Ramos Pushes For Joshua Tree Board Meeting Video Hook-up

At the behest of Third District Supervisor James Ramos, the county is looking into establishing a videoconferencing site at the Joshua Tree Government Center to allow residents of Joshua Tree, Twentynine Palms and Yucca Valley remote access to address the board of supervisors at their normally scheduled meetings.
Ramos said he wanted San Bernardino County Chief Executive Officer Greg Devereux “to research the costs to establish and operate a videoconferencing site at the Joshua Tree Government Center and present those findings to the board of supervisors at the February 26, 2013 meeting.”
Ramos continued, “San Bernardino County is the largest geographical county in the United States and, as a result, it can be difficult for members of the public throughout the county to attend regular board meetings, which take place at the county seat in San Bernardino. On May 25, 2010 the board approved a pilot program to establish and operate a videoconferencing location in Victorville to allow for remote participation in board meetings. Establishment of a remote videoconferencing site at the Joshua Tree Government Center would provide residents in the Morongo Basin with improved access to participate in board meetings.”

Avoiding Election Expense, Rialto Fills Gap With Hirtz Appointment

RIALTO – Sidestepping a special election that could have cost taxpayers as much as a quarter of a million dollars to hold, the Rialto City Council voted 4-0 on January 28 to appoint Lynn Hirtz to fill the vacant position on the city council that has existed since December.
That void was created after Deborah Robertson was elected mayor in November with two years remaining on the council term she was elected to in 2010.
Robertson defeated incumbent councilman Ed Scott, whose council term elapsed in December, after both vied for the position formerly held by Grace Vargas, who chose not to seek reelection.
As recently as last week, the council was unable to come to a consensus on Robertson’s replacement, when four names, including Hirtz’s were mentioned.  At that time, Councilman Ed Palmer made a motion to appoint Hirtz, who had served on the council in the 1990s. Councilman Shawn O’Connell seconded that motion, but neither councilman Joe Baca, Jr. nor Robertson supported that choice.
Baca then nominated Rafael Trujillo, a member of the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission who had run for council in November but was edged out by Palmer and O’Connell. Robertson seconded that motion but both Palmer and O’Connell refused to endorse Trujillo.
Robertson then nominated Melissa Morrison, who did not garner a second. She then offered Dennis Barton as an alternative candidate, but that motion likewise died for the lack of a second.
The council was under the gun to come up with someone. The council’s authority to appoint a replacement was set to elapse as of February 9, at which point  the election, which would have been likely to cost at least $230,000 and as much as $260,000 in the city with a population of 99,171 would have to be scheduled.
On January 28, the council held a specially-called meeting, at which it considered letters of interest in the appointment submitted by Randy Robbins, Joe Britt, Dennis Barton, Melissa Morrison, Ed Scott, June Hayes, Angel Molina, Dianne Tolbert, Rafael Trujillo and Hirtz.
The council voted unanimously to elevate Hirtz, with Robertson saying she wanted the city’s political leadership to present what she called “a united front.”

Three Vie To Replace Hagerman In Yucca Valley

YUCCA VALLEY—Three town residents are vying for the council position that has remained vacant since Isaac Hagerman resigned in July.
Hagerman’s successor will be chosen during a mail-in vote to be conducted on March 5.
Four candidates qualified their candidacies in the contest, but one, Claude Short, has withdrawn.
The three candidates remaining in the race are Jennifer Collins, Bob Leone and Michael Hildebrand. Ballots will be mailed to town voters the first week of February. Those residents who are not presently registered to vote can take part in the vote by registering by February 15.

Sheriff Purchases Forklift Truck To Use In Inmate Employment Training

The county and the sheriff’s department are purchasing a forklift truck to be used for employment training purposes at the sheriff’s detention facility at Glen Helen and at the Adelanto Detention Facility when it becomes operational.
The board of supervisors authorized the purchase this week.
According to Sheriff’s Captain Steve Higgins, the forklift will be used in furtherance of the department’s Inmate Rehabilitation Through Occupational and Academic Development Systems (INROADS) program.
“On July 25, 2012, the Inmate Welfare Committee, which is comprised of six citizens appointed by the sheriff to oversee the use of inmate welfare funds and acts as an advisory panel, approved the funding for a new INROADS Automotive Education program. The program approval included the purchase of automotive shop equipment and a forklift,” Higgins said. “The purchase of the forklift was competitively bid and Bronson Investments Inc., the lowest bidder, was selected and is being recommended as the vendor for this purchase.”

Lovingood Recreates Four Traditional First District Municipal Committees

First District Supervisor Robert Lovingood has renewed the charters of four municipal advisory councils within his jurisdiction.
The El Mirage Municipal Advisory Council, the Oak Hills Municipal Advisory Council, the Searles Valley-Trona Municipal Advisory Council and the Wrightwood Municipal Advisory Council have previously existed, composed of residents and business operators from those districts in the far-flung First Supervisorial District who are tasked to provide input to the supervisor with regard to local issues.
“The municipal advisory councils hold public meetings, pursuant to the Ralph M. Brown Act, in their individual communities for the purpose of receiving information from residents, businesses, and community groups, and to disseminate information to the community about services and resources relative to the county of San Bernardino,” Lovingood said. “Each municipal advisory council will also facilitate the identification of issues within the community and work with the First District supervisor’s office to establish priorities and recommend community-based solutions.”
Pursuant to San Bernardino County Code 12.4501 et seq., all municipal advisory councils and advisory committees dissolve at the end of each term of the county supervisor who represents the supervisorial district in which the respective municipal advisory council or committee is located. Approval of the entire board of supervisors  is required to re-establish the municipal advisory councils.
Lovingood was elected in November, and in December replaced former First District Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt. This week Lovingood asked his board colleagues to reauthorize the establishment of the El Mirage, Oak Hills, Searles Valley-Trona and Wrightwood municipal advisory councils. The board complied with that request.
The board’s vote authorized the clerk of the board of supervisors, Laura Welch, to post a notice of vacancy to alert members of the various communities they may file an application to serve on the councils. Each of the councils will have five members.
The Wrightwood Municipal Advisory Council will have five voting members who are San Bernardino County residents and two non-voting members who need not be San Bernardino County residents. Lovingood proposed the two non-voting member seats of the Wrightwood council to offer interested residents who live in a portion of Wrightwood that lies within Los Angeles County and Wrightwood business persons who live outside the area to participate.
Lovingood’s field representative, Don Holland, told the Sentinel that Lovingood will consider reappointing the council members who were serving at the time Mitzelfelt’s term elapsed if they reapply along with any others who file an application.

Special Elections In 32nd State Senate District Will Cost Taxpayers $1.4 Million

The special elections to find a replacement for former state senator Gloria Negrete-McLeod will cost county taxpayers $1.4 million, the county registrar of voters has predicted.
This week San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters Michael Scarpello requested, and the board of supervisors granted, the appropriation of $1,403,100 in general fund contingency money in connection with the conducting of a special primary election on March 12, 2013 and a special general election on May 14, 2013 to fill the vacancy in California State Senate District 32.
That vacancy came about when Negrete-McLeod, who was elected to a four-year state senate term in 2010, was victorious in her run for Congress in November.
“The California State Senate District 32 elections require the use of general fund contingencies because the state is not expected to reimburse the county,” Scarpello told the board of supervisors before that panel approved the provision of the money.

Supervisors To Decide If Ramos Will Get Airport Board Berths Next Week

The nearly  two-month-long delay in the appointment of a key member of the boards overseeing the development at and around San Bernardino International Airport  could end next week.
The San Bernardino International Airport Authority is chartered to oversee the conversion of what was formerly Norton Air Force Base to a civilian airport. The Inland Valley Development Authority is an agency devoted to the redevelopment of property around the airport. The airport authority, known by its acronym SBIAA, is a joint powers authority involving the county of San Bernardino and the cities of San Bernardino, Loma Linda, Colton and Highland. Its sister agency, known as IVDA, is made up of the same entities with the exception of Highland.
Since their inceptions, SBIAA and IVDA have had as their county representatives the Fifth and Third District supervisors. In November, former Third District Supervisor Neil Derry was ousted by challenger James Ramos. In December, after Ramos was sworn in as supervisor and elevated to that office and Derry simultaneously left it, vacancies on the IVDA and SBIAA boards ensued, as appointments to those positions are not automatically made but rather are voted upon by the board of supervisors.
Notably, the board did not move to substitute Ramos in as one of the county’s two SBIAA and IVDA representatives upon his succeeding Derry as supervisor.  Thus, during December and at the IVDA board meeting on January 9 and the SBIAA board meeting on January 23, Fifth District supervisor Josie Gonzales was the only county representative on those boards eligible to participate.
The delay in filling the gaps created by Derry’s departure appears to revolve around legal questions concerning Ramos’s ability to assume the SBIAA and IVDA board positions and vote on matters that come before those entities.
Two law firms, Los Angeles-based Prata & Daley and Sacramento-based DLA Piper, have authored briefs asserting that Ramos cannot take on the IVDA or SBIAA board posts without running afoul of the law.
In their briefs,  Prata & Daley and DLA Piper propound the theory that Ramos’s personal financial interests at the former Norton Air Force Base and any role he would assume with regard to directing IVDA and especially SBIAA as a board member bring him head on into a clash with California Government Code Sections 1090 and 1092.
Ramos is a member of and the former chairman of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, which operates a casino on its reservation in Highland. That casino generates roughly $400 million in gambling and other proceeds per year. As one of 167 tribal members, Ramos is the recipient of an annual stipend of over $1 million and he owns a share of the investments the tribe makes collectively. Among the tribe’s investments and holdings are properties and other assets within the purview of the Inland Valley Development Authority. Even more pointedly, the tribe has made purchases of property and facilities located on the former Air Force Base. The tribe now owns the areas of the one-time military installation that were used for on-base housing and the facility and property occupied by the U.S. Air Force Combat Camera Operation.
The tribe further is currently party to an agreement with Majestic Realty to develop the former base housing property.
Intrinsic to the conflict highlighted by Prata & Daley and DLA Piper is the convergence of the San Manuel Tribe’s real estate holdings and the authority of IVDA and SBIAA. Government Code Section 1090 prohibits an elected official from participating in any decision or vote, the outcome of which will have an impact on his personal financial circumstance.
It is Prata & Daley’s contention, as it is that of DLA Piper, that given the degree to which the prospects for the growth in the valuation or viability of some of the tribe’s assets and holdings are subject to the direct or indirect control of the IVDA and SBIAA boards, Ramos will have, as a SBIAA or IVDA board member, an unequivocal conflict given the degree to which his material financial interests can be impacted by his decisions in office. These conflicts will be so substantial, according to Prata & Daley, that they will be incapable of being cured by either recusal or abstention.
Under California law, an elected official can involve himself in the governmental decision making process if his interests to be impacted by those decisions are deemed remote. With regard to Ramos and the tribe’s property at, near and around San Bernardino International Airport, however, Ramos’s interests are not remote, but material as the law specifies, according to both Prata & Daley and DLA Piper. As such, any decision affecting the wealth of the tribe impacts Ramos’s interests, such that, according to the law firms, Ramos cannot be installed as an IVDA or SBIAA board member.
The Sentinel’s inquiries made of both San Bernardino County Chief Executive Officer Greg Devereux and San Bernardino County’s senior in-house lawyer, County Counsel Jean-René Basle, with regard to the dilemma presented by Ramos’s financial interests at the airport went unanswered as of press time.
According to the clerk of the board of supervisors, Laura Welch, there will be an item on the January 29 board agenda pertaining to the appointment or reappointment of SBIAA and IVDA board members. The full agenda was not available for release at press time, being scheduled for posting at 5 p.m. today, January 25.
There was no indication whether the item called specifically for the appointment of Ramos to the IVDA and SBIAA boards or whether appointing one of the other supervisors – either First District Supervisor Robert Lovingood, Second District Supervisor Janice Rutherford or Fourth District Supervisor Gary Ovitt – was being contemplated. San Bernardino International Airport lies well beyond the First, Second and Fourth Districts.
County spokesperson David Wert bypassed making a substantive response to the gist of the Prata & Daley and DLA Piper briefs, saying he was unaware of any conflicts, potential or real, besetting Ramos in his capacity as supervisor.
Wert indicated that on January 29, Ramos will be appointed to both the SBIAA and IVDA boards.
“I have not heard that the appointments will be made any differently than they have been done in the past,” Wert said.
While the appointment of a full complement of decision makers on the SBIAA and IVDA boards is pending, the airport’s management team, headed by executive director A.J. Wilson, is engaged in an effort to revitalize the facility in the wake of a scandal that involved the airport’s contract developer, Scot Spencer. Spencer, an airline industry insider who was hired on the basis of his perceived ability to bring in airlines and aviation-related companies as tenants, instead used his position to extend favorable contracts and leases at the airport to companies he owned or had an interest in. SBIAA  reassessed its relationship with Spencer after a scathing grand jury report of his management of the facility was released in June 2011 and the FBI in September 2011 served search warrants seeking evidence of  bribery, conspiracy, money laundering and fraudulent use of federal funds at SBIAA headquarters and the offices of companies controlled by Spencer at the airport.
SBIAA, now being guided by Wilson, has terminated nearly all of its contracts with Spencer and is  undertaking an effort to market the facility to developers, entrepreneurs, aeronautics and aerospace companies and logistics and transportation service providers.

CRMC Sale Escrow Date Extended

NEEDLES—As determined as ever to unburden the city of the financial liability of operating the Colorado River Medical Center, the Needles City Council in recent weeks has taken several steps to ensure the proposed buyer will be able to complete the deal.
On January 8, the city council extended Community Healthcare Partners Inc.’s escrow closing deadline for the hospital purchase. The council also removed two of the members of the hospital board of trustees.
The escrow extension provides Community Healthcare Partners with a further incentive to create  interim lease and management agreements for the operation of the hospital to further facilitate the transfer of responsibility over the institution. It was previously intended that Community Healthcare Partners would come into full possession of the hospital by now, but complications with regard to the transfer of the land upon which the hospital is located have delayed that.
Community Healthcare Partners, Inc. entered into a $2.577 million purchase agreement for the hospital on August 22, 2012 after a previous sale arrangement to non-profit Needles Hospital, Inc. fell through in April.
The city took back ownership of the Colorado River Medical Center in April 2008 after Brentwood, Tennessee-based Lifepoint Hospitals, a for-profit corporation which had obtained the hospital after the dissolution of the public hospital district that previously operated the facility, embarked on an effort to move the institution’s equipment and personnel to Valley View Hospital, another operation it owned in Arizona, roughly 12 miles from Needles.
Because of long-running inadequate billing practices, including failures to invoice Medicare and Medi-Cal as well as insurance companies and patients in a timely fashion, the hospital has lost money, representing a financial liability to the city. The city created the board of trustees to oversee the hospital, and that panel, together with the city council, has come to a consensus that spinning the facility off to an independent operator is the best solution for ensuring that the community has adequate medical care without soaking the taxpayers.
The purchase agreement with Community Healthcare Partners, Inc., which was founded by Bing Lum, called for an escrow closing deadline of January 3. The full application process for the land transfer has not been completed. The city holds title to the land as well as the hospital itself. However, the hospital was built on what had been Bureau of Land Management Property that had been transferred to the city of Needles under a proviso that the Bureau of Land Management retained a reversionary interest in the property allowing it to reclaim the land if the property is not used for what is deemed “a charitable purpose.”
Indications are that the full land transfer to Community Healthcare Partners will not take place until later this year.  Thus, January 3 came and went without Community Healthcare Partners closing escrow. However, according to city attorney John Pinkney, language in the original purchase agreement allows the January 3 escrow closing requirement to be eliminated based upon any government-related delays. That provision of the agreement was invoked and the council extended the escrow closing deadline to February 22.
The Bureau of Land Management is insisting an appraisal of the property be done at  Community Healthcare Partners, Inc.’s expense.
Lum indicated his company will carry out whatever needs to be done to effectuate the transfer and that Community Healthcare Partners, Inc. will proceed with each of the tenets of the August agreement. On the fly, Pinkney has crafted an arrangement by which Community Healthcare Partners is to acquire the hospital property as a land lease until the full transfer takes place. During the gap between the city’s reassignment of the hospital property to Community Healtcare Partners, Lum’s company will serve as the interim manager of the hospital. Community Healthcare Partners will not charge the city for its services in this regard and will instead realize revenue from the hospital’s operation just as if it owned it in full.
Pinkney is to streamline the process and draft the documents for the interim lease and management arrangement in such a way that it does not compromise the original sale agreement or the prospects of the Bureau of Land Management consenting to the land transfer. Community Healthcare Partners will hand over the lion’s share of the $2.577 million to the city to effectuate the hospital purchase to close escrow with the city, though a portion of the purchase price – pertaining to the land purchase – will be withheld. When BLM ratifies the land transfer, the additional money to equal the full $2.577 million will be paid to the city.
The hospital board of trustees joined with the council in the vote to undertake the arrangement and extend escrow to February 22.
The council at the same January 8 meeting on its own voted to remove hospital board members Jeff Williams and Dr. Robert Strecker, effective as of January 11. Williams, a former Needles mayor, and Strecker, a physician whose expertise in medical matters is valued but whose professional standing at times created financial conflicts that prevented him from participating in some votes, were replaced by Georgia Breault and Bob McKeever
The council has also instructed Jon Freeberg, the interim chief executive officer for the hospital, to look into fashioning a “fiduciary and accounting firewall” between the city and Colorado River Medical Center that would prevent financial liabilities at the hospital from having a deleterious impact upon the city’s economic circumstance. This so-called firewall is likely to consist of the city chartering a public corporation or hospital district to oversee the medical center.

R.C., Church, Diocese & Verizon Relent On Cell Tower Next To Playground

Verizon, The Diocese of San Bernardino, Sacred Heart Catholic Church and the city of Rancho Cucamonga have all made a strategic retreat in the face of parental opposition to the Rancho Cucamonga Planning Commission’s January 2012 approval of the placement of a cellular phone tower next to the playground of the Sacred Heart Parochial School.
All four entities have now agreed to instead place the soon-to-be-erected tower at the northern end of the church parking lot. Sacred Heart Church and its parochial school are located near the northeast corner of Foothill Blvd. and the I-15 Freeway.
Parents of students attending the school grew irate when they learned in November that the Diocese of San Bernardino and the church had closed a deal with Verizon to turn a profit by hosting the tower and had not consulted with or notified them before making that commitment. Some parents expressed concern that the tower’s electrical field could negatively impact the health of the students attending Sacred Heart.
Studies done in Scandinavia show a relation between the proximity of high intensity electrical fields and elevated levels of leukemia in children. Other studies completed at the University of Colorado at Boulder show that continuous exposure to electrical fields can have deleterious health consequences.
Verizon was faulted for considering locating the tower so close to where children congregate. The city of Rancho Cucamonga and its planning commission were criticized for approving the erection of the tower next to a school. The Diocese of San Bernardino and its bishop, Gerald Barnes, fell under criticism for their action in the matter. The diocese has staffed the parish with priests from Nigeria, who it has been alleged, were not sophisticated enough to recognize the potential for harm to the students posed by the cellular tower.
The parochial vicar at Sacred Heart, Father Augustine Amadi, referred questions about the circumstance to the church’s pastor, Father Benedict Nwachukwu-Udaku. Father Nwachukwu-Udaku was busy preparing for and celebrating Mass on Tuesday, January 22, was involved in a meeting at the diocese headquarters all day on January 23 and could not be reached despite more than a half dozen attempts on January 24.
A phone call to Bishop Gerald Barnes was referred to diocese spokesman John Andrews.
Andrews confirmed that proposals for the placement of the tower varied over time and that the city had a part in dictating the tower location that had led to the controversy.  “We were having informal discussions and in the process of that the setbacks became an issue for the city, so another location was selected and eventually approved,” he said. “That was not the first place it was going to be put.”
Andrews insisted the location approved by the planning commission last year was a suitable location that represented no health risk to Sacred Heart’s students.
“There is no way we would have agreed to put that there if we thought that location would be a health threat to the children or anyone else who would be on that property,” Andrews said. “The issue was studied and the conclusion was the emissions from the tower would be about ten times below the limit set by the Federal Communications Commission.”
As to the suggestion that Father Nwachukwu-Udaku’s naïveté had been exploited to the potential detriment of the children at the Sacred Heart Parochial School, Andrews said, “I think that is completely off base and insulting to the priest. If you know the pastor of the church, he is a brilliant man. He is a published writer and has several degrees. That is just a cheap shot. This decision was made before he became pastor by the man who was at that time serving as the pastoral coordinator of the church, who is no longer there.”
That the positioning of the planned tower is going to be modified, Andrews said, “is not a vindication of their [the complaining parents’] position [that the earlier intended location of the tower represented a health threat to their children].  You need to understand that we had made plans to expand the school and it was discovered at some point that where the tower was to be was in the footprint of where we want to expand.”
With regard to the parents’ concerns, he said, “While we did not feel there was any health threat to the children, the ministry of the parish and the school is to be hospitable and receptive to the concerns the members of church and the parents express.”

Crowe Back Aboard As Ontario-Montclair School District Trustee

ONTARIO–Sam Crowe has been returned to the Ontario-Montclair School Board, just two months after he was defeated for reelection.
On November 6, Crowe, an incumbent, captured 10,621 votes or 24.49 percent of the vote and was turned out of office by voters who selected J. Steve Garcia, who received 13,208 votes or 30.45 percent, and Maureen Mendoza, who received 11,638 votes or 26.83 percent. A fourth candidate, Elizabeth Ricci, received 7,903 votes or 18.22 percent.
On the same day, however, another incumbent who had two years remaining on his school board term, Paul Vincent Avila, was elected to the city council.
Avila’s departure created a vacancy, which last week the four members of the school board chose to fill. By a vote of 3-1, with Garcia dissenting, Crowe was selected to replace Avila.
The board, consisting of Kristen Brake, Elvia Rivas, Mendoza and Garcia interviewed Crowe and five other candidates – Robert Anthony Ortega, an 18-year-old student; Sandra Kaye Escamilla, a retired district employee; Flora Martinez, parent and community activist; and two college professors,  Michael Cory Flores and Joseph J. Laponis.
Crowe, who lives in Ontario,  was challenged by Garcia, who suggested that his defeat in November constituted a rejection by voters. Others, as well as Garcia, suggested that the board should select someone from Montclair to sit on the board, as currently all of the members are from Ontario. Moreover, it was alleged, it turned out inaccurately, that Crowe has a hidden agenda to terminate the district superintendent, James Hammond. In actuality, Crowe was a key supporter of Hammond’s hiring and the two had worked closely on district issues over the last two years.
Crowe, a lawyer who was formerly the city attorney in Ontario, Rancho Cucamonga and Hesperia, was on the Ontario City Council four decades ago. He commanded the respect of his fellow board members, who had elevated him to the position of board chairman. Over the last four years, Crowe had championed several education programs, including creating academic classes in science, history and mathematics that double as Spanish immersion classes for non-Spanish speaking students, revamping special education and including in that curriculum a cooking class for special education students, priority class selection for graduates of the Ontario-Montclair School District at several colleges, including Chaffey College, Cal State San Bernardino, Cal State Bakersfield, Cal Poly and the University of La Verne, and a program to teach English, math and computer skills to the parents in the district who do not speak English.
Crowe, as a well-established local attorney long involved with the Inland Empire’s business community, had also founded a nonprofit corporation dedicated to raising money for scholarships for district students.
A program Crowe was pursuing but had not completed when he was defeated in November was a joint educational class involving a video link-up with instructors and students in Africa.
Crowe’s appointment was supported by the Ontario-Montclair Teachers Association and the Ontario-Montclair Classified Employees.
“We welcome Mr. Crowe back,” said school board president Rivas.