforts that were radically different from the staid and deliberate management policy of his past. He put the power plant projects on hold, cancelled existing contracts with those projects’ vendors and consultants, reduced city division budgets and laid off scores of employees.
Cox resisted calls from several quarters to have the city file for Chapter Nine bankruptcy protection. Simultaneously, the city was being investigated by the grand jury with regard to a host of its activities, by the Securities and Exchange Commission over its redevelopment agency’s issuance of bonds, by the FBI for assorted activities including alleged kickback schemes involving city contractors, consultants, vendors and city officials,  and by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service over the city’s failed efforts to bring in foreign investment money through the exchange of U.S. Visas for $500,000 minimum infusions of cash into the city’s infrastructure building efforts. All of those investigations related to issues the city was involved in after Cox’s first term as city manager and prior to his second stint as the city’s top staff member.
“When I got here in 2009, I had not done any kind of a fiscal analysis and had no idea of what a critical fiscal situation the city was in. I had just responded to [then-mayor] Rudy Cabriales’ request to take the job on an interim basis. When I saw the economic problems the city was facing, I was kind of shocked. It was not a pleasant story, quite frankly,” Cox told the Sentinel in 2011.
Cox retired as Victorville’s city manager for the second time at the end of June 2011, exhausted at having to put in eleven and twelve hour days and hopeful that his efforts had started the process of righting the city’s listing financial ship.
In his electoral effort this year, Cox found himself under attack by a faction of reformists and the political movement that has grown up around them, including current incumbent councilwoman Angela Valles. It was suggested that Cox was strongly connected to former mayor and councilman Terry Caldwell, who served on the council for 38 years beginning in 1972 until he chose not to seek reelection in 2010. Caldwell was widely identified with many of the financial faux pas that occurred during Roberts’ tenure as city manager. Those calling for the investigation or indictments of city officials suggested that Cox during his second go-round as city manager had been too protective of Caldwell, Cabriales, former councilman and mayor Mike Roshschild and Roberts, who were accused of being the architects of the failed and costly ventures the city had engaged in while trying to build power plants and to transform the former George Air Force Base into a successful civilian commercial airport. Cox responded that finger pointing and prosecutions would not solve the city’s very real economic and administrative problems and that he preferred to get on with the business at hand.  The reformists were hampered by the electoral efforts of a plethora of so-called reform candidates during the election. Cox was successful on November 6 as 14 candidates in all vied for three positions on the council. One incumbent, Ryan McEachron, remained  on the council, while another, Rothschild, lost. Cox won, as did one of the reformist candidates, Gloria Garcia.
Caldwell was replaced in 2010 by Jim Kennedy, the husband of one of Caldwell’s business partners. Before turning to Cox, McEachron, the outgoing mayor, nominated Kennedy to serve as mayor. Kennedy, however declined the honor, asserting that his travel schedule would prevent him from attending public events such as ribbon cuttings.
Cox, whose only previous foray into elective politics was an unsuccessful attempt to capture the Republican nomination for the State Assembly, declined making a lengthy acceptance speech, saying only that he would allow his votes and actions as mayor to do the talking for him.

Verizon To Install Cell Tower Next To RC School Playground

(December 14)   Parents of kindergarten through eighth grade students attending  Sacred Heart Parochial School in Rancho Cucamonga have expressed concern and outrage over the Diocese of San Bernardino’s agreement to allow Verizon to install a cell phone tower on the church grounds proximate to the school’s playground.
The Diocese and Verizon have had the project on the drawing boards for more than 20 months. Approval for the tower was given by the Rancho Cucamonga Planning Commission in January and the Diocese signed a lease payment contract with the phone company two months ago. Parents, however, said they did not learn about the tower until late last week.
There is concern over the high intensity electromagnetic radiation to be emitted from the tower, which is to be erected at the west facing side of  the school’s “Blue Hall”  directly to the east of the  school’s grassy play area.  Studies done by Dr. Howard Wachtel at the University of Colorado at Boulder have demonstrated potentially harmful effects on humans exposed to high intensity magnetic fields. Studies undertaken in Scandinavia indicate elevated incidences of leukemia and other forms of blood cancer in children exposed to magnetic fields.
The school and the Diocese maintain they would not expose the children at Sacred Heart to any hazards and that Verizon had provided them with assurances the radiation to be transmitted from the tower is well under the maximum exposure level permitted by the Federal Communications Commission.

Barstow, Big Bear And Needles Courthouses To Be Shuttered In May

(December 14)   The closure of the Chino Courthouse slated for January 1 will be inadequate to redress a $22 million shortfall plaguing the county court system in 2012-13, necessitating a round of even more substantial cuts to court operations in May.
The next phase of cuts will entail the closure of the Barstow, Big Bear and Needles courthouses, San Bernardino County Presiding Judge Marsha Slough announced this week.
The drawdown in money for San Bernardino County Superior Court, which employs 954 and runs on an annual budget of $105.2 million, is a direct function of the state’s $22 million reduction in funds provided to the county to operate its courts.
The San Bernardino County Superior Court has implemented a series of cost reduction measures intended to close most but not all of the resultant operating shortfall by the end of this fiscal year. The first phase of these operational changes included the closure of Chino Courthouse, effective January 1, 2013, reductions of court clerk’s office hours countywide and reductions of administrative staff.  Three retired judges who were handling cases for the county on assignment are being released at the end of December. Those changes, however netted the county courts a savings of only $9 million, necessitating another $13 million worth of economies.
Accordingly, effective May 6, 2013, the Barstow courthouse will close, shutting all four courtrooms and resulting in the loss of 22 positions. Also to be closed will be the Needles and Big Bear courthouses, which  had recently been reduced to three days per month. Civil and juvenile delinquency cases and dependency drug court will no longer be heard in the Victorville District but rather in other courthouses to provide room for other cases from Barstow that will now be heard in Victorville. Juvenile court will reduce its staff  by four positions. The court administration division will lay off three of its personnel. Court reporters will no longer be assigned to specific departments but will be assigned from a pool as needed, and the court will continue to provide court reporters for civil law and motion and trials, to the extent sufficient resources are available. Unlawful detainers and small claims currently heard in San Bernardino and unlawful detainers currently heard in Rancho Cucamonga will be heard in the Fontana Courthouse.
Prior to May 6, 2013, the juvenile court will no longer accept direct filings of informal juvenile matters. Those issues dealt with in those filings must be addressed directly through probation. Night court services will no longer be provided in the county.
Slough said that “In total, it is planned that these and related actions will result in a reduction of approximately 44 staff, and will save a projected $5.3 million per year. The severe funding cuts made to our budget result in the need to take these painful steps. We are cognizant of the impact that these actions will have upon the bar and citizens of this county who have business in the court, especially for people who live some distance from the remaining courthouses. The closure of Barstow, Needles, and Big Bear courthouses will mean that people living in a large swathe of San Bernardino County will no longer have a courthouse within a reasonable distance from their homes, leaving many facing hardships to get to court, given very limited public transportation and distances that can exceed three hours in driving time, each way. The simple fact is that we can no longer afford to support as many court locations, or support as many services as in the past.”
Court officials said that San Bernardino County is one of the most under-resourced court districts in the state. “Our court has been operating on a shoestring budget for many years. Now the state is taking away the shoe strings.” said Judge Larry Allen, the court’s assistant presiding judge.
In addition to the court’s funding problems, San Bernardino County’s court system faces the largest shortfall of judges of any county in the state. Based on the California Judicial Council’s statewide judicial needs study released on October 25, 2012,  San Bernardino County’s courts should have approximately 156 judicial officers, including both judges and commissioners, but currently has 91, a shortfall of 65 judges, or 42%. Thus, judges in San Bernardino face caseloads that are substantially larger than in most other jurisdictions in California.
“If and when the court receives adequate funding, it will be a court priority to reopen the Barstow Courthouse, in order to reestablish needed court access in that part of the county.” said Judge Slough.

Phelan Pinon Hills Services District Pays $10.75 M For Oeste Water Rights

(December 14)   PHELAN—The Phelan Pinon Hills Community Services District has paid $10.75 million to obtain permanent pumping rights to 2,335 acre-feet of water per year in the High Desert’s Oeste Aquifer.
The purchase, undertaken with a $7.5 million loan from iBank and $3.25 million in cash reserves the district had on hand, will also include 160 acres of land on the Meadowbrook Dairy, which includes an existing well.
The Oeste zone covers a considerable expanse, with what is referred to as its upper area located beneath Wrightwood and its lower area in the vicinity of El Mirage.
The district previously had annual pumping rights to 1,146 acre-feet from the Oeste Aquifer. The just acquired water rights now give the district unfettered access to 3,751 acre-feet of groundwater per year from the Oeste sub-basin.

Devereaux’s Backing Makes McMahon’s Ascendency To Sheriff A “Done Deal”

(December 7)   The elevation of John McMahon to sheriff is all but inevitable in the wake of Rod Hoops’ resignation midterm, nearly a dozen current and former sheriff’s department, top county and municipal officials have told the Sentinel.
Several of the officers and officials used the term “done deal” in describing McMahon’s appointment. None held out any realistic chance that any of a handful of other potential candidates for the post could be chosen, though a few acknowledged that among those alternatives were individuals with a combination of impressive law enforcement and administrative credentials rivaling or exceeding McMahon’s.
Crucial to the advantage McMahon possesses is his status as a department insider, the favor he has with Hoops and the reservoir of good will McMahon has developed lately with county chief executive  officer Greg Devereaux, along with the history and political power of the sheriff’s department.
Upon becoming sheriff, McMahon will be the de facto descendent of the political dynasty first established by former sheriff Frank Bland in 1954, when Bland defeated the county’s then-incumbent sheriff, Eugene Mueller. Bland remained in office for seven terms, gaining reelection in 1958, 1962, 1966, 1970, 1974 and 1978. In 1982, Bland retired, designating Floyd Tidwell as his successor. Tidwell handily won election in 1982 and reelection in 1986. He retired and endorsed his undersheriff, Dick Williams, in 1990. Williams lasted a single term, retiring in 1994.  He endorsed Gary Penrod. Penrod served three terms and was elected to a fourth. Half way through that term, he resigned, naming Hoops as his successor. The board of supervisors ratified  his selection. Hoops ran for election in his own right in 2010, comfortably beating two challengers. On November 7 this year, the day after the general election, Hoops announced he would retire as sheriff, and he called upon the board of supervisors to replace him with McMahon.
While Bland was sheriff, he cultivated a political machine, consisting of donors and supporters, together with a support network of campaign and public relations experts and consultants that dwarfed any competing campaign resources of his potential or actual opponents. In 1982, he handed that machine off to Tidwell and the machine, adaptively transformed to fit each succeeding generational change in political reality, has been passed along to each of Bland’s successive descendants. That machine, presented to McMahon by Hoops, now stands at the ready for use by McMahon, should he be called upon to undertake an electoral effort to become sheriff.
Moreover, McMahon as Hoops’ choice now enjoys the advocacy of Devereaux, the county’s top administrator, upon whom the board of supervisors is highly dependent for direction. The timing of Hoops’ departure in this regard is fortuitous for McMahon. As recently as a year ago there existed a degree of tension between Devereaux and Hoops that observers of both said was palpable. This was at least partially an outgrowth, sources have told the Sentinel, of the manner in which the sheriff’s department handled its internal accounting of officer overtime. From the outset of his tenure with the county, Devereaux has been very sensitive to the need to get a firm fix on costs in all divisions within the county governmental structure, and at least initially he was disconcerted over the way in which the sheriff’s department was crunching numbers and keeping its books. There were other disagreements between Hoops and Devereaux as well with regard to the department’s actual or planned apportioning of its resources. Despite whatever wariness with which Devereaux and Hoops may have regarded one another, a positive relationship between McMahon and Devereaux has nevertheless developed over the last year. Devereaux is pursuing a permanent solution to what is categorized as a “structural deficit” plaguing the county and his formula for eliminating that fiscal challenge is to forge contract agreements with the county’s various employee bargaining groups involving concessions on either salary or benefits into the future that will reduce county outlays. McMahon was designated as the sheriff department administration representative to work with Devereaux on those negotiations and participate in the face-to-face meetings with the representatives of the sheriff’s deputies’ union. In this way, McMahon was crucial to an important part of the success Devereaux has experienced in this undertaking so far. A positive relationship between the two men has developed and Devereaux has told several city council members from cities which contract with the sheriff’s department for law enforcement service that McMahon is the logical choice to succeed Hoops, and that his takeover of the department should prove a seamless transition.
There were indications of what was afoot several months ago. In September 2011, a report surfaced that Hoops had told Devereaux and the board of supervisors he wanted to retire and have McMahon succeed him. He was dissuaded from doing so at that time because of the perception that his leaving would come too soon after his election in 2010. There was no public confirmation of that report, but officials in several sheriff’s department contract cities, including Rancho Cucamonga and Victorville, told the Sentinel they were given to understand that a change in the department’s leadership was under way and that McMahon was being groomed for the top spot.
McMahon’s ascendency to the head of the internal department list of potential replacements for Hoops was a natural one.
Before Penrod left the department, McMahon was already considered a likely candidate to someday succeed Penrod, who like Tidwell and Bland before him was an equestrian enthusiast. Having grown up in Apple Valley, McMahon himself has raised and rode horses throughout his life.
McMahon is younger than the current crop of likely competitors within the department for the sheriff’s position. Undersheriff Robert Fonzi is, or at least was, McMahon’s most serious challenger for the scepter. Fonzi, as the second in command of the department, outranks McMahon. Indeed, several sheriffs served in the position of undersheriff before acceding to the top spot. What is more, Fonzi harbored ambition of becoming sheriff. Though he remains as the undersheriff, he has been on medical leave for some time, during which he underwent a first shoulder surgery and is awaiting, reportedly, a second surgery. His absence from sheriff’s headquarters over the last several months has proven crucial in his having been outmaneuvered by the younger McMahon.
Another of McMahon’s potential internal department rivals is deputy chief Paul Cook, who technically boasts experience and qualifications to match McMahon’s but is not seen as being as hungry, aggressive, or politically connected as McMahon.
Few consider deputy chief Sheree Stewart, the first female captain in the department and the first deputy chief of her gender in the department, a realistic candidate as sheriff. Deputy chief Ron Cochrane is also widely perceived as having the pedigree and gravitas to succeed Hoops. He is known to have ambition, having applied for two municipal department police chief positions which he did not achieve. Cochrane, however, appears to have accepted McMahon’s ascendency as inevitable. He has recently been seen accompanying McMahon to meetings and conferences involving other government officials and it is widely assumed Cochrane will move into the undersheriff’s post some time after McMahon becomes sheriff.
Hoops’ retirement announcement on November 7 together with his recommendation of McMahon generated a backlash in the form of charges that a backroom deal had been worked out between Hoops and the board of supervisors to install McMahon with little or no scrutiny or fanfare. Board chairwoman Josie Gonzales added to that perception when she publicly stated that the board of supervisors wanted to reach a decision on Hoops’ successor rapidly so an appointment could be made that would avoid any gap in the ultimate leadership of the sheriff’s department. In the face of pointed claims that Hoops had “brokered” a deal with the board to rubberstamp his selection of McMahon as sheriff, Gonzales offered assurances that the board had entered into no such sub rosa compact with Hoops and McMahon and that the board would conduct an open, thorough, honest and aboveboard examination of the qualifications of those to be considered as Hoops’ replacement before any decision is made. She indicated that the protocol for making the appointment would be discussed publicly as early as the November 27 board of supervisors meeting. No such discussion took place that date, but at this week’s meeting on December 4, Gonzales again indicated the board would carefully consider the qualifications of all candidates for the post, including those who personally step up or whose names are brought forth. The board then appointed a subcommittee, consisting of Gonzales and supervisor Gary Ovitt, to consider and interview if necessary any candidates for the sheriff’s position that emerge. Gonzales further indicated that the subcommittee will consider input from any other interested parties, in particular the sheriff’s deputies’ union, before the committee makes its recommendation to the full board.
It thus appears that the Gonzales/Ovitt committee will at the very least be obliged to look at the resumés of Fonzi, Cochrane, Cook, and Stewart before giving the nod to McMahon. Additionally, given Gonzales’s assertions that the process will be an open and thorough one, the committee will also need to consider  a handful of other candidates from outside the department, some of whose credentials equal or exceed those of McMahon. Those include:
* Paul Schrader, a Los Angeles sheriff’s deputy who ran against Hoops in 2010, finishing second. Schrader has consistently said that he intends to run for sheriff again in 2014. He maintains that as the second choice of the electorate to serve as sheriff in 2010, he deserves strong consideration to succeed Hoops, given Hoops’ decision to resign.
* Frank Scialdone, who was Fontana’s police chief and later a member of the Fontana City Council and ultimately Fontana mayor. He served as the interim police chief of the Rialto Police Department as well as the police chief of Pasadena City College. He is the president and chief executive officer of PMW Associates, which provides management and training services to law enforcement agencies.
* Martin Thouvenell, formerly the city of Upland’s police chief. In addition to heading the police department, Thouvenell was also fire chief on an extended interim basis. He further served as Upland’s interim city manager for more than a year in the 1990s.
* Former Rialto police chief Mark Kling. Kling has a master’s degree in administration of justice, an MBA, and a doctorate in public administration. He also served as Rialto’s city administrator for an extended period.
* Former San Bernardino County Marshal Keith Bushey. After the marshal’s office was merged with the sheriff’s department in 1999, Bushey was brought into the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, where he served in the capacity of deputy chief. Prior to becoming marshal in San Bernardino County, Bushey was a commander in the Los Angeles Police Department, where he had previously held the ranks of patrol officer, sergeant, lieutenant and captain. After leaving the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, Bushey was an executive staff liaison with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. He has a master’s degree in public service and is presently employed by the FBI’s Law Enforcement Executive Development Association providing  administrative level training to police executives. Bushey is a former Marine Corps colonel.  .
One department and government insider dismissed suggestions that Hoops had brokered a backroom deal with the board of supervisors to elevate McMahon.
Rick Roelle, a sheriff’s lieutenant and Apple Valley councilman who ran for county supervisor in November with Hoops’ endorsement but narrowly lost to Robert Lovingood, said he was unaware of Hoops intention to retire until the official announcement of the sheriff’s departure was made after the election.
“I’ll tell you honestly, I was surprised to hear that,” Roelle said. “If word was going around, it was kept from me. I really don’t believe there was any kind of a deal cut to get John McMahon in there. I was running for supervisor at the time and just about everyone seemed to think I had an even chance of winning, so you would have thought someone would have whispered in my ear, ‘We’re going to need your vote for McMahon to be the next sheriff once you are in there.’ That never occurred. I think I would have been brought in on it if there was going to be some kind of a fix.”
Roelle said that he is not yet convinced at this point that McMahon’s appointment is a fait accompli. “Josie [Gonzales] said they are going to take a look at everybody who applies,” he said. “Whether their decision will be to select John McMahon, I have no idea.”
Thouvenell told the Sentinel he had not contemplated being sheriff but that “I would consider it, depending on the circumstance, but I haven’t really thought about it. I’d have to really think about what I was getting into before I’d put my name out there.”
He said he conceives of the sheriff’s department to be something akin to a very large and geographically dispersed police department with multiple span of control issues. Serving as police chief, he said “was just about 85 percent administrative, probably about the same as being sheriff.”
Thouvenell said it was his impression that Hoops’ successor as sheriff would most likely be chosen from within the department. “The guy that’s in there stays until he is ready to leave and then he steps down and then he selects from within whoever it is that takes his place,” Thouevenell said. “That’s the way they’ve done it as far back as I can remember.”
As to McMahon’s qualifications, Thouvenell said, “I don’t really know him at all but I assume he is capable.”
Indeed, McMahon would not be where he is now if he were not capable. With no glaring skeletons in his closet, he is trusted by most if not all of the department’s rank and file. He is young enough to represent the possibility of change in the future, but enough of a part of the department establishment to not rattle any cages. He is supported by the old guard and seen by those in control of the department as the embodiment of the best foot forward for the organization. Already, Hoops has left the department except for occasional appearances at headquarters, and McMahon is serving as acting sheriff.
Even though Gonzales has stated she is willing to consider other candidates, the other member of the sheriff replacement search committee, Gary Ovitt, is extremely close to Devereaux. Devereaux was city manager in Ontario when Ovitt was mayor there before he was elected supervisor. Ovitt led the effort to lure Devereaux to the county as its top administrator and is entirely dependent upon Devereaux’s guidance. In addition, the board has two new members, Robert Lovingood and James Ramos, who were just elected in November. They are not likely to deviate far from the guidance of the county’s chief executive officer, especially on so monumental of an issue as the replacement of the county sheriff, the person destined to become the most powerful political figure in the county.
No informed entities have said they expect anyone other than John McMahon to be sheriff of San Bernardino County for the next decade.

SB Police Pay Remains Competitive Despite Bankrupcty

(December 7)   Even as the city of San Bernardino’s petition for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection is being scrutinized by Federal Bankruptcy Court Judge Meredith Jury and the city of 209,924 has reduced its police department to a 258-member force, the city will continue to pay its remaining police officers wages that are competitive to those being provided to police officers in ten other cities of significant size  cities in California.
San Bernardino is paying its patrol and beat officers up to $85,272 per year, its detectives $97,296, its sergeants $110,280, its lieutenants $132,132, its captains $158,748, the assistant chief $193,152 and its police chief $237,300.
Pursuant to negotiations between city management and police management and police officers bargaining units carried out earlier this year before the municipality’s bankruptcy filing, an agreement was made to utilize an average of the pay provided to police management and officers in  Concord, Oxnard, Fontana, Palmdale, Irvine, Ventura, Lancaster, Santa Clarita, Norwalk and Thousand Oaks.
Beginning police officers start at a pay grade of $5,108 per month, and promote to $5,608 per month, $6,108 per month, $6,607 per month and top out at $7,106 per month. Detectives  start at $6,521 per month, move on to $6,923 per month, then receive $7,320 per month, $7,718 per month and a maximum of $8,108 per month. A sergeant starts at $7,385 per month, then receives $7,836 at the second step, $8,287 at the third step, $8,738 per month at the fourth step and graduates to a maximum of $9,190 per month. Lieutenants are paid a flat $11,011 per month. Captains receive a uniform $13,229 per month. The assistant chief is paid $16,096 per month. The police chief receives $19,775 per month.
The law enforcement trainee salary remains at $4,086 per month ($23.57 per hour), which is 80 percent of a rookie police officer’s salary.
While some critics of the city and its management team maintain the generous salaries paid to city employees including its police officers in large measure account for the city’s dire financial condition, others point out that with the attrition in the police department to 258 officers  and the shortage of personnel to patrol its mean streets, the salaries and benefits being provided to the police department employees are more than justified.

Fox Defies Political Odds And Conventional Wisdom With Victory In 36th

(December 7)   A month after the polls closed on November 6, newly-minted Democrat Steve Fox has secured what not only seemed to be the unlikeliest of victories but the narrowest one for state office this year, with the final tally by California Secretary of State Deborah Bowen giving him a margin of just 145 votes over his opponent, Republican Ron Smith, in the 36th Assembly District.
A portion of the 36th lies within San Bernardino County, the communities of Phelan, Wrightwood and Pinon Hills, specifically.
Fox seemed to be at a decided disadvantage. First, party registration in the 36th slightly favors Republicans. Second, Fox was seen as something of a turncoat, having previously run for the Assembly as a Republican. And in the June primary, Fox, with 14,150 votes or 32.9 percent, had lost to Smith, who drew 15,097 votes, or 35.1 percent. The other candidate in the race, Tom Lackey, also a Republican, had pulled down 13,795 votes or 32 percent.
With the first tally of votes on November 6, Smith led Fox by more than 2,000 votes.
On the basis of the distance between them, Smith was early on deemed the victor. In Sacramento, the Assembly staff assigned an office to Smith. He was further enshrined as a member of the legislature when his photo was posted on the wall of the Capital building leading to the Assembly meeting chambers. Smith named a chief of staff and most of his office workers.
But throughout November as late sent mail and absentee votes came in and provisional ballots were counted, Fox began to close the gap. With the final tally of votes from Los Angeles County this week, Fox eclipsed Smith.
In both San Bernardino and Inyo Counties, Smith trounced Fox. In Kern, Smith gathered 6,691 votes or 59.1 percent to Fox’s 4,631 votes or 40.9 percent.  In San Bernardino County, Smith fared even better, capturing 4,343 votes or 67.5 percent to Fox’s 2,092 votes or 32.5 percent.  But in Los Angeles County, where the lion’s share of the 36th District’s voters reside, Fox outpolled Smith 59,282 votes or 52 percent to 54,826 or 48 percent. According to the Secretary of State, Fox, a lawyer and teacher from the Antelope Valley, outdistanced Smith, a city councilman in Lancaster, 66,005 votes or 50.1 percent to 65,860 or 49.9 percent.

Thursday Installation of GOP Women’s Federation Officers At Redlands CC

(December 7)   The San Bernardino County Federation of Republican Women will install its officers for the upcoming 2013 term, including the group’s new president, Vera Eyzendooren, on December 13.
The installation will take place at the Redlands Country Club, located at 1749 Garden Street in Redlands, starting at 10 a.m., with former California State Senator Robert Dutton officiating.
The 2011-2012 outgoing officers are president Kathy Faxon, first vice president Carolyn Kelsey, second vice president April Haverty, third vice president Vera Eyzendooren, recording secretary Helen Flint, and treasurer Cheryl L Bluy.
The incoming officers for 2013-2014 are president Vera Eyzendooren, first vice president               Fran Wemerskirchen, second vice president Susie Dryness, third vice president A’lice Smith, recording secretary Barbara Henley, and treasurer Kathy Faxon.
There are seven local clubs that make up the San Bernardino County Republican Women Federated.
The San Bernardino County Federation of Republican Women is affiliated with the National Federation of Republican Women.
The National Federation of Republican Women is the largest volunteer women’s political organization in the world. The national headquarters is located at Arlington, Virginia. Founded in 1938, the National Federation of Republican Women is a grassroots political organization with thousands of active members in local clubs across the nation and in several U.S. territories, making it one of the largest and most influential women’s political organizations in the country. The organization works to promote the principles, objectives and policies of the Republican Party; elect Republican candidates; inform the public through political education and activity; increase the effectiveness of women in the cause of good government; and foster loyalty to the Republican Party and promote its candidates in all elections, including non-partisan elections.
In working toward these objectives, the National Federation of Republican Women concentrates its efforts in the areas of educating, communicating, recruiting, campaigning, fundraising, training and legislative action.
Once an auxiliary of the Republican National Committee, the National Federation of Republican Women is financially and organizationally independent today.
For a participation fee of $15, members of the general public can attend Thursday’s ceremony, which will include lunch at noon, during which entertainment will be provided by the Redlands High School Choir. Lunch reservations can be had by calling Carolyn Thompson for reservations at 760-245-0075.

Barstow Bucks Frugal Trend By Upping Firefighters’ Pay

(December 7)  BARSTOW—While most municipalities in San Bernardino County and California are struggling with the financial challenges inherent in the salary and benefit costs for their firefighters, the city of Barstow is one of the state’s few cities where until now fire department pay has not been a city treasury-breaking issue. That could change soon, though.
Next month, Barstow will join the ranks of cities paying the going rate, that is, union-scale wages to its firefighting staff, such that the cost of employing a single firefighter full time with overtime, including salary and benefits, will run the city close to $130,000 per year, on average.
Traditionally, the Barstow Fire Protection District was an independent agency dedicated to providing fire protection within its jurisdiction and was unaffiliated with any other agency or governmental entity. As such, the district was a self-sustaining one that had to live within the means available to it. This translated into what were more modest salaries and benefit packages for its employees than were available in larger districts and even small or smaller municipal departments.
In a split vote taken at a special joint meeting in March 2010, Barstow’s city council and the separate fire protection district board voted to merge the district with the city. In this way, the city took on responsibility for the fire district’s entire jurisdiction, which included everything within the Barstow City Limits as well as some areas outside the city. The board for the district, which voted 4-1 in favor of the move with board member Paul Courtney opposed, was somewhat more enthusiastic about the takeover than was the city council, which voted in favor of the merger 3-1, with councilman Tim Saenz abstaining and councilman Tim Silva opposed.
Representations made to justify having the city absorb the department were that the takeover would ensure local control of the department, better service and save money.
It does not appear that this last rationale was fulfilled.
In 2011, the fire district became a part of the city. Fire department employees, who were still paid at the rates they received previously, overnight became municipal employees.
Internally, city staff knew the firefighters were working for compensation that was somewhat less than the standard paid to firefighters elsewhere. When the city undertook a routine study of the city’s classification of its employees and their compensation which showed fire personnel were being paid less than other city employees, the issue became a public one. The firefighters, who had previously been willing to work for the pay provided by the district, were beset with a newfound sense of deprivation upon learning that they were in many cases making less money than their municipal colleagues, including some members of the clerical and maintenance divisions.
According to the classification and compensation study, the results of which were accepted by the city council in October, beginning firefighters received 42 percent less pay than beginning police officers.
According to the report, that discrepancy “occurs through the rank of fire captain, with the majority of Barstow’s employees being compensated at a higher rate than fire captain.”
The Barstow Professional Firefighters Association, the union representing the firefighters, began pressuring city manager Curt Mitchell and members of the council, calling for pay and benefit increases that would put the fire department personnel on a par with those working in other cities and fire districts around the county.
Despite the pronounced intent of the city council in voting for the takeover in 2010 that the move would reduce costs, the council in October agreed to a negotiated settlement that goes into effect on January 1, 2013 that will increase the pay of an entry level firefighter before overtime from $4,000 per month or $48,000 per year to a minimum of $4,500 monthly or $54,000 per year. The contract with the firefighters calls for them to make a nine percent contribution to their retirement fund.  All higher ranking members of the department – firefighter paramedics, field training officers, fire inspectors, battalion chiefs, fire engineers, fire captains, and fire captain specialists – make even more money.
The increase in the fire department employees’ pay will also increase the amount of the pensions they will receive, since public safety retirees are paid a percentage – usually three percent – of their highest yearly salary and add-ons times the number of years they have been employed. In this way, a public safety employee who remains with a city for 33 years will be eligible for a pension of 99 percent of his or her highest salary for the rest of his or her life.
The effort to adjust the firefighters’ level of pay upward occurred during the third year of a four-year-long contraction of the national, state and local economy. The adjustment was also made as other municipal entities which are themselves struggling with dwindling revenue and hefty contractual commitments to their employees are seeking concessions from those employees’ bargaining units on salary levels and benefit packages.
The Barstow City Council had the option of directing Mitchell to leave the existing pay scale for the city’s recently-acquired firefighter force in place and use that scale as a standard with which to ask the city’s other employee bargaining groups to make salary and benefit concessions to bring them in line with the firefighters and thereby reduce that portion of the city’s budget which is devoted to employee payroll and benefits.
In Barstow, as in nearly all other cities in San Bernardino County and the state of California, employee salaries, overtime and benefits represent the major cost to taxpayers in maintaining municipal government.
A number of cities are in an extremely delicate position vis-à-vis employee costs. At the county seat in San Bernardino, for example, city officials have filed for bankruptcy and are on the verge of facing lawsuits over the city’s inability or unwillingness to make further contributions to the city’s employees’ pension fund, the California Public Employees Retirement System. The outcome of that refusal to make those payments is unknown at this time, with the possibility that the bankruptcy court will order San Bernardino to continue to make the payments. It is also possible that the pension fund board will pursue legal action against San Bernardino. It is also possible that the retirement system will cease making pension payments to San Bernardino’s retirees altogether or sharply reduce those pensions.
While San Bernardino city employee union officials have blamed San Bernardino elected officials and city management for the situation that city finds itself in, others fault the city’s employee unions and the employees themselves for their intensive lobbying and political efforts that resulted in the election of city leaders who continually provided city employees with generous salaries and benefits that represented costs far beyond the city’s financial means.

Soda Mountain Solar Project Highlights Environmentalists’ Internal Conflicts

(December 7)   The internecine fight among environmentalists over the approval of the Soda Mountain Solar Project is a showcase of the conflicted existential crisis that has beset the ecological movement over alternative energy projects.
The Soda Mountain project is a proposal by a limited liability company known as Soda Mountain Solar, which is a subdivision of the Bechtel Corporation, to build a 350-megawatt solar power generating field on 4,397 acres of Bureau of Land Management-administered property in the Mojave Desert six miles southwest of Baker.
So far, the proponents have filed a notice of intent to pre-prepare a draft environmental impact statement. Further steps in the approval process will entail the publication of the draft environmental impact statement for the project, making that statement available to the public, gathering public comment on the statement, the publication of a final environmental impact statement, making that statement publicly available, entering a record of decision on the acceptability of the project and then obtaining a right-of-way grant from the federal government for the approved project.
The 350 megawatts of energy to be produced by the project would meet the domestic electrical demands of 170,000 households and not entail the burning of fossil fuels, reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, the project site is relatively proximate to existing transmission lines bringing electrical power from Hoover Dam to Los Angeles. The addition of the electricity to be produced at Soda Mountain would contribute toward the effort to have California obtain 33 percent of its power from clean sources by 2020. In this way, the project is in keeping with several basic tenets and goals of the environmental/ecology movement.
Paradoxically, some environmentalists are maintaining that solar projects such as the one at Soda Mountain are too damaging to the immediate environs to be allowed to proceed. In the case of Soda Mountain, a collection of environmentalists cite how the project will cover just under seven square miles of densely occupied wildlife habitat involving the desert tortoise, roaming bighorn sheep and most specifically a rare desert fish that is close to extinction.
At the national level, the Obama administration has voiced approval of the concept of accelerated development of alternative energy sources. In the nearly four years that Barack Obama has been in office, however, there has been less progress in that regard than was anticipated. Environmentalists have in many cases objected to solar projects in California’s vast outback. Three of those were the Ivanpah Solar Project near the Nevada border at the northeast end of San Bernardino County, BrightSource Renewables, LLC’s solar project near Kramer Junction and KRoad Power’s Calico Solar project.
In an effort to facilitate alternative energy projects and bypass the knockdown, drag out fights that have in nearly every case delayed and in some cases derailed solar energy proposals, the Obama administration took action in the form of U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s creation of 17 solar energy zones in the Southwest deemed optimum for harnessing the sun’s radiating power. Those zones were selected in some measure because they are believed to be less wildlife intensive than other portions of the American desert.
None of the zones lies within San Bernardino County. Rather, the bureau has designated one 213-square mile solar power development zone in eastern Riverside County along Interstate 10 from Desert Center to Blythe and another slightly smaller area in Imperial County abutting the Mexican border.  Projects developed in those two areas will be favored with fast-tracked project reviews.
The creation of the zones did not preclude, however, project proponents seeking licensing and approval for projects elsewhere in the desert. Moreover, there were, prior to the October announcement of the creation of the solar power development zones, dozens of pending solar energy project applications. In some of those cases, the proponents own outright or have “tied-up” through purchase options the property where the solar projects are to be located. In other cases, such as at Soda Mountain, the proponents are seeking to lease public land from the government as sites.
In the instance of the proposed Soda Mountain Project, Bechtel acquired the rights to a filing for the project originally made in 2007 by New York-based Caithness Corp., which proposed establishing solar fields on both sides of Interstate 15 between Razor and Zzyzx roads. Bechtel is the largest construction and engineering firm in the United States, having been founded more than a century ago by Warren Bechtel and later headed by John McCone, a former chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission and former director of the Central Intelligence Agency. In the 1930s, Bechtel was involved in the construction of the Hoover Dam.
Biologists have concerns over the project’s potential impacts on indigenous flora and fauna at the proposed project site. Large numbers of desert creosote on the property would be displaced, though those plants are not in danger of extinction. Desert tortoises live throughout the Mojave but surveys of the property done in 2009 by wildlife biologists commissioned by Caithness found no tortoises, which are threatened with extinction, on the property.
Bighorn sheep are known to pass over the property frequently. There is no indication, however, that the solar arrays would prove incompatible with them., though they might alter their path of migration.
The most serious known concern about the hazard the project represents to living creatures in the area pertains to the tui chub, a type of minnow, which proliferates in springs and ponds in the area. That portion of the desert is one of the few remaining habitats for the endangered fish. Bechtel/Soda Mountain Solar, LLC intends to draw water from the desert aquifer to periodically  wash the solar panels’ mirrors. Environmentalists have misgivings about a drawdown of the aquifer’s level, which could result in the parching of area’s springs and ponds, resulting in the death of the colonies of tui chub.
At present, environmentalists are linking forces with the National Park Service, which oversees the nearby Mojave National Preserve, and are lobbying the Bureau of Land Management to induce Bechtel/Soda Mountain Solar to consider re-proposing its project for location at one of the designated solar power development zones.