Four Dems And Two GOPs In Special 32nd District Race

Four Democrats and two Republicans have filed candidacy papers in the special March 12 election to replace Gloria Negrete-McLeod as state senator in the Democratic-leaning 32nd District.
Negrete-McLeod, who was elected to a four-year state senate term in 2010, successfully ran for Congress last year against incumbent Joe Baca in the newly redrawn 35th Congressional District. She resigned as state senator to go to Washington, D.C.
Because of the voter registration advantage Democrats hold over Republicans in the 32nd District, it is widely assumed Negrete-McLeod’s successor will be a Democrat. But the catfight that is brewing between at least two of the four Democrats, along with the larger number of Democrats vying overall, raises the possibility that a Republican could emerge victorious.
If one candidate fails to garner a majority of the vote – meaning at least fifty percent plus one vote on March 12 – then a run-off between the two top vote-getters will be held.
The four Democrats in the race are Assemblywoman Norma Torres, San Bernardino County Auditor-Controller-Treasurer Larry Walker, Ontario Councilman Paul Vincent Avila and Rialto Unified School District Board Member Joanne Gilbert. The two Republicans are Ontario Mayor Paul Leon and Pomona Planning Commissioner Ken Coble.
Already, a rivalry between Torres and Walker has developed over the circumstances that brought Walker into the race. He was, essentially, recruited by Negrete-McLeod to run, it has been reported, to prevent Torres from stepping into Negrete-McLeod’s shoes. Torres, who was formerly the mayor of Pomona, offended Negrete-McLeod when she endorsed Baca in last year’s Congressional race. Baca, like Negrete-McLeod is a Democrat.
Reportedly, Negrete-McLeod is in the process of making money remaining in her state electioneering fund available to Walker, himself a former county supervisor and Chino mayor. It thus appears that Walker and Torres will be better funded than Avila or Gilbert. Both Leon and Coble are looking forward to the prospect of a knockdown drag-out fight between Walker and Torres involving multiple negative ads targeting one another that might have the effect of dividing the Democratic camp and vectoring some of the Democratic vote toward Avila and/or Gilbert. In this way, the prospect of Leon and Coble, the two Republicans in the field, qualifying for the run-off could be increased.
Avila, a former Ontario-Montclair School Board member who was elected to the city council in November, has cultivated significant name recognition among voters by running for office, sometimes successfully and sometimes unsuccessfully, consistently each election cycle for the last 20 years. Coble vied unsuccessfully against Torres for her current assembly position. Should Torres, Walker, Leon, Avila or Gilbert win, their victories will likely result in the need for another election to fill the vacancy that will be created by that victor’s leaving of the office he or she presently holds.
The 32nd District entails all of Pomona in Los Angeles County, and all of Bloomington, Fontana, Montclair, Muscoy, Ontario, and Rialto as well as parts of Colton and San Bernardino in San Bernardino County. It is a peculiarity of the California electoral process that the lines of some State Senate districts remain intact four years after the U.S. Census is conducted while others change two years after the census is completed. In the case of the 32nd District, its boundaries, drawn up after the 2000 Census, will remain until the four year term that Negrete-McLeod was elected to in 2010 elapses.

Two November Candidates Among Four Current Chino Hills Hopefuls

Two of the four candidates vying to replace Wilburn “Bill” Kruger on the Chino Hills City Council in the upcoming special mail-ballot election were candidates in the just concluded November 2012 city council election.
Both Rossana Mitchell, an attorney, and Ray Marquez, a retired firefighter and current real estate broker, were among the five candidates in the November race, in which two positions were at stake. Art Bennett and Cynthia Moran prevailed in that contest. Two months before the election, Kruger abruptly resigned, creating a vacancy that could not be filled by appointment. That was because at that time, two of the incumbents – Bennett and Gwen Norton Perry – had themselves been appointed to the council in 2008 when they had been the only candidates in the race and the city council had decided to forego the election and elevate them by fiat. A state law prohibits a majority of the members of what is normally an elected body from being appointed.
Kruger’s September resignation had come too late to schedule the special election to select his  replacement to coincide with the general election last November. His unfinished term is set to expire in 2014.
Rather than hold an election administered by the county registrar of voters at the city’s normal precinct polling places that would cost in excess of $200,000, the council has opted to hold the mail-in polling on March 5, at a cost of $135,000.
Mitchell attended and graduated from John Rowland High School and UC Irvine, where she majored in Social Ecology. She graduated from Western State University of Law. She is a practicing attorney. Divorced, she has two children. She has lived in Chino Hills for 22 years.  She previously served on the Chino Hills City Council, having won a special election to replace James Thalman after his death in 2003. The following year, she lost to Kurt Hagman. Mitchell has also served four years on the Chino Valley Unified School Board.
“I think one of the major challenges the city council has is building our economic base,” Mitchell told the Sentinel in September. “We’ve brought some good businesses in but we need to bring more small businesses into the community, which will bring in jobs for our city. We also have to retain our rural atmosphere. We have been good at preserving our rolling hills. When it comes to zoning, we need to look at the densities and how many homes should be built in any given area.  We want a balance. We want to keep the rolling hills but bring in a sufficient economic base so we can prosper.”
Mitchell said she believed the council had erred when it had taken property that was traditionally zoned institutional and rezoned it to multi-dwelling. She said the city should no longer count  on developer fees as a major source of revenue and that upping density for a short term influx of cash would have untoward long-term consequences for the community.
“I do not believe it was proper for that property to be rezoned multdwelling,” Mitchell said. “That decision will come back to haunt us every time someone wants to build apartments in the city. The city was built along the lines of a certain vision and philosophy. That is being challenged now. We need people on the council who will stand firm and not sway. When Chino Hills was incorporated, it relied heavily on developer fees. Now, as we are getting closer to build-out, those developer fees are starting to decrease and there is pressure to change density and allow more intense development. There is a conflict because the city wants funding from the development. I think we need a council that will stand firm when it comes to our philosophy. We have always maintained a family-oriented, rural community. We have maintained that balance, but in the last year-and-a-half there have been decisions that reverse that.”
Mitchell maintains that her previous experience on the council, her experience on the school board which oversees a larger budget than that of the city and her legal acumen render her the most qualified in  the field of candidates.
Marquez is a graduate of John Glenn High School in Norwalk and he attended Rio Hondo, Cerritos and Pasadena City colleges, where he studied fire science. Married with three children, he has lived in Chino Hills since 1984. Marquez is a retired firefighter who worked for 28 years with the Santa Fe Springs Fire Department. He is currently on the Chino Valley Independent Fire District’s board of directors.
In 1990 and 1991, Marquez was  involved in the Chino Hills incorporation drive,  and was appointed to the city’s first planning commission, serving on it for one term. He served three terms on the city’s park and recreation commission. An airport commissioner for San Bernardino County, Marquez serves on the advisory council for the Frontera Women’s Prison. He is also on two state legislative committees, the California Special District Legislative Committee and the California Special District Finance Committee.
“I am concerned about community facilities districts, which are entities that exist to provide services and infrastructure,” Marquez told the Sentinel last year.  “When a developer comes in, they spend money to put in things and we have to pay them back, so the city forms a district to do that. There are assessments the residential property owners pay over 20 to 25 years. Chino Hills has millions of dollars going into these CFDs [community facilities districts]. There is an overhead that pays certain city department staff salaries. My concern is about the impact on the general fund budget once the assessments expire and the revenue no longer exists and we have to come up with new income or lay off people. I want us to think about that before it happens.”
“Another main concern I have is open space in Chino Hills and what is going to happen to it,” Marquez said. “I know that right now city officials are trying to figure out a way to make money as revenue sources are drying up. They are figuring on ways of selling off that open space. I think we have to keep our open space, keep it as oak trees and rolling hills covered with grass. I don’t want it to become windmills or solar panels or even orchards.”
Marquez said he merits serious consideration by the voters of Chino Hills because “experience counts. If you look at any of the others, seriously look at all of the others, they have no more experience, meaningful experience, than I do. I can bring that experience to bear on issues that the city faces,” he said. “We have to go to work on revising the city’s general plan. We want to provide better customer service for the community. We have issues with pension reform.”
The recipient of a hefty public agency, taxpayer-supported pension himself, Marquez said he has the stature to bring about change. “I think pension reform needs to be done. We need to set aside money to offset future expenses. We did a lot of pension reform when I was president of the firefighters union in Santa Fe Springs. We need to get rid of many existing retirement benefits for new employees. If we are carrying extra people, we can go to fewer employees, since paying overtime to our other employees will not entail greater pension costs down the road.”  In his advocating of  pension reform, however, Marquez stopped short of endorsing a proposal of having current pension recipients unilaterally give back or surrender a percentage of their entitlements.
Debra Kay Hernandez attended Pasadena Community College, where she studied economics and business law. She is married with one daughter and has been a Chino Hills resident  since 1995. She is employed as a certificated facilities manager. Hernandez is the chairwoman of the Chino Hills Public Works Commission. She is also a member of the Chino Hills Community Foundation, a charter member of the Citizens for the Alternate Routing of Electricity (CARE), which has evolved into the grassroots group Hope for the Hills, and a member of the Friends of the Chino Hills Library. She recently has been active in the opposition to the maternity hotels established in Chino Hills, specifically with the group
With regard to Southern California Edison’s approved but now suspended plan to utilize 197-foot-high towers to convey electricity from the Tehachapi Renewable Energy Project across Chino Hills, Hernandez told Chino, “This isn’t just a battle for Chino Hills. It is a battle for communities across the United States. It is a precedent-setting project that allows far too high a level of electricity in too small a right-of-way. If they do it in Chino Hills, they are setting a precedent to do it anywhere they want.”
She said she will embody “an independent voice and common sense leadership” on the city council if elected.
Twenty-six-year-old Jesse Singh has lived 22 years in Chino Hills. A UCLA graduate who completed law school at Loyola and is now a practicing attorney, Singh said that if elected to the city council he will strive to “practice strong financial stewardship that acknowledges both our long and short-term financial goals and utilizes innovative ideas to increase city revenue without penalizing current or future residents, ensure the availability of resources and programs for our schools and police and fire personnel so that they can carry out services vital to our city, and protect our open spaces and public land without impeding quality and sustainable development.”
Singh further stated he will “champion residents’ property rights, including those impacted by the unprecedented, proposed power lines and improve infrastructure to meet the needs of our residents and businesses and explore strategies for effective infrastructure-sharing.”
He said he will “promote small business growth by streamlining certain processes, actively recruiting quality businesses, and opening channels of communication between local government and businesses. I want to facilitate the growth of our city and preserve our resources through collaborative efforts within our city and with surrounding municipalities.”

Kelly To Exit As County’s Top Planning Official

San Bernardino County Land Use Services Director Christine Kelly will retire, effective March 15, twenty-five months after she assumed the position of the top planning official overseeing building and development in the unincorporated county areas.
Kelly was the city of Chino Hills’ development director when she was hired by the county in February 2011.  Kelly had drafted much of the city of Ontario’s current general plan while she was working for a consulting firm that provides planning and economic development guidance and assistance to cities.
Previously, Kelly had 18 years experience in the planning, community development and building divisions in the cities of Pomona, Brea and Cypress.
The County of San Bernardino Land Use Services Department includes the divisions of current planning, advanced planning, building and safety, code enforcement, and environmental health services.

Amidst Heavy Local Opposition, County Okays Joshua Tree Dollar General

SAN BERNARDINO—Over the organized vocal protests of more than four dozen opponents, the San Bernardino County Planning Commission last week voted 4-1 to give approval for a conditional use permit of a 9.100-square foot Dollar General store at the corner of Twentynine Palms Highway and Sunburst Avenue in Joshua Tree.
Gus Romo and Ernie Perea, planners with the county’s department of land use services, recommended that the commission approve Dynamic Development’s conditional use permit application, asserting that the 1.45 acre site is compatible from a land use standpoint with the applicant’s plans.
“Surrounding land uses consist of single-family residential uses located within commercial zoning to the south across 29 Palms Highway, single-family residential uses within multi-family zoning to the north across Commercial Street, vacant commercial land to the east across Sunburst Avenue, and vacant commercial land to the west across Mountain View Street,” Romo and Perea told the planning commission in their report and recommendation with regard to the proposal. “This area of 29 Palms Highway is designated for commercial development and intended to cater to pedestrian and vehicular traffic. The project is considered a general retail use permitted within the Joshua Tree Commuity Plan zoning designation subject to approval of a use permit. Therefore, the proposed development and retail use are considered compatible with the surounding land uses and general plan land use designations.”
For months, however, local residents have been militating aginst the project proposal, objecting to the imposition of corporate “cookie cutter” forms in the rural desert area, resulting in the county land use services division upping the “minor” permit required of Dynamic Development to a conditional use permit. The project opposition culminated in the public comment period for the January 17 hearing before the county planning commission. That opposition included residents, property owners and business operators from the Joshua Tree community.
Peggy Kennedy said that the project was “inconsistent with the goals and policies in our Joshua Tree Community Plan” and that assertions the store would elevate the local economy were specious, given Dollar General’s reputation for providing minimum wage employment and no benefits, as she said was documented in complaints lodged with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Levon Kazarian, the owner of Crossroads Café said the advent of corporate retailers in Joshua Tree would ring the death knell of the community’s “unique rural character” and damage the viability of the traditional businesses that have maintained a rustic desert aesthetic. “I think the more chain stores you bring in, even with western architecture, you start to dilute the unique character,” he said.
Tom O’Key, who owns 20 commercially zoned acres in Joshua Tree, said the county should perpetuate the non-corporate ethos of the business community rather than forcing it to end with the approval of the Dollar General, which he called “an abomination.” He said the county’s land use services division was not applying the desert community’s standards to the development of the area and was instead using citified standards where they were not appropriate.
“You don’t know what a gem we’ve got,” O’Key told the planning commission “If I wanted, I could put 17 of these stores on my land and the zoning would permit me to do it, but I would never even consider it.”
One area resident, Julian Gonzales, called the opponents a bunch of namby-pamby  “imbecilic personalities” consumed by a “not in my back yard” mentality.  He accused them of being anti-growth. Gonzales said the Dollar General would be a convenience to local residents and would represent a positive economic step for the community. “If you don’t move forward, you die,” said Gonzales.
Mark Ostoich, an attorney representing Dynamic Development, said the project met all the criteria of an acceptable property use. Romo said the Dollar General was “not a big box retailer” and as such was of the sort and intensity of use that would blend well with the town’s rural atmosphere. While Romo acknowledged that the store did not appear to be favored by a majority of the residents in Joshua Tree, he said the project complies with the county’s development code and its standards and there was not sufficient evidence of harm to the community or a meaningful clash with the  Joshua Tree Community Plan to prevent the  Dollar General from being approved.
For the Dollar General Corp., which is based in Goodlettsville, Tennessee, locating in Joshua Tree is part of a larger business strategy. It has established a Dollar General store in Yucca Valley and has already obtained approval for a Dollar General store in Twentynine Palms. Having three stores along State Route 62 will create a synergy and economy of scale with regard to supply and delivery, corporate officers believe.
Opponents said they plan to appeal the Planning Commission’s decision, sending the final review of the project to the board of supervisors.

Rialto City Council Unable To Agree On Vacancy Appointment

RIALTO—The Rialto City Council was not able to reach a consensus on an appointment to fill in the void created when 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. The council considered several candidates, including two who were nominated and seconded and two who were nominated but failed to receive seconds.
Councilman Ed Palmer made a motion to appoint former councilwoman Lynn Hirtz. 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.
Notably, no one considered Scott, who was a fixture on the council for 20 years.
The five member panel thus remains one member short. Three options remain: finding by February 9 a candidate at least three of the council members can support, allowing Governor Jerry Brown to make an appointment or holding an election, at a likely cost of more than $250,000 in the city with a population of 99,171, to choose a new council member.

SoCal Edison Won’t Underground Power Lines Through Oak Tree Downs

Southern California Edison has not prepared plans to underground that portion of the Tehachapi Renewable Energy Project power line  through the Oak Tree Downs area of Carbon Canyon at the  west extension of Chino Hills, according to an application on file with the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC).
Over the city of Chino Hills’ protest, Southern California Edison obtained permission from the PUC in 2009 to proceed with the Tehachapi line to include 197-foot high towers to support high tension 500 kilowatt lines carrying electricity generated at what is to be the world’s largest wind farm in Kern County to the Los Angeles Basin. After further legal challenge by the city which ended in West Valley Superior Court Judge Keith Davis ruling the project could proceed, Edison erected 15 of the towers through Chino Hills. The PUC led by chairman Michael Peevey, however, in November 2011 ordered work on the towers to cease while alternatives to the above ground placement of the towers through Chino Hills were considered by Edison.
On December 18, 2012 Southern California Edison through its lawyer Laura Godfrey applied with the PUC for permission to proceed with that portion of the project that “would not be affected by the potential underground construction,” which is identified as the Oak Tree Downs area, where the master plan provides for  custom homes on large residential lots. That roughly 1.5-mile span into Carbon Canyon represents thirty percent of the five mile portion of the Tehachapi line through Chino Hills.
Previously, it was assumed that Southern California Edison was being compelled by the PUC to draw up an undergrounding alternative for the full five miles. The December 18 filing reveals that the undergrounding alternative, the precise details of which have yet to be fully made public, will run only 70 percent – 3.5 of the five miles –  of the way through the incorporated portion of Chino Hills. The line runs another eight-tenths of a mile through Chino Hills’ designated sphere of influence. Notably, Edison had given earlier cryptic reference to its intention to proceed with the erection of towers in Oak Tree Downs, such as when it placed before public officials calculations of undergrounding costs that pertained to just 3.5 miles.
The city of Chino Hills in response to Edison’s December 18 filing asked the PUC to delay the construction resumption through Oak Tree Downs until the entire issue with regard to the undergrounding of the lines through the city is resolved.
On January 8, CPUC Administrative Law Judge Jean Vieth turned back Edison’s request to allow the work in Oak Tree Downs to proceed immediately, directing the utility to confer with Chino Hills officials to clarify what efforts will be made to mitigate the impact of the towers. This gives Chino Hills officials and Oak Tree Downs residents an opportunity to importune the PUC for reconsideration.
Many Chino Hills homeowners are wary of potentially significant negative impacts the towers will have on property values in the city. That concern was shared by the Chino Hills City Council, which authorized the expenditure of over $2.3 million to employ attorneys and make other efforts to contest the Public Utility Commission’s action in permitting the towers to be erected. That effort included a suit against Southern California Edison alleging the company had “overburdened” the power line easements. That legal effort failed when Judge Davis ruled the California Public Utilities Commission has exclusive jurisdiction regarding the route used by Edison.
Edison has long had a 150-foot-wide right-of-way for its power lines through upscale Chino Hills from Tonner Canyon to the Riverside County line. In 2011, Edison erected 15 of the towers within the heart of the city before Peevey imposed a moratorium on further erection activity in the city. On November 15, Peevey asked Edison to provide the commission by December 3 with a detailed report cataloging the costs and scope of the materials and service contracts associated with the undergrounding alternatives, along with Edison’s cost recovery proposals.
Edison, which has been tasked by Peevey to provide its assessment of undergrounding options  by February 28, 2013, previously calculated the cost of trenching out a six-foot wide and six-foot deep, 3.5-mile long swath through town and undergrounding a single line to be $300 million to $473 million, and undergrounding a double-circuit line to be $703 million to $1 billion. In early December, the company revised those figures to $486 million to $807 million. Edison maintains it could erect the towers along the same span and string the cables between them for an estimated $172 million.
Some of those opposed to the placement of the towers in Chino Hills have questioned the undergrounding cost figures, calling them inflated.
Of some moment in the still unfinished discussion about the Tehachapi line is who will bear the cost of the undergrounding of the lines through Chino Hills. Chino Hills councilman Ed Graham and the leader of the Hope For The Hills grassroots group opposing the towers, Bob Goodwin, have expressed the view that Southern California Edison should bear the cost of burying and insulating the cables. By passing that cost on to consumers statewide, individual ratepayers would see a yearly impact on their electricity bills of under $5, Goodwin said.  Edison and its  ratepayers elsewhere favor having the city of Chino Hills or its ratepayers defray the undergrounding cost.
Christopher Chow, a spokesperson for the California’s Division of  Ratepayer Advocates, which has its office in the PUC’s San Francisco office, told the Sentinel, “The people in Chino Hills want those lines buried rather than having those very high towers, which may impact their property values. They think Edison should bear the cost for having ignored them when the application was made. Then there are other ratepayers in the state who see that as Chino Hills’ problem and they do not want to pay for their problem.”
With regard to calls for the city of Chino Hills to pay for the undergrounding by issuing bonds which would then be debt serviced by the city’s property owners, Chow said, “That sounds like a trial balloon and we do not comment on trial balloons.”

No Clear Consensus On 29 Palms Fire Merger

TWENTYNINE PALMS—A specially called meeting of the Twentynine Palms City Council on January 14 did not resolve the issues relating to the fate of the fire department.
According to the Local Agency Formation Commission, the Twentynine Palms Water District, which has since 1958 overseen the fire department, can no longer afford to carry that financial burden. Fire department operations are defrayed entirely by a special parcel tax that  generates $1.24 million per year. Currently, the seven-man, two-station fire department costs $1.48 million to run and carries with it a future unfunded liability in the form of pensions for its firefighters when they retire. Last year, voters turned thumbs down on an increase in the fire service per parcel tax.
The water district voted last summer to have the county’s fire division take over the fire department’s operations, but missed an October 1 deadline to have the Local Agency Formation Commission initiate the processing of that merger. The water board’s members along with members of the community grew concerned that county fire chief Mark Hartwig‘s plan to reduce the department to a one-station, three-firefighter operation would be inadequate for the city and its outlying area.
Pressure has mounted on the city, which has historically made no contribution to the operation of the fire department, which serves the 59-square miles within the Twentynine Palms City Limits and 29 square miles of unincorporated county property around the city, to subsidize the water district or takeover the district.
City manager Richard Warne, in his powerpoint presentation to the city council on Monday evening, made clear his recommendation that the city not take up the burden of operating the fire department.
The fire department is “insolvent,” Warne said. “The city cannot take on the fire department’s open-ended responsibilities.”
Warne said Twentynine Palms and government entities throughout California are confronted with a “new reality” of uncertain and diminishing revenue. “The water district has not recognized this new world and/or made adjustments to the new reality. As a result, the Twentynine Palms Fire Department is insolvent today due to decisions made by the firefighters union, fire chief, water district finance director and water district board. They all share responsibility for the current situation. The fire department’s controllable expenditures have significantly exceeded inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI) and they have acquired huge unfunded firefighter pension obligations and post-employment retiree benefit obligations that appear to be impossible to pay. In this respect they are like many governments in California facing bankruptcy.”
Warne said that “after years of deficit spending and nine months after the failure of the ballot measure, the fire chief and the water district board still have no plan to bring expenditures into line with revenues. The fire department cash position is deteriorating each day due to deficit spending, while the unfunded firefighter pension obligations are growing each day.”
Warne’s bottom line recommendation was to have the water district proceed with turning the fire department over to the county.
“The county fire department proposal provides the city a higher level of service than is currently provided by the Twentynine Palms Fire Department and more efficiently directs limited financial resources,” Warne said. “More importantly, the county fire department proposal keeps expenditures within revenues.”
Warne’s hands-off approach was not embraced by several people in attendance. A few used Warne’s citation of a $12 million municipal reserve fund to suggest that the city could afford to effectuate the takeover.
Among those who lobbied the city to keep local control over the fire department was Paul Regner, “Isn’t looking after the residents and citizens of Twentynine Palms our primary responsibility?” Regner asked. “Do we really want to farm that out to the county? What’s the point of being a city if we don’t  provide these kinds of basic preventive and security services for our residents? We have the ability to sort this out and make it work for our city. I think maintaining control of the fire department is essential in that.”
City attorney Patrick Munoz said the city could opt to take over just that portion of the fire department function within its city limits or more energetically take on the department’s current service area. Arrangements would have to be made to pass the special fire department service tax to the city, he said. Munoz also said the city could expedite the LAFCO application for the county fire district to annex the city and unincorporated areas for the purpose of providing fire protection. And, he said, a joint powers authority could be created between the city and water district to run the fire department.
In response to suggestions that the county should help subsidize the department because a large portion of the department’s service area lies in the unincorporated county area, Hartwig said declining revenues have already resulted in “service delivery cuts” to the county’s service areas. He also said county firefighters had made “concessions” on salaries and benefits. Councilwoman Cora Heiser inquired about the relative pay provided to the county’s firefighters and the firefighters currently employed by the Twentynine Palms Fire Department. She was told that Twentynine Palms firefighters average about $14.05 per hour and county firefighters are paid about twice that.
The county’s Local Agency Formation Commission executive director, Kathleen Rollings-McDonald, said that the incorporated portion of Twentynine Palms generated enough revenue to sustain the fire station servicing the city but that the sparsely populated county area did not provide enough in the way of special tax proceeds to support the fire station outside of town.
Councilman Daniel Mintz said, “City money being spent outside the city is a complex issue.”
Mayor Joe Klink said, “It is a very difficult decision to make. I ask the four council members and myself to go home and think about what was said and come back to our first meeting in February with hopefully a decision we can make if the water district cannot make a decision on how it will handle it.”

Brulte, Rego & Hagman In Separate Efforts To Rejuvenate County, State GOP

With nearly two years before the next set of statewide elections, the foundering California Republican Party is seeking to remake itself. Locally, one currently established GOP Sacramento officeholder, Assemblyman Curt Hagman, is loading up to displace current San Bernardino County GOP leader Robert Rego.
Unknown at this point is whether Hagman can effectuate the coup he envisions, and whether his intended vanquishing of Rego, if executed, will have a salutary result for the party in San Bernardino County. As the Republicans have receded into political eclipse in California over the last few years, San Bernardino County  has remained as one of the last few remaining bastions of Republicanism in the state. While some believe Hagman will be able to assist the county party to tap into a wider variety of fundraising sources and expand the grassroots organization that Rego has struggled to build up, some party members fear a Donnybrook between Hagman and Rego could in the end hinder the party rather than advance it. Even if Hagman can marshal forces from outside San Bernardino County and match that with money based upon his fundraising capability as a Sacramento politician to dislodge Rego as the county party chief, such a victory could prove a pyrrhic one if the party donors and supporters Rego has been cultivating over the last three years are offended by such an unseemly internecine squabble.
At present, those in  San Bernardino County’s Republican camp, which was already polarized by the slugfest between incumbent Congressman Gary Miller and former State Senator Bob Dutton last year, are choosing sides, in some cases reluctantly.
There is a perception that Hagman’s effort is a subset of a larger strategy for the party involving former state senator and assemblyman Jim Brulte’s quest to capture the leadership of the state Republican Party. Brulte has so far stopped short of openly endorsing Hagman.
Brulte, in the wake of the 2012 November election, which stands as the most resounding electoral defeat the GOP has ever sustained in California, is seeking to succeed Tom Del Beccaro as California GOP chairman and take control of the party’s state political machinery in an effort to reestablish Republican relevance in the nation’s most populous state.
On November 8, 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.
While it is doubtful that Brulte can effectively reverse the statewide trend of growing and energized numbers of  Latino voters registering as Democrats and voting  overwhelmingly in support of candidates from their party, it was Brulte who in fact engineered the last effective Republican takeover of the California legislature when he succeeded, after a protracted power struggle with  former Democratic Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, in installing Curt Pringle as Speaker of the Assembly in 1996.
As a longtime Republican elected official chosen by his party colleagues to leadership positions in both State Senate and Assembly caucuses, Brulte  has a command of the methods and science of campaigning and in horse trading among politicians and business interests in building a well-funded political machine capable of targeting and reaching the requisite number of voters in those districts where Republicans either hold a registration advantage outright or are in a position to get out the Republican vote in sufficient numbers where the Democrats hold a less-than-entirely-overwhelming registration advantage. In office, Brulte demonstrated himself to be basically a conservative, but was not so ideologically rigid in his approach that he could not be pragmatic and recognize the need for compromise in a circumstance where Democrats held the majority of the positions in the legislature. On occasion he reached across to moderates when some political mileage was to be gained. A cunning strategist, Brulte was not unwilling to push the envelope and secure whatever advantage the leverage he and his party possessed at any given time with regard to specific or general issues.
Nearly a decade after he left the interior of the political cauldron, Brulte has his work cut out for him in jumping back into the partisan fray.  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  a handful of head-to-head contests between Republicans in some of 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 then-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.
The Miller vs. Dutton debacle took place in San Bernardino County, in which the 31st District is located. Ironically, Rego decried the squandering of Republican money in the Miller electoral effort against Dutton, as well as in other head-to-head contests between Republican standard bearers. Rego’s entreaties to his fellow Republicans were to no avail, however. Equally ironic is the very real prospect that in San Bernardino County, more Republican resources will be utilized in the effort to topple Rego from his perch so that Hagman, who owns a string of bail bond businesses, can oversee the San Bernardino County Central Committee, which is the controlling organ of the county Republican Party.
There have been suggestions, though nothing tangible to definitively establish, that Hagman’s move at the county level is being done in concert with Brulte’s move at the state level. Arguments in favor of bringing Hagman in to oversee the county party apparatus include his ability to network beyond the confines of San Bernardino County and reach into the pockets of donors throughout the state and conceivably beyond California to fund electioneering and informational campaigns aimed at promoting Republican candidates and conservative ideas and formulas. Hagman’s ability to author and sponsor legislation and interact with other current office holders provides him with a reach Rego does not possess. A phone call from Hagman is nearly always taken. Those calls that find someone not in are nearly always returned, usually sooner rather than later. Moreover, Hagman, like Brulte, possesses at this point a practical understanding of the political reality in Sacramento and a real world understanding of how business is taken care of and things are done.
At the same time, some consider it unwise to have a full-time state legislator committed to the running of local party operations. As the 2014 election date approaches, the time commitment will increase. Hagman’s future political ambition is unclear at this point. His control of the county party machinery could put other potential candidates for an office Hagman covets at a disadvantage. Others frown at the prospect that Hagman will be putting the arm on donors for money or political personages for endorsements while legislation is pending in Sacramento that might impact those donors or endorsers.
And Rego, who has steadily grown into the role of county party chairman, is in no hurry to leave the position. Under his leadership, the party has maintained its historical edge in San Bernardino County. While it is a reality that registered Democrats now outnumber registered Republicans in San Bernardino County 39.1 percent to 38.4 percent, the GOP countywide still outmuscles the Democrats at the polls and in local, state and federal offices.  Three of the five Congressman who represent San Bernardino County are Republicans. Five of the eight  members of the Assembly who  represent San Bernardino County are Republicans. Four of six state senators currently representing San Bernardino County are Republicans. County and municipal offices are officially considered non-partisan ones. Nevertheless, party affiliation plays a major role in the electability of candidates in nearly every city in San Bernardino County. In eighteen of the county’s 24 cities, Republicans outnumber Democrats on their respective city or town councils. Under Rego’s direction of the party, the Republicans in San Bernardino County have turned out at the polls in far greater numbers than Democrats.
After Brulte captures  the party chairman’s position when the California GOP meets in March, his first order of business will consist of convincing party donors, many of whom supported the Republican candidates who were the targets of Republican  attack campaigns last fall, that they should continue to stock the party’s coffers with money. Sacking Rego, whose reputation as a party loyalist and someone who inveighed against cannibalism within the Party of Lincoln is well established, could result in those donors refusing to open their checkbooks for the Republican Party altogether. Thus, in seeking to ease Rego out of the picture, Hagman, and by extension Brulte, will require a degree of tact and politesse the situation does not permit, leading to a perception of Rego’s removal as a counterproductive bloodletting aimed less at advancing the party than the political fortunes of a handful of party insiders.
Brulte told the Sentinel his campaign for the state party chairmanship is entirely separate from Hagman’s effort to assume the lead of the party in San Bernardino County.
“I am not playing a role in that,” Brulte said. “I am not a member of the county central committee. I would refer you to the Republicans who make up the membership of that committee. The chairmanship there is wholly a local issue.”
Brulte, who on January 14 in San Diego formally announced he will be seeking the state party chair, spoke with the Sentinel prior to that announcement. “I want to be the nuts and bolts Republican Party chairman,” he said. “We have three issues we must deal with. Our party is in debt hundreds of thousands of dollars. We have allowed our fundraising function to atrophy over the last few years as we have depended on members of the legislature or gubernatorial candidates to raise money. My number one priority will be building our statewide fundraising operation to erase that debt and provide funds to build the party.”
Brulte continued, “Concurrently, we have got to rebuild the grassroots base of our party, particularly in target areas of the state where we are on the defensive in trying to hold onto seats in the legislature where our candidates are under attack by the Democrats and in those areas where Republicans have an opportunity to pick up seats. Third, we have to go into every area of California, and I mean every part of the state, and recruit candidates and train candidates and to the extent possible provide them with technical support.”
Brulte said open primaries that will in some cases pit Republicans against Republicans are a reality the party will have to live with. “Voters have put so-called open primaries in place and I don’t think they will go away any time soon,” he said. He indicated he did not personally approve of the idea of dedicating party money to the campaigns of Republicans vying against other Republicans.
“I wasn’t a member of Republican Party’s board of directors when those decisions were made,” he said, referring to the expenditure of party money in Republican vs. Republican match-ups. “My view is that we should use Republican resources to elect Republicans and to defeat Democrats. As to the policy the California Republican Board of Directors will enact, I cannot tell you. The board might change. Of its 28 members, nine are up for election or reelection.”
Rego declined comment. Hagman did not return a call seeking his input.
Brulte is scheduled to speak at the San Bernardino Republican Central Committee’s organizational meeting at the Hilton Garden Inn, located at 11481 Mission Vista Drive in Rancho Cucamonga on January 31. There will be a social interaction period from 6 p.m. to 6:30, followed by Brulte’s speech at 6:30. The meeting, at which the organization of the county party’s leadership will be discussed, will last from 7 p.m. until 9 p.m.

Mitzelfelt Contemplating Comeback

Former County First District Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt has taken a step toward reinitiating his political career. Appointed to succeed former supervisor Bill Postmus in 2007 when Postmus left to become assessor, Mitzelfelt ran successfully to retain the supervisorial post in 2008. He fell short, though, in his 2012 bid to be elected congressman in California’s 8th Congressional District.
Mitzelfelt had $226,210 remaining in his supervisorial electioneering fund. Last week he transferred it into an account designated Brad Mitzelfelt for Assembly.
The move sets him into position to vie for the position in California’s lower legislative house now held by Tim Donnelly. Donnelly is eligible to run for Assembly again in 2014, but  is now contemplating a run for governor next year.
Mitzelfelt was Postmus’s chief of staff during the four years the latter was supervisor.

Ontario’s Once Burgeoning Homeless Camp Depopulated

Ontario’s homeless encampment, which began as a group of about 20 ragtag squatters who occupied open property just west of Ontario Airport without authorization in 2007 and then grew to become a shantytown of roughly 400 that was quasi-sanctioned by city officials, is now defunct.
When two of the Sentinel’s writers drove through the area near State Street west of Grove Avenue on January 13, the area was empty.
“I do not get updates on it every day like I was before,” Ontario Mayor Paul Leon told the Sentinel. “I know there were fewer than 15 people there a while ago. We have been ramping it down for years. We now have a very sophisticated homeless support program that has replaced it.”
The encampment spontaneously emerged in 2007, as growing numbers of people were displaced by the stagnating economy and many found themselves living on the streets after a round of foreclosures. The homeless began congregating in the area and a tent city formed that Ontario officials at first resisted but in time reluctantly grew to accept. City officials began providing water hookups, sanitation facilities and other basic services to those living there. That official acceptance generated publicity, which in turn resulted in larger numbers of homeless flocking there.
In 2008, the city drew the line, disallowing outsiders living in mobile homes from occupying the area and then instituting a policy of having those accepted there show proof that they had lived or otherwise originated in Ontario to receive the limited services the city was providing.
Since that time, the city, as Leon said, has been seeking to substitute in other services to discourage the homeless from taking up residence in the area.
The city now offers short-term rental or rental arrears assistance for up to two months, utility payment for up to two months, the provision of security deposits for would-be renters along with utility deposits to city residents who have been evicted and who are under the 2010 state annual income limits, which range from $26,000 for a household of two to $42,900 for a household of eight.
A partially city sponsored program, Mercy House, is the city’s first line of offense in the war on homelessness. Mercy House is located at the corner of Bon View and Holt.
Leon said he has faith Mercy House is making inroads on the problem.
“I believe we have a very good program with Mercy House,” Leon said. “Someone on the street can walk in there and they will put him up in a motel or hotel and get him entered into a program that would turn him back into a productive member of the community. I checked it out myself. Just to see what they would do, I took someone in there myself. I tried to make it so the people with Mercy House had no idea who I was. I wore a hat that I pulled down as low as I could. I wore sunglasses and had on just a T-shirt and a pair of old jeans. I took this guy in there and said to them, ‘This is somebody who needs your help.’ I can tell you they did a good job. They got him off the street.”
The Mercy House phone number is (909) 988-4562.
Ontario’s secondary  lines of offense against homelessness include the House of Ruth, which provides services for battered women and their children, reachable at (909) 988-5559; the Foothill Family Shelter, at (909) 920-5568; the SOVA Food Bank, at (909) 391-4882; the 211-United Way, which can be reached by dialing 211 for assistance; the county of San Bernardino Department of Veteran Services, at (909) 465-5241; and the Kids Come First Clinic, which provides free/low cost medical care for children 0-18 years, at (909) 673-9125.