City Attorney’s Denial Language Leaves Doubt

(June 7) Victorville City Attorney Andre de Bortnowsky’s use of legalisms and qualified terminology in asserting  current city officials had no interest in property acquired by the city for the yet-to-be-completed Victorville 2 Power Plant has raised speculation that city officials may have previously been improperly involved in the acquisition of the land purchased by the city.
In the mid-2000s, city officials elected to serve as the project proponent for what would become known as the Victorville 2 Power Plant. They were persuaded to do so after Newport Beach-based Inland Energy in conjunction with Baltimore-based Constellation Energy developed the High Desert Power Plant, sometimes referred to as Victorville 1, the permitting process for which was first undertaken in 1998 and which came on line in 2003 and was widely seen as a lucrative success for the private interests involved and the city, which received tax revenue from its operation.
The city paid Inland Energy $5.5 million to obtain licensing and permits and provided another $182 million to General Electric for fuel generation equipment and related services in an effort to complete the project, which was originally planned as a 663 megawatt “hybrid” plant to consist of a natural gas turbine plant producing 513 megawatts and a solar field producing 50 megawatts. The city had hoped to license and build the plant and then sell it at a profit to an operator and then realize roughly $5 million per year in fees and taxes for hosting the facility near Southern California Logistics Airport.
To complete the project the city had to acquire property on which it was to be built.
Among the properties the city sought to obtain to facilitate the project was land owned by Robert Landwehr, which the city sought to obtain through the eminent domain process in 2007. Landwehr, of Murrieta, protested the city’s use of condemnation to seize a five-acre parcel he owned north of the airport.
Amid rising costs and other considerations, the city eventually put the power plant project on hold. But Landwehr on May 16 resurrected some long dormant issues pertaining to the project and the city’s acquisition of the power plant property when he requested by means of a written complaint that the city address and then “cure and correct” what he suggested were violations of the Ralph M. Brown Act, California’s open meeting and government law. Landwehr suggested there are grounds to believe Victorville officials and its contractors on the project had or have property interests in and around the Victorville 2 site. He asked the city to disclose any documentation relating to such interests.
At the May 28 Victorville city council meeting, de Bortnowsky used tortured language in responding to Landwehr on the record.
“The city is not aware that any outside contractors have ever had any property interests in selecting the VV2 project site location,” de Bortnowsky stated.
He then turned to the issue of city officials having an interest in and potentially profiting by the city’s acquisition of the plant property.
“Mr. Landwehr has asserted that city officials have interests in the properties selected for development for the power plant,” de Bortnowsky said. “None of the current city officials at this point had any interest in those properties. In addition, our research has indicated that no former city officials had any interest in those properties.”
de Bortnowsky’s statement on behalf of the officials, precluding them from speaking on their own, raised the suspicions of many in attendance at the meeting. Moreover, his use of tense in the sentences and the phrase “at this point” seemed to suggest that one or more city official had sold property intended for the power plant.
A title search on property at the site going back more than ten years did not reveal the name of any city officials, past or present, as owners, including Jim Cox, Ryan McEachron, Angela Valles, Mike Rothschild, Bob Hunter, Terry Caldwell, Joanne Almond or Rudy Cabriales. Much of the property, however, is owned by corporate entities or partnerships with fictitious names.
de Bortnowsky denied Landwehr’s allegation that council members had violated the Brown Act or had engaged in any obfuscation or attempts to evade clarity during the power plant site acquisition. “The city has proved to be in compliance with the Brown Act,” de Bortnowsky said. “In respect to Mr. Landwehr’s claim, there is no need to cure and correct the perceived Brown Act violations.”

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