Apple Valley Approves Contractor For Yucca Loma Bridge Project

(November 21)  APPLE VALLEY—The Apple Valley Town Council on November 12 awarded a construction contract on the Yucca Loma Bridge project, providing local residents and those traversing the area with another means of crossing the Mojave River, providing a new route from Apple Valley to Spring Valley Lake and Victorville.
Based upon town staff’s recommendation, the council accepted a bid of $37,265,833.50 from  Security Paving Company, Inc.
In April of 2012, the Town of Apple Valley entered into a construction funding
agreement with the San Bernardino County Transportation Authority, by which the authority agreed to be responsible for 45% of the costs for constructing the Yucca Loma Bridge over the Mojave River. The town agreed to be responsible for the remaining 55% of the construction costs.
In May of 2013, the Town of Apple Valley entered into an agreement with the San
Bernardino County Transportation Authority and the county of San Bernardino, by which the authority agreed to be responsible for 82.2% of the Yates Road improvements construction costs and the county agreed to be responsible for the remaining 17.8% of the construction costs. The town agreed to serve as the lead agency in the construction of the project, in conjunction with the Yucca Loma Bridge construction, and to be responsible for 0% of the construction costs. As lead agency, the town agreed to advertise, award, administer and initially fund the construction activities.
Plans and specifications for the Yucca Loma Bridge over the Mojave River and the Yates Road improvements project were finalized on August 13, 2013.
On August 22, 2013, the town’s engineering department issued a notice inviting sealed bids. The town clerk’s office received 10 sealed bids in response to the notice. The project’s bid opening was held on October 10, 2013, at the town council chambers. Security Paving Company’s bid of $37,265,833.50 was followed by M.C.M. Construction, Inc.’s bid of  $37,777,777. Skanska USA bid $38,437,405.00. Riverside Construction Company offered to do the job for $38.712,915. OHL USA, Inc. bid $39,141,674, followed by Sundt’s bid of $39,150,219, and then one by Steve P. Rados, Inc. for $40,323,792.50. Sema Construction bid $41,197,275.30. C.C.Meyrs, Inc. bid $42,500,000. Golden State Bridge, Inc. was the high bidder at $43,156,473.27
Each of the opened bids was later reviewed and analyzed by the engineering department for compliance with the requirements outlined in the notice. The engineering department staff concluded that all 10 submitted bids were complete and that Security Paving Company, Inc., is, in fact, the lowest responsible and responsive bidder.
Work will consist of construction of the new Yucca Loma Bridge over the Mojave River, oadway and drainage improvements on Yucca Loma Road near Kasanka Trail,
grading, approach roadway and roadway widening to the west at Yates Road from the western approach to the Mojave Narrows Regional Park entrance, new sound walls along Yates Road, a new project restoration area on the north side of Yates Road, and a new outfall and interim regional drainage facility from Yucca Loma Road at Kasanka
Trail to the Mojave River, as indicated on the plans and specifications in city documents. The project will require minor traffic control for equipment access and construction of the project by the contractor and subcontractors as shown within the contract documents.
Coordination and compliance is also required by the contractor with the various regulatory agencies including, but not limited to, Army Corps of Engineers, Lahotan
Regional Water Quality Control Board, California Department of Fish and Wildlife and San Bernardino County Flood Control District.
Widening and utility improvements on Yates Road are also included in the project.

Salvation Army Serving Thanksgiving Dinners At Eight Inland Empire Locations

This Thanksgiving, the San Bernardino Corps of the Salvation Army will once again provide Thanksgiving dinner to help needy families of the Inland Valley.
The San Bernardino Corps will serve dinner from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, Nov. 28 at its Corps headquarters building on 746 West Fifth St.
“Times are really tough for everyone, especially at this time of year when people really need an extra hand to get them through the holiday season,” said Major Daniel Henderson, San Bernardino Corps officer. “We have a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner planned, complete with turkey, potatoes, gravy, stuffing, vegetables and pie, and all are welcome to join us.”
The annual Thanksgiving meal brings in hundreds of families, single mothers with children and individuals who do not have the means to provide themselves a Thanksgiving dinner. People come from throughout the Inland Valley for this Thanksgiving dinner, which often serves close to 300 people each year.
The hungry families are joined by hundreds of volunteers who help prepare the food and serve meals to the families. Along with asking volunteers to help serve food, the Salvation Army is encouraging people to donate turkeys or hams, side dishes and other food by calling (909) 888-1336.
“An effort of this size is not a one person show,” said Major Henderson. “Volunteers are needed to help prepare and serve the food along with decorating the facility. It truly is a community effort in making this event a success. Thanksgiving should be a special day for everyone, not just for those who can afford it.”
For more information about this Thanksgiving dinner, donations or volunteering for The Salvation Army San Bernardino Corps, call (909) 888-1336.
Other Salvation Army Corps in the Inland Valley are also planning Thanksgiving dinners. Dates, times and locations are as follows:
Salvation Army Riverside 3695 1st St., Riverside, CA 92501 (951) 784-4490    Nov. 27    11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
Salvation Army Redlands 838 Alta St., Redlands, CA 92374 (909) 792-6868    Nov. 28    1:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Salvation Army Moreno Valley
14075 Frederick St.,
Moreno Valley, CA 92553    (951) 653-9131
Nov. 28 11:00 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Salvation Army Ontario  1412 South Euclid Ave., Ontario, CA 91762    (909) 986-6748    Nov. 28 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.
Salvation Army Victor Valley 14585 La Paz Drive, Victorville, CA 92395    (760) 245-2545    Nov. 28    11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
Salvation Army Victor Valley/James A. Woody Community Center 13467 Navajo Road, Apple Valley, CA 92308    (760) 240-7880 Nov. 28    11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
Salvation Army Corps Hemet/Valle Vista Assembly of God 45252 E. Florida Ave., Hemet, CA 92544    (951) 791-9495    Nov. 28    11:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.
The Salvation Army San Bernardino Corps  may be able to provide emergency services including food; lodging for homeless or displaced families; clothing and furniture; assistance with rent or mortgage and transportation when funds are available. The Salvation Army Team Emergency Radio Network (SATERN) assists rescue workers and evacuees in such disasters as fires.
The Salvation Army is an evangelical part of the Universal Christian Church, and also offers evangelical programs for boys, girls and adults. One of the largest charitable and international service organizations in the world, The Salvation Army has been in existence since 1865 and in San Bernardino since 1887, supporting those in need without discrimination.
The San Bernardino Corps of The Salvation Army serves Bloomington, Colton, Grand Terrace, Highland, Rialto, and San Bernardino. Donations may always be made online at or by calling 1-(800)-SAL-ARMY.  The local number is (909) 888-1336.

Public Employee Union Contract Negotiation Issue Widens Warren Conflict

(November 15)  Acquanetta Warren this week found herself immersed in another conflict-of-interest controversy rising out of her dual roles as an elected municipal official and status as a municipal employee.
Previously the conflict questions that beset Warren pertained to her role as assistant public works director with the city of Upland brought on by her receipt of money as a political candidate based in Fontana. In the most recent case, the conflict impinges upon her role as Fontana mayor, which is complicated by her status as a member of a public employee union, an entity that has been and continues to be impacted by her votes on the city council, including ones that have been secretly cast in closed-door meetings beyond the scrutiny of the public.
Warren found herself in the eye of a political storm as a result of her recommendation, provided at the September 30 meeting of the Upland  Finance and Economic Development Committee, that the city council approve a franchise contract extension for Burrtec Waste Industries, Upland’s trash hauler since 2000. That extension would have provided for Burrtec remaining as the city’s refuse handler at least until 2028, an arrangement that would have precluded an open bid competition for the franchise for 28 years, while involving a contract with a total value exceeding $150 million. Over the last decade, as a successful candidate for the Fontana City Council and Fontana mayor as well as in an unsuccessful run for the State Assembly, Warren received $11,578 from Burrtec.
Questions arose as to whether her receiving that money from Burrtec and then advocating on behalf of the company as a hired/appointed official in Upland entailed a violation of three sections of the California Government Code that are outgrowths of the Political Reform Act of 1974, sections 87100, 87103 and 84308, all of which pertain to conflicts of interest, as well as Government Code Section 1090, which prohibits a public official from having a personal financial interest in any matter he or she acts upon as a public official.
At the September 30 committee meeting, Warren participated in her capacity as assistant public works director. Her comments lauding Burrtec’s performance under the current contract augmented recommendations by Upland Public Works Director Rosemary Horning and Upland City Manager Stephen Dunn, as well as by an outside firm, R3 Consultants, that the city extend the franchise contract.
Government Code Section 1090 states, “Members of the Legislature, state, county, district, judicial district, and city officers or employees shall not be financially interested in any contract made by them in their official capacity, or by any body or board of which they are members. Nor shall state, county, district, judicial district, and city officers or employees be purchasers at any sale or vendors at any purchase made by them in their official capacity.”
According to California Government Code Section 87100, “No public official at any level of state or local government shall make, participate in making or in any way attempt to use his/her official position to influence a governmental decision in which (s)he knows or has reason to know (s)he has a financial interest.”
Gov. Code Section  87103 (e) states “A public official has a financial interest in a decision within the meaning of Section 87100 if it is reasonably foreseeable that the decision will have a material financial effect, distinguishable from its effect on the public generally, on the official, a member of his or her immediate family, or… any donor of, or any intermediary or agent for a donor of, a gift or gifts aggregating two hundred fifty dollars ($250) or more in value provided to, received by, or promised to the public official within 12 months prior to the time when the decision is made.”
California Government Code Section 84308 pertains to limitations on an official’s ability to advocate or vote on issues impacting on a political donor as well as the need for a public official to disclose donations he or she has received from entities with dealings before the public agency  that official is acting on behalf of. According to the Fair Political Practices Commission’s web site, “Section 84308 prohibits solicitation or receipt of campaign contributions from parties, participants, or their agents, in proceedings involving licenses, permits, or other entitlements for use. The law also requires an official’s disqualification in those proceedings if the official has received campaign contributions of more than $250 from a party or participant within the 12 months preceding the decision. Finally, Section 84308 requires disclosure of such campaign contributions.”
According to Upland City Clerk Stephanie Mendenhall, Warren’s current statement of economic interests, known as a California Form 700, which she filed with Mendenhall’s office earlier this year and certified as being true under penalty of perjury, states she has “no reportable interests.”
As the Upland City Council’s October 28 vote on the Burrtec contract extension approached, the controversy with regard to Warren’s conflict in Upland hit a crescendo. Prior to the vote, city attorney Kimberly Hall Barlow offered an interpretation of Government Code sections 1090, 87100, 87103 (e) and 84308 that a legal conflict did not apply to Warren’s circumstance vis-à-vis Burrtec since in Upland she was acting as a “hired” official rather than an “appointed” one.
Nevertheless, the contretemps took its toll. On October 28, Mayor Ray Musser, speaking from the council dais in his remarks before the council voted, responded to Barlow’s pronouncement that no “legal” conflict existed with regard to Warren’s participation in the decision-making process, stating that “You can say it’s legally okay, but it is not okay ethically.” He voted against the contract extension, which failed on the resultant 2-2 vote.
This week, at the November 11 council meeting, Deidre Rodriguez, the interim general manager of the San Bernardino Public Employees Association, which represents 15,000 county and municipal workers in San Bernardino County, including those in Upland and Fontana, spoke to the council during the public comment portion of the meeting, addressing Musser in particular in an effort to defend Warren.
She lambasted Musser for his having suggested Warren had any sort of conflict and tore into the mayor for having questioned the ethics of Warren’s participation in the Burrtec discussions, suggesting that   Musser’s raising of the questions relating to Warren’s assumptive conflict during the discussion of the Burrtec contract constituted a violation of the Brown Act, California’s open meeting law.  She said Musser was “not speaking to an item on the agenda” when he called Warren’s conduct into question.
Rodriguez insisted the assistant public works director “was not involved in contract negotiations” with regard to Burrtec’s franchise or its extension.
“It is not against the law to serve the community as an employee and as a public official,” Rodriguez said. Warren, she said, “is stepping up and serving her community and her city. She is well respected. Like most of midmanagers, she is doing two to three jobs. Is this the treatment she deserves? The San Bernardino Public Employees Association stands behind Ms. Warren.”
Ironically, Rodriquez’s show of support for Warren in the relatively limited venue of Upland immediately resonated well beyond the Upland City Council’s meeting chambers. Rodriquez’s remarks, which like the rest of the meeting were broadcast on the local public access television station, vectored attention to the consideration that Warren’s status as a public employee in Upland represented by the San Bernardino Public Employees Association, previously put her into and continues to put her into a conflict when she served as a Fontana council member and is serving as Fontana mayor and voting with regard to that city’s municipal employee contracts.
Typically, municipal employee contract negotiations involve surveys of the salaries and benefits provided to employees with surrounding cities. In this way, Warren’s salary in Upland could have an impact on the salaries paid to comparable employees in Fontana.
Available Fontana City Council meeting minutes show that the council, including Warren, made a practice of meeting in closed session to conduct labor negotiations with representatives of the San Bernardino Public Employees Association and ratified the city’s final agreements with the association on the city’s labor contracts, known as memorandums of understanding, outside the scrutiny of the public. Fontana City Attorney Jeff Ballinger cited Government Code Section 54957.6 in justifying holding those negotiations in secret.
Warren’s participation in past employee contract votes leaves them subject to legal challenge.
The city administration in Fontana deferredto Ballinger  questions with regard to Warren’s circumstance and whether she will be precluded from participating in future votes pertaining to San Bernardino Public Employee Association-negotiated contracts. Ballinger is with the law firm Best, Best & Krieger, which serves Fontana under contract.. Repeated phone calls to the Best, Best & Krieger office in Ontario did not elicit responses from Ballinger or his firm colleague, Clark Alsop, who was previously city attorney in Fontana during much of Warren’s tenure there as a city councilwoman.

Pneumonia Threatening Mojave Desert Bighorn

(November 14) Biologists surveying the Mojave Desert’s mountains for the National Park Service and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife have noted a significant decline in the bighorn sheep population in a substantial portion of the region.
Scouts for Fish and Wildlife, utilizing helicopters, since late October visually scoured over 75,000 acres on and around Old Dad Mountain, the Marble Mountains, and the Kelso, Bristol, Clipper, Soda, Providence, Granite, Hackberry and Woods ranges in a concentrated effort to spot bighorn, which have been decimated by pneumonia since earlier this year.
Scouts were able to spot fewer than half the number of bighorn than they typically see during similar flyovers.
Wildlife officials are concerned that the pneumonia outbreak among what was considered one of the hardiest of the state’s herds, which killed as many as 45 bighorn sheep in the Mojave Desert between May and August, is persisting and could result in a catastrophic die-off.
Pneumonia is a pernicious condition with respect to bighorn. It can incubate in the animals for months with little or no outward indication for weeks and then strike the animals dead in a short time after it manifests. Sick animals are highly contagious and the disease can spread quickly to other members of the heard.
The disease has infested an unknown number of a herd of more than 300 of the sheep near Old Dad Mountain after first showing up in some of the desert ruminants around nearby Kelso Peak.
Wildlife officials were initially put on alert that there was a pneumonia outbreak among the bighorn in May, when three dead rams turned up at guzzlers – man-made watering founts – near Old Dad Mountain. Tests performed on the dead animals by UC Davis’s extension Animal Health Laboratory in San Bernardino confirmed they had succumbed to pneumonia. Biologists have speculated that pneumonia was introduced into the herd when a hunting guide felled a feral angora goat near Marl Springs, a dozen miles east of Old Dad Mountain.
Bighorn are particularly vulnerable to pneumonia and can contract it from domestic goats and sheep or cattle, which have a greater resistance to the disease. Once hit with a full blown case, the sheep become extremely lethargic and their air passageways coated with mucous, making respiration difficult. Upwards of 80 percent of an infected herd can die as a result of the contagion.
In August, wildlife officials were contemplating wholesale killing and removal of animals confirmed to be infected as a means of bettering the odds of survival for those yet uninfected. At least ten suspected bighorn sheep were shot. All but one was indeed infected.
The helicopter survey was augmented with efforts to fit a large number of the bighorn with radio beacon collars so their movements can be closely monitored. More than 70 such beacons were successfully affixed to the sheep. The upshot of the helicopter survey and the direct contact with the sheep, which in several instances included taking blood samples and nasal swabs, was the observation that the pneumonia outbreak is most serious in the environs of Old Dad Mountain.
Bighorn sheep can be inoculated against pneumonia but the resulting immunity lasts only about four weeks.
Herds of bighorn sheep south of San Bernardino County in Riverside, Imperial and San Diego counties were significantly depleted from a pneumonia outbreak that ranged all the way down to the Mexican border in the 1980s. A strategy that was somewhat successful in that episode consisted of isolating the healthy sheep and removing feral animals, including cattle, from the area in which they roamed.
The situation in the Mojave Desert comes less than two years after biologists had reported an uptick in the number of bighorn in San Bernardino County. According to the Society for the Conservation of Bighorn Sheep, surveys that group had completed in recent years in conjunction with the California Department of Fish and Game and the Forest Service showed steady increases in the bighorn sheep population locally. Those entities, which have conducted surveys for bighorn sheep in the San Gabriel range annually since 1979, said the San Gabriel Mountains, which lie south of the westernmost portion of the Mojave Desert, once held an estimated 740 sheep, making the San Gabriel population the largest population of desert bighorn sheep in California.  The bighorn population declined over 80 percent through the 1980s but appeared in 2011 to be on the increase. Estimates at that time postulated approximately 400 animals.
There is no indication that the pneumonia outbreak has extended into the mountain population of bighorn at this time.

Starr Projects Quarter Million Savings From Initial Phase Of Fire Merger

(November 15)  The cities of Upland and Montclair should achieve an initial $260,000 combined annual savings by merging the administrative functions of their current fire departments, Montclair City Manager Ed Stark told the Sentinel this week.
That consolidation is to be considered by the Montclair City Council at its December 2 meeting. If ratified by both city councils, the merger could take place as early as January. A previously contemplated accompanying dissolution of the service boundaries between the two agencies will be postponed until July 1, Stark said.
There is marked enthusiasm for the limited merger of the two departments among the managerial ranks of both cities. The one potential roadblock appears to be possible reluctance in Upland at the political level, where one city councilman has said he wants further figures and assurance that the change will represent cost savings to his city.
The finalized proposal that has taken shape for the partial merger of the fire departments entails current Upland Fire Chief Rick Mayhew becoming fire chief of both departments, with the departments sharing three battalion chiefs as well as a fire marshal. Each city will retain a deputy fire chief that will not be part of the command sharing.
While each department will maintain its own identity and retain responsibility for its own firefighters, who will work under different employee contracts with their respective cities, the arrangement will pave the way for future consolidations, including the planned eventual dropping of the fire service boundaries between the two cities and use of a common dispatch team.
“Initially we are going to ask the council to approve command staff sharing and to delay the boundary drop for six months while we carry out studies with regard to fully merging our respective cities’ service areas,” Starr told the Sentinel. “At the end of those studies, effective July 1, 2014, we will very likely eliminate our common service boundary. This is a two-year proposal about which all of our [Montclair] council members appear to be supportive.”
One element of the study to be carried out over the next several months pertains to further consolidation, Starr said, of “non-sworn positions in both departments to determine which of those will be subject to cost sharing. At the end of six months. by July 2014, we will decide if sharing costs for various non-firefighting positions in our departments should take place.”
Both cities stand to save money in the arrangement, Starr said. “My understanding is the savings for Upland are in the $160,000 to $180,000 range,” Starr said. “That is not an exact or hard figure, but just based on my conversation with Upland officials. Upland personnel need to complete their calculation to fully determine what their cost savings will be. This could have a significant economic advantage for them beyond the figure I quoted. This could well impact on their overtime costs. In Montclair, we are projecting $120,000 savings in overtime costs. There may be savings we have not fully calculated.”
Starr said the gist of the savings will consist of the economy of scale realized with the elimination of costs netted with the consolidation of the battalion chief function. Upland will see further savings in that Montclair will “pay a share of the Upland fire chief’s salary.” Moreover, he said, Montclair will “initially pay for two of the three battalion chiefs.”
The advantage to both cities will not entirely be economic, Starr said. “Each city will have access to expanded resources. From our perspective, it is a good deal. For Upland, it will not provide them with the half million dollars in savings they are looking for in dealing with their budget issues, but it will represent at least $160,000 in cost reductions. And they will reap improved fire protection.”
An earlier envisioned benefit to the merger, Starr said, was that “the response to a call was to be based on the closest fire station. If a call from Montclair came in where the closest station was in Upland, then they would have responded first, just as if in a case where Montclair has a closer station to an ongoing incident in Upland, we would respond first. With what we are proposing now, we will not be eliminating our service boundaries until July.”
Nevertheless, Starr said, rapid response across those lines of demarcation will take place as is appropriate and as emergency and necessity dictates. “We already have mutual aid and automatic aid agreements, so a Montclair engine might roll on an Upland fire or emergency now, if the Montclair station is the closest. The call would go through Upland first, but if the Upland truck is busy, a call will go to Montclair and we would respond.”
At present the city of Upland, with its population of 73,732, employs 36 full time firefighters staged out of four fire stations. Montclair fields 24 firefighters and operates out of two fire stations.  Previously, the city of Upland contemplated outsourcing options for its fire department in an effort to reduce costs, including considering contracting with the city of Ontario, the California Division of Forestry or the county of San Bernardino for fire protection service. Upland also approached Los Angeles County to see if its fire department would provide it with a fire service proposal. Los Angeles County turned Upland down because the California Division of Forestry, also known as Cal Fire, and LA County Fire have an agreement that Cal Fire will not come into Los Angeles County to seek contracts and Los Angeles County has agreed not to go into San Bernardino County or Orange County for contract agencies.
In Montclair, officials previously gave serious consideration to the outsourcing of that 36,664-poulation municipality’s fire department, specifically the concept of dissolving the department in favor of contracting with the San Bernardino County Fire Department or the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
The impetus for the exploration of those options were financial considerations, brought on by the downturn of the economy, dwindling governmental revenue and the conflation of governmental services. As a result of the state of California’s shuttering of municipal redevelopment agencies throughout the state, toward the end of the 2010-11 fiscal year, Montclair laid off 10 employees as part of its effort to make up for its loss of redevelopment money. Throughout much of 2010-11, one of the Montclair Fire Department’s paramedic units was parked and the paramedics functioned from the department’s remaining engines, which stayed in service. Over the last year-and-a-half, what was a 27-firefighter department has lost three positions to attrition, and has not filled those vacancies, making up for the manpower shortage with overtime. In September 2012, Starr, in a cost-cutting move that saved the city nearly half a million dollars a year in wages and benefits, elevated police chief Keith Jones to the position of director of public safety and gave fire chief Troy Ament his two-week severance notice. In June of this year, police captain Michael deMoet was appointed to the position of director of public safety, following Jones’ retirement.  de Moet continues to function in the role of Montclair fire chief.
If the administrative merger is approved and provides the projected savings in both cities and the boundary dissolution takes place next July as anticipated, the next logical step for both cities would be the merger of its public safety dispatch function, which would provide monetary savings as well.
At present, both Upland and Montclair contract with the city of Ontario, which has a regional emergency dispatch and communications center that previously set the standard in that arena for nearly three decades. But the county of San Bernardino has recently significantly upgraded its computer-aided dispatch system, giving it capability that rivals or exceeds that of Ontario.
According to Starr, “We have not entered into an agreement with Upland on consolidated dispatch, but it is an item of discussion. At this point, we have to rely on the current dispatch arrangement that treats Upland and Montclair as individual and separate agencies. If we are to consolidate our dispatch functions, we could stay with the city of Ontario or go to the county of San Bernardino. Whatever agency we go with would have the ability to treat Upland and Montclair as one entity and dispatch the unit closest to the incident. The first part of our study needs to be completed. My understanding at this time is there would be an opportunity for economic saving if the two of us went together as one entity. We haven’t actually approached the city of Ontario with that question yet. We have approached the county in that regard. The county has a different and more recent addition of technology for its dispatch capability. If it is appropriate, the two cities may want to avail themselves of the economic advantage consolidation would bring and we may want to take advantage of the updated technology the county can now offer at the same time. It may also be to our advantage to stay with Ontario.”

Accomplishment And Controversy Attend Petre’s ARMC Departure

(November 15)  Patrick Petre, whose tenure as the top administrator of the county hospital was marred by accusations of irregularities in the running of the facility over the last several years, is leaving his position at the hospital today. His resignation was announced November 11.
Known as Arrowhead Regional Medical Center, the county hospital made several strides during Petre’s time as director, which began in 2007. Those included an 83 medical/surgical bed expansion on the sixth floor and the addition of a three-story, 68,000-square-foot medical office building. Petre was also on hand when the medical center was designated as a stroke center and incorporated a palliative care program and an enhanced cancer care program.
By February 2010 and perhaps earlier, however, 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  Arrowhead Regional Medical Center 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 been the hospital’s medical director since 2000 and had come under continuous criticism because of the perceptions of the conflict involving his dual roles 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 September, Dr. Richard Pitts succeeded Ebert as Arrowhead Regional’s medical director.
Petre reportedly was offered a management post with a private sector medical provider in Los Angeles County, and will move into that position shortly.
Petre will be temporarily replaced by Pitts while a nationwide search is conducted to replace him.

Continuation Of Key Elements In Colonies Case Now Up To State Supreme Court

(November 14)  Whether a landmark political corruption case against Rancho Cucamonga developer Jeff Burum and three former San Bernardino County political figures will proceed to trial now hinges on the California Supreme Court’s determination of a highly arcane legal issue. More than a week after hearing oral arguments, the state’s highest court is now engaged in determining whether the circumstances in the case are sufficiently different from several decades-old bribery cases to override legal precedents that disallow a defendant who has allegedly offered a bribe to a public official from being charged with abetting the alleged recipient in having received the bribe.
In February 2010, a grand jury indicted former county supervisor/county assessor Bill Postmus and one of his political associates, Jim Erwin, who had been the head of the county sheriff’s deputies union before he was appointed by Postmus to serve as assistant assessor. Five others were identified as unnamed co-conspirators in that indictment, which charged Postmus with a host of crimes, including conspiracy, soliciting bribes, accepting bribes, perjury, filing falsified documents and other violations of the public trust. The charges were filed in connection with his November 2006 vote, while he was still chairman of the county board of supervisors, to approve a $102 million legal settlement between the county and the Colonies Partners, which was controlled and managed by Burum and Dan Richards.
Erwin, who had been instrumental in vectoring monetary support from the sheriff’s deputies’ union to Postmus’s supervisorial and assessor campaigns and was subsequently appointed to one of two assistant assessor positions Postmus established after his election as assessor, was charged with conspiracy, extortion and bribery, perjury, filing falsified public documents and tax evasion. Prosecutors alleged that Erwin, who was working as a consultant for the Colonies Partners in 2006, threatened to disclose damaging information relating to both Postmus and his then-board colleague Paul Biane before Postmus, Biane and a third member of the board, Gary Ovitt, voted to approve the $102 million settlement of the lawsuit the Colonies Partners had brought against the county over flood control issues at the company’s Colonies at San Antonio residential and Colonies Crossroads commercial projects in northeast Upland. After the settlement was approved in November 2006, according to prosecutors, Burum rewarded Postmus, Biane, Erwin and Ovitt’s chief of staff, Mark Kirk, with $100,000 each in contributions to political action committees they controlled.
Initially Postmus and Erwin both pleaded not guilty to those charges. But in March 2011, Postmus pleaded guilty to all fourteen counts contained in the indictment against him along with one other unrelated drug possession count and agreed to turn state’s evidence. He was the star witness before a newly-impaneled grand jury that heard evidence in April 2011. In May 2011, that grand jury handed down a superseding indictment that collectively charged Erwin, Burum, Biane and Kirk with conspiracy relating to the alleged bribery scheme. Erwin was hammered with multiple counts, including receiving a bribe, acting as Burum’s agent, perjury, filing falsified documents and tax evasion. Biane was charged with soliciting and receiving a bribe in exchange for his vote. Kirk was charged with receiving a bribe in exchange for influencing his boss, Ovitt, to vote to approve the settlement. Burum was charged with extorting Postmus and Biane but was not charged with bribery. Rather, prosecutors fashioned charges against him that alleged aiding and abetting Postmus, Biane and Kirk in receiving bribes. The defendants were also charged with conflict-of-interest and misappropriating public funds. No substantive counts of extortion were charged in the superseding indictment and the extortion counts against Erwin in the February 2010 indictment were dispensed with, although extortion allegations were wrapped into the broad conspiracy count contained in the May 2011 indictment.
Defense attorneys filed demurrers on behalf of their clients, motions which called into question the legal sufficiency of the charges against the defendants. Cited in those demurrers were the cases of People v. Davis, People vs. Clapp and People vs Wolden, all of which bore upon the inability of prosecutors to charge a defendant with conspiracy or aiding and abetting a crime when that individual stands accused of a crime that necessarily involves the involvement of another individual.
In the case of People v. Davis, the court ruled that “the giver and receiver of a bribe are no longer accomplices one to the other.”
The Clapp case, from 1944, pertained to three women accused of involvement in an abortion, which at that time was illegal, and the conviction of the woman on whom the abortion was performed. The court held the woman submitting to an abortion was not punishable as a principal under one section of the penal code because her conduct was prohibited under another section. As such she was deemed not to be an accomplice in the crime of the other parties.
The case of People v. Wolden, which in itself relied upon the precedent of the Clapp Case, related to the case of Russell Wolden, the one-time assessor of San Francisco County who was indicted on 10 counts of accepting bribes and one count of conspiracy to accept bribes. One bribery count was dismissed and the jury failed to reach a verdict upon another and found him guilty of the conspiracy charge and eight counts of accepting bribes. Upon appeal, it was determined that the giver and receiver of a bribe are not guilty of a conspiracy, because the two crimes require different motives or purposes and that the giver of the bribe is not an accomplice in the “separate and distinct crime” of bribe taking.
In August 2011, Judge Brian McCarville granted several of the defendants’ demurrers in what has become known as the Colonies Lawsuit Settlement Public Corruption Prosecution, ruling that a defendant such as Burum who was essentially accused of giving bribes cannot also be charged with aiding and abetting the receipt of bribes, and he dismissed all four bribery counts and one of misappropriation of public funds against Burum, leaving only two of the original seven charges against the figure at the center of the case intact. McCarville further dismissed one felony count of misappropriation of public funds for each of the other defendants. The prosecution, consisting of both the California Attorney General’s office and the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s office, appealed McCarville’s ruling to the Fourth District Court of Appeal in Riverside, which in October 2012 upheld McCarville with regard to the four bribery counts against Burum that had been tossed, and also threw out a conflict-of-interest count McCarville had let stand. The appeals court did, however, reinstate the misappropriation of public funds charge against Burum that McCarville had dismissed.
Prosecutors then made a last-minute appeal of the Fourth District’s ruling to the California Supreme Court on December 10, 2012. Led by Deputy California Attorney General Melissa Mandel, the prosecution’s petition maintains that California bribery law is stale and dated, having not kept pace with changes with regard to bribery and other public officer crimes in other states as well as at the federal level and is inconsistent with other related court decisions. Moreover, according to prosecutors, the circumstances in the Colonies Lawsuit Settlement Public Corruption Prosecution are not limited to a simple one-to-one relationship between the offerer of a bribe and the receiver, but involve agents acting on behalf of Burum, and thus, Davis, Clapp and Wolden are inapplicable.
On November 5, Mandel, representing the prosecution, and Stephen Larson, a former federal judge who is representing Burum, made oral arguments of their respective positions before the State Supreme Court in Sacramento.
Larson, in his presentation and answers to the justices’ questions, reiterated his previous assertions in court documents that the prosecution is engaged in an impermissible charging scheme and that it was engaging in an elaborate stretching of the law in seeking to overcome having failed to charge his client with giving or offering bribes before the expiration of the statute of limitations.
Having failed to bring timely charges against Burum, Larson wrote in his answering brief to Mandel’s argument filed with the state Supreme Court, the prosecution is now seeking to eviscerate the law and the longstanding interpretation of it.
“The people ask this court to overturn over a century of precedent precluding their improper attempt to charge Mr. Burum, the alleged bribe-giver, under derivative theories of liability for the crime of receiving bribes,” Larson wrote. Just as the prosecution had failed to act in time to properly charge Burum with bribery, it also blew the statute on the extortion and blackmail elements it has attempted to weave into the case, Larson said.  What the prosecution is asking for, Larson said, amounted to a “do over” of its inadequate original filing. As such, Larson maintains, it is asking the California Supreme Court to make a contrary interpretation of its own case law pertaining to the inability to charge a bribe giver with aiding and abetting the bribe taker in receiving the bribe. Larson pointed out that there were no secondary acts alleged against Burum in the original indictment and that even if the court were to reverse more than 90 years of standing case law, the applicability of that interpretation to Burum at this point would amount to an improper ex post facto prosecution, i.e., the retroactive application of a law to action prior to the law being in effect, which is expressly forbidden by the United States Constitution in Article 1, Section 9, Clause 3.
Mandel, faced with the task of convincing the Supreme Court that existing statutes and case law are unequal to the circumstances and actions alleged in the indictment, found herself faced with questions from the justices indicating at least a modicum of skepticism with regard to her novel legal theories. She attempted to blend together the overt acts alleged in the indictment with the action of Erwin, who was described in the indictment as Burum’s “agent,” “mule” and “underling,” to propound the theory that his action in having prepared, prior to the 2006 election, never-delivered mailers and handbills which dwelled on derogatory information relating to Postmus and Biane, constituted blackmail and extortion that paved the way for the bribes that were delivered to Postmus and Biane after the vote conferring the $102 million settlement on the Colonies Partners. The combination of the bribes, extortion, blackmail and the use of a third party, i.e., Erwin, in this regard, Mandel suggested, constituted a facilitation of the crime that went beyond mere bribery. Burum, she said, utilized his “enormous political power and financial resources to coerce the public officials into accepting his bribes.”
To questions from the justices as to whether the prosecution had allowed the statute of limitations on the bribery – which allegedly occurred between February 2007 and June 2007 – to elapse by the time of the May 2011 indictment of Burum, Mandel did not provide a direct answer.
Present during the oral arguments before the Supreme Court but not taking part were deputy district attorneys Lewis Cope, Reza Sedeghi and John Goritz, all of whom work in the office’s public integrity division, as well as former deputy California Attorney General Gary Schons, who previously oversaw the case and supervised Mandel when the case was filed.
While Mandel maintains the matter is a “high-profile public corruption case that is being closely watched and will be used as a benchmark to inform the conduct of both public officials and those seeking to influence them” and is “the right case” for the Supreme Court to make a precedent-setting decision with regard to bribery of public officials and thereby “offer guidance on … what acts they can commit without subjecting themselves to prosecution,” Larson argued that it was a misapplication of the law to try to hold Burum accountable for the other defendants’ violations of Government Code Section 1090 and 1097, which prohibit an elected official from engaging in a financial conflict-of-interest or making a decision which will have an impact on his own financial circumstance. He said the Davis, Clapp and Wolden precedents have been for so long established that they have become standards under California jurisprudence. He said the Court of Appeal had engaged in sound analysis of the criminal case and made accurate rulings. “The Court of Appeal correctly held that Mr. Burum cannot be charged with aiding and abetting or conspiring in the alleged violation of Government Code Section 1090. Government Code Sections 1090 and 1097 do not apply to private citizens,” according to Larson. “The Court of Appeal properly based its ruling on the legislative intent to exclude aiding and abetting liability.”

Advisory Group Steering County Away From Massive Desert Solar Projects

(November 15)  MORONGO BASIN — A self-styled committee devoted to evaluating options and guidelines for the development of renewable energy in the middle and eastern Mojave Desert that has been adopted by Third 3rd District San Bernardino County Supervisor James Ramos’ as an advisory panel is recommending that wind and solar fields be built in areas of the desert that have already been developed.
In June, the county board of supervisors passed a 45-day moratorium on commercial solar projects in the county’s unincorporated areas. On July 23 the board approved a 10-month extension of the ban on new commercial solar projects to allow county staff to refine its regulations with respect to solar fields.
A Catch-22 situation has developed with regard to renewable energy projects, which, according to one school of environmentalists, represent an ecological advance over traditional conventional power sources, such as fossil fuels. Other environmentalists decry the ecological havoc and visual blight on the natural landscape massive solar power or wind power projects impose, including their disturbance or destruction of the habitat of certain species. They want to prevent any future renewable energy projects from being located in pristine or undisturbed areas.
But county residents living in proximity to where several solar projects have been approved or are proposed have complained the solar farms are a too-intensive use that clashes with the nature of their rural residential neighborhoods and represent unresolved land-use and zoning conflicts. Thus, the places where large solar or wind projects can be located anywhere in San Bernardino County’s vast desert outback without triggering some level of protest are virtually non-existent.
In the Route 62 Corridor, stretching from Morongo Valley to Twentyine Palms, in the communities of Morongo Valley, Yucca Valley, Joshua Tree, and Twentynine Palms, as well as in other remote desert areas such as Pioneer Town, Landers,  Black Lava Butte & Flat Top Mesa, residents have proven resistant to solar and wind farms being built in their environs.
Nevertheless, members of the Basin Energy Assessment Team, the aforementioned group of residents recently embraced by Supervisor Ramos as sapient guides with regard to the county’s forthcoming renewable energy development policy, are prodding county and local officials to adopt codes that would restrict  energy development to those portions of the desert environment that have already been developed or which are inhabited.
At its most recent meeting on November 1, the Basin Energy Assessment Team, which now boasts more than a dozen members, voiced the perspective that solar and wind projects should be placed in industrially zoned areas and should incorporate pre-existing infrastructure and structures as part of their projects to the extent possible.
On a very real level, the group’s advocacy runs counter to the flow of things at both the federal and state levels, where renewable energy development is being encouraged. The state of California is pushing for the streamlining of the permitting of renewable energy projects and meeting its own  Renewable Portfolio Standard, the provisions of Senate Bill 11-2X, signed into law by Governor Edmund Brown, Jr. on April 12, 2011, as Public Resources Code § 25740, requiring California to meet the 33 percent renewable energy portfolio standard by 2020 and the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan, which calls for the approval of  10,000 megawatts of non-hydropower renewable energy generation on public lands by 2015. In the face of this, the Basin Energy Assessment Team is calling for a far less aggressive development of renewable energy.
A case in point is the online brief the group has put together called the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Resources. On that site, the group advocates the use of solar panels and solar film on existing structures as the most efficacious way of exploiting solar power, rather than building solar fields. On that site, the group says that it offers “a library of analytical writings that demonstrate the economic and conservation benefits of point-of-use renewable energy generation in the already built environment. Point-of-use installation is the cleanest and least expensive way to ramp up renewable energy generation immediately, all while creating the highest number of local jobs, preserving and improving property values, protecting local water resources, and boosting the local economy.’’
Basin Energy Assessment Team members are attempting to steer Ramos, and by extension the entire county, into adopting policies that will attenuate the more aggressive elements of the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan and will impose strict water use regulations on solar projects, prohibit solar projects that would have a deleterious impact on the area’s tourism industry  and place restrictions on projects that would hurt the environment, scenic views, wildlife and natural resources.
While many desert residents hail the moratorium and the cautious approach Ramos, the board of supervisors and the county’s land use services division are taking with regard to the consideration of solar and wind projects, solar project proponents say the county is losing a vast economic opportunity by kowtowing to the opponents of large scale solar and wind projects.
Scott Mazzola, vice president of Apple Valley-based Desert Solar, said that while the county and its land use services division dither over the zoning issues and standards to be applied to solar fields, individuals, companies, corporations and investors interested in pursuing solar development are growing impatient, losing money, contemplating taking their proposals elsewhere or have already pulled up stakes and moved outside of the county.
Noting that Desert Solar long ago committed heavily toward the concept of establishing medium and large scale solar projects throughout the Mojave Desert and that “We’ve spent several years investing time, resources, money to make these projects work,” Mazzola complained the moratorium and its extension has now upset his company’s timetable and cost it a considerable amount of money as well as projected future revenue.
“By extending this out as long as you have, you have really… devastated us,” he told county land use services staff  at a county workshop two months ago. That workshop was hosted by the land use services division to gather input from residents with regard to the guidelines they want instituted in the county code relating to solar projects.
Mazzola said Desert Solar had been forced to abandon its San Bernardino County projects in favor of seeking approval in other Southern California jurisdictions where there is less uncertainty as to the standards and restrictions his company will encounter. “We have literally moved two $70 million projects from San Bernardino County to other locations,” he said.

Referendum On Wal•Mart In Apple Valley Tuesday

(November 15)  APPLE VALLEY –The town of Apple Valley will hold a referendum next Tuesday on Wal•Mart’s proposal to put in one of its superstores at the corner of Dale Evans Parkway and Thunderbird Road.
A yes vote on Measure D will give go-ahead to the project, resulting in the shuttering of Wal•Mart’s existing store on Highway 18.
Mail ballots have already gone out to Apple Valley voters. Polls will open at 7 a.m. on Nov. 19.
After a vocal opposition to the new store formed, Wal•Mart sponsored the formation of a committee to stump for the new project’s approval, known as Apple Valley Consumers for Choice, in late 2010. City officials, who believe the new store will boost the city’s sales tax receipts, are supporting Measure D. They have been able to sustain a brisk campaign designed to convince town residents the new store will be advantageous to the community largely on the strength of $715,000 provided to the committee by the Wal•Mart Corporation since February 2011.
The committee, and Wal•Mart, working through the law firm of Bell, McAndrews & Hiltachk have put up $50,000 toward defraying the town’s costs for holding the election.
Wal•Mart and its supporters are intent on holding the election – despite its costs – because voter approval may prove key to the development proposal reaching fruition. The project runs counter to the town’s current general plan and it will border a residential area. As such, it would be potentially vulnerable to a lawsuit that would contest its presence as being incompatible with nearby uses.
An attorney with offices in Upland and San Diego, Corey Briggs, has had considerable success in stymieing or delaying Wal•Mart projects in a number of Southern California cities, challenging them both on environmental grounds relating to the California Environmental Quality Act as well as their inconsistencies with several of those cities’ general plans.
Briggs made a showing in Apple Valley more than two years ago when he contested the town’s tentative approval of the Supercenter.
Nevertheless, the opposition to the new Apple Valley Wal•Mart, while significant in terms of numbers, its vociferousness and dedication, lags well behind the project proponents and its supporters in terms of marshaling monetary and political support.
The committee that was organized to oppose the Apple Valley Wal•Mart Supercenter, Citizens for Smart Growth, did not register with the California Secretary of State until September. The group has less than $1,000 in its coffers, meaning it can put out very little in the way of mailers or ads in opposition to Measure D.
Wal•Mart, working through Apple Valley Consumers for Choice, collected more than the 5,700 signatures to qualify Measure D for the ballot, an indicator that opponents may have a tough row to hoe in stopping the project.