Baca’s Hope For Comeback Dealt Blow

(May 17) Former Congressman Joe Baca’s bid for a political comeback was dealt another setback last week when fellow Democrat Pete Aguilar, who is currently Redlands mayor, captured the support of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in his bid to unseat incumbent Republican Gary Miller in California’s 31st Congressional District.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has selected Aguilar as one of five candidates nationwide to be included in its Jumpstart program, which is intended to assist early-emerging Democrats seeking to unseat incumbent Republicans deemed to be vulnerable.
California’s 31st Congressional District stretches from Rancho Cucamonga to Redlands. By the last count, registered Democrats outnumbered registered Republicans there by a margin of 119,964 to 103,904. In 2012, Aguilar made a bid for Congress there but was turned back when three other Democrats – Justin Kim, Rita Ramirez-Dean, and Renea Wickman – entered the primary along with him. The Republicans fielded Miller and former California State Senator Bob Dutton. With the more numerous Democratic vote being divided four ways and the Republican vote being gathered by only two candidates, both Dutton and Miller ended up in the November general election runoff as a result of  California’s open primary system, by which the two top vote-getters, regardless of party, qualify for the general election.
Members of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee believe Aguilar can outdistance Miller in a well-financed one-on-one matchup. That presupposes that in 2014 Aguilar will not need to contend, as he did in 2012, with challengers from his own party. Already, however, three other Democrats have emerged as potential candidates in the 31st – Eloise Gomez Reyes, a first-time candidate who has been active in supporting other Democratic candidates in the past; San Bernardino School Board Member Danny Tillman; and Baca, who was a member of Congress from 1999 until last January, after he was defeated in November by fellow Democrat Gloria Negrete-McLeod in the newly drawn 35th District.
By swinging behind Aguilar early and forcefully through including him as a Jumpstart candidate, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, led by New York Congressman Steve Israel, hopes to convince the other Democrats contemplating runs in the 31st District to withdraw. By appealing both to their party loyalty and demonstrating to them the long odds they face in securing a primary victory against the well funded Democrat – Aguilar – and an equally well funded Miller, the committee believes Reyes, Tillman and Baca can be persuaded to stand down from the 31st District race.
None of this bodes well for Baca, who last year elected not to challenge Miller and instead vie for reelection in the 35th District against Negrete-McLeod. In the 35th, Democrats enjoyed a lopsided registered voter advantage over the Republicans of 114,641 to 65,521. Baca, as a Congressional incumbent with a fundraising advantage over fellow Democrat Negrete-McLeod, appeared destined to an easy victory. Indeed, in the June primary, Baca cruised to what seemed be a more-than-comfortable victory over Negrete-McLeod, 12,619 votes or 47.17 percent to 9,078 or 33.93 percent. A third candidate in the race, Anthony Vieyra polled 5,058 votes or 18.9 percent. Heading toward the November election and into October, a confident Baca was looking ahead to yet another term in the House of Representatives.
In the final weeks before the general election on November 6, however, Negrete-McLeod’s campaign was infused with $3.8 million in donations from a political action committee controlled by Republican New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, which paid for a $2.3 million television advertising blitz during the last week of the campaign. Baca, caught flatfooted and unable to respond in kind to both a bevy of negative hit pieces that attacked him on his record and upbeat mailers that lionized Negrete-McLeod for her service in the California legislature, saw the election slip away, with Negrete-McLeod capturing 61,065 votes or 54.35 percent to his 51,281 votes or 45.65 percent.
Now 66, Baca is unwilling to hang up his political spikes. With the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s endorsement of Aguilar, however, the political world is fast closing in on Baca from all sides. No longer an incumbent, he does not have the fundraising capability he enjoyed for more than thirteen years as a congressman and for seven years before that as a California legislator.
Thus, the prospect of his having to sustain a more than year-long knockdown drag-out fight with Aguilar to merely obtain a berth in the 2014 General Election against Miller is an unpalatable one. Equally daunting is the task of abandoning his contemplated run in the 31st District and locking horns with Negrete-McLeod, who now has the advantage of incumbency, in a rematch of their 2012 contest.

Torres Defeats Leon To Succeed Negrete-McLeod In 32nd Senate District

(May 15) Norma Torres comfortably outdistanced Paul Leon in Tuesday’s run-off race to succeed Gloria Negrete-McLeod as California’s 32nd District State Senator.
Torres, a Democrat and incumbent assemblywoman in the  in 52nd Assembly District and a former mayor of Pomona, captured 19,666 votes, or 59.39 percent, in both Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties to Leon’s 13,445, or 40.6 percent.
Leon, a Republican and current mayor of Ontario, fared better in San Bernardino County than he did in Los Angeles County. In his county of residence, he took home 11,513 votes, or 41.21 percent, compared to Torres, who finished in San Bernardino County with 16,424 votes, or 58.79 percent. In Los Angeles County where she lives, Torres pulled down 3,242 votes, or 62.66 percent to Leon’s 1,932 votes or 37.34 percent.
The voter turnout in the special race that was necessitated by McLeod’s successful election to Congress in November was abysmal. In Los Angeles County, where there are 58,134 registered voters within the 32nd District, 5,174 voters participated, both at the polls and by mail ballot. In San Bernardino County, where 284,217 voters are registered in the district, 44,361 participated by voting at their precinct or by mail. Voter turnout district-wide was 14.43 percent.
Despite his loss, by one measure Leon had a very strong showing. Registration in the 32nd leans heavily in favor of the Democratic Party, with 48 percent of registered voters identified as Democrats and 28 percent registered as Republicans.
The district includes all of Pomona,  Bloomington, Fontana, Montclair, Muscoy, Ontario, and Rialto, and parts of Colton and San Bernardino.
To qualify for the runoff, Torres and Leon outpolled four other hopefuls – San Bernardino County Treasurer Larry Walker, Ontario City Councilman Paul Vincent Avila, Pomona Planning Commissioner Ken Coble and Rialto Unified School District Board Member Joanne Gilbert – in March.
Negrete-McLeod’s victory in the November Congressional election, which created the vacancy in the 32nd Senatorial District and brought about the need for the March election and this week’s election, will continue to resound politically and entail election-holding costs as an election, or perhaps two if there is going to be a runoff, must be held to fill the vacancy Torres’ resignation from the Assembly will now require.

City Clerk Added To SB Officials Targeted In Recall

(May 17)  SAN BERNARDINO –A tenth San Bernardino municipal official has been targeted for recall.
This week, San Bernardino resident Rey Dandy Lachica had city clerk Gigi Hanna served with a notice of an intent to circulate a recall petition against her.
Previously, a group of San Bernardino residents and business owners led by Scott Beard and Larry Sharp initiated a recall effort against the mayor, all seven council members and the city attorney.
Lachica and Beard maintain there is no connection between the two separate recall campaigns. Beard said he and his group had no beef with Hanna nor with city treasurer David Kennedy.
Beard, in fact, suggested  that Lachica’s effort against Hanna was in some fashion meant to undercut the effort by his group, known as San Bernardino Residents for Responsible Government.
Beard’s reference was to the consideration that Hanna’s opponent in the 2012 race for city clerk,  Amelia Sanchez-Lopez, was backed by San Bernardino City Attorney Jim Penman. Beard suggested that targeting Hanna for recall was intended to remove her from a position of processing the recall filing paperwork at City Hall so that it would be put in the hands of a city bureaucrat who would be opposed to the overall recall effort.
Upon being served with her recall notice, Hanna recused herself from further oversight of the recall process altogether, designating deputy city clerk Linda Sutherland to take up those duties.
In his notice of intent to seek Hanna’s recall, Lachica claims that in her capacity as city clerk, Hanna had engaged in four specific acts or omissions that justified the recall attempt against her. The recall grounds were, Lachica said, that Hanna released information harmful to the city’s position in the bankruptcy filing it made last August, that she allowed Social Security numbers and addresses of city residents to be disclosed in public documents as well as on the city’s website, that her office shrank from issuing citations to illegal businesses and allowed violations of city codes to continue to occur, thereby costing the city “thousands of dollars in fines and penalties,” and that she had not kept accurate minutes of city council meetings.
The recall campaign against the other nine officials is based upon the contention that they have collectively failed the city and its residents by not taking adequate action to prevent the city’s financial collapse. At press time, all of those elected officials had been served with recall notices except councilwoman Wendy McCammack.
If the petitioners succeed in getting 15 percent of the city’s voters to endorse the recall against Mayor Patrick Morris, who is not running for reelection, Penman and Hanna, each of those three officials elected at large will be subject to a recall vote at the regular November election. Petitioners must get 25 percent of the voters in each city ward to qualify the councilman or councilwoman representing those seven  wards for the recall vote.

MIT Study Suggests LA’s Ownership Of Ontario Airport Is Not Its Problem

(May 17) A study of airport traffic trends compiled by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology released last week has undercut claims that the city of Los Angeles’ management of Ontario Airport is at the heart of a downward trend in passengers there.
According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) study, all airports, and medium and small sized airports in particular, have been hard hit by airline mergers, the continuing recession and increases in fuel prices, all of which incentivized airlines reducing service throughout the United States.
Those categorized as mid-size airports such as Ontario International, Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, and John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana suffered an average 26.2% downturn in their flights from 2007 to 2012.
The study, carried out under the aegis of MIT’s International Center for Air Transportation, found that airlines have adopted a strategy of eliminating less-profitable routes while concentrating on servicing more traveled and higher-profit connections.
City of Ontario officials for the last two years have been making ever more strident charges that Ontario Airport, which reached peak ridership capacity in 2007 when 7.2 million passengers enplaned there but dropped to 4.2 million last year, is being exploited by Los Angeles World Airports, the corporate entity that runs airports for the city of Los Angeles. Ontario maintains that as Ontario Airport has foundered, Los Angeles World Airports has undertaken an energetic improvement plan at Los Angeles International Airport, where ridership has increased.
In 1967 Ontario and Los Angeles entered into a joint powers agreement to allow Los Angeles to use its clout with airlines to increase flights into and out of Ontario International, which at that time was servicing fewer than 200,000 passengers per year. Under Los Angeles’ stewardship, the airport grew, more airlines began flying out of the facility and improvements were made to its runways and terminals. In 1985, after all of the conditions set down in the 1967 joint powers agreement had been met, Ontario deeded the airport to Los Angeles for no consideration.
Ontario officials have now undertaken an aggressive campaign to force Los Angeles to redeed the airport back to Ontario, publicly insisting that the larger city should do so at no consideration because the airport is considered a public benefit property which has no sale value. Privately, however, Ontario has offered Los Angeles $250 million for the airport as Los Angeles has sought potential private and public buyers for the aerodrome at prices ranging from $225 million to $650 million. Ontario considered Los Angeles’s revelation of its private $250 million offer to be an affront and has since formed with the county of San Bernardino the Ontario International Airport Authority, an entity intended to take over ownership and operation of the airport once Los Angeles relinquishes it.
Last month Ontario, through the Washington, D.C.-based law firm of Sheppard Mullen Richter & Hampton, filed an administrative claim, considered to be the precursor of a lawsuit, against the city of Los Angeles and Los Angeles World Airports, charging them with chronic mismanagement of the airport.
The decrease in passenger traffic is a central tenet of Ontario’s claim against Los Angeles. But the MIT study, titled “Trends and Market Forces Shaping Small Community Air Service in the United States,” indicates that there are other more pervasive factors at the root of Ontario Airport’s current malaise.
“The past six years have been challenging ones for domestic air service in the United States,” according to the MIT report’s primary authors, researchers Michael D. Wittman and William S. Swelbar. “Most airports have seen a reduction in scheduled domestic flights. The United States’ 29 largest airports (by 2011 enplanements) lost 8.8% of their yearly scheduled domestic flights between 2007 and 2012, compared to a 21.3% reduction in scheduled domestic flights at smaller airports during the same period. Much of this service reduction at smaller airports is a result of large network carriers reducing frequency to large hubs and removing direct flights to other small- and medium-sized communities.”
For the purposes of their study, Wittman and  Swelbar defined “smaller airports” as airports classified as medium-hubs, small-hubs, or non-hubs by the Federal Aviation Administration. Ontario is a medium hub.
“Smaller airports have suffered significant capacity reductions,” Wittman and  Swelbar wrote.
Moreover, Wittman and  Swelbar suggested Ontario’s diminishing flight dilemma will likely continue, no matter who owns or controls the airport.
“Most likely, small communities will not be able to recover the same level of service in the near term that they received during the capacity-expansion era. These airports will likely see fewer flights operated by smaller aircraft belonging to a new breed of ultra-regional carriers. Airports in close geographic proximity to major hubs and those with a systemic lack of local demand may be at risk of losing all of their network carrier service in the next five years, although some of these flights may be replaced by infrequent  ultra-low cost carriers’ service to vacation destinations,” Wittman and Swelbar maintained.
Ontario, which sustained a 41 percent drop in its passenger traffic in the five years between 2007 and 2012, appears to be a particularly egregious example of an alarming trend within the airline industry, Wittman and Swelbar said.
“While the large-hub airports have been spared from much of the brunt of airline service reductions, smaller airports have seen a much more severe decline in service. In fact, medium-hub airports — not the small-hub or non-hub airports —  saw the largest decrease in departures as a percentage of total from 2007-2012 at 26.2%,” the report states. “Most of the reductions in departures at medium- and small-hub airports have been on routes to other smaller airports.”
In the report, Wittman and Swelbar reference Southwest Airlines, one of the few airlines that has continued to prosper in the severely challenged economy. While Southwest is the major carrier at Ontario Airport, that airline’s operations in Ontario have in some measure accounted for some of its competitors abandoning the Ontario market. Now, however, according to Wittman and Swelbar, Southwest will be making adjustments that will decrease its own flights out of Ontario, which  will prove troubling to Ontario Airport in the near future.
“Today’s medium-hub airports include Oakland, CA, Providence, RI, and Love Field in Dallas, TX — airports that Southwest Airlines targeted in the early stages of its development to serve as alternative options for passengers wishing to avoid the crowded hubs of competing airlines,” Wittman and Swelbar wrote. “In response, network carriers started to cut service to these airports in the face of stiff competition from Southwest on both frequency and price. In many instances, these medium-hub airports can be found in metropolitan areas with multiple airports. Recently, network and low cost carriers alike have been consolidating their service offerings around one point in a metro area versus an equal distribution of service among many airports serving the same metropolitan area. Specifically, as operating costs at Southwest have continued to rise, the nation’s largest low-cost carrier has started to undertake the capacity discipline strategies also practiced by larger network carriers. Southwest cut nearly 10% of its domestic departures from 2007-2012. This has left some medium-hub airports in a precarious position — with both network carriers and Southwest cutting service, these ‘secondary airports’ are often no longer able to compete on service or price with larger, nearby hubs. As such, many of the medium-hubs in multi-airport regions in the United States have seen the biggest reductions in service and connectivity over the past six years. We expect to see these medium-hubs begin to resemble current ‘small-hubs’ in domestic service selection over the next five years, potentially increasing congestion as airlines and passengers alike continue to gravitate towards large airports.”
Ontario officials seemed unfazed by the MIT study. Pointing to the increase in flights at Los Angeles International Airport and the efforts to modernize that facility further as well as Ontario Airport’s passenger traffic downturn in excess of the national average, they continue to maintain that Los Angeles is purposefully mismanaging Ontario Airport and they are stepping up the pressure to wrest the aerodrome back.

Feds Rescind Tower Closure/Cutbacks At Victoville & Ontario Airports

(May 17) WASHINGTON—Both Ontario International Airport and Southern California Logistics Airport were granted at least temporary reprieves from the cutbacks the FAA intended to impose this month.
Previously the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) gave indication that the control tower at Southern California Logistics Airport would be one of 149 air traffic control facilities nationwide targeted for closure  and that the control tower at Ontario International was one of 72 such facilities where overnight shifts would be eliminated.
Those moves were economies proposed by the Federal Aviation Administration to accommodate $637 million in reductions brought on by the federal sequestration spending cuts, which went into effect March 1.
The tower closures  were scheduled to go into effect on May 1 and subsequently moved to June 15.
Last week, however, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told Congress the Obama administration will intercede to at least temporarily prevent the 149 small airport towers, including the one at Southern California Logistics Airport (SCLA), from being shuttered and keep air traffic controllers nationwide from being furloughed, ensuring that Ontario Airport will be able to maintain nighttime operations.
A bill approved in draft form last week and ratified this week temporarily puts into abeyance sequestration measures that would have impacted airport operations, giving LaHood the option of shifting up to $253 million among various accounts to “prevent reduced operations and staffing of the FAA.”
That is a stopgap measure that has been taken in anticipation of Congress and the administration coming to terms on the issues that forced the sequestration gambit in the first place.
In the meantime, SCLA officials are putting exigency plans in place to allow the airport to continue to operate if the funding it uses to maintain a $750,000 per year contract for air controllers it has with Serco Management Services is cancelled.
Southern California Logistics Airport is a passage point for roughly 50,000 military troops rotated annually through the Army National Training Center at Fort Irwin, which does not have an airstrip that can accommodate airliners. There are numerous other aviation services businesses which operate at SCLA.
At Ontario, a major portion of the United Parcel Service’s cargo flights take place at night.
No specific assurance on the towers has been given by the FAA or LaHood, but the Obama Administration has indicated that it is sensitive to requests by senators Susan Collins, R-Maine and Mark Udall, D-Colo., that the towers remain open, and said it will reduce the cuts to be imposed on the FAA.

Collins Will Be Big Bear Parade Marshal

San Bernardino County sheriff’s Deputy Alex Collins has been designated as the  grand marshal of the Big Bear Heritage Parade June 15.
Put on by the Old Miners Association of Big Bear Lake, the parade is set to run along Big Bear Boulevard, from Summit Boulevard west to Georgia Street in the city of Big Bear Lake at 4 p.m.
Collins is on the mend from multiple gunshot wounds he sustained in a gunfight with ex-LAPD officer Christopher Dorner on February 12, a shoot-out that left his fellow deputy Jeremiah MacKay dead.
The parade is to bear the theme “Big Bear Thanks You,” a tribute to law enforcement and first responders who have served the community.
Collins has undergone multiple surgeries and is now able to sit upright and ride in the parade.
It is anticipated that Collins, who is set to undergo at least two further surgeries, will in time return to duty at the Big Bear Station.
Collins, of Yucaipa, was one of four police officers Donner shot in his nine-day murderous spree that began on February 3 and ended with his suicide on February 12.
In addition to McKay, a Riverside police officer, Michael Crain, was also killed by Dorner prior to his shoot-out with Collins and McKay.
San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon and the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Rangers Mounted Posse will  participate in the event. A pre-parade reception from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Big Bear Convention Center will feature a meet-and-greet and the posting of colors by an All-Service Color Guard and at noon, with remarks by local officials and military representatives, as well as Rep. Paul Cook, R-Apple Valley.

29 Palms City Council Publicly Reenacts Closed Door Guzzetta Hiring

(May 17) TWENTYNINE PALMS — The Twentynine Palms city council this week sought to undo a tangle of procedural errors and alleged violations of the California Government Code that took place when it made hasty arrangements to cashier former city manager Richard Warne and hire in his place Joe Guzzetta, the general manager for Joshua Basin Water District. While it laid to a somewhat fitful rest the  issues with regard to Guzzetta’s hiring, it did not resolve the questions pertaining to Warne’s firing.
Without being specific as to its precise motivation, the city council during a closed session on April 9 delivered Warne with an ultimatum: voluntarily retire or be fired. Warne departed City Hall that evening, never to return. City officials remained mum about the development for nearly a week, and then announced his leaving on April 15. It was asserted at that point that Warne, who had been in place as city manager just two weeks shy of two years, had retired and that the council had conferred upon him a severance package of $203,435, equal to his combined $174,947 annual salary and $28,488 of accrued benefits.
Of issue to some in the community was that Warne’s contract did not provide for a severance payout in the event that he voluntarily retired. The city issued a subsequent statement that Warne had chosen to retire when faced with an imperative that he do so or otherwise be terminated.
Subsequently, on April 30, the council made a closed door decision to hire Guzzetta after winnowing the field of Warne’s possible replacements to three candidates. During that same closed session, the council discussed and arrived at a decision to provide Guzzetta with a $184,000 salary and a $6,000 per year contribution to his retirement fund.
In short order, former city councilman Steve Spear made public note of what he considered to be violations of protocol and state law in the hiring procedure for Guzzetta, which included his writing a letter to the district attorney’s office seeking prosecutorial review of the matter. This prompted a mild rebuke from city attorney A. Patrick Munoz, who suggested Spear had a less than perfect understanding of the law and hiring procedure.
Spear, however, persisted and he was soon joined by several other residents who were critical of the city council’s closed door decision-making and failure to hold a public hearing related to Guzzetta’s selection.
Specifically, Spear put forth that the council had bypassed entirely provisions of AB1344, a recently codified portion of the state’s Government Code relating to the need of the council, as the city’s governing body, to discuss Guzzetta’s salary, benefits and all other forms of compensation in public. In something of a reversal, Munoz relented and instructed the city clerk “out of an abundance of caution” to agendize for the council’s May 14 meeting an open session discussion of Guzzetta’s employment. In that process, Munoz had the council rescind its April 30 hiring of Guzzetta and make it so that the official hiring took place as of May 14.
At that meeting, Munoz used some rather tortured language in delivering what was essentially an apology to Spear for having claimed he did not know what he was talking about when he questioned the hiring process for Guzzetta.  Munoz said he and the council would not “even try to advance any argument that there’s some way to get around complying with the actual letter of the law,” essentially an acknowledgement that the council had done just that.
After voiding Guzzetta’s original contract, on Tuesday, May 14, the council reenacted in public the private decision to hire Guzzetta.
A bevy of residents weighed in on the matter, criticizing the decision to hire Guzzetta as too hasty, ill considered and overly generous.
Spear told the council it was not under the gun to act at once and could take time to consider all of its options and consider further candidates before making a decision.
Another former Twentynine Palms councilman and mayor, Jim Bagley, called Guzzetta’s $184,000 salary “irresponsible” and excessive “for a city the size of Twentynine Palms.”
Bagley said the city was taking on further, hidden and unfunded liabilities with regard to Guzzetta’s involvement in the state’s Public Employees’ Retirement System.
Steve Urban reiterated Bagley’s comments, saying that the total compensation package  Guzzetta would get annually would be at or above $200,000, which he said was inappropriate in a city of 28,000 population where the median income is $30,000.
But any members of the public who expected the council to rescind the hiring were disappointed. While the council expressed regret at how they had done so, none were apologetic for what they had done. They voted 4-0, with councilman Jay Corbin absent, to hire Guzzetta at the $184,000 annual salary price tag.
They did so after Guzzetta had come to the podium to defend himself, telling the council and the crowd that he was leaving the security of his current position with the water district and coming into a job under a contract that did not provide him with a severance pay guarantee during his first three months and then only a three-month severance guarantee after that. He said his contract did not provide him or his family with health coverage, a vehicle or a vehicle allowance.
In making his pitch, Guzzetta asked the council to give him a chance to work with the city to prove what he can accomplish as city manager. The council took him up on that request.
Mayor Joel Klink said Guzzetta was clearly “the best out of the three candidates we interviewed.”
The council did not address the issue of Warne’s termination or answer questions about the discrepancy between his contract, which had no provision for a severance payout in the event of his retirement, and the severance he was provided in the aftermath of his “voluntary” departure.

Freeway Section Near Needles Named After Fallen CHP Officer

(May 17) NEEDLES — Six decades after he was killed in the line of duty by a drunken driver, Highway Patrol Officer John “Jack” Armatoski has been honored with a portion of Interstate 40 now being named after him.
Armatoski died from his injuries sustained while he was on patrol on May 1, 1953. Dedicated to public service as well as serving his country, he made repeated sacrifices toward that ideal, and paid the ultimate price.
Born in 1917, Armatoski enlisted in the Army Air Corps after the United States entered World War II. He qualified as a bomber pilot and was flying a B-17 when he and his crew were shot down over Austria. Armatoski spent 13 months as a prisoner of war.
When he returned to California as a civilian, he eventually went to work for the Highway Patrol. He was killed while on duty at the age of 36.
On May 1, a ceremony heralding the dedication of that portion of Interstate 40 five miles west of Needles to the Needles City Limits as CHP Officer John “Jack” Armatoski Memorial Freeway   was held at the Highway Patrol office in Needles.
“This great man laid down his life doing his duty,” said Steve Griffin, secretary for the California Association of Highway Patrolmen.

Yucca Valley Looking At Banning Commercial Solar & Wind Farms

(May 17)  YUCCA VALLEY — Following in the footsteps of their colleagues in Twentynine Palms, Yucca Valley officials have moved toward prohibiting the development of commercial solar and wind development within town limits.
In reviewing that part of the town’s development code pertaining to renewable energy facilities, the planning commission on May 6 voted unanimously to recommend banning commercial solar and wind farms. A key element of the language discussed and passed was the term “commercial.” While the prohibition the planning commission envisions pertains to renewable energy generation facilities run by utility companies or their subcontractors, it does not apply to solar or wind power collection devices on private property.
The commission’s recommendation is non-binding, but provides guidance to the town council which will have final say in the matter.
The general consensus of the commission was that massive solar or wind farms are inappropriate within the confines of 40-square mile Yucca Valley and can be more appropriately accommodated in the desert expanse outside of town and that the long term employment value of such developments is marginal.
Subject to federal incentives and subsidies, private companies, many of them foreign-based, have undertaken solar energy projects in the Mojave Desert, with applications on more than a dozen such projects pending. Many of the projects are slated for or proposed on federal land under the control of the Bureau of Land Management.
While the commission appeared open to the concept of allowing homeowners to erect windmills or solar panels on residentially zoned properties, it was suggested that the city adopt regulations calling for the shielding or camouflaging of solar panels.
There has been a significant uptick in the application for solar panels on residential properties in the last two years.
Last September, the Twentynine Palms Planning Commission recommended a prohibition on  commercial solar fields both within the city and its sphere of influence.
The complexion and range of solar power has changed somewhat in recent years. Solar fields are generally large scale facilities that entail variations on a few basic designs, all of which entail a massive array of solar panels, or in the alternative, solar mirrors. One design involves mirror arrays focusing the sun’s rays on a central vessel containing water. The heat from the redirected sunlight causes the water to boil and the steam is used to drive a turbine, which in turn creates electricity. Another design entails having the mirrors focus the sunlight on a glass tube or series of glass tubes containing Therminol, a synthetic petroleum product.  The Therminol, which has various ratings that allow it to absorb temperatures ranging from 700 degrees  to 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit, is then pumped to a heat condenser, which is used to boil water and create steam to run turbines and generate electricity. A variation on this design entails pumping the Therminol not to a heat condenser but to a series of Stirling engines, devices which have compression chambers inhabited by gasses of differing densities. By passing the heat across the top of the engines, the pistons are activated. The Stirling engines are then used to run the turbines to generate the electricity. Other solar fields involve arrays of large photovoltaic cells.
Solar power need not, in this day and age, entail such arrays, which some people consider unaesthetic.  Photo-voltaic film, photo-voltaic laminates and smaller or camouflaged  solar panels  can be applied to or built on or into existing or new homes or industrial or commercial structures and be much less visually imposing than more aggressive solar power projects, i.e., commercial solar fields.

Upland Unified School District On Brink Of Financial Meltdown

(May 10) Auditors are going over the Upland Unified School District’s financial records with a fine tooth comb after having been alerted by the San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools to a series of financial irregularities.
An examination of the books has already demonstrated, reliable sources tell the Sentinel, misfeasance on the part of current or former district personnel. Auditors are now zeroing in on several specific matters that could constitute malfeasance, the Sentinel has learned.
The district’s financial circumstance, which has been eroding for three years, grew perilous last year in the aftermath of what has been described as a “laissez faire” approach to management that presumed upon future availability of and increases in revenue that never materialized or was committed elsewhere.
Those problems have manifested in the district being faced with a projected $9 million deficit in the upcoming 2013-14 fiscal year budget. Accordingly, the district must make immediate and substantial cutbacks to its upcoming budget or otherwise become insolvent, triggering a series of measures, including a state takeover. Such a takeover would result in rendering the board of trustees powerless, the loss of the superintendent, reduction of educational services to a minimum to ensure operational costs do not exceed revenue and the imposition of a management regime involving administrative caretakers functioning out of Sacramento.
An initial assessment of what went wrong at the district points to the action or non-action of three former district employees – former superintendent Gary Rutherford, who left the district in early January to assume the superintendent’s position with the Desert Sands Unified School District in Indio,  La Quinta,  Palm Desert, Indian Wells,  Bermuda Dunes and  Rancho Mirage; former assistant superintendent Linda Kaminsky, who left Upland Unified to become the superintendent of Azusa Unified School District at the end of the 2011-12 school year; and former assistant superintendent of business services Deo Persaud, who was recently dismissed from his position.
Multiple sources, including those at the local, county and state level, say that the district’s top management team under Rutherford failed to disclose and in fact obscured the district’s deteriorating financial situation from the school board, while committing and double committing future district revenue to debt service in a gambit that has left the district ill-positioned to pay for operations, including teacher and non-teacher payroll, in the upcoming fiscal year.
At the root of the problem is the state of California’s practice in recent years of utilizing so-called deferrals to overcome the state’s structural deficit. Essentially, the state, to avoid wholesale educational program cuts, has deferred, i.e., delayed, for up to one year making payments to school districts. Instead, deferrals – essentially IOUs – are issued to the districts. For the last three years, the state has issued $7.4 billion in deferrals to public schools throughout the state.
This has resulted in districts forming groups, known as pools, that band together and use their collective deferrals as security and/or collateral to obtain bond financing or loans which are then used to fund current district operations. The districts are held responsible for the financing costs. This financing methodology – known as TRANs for tax revenue anticipation notes – has become routine among school districts statewide and involves governmental entities beyond the schools themselves. In San Bernardino County, the county treasurer/tax collector is involved in the TRANs arrangements. Also in San Bernardino County, as in all counties, the county superintendent of schools oversees the financial operations of all districts, and is provided with a tentative outline of each district’s budgetary projections for three years into the future and a more in depth projection for each upcoming year’s budget. The county superintendent’s office evaluates those submissions and provides the districts with feedback about the practicality, reliability and workability of those proposed operating budgets and how realistic the district’s projected expectations of revenue and expenditures are, together with advisals about the need to curtail expenditures, reduce or eliminate programs or enter into contract negotiations to maintain fiscal integrity or take other corrective financial action as is appropriate. The county superintendent also rates districts on a three level scale, designating those districts that have revenue that exceeds their operational costs and can maintain reserves as “positive,” those that essentially break even with regard to their revenues and expenditures as “qualified” and those that take in less money than they spend as “negative.”
According to information available through the San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools, there were numerous “red flags” over the last several years indicating Upland Unified was on a collision course with fiscal reality.
Two and three years ago, Rutherford and his team, in submitting their budget projections, had sought to have the district rated as “positive.”  Those upbeat ratings were initially forthcoming but belied a downward trend in the district’s financial state that began gradually and accelerated. In his first submission for the county’s financial evaluation this fiscal year, Rutherford asked for a positive rating, only to have it reduced to qualified. His application for the second interim rating in 2012-13 sought a qualified rating, which was ultimately downgraded to a negative rating.
“In fiscal year 2010-11 both the first and second interim financial rating for Upland Unified were positive,” Christine McGrew, the chief communications officer for the county superintendent of schools told the Sentinel. “In 2011-12, the first interim report was positive and the second was qualified. This year, 2012-13, their first interim report was qualified and the second interim report was negative, all based on San Bernardino County Schools’ rating system.”
While the county superintendent of schools office informs each school district office of its ratings, a mix-up or diversion of that notification after it reached the Upland Unified School District office resulted in delays by which Upland Unified’s trustees remained in the dark as to the qualified ratings in previous years or the negative rating this year until very late in the process. It has only been within the last two months, while working with interim superintendent Sherri Black in preparing for the upcoming 2013-14 budget, that the school board members learned of the district’s dire financial condition.
Those close to the matter suggested Rutherford and his team had originally gotten behind the eight ball through no direct fault of his or their own but rather as a consequence of the state’s action in instituting the funding delays. But over time Rutherford contributed to and compounded the problem, it was suggested, when he shied away from hardnosed bargaining with the district’s unions, mistakenly assuming that the district could continue to pay what have been characterized as generous salaries and benefits to district employees because the state would in time increase educational funding. He hung on to that delusion, believing that Proposition 30, the school funding initiative that was narrowly passed by voters in November, would increase school funding. In reality, that measure served only to maintain school funding levels.
Auditors have come across clear indications that the district did not use TRANs money on what had been projected to be its use in the various budgets that were submitted.
“The district was trying to leverage the deferrals and committed the money to things other than paying off the TRANs debt,” one knowledgeable official told the Sentinel. “They were borrowing on borrowed money and now it has snowballed on the district. The Tax Revenue Anticipation Notes that were secured by the deferrals were used for things other than what was authorized. If and when the deferred money is finally paid by the state, it is supposed to get impounded by the county treasurer. What they [Upland Unified] did is they did not use it to pay off their operational obligations like everyone else. They borrowed money using the deferrals as collateral and didn’t pay off those loans.”
Payments are now coming, or are past, due, and money that should be used to run the district next year is being eaten up to cover debt service on past loans to the district.
In an exclusive interview with the Sentinel, Rutherford said, “I don’t believe it is accurate to say we were double bonding. We absolutely did have a funding shortage.  We were utilizing TRANs money, which is a typical strategy used by many school districts to deal with the state having deferred over 40 percent of the schools’ budgets into the next fiscal year. TRANs are a swing loan, if you will, like equity credit on your home where the notes are issued, the money used and then immediately paid off when the deferred tax revenue comes into the district. It is not the preferred way of running a district but this is something you have to do when the state is not coming through with funds due to our schools. There was nothing in the way that we did this that was not above board. We worked with the county and the TRANs arrangements were fully audited and vetted. I am not aware of any double bonding. I am not even sure what that means.”
While Rutherford acknowledged that during his final months in Upland he anticipated a deficit in the upcoming fiscal 2013-14 year, he said it was nowhere near the $9 million figure the district is now struggling with.
“When I left, the number was about half that,” he said. “$9 million seems high.”
Rutherford disputed the report of the district having received a negative financial rating from the county superintendent of schools office. He said that the district had achieved a status of “self-qualified,” meaning that “The district was able to pay for all of this year’s operating costs. We were qualified this year. I don’t know about the next two years, but by our own actions we were self- qualified in the current fiscal year.”
County auditor/treasurer/tax collector Larry Walker expressed concern over Upland Unified’s double borrowing against the TRANs but was prevented from initiating any action at that point by the state, which has granted school districts wide latitude in how they structure their financing of the stopgap measures they use in employing the deferrals.
“We became aware of how the district was using its TRANs money and expressed concern that the money they were borrowing was being used not for the purpose of addressing their cash flow problems but for budgetary purposes,” Walker said. “We were concerned at the time about where that would leave them. With the perspective we have now, I think it is pretty clear that the district had some monumental multi-year problems and its use of the TRANs money it was borrowing that we were concerned about was just a symptom of what was going on. At this point, I could not say what would be worse for Upland Unified officials: having to make the absolutely draconian and horribly painful cuts the district will have to make to stay solvent or see the district taken over and run by a state advisory panel.”
It is only now, after the district is on the verge of becoming insolvent, that the state has swung into action, and the ongoing audit of Upland Unified’s  books is being made in anticipation of a potential takeover of the district.
To top it off, auditors have interested themselves in what appears to be “skimming” from bond sales.  Attempts to reach Persaud, who was in charge of the district’s financial arrangements over the last three years but who was apparently let go by the district, were unsuccessful.
The catastrophe in Upland Unified is impacting more than the district itself. It is having a deleterious impact on the other districts in the county that were in TRANs collectives, such as Fontana Unified and Rim of the World School District.
“This is a wake up call to all school boards and unions that we cannot keep kicking our financial cans down the street because, like at Upland, the block wall is just ahead and Upland has hit the block wall,” said Scott Markovich, a board member with the Rim of the World School District. “At the county level, both at [county superintendent of schools]Gary Thomas’s office and every school board, we have to get our fiscal houses in order and take very seriously any negative ratings and work on getting budgets balanced because the state is not going to pull any rabbits out of the hat.”
According to audit numbers that are available, Upland Unified is running a $7.9 million deficit in the current fiscal year. It is not clear how much of that deficit has been offset by the use of reserve funds.  The district was unable this year and will be unable next year to reach its goal of salting away three percent of its incoming revenue into its reserve accounts. The $9 million deficit next year will come about if the district continues to operate at all of its current levels.
Sherri Black, who has served as the interim district superintendent since Rutherford’s departure, told the Sentinel that “We have been making cuts and they are ongoing, but they have not been deep enough.”
She said the county superintendent of schools was monitoring the district closely, given its precarious financial condition. She contradicted Rutherford’s assertion that the district had a qualified rating. “The county changed our status from qualified to negative,” she said.
Black said Rutherford had accurately characterized the district’s reckoning of its finances at the time of his departure. “In December and January, it appeared our deficit was going t be between four and five million [dollars],” she said.
She said that a major problem bedeviling the district is the unpredictability of funding coming from the state and she intimated that this lack of clarity was in some measure responsible for the circumstance the district is now in.
“It is very difficult when we don’t have reliable projections,” she said. “We do not know what kind of funding will come down to schools in fiscal 2013-14. The county will not let us proceed with the projections we have, which may be inaccurate.”
The district is challenged by its high payroll, Black said. “Ninety-one percent of our budget is personnel related,” she said. “We are paying a very high percentage in salaries.”
Reports of bond skimming pertaining to the district, Black said, “are not true. Anyone saying that does not have accurate information.” She said intimations or rumors that Persaud was implicated in any sort of financial wrongdoing and had been terminated as a result were false. “He took a leave of absence for personal reasons and at this point he will not be coming back. He will no longer be with the district. That is totally unrelated to the district’s financial state. There is no fiscal malfeasance or embezzlement. That report is absolutely untrue.”
To map its way out of the debacle, the district, which has recently hired Redondo Beach Unified School District human resources director Dr. Nancy Kelly to serve as superintendent beginning July 1 but is now led by  Black, is looking at a serious round of belt tightening to stave off insolvency and a state takeover. Those include teacher and other employee layoffs, coupled with pay reductions of between $8,000 to $12,000 per year for teachers. Also contemplated is the reduction of school days to the 177 state minimum. One proposal being floated is that the district return to one limited to kindergarten through eighth grade and that Upland High School, Hillside High School and the adult school will return to being under the jurisdiction of the Chaffey Union High School District.