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.