Tehachapi Line Undegrounding Decision In Chino Hills Due On July 11

(May 24) As the July 11 deadline for the California Public Utilities Commission’s decision on whether the electrical transmission line for Southern California Edison’s Tehachapi project will be placed underground through a substantial portion of Chino Hills, some problematic issues remain for those advocates of having 18 of the 197-foot high electric transmission towers that have already been erected permanently removed.
Slightly over five miles of the 173-mile Tehachapi line, connecting what is planned as the world’s largest windfarm consisting of hundreds of electricity-producing windmills in Kern County with the Los Angeles metropolitan basin, will run through  Chino Hills. In 2009, the California Public Utilities Commission, over the city of Chino Hills’ protest, granted Southern California Edison clearance to erect a series of 197-foot high power transmission towers through the heart of the upscale, 44.7-square mile city at the extreme southwest corner of San Bernardino County along a long-existing power corridor easement owned by the utility.
Fearing a host of problems from the imposition of the towers, including significant negative impacts on property values in the city, the Chino Hills City Council authorized the expenditure of millions of dollars to employ attorneys and make other efforts to contest the Public Utility Commission’s action, including filing suit against Southern California Edison, alleging the company had “overburdened” the power line easements. That legal effort failed when West Valley Superior Court Judge Keith D. Davis ruled the California Public Utilities Commission has exclusive jurisdiction regarding the route used by Edison, and the suit was thrown out. Chino Hills appealed Davis’s ruling to the 4th District Court of Appeal, asserting the city had the right to have the case heard by a jury, but in September 2011 the appeals court affirmed Davis’ decision.
In 2011, Edison, which has long had a 150-foot wide right-of-way for its power lines that runs for 5.8 miles from Tonner Canyon to the Riverside County line, erected 18 of the towers within Chino Hills before a city appeal to the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) and Public Utilities Commission Chairman Michael Peevey in particular succeeded in obtaining a temporary halt to the towers’ construction in November 2011 while a potential undergrounding alternative is explored.
On February 28 of this year, the California Public Utilities Commission directed Southern California Edison to tentatively proceed with planning toward burying  its transmission lines for the Tehachapi Renewable Energy Project along a 3.5 mile portion of the five mile length the lines will run through Chino Hills. No final decision on whether the electrical cables will be undergrounded was made, with that determination now scheduled for July. In the meantime, the commission is taking testimony and considering all order of submissions from Southern California Edison, the city of Chino Hills and other interested parties related to the undergrounding issue.
In November, Southern California Edison (SCE) filed a proposal by which it would be able to recover any money it put into exploring the undergrounding options. The commission’s February 28 directive to have SCE seriously consider the undergrounding options  contained a provision for Southern California Edison to recover its costs in proceeding with the planning for undergrounding the cables in the event the commission this summer elects to remain with the already-approved game plan of utilizing an above-ground conveyance of the electricity.
Also on February 28, SCE provided the commission with a tentative contracting report relating to the undergrounding.
Per the PUC’s instructions, Southern California Edison, which would yet prefer to leave the power lines above ground, is proceeding with planning to underground the cables, even as the PUC is gathering information, engineering and financial data, and testimony from involved and uninvolved but informed parties in order to arrive at a decision on whether to leave the line overhead through  Chino Hills or have Edison bring the towers down and place the cable underground for a three-and-one-half mile stretch within the city.
What it comes down to is whether a majority of the members of the PUC board can be convinced that the untoward elements of the imposition of the towers on the community of Chino Hills outweighs the complication, interruption, expense, and further delay that undergrounding effort will represent to Edison’s effort to complete the project.
In their headlong rush to convince the PUC to force Southern California Edison to underground the line through Chino Hills, activists and city officials have risked the PUC’s rejection of their position by overlooking, downplaying or ignoring entirely critical issues that the PUC must resolve in making its decision.
One of those issues is the expense of the undergrounding remedy and who will be called upon to bear it.
While Southern California Edison has been accused of inflating the cost estimates for the undergrounding project, undergrounding advocates have likewise been accused of underestimating the cost.
Last December, Edison submitted cost estimates for various undergrounding alternatives ranging from $486 million to $807 million. Edison previously maintained 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 would be $300 million to $473 million, and undergrounding a double-circuit line to be $703 million to $1 billion. Edison claims it could erect the towers along the same span and string the cables between them for an estimated $172 million.
Some of those calling for the burial of the lines maintain the job could be done competently for as little as $200 million. The wide discrepancy here is one that is fraught with hazard for the undergrounding advocates. Even if Southern California Edison is  highballing its cost estimates associated with the burying of the electrical cable, the utility company operates from a position of strength in doing so by being able to rely upon decades of experience in laying and stringing electrical lines, including recent projects that give a realistic assessment of the technical and financial challenges associated with similar jobs. Opponents of the towers lack the expertise and credible authority with the PUC to contradict Edison in this regard.
Moreover, undergrounding advocates take it as an article of faith that Edison’s added cost of undergrounding the lines instead of stringing them from the above-ground towers will be defrayed across the spectrum of the roughly 12 million customers Edison serves. Not everyone feels that to be an entirely equitable or justifiable arrangement.
Christopher Chow, a spokesperson for the California’s Division of Ratepayer Advocates, which has its office in the PUC’s San Francisco office, summarized the difference of opinion by saying, “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.”
If Edison customers in Chino Hills, both commercial and residential, were to be called upon to defray the cost of the undergrounding project, one projection is that individual households, i.e., residential customers, would see a rate boost or excise fee add-on of around $900 per year. By passing the undergrounding  cost on to consumers statewide, individual ratepayers would see a yearly impact on their electricity bills of under $5, according to Bob Goodwin, the leader of the Chino Hills-based grassroots group Hope For The Hills that is the foremost advocate of the undergrounding option.
Southern California Edison’s Local Public Affairs division has argued that “It is improper that 12 million people should have to pay more than $700 million to benefit what is only a few hundred households in Chino Hills.”
In the event that the PUC board expresses interest in how much of the cost burden the Chino Hills community is willing to bear to make the undergrounding a reality, advocates for the undergrounding will be unable to provide any quantified answer. With the more vocal of Chino Hills residents protesting the presence of the towers insisting that the cost sharing for the undergrounding should be done among all of Southern California Edison’s ratepayers rather than simply those living within the confines of Chino Hills, city officials have taken no steps whatsoever toward creating or even exploring creating a local funding mechanism such as a tax or assessment arrangement that would cover the cost of the undergrounding effort.
The city has, however, indicated it is prepared to commit as much as $76.7 million to mitigate Southern California Edison’s undergrounding costs, including providing 69.97 acres of real property needed for the construction of the underground transmission line which the city is prepared to convey to SCE in fee; future  revenue which the city would have derived which will now be available to SCE through ownership of such properties; increased expenses that the city will incur due to its loss of the use of the contributed properties; and costs associated with the landscaping and maintenance of those properties that are located in the right-of-way.
Since 2009, the city has expended roughly $4.4 million in legal and administrative costs in fighting the towers.
“The people of Chino Hills have already paid enough,” said Chino Hills City Councilman Ed Graham.
Complicating the issue for Chino Hills and undergrounding advocates is skepticism members of the Public Utilities Commission Board have toward the grounds upon which  Chino Hills officials’ have questioned, contradicted  or second guessed Edison with regard to technical issues relating to the undergrounding effort. Pronouncements by the city and its representatives in several instances lie outside their respective areas of expertise, putting Southern California Edison in a superior position in making its case with PUC staff, which is extremely sensitive to technical issues involving utilities.
One example of this is Edison’s stated intention of proceeding with an undergrounding configuration that would entail two transmission cables. In his testimony before the PUC on March 20, Chino Hills City Manager Mike Fleager said he and the city were opposed to the double circuit line. “It is my understanding that even SCE has stated that a double circuit transmission line is not needed at this time,” Fleager testified. Fleager’s statement was flatly denied by SCE’s representatives. When the commission inquired why the city was averse to Edison laying into the right-of-way a double circuit line, thus doubling the electrical carrying capacity of the system and creating an economy of scale while obviating the future need to tear up the right-of-way and put in another line in the future, Fleager provided an answer that left the commissioners with the impression that Chino Hills and its residents had no regard for the overarching objective of making renewable energy available to a significant number of residential, commercial and industrial customers in Southern California at a competitive price. Commissioners have since expressed concern that Chino Hills officials and Edison’s critics in Chino Hills in general have little appreciation or regard for the added cost the undergrounding effort would represent for SCE, totaling in the hundreds of millions of dollars, and are more concerned with matters of convenience relating to the Chino Hills population than the state’s energy efficiency goals.
“The city and its residents have one goal – removal of the 200 foot transmission structures which SCE has constructed through the city,” Fleager stated in his testimony. “The city believes the single circuit underground transmission alternative represents the most cost-effective means of achieving this goal. In putting forward this solution, the city, however, recognizes that it may be necessary at some time in the future for SCE to install a second circuit. If that occurs, the community understands that once again there will be disruption to their lives resulting from the construction activity associated with the installation of the second circuit. The community believes that the temporary disruption this will cause is a small price to pay to ensure the removal of the overhead transmission structures.”
Another example of what at least some commissioners believe to be the city’s short-sighted focus on achieving its objective while showing little or no regard for the technical issues Edison must deal with is the city’s opposition to the expansion of the  Mira Loma Substation to accommodate circuit regulating equipment for the undergrounding. The substation is located in the extreme southern end of Ontario, across the city limits from Chino. The city of Ontario lodged a protest against that facility expansion, based on aesthetic considerations together with concern that it would inhibit future residential growth in the area.  The city of Chino Hills joined in with Ontario in protesting the Mira Loma Substation expansion.
That opposition to the Mira Loma Substation expansion has confounded PUC technical analysts, the Sentinel has learned, as the expansion of the substation will be critical to the undergrounding of the electrical lines the city is requesting.
To accommodate the undergrounding, electricians say, two transition stations will be needed at both ends of the undergrounded line. These transition stations, involving “compensators and convertors” will involve at least two acres of ground. The transitional staging is required because above ground lines, which can allow the offloading or diffusion of heat through the wire into the air to take place, embody different physical and electrical characteristics than  underground cables which carry significantly more charging current and heat. Electrical engineers will thus use massive transformers featuring a multitude of coils above ground to counteract the charging current of the undergrounded cable after and before it is connected to the overhead cables at the succeeding stages of the Tehachapi line.
PUC officials are troubled by what they see as Chino Hills’ officials willingness to sign on to what is perceived as an “obstructionist” strategy toward a key component of Edison’s undergrounding plan merely for political expedience, that is, maintaining cordial relations with the city of Ontario.
Simultaneously, Edison has lobbied and in some cases succeeded in having other entities back it in its requests to proceed with the Tehachapi line as it was originally approved, thus avoiding added expense and decreasing the rates that will be charged its customers in the future.
Among the entities that have offered Southern California Edison support in its call for the PUC to allow the utility to complete the Tehachapi line without having to underground electrical cables through Chino Hills and thus hold down electrical rates are the California Ratepayers Association,  the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, the Apple Valley, Fullerton and Phelan chambers of commerce, the Milk Producers Council and Inland Action, an  entity devoted to promoting economic prosperity in the Inland Empire.
The effort to promote the undergrounding of the lines the entire five miles distance through Chino Hills has already been undercut, with the PUC having quietly acceded last year to Southern California Edison’s insistence that it could not prepare economic 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, given the undulations of the area’s rolling hills and other peculiarities in the contour of the land. The upshot is that the undergrounding program now being considered applies to a three-and-half mile span across the city.
Goodwin said that Hope For The Hills and the Chino Hills community in general “looks forward to a decision by CPUC favoring public safety in Chino Hills on July 11. This has been an epic battle of a growing group of passionate citizens trying to undo bad management decisions at corporate giant SCE to construct a dangerous infrastructure project through a densely populated neighborhood.
“The international standard for high voltage transmission towers and lines is to keep 400kV lines at least 400 feet from homes, schools, and parks,” Goodwin said. “The Chino Hills portion of the Edison Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project  is even bigger, 25% more powerful at 500kV and they are placing it within 75 feet of hundreds of existing homes, schools, churches, and parks. This would become the largest high voltage transmission project in the world that is located this close to a densely populated area.”
Goodwin said, “Chino Hills does not want to be an afterthought years from now when health issues arise, and they will, with the prolonged exposure to the electromagnetic frequency radiation these lines will emit. Additionally, with this project being the first like it in the U.S., the construction is not proven. Given that, does SCE think it is safe to ‘experiment’ on a community of residents with no regard to the impact this will have on families?
“We appreciate,” Goodwin said, “the courage demonstrated by the CPUC commissioners as they were personally appalled at the sight of seeing the arrogant towers with their own eyes.  It’s obvious they immediately recognized SCE’s reckless disregard for others.”

County Set To Short Term Borrow $275 Million

(May 24) San Bernardino County in the upcoming 2013-14 fiscal  year will rely upon well over a quarter of a billion dollars in short term loans as part of its budgeting process.
Those short term loans, in the form of what are called tax and revenue anticipation notes, are secured against revenue the county anticipates receiving later in the fiscal year but which will not be available when the fiscal year begins in July.
This week the board of supervisors authorized the borrowing of funds for fiscal year 2013-14 and the issuance and sale of 2013-14 Tax and Revenue Anticipation Notes in an aggregate principal amount not to exceed $275,000,000.
According to a report authored by Gary McBride, the county’s chief financial officer and the county’s principal administrative analyst, Katrina Turturro, “Issuance of the tax and revenue anticipation notes (TRANS) will allow the County to meet temporary cash flow shortfalls during the year. Repayment of the notes will be made from general fund cash and revenues via a note repayment trust fund.”
Since 1981, the county has issued short-term notes in the form of TRANS to finance cash shortfalls of the county’s general fund. This is done by San Bernardino County, as well as many other local governments, to address the seasonal mismatch between the receipt of revenues and disbursements for ongoing operations. Expenditures for the general fund such as payroll costs follow a regular, even pattern throughout the year, while receipts follow a much more uneven pattern due primarily to property tax payments which are received in December and April of each year. The proceeds of the TRANS may be used for any purpose for which the county is authorized to expend money, thus allowing the county to cover temporary cash shortfalls.
The TRANS will be repaid from the county’s unrestricted cash and revenues, a portion of which is required to be deposited into a special note repayment fund. According to McBride, “The county has always met its set-aside obligation on its short-term notes and has always timely paid its principal and interest payments.”
On Tuesday, the board of supervisors authorized the issuance of tax and revenue anticipation notes in an amount not to exceed $275,000,000. The resolution authorizes the issuance of one or more series of both tax-exempt and taxable notes, allows for portions of the notes to mature at different times throughout the year, and authorizes the county to issue additional series of notes for the fiscal year at a later date if certain conditions are met.
“These options give the county the ability to offer the correct mix of notes to respond to market demand, satisfy tax requirements, and ensure that the county’s cash flow needs are met,” McBride said.  The firm of Orrick, Herring ton & Sutcliffe LLP will serve as note counsel on the bond issuances and Hawkins, Delafield and Wood LLP will serve as disclosure counsel.

EIR For Hinkley Chromium 6 Cleanup Says Plume Is Now 7 By 2.5 Miles

(May 24) HINKLEY—A plume of hexavalent chromium permeating the water table beneath Hinkley has grown considerably in the last 36 months, spreading from a 2.5-by-1 mile area to one of roughly 7-by-2.5 miles, according to the final environmental impact report completed pursuant to Pacific Gas & Electric’s state-mandated remediation of the environmental hazard.
That clean-up has been ordered by the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board, which deemed Pacific Gas & Electric responsible for the contamination.
Hexavalent chromium, also known as chromium 6, is a known carcinogen and highly damaging to several organs. California Department of Health guidelines indicate humans should not consume water that has  a total chromium content greater than than 50 parts per billion.
In 1952, Pacific Gas & Electric established a natural gas pipeline that linked the oil and gas fields in Texas and New Mexico with San Francisco, which required pressurization stations at several junctures along that route. Until 1966, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) utilized chromium 6 to control algae and protect against rust in the cooling towers for those compressor stations. Near Hinkley, PG&E had disposed of chromium 6-laden wastewater from the pressurization stations in unlined ponds. Much of the chromium 6 leached into the water table.
In 1994, lawyer Ed Masry filed a multi-plaintiff direct action suit against Pacific Gas & Electric, alleging contamination of drinking water with hexavalent chromium in the area was a direct result of Pacific Gas & Electric’s negligent action.  The case was settled in 1996 for $333 million, at that time the largest settlement ever paid in a direct-action lawsuit in American history. In 2006, PG&E agreed to pay another $295 million to settle cases involving 1,100 people statewide for chromium 6 related claims not involved in the prior suit. In 2008, PG&E settled the last of the cases involved with the Hinkley claims for $20 million. Despite those payouts, the contamination problem at and around Hinkley remains.
Hinkley is slightly north of California State Highway 58, 14 miles northwest of Barstow, 59 miles east of Mojave and 47 miles north of Victorville.
The presence of Chromium 6 near Hinkley again became an issue in 2010  when hydrologists learned the contaminated plume had expanded to roughly 2 1/2 miles in length and about a mile in width.
In 2011, following indications that the plume was still extant and spreading and that many more residents of the area were at risk, PG&E initiated the provision of bottled water to locals and was prepared to commit as much as $54 million toward providing a permanent replacement water supply for all indoor domestic uses, including individual household filtration systems. The Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board concluded that merely providing bottled water was not adequate and it ordered Pacific Gas and Electric to provide a new permanent water source to affected users. PG&E dissented from that mandate but lost its appeal. Lahontan called for a more thorough examination of the extent of the contamination and has since called for an aggressive – and expensive – remediation effort. Simultaneously, Pacific Gas & Electric undertook an effort to buy up all of the property in and around Hinkley and encourage those residents remaining there to move away. Such a strategy, PG&E believes, will in the long run prove less expensive than undertaking a cleanup of the aquifer. A substantial number of Hinkley residents have sold their property to the company and have left town, presumably for good.
PG&E has also questioned the standard Lahontan is calling for with regard to chromium 6 levels. PG&E maintains that the standard is more than 100 times lower than the naturally occurring chromium background level in Hinkley and lower than naturally occurring background levels in many other communities in California. PG&E is suggesting the level of water purity Lahontan is requesting cannot be achieved.
PG&E cited a survey completed by faculty and students with the University of California at Berkeley, which found chromium 6’s background level in Hinkley to be 3.1 parts per billion. The company is requesting that Lahontan adopt that as the goal for decontaminating the water. Others, however, are skeptical, pointing out that the background levels PG&E is referencing refer to trivalent chromium, or chromium 3, which is a far less toxic substance than chromium 6.
PG&E previously maintained the level of remediation  that Lahontan is demanding “will result in a material increase” that will endanger the company’s solvency since it will not be able to recover the costs from its customers, and will impact negatively the value of the company’s stock.
Nevertheless, the environmental impact report for the remediation effort now under consideration and which PG&E is now purposed to comply with sets forth a multitude of cleanup alternatives, including  extraction of the contaminated water, carbon filter amendment of the contaminated groundwater and reinjection of the water into the aquifer,  agricultural application of the water within and adjacent to the northern diffuse portion of the plume to metabolically process the water, freshwater injection in the northwest area of the plume adjacent to the western boundaries of contaminated areas, further carbon filtration of and reinjection of extracted water and continuous monitoring of the contamination levels and migration of the plume.

County Recompenses Seven Cities For Hosting Landfills

(May 24) The county of San Bernardino is compensating seven of the county’s cities for hosting landfills or trash transfer stations.
The San Bernardino County Department of Public Works Solid Waste Management Division oversees the operation of the county’s landfills as well as the trash transfer stations for its regional solid waste management system.
According to San Bernardino County Director of Public Works Gerry Newcombe, “The Solid Waste Enterprise Environmental Mitigation Fund was established on May 22, 1989 when the board of supervisors adopted Ordinance No. 3334 which established a $1 per ton surcharge. The fund provides separate accountability of that portion of the tipping fee designated as a resource for addressing solid waste facilities’ impacts on local communities.”
Newcombe continued, “Following the creation of the fund, an agreement defining distribution and use of collected fees was developed and subsequently approved by the Solid Waste Advisory Task Force on September 19, 1991 and the board of supervisors on March 23, 1992. Agreements with each city in the county that had a landfill within its boundary or sphere of influence were subsequently approved. On July 10, 2001, the board approved a fund use policy. In accordance with this policy, projects or programs must reduce, avoid, or otherwise mitigate impacts arising from the operations and management of a county owned landfill or transfer station to be eligible for use of these monies.”
In 2011-12, Colton was provided with $115,523.23 for hosting operations at the Colton Landfill and as of early this week was provided with $64,788 for hosting operations there so far in 2012-13.
In 2011-12, Fontana was provided with $1,563,963.33 for its share of hosting operations at the Mid-Valley Landfill which lies at the border of Fontana and Rialto. As of early this week Fontana had been provided with $1,218,859.02 for hosting operations at Mid-Valley so far in 2012-13.
In 2011-12, Rialto was provided with $1,003,784.73 for its share of hosting operations at the Mid-Valley Landfill. As of early this week Rialto had been provided with $1,326,759.60 for hosting operations at Mid-Valley so far in 2012-13.
In 2011-12, Redlands was provided with $136,825 for hosting operations at the San Timoteo  Landfill. As of early this week Redlands had been provided with $101,444 for hosting operations at San Timoteo Landfill so far in 2012-13.
In 2011-12, Barstow was provided with $36,086.50  for hosting operations at the Barstow  Landfill. As of early this week Barstow had been provided with $28,969 for hosting operations at San Timoteo Landfill so far in 2012-13.
In 2011-12 Victorville was provided with $127,719.50 for hosting operations at the Victorville Landfill. As of early this week Victorville had been provided with $88,905 for hosting operations at the Victorville Landfill so far in 2012-13.
In 2011-12 Twentynine Palms was provided with $7,997.50 for hosting operations at the Twentynine Palms Landfill and Transfer Station. As of early this week Twentynine Palms had been provided with $5,153 for hosting operations at the Twentynine Palms Landfill so far in 2012-13.
This week, at Newcombe’s request, the county board of supervisors appropriated $1,148,919 to endow the Solid Waste Enterprise Environmental Mitigation Fund with enough money to make the final installments of this year’s payments to the seven host cities with a county landfill or transfer station by the end of June.

Islamic Congregation Overcomes One More Roadblock In Effort To Build Chino Mosque

(May 24) The Al-Nur Islamic Center, a congregation of some 200 Muslims, this week made a major stride in establishing a Mosque in the unincorporated area of San Bernardino County north of Chino, south of Montclair, west of Ontario and east of the Los Angeles County Line.
The county board of supervisors  over the objections of nearby residents gave the congregation approval this week to hold daily prayer meetings involving up to 30 people at a time at a single family residence located at 4797 Phillips Blvd until that property is converted to a mosque.
In February 2012, the board of supervisors on a 4-1 vote gave approval to the center’s conditional use permit application to erect a 7,512-square-foot 262-person capacity mosque on the 1.54-acre property that currently includes the residence, which would be razed to accommodate the house of worship. That approval was conditional upon the mosque converting the existing septic system on the property to discharge into one of the nearby sewage systems maintained by either Chino or Montclair.
Residents of the neighborhood, which involves residential and agricultural properties, under the aegis of a coalition calling itself Save Our Uniquely Rural Community Environment (SOURCE),  in March 2012 brought suit against the county and Al-Nur Islamic Center, maintaining the Mosque violated the California Environmental Quality Act and other environmental laws by not making adequate mitigation for an increase in traffic, sound and effluent around, at and from the property.
Chino, in whose sphere of influence the property lies, supported SOURCE in its objection to the project. Despite that, on  February 6, 2013, the Superior Court issued a ruling finding that the approval was in compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act in all aspects except for sanitation. According to the writ that was issued in conjunction with the ruling, the county is required to set aside the environmental finding and all approvals associated with the conditional use permit for the project and prepare an analysis of sanitation that complies with the California Environmental Quality Act. Upon the county’s fulfillment of that condition, work on the Mosque can begin.
“Staff will bring forth a separate item to accomplish this once the appeal period has run and no appeals are filed,” said Tom Hudson, the county’s director of land use services in a report dated May 21.
Last summer, while the lawsuit was yet pending, the congregation applied for an interim operation temporary use permit, known as a TUP to establish a temporary place of worship within the existing 2,200 square-foot residential structure on the property. On September 7, 2012, county land use services staff conditionally approved the TUP, which provided for a maximum occupancy of 30 persons at each of five daily prayer meetings to be held during the hours of: 5 a.m. – 6 a.m., 1 p.m. – 2 p.m., 3 p.m. – 4 p.m., 6 p.m. – 7 p.m., and 8 p.m. – 9 p.m.
On September 17, 2012, two residents of the neighborhood – Carol Yonan and Diane Schumann – filed a timely appeal of the TUP approval. This week, the board of supervisors took up that appeal. County staff reviewed the appeal, said Hudson, who wrote in the May 21 report, “The structure at the project site remains a single-family residence, which fact accords the owner the right to use it within the parameters of that legally established use.” Hudson then referenced California Environmental Quality Act  Class 1 and Class 3 categorical exemptions, which pertain to the use or minor alteration to existing facilities and conversion of small structures, respectively, and stated, “The TUP proposes to establish a temporary place of worship within the existing 2,200 square-foot residential structure with a maximum occupancy of 30 persons. In coordination with the county building and safety division, it was determined that there are no new construction requirements, as the threshold for an assembly occupancy is 50 persons. As such, the proposed temporary use of the existing structure qualifies for both Class 1 and Class 3 categorical exemptions.”
Michael Ruttle, an attorney representing SOURCE asserted that nearby residents had repeatedly asked to be notified of any granting of a TUP and did not receive notice, that the California Environmental Quality Act requires public agencies to assess the environmental impact of actions prior to making any decisions that may have a significant impact on the environment, that a discretionary project cannot be approved without performing environmental review, that the numerous conditions set forth in the conditions of approval should have been met before the TUP was granted and that illegal gatherings have been held at the property and complaints to the San Bernardino County Sheriff and the county’s code enforcement division pertaining to the property have been ignored.
The Al-Nur congregation was represented by attorney Warren Inuoye, who said Al-Nur is in compliance with state laws and locally imposed conditions and is operating legally. “This is the USA. This mosque is entitled to a temporary use permit,” Inuoye said.
Voting 3-1  with Gary Ovitt dissenting and Josie Gonzales absent, the board of supervisors denied Yonan and Schumann’s appeal and upheld the planning staff with regard to the TUP and the planning commission with regard to the mosque approval.

Morongo Basin Transit Authority Running 8 Bus Lines For $2.7 Million

(May 24) The Morongo Basin Transit Authority, which provides bus service in the desert communities of Twenty Palms, including the Marine Base, Yucca Valley, Landers and Joshua Tree, as well as two extentions to Palm Springs, will function on a budget of $2.7 million in fiscal year 2013-14.
The authority was formed on October 16, 1989 by the county of San Bernardino, the city of Twentynine Palms and the town of Yucca Valley, which entered into a joint powers authority to do so.
The transit authority has eight routes:  Route 1 running between Yucca Valley and Twentynine Palms; Route 3A, running between the Marine Base and 29 Palms; Route 3B, running through various 29 Palms neighborhoods;  Route 7A, which covers North Yucca Valley;  Route 7B, which serves South Yucca Valley; Route 21, which runs between  Landers and Yucca Valley; and Routes 12 & 15, which run from Morongo Valley to Palm Springs.
The Morongo Basin Transit Authority currently has 36 employees and operates a fleet consisting of 24 buses, all of which operate on compressed natural gas. The MBTA operates two compressed natural gas stations in Joshua Tree and Twentynine Palms to support it’s operations and has just completed building an intermodal transportation center in the town of Yucca Valley.
In addition to its fixed routes, the authority  provides five demand response vehicles, which circulate in the communities offering door-to-door service for senior citizens and the disabled. Operation hours during the week extend from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., with limited weekend service provided.
The total operating revenue for the authority in 2012-13 was $2,604,427 and was increased to $2,702,982 in 2013-14.
Administrative costs for 2012-13 were $551,846 and have been increased to $555,563 for 2013-14.
Maintenance costs in 2012-13 were $462,977 and the allowance for maintenance in 2013-14 has been increased to $486,236.
Operation of the vehicles in 2012-13 ran to $1,589,604 and will be increased to $1,661,183 in 2013-14.
The Morongo Basin Transit Authority (MBTA) staff presented the proposed annual budget to the MBTA board at its regular meeting on April 25. That proposed budget was reviewed by the county board of supervisors this week. Approval of the final annual budget is anticipated to occur at the MBTA Board’s regular May meeting.

County Renews Lease For Library Space At Grand Terrace Civic Center

The county of San Bernardino has renewed its lease with the city of Grand Terrace for the county branch library it maintains in that city.
The San Bernardino County Branch Library for Grand Terrace for more than 20 years has been  located within the Grand Terrace Civic Center adjacent to City Hall.
This week the county board of supervisors extended the current lease term on the 3,500 square feet of space the library occupies  from June 1, 2013 through May 31, 2015 in the amount of $39,060 and added two three-year options to the arrangement.
According to David H. Slaughter, the county’s director of real estate services, “Approval of this item will amend an existing lease for library to extend the term two years through May 31, 2015 for office and library space in Grand Terrace because of the continuing need to provide library services at this location. The total cost in 2012-13 is $18,935 ($1,575 per month x eleven months plus $1,610 per month x one month). Annual lease costs are as follows: June 1, 2013 thru May 31, 2014, $19,320 along with an estimated $11,747 for other costs associated with this lease [and] June 1, 2014 thru May 31, 2015,  $19,740 with an estimated $12,099 for other costs associated with this lease. Other costs associated with this lease include custodial services, which will be paid from the library budget.”
“Slaughter continued, “The old cost per square foot per month was $0.45, monthly rent was $1,575 and annual rent was $18,900. The new cost per square foot per month is $0.46, the new monthly rent is $1,610 and the annual rent is $19,320. The per square foot per month cost of $0.46 is at the low-range for existing facilities in the Grand Terrace area.”
Slaughter added, “This represents a 2 percent annual increase. There are no improvement costs. Custodial service is to be provided by the county. Maintenance and utilities are to be provided by the city. The certificate of liability insurance, as required by the lease, is on file with the Real Estate Services Department. Either party has the right to terminate with 180-days notice. Parking is sufficient for county needs.”

A Dozen County Jail Inmates To Serve On Fire Crews This Summer

(May 24) This summer a contingent of twelve county inmates will be allowed to serve on a fire crew alongside the county’s firefighters.
The degree of fire hazard is anticipated to be particularly high in the summer of 2013. Simultaneously, the sheriff’s department is being tasked to provide inmate space to accommodate the influx of state prisoners being released by the state of California in keeping with federal mandates to alleviate prison overcrowding as well as state legislation, including Assembly Bill 109 that went into effect in October 2011, sending those convicted of certain non-serious, non-violent, non-sex related crimes to serve their sentences in county jails.
The board of supervisors this week endorsed a memorandum of understanding between the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department and the San Bernardino County Fire Protection District to provide for operation and management of a joint county 12-inmate fire crew program which began on May 22, 2013 and will run through May 22, 2014.
According to a joint report from county fire chief Mark Hartwig and county sheriff John McMahon, “The total cost for operation and management of the joint county 12-inmate fire crew program is estimated to be $43,999.03 for the term beginning May 22, 2013 through May 22, 2014 and will be funded through the San Bernardino County Sheriff Inmate Service Units, Inmate Welfare Fund. The Inmate Welfare Fund will transfer $28,748.47 for equipment and tools to the San Bernardino County Fire Protection District’s fiscal year 2012-13 operating budget. The remaining funds of $15,250.56 will be managed by the Inmate Welfare Fund for the purpose of inmate global positioning satellite monitoring. Any additional equipment and tools needed to operate the joint county 12-inmate fire crew program will be requested through the San Bernardino County Sheriff Inmate Service Units Inmate Welfare Committee process. The Memorandum of Understanding is in response to the implementation of AB 109 and resulting inmate realignment to county jails. The joint County 12-inmate fire crew program is intended to enhance the rehabilitation opportunities of program inmates while providing enhanced public safety and improve county government operations for the period commencing May 22, 2013 through May 22, 2014.”

Parent Group Files Suit Over BUSD School Closures

(May 24) BARSTOW—In what is at least partially an outgrowth of the contamination problem in Hinkley, a group called Save Our Schools, represented by the Temecula-based law firm of Johnson & Sedlack, on March 27 sued the Barstow Unified School District Board of Education for its February 26 decisions to close Thomson Elementary and Hinkley School, respectively, following the 2012-13 school year, citing declining enrollment and severe state budget shortfalls.
The school board took the action with regard to Hinkley School, one of the top performing schools in the state, largely on the basis of the mass departure of residents from the community in the face of spreading hexavalent chromium contamination in the area.
According to Johnson & Sedlack, the school district took action that is contrary to environmental law in closing the schools. In making the Thomson and Hinkley closure votes, which passed on separate 5-0 and 4-1 votes, the school board made a finding that the closures are exempt from provisions of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
Save Our Schools wants the board’s decision to close both schools vacated, according to the petition filed in Barstow Superior Court.
According to the suit, the closures will result in significant environmental impacts, among them ones to traffic circulation, parking, public safety, noise and air quality, which will burden the other schools in the district being called upon to take in students displaced from Thomson and Hinkley.
A number of the remaining residents in Hinkley are upset over the closure of the school and feel the district is playing into the hands of Pacific Gas & Electric, which has been deemed responsible for the hexavalent chromium contamination and is seeking to persuade residents to leave Hinkley en masse.

DA Forms Unit Dedicated To Prosecuting Assaults On Police Officers

(May 17) The San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office this week formed a specialized unit to be devoted entirely to prosecuting those alleged to have assaulted law enforcement personnel.
Christened the Crimes Against Peace Officers Unit, the division will consist of two deputy district attorneys and a victims’ advocate.
Whereas historically the district attorney’s office has prosecuted resisting arrest, obstruction of a peace officer and assault on peace officer cases using attorneys from its stable of general assignment prosecutors, district attorney Mike Ramos said the recent increase in violence against police officers justifies the formation of the new unit. He said that the state of California’s move to reduce the state prison population by releasing inmates or transferring them to the custody of the state’s counties had exacerbated the problem.
“Every hour of every day law enforcement officers in San Bernardino County put their personal safety at risk to protect our communities,” Ramos said. “In 2012, in our county alone, over 2,100 peace officers were assaulted, injured, threatened, or interfered with in the performance of their duties. Of these crimes, over 600 were felonies involving physical violence against an officer, use of a weapon on an officer, or threats to kill or injure an officer.
“In the past three years, over 6,000 peace officers in San Bernardino County have been the victims of crimes committed against them simply because they were performing their duty protecting us,” Ramos continued. “Under AB 109 Criminal Justice Realignment this number is likely to increase because more dangerous criminals are being released back into our communities or housed in our local jails than ever before. Criminals who assault peace officers represent a threat not only to the officer, but also to the safety of the entire community, and to the foundations of our criminal justice system. However, the culture of the criminal justice system has at times failed to treat law enforcement officer victims with the consideration and attention they deserve.”
According to Ramos, cases involving violence against police officers have previously gotten short shrift.
“A study by the Violence Against Law Enforcement Officer Research Center (VALOR) revealed several problems common to criminal justice systems including an attitude by some that an officer being assaulted or abused is ‘just part of the job,’ felony crimes against peace officers being issued as misdemeanors, crimes against peace officers being the first charges to be dropped in plea bargaining, cases being settled without the officer’s knowledge or input, and peace officer victims not receiving the same victim services as civilian victims,” Ramos said. “As district attorney I have a responsibility to change this culture in our criminal justice system and ensure that we are doing everything possible to deter, prosecute, and punish those who attack, threaten, or interfere with our law enforcement officers.  I am proud to announce the creation of the Crimes Against Peace Officers (CAPO) Prosecution Unit to help us accomplish these goals.”