Video Of Alleged Brutalizing Of Yucca Valley Motorcyclist Circulating

(April 26) A video that is purported to show a Yucca Valley motorcyclist being physically abused by Yucca Valley’s highest ranking law enforcement officer while the Yucca Valley town manager and assistant town manager look on is making the rounds in this desert municipality of 20,700 on Highway 62.
On the afternoon of March 13, sheriff’s captain Richard Boswell and sheriff’s lieutenant Brad Toms were accompanying Yucca Valley Town Manager Mark Nuaimi and assistant town manager Shane Stueckle as they were surveying road conditions on Linda Lee Drive.
At about 3:45 p.m., Jason Arrona, 37, was riding his dirt bike in the 5800 block of Linda Lee Drive when he had a close encounter with the four. According to a sheriff’s report of the incident, one of the sheriff’s officers motioned for Arrona to stop but Arrona accelerated, coming so close to the officer that the motorcycle’s rear tire struck a book the officer was carrying.
Arrona, who later claimed he lost control of the motorcycle when he “hard braked,” went down on the unpaved road, with the bike landing off to the side.
Both Boswell and Toms hastened to where the fallen motorcyclist lay sprawled on the road. Within a short period of time, a nearby resident, Robert Dean Nelson, activated a video camera and shot footage showing the officers as they sought to detain what appears to be an already incapacitated Arrona.
In the video’s opening frame, Arrona is motionless, face down on the unpaved ground with a dirt bike style motorcycle lying roughly six feet beyond him. Captain Boswell, perched over Arrona on the right side, has his left hand on Arrona’s back, holding Arrona’s right arm at a right angle behind his back. Lieutenant Toms, positioned on Arrona’s left side, is using his right hand to hold Arrona’s left forearm against the small of his back.
With his right hand, Boswell grasps Arrona’s hair and yanks Arrona’s head up, arching Arrona’s neck and head backwards and then forcefully and rapidly pushes Arrona’s head toward the ground. Arrona’s left leg and foot spasmodically jerk up into the air. Boswell then releases Arrona’s hair and uses his right arm to pull Arrona’s right arm further up behind his back in a pain compliance hold. Boswell can be heard telling the fallen motorcyclist that he had assaulted him. Arrona insistently responds that he did not.
Toms, with his right knee and right hand on Arrona’s back, takes what appears to be a cell phone with his left hand from his shirt pocket and attempts but then appears to abort a cell phone call.
With the still prone Arrona’s arms pinned up at an extreme angle behind his back, Boswell stands up, entrusting Toms to keep Arrona in place and heads toward his vehicle parked more than 100 feet away. The camera pans after him, showing both Nuaimi and Stueckle within close proximity to where Arrona is lying on the ground. When the camera pans back to Arrona and Toms, it can be seen that with just his right hand, Toms is able to keep Arrona’s arms sharply pinned against his back and he again utilizes his cell phone to place a call with his left hand. A minute and eleven seconds after Boswell headed toward the sheriff’s vehicle, he returns with a set of handcuffs, which he then gives to Toms, who cuffs Arrona, who is yet lying face down in the dirt.
Subsequently, Boswell notices Nelson and begins questioning him about his videotaping of the incident, including trying to ascertain if the video had an audio component. Nelson, who is not seen on the video, can be heard responding to Boswell’s questions.
Arrona was taken to the Morongo Basin Jail and booked on three warrants, including a no-bail warrant for possession of a controlled substance. He was charged by the district attorney with battery against a peace officer and arraigned on March 15. After serving 28 days in jail, he entered a guilty plea at his pretrial hearing on April 11 and was released with time served.
Yucca Valley residents have been emailing the video to other members of the community.
Nelson’s video has been posted on youtube at the URLs v=r1HWSdRQmHE  and

FUSD Recall Referendum Vote On Garcia And Green Set For July 16

The special Fontana School Board recall referendum against board members Leticia Garcia and Sophia Green is scheduled for July 16.
The Board of Education passed a resolution on April 3 calling for the election on the July date.  The San Bernardino County Elections Office will hold the election at an estimated cost of $102,000, based upon a resolution passed by the Board of Education on April 3.
Proponents of Garcia and Green’s removal qualified the matter for a vote by gathering the signatures of more than fifteen percent of the registered voters living within the school district’s boundaries.
By reducing the number of polling places where votes will be cast in the special election from the 30 normally used during regularly scheduled elections to 12, the estimated cost of the election has been reduced from a previously estimated $142,000 to $102,000.
Green protested the reduced number of polling places, suggesting it may worsen her and Garcia’s prospects of surviving the recall.
Those wishing to cast early votes in the election can begin doing so as of June 17 at the Elections Office, 777 E. Rialto Avenue in San Bernardino. Those living in the district who are not registered to vote now must register by July 1 to participate in the recall election. Voters wishing to obtain a mail ballot for this election must make that request by July 9 and those ballots must be received by the elections office no later than 8 p.m. on Election Day in order to be accepted and counted. A ballot postmarked on Election Day, but not received in the elections office, will not be counted.

LA Ceases Airport Dialogue Following Ontario’s Threat Of Legal Action

(April 19) Communication between Los Angeles and Ontario officials has broken off in the wake of the city of Ontario’s most recent escalation of its effort to take back ownership of Ontario International Airport, consisting of Ontario’s filing of a claim against the larger municipal entity. Such a claim is considered to be the precursor of a lawsuit.
Taken aback by Ontario’s move, influential political entities and personages within the city of Los Angeles, including ones who were previously sympathetic to Ontario’s entreaties with regard to the airport, are being steamrolled into taking a hard line in response to Ontario’s claim. In the absence of a running dialogue with Ontario officials, those pressing for the sale of the airport to a public or private buyer at a maximum price appear to be in ascendency, with any vestige of the cooperation between the two cities that built Ontario Airport shattered.
In 1967, Ontario and Los Angeles formed a joint powers authority to oversee the advancement of the airport, after fewer than 200,000 passengers had embarked there the previous year. Under the guidance of the Los Angeles Department of Airports and a subsequently formed entity, Los Angeles World Airports, Ontario International Airport prospered and expanded. In 1985, Ontario, in accordance with criteria laid out in the 1967 joint powers agreement, deeded the airport in total to Los Angeles, and the airport continued to thrive, with expansions in the runways and the addition of two modern terminals. In 2007, 7.2 million passengers passed through Ontario International. But in the more than five years since, while Los Angeles World Airports made substantive improvements to Los Angeles International Airport and passenger traffic has increased there, ridership at Ontario International has dropped consistently ever since, with 4.5 million passengers at the facility last year.
Ontario officials, convinced that Los Angeles officials and Los Angeles World Airport officials in particular are promoting Los Angeles International Airport to the detriment of Ontario International, have pressed to have Los Angeles deed the airport back to Ontario. Officially, Ontario for three years has sought a public agency-to-public agency transfer of the airport at no consideration, the converse of the 1985 transaction. Two years ago, Ontario, so as to not publicly contradict its official position that the airport grounds are a public benefit property and thus of no sales value,  made what it considered a private offer to Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) that would result in Los Angeles transferring the airport’s title and operational control to Ontario for $250 million in the form of Ontario assuming $75 million of the outstanding bond debt obligations for past improvements to the airport, $125 million in future passenger facility charges to be realized at the airport and $50 million cash.
For more than twenty-two months, Los Angeles World Airport officials gave no official response to that overture, though in early 2012, amid public assertions by Ontario officials that the airport had no monetary value as a saleable entity, they publicly revealed Ontario’s sub rosa offer, much to the consternation of Ontario officials.  In response Ontario officials stepped up their campaign to convince the public that Ontario is the rightful and logical owner and operator of the airport. That campaign entailed assertions that Los Angeles World Airports’ control of Ontario Airport constituted a conflict-of-interest in that passenger traffic increases at Los Angeles International Airport are inversely proportional to ridership at Ontario Airport and that LAWA was intentionally inflating the costs sustained by airlines flying into and out of Ontario  – enplaned passenger fees and passenger facility charges – as part of an effort to discourage those airlines from scheduling more flights into and out of Ontario.  Ontario further charged that LAWA was using Ontario Airport as a dumping ground for idle airport workers for whom there was not realistic employment at Los Angeles International, a ploy which further increased the overhead at Ontario Airport, Ontario officials said.
In August 2012, Ontario with the county of San Bernardino formed the Ontario International Airport Authority as an entity intended to eventually wrest ownership of the airport from Los Angeles and subsequently manage its operations. The following month, Los Angeles World Airports released an appraisal of Ontario Airport by the consulting firm of Leigh Fisher which pegged the airport as being worth at least $243 million and as much as $605 million, depending on cash flow expectations over the next half century.
On January 22, 2013, Gina Marie Lindsey, the executive director of Los Angeles World Airports, made a counteroffer to Ontario’s $250 million offer, proposing to sell the airport to Ontario for $474.5 million.
Two weeks ago, the Ontario International Airport Authority released an appraisal of the airport property it had commissioned from Oliver Wyman, a New York-based consulting firm. According to Oliver Wyman, the airport and the property it is sited on is not worth the  $243 million to $605 million Leigh Fisher derived but rather had a value below zero – in the range of negative-$78 million to negative-$104 million.
Those provided with Oliver Wyman’s low valuation of the airport hardly had time to assimilate that appraisal when Ontario on April 11 followed  up with a 67-page claim against Los Angeles, drafted by the prestigious Washington, D.C.-based law firm of Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton, charging the city of Los Angeles and Los Angeles World Airports with chronic mismanagement of the airport and seeking to abrogate the 1967 joint powers agreement between the two cities.
Ontario’s move blindsided Los Angeles officials, who at present are in a state of uncertainty given the pending end of Mayor Anthony Villaraigosa term in office and the yet-to-be-determined outcome of the mayoral race between Wendy Gruel and Eric Garcetti. Upon learning of the claim, Villaraigosa tasked the city of Los Angeles’ chief administrative officer, Miguel Santana, to make an appraisal of the situation. In short order, Santana broke off discussions with Ontario officials and directed LAWA to do the same. He simultaneously produced two basic recommendations for Villaraigosa and the city council.
Santana said the mayor and council need to detail the city attorney to make a comprehensive assessment of the claim filed on Ontario’s behalf by Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton to determine both the accuracy of the factual assertions in the claim and the validity of the conclusions as to matters of law, and that the attorney then advise Santana, the mayor, the council and LAWA on how to proceed.
Santana’s other recommendation was that he huddle with LAWA to determine alternative management strategies at Ontario Airport.
Santana noted that Los Angeles and LAWA have made substantial investments into improvements at Ontario Airport over the last 45 years.
Among Los Angeles city officials are ones, including councilmen Bill Rosendahl and Dennis Zine, who are more or less amenable to redeeding the airport back to Ontario. Zine, however, is leaving the city council in his effort to become city controller. Other members of the council have expressed reservations about the wisdom of Los Angeles divesting itself of Ontario Airport and none appear inclined to deeding it back to Ontario for no consideration.
Moreover, in early 2011, LAWA invited expressions of interest from firms that would entertain the notion of purchasing Ontario Airport to either run it directly or as an investment with future sale value.
American Airports Corporation, an American airport operator; Airport Property Ventures, an American airport operator; AMP Capital, an Australian infrastructure investor; AvPORTS/ AFCO, an American airport operator; The Carlyle Group, an American infrastructure investor; Fraport AG, a German airport operator; GMR Airports, an Indian airport operator; Goldman Sachs Infrastructure Partners, an American infrastructure investor; Incheon International Airport Corporation, a Korean airport operator; and Munich Airport Consulting, a German airport operator, all expressed an interest in Ontario Airport.
Santana’s counterpart, Ontario City Manager Chris Hughes, told the Sentinel this week that Ontario officials are now awaiting a substantive response from Los Angeles and LAWA.
“We’re waiting for them and their response to the claim,” Hughes said. “The ball’s in their court.”
Hughes, while acknowledging Ontario had indeed offered $250 million for the airport, asserted nonetheless that the airport remains a public benefit property that should not be subject to a sale.
“What we have always said is we want the airport transferred,” Hughes said. “We never requested a sale. We always requested a transfer of the airport. You don’t sell airports. They are either transferred from  one agency to another or put into an airport privatization program. Since the Airport Privatization Program started in 1997 none have gone through that successfully. The furthest they got to actually transferring a midsize airport were up in San Jose and San Juan in Puerto Rico. Calling it a sale is not necessarily accurate.  We have attempted to negotiate for it for three years. We made the $250 million offer over two years ago. We got a response back this year. The response [i.e., an asking price of  $474.5 million] is unreasonable.”
Asked if it was logical to assume that the eventual sale will entail some figure between the $250 million Ontario has already indicated it is willing to put up and the $474.5 figure floated by LAWA, Hughes responded, “I’m not going to answer that.” Upon consideration he added, “Ontario is still willing to negotiate toward a deal that is financially responsible.”
Hughes resisted suggestions that Ontario lacks the resources to run an international airport on its own and that it would have even less leverage with the airlines than does Los Angeles World Airports, given that LAWA controls gate positions at Los Angeles International, which it can use as inducements with the airlines. He said that LAWA disavows having sufficient influence over the airlines to have them increase flights out of Ontario.
“[Gina Marie Lindsey] said ‘We cannot force the airlines to do anything.  The airlines go where they want to go.’ She is saying there is no benefit to having LAX [Los Angeles International] attached to Ontario Airport.”
Hughes said that passenger facility charges collected at Los Angeles International had been used for improvements at Ontario Airport, but he insisted that money was not taxpayer money put up by Los Angeles’s citizens. “Back in the late 90s, the airlines paid for new terminals in Ontario. $125 million in passenger facility charges had been collected at LAX and the airlines made the choice to spend that money in Ontario when there were no capital projects going on at LAX.”
He suggested that $125 million of the $250 million Ontario was willing to fork over to Los Angeles to facilitate the transfer of the airport was intended to reimburse Los Angeles for those passenger facility charges collected in Los Angeles.
Hughes noted that “in excess of $100 million” of the money spent on improvements at and around Ontario Airport, including ground access projects on Haven Avenue and Archibald Avenue, consisted of money Ontario directly provided or which it had obtained on its own from the federal government.
Hughes said Ontario will not accept the airport remaining under the ownership and control of Los Angeles.
“That’s not an option,” he said. “The airport is too important to our city and too important to this region.”

County Now Trying To End Cadiz Project Litigation

(April 19) Demurrer motions brought by Cadiz, Inc., the county of San Bernardino,  and the Santa Margarita Water District relating to two lawsuits filed by Tetra Technologies  are being considered by Orange County Superior Court Judge Gail Angler.
Tetra Technoligies, a salt mining operation near Amboy, filed several lawsuits challenging Orange County-based Santa Margarita Water  District’s approval of Cadiz, Inc.’s project to extract as much as 75,000 acre feet of water per year from aquifers in the Eastern Mojave Desert and transport that water via pipeline to Riverside, Los Angeles and Orange counties.
Santa Margarita, which has agreed to purchase a portion of the water from Cadiz, acted as the lead agency overseeing both the approval and environmental certification of the project. San Bernardino County, which contemplated challenging  Santa Margarita’s role as lead agency, instead last May entered into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Cadiz and Santa Margarita to facilitate the project and in October approved a plan groundwater management plan to allow the project to proceed.
In two of its lawsuits, Tetra Technologies asserted that the MOU should have been subject to the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act.
Lawyers representing the county, Cadiz and Santa Margarita, however, in demurrer motions sought to have the lawsuits dismissed, asserting that the MOU merely set down a framework by which the cooperation between the parties could proceed and did not constitute approval of the project.
Robert Bower, an attorney for Tetra Technologies, however, told Angler that the approval of the MOU committed the county to a course of action, namely the approval of the project.

Former Federal Judge Calls Colonies Case “Impermissable Charging Scheme”

(April 19) The California Attorney General and San Bernardino County District Attorney have overstepped their prosecutorial authority and are engaging in “an impermissible charging scheme” in the pursuit of a bribery and conspiracy case against Rancho Cucamonga developer Jeff Burum and three former public officials, according to a defense brief filed with the Supreme Court on April 15.
Burum, along with former sheriff’s deputy union boss Jim Erwin, former county supervisor Paul Biane and Mark Kirk, who was chief of staff to supervisor Gary Ovitt, were named in a 29-count indictment returned in May 2011. Prosecutors alleged in that indictment that a 3-2 decision by the county board of supervisors in November 2006 to approve a $102 million settlement of the civil action brought against the county and its flood control division by the Colonies Partners over drainage issues at the Colonies at San Antonio residential and Colonies Crossroads commercial subdivisions in northeast Upland was tainted by extortion and bribery. That settlement was supported by Biane, Ovitt and former supervisor Bill Postmus. Burum, Erwin, Biane and Kirk  were charged variously with conspiracy to commit a crime, bribery, conflict of interest, tax fraud, tax evasion, perjury, forgery, and aiding and abetting.
In short order, defense attorneys filed demurrer motions on behalf of the defendants, i.e., assertions that there were insufficiencies in the charges. In August 2011, San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Brian McCarville granted some but not all of those demurrers, dismissing five of the counts lodged against Burum, two of the counts Biane faced, two of the counts Erwin was charged with and one count pending against Kirk.
The prosecution then appealed McCarville’s ruling to the appellate court to have the charges reinstated. Defense attorneys likewise filed petitions with the appellate court, arguing that all charges that had been tossed should have been dismissed and asserting that McCarville should have sustained more of the demurrers than he actually did.
After nearly a year of consideration, the 4th District Court of Appeal on October 31, 2012 in a 41-page decision written by Justice Art W. McKinster and joined by associate justices Betty Ann Richli and Douglas P. Miller, upheld McCarville’s dismissal of part of a conspiracy charge plus four other counts against Burum, and tossed out a conflict of interest charge against Burum. At the same time, the appellate justices restored some elements of the conspiracy charge along with an aiding and abetting charge against Burum.
Burum, on of the managing principals in the Colonies Partners,   is considered the linchpin in the case, as he is the individual charged with bribing the others and all charges revolve around him. Establishing his guilt is seen as crucial to proceeding with the case against all of those indicted.
In December, the prosecution appealed the 4th District Court’s ruling to the California Supreme Court to have the bribery, conspiracy and related charges reestablished.
In March, supervising deputy attorney general Melissa Mandel filed a 43-page,  13,541-word opening brief with the California Supreme Court that described Burum as “a bribe offeror” who with Erwin “conspired to, and did, aid and abet the receipt of bribes by Postmus and Biane. Law, logic and public policy compel the conclusion that the prosecution should not be foreclosed from charging and proving that Burum conspired to and did aid and abet the receipt of bribes simply because he also offered the bribes.”
Mandel said McCarville and the 4th Appellate Court’s dismissal of conspiracy to aid and abet the receipt of bribes against Burum  erroneously relied on a case, People vs. Clapp, which by extension held that a provider of bribes could be charged with the provision of bribes but could not simultaneously be charged with conspiring with the bribe taker to receive the bribes.  “People v. Clapp should be overruled, because it erroneously holds that a person cannot be an accomplice to one crime if his or her conduct with respect to a transaction violates another provision of criminal law,” Mandel wrote in her brief.
Burum’s attorney, former U.S. District Court Judge Stephen Larson, in his answering brief, told the Supreme Court that the prosecution had failed to charge his client “with giving or offering bribes before the expiration of the statute of limitations. Instead, the People failed to bring timely charges against Mr. Burum, and the trial court and Court of Appeal properly rejected the People’s attempt to plead around the statute of limitations by using an impermissible charging scheme.”
In this way, Larson noted, Burum was not charged with bribery but rather with aiding and abetting two of the members of the board of supervisors – Biane and Postmus – with receiving bribes. Prosecutors allege separate $100,000 donations Burum made to political action committees controlled by Postmus and Biane constituted bribes, as did another $100,000 donation to a political action committee controlled by Kirk. Prosecutors allege Kirk influenced his boss, supervisor Gary Ovitt, to vote for the $102 million settlement.
Larson argued that the Court of Appeal correctly held that Burum cannot be charged with aiding and abetting the alleged receipt of bribes because an alleged bribe giver cannot be charged under Penal Code Section 31 with aiding and abetting the separate crime of receiving the bribe.
Penal Code Section 31 states “All persons concerned in the commission of a crime, whether it be felony or misdemeanor, and whether they directly commit the act constituting the offense, or aid and abet in its commission, or, not being present, have advised and encouraged its commission… or who, by threats, menaces, command, or coercion, compel another to commit any crime, are principals in any crime so committed.”
At issue in this regard, according to Larson, are two precedents, the Clapp Rule and the Wolden Case. Both were raised in the rulings by McCarville and the 4th Court of Appeal.
The Clapp case, from 1944, pertained to three women accused of involvement in an abortion, which at that time was illegal, and the conviction of the woman on whom the abortion was performed. The court held the woman submitting to an abortion was not punishable as a principal under one section of the penal code because her conduct was prohibited under another section. As such she was deemed not to be an accomplice in the crime of the other parties.
The case of People v. Wolden, which in itself relied upon the precedent of the Clapp Case, related to the case of Russell Wolden, the one-time assessor of San Francisco County who was indicted on 10 counts of accepting bribes and one count of conspiracy to accept bribes. One bribery count was dismissed and the jury failed to reach a verdict upon another and found him guilty of the conspiracy charge and eight counts of accepting bribes. Upon appeal, it was determined that the giver and receiver of a bribe are not guilty of a conspiracy, because the two crimes require different motives or purposes and that the giver of the bribe is not an accomplice in the “separate and distinct crime” of bribe taking.
In her brief, Mandel summarizes the issues before the State Supreme Court as “Can a bribe offeror be charged with conspiracy to commit bribery, and aiding and abetting the receipt of a bribe, where his conduct satisfies the elements of those crimes?” and “Can a private person be charged with aiding and abetting a criminal conflict of interest violation?”
Mandel argued that ultimately the answer to those questions was “yes.”
In his answering brief, Larson stated, “There is no basis to overturn the Clapp Rule. The bribe giver lacks the requisite intent to aid and abet the receipt of the bribe under Section 31. The People’s attempt to limit Clapp and Wolden to Section 1111 ignores the legislative history  and judicial interpretations of Sections 31 and 1111.”
California Penal Code Section 1111 reads, “A conviction cannot be had upon the testimony of an accomplice unless it be corroborated by such other evidence as shall tend to connect the defendant with the commission of the offense; and the corroboration is not sufficient if it merely shows the commission of the offense or the circumstances thereof. An accomplice is hereby defined as one who is liable to prosecution for the identical offense charged against the defendant on trial in the cause in which the testimony of the accomplice is given.”
Larson asserted, “The Clapp and Wolden rule was properly applied to the charges against Mr. Burum. The alleged threats and extortion are irrelevant to the bribery charges. Holding that bribe givers and bribe receivers can aid and abet each other would undermine the legislative intent in amending Section 1111 and could thwart future bribery prosecutions.  The Court of Appeal correctly held that Mr. Burum cannot be charged with conspiring to commit the crime of receiving the alleged bribes.  The Court of Appeal properly relied on Wolden.”
The precedences of the Clapp and Wolden cases have been for so long established that they have become standards under California jurisprudence, Larson maintained. Thus, even if the Supreme Court overturns both Clapp and Wolden, “due process prohibits retroactively applying the new rule of law to Mr. Burum.” Such an application would be an ex post facto application of law, that is, enforcing a law that did not exist at the time of the alleged crime’s commission, Larson maintains.
Larson also argued that it was a misapplication of the law to try to hold Burum accountable for the other defendants’ violations of Government Code Section 1090 and 1097, which prohibit an elected official from engaging in a financial conflict of interest or making a decision which will have an impact on his own financial circumstance.
“The Court of Appeal correctly held that Mr. Burum cannot be charged with aiding and abetting or conspiring in the alleged violation of Government Code Section 1090. Government Code Sections 1090 and 1097 do not apply to private citizens. The Court of Appeal properly based its ruling on the legislative intent to exclude aiding and abetting liability.”
While for the most part, Larson asserted that the Court of Appeals had engaged in sound analysis of the criminal case and made accurate rulings, he did take issue with the Court of Appeal’s finding that Burum should stand trial for improperly seeking to influence public officials, a crime prohibited under Government Code Section 9054.
“The court of Appeal erred in finding that Government Codes Section 8954 was constitutionally sound,” Larson wrote.

Warne Forced Out As 29 Palms City Manager

(April 19) Less than a month before he would have marked two years as Twenynine Palms city manager, Richard Warne was shown the door last week, following a closed door meeting of the city council on April 9.
Strict secrecy was maintained with regard to the firing, which according to a well-placed source was made upon a unanimous vote of the council. Warne departed City Hall that evening and did not return.  No immediate public announcement of Warne’s departure was made, however.  Without fanfare, City officials on Wednesday morning, April 10, contacted the firm of MuniTemps, a La Mirada-based firm which bills itself as offering municipal staffing solutions. By April 12, MuniTemps had arranged for Homer Croy, the retired city manager from Palm Desert, to take up the interim city manager assignment in Twentynine Palms.
On Monday, the city issued a press release announcing Warne’s leaving, characterizing his exodus as a “retirement.”
The Sentinel has learned that Warne did not leave of his own accord, but was terminated by a vote of the council, for no cited cause. Based upon the termination clause in Warne’s contract, he is to receive a full year’s compensation, including his salary of $171,500, a pension contribution of $4,287.50 and another $12,432 toward his retirement fund and $16,306 to cover his health plan. He is also to be paid a lump sum for all accrued but unused administrative leave and vacation time, and shall be paid for any unused sick leave.
Confirmation that the city was indeed providing Warne with severance pay undercut the representation that Warne had voluntarily retired. His contract did not provide for severance pay in the event of his taking retirement.
The local media, led by KCDZ 107.7 FM, cast doubt on the retirement claim, prompting City Hall to issue a clarification on April 17, which stated, “the council and Mr. Warne came to the mutual agreement that it would be best for him to retire in lieu of termination and he was provided severance as per his employment agreement.”
What remains unclear to most of the public at this point was the basis for the council’s decision to force Warne’s exodus.
A burning community issue has been the Local Agency Formation Commission’s pressure upon the Twentynine Palms Water District to divest itself of operational control of the fire department. One faction within Twentynine Palms had pressed the city to take on responsibility for the fire department. Warne had resisted that call, insisting that the city could not afford to bring the fire department in-house, given not only the operational cost but the pension liability absorbing the department’s seven personnel would represent to the city. He instead favored having the water district hand the fire department over to the county, but that option would have likely resulted in at least three of the six firemen employed in the department below the rank of chief being terminated and one of the department’s two fire stations being shuttered.  Ultimately, the city council followed Warne’s recommendation to pass on subsuming the fire department. Nevertheless, his position embittered much of the community, and he was attacked in both public forums and on internet postings as “a disaster,” and  “someone who hates Twentynine Palms firefighters,” as well as  “against public safety.”
Warne was particularly crosswise of Cora Heiser, who was elected to the council in November and was strongly in favor of a city takeover of the fire department. She characterized Warne’s January presentation of his findings that the city could not afford to take on the fire department as “uncouth.”
Despite the enmity Warne’s stance engendered, Councilman Jay Corbin  told the Sentinel that it was not his resistance to the fire department takeover that resulted in his forced departure. “That is evidenced by the 3-2 vote  of the council to follow his advice and not absorb the fire department,” Corbin said. The councilman acknowledged that Warne’s stand had garnered him enemies, but the council had not held that against him. “I told him I thought his assessment of the fire department was harsh,” Corbin said. “I also told him I agreed with his assessment.”
Corbin hinted, but did not directly state, that the council had other grounds for threatening Warne with termination. “I can’t get into that,” Corbin said. “It’s a personnel issue.”
On April 15, a committee of the city council interviewed two of the five finalists that had applied for the city manager’s post in 2011 when Warne had been hired.
“We are very close to getting a new city manager,” Corbin said. “I can’t tell you more than that at this point.”
“The council wishes to thank Mr. Warne for his service and express appreciation for the many positive contributions he provided to the city during his tenure,” the city’s April 17 statement says.
Croy told the Sentinel that he had no contact with Warne and did not anticipate nor expect Warne’s assistance in making a transition.
“I am just here to see that the city’s day-to-day operations continue to move forward,” Croy said.

Touting GOP Ties, Leon Aims To Break Democratic Gridlock In State Senate Race

(April 19) Having outdistanced four other candidates vying to succeed  Gloria Negrete-McLeod as State Senator in the 32nd District, Ontario Mayor Paul Leon is now looking to best former Pomona mayor and current assemblywoman Norma Torres in a run-off election May 14 to move into the California Legislature’s upper house.
A Republican, Leon is seeking to propound the conservative fiscal principles of his party in a campaign against Torres, a Democrat whose party enjoys a 48 to 28 percent registration advantage over Republicans in the 32nd District.
On March 12, Torres and Leon fought to the top of the heap of six candidates in the special election that was held because Negrete-McLeod, who was reelected to a four-year term in the state Senate in 2010, resigned that post to depart to Washington D.C. after she was elected to Congress in November.
Torres proved the top vote-getter with 13,295 votes or 43.6 percent throughout the district, which spreads into both Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties. Leon polled 8,064 votes or 26.4 percent in both counties. Since no candidate captured a majority of the vote, the run-off will be held on May 14.
Torres and Leon bested Democrat Larry Walker, with 13.9 percent; Joanne Gilbert, also a Democrat, who received seven percent; Ken Coble, a Republican, who polled 6.5 percent; and Paul Vincent Avila, a Democrat by registration who was disowned by his own party after he engaged in the highly unorthodox move of endorsing Leon, who garnered 2.6 percent.
Despite the voter registration numbers in the 32nd District favoring Democrats, Leon believes he can make a successful electoral appeal based upon what he insists is the Republicans’ more level-headed approach to governance and his demonstrated success in applying those Republican principals to Ontario, which is the most successful city in San Bernardino County in terms of economic performance and revenue generation based upon sales tax inflow.
“The way this state has of creating overregulation kills jobs,” Leon said, noting that what he called the tax and spend philosophy of the Democrats, who now have a supermajority in both the state Senate and Assembly, is to blame for the overregulation.  The tide is turning against the Democrats, Leon said, despite the political upper hand they now hold. “People have this idea there will be this groundswell and  all of the things the Democrats are pushing will end in one swoop,” he said. “That isn’t true. We [the Republicans] need to take each seat we can back to change the face of politics in the state to California.”
Leon cited the experience Ontario had in fighting off challenges to a WalMart superstore that is supposed to be built at Fifth and Mountain in Ontario at the site of the old White Front Department Store. He said the delay in that project is directly attributable to the overregulation mentality typical of Democrats and the legislation they have put in place allowing for the proliferation of lawsuits against development of commercial uses on environmental grounds.
“In Ontario we fought for nine years to allow a WalMart to come in,” Leon said. “That WalMart represented more jobs and an increase in local business and tax revenues but it was challenged for years by a California Environmental Quality Act lawsuit. Becaue of the holdup, the city of Ontario lost into our general fund over $8 million and that does not include the increase in business that would  have taken place around that center. That is just one example of what is going on in the state of California. Businesses are leaving the state or never opening up in the first place because they don’t want to pay what the state of California imposes on them in terms of taxes and regulations.”
Leon said he represents a superior choice to Torres because of both his party affiliation and basic political orientation.
“The Democratic Party, in my mind, has not remembered what it takes to run local municipalities,  and having one more Democratic senator will exacerbate the problem,” Leon said. “My intention is to balance the scales in Sacramento and help undo the mismanagement and bring fiscal responsibility. My main objective is to put California back to work so our citizens have the money to pay for goods and services, so we can rejuvenate the economy.”

Vandalism Spree Prompts Partial Closure Of Joshua Tree National Park

(April 19) JOSHUA TREE— The marring of boulders, rock outcroppings and other features within Joshua Tree National Park with graffiti has become so pervasive that earlier this week federal park officials closed several of the most popular hiking trails in the area to the public. More than 300 acres of the park deemed most vulnerable to vandalism have been declared off limits.
Rangers have found no fewer than 19 effaced areas within Rattlesnake Canyon alone, including world-renowned rock formations and historic Native American grounds. At Barker Dam, a century-old landmark, vandals used knives, chisels or other implements to scrape or carve words into the concrete.
Graffiti has long been a reality at the park, but was relatively limited as visitors to the remote desert area seemed for the most part to have a reverence for the wonders of the natural landscape there. But vandalism at Joshua Tree National Park has increased markedly in the last six to eight months, brought on, it seems by the new phenomenon of taggers posting photos of their handiwork on the internet, prompting others to join with them in a competition to scar the terrain. An effort is now underway to determine if those responsible can be identified. In some instances, the graffiti appears to be the names of the perpetrators. Some of the photos have been posted on social network sites such as Facebook.
Vandalism in a National Park is punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 or six months in jail. Defacing a historic Native American is a felony, with fines of up to $25,000 and prison terms of more than one year.

Twentynine Palms Tribe Has Initiated Work On Tortoise Rock Casino

(April 19) TWENTYNINE PALMS — The Twentynine Palms Band of Mission Indians is moving ahead with what has been dubbed the Tortoise Rock casino project on tribal land in Twentynine Palms, and is seeking to have the gaming facility open by late this year.
The casino will become the third gambling house in San Bernardino County and the second one owned by the Twentynine Palms Band, which since 1995 has operated the Spotlight 29 Casino in Coachella in Riverside County.
In 2007, the tribe submitted an application for a 60,000-square-foot casino with 350 slot machines along with table games, a bingo hall, two restaurants, a sports bar, an RV park that would accommodate up to 100 RVs and also provide tent camping and rustic cabins, campfire rings and barbecue facilities, as well as hookups for  electricity, water, cable TV, and wastewater treatment. The project also called for wireless Internet access, swimming pools, showers, locker rooms, and a laundry facility.
The tribe temporarily abandoned the plan for the facility to be located on a site south of Baseline Road and west of Adobe Road, after both the Department of Defense and the National Park Service stated their opposition to what the tribe then called the Nüwü Casino. The Marine Corps was less than enthused at the prospect of having the temptation of a gaming enterprise at such easy disposal to its troops. The project site is located within the city of Twentynine Palms’ National Park Buffer Overlay, which is intended to deter development that will interfere with the natural panorama.
Two-and-a-half  years ago, the tribe sought to relocate the proposed Nüwü Casino some 23 miles away, in Joshua  Tree, on a 130-acre parcel on the north side of Twentynine Palms Highway west of White Feather Road east of downtown Joshua Tree and just east of Desert View Homes’ metal dinosaurs. That site was well outside the tribe’s reservation and what is recognized as the tribe’s ancestral land, so the tribe was required to file an application with the Bureau of Indian Affairs to place the land in a public trust and transfer the tribe’s right from its tribal property to the Joshua Tree site. That would have involved making a case that the tribe had ancestral roots in the Joshua Tree area, where it had an historical relationship to the property in question by virtue of aboriginal activity, including hunting, foraging and trading in particular.  That application would have entailed an anthropological study to demonstrate the tribe’s ancestors ranged into Joshua Tree.
Tribal Chief Darrel Mike and his advisors, including the band’s chief financial officer, Steve Gralla, reassessed the likelihood of prevailing in a bruising battle with those opposed to locating the casino in Joshua Tree.
The local land use authority vested in the city of Twentynine Palms is not applicable to tribal land, since Indian Tribes are held to be sovereign nations.
Twentynine Palms interim city manager Homer Croy this week told the Sentinel, “That is Indian tribal land and it falls under a different jurisdiction. It is my understanding that some of our [city] council members attend the tribal council meetings, where those [land use] issues are discussed. The authority is the tribe’s. They can work with us as far as mitigating those issues but we have to wait to find out what their decisions are. They are the final authority and the city has no control.”
By early this year, the tribe abandoned entirely its plan for the Joshua Tree casino and instead submitted a draft environmental impact report for the project within 29 Palms to the state. That draft has been finalized and accepted. This week, Croy told the Sentinel, “I was out at the site and they have the property fenced off and are saturating the ground for pre-grading.”
The environmental report for the project, prepared by Sacramento-based Environmental Science Associates, says the 30,000 square-foot casino will sit on a site extending to cover a footprint of roughly 32 of the 160 acres at that location owned by the tribe and will include a parking lot with 450 parking spaces.  The casino will be 35 feet high and offer its customers 500 slot machines, six card or roulette tables, a delicatessen, restaurant, bar, administrative offices and ancillary structures. The casino will employ approximately 100 full- and part-time workers. A tortoise-exclusion barrier will be erected to protect that species from danger that might befall it on the to-be-developed property.
In keeping with its presence within the National Park Buffer Overlay, the casino’s design is to incorporate natural colors in its building materials and paint schemes that complement the existing landscape as well as to shield its external lighting to keep light from being projected upward or onto adjacent property, in keeping with Twentynine Palms’ Night Sky Ordinance, according to the draft environmental statement for the project.
The casino will be visible from Palm Vista Elementary School on Baseline Road, located 3,375 feet northeast of the project, as well as the  Oasis of Mara, which is a half mile northeast of the site. According to Environmental Science Associates, the one-story structure will obstruct to some degree the scenic views from residences to the north and east, Palm Vista Elementary to the northeast, the Oasis of Mara and those of motorists transiting Baseline Road, Adobe Road and Utah Trail. That obstruction will not be total, according to the draft report. “[T]he tops of mountainous areas to the south and west would still be visible behind the proposed development,” according to the draft statement.
Some negative impact on air quality in the nearby area will result from construction activity, according to the environmental impact report.
Water to the project will be provided by the Twentynine Palms Water District, which will extend services to the site by means of an 8-inch water line on Baseline Road.

Olsen-Binks Leaving FUSD To Take Position With Yucaipa-Calimesa

Fontana Unified School District Superintendent Cali Olsen-Binks, who rose through the ranks at the district to become top administrator five years ago, will leaving her position at the end of the current school year to become superintendent with the Yucaipa-Calimesa Joint Unified School District.
The announcement of Olsen-Binks departure comes just five months after her mother-in-law, Kathy Binks departed after 24 years on the Fontana School Board.
Olsen-Binks was originally an elementary school teacher within the district, which boasts 40,000 students. She began her teaching career in 1990.
Olsen-Binks encountered rough sledding over the last four years as the state has steadily reduced education funding. Factionalism on the school board made for strained relations with some of those she had to answer to. On four occasions within the last 13 months, the board held closed door sessions in which her possible firing was discussed, though the board did not pull the trigger on her. The two members of the school board who had asked for Olsen-Binks’ performance reviews, Leticia Garcia and Sophia Green, are now the target of a recall effort.
She said her departure from Fontana is a bittersweet one that will be best for her family. The Yucaipa-Calimesa district has about one fourth the number of students as Fontana Unified.