County Unemployment Rate Dipped Slightly In September & October

(November 27)  San Bernardino County’s unemployment rate declined to 9.4 percent in October, according to data released Friday by the California Employment Development Department (EDD).
That compares with an 8.7 percent unemployment rate for the entire state of California in September and October. The state rate declined from 8.9 percent in August.
San Bernardino County’s employment rate has lagged well behind the rest of the country for the last six years. In September, the U.S. unemployment was 7.2 percent. It increased to 7.3 percent in October.
San Bernardino County’s jobless rate had registered above 10 percent from 2009 until earlier this year.

Redlands Commits $4M Toward $9.4M In Improvements At Two Intersections

The Redlands City Council last week committed $4 million in city money toward the rehabilitation of two of the more substandard of the city’s major intersections.
All told, $9.4 million, including the city’s share, $4.5 million from San Bernardino County’s Transportation agency known by its acronym SANBAG and a $1 million state grant will be used for long-deferred improvements to the intersections at Redlands Boulevard and Alabama Street as well as Redlands Boulevard and Colton Avenue.
The city council on November 19 awarded a contract for the project to All American Asphalt, though the city must yet purchase additional right-of-way for the project to move forward as planned. Initiation of the project is also dependent upon coordination with Southern California Edison.
The intersection improvement designs have been on the drawing board since 2003.
Traffic engineers are calling for the realignment of the Redlands and Alabama intersection to eliminate a 22-foot offset across the intersection and accommodate additional turn lanes.
The Redlands and Colton intersection will be transformed to a “T” intersection and Alabama will be expanded by three lanes. A traffic signal will be added, along with lighting, storm drains and an alteration of the railroad track and crossings to meet with future passenger rail service demands.
City engineers said the intersections were among the city’s most hazardous, particularly the one at Redlands Boulevard and Alabama Street.

Forest Service Conducting Controlled Burns In San Bernardino Mountains

(November 22)  The Forest Service has begun its winter prescribed burn program in the San Bernardino National Forest with the onset of predicted favorable weather conditions, officials said.
According to John Miller, an official spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service, “The San Bernardino National Forest has started this season’s prescribed burning program. Winter burning projects also will resume as part of a continuing effort to reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfire and improve forest health.   The prescribed fire program will continue through the winter months as weather and conditions permit.”
Prescribed fires and pile burning are intended to reduce the amount of vegetation, such as needles, small plants, brush, and small trees, which can carry fire from the forest floor into the treetops. Studies have shown that prescribed fires will stimulate the growth of grasses, forbs and shrubs that provide food for deer, mountain quail and other wildlife.
The ignition of all prescribed burns is dependent on the availability of personnel and equipment, appropriate conditions, and is done in coordination with the National Weather Service and South Coast Air Quality Management District, Miller said. The consultation with the weather service and air quality officials before and during prescribed burns is intended to help manage smoke production and minimize impacts as much as possible, Miller said.
Fire managers follow a burn plan that outlines the “prescription” or environmental conditions such as temperature, wind, fuel moisture, ventilation, and relative humidity that need to be present before the project begins. When the criteria are met, crews implement, monitor, and patrol each burn to ensure it meets the goals and objectives outlined by managers, according to the Fire Service.
At present, firefighters are conducting burnings of slash and debris piles adjacent to Forest Service Fire Stations.  Signs will be posted along the roadways to alert passersby to the burning activity.  The Forest Service will send out occasional reminders to the public, warning of  potential smoke in the air. In addition to the station pile burning, the public may also see smoke from pile burning activities in the following San Bernardino Mountain forest locations over the winter months:  a prescribed fire near State Highway 38 as part of the Angelus Oaks Community Defense Project; and slash and debris piles burning on Forest Road 1S07 Pisgah Peak Road, Oak Glen near Pisgah Peak; Yucaipa Ridge, north of Oak Glen; Forest Road 2N10, Southside of Big Bear Lake, west of Bear Mountain; Forest Road 2N93, south of Sugarloaf, west of Erwin Lake; Forest Road 2N19, south of Green Valley Lake; SR173 north of Grass Valley Rd in Lake Arrowhead; and SR18 near Heaps Peak Helibase and Arboretum.
“We appreciate the public’s tolerance of some smoke impacts in order to achieve the San Bernardino National Forest’s fire prevention and resource management goals, and the public can call our local offices to find out where we are burning,” Miller said.
The phone number for the Big Bear Ranger Station & Discovery Center is 909-382-2790. The phone number for the Lytle Creek Ranger Station is 909-382-2851.

37 Get Elected Office Berths Without Polling A Single Vote

(November 20)  In San Bernardino County, candidates for public office have spent an astounding amount of money to get elected.
In 2006, for example, then-First District Supervisor Bill Postmus spent $3.2 million in his successful effort to unseat the then-incumbent county assessor, Don Williamson. In the last decade, the cost of campaigning for office has escalated dramatically. In serious contests for county supervisor, even losers have spent as much as a quarter of a million dollars.
Indeed, holding public office in San Bernardino County, as elsewhere, has become highly prized. Candidates, to get elected to a single four-year term, will expend, through their electoral committees, on the order of ten times or more what they can realize in salary for even the highest-paying of the posts up for a vote. And as an examination of the electioneering materials put out by many of those candidates demonstrates, there is no depth an ambitious seeker of office will not go to in maligning his or her opponent, no questionable tactic he or she will not explore, no departure from decorum he or she will not exploit in the effort to convince his or her constituents he or she should be selected to lead the community.
Paradoxically, however, some elected positions do not attract enough contenders to make a race of it, and by merely filing for the post, an individual can fill it. In other cases, there is no interest in the position at all and no one was on the ballot when those posts came up for a vote.
Because an insufficient number of candidates competed for 19 positions up for election at various districts or governmental entities around the county, San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters Michael Scarpello this week induced the board of supervisors to simply appoint those candidates who ran unopposed. He also convinced the board to appoint 18 others to board positions on six bodies after no candidates sought election to those positions.
In the Baker Community Services District where there was an election for three open seats, only three candidates entered the race. In the Barstow Heights Community Services District, one individual sought election for three board positions. In the Crestline Village Water District four sought election to four open positions on the board. In the Daggett Community Services District three candidates vied for three positions. In the Juniper-Riviera County Water District, two board positions were up for election and that race attracted only two candidates. Three candidates ran for three positions on the Rim of the World Recreation and Park District. In the race for three board positions in the San Bernardino Valley Water Conservation, just three candidates sought election. In those cases, Scarpello called upon the board of supervisors to “appoint candidates, in lieu of election, to fill contest vacancies.” His request, he said applied to both the “August 27, 2013 Consolidated Mail Ballot Election and the November 5, 2013 Consolidated Election, whereby these contests are under the jurisdiction of the board of supervisors.”
Under the election code, Scarpello said, the board of supervisors has the authority and duty to “make appointments to contests under its jurisdiction where the number of persons filing a declaration of candidacy for various offices was either equal to or fewer than the number of positions to be filled for those respective offices (unopposed), and where no person filed a declaration of candidacy for office. California Elections Code §10515 provides that the registrar of voters shall request that the supervising authority (board of supervisors for these two elections) make these appointments, and do so at a meeting held prior to the Monday before the first Friday in December.”
Accordingly, Scarpello called upon the board to appoint Kenneth E. Hall, Jessie Jenkins and Rich Johnson to the Baker Community Services District for 4 year terms; Robert M. Stapp to the Barstow Heights Community Services District Board of Directors for a 4 year term; Alan E. Clanin, Darel Davis and Steven Farrell to 4-year terms on the Crestline Village Water District Board;  Bruce D. Risher to a 4-year term on the Crestline-Lake Arrowhead Water Agency Board of Directors; Joseph Morris Jr, and  Sally Vintus to 4-year terms and Mark Staggs to a 2-year term on the Daggett Community Services District Board; Eric L. Koester and Susan J. Mulvaney to 4-year terms on the Juniper-Riviera County Water District Board of Directors;
Richard Lavin, Dave Roughton and Carol Tesley to 4-year terms on the Rim of the World Recreation and Park
District Board; and Melody A. Henriques McDonald, John Longville and David E. Raley to 4-year terms on the San Bernardino Valley Water Conservation District Board of Directors.
Since Robert Stapp was the only candidate in the Barstow Heights Community Services District Board race and three positions were up for election, Daryl Schendel was appointed to a 4-year term on that body and a 2-year term was conferred upon Jeanette Hayhurst.
In five other board races, those for positions with the Apple Valley Foothill County Water District, the Apple Valley heights Water District, the Running Springs Water District, the Thunderbird County Water District and the Yucca Valley Airport District, no candidates showed an interest in running before the end of the filing period. As such Scarpello asked the board of supervisors to appoint volunteers to those board positions who were recruited by his office or staff members of the board of supervisors in whose districts those jurisdictions lie.
In this way, Karen Madison, Sam Kell, and James A. Thompson, Jr. were appointed to 4-year terms on the Apple Valley Foothill County Water District Board of Directors and Sharon Silva-Houts was appointed to a 2-year term on the Apple Valley Foothill County Water District Board; Larry Hunter, Jacob S. Johnson and Patricia Duwel were appointed to 4-year term on the Apple Valley Heights Water District Board of Directors; Kenneth Ayers, Henry M. Heredia and Pam Bennett were appointed to 4-year terms on the Running Springs Water District Board; Lynn A. Lindberg  and Betty L. Kreml were appointed to 4-year term on the Thunderbird County Water District Board and Victoria Stemen was given a 2-year berth on the Thunderbird County Water District Board; and Robert R. Dunn, Robert A Miehle and Michael C. Huhn were appointed to 4-year terms on the Yucca Valley Airport District Board of Directors.

Judge Rejects Pension System’s Request To Appeal SB’s Bankruptcy Filing

(November 18) RIVERSIDE—U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Meredith Jury, who is overseeing the city of San Bernardino’s Chapter 9 bankruptcy filing, on November 15 rejected a request by the city’s largest creditor to challenge the city’s bankruptcy eligibility at the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
That creditor, the California Public Employees Retirement System, has disputed San Bernardino’s contention that it is in dire fiscal straits since shortly after the municipality’s filing of its August 2, 2012 bankruptcy petition. San Bernardino, which currently has a $25 million annual obligation to the retirement system, withheld more than $14 million  in pension fund payment from July 2012 until July of this year. The city wants to continue to make partial payments until such time as it gets back on its feet financially.
In responses to the city’s filings, the retirement system has said that San Bernardino possesses untapped assets that could be liquidated and is simply skipping out on its financial responsibility. It has said San Bernardino is not eligible for bankruptcy.
Jury has consistently ruled that San Bernardino is as insolvent as it claims. In August, she ruled that the city’s bankruptcy should be granted pursuant to a pendency plan by which the city continues to pay its employees and other expenses critical to its day-to-day operations but services its other debts on the basis of the limited financial means available to it.
In dissenting from Jury’s rulings, the California Public Employees Retirement System, known by its acronym CalPERS, has maintained that it has special status among the city’s creditors and that the city cannot be excused from making good on its obligations to the pension fund. CalPERS maintains that it is a creature of the state government, and as such merits a first place in line among those to whom the city is in arrears. Jury has rejected those arguments. In its dissent CalPERS requested leave to appeal. San Bernardino responded by arguing that remaining in bankruptcy court before Jury is the appropriate venue for coming to terms with all of its creditors, including CalPERs, in accordance with a still confidential and tentative plan for structured repayments which the city council approved in October. The plan is now subject to court-supervised mediation and the city claims a CalPERS’ appeal at this point is counterproductive to the mediation process.
Jury found that bringing the 9th Circuit into the matter would be “duplicative and not an efficient use of judicial resources.”
Unlike San Bernardino, two other large California cities that have filed for bankruptcy protection – Vallejo and Stockton – are continuing to make payments to CalPERS. In San Bernardino, which is now staggering under the end result of extremely generous salary and benefit packages granted to city employees as the result of aggressive public employee union pressuring of the city’s elected leaders, city officials are now exploring whether the city can use bankruptcy to reduce its pension obligations.
CalPERS, which perceives that San Bernardino prevailing in that effort would set a precedent that would be applicable up and down the state and compromise its ability to continue to deliver retirement benefits to all of its members, is digging in for a battle royal.  Consequently, CalPERS did not accept Jury’s ruling as the final say in the matter and has taken its request to a U.S. District Court judge.

SoCal Edison Removes All Chino Hills Power Towers

(November 18) Four months after it was ordered by the California Public Utilities Commission to do so, Southern California Edison has completed the dismantling of the 197-foot high transmission towers the utility giant had located along a 3.5 mile span of Chino Hills  as part of the so-called Tehachapi Line.
Utilizing two cranes, including one with a lifting capacity of 250 tons, Edison crews cut the tubular poles into sections and then lowered them to the ground. The crews began removing the poles on September 25. The last of the structures yet standing, at the hill near Peyton and Morningfield drives, was removed on November 9.
In 2009, the California Public Utilities Commission, over the city of Chino Hills’ protest, granted Southern California Edison clearance to erect a series of 197-foot high power transmission towers through the heart of 44.7-square mile Chino Hills along a long-existing power corridor easement owned by the utility.
Fearing a host of problems from the imposition of the towers, including significant negative impacts on property values in the city, the Chino Hills City Council authorized the expenditure of over $2.3 million to employ attorneys and make other efforts to contest the Public Utility Commission’s action, including a suit against Southern California Edison alleging the company had “overburdened” the power line easements. That legal effort failed when West Valley Superior Court Judge Keith D. Davis ruled the California Public Utilities Commission has exclusive jurisdiction regarding the route used by Edison.  Davis’s ruling was upheld when Chino Hills appealed it to the 4th District Court of Appeal.
In 2011, Edison erected 18 of the towers within Chino Hills within a portion of its 150-foot wide right-of-way, which runs for 5.8 miles from Tonner Canyon to the Riverside County line, before a city appeal to the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) and Public Utilities Commission Chairman Michael Peevey in particular succeeded in a temporary halt to the towers’ construction being granted in November 2011 while a potential undergrounding alternative was explored.
Ultimately, in July, the California Public Utilities Commission board of directors voted 3-2 to reverse its 2009 decision and directed Southern California Edison to underground the lines, which are intended to link what is planned as the world’s largest windfarm consisting of hundreds of electricity-producing windmills in Kern County to the Los Angeles Metropolitan basin.
According to Edison, the dismantling of the towers cost nearly $4 million. Edison is now taking bids on undergrounding the project through a 3.5 mile portion of the city. The anticipated cost for that is $224 million to $300 million. The remaining 1.5 mile stretch of the Tehachapi Line through Chino Hills in the area known as Oak Tree Downs will remain above ground.

Once A Democratic Stalwart, Baca Is Now Seen As A Pariah Within His Own Party

(November 21) REDLANDS—For thirteen years, ending a little less than a year ago, Joe Baca was a member of Congress, with stature as one of the senior members of a growing number of Hispanic Democrats in the House of Representatives, exemplifying a key component of the party and its future. This month, in seeming concert, Democratic Party heavyweights, local and national, were endeavoring to disenfranchise him entirely, and neuter him as any sort of political force.
Baca, who since 1999 had represented California in the Washington D.C.’s lower house in the heavily Democratic-leaning  42nd and 43rd Congressional districts with solid Democratic support, in 2012 found himself most logically ushered into the newly drawn 31st Congressional District as a result of the reapportionment following the 2010 Census. The 31st was a Democratic-leaning district as well, but the Democratic-registration advantage there was only seven percent over the Republicans. Incumbent Congressman Gary Miller, whose 42nd district in northeast Orange, southeast Los Angeles and southwest San Bernardino counties had likewise been reapportioned out from underneath him, elected against running against fellow Republican Ed Royce in the newly-draw 39th District and instead declared his intention of wrestling Baca for the voters’ nod in the newly drawn 31st 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.
Baca, perhaps fearing Miller’s prodigious fundraising ability, opted to run in the neighboring 35th Congressional District, which was even more heavily laden with Democrat voters. And, indeed, Baca appeared to be a shoo-in in the 35th, where he cruised to a relatively convincing victory in the June 2012 primary, capturing 12,619 votes or 47.17 percent to 9,078 or 33.93 percent that went to then-state senator Gloria Negrete-McCleod, another Democrat, and  5,058 votes or 18.9 percent, that went to Anthony Vieyra, a Green Party Candidate.
In 2012, California had switched to an open primary system, which ended sequestered party ballots and effectively ended the tradition of guaranteeing that a Democrat would face a Republican in the November general election. Instead, the open primary led to setting up a November race between the two highest vote-getters in June, regardless of party affiliation. Thus, a confident Baca last fall squared off against Negrete-McLeod. On the strength of his primary showing, his incumbency, his perceived fundraising advantage, his superior name recognition, and his unwillingness to engage in a bare-knuckle political slugfest against a woman who was like him Democrat and Hispanic, Baca waged little more than a minimalist campaign, fully anticipating he would easily pick up at least three percent of the vote that had gone to Vieyra in the primary campaign to put him over the top.
In the final weeks before the general election on November 6, however, Negrete-McLeod’s campaign was infused with $3.8 million in donations from a political action committee controlled by Republican New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, which paid for a $2.3 million television advertising blitz during the last week of the campaign. Caught flatfooted and unable to respond in kind to both a bevy of negative hit pieces that attacked him on his record and upbeat mailers that lionized Negrete-McLeod for her service in the California legislature, Baca saw the election slip away, with Negrete-McLeod capturing 61,065 votes or 54.35 percent to his 51,281 votes or 45.65 percent.
Meanwhile, over in the 31st District, which encompasses parts of Upland and Rancho Cucamonga, and stretches eastward across San Bernardino County through a large portion of Fontana, Rialto, Colton, San Bernardino and Redlands, four Democrats – Pete Aguilar, Justin Kim, Rita Ramirez-Dean, and Renea Wickman sought election last year, as did Miller. In addition, another Republican, Bob Dutton, joined the fray in the 2012 primary. 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.
Now 66, Baca is unwilling to hang up his political spikes and has given every indication he intends to make a comeback by challenging Miller next year. Despite the consideration that he shied away from battling it out with Miller last year, his candidacy has some viability.
In addition to the name recognition Baca brings to the political table, he possesses, as a former member of Congress, 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, known as the 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.
TransCanada is just one of the big name, big money players Baca is counting on to boost his electoral effort.
Whatever his overall chances, the heart of the Democratic Party is not behind Baca. Rather, it has locked onto Aguilar, the current mayor in the city of Redlands, as its best hope to reclaim primacy in the 31st Congressional District.
With no little justification, the Democrats consider the 31st District to be one that should naturally fall 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. Independent political appraisers see the 31st as a Democratic asset as well.
Even before Miller outpolled Dutton in November 2012, Democratic strategists were conferring about what steps could be taken to ensure that Democratic disarray in 2014 does not perpetuate Miller’s incumbency beyond the current Congress. In short order, a game plan was hatched by which Aguilar, who had polled the most votes among the four Democrats in the 2012 primary, was chosen as the logical party standard bearer. By promoting Aguilar early, engaging in brisk fundraising on his behalf and warding off any other Democrats so a concentrated party electoral effort to advance Aguilar can be mounted, they believe Aguilar can beat Miller in a toe-to-toe slugfest a year from now, despite Miller’s incumbency and formidable fundraising capability.
Relatively early on, well-connected Democratic-functionaries acted to boost Aguilar.  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.
Party leaders convinced California’s two senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, to endorse Aguilar. Party donors, inside and outside California, were encouraged to provide him with campaign cash, and money started pouring into Aguilar’s political war chest. More attention was drawn to him, ensuring even more contributions, when the Washington-based news organization, Politico, in July named Aguilar one of “50 Politicos to watch in 2013.”
Despite all that, Baca remains in place as a candidate. Not only that, two other Democrats have declared their candidacies in the 31st next year and they are further compromising any chance for party unison heading into the June primary. Eloise Gomez Reyes, an attorney and longtime Democratic activist, and Danny Tillman, a school board member from San Bernardino and a one-time close associate of former California Assemblyman Jerry Eaves, don’t appear to be responding to their party’s signals to get out of the race. While neither can boast anything approaching the funding at the beck of Miller, Aguilar or Baca, both seem to genuinely believe they have sufficient charisma, existing support, and name recognition to get one of the two top spots in the primary and then follow-up to prevail in November 2014.
This leaves Aguilar with a double-dilemma: to ensure at least a second-place showing in June, he will need to go on the attack against one or all of his Democratic rivals, a move he would rather not make. Moreover, to engage in such attacks, he will need to squander money he would rather retain for the big fight against Miller in the general election.
Clearly, Aguilar, who has already made a good impression on high ranking members of his party, needs to do something to distinguish himself from the pack of Democratic candidates in the minds of those whose decision will ultimately count next year, i.e., the voters in the 31st District. Despite the money he is raising and despite the endorsements he is accruing, two recent polls show that among the 31st District voters, Miller and Baca have the most name recognition, the highest positive name identification totals and that Miller and Baca are ahead of the other three candidates in the race.
Aguilar has yet to undertake a campaign against Baca in earnest, though such an effort will be very likely if the status quo continues, involving, perhaps, unprecedented early mailers and advertising to get the Aguilar campaign off the dime and into gear. At present, a fierce behind-the-scenes battle to cut Baca off at the pass is being waged.  One sign of how cutthroat the completion between Aguilar and Baca is finds demonstration in how local Democratic clubs have been pressured by party higher-ups to suspend party and club rules to make early endorsements of Aguilar.
In September, in a rare if not unprecedented move, the Redlands Area Democratic Club endorsed Aguilar. Normally, party clubs hold off on making endorsements until after, in some cases  well after, the filing deadline for a particular office is closed, giving all potential candidates an opportunity to make the case for their candidacy. The Redlands Area Democratic Club’s action defied that tradition. In reaction, the Democratic Central Committee adopted new rules and bylaws that called for Democratic clubs holding off until after the final filing date for office to ensure that no candidates are left out of the endorsement evaluation process.
Yet so intense is the pressure to promote Aguilar and thereby foreclose Baca’s candidacy, four more Democratic clubs – the West End Democratic Club, the East Valley Democratic Club, the Helen L. Doherty Democratic Club, the Stonewall Democratic Club – have announced their support for Aguilar, in defiance of the new rule.
“Our members voted unanimously to endorse Pete Aguilar for Congress because of his proven record of delivering results for the citizens of Redlands and his strong commitment to improving the lives of hard-working families throughout San Bernardino County. Pete’s just the leader we need to make sure that Congress is working for us,” the clubs’ leadership announced in a joint communiqué.
Baca said he was disappointed the four clubs’ leadership and members had broken a party charter rule, but that he was confident that among the district’s Democratic voters at large, he retained a commanding lead over Aguilar.
Steve Chapman, the president of the Redlands Area Democratic Club, said Aguilar’s support by a key constituency within the Democratic Party – public employees – distinguished him from the other candidates in the race. “Aguilar’s leadership through difficult financial times and fair treatment of municipal employees has been very impressive,” Chapman said.

Saenz Shutters Investigative Unit In First Act As SB City Attorney

(November 18)  Newly installed San Bernardino City Attorney Gary Saenz quickly moved to terminate all nine of his office’s investigators as the first significant act of his term in office.
Saenz was elevated to the city attorney’s post as a consequence of the successful recall effort against his predecessor, Jim Penman, who had served as elected city attorney for nearly 26 years.
Penman was targeted for recall in April by San Bernardino Residents For Responsible Government, a group that sought to remove the mayor, all seven city council members and the city attorney in the wake of the city’s 2012 bankruptcy filing.
Ultimately, the group failed to qualify recall questions against council members Rikke Van Johnson, Fred Shorett, Virginia Marquez, Chas Kelley, Robert Jenkins and it dropped the recall attempt against mayor Patrick Morris after Morris opted not to run for reelection in November. But the group did qualify recall votes against Penman, councilwoman Wendy McCammack and councilman John Valdivia. Valdivia survived the vote but McCammack and Penman did not.
Saenz, who competed as an alternative city attorney candidate against Tim Prince during the November 5 balloting, prevailed in that contest. On November 13, he was sworn into office. The next day, he cashiered all nine of the investigators working for him.
Under Penman, who was first elected in 1987, the investigative arm of his office was expanded dramatically.  Penman maintained that a substantial investigative staff had not been his idea but rather one that was suggested by former city manager Fred Wilson as a way of lessening the burden on police department investigators who were being detailed to look into civil issues and thus were diverted from their province of criminal probes. Whether or not the idea originated with Penman, the city attorney took advantage of the opportunity to draw to himself more power through the acquisition of resources of potential political and authoritative application.
He had recruited investigators almost exclusively from the ranks of retired law enforcement, individuals over the age of 50 who were drawing substantial pensions. To ensure that they did not lose those pensions, they were hired on a part time basis, being paid $32 per hour and working no more than 960 hours per year.
Some of the investigators’ function was legitimate and related to civil issues as well as the city’s  earnest effort to expand the city’s code and civil enforcement processes. Nevertheless, there were accusations that the detectives were also being marshaled as a political hit squad, moving into provinces well beyond their charter, digging up derogatory information pertaining to Penman’s political adversaries and generally abusing their authorty. Indisputably, the investigators’ first loyalties were to their boss and his agenda, professional, political, personal or otherwise.
In time, Penman would acquire a reputation of acting in manner that went beyond his elected authority of city attorney. Instead of merely acting as an advisor on legal matters, he became actively involved in influencing policy decisions or seeking to do so. At city council meetings, he routinely went to the public speaker’s podium to weigh in on matters before the council.
Occasionally, charges that Penman was misusing the investigative staff as well as seeking to expand the city attorney’s authority beyond that conferred upon him by the city charter was made. He was called upon to curtail his office’s investigative activities and reduce the size of his detective unit. He defied those requests, expanding the number of positions over the years, installing retired undersheriff Bob Peppler as the unit supervisor, who until last week oversaw eight investigators. After the economic downturn and dwindling revenues pinched all of the city’s departments and it was suggested that his investigative staff should be subject to the same economies as were imposed elsewhere at City Hall, Penman stubbornly refused to downsize his investigative staff, going so far as saying he would simply balance his budget by decreasing the number of outside lawyers he was using to augment his in-house stable of attorneys to keep his investigative reach intact.
Beneath the surface was tension between the city attorney’s office and the police chief and the upper echelon of the police department over the investigators, borne of the impression that Penman was treading on the turf of the department, although no public airing of the dispute was made.
The perception that Penman was utilizing those investigators as a secret police force and political enforcement squad contributed toward the atmosphere that led to the recall effort against him.
In the run up to the recall vote, Saenz questioned the need for the city attorney’s office to employ investigators at all. He was sworn in as city attorney on November 13. Less than 24 hours later, he terminated Peppler and his eight underlings. Saenz then issued a statement that he considered the unit duplicative and that it interfered, overlapped and was not coordinated with the function of other city departments. He said the city would reap an immediate $250,000 to $300,000 savings as a result of transferring the unit’s activities to the police department, city clerk’s office and code enforcement division.
Despite Saenz’s clear indication during the recall election campaign that he intended to do away with the unit if Penman was recalled and he was selected to succeed him, the investigators talked of being blindsided and caught totally unaware when Saenz acted.
They said that the move was pennywise but pound foolish, given that the code enforcement activity they engaged in and the fine revenue they generated far outran the cost of maintaining the unit.

Judge Denies Motion To Jettison SEC Fraud Case Against Victorville

(November 21)  U.S. District Judge John  Kronstadt on November 14 denied defense motions to dismiss the Securities and Exchange Commission’s charges that the city of Victorville, its airport authority and assistant city manager Keith Metzler defrauded investors with a 2008 municipal bond offering.
On April 29 the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filed a suit against Victorville, the Southern California Logistics Airport Authority  and Metzler, who in addition to his role as assistant city manager is also the executive director of the airport authority. In its complaint, the SEC alleges those entities made misrepresentations to the purchasers of bonds, the proceeds from which were intended to assist in the development of Southern California Logistics Airport.
The airport authority was formed by the city of Victorville to facilitate the conversion of the former George Air Force Base, which was shuttered by the Department of Defense in 1992, into a civilian airport. The Southern California Logistics Airport Authority, which has as its board of directors all five members of the Victorville City Council, issued bonds which were sold to investors to generate revenue to be used in making the base’s civilian use conversion.
Fundamental to the SEC complaint is the allegation that the defendants made misrepresentations with regard to the value of four airport hangars that Victorville referenced in its official statement for an April 2008 bond offering. The value of all four hangars was listed at $65 million. The county assessor later valued the hangars at $27.7 million. The SEC alleges that the authority used the inflated estimated values to mislead bond investors.
Two separate responses to the SEC complaint  were filed on August 30, one from attorneys with the law firm of Arent Fox, which represents Victorville and the airport authority and another from the law firm of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, representing Metzler. Those responses augmented a joint motion filed by Arent Fox and Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe June 12 to dismiss the claims against their defendants.
Also charged in the SEC’s April complaint were  Kinsell, Newcomb & DeDios Inc., the underwriter for the bond offerings, that company’s owner, Jeffrey Kinsell, and Kinsell, Newcomb and DeDios investment banker Janees Williams.
The SEC complaint consists of nine claims for relief and one prayer for disgorgement. The authority is named in the first two claims for relief. Kinsell, Newcomb and DeDios [KND] is named in the third, fourth and eighth claims for relief. KND and Jeffrey Kinsell are named in the fifth and sixth claims for relief. Victorville, Jeffrey Kinsell, Williams and Metzler are named in the seventh claim for relief.  Jeffrey Kinsell and Williams are named in the ninth claim for relief.
In the prayer for disgorgement, which is a request for restitution of ill-gotten profits from security law violators, all the parties are named.
The responses filed August 30 pertain only to the city, the airport authority and Metzler. Lawyers for those defendants and the SEC presented verbal arguments to Kronstadt at a hearing October 28.
Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe maintain Metzler should not have been included in the case in that he twice provided correct information to KND prior to the bond sale about the true value of the hangars and that responsibility for any misrepresentations with regard to the value of the assets securing the bonds fell to the bond underwriters.
Arent Fox maintains that even if the hangar valuations were overstated, they were not material misrepresentations by which the financing of the bonds in terms of the city’s and airport authority’s ability to continue to make payments to the bondholders was threatened. At no time did the actual debt service ratio between the bonds and the assets securing them fall below the SEC’s own standard of 1.25, Arent Fox maintains, exonerating the city and the airport authority.
Kronstadt on November 14 ruled that the combined defenses’ overall rationale for dismissing the case against the three defendants was “unpersuasive,” and that the bulk of the matter should go forward. The judge did, however, make a determination that the SEC has not yet presented any convincing evidence to show the defendants improperly gained from their alleged misconduct, which is the basis of the SEC’s request for disgorgement. “Given that the SEC has engaged in a three year investigation into this matter, its decision to present no allegations support[ing] of the request for disgorgement is significant and telling,” Kronstadt found in dismissing that portion of the case against Victorville, the authority and Metzler.
Trial on the case will not begin until late 2014 or late winter 2015.