SB On Cutting Edge Of Issue Relating To Bankruptcy & Reducing Pensions

(September 20) The city of San Bernardino finds itself at the forefront of a profound financial and public policy issue as a consequence of its filing for bankruptcy. Emerging as a significant question in that matter is whether public pension obligations are to be held as sacrosanct, no matter how generous or reasonable individual pensions are, or whether troubled municipalities can skip out on their commitments to continuously fund the retirement accounts of their current and past employees.
Public employees, their pension fund associations and their advocates maintain that under the law, municipalities and other governmental entities must honor their payment schedules for contributions toward pension funding, no matter the governmental entity’s state of solvency or if it is seeking bankruptcy reorganization.
The relatively few cities that have found themselves in the position of having to declare bankruptcy have shied away from testing whether, in fact, employee pension funds enjoy a specialized status vis-à-vis claiming to be first in the line of creditors to be paid by a governmental entity that is struggling financially. In California, San Bernardino is one of three cities with populations of over 100,000 which have sought bankruptcy protection. The other two, Vallejo and Stockton, have elected to continue to stay current on their pension fund obligations. San Bernardino, however, has taken the position that pension payments should not be  excluded from the list of debts it wants to reduce, and that the California Public Employee Retirement System, known as CalPERS, should accept for the time being a pendency plan that reduces the payments it will receive from the city in the same ratios that the city’s payments to its other creditors, including its bondholders and suppliers of goods and services, are being reduced until such time as the city is able to regain its financial footing.
CalPERS opposed San Bernardino’s bankruptcy petition, asserting that the pension fund system has a special status. This set up a counterpoint with the Stockton bankruptcy case, in which that city’s filing acceding to the proposition that pensions have special legal protections was challenged by bond creditors, who argued that the city’s exclusion of pension debt from its bankruptcy petition was unfair and prejudicial to the city’s other creditors and that the bankruptcy petition should for that reason be denied.
In the Stockton case, the federal bankruptcy judge hearing the matter, Christopher Klein, allowed the bankruptcy to proceed as filed, maintaining for the time being that the city’s payments to the pension fund can continue to be made in full, even as the city’s other creditors are receiving reduced payments or are being stiffed entirely.  In so doing, Klein rejected opposition to the bankruptcy from National Public and Assured Guaranty, bond insurers who had worked with Stockton in the past and are owed a considerable amount of money. Suggesting that National Public and Assured Guaranty could seek to be made whole further down the road, upon Stockton’s exit from bankruptcy, Klein simultaneously granted Stockton’s request to set aside the city’s health benefit debts, as well. And while he ratified  the plan to stay current with CalPERS, Klein indicated that had the city requested the authority to modify its pensions, he would have gone along with the request.
In San Bernardino’s case, it requested the authority to hold CalPERS in abeyance. The U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge hearing the case, Meredith Jury, rejected CalPERS’ arguments that it merited special protection requiring the city to put its debt to CalPERS ahead of all others. Jury allowed the city to proceed with a pendency plan that significantly reduces its payments to all of its creditors as it seeks to restructure that debt and end its insolvency.
Unexplored at this juncture is whether a permanent drawdown of a portion of financially troubled cities’ payments to the state pension fund can be made subject to negotiations. In both the San Bernardino and Stockton cases, the judges have encouraged mediation aimed at achieving compromises. Of potential discussion in these mediations is correcting downward exorbitant pensions paid to some retired high ranking public employees who used methods of so-called “pension spiking” to enhance their pensions. In recent years, the use of these pension spiking strategies have been outlawed. Nevertheless, the well-compensated retired employees are still receiving the generous retirement payments.
In recent years, there have been several highly publicized cases of pension spiking, including examples of high ranking public employees who, while employed earned salaries in the $200,000 per year range but by adding on vacation pay, leave pay and other forms of compensation on top of their salaries used for their retirement calculations, are now receiving yearly pensions approaching $300,000. Though Vallejo, Stockton and San Bernardino have yet to request pension modifications, it appears that a judge of a like mind to Jury’s or Klein’s would grant reductions or even eliminations of pension enhancements.
Thus, under the principle of the “balancing of hardships,” a city in a state of financial duress beset upon by a multitude of creditors, all of which could not be fully satisfied by that city’s available financial means, would appear to have grounds to seek to reduce pensions deemed to be excessive.

Dutton To Seek County Assessor’s Position in 2014

Former State Senator Bob Dutton immediately moved to declare his intention to run for San Bernardino County assessor when incumbent assessor Dennis Draeger on September 16 announced he will not seek reelection to the post next year.
Simultaneously, Draeger’s second-in-command, assistant assessor Dan Harp, announced that he too would be a candidate in the June 2014 election.
Draeger began with the assessor’s office in 1975, achieving the rank of chief appraiser. In November 1998, he left the assessor’s office to become the assistant tax collector in the treasurer’s office. In November 2008, Draeger returned to the assessor’s office as assistant assessor, succeeding Harlow Cameron upon his retirement. When assessor Bill Postmus resigned amid a scandal in February 2009, Draeger was appointed interim assessor and five months later appointed assessor outright by the board of supervisors in lieu of a recruitment effort. In 2010, Draeger ran for assessor and was retained by the county’s voters. At the age of 64, he said he is now intent upon retiring.

Bob Dutton

Dutton is a former Rancho Cucamonga councilman and state assemblyman as well as state senator. He is the son of wealthy land owner and developer Ted Dutton. He now is the principal in Robert Dutton & Associates, a real estate investment/asset management firm in Rancho Cucamonga.
Dutton referenced his experience in the public and private sector in stating his qualifications for the assessor’s position, noting his grounding in commercial real estate and property asset management.
Harp has been with the assessor’s office since 1980, initially serving as a residential appraiser before moving up to become a principal appraiser and then a chief appraiser. He was promoted to the level of assistant assessor in 2011 by Draeger.
The assessor monitors property values in the county and prepares property assessments upon which annual property tax bills are based.

AeroMexico And United Airlines To Increase Flights Out Of Ontario Airport

(September 20) The number of flights out of Ontario International Airport will increase over the next several months, following the addition of flights by AeroMexico and United Airlines.
Both airlines announced the upcoming changes to their flying schedules out of Ontario earlier this month.
Last week, Ontario International and AeroMexico jointly announced AeroMexico will resume daily service from Ontario International to Guadalajara, Mexico beginning October 1.  The change marks the first time since 2006 that daily service is available from Ontario on AeroMexico.  Currently, AeroMexico has flights out of Ontario four days a week, on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
On September 13, Ontario International and United announced that United Airlines will add a fifth flight from Ontario to San Francisco beginning December 19, 2013.
United Airlines currently operates four daily flights from Ontario to San Francisco using CRJ-200 regional jet aircraft.  The airline also offers two daily flights to Denver and two daily flights to Houston from Ontario.
The announcement comes as the city of Los Angeles and the corporate entity it uses to manage and operate Los Angeles International Airport, Van Nuys Airport and Ontario International Airport, known as Los Angeles World Airports, has come under increasing fire by the city of Ontario and other local officials over what has been characterized as the deliberate mismanagement of Ontario International Airport to drive down passenger traffic there to benefit Los Angeles International Airport.
In 1967, the city of Ontario entered into a joint powers authority arrangement with the city of Los Angeles to allow Los Angeles to manage Ontario International, where passenger traffic at that time was less than 200,000 per year. Los Angeles, using its control of gate positions at Los Angeles International Airport as leverage, induced commercial airlines to fly more frequently into and out of Ontario and to use Ontario as an alternate landing destination during fog-ins at Los Angeles International Airport in lieu of Santa Barbara Airport.
Under Los Angeles’s management, use of Ontario International Airport vastly increased. Over the four-and-a-half decades Los Angeles and Los Angeles World Airports had control of Ontario Airport, they made substantial improvements to the facility, including paving its gravel parking lot, lengthening and modernizing its runways and building two modern terminals. In 1985, after all of the terms set down in the joint powers authority operating agreement had been met, Ontario deeded the airport to Los Angeles for no consideration.
In 2007, slightly more than 7.2 million passengers flew into and out of Ontario, a record for the facility. Since that time, however, as improvements at Los Angeles International Airport have been made and Los Angeles World Airports has imposed higher per-enplaned passenger fees on the airlines at Ontario than in Los Angeles, ridership into and out of Ontario has dramatically decreased, falling this year to a projected 4.1 million.
Ontario has for the last three years faulted Los Angeles World Airports for that decline and, after pushing for a different management approach at the airport, has lobbied to have Los Angeles return control of Ontario International Airport to Ontario. Last year, Ontario formed with San Bernardino County the Ontario International Airport Authority, an entity intended to take on management and operational responsibility at the facility upon Los Angeles surrendering and Ontario regaining ownership. Earlier this year, Ontario sued Los Angeles and Los Angeles World Airports in an effort to force Los Angeles to relinquish control of the airport.
Los Angeles World Airports has consistently insisted that the drawdown in passenger traffic at Ontario International Airport is a consequence of the economic slowdown gripping the nation, state and region since 2008, as well as contractions in the airline industry, and has denied Ontario’s charges that the airport is being mismanaged deliberately to decrease passenger traffic there or to benefit Los Angeles International.
Los Angeles World Airport officials hailed the advance announcement of the increases in the AeroMexico and United Airlines flights as an indicator that the decline in passengers at Ontario International is about to be reversed.
“This is great news for travelers who need more options when traveling up north, especially to the Bay Area,” said Jess Romo, Los Angeles World Airport’s designated manager for Ontario International.  “San Francisco is a popular destination for both business and leisure travelers.
“We’re excited about the additional AeroMexico flights,”  Romo continued.  “We anticipate that the additional service to San Francisco and daily service to Guadalajara will be in great demand especially now that the holiday season is approaching.”
Other airlines currently serving Ontario International, located approximately 35 miles east of downtown Los Angeles, include Alaska, American, Delta, Southwest, and US Airways.
Ontario International is a medium-hub, full-service airport with commercial service to 14 major U.S. cities and through service to many international destinations. The airport provides approximately 60 daily flights offered by 7 carriers.

World’s Largest Solar Energy Plant To Tie Into California Grid Tomorrow

(September 20) The largest solar project ever built, located in the northeast corner of San Bernardino County, will hook up to the power grid this weekend. The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, located fifty miles northwest of Needles and about five miles from the Nevada border, should begin supplying electricity to domestic users by the end of the year.
Utilizing BrightSource’s LPT solar thermal system consisting of 170,000 heliostats – mirrors that track the sun and focus the captured thermal energy onto a  450-foot tall tower  – the plant uses that heat to achieve a temperature of 1,000 degrees in a condenser that boils water, creating steam to power a turbine that generates electricity.
The facility will provide power to meet the needs of 140,000 California homes and will be sent via the grid as far as Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Among the investors in the project are NRG Solar, Google and BrightSource. Bechtel was the contractor on the project.
The land upon which the project was built is being leased from the federal government. It is a habitat of the endangered desert tortoise, a protected species. The $2.2 billion project’s proponents utilized $22 million to hire biologists, purchase conservation land for the tortoises elsewhere, incorporate protective measures for the reptiles and relocate about 200 of the tortoises captured on the property into pens.
The project was backed by a $1.6 billion federal loan. Sale arrangements for the electricity have already been made with Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas & Electric. The project will assist those companies in meeting a state mandate that one third of California’s electricity come from renewable sources by 2020.

Board Initiates County Charter Revision Effort

(September 20) The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors on September 17 initiated a public discussion of making comprehensive changes to the county charter.
One likely revision will pertain to officially installing the county chief executive officer as the county’s ultimate administrative authority. While county governance has evolved in the 101 years since the charter was first adopted so that the chief executive officer, formerly known as the county administrative officer, serves as the county’s de facto chief executive, the charter specifies the chairman of the board of supervisors as the county’s ultimate executive authority.
Upon being hired into the county administrative officer’s position in 2010, Greg Devereaux insisted on a title change to chief executive officer to reflect his duties. In moving toward the charter revision, the board appears intent on maintaining itself as an elected representative administrative-legislative body with the power to enact ordinances and set policy, while designating the county chief executive officer as the entity through whom the policy is put into effect, and in whom is entrusted the authority to make administrative decisions and appointments while remaining ultimately answerable to the board.
Devereaux’s contract stipulates that he cannot be terminated on any vote less than a supermajority, that is, by at least four of the board members. Previously, a simple majority of the board, that is, three of its five members, was all that was required to terminate the chief administrative officer. The board will have the option of modifying the charter to require a supermajority vote to terminate any future chief executive officer.  All contemplated changes would need to be approved by county voters.
In reworking that portion of the charter, supervisor James Ramos said pains need to be taken to ensure that the supervisors do not surrender any portion of their elected authority.
The original county charter was approved by voters on November 5, 1912. It underwent some tweaking before it was officially put into effect in 1915.  The charter has been amended 36 times. Board members have expressed the view that certain elements and provisions of the charter are outdated, irrelevant or in conflict with certain governmental principles that have been adopted in recent decades.
“We have not kept up to date with modern governance,” Board Chairwoman Janice Rutherford said.
Board members said they want to reframe the charter and include in it recently adopted voter-approved mandates such as term limits along with board-approved political donation limits.
At least two public hearings on proposed charter revisions are to be held over the next two months, giving citizens an opportunity to provide county staff with input on what revisions should be incorporated into a draft charter to be shaped and finalized by the board itself early next year so that it can be presented to voters for approval in the June 2014 election.

Solar Moratorium Has Developers Looking To Invest Outside County

(September 20) HESPERIA—The county’s suspension of the consideration and approval process for solar projects is stifling companies interested in moving forward with alternative energy projects and has already resulted in corporate decisions that have steered solar projects out of the county.
Despite the near completion of the Ivanpah Solar Project, which will become the largest solar energy project on the planet when it commences operations later this year, solar power projects in San Bernardino County that were not approved prior to May 31 have been on hold as the county land use services department has imposed a moratorium on renewable energy projects.
In June, the county board of supervisors passed a 45-day moratorium on commercial solar projects. On July 23 the board approved a 10-month extension of the ban on new commercial solar projects for unincorporated private land to allow county staff to refine its regulations with respect to solar fields.
County residents living in proximity to where several solar projects have been approved or are proposed have complained the solar farms are a too-intensive use that clashes with the nature of their rural residential neighborhoods and represent unresolved land-use and zoning conflicts.
But Scott Mazzola, vice president of Apple Valley-based Desert Solar, said that while the county and its land use services division dither over the zoning issues and standards to be applied to solar fields, individuals, companies, corporations and investors interested in pursuing solar development are growing impatient, losing money, contemplating taking their proposals elsewhere or have already pulled up stakes and moved outside of the county.
Noting that Desert Solar long ago committed heavily toward the concept of establishing medium and large scale solar projects throughout the Mojave Desert and that “We’ve spent several years investing time, resources, money to make these projects work, and in preparation with the college (Victor Valley College) to get new employees,” Mazzola complained  the moratorium and its extension has now upset his company’s timetable and cost it a considerable amount of money as well as projected future revenue.
“By extending this out as long as you have, you have really… devastated us,” he told county land use services staff  at a county workshop in Hesperia hosted by the land use services division to gather input from residents with regard to the guidelines they want instituted in the county code relating to solar projects.
Mazzola said Desert Solar had been forced to abandon its San Bernardino County projects in favor of seeking approval in other Southern California jurisdictions where there is less uncertainty as to the standards and restrictions his company will encounter. “We have literally moved two $70 million projects from San Bernardino County to other locations,” he said.
Despite Mazzolla’s lament, residents from Hesperia, Oak Hills, Lucerne Valley and Phelan voiced the belief that large-scale and even medium-scale solar projects are unacceptable in rural areas zoned for residential use. This reflects the attitude of other county residents in desert areas such as Yucca Valley, Joshua Tree and Twentynine Palms who have protested and opposed solar projects in their environs. Some residents from those communities participated in the Hesperia forum via a videolink with the Joshua Tree Community Center.
Canadian-based Coronus Solar, which had earlier proposed constructing two solar fields near Twentynine Palms, dubbed 29 Palms North 2 and 3, has elected to withdraw those plans because of San Bernardino County’s moratorium on new solar development. Coronus intended to generate up to 1.5 megawatts of electricity at each of the facilities, which would have featured conventional solar panel arrays.
At the Hesperia meeting, residents suggested the county code should be amended to prevent solar projects on more than a minimal amount of acres  in or around residential zones and that solar panels or arrays should not be allowed to exceed 8 feet in height.

2014 District Attorney Race Could Again Feature 2002, 2010 Match-Up

(September 13) SAN BERNARDINO—The likelihood is advancing that the 2014 race for San Bernardino County District Attorney will be a rematch engagement between two of the candidates involved in the 2002 and 2010 contests.
Incumbent Mike Ramos, who was elected to the office in 2002, went without opposition in 2006 and was reelected in 2010, publicly declared last week that he will seek reelection next year.
Attorney Frank Guzman, a former deputy prosecutor in the Riverside County District Attorney’s office, was a candidate for San Bernardino County district attorney in 2002, when both he and Ramos challenged then-incumbent Dennis Stout. In 2010, Guzman again ran for the county’s top prosecutor’s post, when he challenged Ramos. Another candidate, Robert Conaway, also ran that year.
Rumors have been circulating that Guzman has access to $350,000 in seed money he is contemplating using to form the basis for next year’s campaign. Reached by the Sentinel this week, Guzman said he was moving to confirm the full availability of that funding before making a formal announcement. He nevertheless gave indication that he was gearing up to wage what he at separate points in the conversation characterized as a “brutal” and “take no prisoners” campaign in anticipation of that money materializing.
In both his 2002 and 2012 runs, Guzman said, he was hampered not only by a relative lack of funding but by his self-imposed insistence on waging what he called “gentlemanly” campaigns in which he limited his electioneering dialogue to discussions of law enforcement, prosecutorial, procedural and office management issues without dwelling on his opponent’s shortcomings or pointed failures.
Guzman said that thnext year things will be far different if he in fact tosses his hat into the ring. He was prompted to this more aggressive approach, Guzman said, by a tactic the Ramos camp used in 2010, when it coordinated the filing of what was ultimately determined by the courts to have been a meritless lawsuit against him while the campaign was under way.
That lawsuit was filed by Jane Un, who had been convicted of multiple counts of real estate and financial fraud in San Bernardino County in 2006 and was given what Guzman asserted was a far too lenient sentence. Un falsely claimed in the lawsuit, which was filed less than two weeks before the election, that she had been one of Guzman’s clients, that Guzman had violated attorney-client privilege and that Guzman had defamed her. A copy of the lawsuit was posted on Ramos’s campaign website before it was filed with the court.
Guzman believes the lawsuit severely impacted his campaign. He has publicly asserted that the lawsuit was an unethical political ploy and an abuse of the courts that is beneath the dignity of someone holding the office of district attorney.
After he was defeated in that year’s election, Guzman, representing himself, moved for a summary dismissal of the case, which was granted by Judge Robert Fawke pursuant to a finding that Guzman, in fact, had never served as Un’s attorney and that there was no merit to any of the allegations contained in the lawsuit. Fawke awarded Guzman court costs as part of his ruling that the lawsuit was frivolous.
Guzman said that in throwing the gauntlet down against Ramos, he intends to make a case with the county’s voters that in his stewardship of the district attorney’s office over the last eleven years Ramos has squandered taxpayer resources; improperly disciplined members of his own department for their frank assessment and criticisms of policies within the prosecutor’s office; displayed favoritism in the prosecutions of, or sentencing recommendations for, defendants to whom Ramos is connected politically or by friendship; made promotions within his office based not upon merit but on friendship or in some cases personal or sexual relationships; made prosecutorial decisions on high profile cases based not on the provability of the charges but rather for political advantage; been lackluster in his prosecution of gang activity and major crimes; compromised the integrity of the justice system and damaged office morale.
In announcing his candidacy last week, Ramos chose an article in the San Bernardino Sun as the forum. In an exclusive interview with that paper, Ramos struck a decidedly different tone than did Guzman, saying he was committed to remaining as district attorney for at least another four years and that he has made strides in the prosecution of crimes against children, human trafficking, and political corruption. He touted his office’s work in gang crime prosecution, despite San Bernardino County’s ranking as the third worst jurisdiction in the United States in terms of gang activity. Ramos said his office has recently adopted a strategy of seeking injunctions against gangs and their members to prevent them from associating and perpetrating criminal acts.

Vector District Response To West Nile Risk Under Attack

With a spike in the number of mosquitoes testing positive for the West Nile virus, some local residents have been critical of what they characterize as a lackluster effort to control the proliferation of the insects at the height of the mosquito season.
Vector officials defended their efforts, denying their agency was sluggish in its response, selectively applying solutions for political or other untoward reasons or otherwise making an inadequate effort to suppress the disease-carrying pests.
West Nile virus is a mosquito-borne virus that is transmitted between species, first identified in the West Nile subregion in the East African nation of Uganda in 1937. Prior to the mid-1990s, West Nile virus occurred only sporadically and was considered a minor risk for humans. Beginning in the mid-1990s it began to spread beyond the confines of East Africa, and in 1999 made its way to the eastern United States. By 2003, the first cases of West Nile virus appeared in California.
The main mode of West Nile virus transmission is through mosquitoes, which are the prime vector, with birds being the most commonly infected animal and serving as the prime reservoir host. Not all birds infected with West Nile virus develop sufficient viral levels to transmit the disease to uninfected mosquitoes, and thus are not contributors in the chain of infection involving humans. Some birds, however, can become significant carriers of the disease and will in some cases eventually succumb to the disease itself. In mammals, West Nile virus can result in encephalitis or meningitis, and in extreme cases lead to death.
Roughly 80 percent  of West Nile virus infections in humans are subclinical, with no recognizable or significant symptoms. In roughly 19 percent of the cases, what is referred to as West Nile fever develops following infection and an incubation period of between two to 15 days. West Nile fever falls short of neurological infirmity, but can entail symptoms such as elevated temperature, headache, fatigue, muscle pain or aches, malaise, nausea, anorexia, vomiting, myalgias and rash. Only about one percent of West Nile virus cases are severe and cross into the province of neurological disease, i.e., impacting the central nervous system. The aged, the very young, or those with suppressed or compromised immune systems are susceptible to developing West Nile encephalitis, which entails inflammation of the brain; West Nile meningitis, which involves inflammation of the meninges, which are the protective membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord; West Nile meningoencephalitis, which causes inflammation of the brain and also the meninges surrounding it, and West Nile poliomyelitis, spinal cord inflammation, which results in a syndrome similar to polio, which may cause acute flaccid paralysis.
Currently, no vaccine against the West Nile virus infection is available.
In 2012, the deadliest year on record with regard to the West Nile virus in the United States, 286 people died as a consequence of the disease throughout the country. The disease has also manifested in burros and horses in San Bernardino County this summer and monitoring of dead birds indicates that the virus was present in at least 21 of those creatures within the confines of San Bernardino County.
By July, on the far west side of San Bernardino County, West Valley Mosquito and Vector Control District officials noted a significant uptick in the presence of the virus, largely through the trapping of infected mosquitoes. In the first part of July, 6.7 percent of the mosquitoes trapped in the district, 48 of 714, tested positive for West Nile virus. In the last two weeks of July, the percentage of infected mosquitoes caught in traps increased to 25 percent, i.e., 27 of 107.
A sampling of the data from around the district shows that on June 26 trapped mosquitoes near Campus and Riverside Drive in Ontario tested positive for the West Nile virus.
On July 2 trapped mosquitoes in northeast Ontario, as well as near Cypress and Riverside Drive in Ontario, on Vineyard and Philadelphia in Ontario and at Ramona and Walnut in Chino tested positive for the West Nile virus.
On July 10, mosquitoes trapped near Campus and Riverside Drive in Ontario tested positive for the West Nile virus.
On July 11, trapped mosquitoes on Fourth Street in northeast Ontario tested positive for the West Nile virus.
On July 16 trapped mosquitoes on Parco Street in south Ontario, on Phillips Avenue in the in unincorporated county area near Chino, and at Vineyard and Philadelphia  and near Campus Avenue in South Ontario tested positive for the West Nile virus.
On July 17, mosquitoes on Fourth Street in northwest Ontario,  Cox Street between Mills and Ramona streets in west Montclair and at the Terracina Apartments at Archibald and Riverside Drive in South Ontario tested positive for the West Nile virus.
On July 26 mosquitoes on Fourth Street and north of E Street in north Ontario, on Cox Street in west Montclair and on Bellevue in Ontario tested positive for West Nile virus.
On August 2, mosquitoes caught in traps on Camino Sur  in Rancho Cucamonga, Bonnie Brae Street in  Ontario,  Cottonwood in south Ontario and on Baker Avenue in  north Ontario tested positive for the West Nile virus.
In mid-August, a man from Victorville contracted the West Nile virus, requiring hospitalization. A week later, a second human case turned up in the county, this time a man living in south Ontario.
West Valley Mosquito and Vector Control District serves the cities of Ontario, Montclair, Chino, Chino Hills, Rancho Cucamonga and the nearby unincorporated county areas. The district’s manager is  Min-Lee Cheng.
Late this summer, the West Valley Mosquito and Vector Control District and Cheng came under fire by residents within the district, particularly in south Ontario and in Chino, for what those residents consider to be a less than energetic effort to deal with the West Nile virus threat.
Residents in south Ontario complain of swarming mosquitoes at nighttime, during which periods they say it is impossible for humans or pets to venture out without enduring mosquito bites. Some have reported cold-like or flu-like symptoms, such as fever, headaches, fatigue, and muscle pain and aches.
The area in and near south Ontario includes the former Chino Agricultural Preserve, which features active and shuttered dairies, upon which many collections or pools of  still water proliferate and which exist as ideal breeding grounds for mosquitoes.
There are four stages in the mosquito lifecycle: egg, larva, pupa, and adult or imago. Adult females lay their eggs in stagnant water. The length of the first three stages — egg, larva, and pupa — typically last five to 14 days, but in the summer heat that cycle can reduce to as few as three days. Adult males live for about a week. Females in the wild live for up to two weeks.
As summer has progressed this year and with the rising heat and humidity of August and now September descending upon the Inland Empire, the mosquitoes proliferated. Critics of the West Valley Mosquito and Vector Control District maintain the district is attacking the problem in south Ontario less aggressively than the crisis dictates should be done.
Specifically, it is alleged that Cheng did not adequately prepare for the problem the district is now facing by hiring seasoned and experienced staff members ahead of time, but waited until August to bring in seasonal workers, an accusation critics say is backed up by the district’s employees’ time cards. Nor has the district carried out an effective prevention and eradication program in the environs of the dairy land or its surroundings, which would have entailed using helicopters to do a continual aerial survey to find stagnant water accumulations and conducting extensive ground operations to search out hidden water pools and then drain them or treat them.
Nor has the district carried out an effective spraying program or any spraying program in south Ontario or Chino. This is contrasted with the district’s repeated spraying in north Ontario this summer.
Critics suggested the northwest Ontario spraying was done by Cheng as part of a strategy to placate the district’s political leadership.
The West Valley Mosquito and Vector Control District’s board consists of elected and appointed leaders from the cities and county area within its jurisdiction.
The board is chaired by Chino Councilman Glenn Duncan. The other board members are Ontario Mayor Paul Leon, Montclair Councilwoman Carolyn Raft, Chino Hills Councilwoman Cynthia Moran, Rancho Cucamonga Public Works Director William Wittkopf and county representative William Sitton.
The area around Leon’s home in northwest Ontario was sprayed on July 10, July 23, July 25, August 1, and August 6. No spraying occurred this summer in south Ontario. Residents of that area suggested the district had shown more care and concern in northwest Ontario because Cheng was seeking to placate the leadership on the board, in particular Leon and Raft, who live most proximate to the area that had been treated with the pyrethin fog. Those sprayings took place at night, when the mosquitoes are most active and have taken to the air.
Cheng discounted those accusations, saying the district is working assiduously to deal with the West Nile virus threat and that the high incidence of infected mosquitoes in  the northwest Ontario and northeast Montclair areas drove the district’s action.
“We had a new record of West Nile virus infestation this summer,” Cheng acknowledged. “It  broke our previous record, set in 2008. We had a record number of mosquitoes with the virus in our traps. In 2008 we had 141 mosquitoes test positive for the virus. As of last week, we had 169 and that number continues to grow. It is very alarming, with fifteen percent testing positive for the West Nile virus overall in our district. In addition, we have eight chicken coops in the district where we test. Chickens make excellent sample subjects. When the mosquitoes bite chickens they do not get sick because they produce a huge amount of antibodies. Of the eight coops, five tested positive. Another alarming indicator is that as of today [September 11] we had 14 dead birds which tested positive in our district. Within our district so far this year only one human case has been confirmed by the health department. We have done fly-overs to look for swimming pools that may be mosquito-breeding grounds. We discovered a lot of pools we did not know about or which were recently put in above the 60 Freeway. We have begun processing the data and have begun contacting the owners of those pools and have had a quick response from people to get them cleaned. We have a lot of areas in backyards where we cannot see and have to rely on aerial surveillance to detect these breeding places.”
As to the spraying effort in northeast Ontario, Cheng said “two thirds” of the mosquitoes trapped in the northwest section of Ontario and the northeast section of Montclair tested positive for the West Nile virus. “I have never seen this high of an infestation,” he said.  He said the area had been sprayed on two occasions, to no avail. “We sprayed in the nighttime,” he said. “We did it twice. It was very unsuccessful. The weather conditions were not favorable. Spraying did not work for us the last time we used it, in 2005, and it failed this time. When you spray, you are concentrating on the adults. It is much more effective to focus on the larvae, spot them and kill the mosquitoes before they become adults. That is the way we are trying to do this. Killing adults is the least effective way to do it.”
At this point, Cheng said, the district is seeking to “discover and uncover more sources like rain gutters that get clogged up by leaves and create breeding grounds for mosquitoes even in the summer. Many of these breeding grounds are created by humans without their realizing it. It is amazing how we nurture mosquitoes that transmit disease to us. We are the ones who create problems for ourselves.”
Leon told the Sentinel that for both technical reasons and ones of public perception, the district has shied away from spraying to eradicate the pests.
“We were not getting the results we wanted and were not doing an effective job with the low pressure spraying,” the Ontario mayor said. “We did spray in the northwest corner of Ontario on a few occasions but I am told that when they sprayed, the wind conditions were wrong. When you spray on an east-west street like Fourth Street, you want the wind blowing so it traverses the street, blowing north or south. But the wind at night blows in the same direction as the street and the [insecticide] fog never makes it to where the stagnant water is and just blows away.”
In any event, Leon said, the public, or a large segment of it, is averse to the spraying. “What we’re doing is spraying with a geranium-based, naturally occurring biodegradable insecticide that has little if any danger to humans or animals, but just the very nature of spraying something that kills insects puts fear in the minds of people. The public is not in favor of us using this insecticide fog in their neighborhoods.”
Leon said that as a board member, he is confident “West Valley Vector Control is doing a good job of finding green pools through aerial surveillance and then drying up or eradicating these mosquito breeding grounds. We are pushing for environmentally friendly solutions like introducing a type of fish into the green water that will eat the mosquito larvae. I’m talking about pools that have been abandoned or deep ditches with water in them. The other option that we are pursuing is educating people to protect themselves. This is a new problem that is growing. Ten years ago was the first time we had West Nile virus in California.  We have a very proactive vector control district here. All a member of the public has to do is call and an investigation will begin. Once the presence of mosquitoes is confirmed, eradication will begin.”

Supervisors Endorse Merger of Victor Valley & Barstow Transit Authorities

(September13) The county board of supervisors this week recommended that the county transportation agency proceed with the merger of the public transportation system currently serving the Victor Valley and the system serving the area surrounding Barstow.
According to Gerry Newcombe, the county’s director of public works, the county’s transportation agency, San Bernardino Associated Governments (known by its acronym, SANBAG) looked into the consolidation of the Victor Valley Transit Authority and the Barstow Area Transit Authority. He said that study determined it would be good for the two districts to consolidate their operations.
“Barstow Area Transit Authority is run under contract by the City of Barstow.,” Newcombe said. “ In addition to demand response (Americans with Disabilities Act-funded) transportation, it runs a total of five routes, three routes within the city and two within the county areas to Hinkley on the west and to Newberry Springs to the east. The two county routes and administration expenses utilize all of the county local transportation funds allocated to the Barstow area by SANBAG, leaving no funds available for county streets and roads.
The Victor Valley Transit Authority,” Newcombe continued, “is a separate transit agency operating under a board of directors with one member appointed from each of the agencies of the joint powers authority and has significantly expanded its routing and efficiency.”
The Victor Valley Transit Authority is a joint powers authority that involves the county, the cities of Hesperia, Adelanto, Victorville and the town of Apple Valley. Like the Barstow Area Transit Authority, the Victor Valley Transit Authority  utilizes Measure I funds, which are derived from a half cent sales tax imposed countywide to provide transportation funding;  2010-2040 Senior and Disabled Transit, State and Federal funding sources for Capital and Operations. The county contribution consists of local transportation funds allocated directly to the transit authority by the San Bernardino Associated Governments.
“In the past few years Victor Valley Transit Authority has re-established a lifeline service to inland valley destinations, started up a highly successful National Training Center commuter route and established Barstow-Victorville link three days a week, and with approval of the latest budget (anticipated September 2013) moving to five days a week,” Newcombe said. “In addition, one of the biggest potential objections to consolidation, Sunday Service (Barstow currently has it and VVTA does not) will be removed as Victor Valley Transit Authority starts Sunday Service October 1, 2013. Victor Valley Transit Authority uses only a portion of the allocated local transit funds  from each joint powers authority county, town and city member, leaving significant percentages of local transportation funds available for county streets and roads.”
According to Newcombe, the study concluded “ Consolidation meets the stated goals expressed by cities, town and the county. Consolidation of Barstow Area Transit and Victor Valley Transit Authority will likely result in reduced administrative costs to cities, town and the county.  Consolidation is likely to result in improved transit services in the High Desert. By adopting the findings, San Bernardino Associated Governments will be able to initiate the process whereby consolidation of transit agencies either through a new or an amended and expanded Joint Powers Authority may be achieved in an open and transparent manner.”
Newcombe said that consolidation is projected to result in an annual net savings to county local transportation funds of approximately $60,000 by combining administrative expenditures of two transit agencies into one.”
At the same time, Newcombe said the study determined “Consolidation is of no net benefit to the city of Needles.”
Based upon Newcombe’s recommendation, the board of supervisors voted to pass along the consolidation recommendation to the 29-member SANBAG board, which consists of all five members of the board of supervisors plus one representative from the city councils of each of the county’s 24 cities.

Glen Helen Prisoner Escape Issues Resolved

(September 13) County officials have redressed several crucial security issues at the Glen Helen Rehabilitation Center in Devore, after the expenditure of roughly $2 million.
Following a rash of escapes from the facility, located at 18000 West Institution Road in Devore, last year, the board of supervisors at the prodding of the sheriff’s department on September 11, 2012 declared there was “substantial evidence that the recent escapes of pre-sentenced inmates at the Glen Helen Rehabilitation Center created an emergency requiring immediate action to prevent or mitigate the loss or impairment of life, health, property, and service to the public.” Because of the urgency of the situation, the county did not hold a formal competitive solicitation of bids to improve the security of the facility, instead extending a no-bid contract to Bellevue, Washington-based Lydig Construction, Inc., which already had established a relationship with the county through its work on the Adelanto Detention Facility. The board approved a project budget of $3 million, consisting of project management costs of $2,320; design costs of $6,680; construction costs of $1,891,000; and a project contingency of $1,100,000.  Another $59,836 to install security fencing surrounding the main recreation yard was provided directly from the Inmate Welfare Fund and was not included in the project budget. In December 2012, the board awarded a $999,996 construction contract to Lydig, providing for the construction of interior security improvements for housing units M1 and M2. Shortly after the approval of the contract with Lydig, the potential for grant funding from the state of California in the form of Senate Bill 1022 became available.
Working in concert with the sheriff’s department, Lydig undertook several external improvements to the facility, including replacing all of the barbed wire on top of the fencing and adjacent roof around both minimum housing units as well at the female housing facility with multiple strand barbed wire and razor wire; installation of “no climb” mesh topped with multiple strand barbed wire and razor wire on the fencing and adjacent roofs surrounding the maximum security outdoor recreation yards; replacement of the existing 10 foot high perimeter fencing with 14 foot high fencing that includes “no climb” mesh on the upper 4 feet of the interior fencing together with the installation of  razor wire on the top of both the interior and exterior fencing as well as on the ground in between both fences; installation of a “dig barrier” around the entire inner fence; and installation of 10 foot high fencing topped with razor wire surrounding the main recreation yard.
One of the other security needs identified by the sheriff’s department is the replacement of all perimeter exterior lighting with higher intensity lighting to improve visibility in the evening hours. A study has been completed that identified the necessary new light fixture to achieve the visibility goals, and is currently being purchased and installed by sheriff’s maintenance staff.
Though the external security measures have been completed or are under way, the interior improvements approved by the board last December have not been undertaken, as the funding for them has yet to be obtained.
This week, the county board of supervisors made a finding that the imminent threat of escapes from Glen Hellen has passed and terminated the declaration of an emergency situation at the facility. The board also approved a deductive change order in the amount of $988,983 to the last December’s contract with Lydig Construction, decreasing the contract amount from $999,996 to $11,013 for the internal improvements approved at that time.
“With the reduction in the contract amount of $988,983 with Lydig Construction, Inc., approximately $1 million remains in the project budget that will not be expended at this time for interior security improvements for housing units M1 and M2 at the Glen Helen Rehabilitation Center,” Carl Alban, the director of the county architecture & engineering department told the board of supervisors prior to its vote at its meeting on Tuesday.  “The sheriff’s department is currently preparing a proposal for SB1022 funding, and if successful, this funding would allow for the replacement of the existing housing units M1 and M2. Following discussions with the county administrative office and the sheriff’s department, it was determined to defer the proposed work in housing units M1 and M2 pending the outcome of grant awards for SB1022.