Judge Accepts San Bernardino Bankruptcy

(August 30) RIVERSIDE—Over the objections of the city of San Bernardino’s largest creditor, Federal Bankruptcy Judge Meredith Jury granted the municipality Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection on August 28, more than a year after the city made its filing.
Jury’s decision will allow the city to undertake a restructuring plan to reorganize its fiscal house and regain solvency.
The California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS), to which the city is $14 million in arrears on payments, had objected to the city’s bankruptcy filing, maintaining the city was not working assiduously enough to put its finances in order.
Jury rejected CalPERS’ position that its claims took precedence over all city obligations, remarking that were CalPERS to commandeer all of the money San Bernardino owes it, current employees would not be paid and the city would essentially cease as an ongoing concern and would lose all hope of eventual recovery.
CalPERS attorney Michael Gearin protested that city officials had purposefully engineered a “self-inflicted crisis” so they could skip out on the city’s obligations. He said the bankruptcy court’s acceptance of the filing set a “dangerous precedent” in which cities in the future will excuse themselves from the debt they owe based simply upon the size of the debt.
Paul Glassman, an attorney representing the city, assured Jury San Bernardino had sought bankruptcy reluctantly and only out of financial necessity.
Jury said she was bound by circumstance to allow the city to move into bankruptcy and restructure its debt. She set September 4 as a hearing date for the production of documents showing proposed payments and terms of payments to the city’s creditors.

City Forces Two Highland Widows To Tear Down Their Husbands’ Legacies

In the otherwise sedate, civil and low key community of Highland, city officials seem to have punctured a hornets’ nest with code enforcement actions against two widows over what many consider to be the negligible issue of garage conversions done by their late husbands decades ago.
City code enforcement officers cited Violet Gomez for an enclosed non-permitted alteration to her garage located at her home located within the 7686 block of Merito Avenue. In addition to having failed to get a permit for the garage conversion, city officials maintain, she is in violation of the city code section requiring that all single family residences have a garage in which two automobiles can be kept.
Gomez maintained that the enclosure was done 25 years ago by her late husband, who had obtained a permit to add a bathroom to the garage along with making other improvements. For city officials, however, the issue is cut and dried. Officially, they ignored Gomez’s entreaties and discounted the importuning of her neighbors, who noted that her home exceeds the outward visual standards of the city and its neighborhood. No one on the city council seconded councilwoman Jody Scott’s motion to grant Gomez her appeal of the Public Nuisance Hearing Board’s decision. The council, over Scott’s dissent, declined to “grandfather in” the garage enclosure, which would have allowed it to remain in place.
According to the city attorney, granting Gomez’s appeal would open the flood gates to other conversions and unpermitted alterations on other properties throughout the city.
The council, however, did direct city staff to work with Gomez to determine if a garage could be erected on another portion of her property and if the permit her husband obtained a quarter of a century ago could be construed to apply to the garage conversion.
Shortly after the city council turned down Gomez’s request, details emerged about a similar enforcement action against another widow, Sue Moore, also now living on a fixed income, who is being put through her paces because of a conversion her husband did four decades ago to the house she now lives in.
In Moore’s case, the city objected to the conversion of her home’s garage into a bedroom. Citing the section of the city code requiring all single family residences to have either a attached or detached garage, the Highland code enforcement division demanded that she reconvert the bedroom to a garage.
So far, Moore has reinstalled a garage door and taken out an air conditioning unit and is in the process of removing paneling, flooring, a closet and her bed.
The city is no more inclined to grant Moore a pass than it was willing to grandfather Gomez’s conversion.
Scott said that the city was applying its codes with too broad of a brush. “I understand the reason for the codes,” she said. “I understand why staff and the city attorney and city council are enforcing this. They don’t want to open up a can of worms by making an exception in these cases that will encourage others to build structures or make alterations without permits. But I think that if something has been here for twenty-plus years, it should be grandfathered in. I voted to let them be grandfathered, but I lost.”
Scott said of both the Gomez and Moore cases, “These additions were tastefully done. If you just look around Highland and see some of the real code enforcement issues and you see all of the junk that came in here when we were under the rules of the county, it is like comparing apples to oranges. I would love to have one of these properties in my neighborhood.”
There is hope, Scott said, at least in Gomez’s case, that the city will relent. “My understanding is staff will work with Mrs.  Gomez to see if another piece of her property can be used for building a garage,” she said. “Part of the problem is if you build something that is more than 100 square feet, you have to put in fire sprinklers. That is expensive, an expense that should not be. It does not make sense. She is working with Larry Mainez on that.”
Mainez, the city planner, told the Sentinel, “The Public Nuisance Hearing Board upheld the code enforcement division, which had cited Mrs. Gomez for an illegal garage conversion. We are seeing right now whether she might comply with city code by using an existing storage structure or other property in her backyard for a garage.”
With regard to Moore’s situation, Mainez said, “That is an ongoing case and I shouldn’t get into details. We will work to find a solution. Mrs. Moore has other administrative remedies, such as appealing this to the city council. It is unfortunate it had to get that far that we had to cite her.”
According to Mainez, there are multiple illegal garage conversions in Highland. “We do have others in the city,” he said. “We make about 15 citations for that per year that are based on complaints by neighbors or renters.”
Grandfathering of preexisting uses can take place, Mainez said, but only under certain conditions. “What we call grandfathering is being declared as having legal nonconforming status,” he said.
That categorization applies to homes built prior to city incorporation in 1987 that were not built to the code the city adopted. But anyone who made conversions without permits, either before or after incorporation, Mainez said, is not eligible for obtaining legal nonconforming status.
“The county began keeping records of the permits it issued in 1947,” he said. “We have a very good relationship with the county and we have access to those records. If you had a permit for a structure, even if it does not meet the city’s current code, we can grandfather you. If you are in a single family residence and you make a conversion without first getting a permit, you cannot come in and get a permit afterward. Anyone who did not pull a permit does not get the protection of nonconforming use. At that point it becomes a health and safety issue. Things have to be safe from the standpoint of plumbing and electrical and structural integrity.”
Mainez noted that the recent enforcement action against Gomez and Moore had triggered a conceptual reexamination of the definition of compliance and what the criteria for granting legal nonconforming status should be.
“We are working on changes to the city code regarding nonconforming issues,” he said. “This will not be completed for the council’s review for at least several months.” Mainez said he anticipated “an interesting debate. We will  have to take this to the planning commission. We have to ensure, of course, that anything allowed under a grandfathered conversion is safe. We will also look at timelines and what the cutoff date will be. Will we say that anything built legally before 1987 is acceptable? Will there be some other date used?  My preference now is anything built without a permit should be removed. I think safety should take precedence over the other considerations.”
Scott said she doubted the city council will make much in the way of any substantial change to the municipal code regarding longstanding uses that are not now eligible for retroactive permitting.
“We can always hope, but I know that they [her council colleagues] are pretty set in their ways,” she said.
Nevertheless, she said, neither Gomez nor Moore should knuckle under. “If it were me, I’d keep fighting. It just isn’t fair. I know we don’t want to open the door to people ignoring our standards, but there are extenuating circumstances and these are two of them.”

Judge Tells SB City Clerk To Move Recall Forward

(August 30) SAN BERNARDINO—San Bernardino City Clerk Gigi Hanna did not have sufficient grounds to disqualify a recall effort targeting City Attorney James F. Penman and council members Wendy McCammack and Chas Kelley, Superior Court Judge David Cohn ruled on August 22.
Hanna had earlier made a determination that the group San Bernardino Residents For Responsible Government would not be able to proceed with its recall effort because it had failed to include Penman’s, McCammack’s and Kelly’s responses to the stated grounds for the recall effort against them with the published notice of the group’s intent to circulate those recall petitions.
Initially, the group had indicated it would undertake the recall of Penman, the mayor and the entire city council as a gesture of dissatisfaction with municipal mismanagement that had led to the city’s filing for bankruptcy last year. It subsequently dispensed with the recall efforts against current Mayor Patrick Morris, whose term in office will expire next March and who is not seeking reelection in November, and council members Rikke Van Johnson, Robert Jenkins, Fred Shorrett, and Virginia Marquez.
Cohn ruled that as the city’s chief elections officer, Hanna was bound to accept the petitions and signatures submitted to her by the recall proponents and that she had to deliver those documents to the county registrar of voters in a timely manner, i.e., by August 23, so that Registrar of Voters Michael Scarpello and his staff would be able to count and otherwise process them to meet deadlines to allow the recall election and an election to choose replacements in the event the recall is successful to be consolidated with the city’s general election in November. Hanna had already accepted a petition and signatures seeking Councilman John Valdivia’s recall. Valdivia, unlike Penman, McCammack and Kelley, had not  to offer a response to the recall advocates’ grounds for his removal from office.
The recall proponents claimed that they would have published Penman’s, McCammack’s and Kelley’s responses, but had not received them in a timely manner. The matter was complicated by the consideration that  city manager Allen Parker, with the apparent approval of the mayor, city attorney and city council, confiscated from Hanna all documentation relating to the recall and held it in his office from May 21 To June 5.
At a cost of nearly $30,000, the city had authorized the firm of Straddling Yocca Carlson & Rauth to oppose San Bernardino Residents for Responsible Government’s July 29 filing for a writ of mandate with the Superior Court to force Hanna to process the recall petitions and qualify the recall vote for the ballot. Straddling Yocca Carlson & Rauth maintained that the late filing of certain recall-related documents and delays in the submission of the petitions resulted in Hanna being unable to meet the timelines to allow the recall elections of Penman, McCammack and Kelley to be consolidated with the municipal election.  Recall proponents maintain that city officials, in particular Hanna and Parker, were responsible for several of those delays.
Cohn sided with the recall proponents. Within an hour of his ruling, the recall proponents were in Hanna’s office, where they presented her with the petitions endorsed by more than 30,000 signatures to recall Penman, Councilman Chas Kelley and Councilwoman Wendy McCammack which Hanna had previously refused to accept.
As it turns out, the recall questions against Penman, Kelley and McCammack will now appear on the same ballot on which Jenkins and Shorrett will be seeking reelection to the council and upon which McCammack, Kelley and Johnson will be vying for mayor along with eight others.
By having the recall election consolidated with the regular general municipal election, the city will save roughly $130,000 over the cost of having held those elections separately.
Scott Beard, the leader of San Bernardino Residents For Responsible Government said he was heartened that “the voters of San Bernardino can finally let their voices be heard on those who led our city into bankruptcy and who have failed the city for decades before that.”

Baca, Reyes & Tillman Not On Board With Dem Plan For Aguilar To Dislodge Miller

As the June 2014 primary approaches, the determination of former Congressman Joe Baca, attorney Eloise Gomez Reyes and San Bernardino school board member Danny Tillman to remain as candidates for Congress in the 31st Congressional District persists, despite the efforts by Redlands Mayor Pete Aguilar, considered the frontrunner among declared Democrats in the race, and his supporters to dissuade them.
A who’s who of big name Democrats inside and outside California have swung behind the young and energetic Aguilar, largely because they perceive him as possessing the essential attributes to defeat Gary Miller, the incumbent Republican in the 31st.
For that reason, a cross-section of Democrats are pressing Baca, Reyes and Tillman to back out of the race, so that all of the party’s mules can be hooked up to the wagon to pull in the same direction. A surfeit of Democrats in the 2012 race in the 31st contributed in some major measure to a Republican currently representing the district.
Indeed, Democrats consider the 31st District to be one that should naturally have fallen to them. Of the district’s registered voters, 127,690 or 41 percent, are affiliated with the Democratic Party.  Registered Republicans in the district number 104,938, or 33.7 percent,  In 2012, however, the Democrats were outmaneuvered by the GOP in the 31st, which like all other Congressional districts in the state had been newly drawn on the basis of the 2010 Census.
Miller defied the odds to gain election in the Democratic-leaning 31st Congressional District last year despite his Republican Party affiliation. Between 2002 and 2012, Miller had represented voters in the 42nd District, encompassing the southwestern corner of San Bernardino County, the northeastern corner of Orange County and the southeastern corner of Los Angeles County, where Republicans held a strong registration advantage. But with the redistricting following the 2010 Census, Miller was left without a district in which to run safely, as Ed Royce, another incumbent Republican, found himself reapportioned into the new 39th District, which commandeered much of Miller’s old 42nd District.
Members of Congress do not need to live within the geographical boundaries of the district they represent, and merely need to live within the state where the district in which they hold office is located. Miller, who resides in Diamond Bar, elected to run in the newly formed 31st District, which encompasses part of Rancho Cucamonga, and stretches eastward across San Bernardino County through a large portion of Fontana, Rialto, Colton, San Bernardino and Redlands. Another Republican, Bob Dutton, joined the fray in the 31st District in the 2012 primary, as did four Democrats – Aguilar, Justin Kim, Rita Ramirez-Dean, and Renea Wickman. Despite the seven percent Democratic voter registration advantage in the 31st, simple mathematics hurt the Democrats as their vote was divided four ways, while the Republican vote was split two ways. Dutton and Miller proved to be the two top vote-getters and under California’s open primary arrangement, the November general election came down to a race between Republicans Miller and Dutton. Miller prevailed in that race.
In running in the 31st, the Republican Miller took a calculated risk by vying in a district where  Democrats held a slight voter registration advantage over the GOP. But as an incumbent congressman, Miller had a huge fundraising advantage and he was further aided by California’s adoption in 2012 of open primaries, in which the top two-vote getters in the June election, regardless of party affiliation, qualified for the November run-off. In this way, Miller effectively played the Democrats off against one another in the primary, ultimately to the party’s detriment.
In the lull before the 2014 electoral storm, Democrat party leaders appear determined to not allow themselves to be outmaneuvered by the Republicans in the 31st again. They have moved to consolidate their backing behind Aguilar, who outpolled all of the other Democrats vying in the 31st in 2012. By forcefully backing Aguilar early, they were hoping to ward off any Democratic challengers who might divide the Democratic vote next year.
In May, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee 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. In California, Aguilar has pulled in the endorsements of Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer.
Money is pouring into Aguilar’s political war chest. More attention was drawn to him, ensuring even more contributions, when   the Washington-based news organization, Politico, last month named  Aguilar one of “50 Politicos to watch in 2013.”
Nevertheless, Baca, a Democrat who was a member of Congress from 1999 until he was ousted by another Democrat, Gloria Negrete-McLeod, last year, and Eloise Gomez Reyes, an attorney and longtime Democratic activist, and Tillman, a school board member and one-time close associate of former California Assemblyman Jerry Eaves, don’t appear to be responding to their party’s signals. All three appear intent on continuing to test whether they have the combination of charisma, existing support, name recognition and overall moxie to get one of the two top spots in the primary and the follow-up to prevail in November 2014.  So far they have proven resistant to calls that the party present a united front that is undiluted by competing Democratic candidates, allowing a test of Democratic strategists’ theory that Aguilar can beat Miller in a toe-to-toe slugfest, despite Miller’s incumbency and formidable fundraising capability.
In the cases of Gomez Reyes and Tillman, neither appears to have the fundraising staying power to even begin to hold their own against Miller or Aguilar.
Baca, however, presents a much more difficult challenge. As a former member of Congress, he possesses indirect and residual political clout, together with an insider’s knowledge of issues and alliances, which he is working assiduously to bring to bear.  In this way, Baca can count on big money backing from national and even international players. An example of this is his recent move to stand up for the Keystone XL Pipeline, which was originally undertaken by one of Baca’s former political supporters, ConocoPhillips, in conjunction with TransCanada. The first two of the four phases of the pipeline system to transport oil sands bitumen from Canada and  Bakken synthetic crude oil and light crude oil produced from the Williston Basin (Bakken) region in Montana and North Dakota  primarily to refineries on the Gulf Coast have been completed. ConocoPhillips at this point has sold its interest in the undertaking to TransCanada, which is now investing heavily in the effort to assure the completion of the last two phases of the project, involving the expansion of refining and processing capability on the Gulf Coast and a controversial pipeline to originate at Hardisty in Alberta, Canada and extend 1,179 miles to Steele City, Nebraska.
Environmentalists are opposed to the project. Baca, however, has given TransCanada his assurance he will support the project on the grounds that it represents an advance toward North American energy independence as well as economic rejuvenation. In this way, he has taken a crucial step toward ensuring that he will receive substantial assistance from TransCanada, its investors, lobbyists and the political action committees TransCanada has endowed.
At a candidate forum hosted by the Redlands Area Democrat Club at the International Union of Operating Engineers Hall in Redlands on August 24, Baca said he had a proven track record of accomplishment during his seven terms in Congress, including ensuring that the Inland Empire was the beneficiary of $570 million of the spending contained in the federal economic stimulus package approved by Congress during his final term.
He said that if the Democrats are going to coalesce around a single candidate for the purposes of removing Miller from office, “We should send someone who’s effective. We shouldn’t just send anyone back to Washington.” He said he represented knowledge and an understanding of how to get things done in the nation’s capital. The best Aguilar could offer, Baca said, was to offer empty promises “about what he says he will do.”
Aguilar retorted that Baca had already had an opportunity to represent the local area in Congress and had come up short. “Sending the same people back to DC and expecting a different result just won’t work,” Aguilar said.
Gomez Reyes, who has never before sought public office, dismissed both Baca and Aguilar as career politicians who are entrenched in governmental systems that are isolated from the people they serve. “I’m really tired of the politicians,” Gomez Reyes said. “I want servant leaders to be involved in leading us,” she said.

Incoming Needles City Manager To Get Salary Double His Predecessor’s

(August 30) The city of Needles will pay its new city manager just shy of twice what it is paying its current acting city manager, who will remain on staff as assistant city manager/utilities general manager.
In July, the Needles City Council offered Desert Hot Springs City Manager Rick Daniels a job as Needles’ top municipal employee. Several days ensued while Daniels, one of the highest-paid city managers in California with a total annual compensation package in Desert Hot Springs that exceeded $300,000, negotiated with Needles’ city manager search committee, consisting of council members Linda Kidd, Jim Lopez and Tom Darcy, with regard to the salary and benefits the city was willing to offer him.
As San Bernardino County’s smallest incorporated city population-wise with a headcount of 4,844, Needles has a budgeted range for the city manager position of $129,000 to $132,000 per year. David Brownlee, who was elevated from the utilities general manager/assistant city manager post to city manager in 2010 when the council declined to renew the contract of previous city manager William Way, was not paid according to that schedule. Instead, Brownlee was paid $50.47 per hour based on furlough-truncated annual hours of 1,976, translating into an annual salary of $99,728.72.
Convinced that Daniels possessed a skill set that will prove valuable in meeting economic rejuvenation goals for the county’s easternmost city on the west bank of the Colorado River, the council gave Kidd, Lopez and Darcy authorization to convince Daniels to leave his post in Riverside County and take up the Needles job. Lying within what is referred to as the tri-state area, Needles is just a drive across a bridge to the Arizona community of Topock. Nevada is a little more than 15 miles distant. Both Arizona and Nevada have lower sales tax rates than California and far less substantial gasoline taxes than the Golden State, putting Needles’ commercial establishments at a disadvantage to other retailers within its trade area. Needles officials are hoping that Daniels will offer creative strategies for creating economic opportunity in what was once a booming railroad town that has for fifty years been in steep decline.
To land Daniels, the search committee offered him nearly $200,000 in salary and a benefit package that provides $9,000 per year toward his retirement fund and $13,500 for his family’s medical, dental and vision coverage. The package granted him retirement eligibility at the age of 55 (a milestone he has already eclipsed), with a pension equal to 2 percent of his maximum salary times the number of years he has worked for the city.
Unbeknownst to Kidd, Lopez and Darcy, there was a growing level of discontent with Daniels in Desert Hot Springs. Two of the council members there were gunning for his removal and the firm and fast support he had among the other three members was beginning to erode. While he made every effort to appear as if he was bargaining from a position of strength, Daniels was increasingly anxious to leave Desert Hot Springs before he was ignominiously terminated.
In April, Daniels sought to make his exodus from Desert Hot Springs, applying for the position of county administrator in Clackamas County in Oregon. He was selected as one of three finalists in the competition for that post and as the interview process advanced, Daniels maintained a cover story to the effect that he was merely vacationing in Oregon, where he was raised and attended college. At the final stages of the Clackamas County selection process at the end of June, it appeared that Daniels had the job and it then became known to the Desert Hot Springs City Council’s members that he was gearing up to leave Desert Hot Springs. Daniels’ move to Oregon fell through, however, when Donald Krupp, one of the other two finalists, was given the county administrator’s post in July.
On August 13, the Needles City Council unanimously approved hiring Daniels, in so doing conferring upon him a generous contract that was questioned by several members of the public. Council members expressed faith and hope that Daniels, who has had more extensive managerial experience in the private sector than in the public sector, will be able to call upon his access to corporate leaders to entice them to venture capital  in Needles.
Daniels was an executive with Waste Management, Inc. He came to Desert Hot Springs officials’ attention after he founded a company in the late 1990s, Mine Reclamation Corporation, with which he proposed to operate a landfill within the abandoned Eagle Mountain Mine next to Joshua Tree National Park, into which he proposed depositing millions of tons of trash from Los Angeles transported to the site by train. The venture was dropped when the Supreme Court ruled against the environmental certification for the plan. Along the way Daniels had assumed the position of president and CEO of the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership, a consortium of business owners, financiers and developers. From that position he obtained the post of top administrator with the Salton Sea Authority. This was his sole experience in the public sector before he leveraged himself into the Desert Hot Springs city manager post.
While with Desert Hot Springs, one of the poorest cities in the state, Daniels undertook infrastructure improvements that previously seemed beyond the city’s means, including paving 34 miles of city streets. He also succeeded in developing a municipal Health and Wellness and Aquatic Center. The cost of that project ran to $20 million, however, a spending spree that ultimately left Desert Hot Springs with an intractable debt in the form of more than $30 million in delinquent bonds  and an ongoing yearly operation cost at the health center of more than $1 million.
In 2010, Daniels ventured $250,000 in taxpayer funds to lay the ground for and promote a music festival that never came off. Though he initially said the city would recover the money from the concert series’ promoter, the city never did so.
In June, city finance director Terrence Beaman resigned after a lengthy dispute with Daniels with regard to Daniels’ proposal to utilize $4 million in city reserves to cover a $4 million deficit. After the municipal and financial management consulting firm Urban Futures assessed Desert Hot Springs’ economic condition, it concluded the city was in a deteriorating financial state that would lead to insolvency within 12 to 24 months.
In looking past those blemishes on Daniels’ record, the Needles City Council  committed to hiring Daniels on a three year contract commencing September 16 at an initial salary of $197,000 per year with annual increases of $10,000.
The contract, however, categorizes him as an “at-will” employee, leaving him subject to termination at any time and without need for a stated reason upon a majority vote, pursuant to 15 days notice. If no notice is given, the council can release Daniels on the proviso that he continue to receive his salary and benefits for 12 months or until such time within the 12 months that he finds new employment. If he is terminated without notice with less than 12 months remaining on his contract, Daniels will receive a severance only until the expiration of the contract.
If cause is cited by the council for termination, Daniels will not receive any severance pay. Causes defined in the agreement include, but are not limited to, acting in bad faith and to the detriment of the city; refusing or failing to act in accordance with any specific direction or order of the council and continuing in poor performance of duties despite council efforts to correct deficiencies.
If Daniels resigns, he will not be eligible for severance pay.

County Superintendent Rejects Two Districts’ Budgets

(August 30) The San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools has informed at least two of the county’s school districts that it will not approve their spending plans, in one instance for the current academic  year or, in the other, the coming two years.
The office of the San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools in an August 9 letter to the Rim of the World Unified School District in the San Bernardino Mountains said that district’s 2013-14 budget was inadequate, and directed district officials to revise its spending plan for resubmission no later than September 9.
The letter from Superintendent of County Schools Grary Thomas to Rim Schools Superintendent Donna Kellogg said the county had come across multiple problematic areas in the district’s current fiscal year budget. In addition, according to Thomas, the district’s projections for 2014-15 and 2015-16 appear to be unrealistic.
According to Michelle McClowry, an auditor appointed by Thomas to work with financially troubled districts in the county, the budgets submitted by the Victor Valley Union High School District  for the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school are not deemed acceptable.
McClowry delivered the County Superintendent of Schools assessment at the district’s last board meeting, shortly after the newest board member, Rita Jackson, was sworn in and the board approved $330,000 worth of new positions.
McClowry said the district is expected to amend its budget numbers to reflect more optimistic income in terms of Local Control Funding  that will come to the district.
Victor Valley Union High School District is on the mend, following a warning letter delivered to it by the California Superintendent of Schools which cited its deteriorating financial circumstance that could trigger a state takeover. The district’s financials had been harmed by downturns in state funding, overspending and bond debt service obligations. To alleviate the hemorrhaging of red ink, the district layed off 80 employees and reduced bus service, along with other economies.

Supervisors Abet Administrator In Burying Audit Critical Of ARMC

(August 23) In one of the final acts of bureaucratic housekeeping at the county hospital before a new medical director arrives next month, the hospital’s administrator this week prevailed upon the county board of supervisors to ensure that the findings of an internal audit of hospital operations remains beyond the scrutiny of the public and taxpayers. Moreover, the manner in which the item was presented limits the likelihood that the supervisors themselves will review the audit.
Patrick Petre, the director of San Bernardino County’s Arrowhead Regional Medical Center, cited a section of the state evidence code to keep under wraps a recently completed audit of the hospital’s operations that was reviewed by a handful of county employees  who serve as a liaison between the hospital’s medical staff and the board of supervisors.
The board voted unanimously to comply with Petre’s request. That action came less than three weeks before Dr. Richard Pitts will assume the position of the hospital’s medical director on September 9.
A cloud has hung over the county hospital since February 2010, when California state and federal investigators began looking into alleged irregularities at the institution, including faulty diagnoses that led to the deaths or permanent injuries of patients; billing fraud with regard to descriptions of services rendered; a fiduciary conflict of interest in which the hospital’s former medical director, Dr. Dev GnanaDev, owned the medical corporation, Arrowhead Regional Surgical Group, Inc., which had an exclusive contract for the provision of certain surgical procedures at the hospital; the hospital’s alleged free provision of off-the-books medical care to individuals, including members of the board of supervisors and high ranking county officials; inadequate supervision and oversight of the emergency room, violations of law with regard to the use of physical restraints on patients in the hospital’s behavioral health ward, together with inadequate peer review of the hospital’s policies and practices.
The county initiated the first of a series of internal audits shortly after the state and federal probes were revealed as being under way.
In May 2010, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services threatened to suspend  Medicare and Medi-Cal payments to  ARMC  if the county hospital did not show improvement in operations and patient care.
On November 4, 2010  a team of more than 20 investigators, including FBI agents, members of the U.S. Attorney’s office and district attorney’s office employees, served search warrants at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center, hauling away thousands of documents and computer files. No criminal charges were ever filed, but the county’s internal examinations of its operations intensified.
Last January, GnanaDev, who had come under continuous criticism because of the perceptions of the conflict involving his dual role as the hospital’s medical director and as owner and head of the surgery group with a hospital contract, departed as medical director and was replaced by Dr. Emily Ebert, who has served the last eight months as the acting medical director of the county hospital.
Doctors and other medical professionals who work at the hospital reported that Petre was unwilling or unable to assert his overarching management authority at the hospital to hold GnanaDev in check, and had shrunk from providing recommendations to the board of supervisors that would have curtailed GnanaDev’s domination of hospital operations and the promotion of his surgical group’s financial interests, even in the face of indications this created a circumstance that was contrary to the interests of some of the hospital’s patients.  Petre’s reluctance could be at least partially explicated by the consideration that some of the members of the board of supervisors had been the recipients of the off-the-books care rendered at the hospital.
In May a number of the problematic issues that have plagued the hospital over the last four years were discussed in depth during a so-called joint conference committee meeting that involved Petre, members of the hospital staff and county employees designated to report to members of the board of supervisors. The results of recent audits of Arrowhead Regional Medical Center’s operations were reviewed, including and together with further specific information  regarding misfeasance and malfeasance by hospital staff.
This week, at the board of supervisors’ Tuesday meeting, Petre recommended to the board that it “accept the joint conference committee meeting minutes of the meeting held on May 15, 2013, and direct the clerk of the board to maintain as confidential closed session documents pursuant to Evidence Code Sections 1157 et seq.”
In making his presentation, Petre disclosed that the members of the board of supervisors had not themselves seen the audits or been directly provided with information pertaining to the hospital’s operations. Rather, Petre said, the information had been provided to “liaisons,” who were tasked to report to the supervisors the main points of what was discussed and could provide or withhold details as they deemed fit.
“On March 22, 1994, the board of supervisors established a joint conference committee to serve as a communication mechanism between the board of supervisors as the governing body of Arrowhead Regional Medical Center (ARMC) and the medical staff of ARMC,” Petre said. “A meeting of the joint conference committee was held on May 15, 2013. Discussion items at this meeting included updates on the ARMC facility, inpatient behavioral health unit, medical staff issues, legislation, and state and federal budgets as recorded on the meeting minutes. Pursuant to Evidence Code sections 1157 et seq., reports of hospital audit or quality assurance committees may be ordered to be held in closed session. Documents pertaining to the closed session portion of the joint conference committee meeting are available for review by the governing body, but shall otherwise be maintained as confidential by the clerk of the board.”
Many of the actions and activities at the hospital at issue in the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and FBI probes and the subsequent audits were extant before a majority of the current board of supervisors were in office. Supervisor Janice Rutherford was not elected until November 2010 and did not  assume office until January 2011. Current supervisors James Ramos and Robert Lovingood were elected in November 2012 and were sworn into office in January.  In 2010, allegations surfaced that former supervisor Paul Biane, who was defeated by Rutherford later that year, was a beneficiary of the off-the-record medical care at the county hospital, as was supervisor Josie Gonzales, who remains on the board. In this way, an indirect byproduct of Petre’s recommendation was to protect Gonzales and prevent her from being embarrassed in front of her board colleagues.  The timing of this week’s action also serves to keep the information from being available to Pitts.
Those knowledgeable about the contents of the hospital audit material and the items discussed at the May 15 joint conference committee meeting include deputy county counsel Frank Salazar; Monique Allen, who is on the county administrative office staff; and deputy executive officer for finance and administration Valerie Clay.

LA City, SB County Panel Picks Herald Airport Change

(August 23) A week after Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti made major revisions to the Los Angeles Airport Commission, the county of San Bernardino made three key appointments to a panel that has one of its precepts the eventual wresting of Ontario Airport from Los Angeles.
Los Angeles entered into a joint powers agreement with the city of Ontario in 1967 to assume management of Ontario Airport, a facility that was relatively underused at that time with fewer than 200,000 passengers per year. Using its leverage in controlling gate positions at Los Angeles International Airport, Los Angeles induced many airlines to fly into and out of Ontario, and ridership there increased dramatically. In 1985, after all conditions spelled out in the 1967 agreement were met, Ontario deeded the airport to Los Angeles for no consideration. Los Angeles, under the aegis of its Division of Airports and Los Angeles World Airports, the corporate entity that runs Los Angeles International Airport, Ontario International Airport and Van Nuys Airport, invested heavily in Ontario Airport and in 2007 passenger traffic there peaked at 7.2 million.
In the last six years, however, passenger counts at Ontario Airport have declined significantly and Ontario officials have charged that Los Angeles World Airports is deliberately mismanaging Ontario Airport to increase ridership at Los Angeles International Airport. Ontario has waged a three-year campaign aimed at inducing Los Angeles to surrender ownership of Ontario Airport back to Ontario. Last year, Ontario and the county of San Bernardino formed the Ontario International Airport Authority, which is chartered to serve as the entity to gain ownership and control of the airport and manage its operations once Los Angeles cedes possession  of it. Ontario has severely maligned Los Angeles World Airports Executive Director Gina Marie Lindsey throughout its campaign, and has been equally critical of Los Angeles’ seven-member airport commission.
Last week, the newly sworn-in Garcetti replaced six of the seven members on that panel. While he retained one of the incumbents – Valeria Velasco, an attorney from Playa del Rey, he brought in new blood to replace the balance of the board.
Garcetti’s appointments are Matthew Johnson, a civic leader and entertainment lawyer;  Bea Hsu, a real estate developer and former advisor to California State Controller Kathleen Connell; Gabriel Eshaghian, a real estate investment executive who has worked in both the travel and airline industries; Jackie Goldberg, a former Los Angeles City Council member and state assemblywoman; Cynthia Telles, a local civic leader and former vice president of the Los Angeles Ethics Commission; and Sean Burton, a former Warner Bros. executive, real estate developer and attorney.
In San Bernardino County and Ontario in particular, there was hope that the newly composed airport commission would be amenable to Los Angeles eventually divesting itself of Ontario Airport, where fewer than 4.1 million passengers are projected to enplane this year.
This week, the San Bernardino Board of Supervisors named supervisor Gary Ovitt to the Ontario International Airport Inter Agency Collaborative along with San Bernardino County Chief Executive Officer Greg Devereaux and San Bernardino County Planning Director Terri Rahhal.
Ovitt and Devereaux will  serve as at-large mediators for the collaborative while Terri Rahhal will function as a technical advisor.

Court Makes Finding of Factual Innocence In Case Of Chino School Teacher

The San Bernardino County Superior Court has made a finding of factual innocence in the case of former Chino Valley Unified School District teacher Roger Talley, whose heretofore successful career as an educator was cut short last year when he was accused of molesting one of his students at Walnut Avenue Elementary School.
The court has concluded there was no basis for that accusation.
The court’s ruling only partially diminishes the anguish and trauma Talley has weathered since February 9, 2012, when a sixth-grade student accused the fifth grade teacher of inappropriate touching. The district placed him on administrative leave at once and contacted the Chino Police Department. Detectives with that department, who did a cursory investigation of the matter and succeeded in having the student repeat the claim, arrested Talley on charges of lewd acts on a child.
Talley maintained his innocence but the matter devolved into a full-blown spectacle when parents of children attending the school began distributing photocopies of a newspaper report of his arrest.
In the meantime, the district attorney’s office reviewed the file on the Talley case prepared by the police department and undertook its own investigation, questioning the alleged victim, other students, teachers and parents. On February 27, 2012 deputy district attorney Jason Anderson concluded there were insufficient grounds to proceed against Talley in that there was “a lack of specificity” in the alleged victim’s description of what had occurred, that there was “no corroboration” of the alleged victim’s account and that any conceivable case lodged against Talley “could not be proven beyond reasonable doubt.”
Nevertheless, with the atmosphere of rumor and accusation that persisted at Walnut Avenue Elementary and the hostility toward the school administration and Talley being voiced by some parents, the district resisted reinstating Talley and said that it was proceeding with its own investigation.
Though he had the backing of the Associated Chino Teachers, that organization limited to $20,000 the amount of money it would provide toward the legal effort to clear him and allow him to return to work. In April 2012, Talley acceded to resigning his teaching position. Tally, who began with the Chino Valley Unified School District in 2002 and was named Teacher of the Year at El Rancho Elementary School in 2004-05, has not worked as a school teacher since that time.
Talley retained attorney Marc Grossman, whose law firm filed a petition with the San Bernardino County Superior Court, seeking a review of the entire affair and a declaration of factual innocence
On July 5, the court entered a ruling of factual innocence relating to Talley.
Grossman said that despite the ordeal Talley had been put through, the outcome shows that “the system worked. I have to give credit to the way the DA handled this.”
In terms of the public’s perception, Grossman said people should bear in mind that there “are different standards at different stages of the law enforcement process.” Once the accusation was made, he said, the police department acted appropriately in that it was following a protocol that called for a standard of “suspicion or probable cause. After the student’s accusation, the police department applied the standard of probable cause, which is far below that of demonstration beyond any reasonable doubt. But the district attorney’s filing of cases should not be a mirror image of the bare minimum case presented by the police in their report. “
There was no plausible case against Talley, Grossman said. “There are reasons why there are issues with children testifying in court,” he said. “They often say things that are not true. They will often say things that their parents or other adults expect them to say or what they think they expect them to say. The gap in these standards allowed the investigative process to start, but the true circumstance would never have justified charges. The area Roger fell into was an extraordinary one. After the court looked at it, he was declared to be factually innocent, which means that by definition legally there was no reasonable cause to believe he committed the offense for which the arrest was made.  The district attorney’s office should be commended for exercising its own independent judgment.”
Talley has yet to reestablish the life he had before February 9, 2012.
“It is unfortunate for Roger,” Grossman said. “You cannot unring the bell. But he does not hold a grudge and he is trying to move forward with his life. He intends to get his teaching credential back and there is no reason he should not be teaching again.” Indeed Talley has now approached the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing to make a further review of his situation, including the continuation of his licensing to teach. A ruling from that panel with regard to his continued eligibility to teach is anticipated after that panel’s investigative arm completes its review.

Rialto PD Outfitting All Cops With Body Cameras

(August 23) As of September 1, all of Rialto’s police officers will be outfitted with body cameras, which will make video recordings of their interaction with the community during patrol and routine operations.
Rialto is the first city in San Bernardino County and among the first cities nationwide to arm the entirety of its street police force with the miniaturized devices. The cameras, worn on the uniforms, belts or eyeglasses of the officers are distinct from vehicle cameras, which have been in vogue with many police departments for a decade or more.
Rialto first provided the cameras to a number, though not all, of its uniformed officers in February 2012. The department so far has been pleased with the results. The city has now invested over $60,000 in securing individual mini-cameras for all 66 of its patrol officers.
According to the department, the acquisition of the limited number of high-tech gadgets 18 months ago translated to an 88 percent reduction in complaints filed against officers by members of the public over their first year of use. In addition, officers reported a 60 percent drop in their use of force as members of the community have learned that the department’s members  are carrying the cameras. Videos from the cameras in some instances have augmented other information contained in police reports, serving to make evidence against certain individuals charged in court with criminal activity stronger.
The cameras will now be worn by all uniformed patrol officers during all three shifts.
Rialto appears to be on the cutting edge of a trend that is likely to become an industry standard in the coming decades. Some hail the devices as a positive development that provides a tangible record of police activity in the field. Privacy advocates have been more critical as have some others, who point out that while the cameras do provide a partial visual record of policing activity, they do so only from the vantage of the officers and largely omit depicting a clear perspective of the officers themselves and their actions.