East Valley Water District Board Asks DA For Sturgeon Brown Act Probe

(January 30)  East Valley Water District Board Member Kip Sturgeon is being investigated for leaking confidential district information to the press, officials have confirmed.
The investigation pertains to allegations that Sturgeon provided information pertaining to salary and bonuses for district general manager John Mura that the board was contemplating and which they had discussed behind closed doors.
Of note is that Sturgeon’s board colleagues had requested the investigation, citing  “possible violations of the Brown Act” by Sturgeon in making the request despite suggestions that the board had itself skirted provisions of the same law by conducting the private discussions without proper and full disclosure, which is itself a violation of another provision of the Brown Act.
The Ralph M. Brown Act is California’s open meeting law, which requires that deliberations with regard to the actions of public agencies by their governing boards, with very narrow exceptions, be carried out in public. The exceptions contained in the act relate to discussions involving litigation involving the agency, the purchase or sale of real estate, and items relating to agency personnel.
In the current case, the board discussed Mura’s salary and benefit package during an executive session. The board agreed to utilize a survey of the salaries provided to the general managers of other water agencies to arrive at a consensus of what would be offered to Mura. When the district’s personnel division completed that survey, it emailed a list of positions and salaries to the board members.
Sturgeon has acknowledged that before any vote was taken on what Mura would be offered, he provided a copy of the list to the Highland Community News. He maintains that he believed the list, which contained information that was publicly available from each of the district’s surveyed, qualified as public information.
The other members of the board – James Morales, Jr., Ben Coleman, Ronald Coats, and Matt Levesque, maintain the list was the work product of ongoing closed door deliberations and should not have been distributed to the public. Levesqe, who at that time was board chairman, was particularly incensed at Sturgeon’s action.
The complaint to the district attorney’s office contained further reference to Sturgeon having publicly disclosed, again through the Highland Community News, that the board was contemplating conferring on Mura a $50,000 bonus. The newspaper then reported on the matter before the board made a public announcement regarding it.
Coleman and Coats appeared to be prepared to let the matter be redressed by a stern warning to Sturgeon. But Levesque, who is somewhat of a political rival of Sturgeon, was determined to see the matter taken up on an official level, particularly because Sturgeon had initially denied being the source of the leak, which, Levesque implied, demonstrated criminal intent and consciousness of guilt.
He prevailed upon the board to send the matter to the district attorney’s office and its public integrity unit.
While the Brown Act, which exists as California Government Code  §54950 et sequitur,   is intended to ensure that public issues are handled in the open so that citizens can participate in the governmental process, it does permit some degree of confidentiality to be maintained where secrecy is deemed appropriate and premature disclosure of information might be detrimental to the public interest.
Government Code Section 54963 provides that a person may not disclose confidential information that has been acquired by attending a properly closed session to a person not entitled to receive it, unless the disclosure is authorized by the legislative body.
Confidential information is defined as a communication made in a closed session that is specifically related to the basis for the legislative body to meet lawfully in closed session.
If that prohibition is violated, it may be, according to the California Attorney General’s Office, enforced by injunctive relief to prevent the disclosure of confidential information, disciplinary action against the official or employee who has willfully disclosed the confidential information or referral of the matter to a grand jury. Disciplinary action must be  preceded by training or notice of the prohibition.
It is  Government Code Section 54963 that Levesque, with the reluctant endorsement of his three board colleagues, wants applied against Sturgeon.
There are loopholes in section 54963. Under it, no action can be taken against a person for making a confidential inquiry or complaint to a legally constituted authority concerning a perceived violation of law, including disclosing facts that are necessary to establish the illegality of an action taken by a legislative body or the potential illegality of an action that has been the subject of deliberation at a closed session if that action were ultimately to be taken by the legislative body. Nor can action be taken against an official who has made disclosure of material or discussion from a closed session if that person is expressing an opinion concerning the propriety or legality of actions taken by a legislative body in closed session, including disclosure of the nature and extent of the illegal or potentially illegal action.
Moreover, no violation of section 54963 can be deemed to have occurred if the disclosure involves information that is not in fact confidential information.
Levesque’s insistence that the district attorney be brought into the case is a curious one in that he has himself admitted that he violated one of the provisions of the Brown Act, specifically engaging in serial meetings of the board’s members, which is prohibited under  Government Code Section 54952.2(c)(1).

Phelan Solar Field Plan Irks Residents

(January 28)  PHELAN—A proposal by SunEdison in conjunction with the Snowline Joint Unified School District to establish a 50-acre solar project in Phelan has run into opposition by several local residents.
SunEdison wants to locate the 5.8-megawatt photovoltaic solar farm west of White Road and north of Muscatel Street in Phelan. The school district owns the property and has agreed to lease it to the company in exchange for 4 percent of revenues generated there.
The company is not affiliated with Southern California Edison. It was founded in 2003 by Jigar Shah and owns and operates power plants in North America and provides solar-generated energy to commercial, government, and utility customers. Sun Edison LLC was formerly headquartered in Beltsville, Maryland, but now has its main corporate office in Belmont, California with additional offices in Denver, Colorado and San Clemente, Sacramento, and the city of  Ontario.
In 2010, SunEdison completed construction on seven megawatts (MW) of photovoltaic (PV) solar power plants in Spain. In December 2007, SunEdison completed an 8.22 MW, 80-acre solar power system in Colorado. SunEdison has built fields with a generation capability of 52 megawatts and retains control over facilities with 31 MW of generating capability.
In November of 2009, Shah relinquished SunEdison for $200 million to MEMC Electronic Materials.
A number of Phelan residents said they were in strong opposition to the project proposal, including the parents of children attending school in the Snowline district. The district, which serves the communities of Phelan, Pinon Hills and Wrightwood, believes it can net as much as $100,000 annually through its participation in the project.
The district, which in 2011 arranged with SunEdison for the construction of solar energy generating systems at Serrano High School, Pinon Mesa Middle, Quail Valley Middle and Vista Verde Elementary, gave notice of its intent to work with SunEdison on the Phelan project in August.
SunEdison has since applied with the county’s Land Use Services Division for a project permit. Land Use Services will continue to accept public input on the proposal through February 10.

Defense Files Quartet Of Motions To Have Colonies Indictment Dismissed

(January 28)  Multiple instances of prosecutorial misconduct have so marred the Colonies Lawsuit Settlement Public Corruption Case that it should be dismissed altogether, according to four motions filed by the attorney representing the defendant central to the case, a businessman who is accused of extorting and bribing four former public officials.
The California Attorney General’s Office and the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office obtained an indictment against Jeff Burum, Paul Biane, Mark Kirk and Jim Erwin in May 2011. That indictment alleged Burum, one of the two managing principals of the Colonies Partners, first extorted and then bribed then-supervisors Bill Postmus and Paul Biane to vote to approve conferring a $102 million payment to the Colonies Partners in 2006. That payment was made to settle a lawsuit brought against the county by the Colonies Partners in 2002 over flood control issues at the Colonies at San Antonio residential and Colonies Crossroads commercial subdivisions in northeastern Upland.
According to the prosecution, Burum, with the assistance of Erwin, a former president of the San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies union who was working as a consultant to the Colonies partners, in 2006 threatened Biane and Postmus, who were that year involved in political campaigns, by creating political mailers that dwelled on derogatory information pertaining to both. Prosecutors further allege that those mailers were withheld from distribution and that three weeks after the election Postmus and Biane joined with supervisor Gary Ovitt in approving the $102 million payment to the Colonies Partners. The prosecution alleges that subsequent to the $102 million settlement, payoffs were made to Postmus, Biane and Mark Kirk, the latter being supervisor Gary Ovitt’s chief of staff.  These payoffs were in the form of separate $100,000 payments over the next seven months to political action committees controlled by Postmus, Biane and Kirk. Kirk was paid, prosecutors allege, for influencing his boss, Ovitt, to support the settlement payment. Erwin, who went to work for Postmus as assistant assessor after the latter acceded to the position of assessor in 2007, likewise formed a political action committee that was endowed with a $100,000 contribution from the Colonies Partners.
Postmus had been named in a previous indictment concerning this alleged activity along with Erwin, in February 2010. Though he had initially pleaded not guilty in response to that indictment, in March 2011 he entered a guilty plea to all charges against him. He then served as the star witness when a second grand jury was impaneled in April 2011. That grand jury handed down a superseding indictment in May 2011, which renamed Erwin and added Burum, Biane and Kirk.
Stephen Larson, a former federal judge who is now representing Burum, filed four motions in San Bernardino Superior Court on January 27 which outline in detail his contention that prosecutors manipulated the grand jury process by a selective presentation of evidence and the coaching of Postmus as a witness to obtain the indictments of his client and his three co-defendants.
Characterizing the prosecution as a “targeted, politically-motivated smear campaign” and “an unfettered abuse of prosecutorial power,” Larson called upon the judge hearing the matter, Michael A. Smith, to dismiss the case against all four defendants.
According to Larson, the prosecution engaged in “a plethora of misconduct warranting the dismissal of the indictment.”
In early 2007, Larson said, the county “validated the settlement. Behind the scenes, however, political pressure was mounting to find a scapegoat for the unpopular settlement” Ultimately, Larson said the California Attorney General’s Office, and the district attorney’s office “determined that Jeffrey Burum would be that scapegoat. In their zeal to obtain an indictment of Mr. Burum, the prosecution apparently lost sight of its duty to seek justice and truth, and instead has engaged in a calculated campaign of misconduct, the cumulative effect of which constitutes a violation of the due process rights of Mr. Burmm and his codefendants and warrants dismissal of the indictment.”
The prosecution’s case consisted in large measure, Larson said, of the “manipulation of a known methamphetamine addict – former supervisor Willam Postmus – into concocting evidence to support its theory of the case, then presenting that manufactured evidence to the grand jury without explanation or  qualification. Knowing the effects that years of methamphetamine addiction must have had on Mr. Postmus’s perception and recall, the prosecution’s investigators used inappropriate interview techniques to convince Mr. Postmus to abandon the truth and adopt their theory of the case. In short, the prosecution elicited a methamphetamine-induced story from Mr. Postmus.”
Moreover, according to Larson, prosecutors “manipulated the evidence and misled the grand jury regarding the reasonableness of the settlement” and further “deceived Mr. Burum by telling him that he was not a target of its investigation, causing him to waive his constitutional rights and testify before a 2009 grand jury.”
Larson referenced the early statements of a Postmus political associate and friend, Adam Aleman, who worked for Postmus when he was supervisor and then, at the age of 23 in 2007, was named by Postmus as one of two assistant assessors at a $130,000 annual salary when Postmus became county assessor in January 2007 following the November 2006 election, in which he had defeated incumbent assessor Don Williamson. By late 2007, Aleman, who had no previous experience with regard to appraising or assessing properties, fell under suspicion for engaging in partisan political activity while working out of the assessor’s office, and in 2008 was arrested for misappropriating and misusing government property, destruction of governmental property and perjury.  It was during his interrogation by district attorney’s office investigators that information relating to the alleged extortion and bribery at the heart of the Colonies case was first provided to the prosecution.
Aleman pleaded guilty to charges of destroying public property and perjury. District attorney’s office investigators used statements provided by Aleman to obtain search warrants for several locations to obtain evidence upon which the indictments of Burum, Biane, Erwin and Kirk were based.
The prosecution, Larson alleged, “recklessly omitted from its search warrants the key fact that its assertions for probable cause were based on the averments of an alleged perjurer” and “withheld material exculpatory evidence regarding the lack of credibility of several key witnesses.”
In this way, Larson maintains, the “defendants have been irreparably prejudiced by numerous ‘foul blows.’”
Larson dwelled at some length on how the prosecution misframed or manufactured evidence to convince the grand jury to hand down the indictment. “The prosecution’s manipulation of its star witness in preparation for the grand jury proceedings constituted grave misconduct,” according to Larson. “The prosecution’s handling of Mr. Postmus violated Mr. Burum’s due process rights. The prosecution misled the grand jury regarding the impact of Mr. Postmus’s extensive methamphetamine use.” Larson maintained that in his interviews with district attorney’s office investigators, Postmus “admitted that the settlement occurred during the height of his drug use. The impact of Mr. Postmus’s drug use on his ability to accurately recall events strikes at the heart of his credibility. The prosecution’s head-in-the-sand approach to Mr. Postmus’s ongoing drug use amounts to a reckless disregard for the truth – the equivalent of suppressing evidence.“
According to Larson, when district attorney’s office investigators began questioning him shortly after he agreed to plead guilty and testify against others in exchange for leniency, Postmus made statements indicating that there had been no provision of bribes by Burum. But as they continued with those interrogations, Larson claimed, investigators planted seeds of information into the drug-addled Postmus that grew into trees of false testimony when he was finally brought before the grand jury.  “This entire process was an exercise in corrupting Mr. Postmus’s memory,” Larson propounded.  Larson cited Elizabeth Loftus, Ph.D., whom he described as “one of the world’s leading experts in human memory and eyewitness testimony” in explaining his theory of how the district attorney’s office had exploited Postmus to the detriment of the defendants.
“Based on her review of the investigators’ interviews of Mr. Postmus and his grand jury testimony, Professor Loftus concluded that Mr. Postmus’ changing story appears to have resulted from pressure interview tactics,” according to Larson. “When the grand jury convened, Mr. Postmus was primed to testify to the story the prosecution had manufactured.”
Furthermore, according to Larson, the prosecution’s theory that Burum’s provision of donations to the campaign war chests controlled by Postmus, Biane, Erwin and Kirk were tantamount to bribes falters.
“The payment of political action committee contributions after the settlement was approved cannot, as a matter of law, constitute bribery,” Larson stated. “An after the fact payment by itself ( i.e, without prior arrangement) necessarily lacks the requisite intent for the crime of bribery.”
Larson argued as well that the statute of limitations to charge the defendants was exceeded by the time of the 2011 indictment, in that more than three years had elapsed since the last contribution to the political action committees in question and more than four years had transpired since the vote by the board of supervisors to approve the $102 million payment. Thus, Larson asserts, the charges against the defendants are “time-barred.”
According to Larson, there are four bases upon which the court should dismiss the indictment, including  Penal Code Section 995, which states that an indictment should be set aside if a defendant has been indicted without reasonable or probable cause; Penal Code Section 939.71, which allows a grand jury to order evidence or witnesses that could be utilized to exonerate a defendant to be produced for consideration prior to an indictment; the statute of limitations; and prosecutorial misconduct.
Prosecutors have declined to publicly comment on the motions “in order to protect the integrity of the case and each defendant’s right to a fair trial.”
The prosecution has yet to file its response to the motions for dismissal.
In a previous response filed on March 14, 2013 to a motion by Larson to dismiss one of the charges based on statute of limitations considerations, Supervising Deputy California Attorney General Melissa Mandell maintained that the charges filed in 2011 were not time-barred because they had not been discovered until 2008.
“Burum’s statute of limitations claims rely on disputed issues of fact which have not yet been resolved,” Mandel asserted. “The indictment alleges that intermediaries were used to accomplish negotiations at the Doubletree Hotel, and that payment of bribes  was made to PACs [political action committees] controlled by Postmus, Biane, Erwin and Kirk. These facts and the indictment as a whole sufficiently set forth the secrecy and coverups involved in the crimes which prevented law enforcement and taxpayers from learning the facts.”

County Waters Down Political Donation Limitation Ordinance

(January 28)  With elections for two of its members approaching, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors this week unanimously approved liberalizing the terms of the campaign finance reform ordinance the board put into place two years ago.
On August 28, 2012, with much fanfare the board ratified restrictions on the amount of money candidates for county office could receive from individual donors, a measure taken in the wake of a multitude of scandals and prosecutions of local elected official on political corruption charges, nearly all of which involved action taken to benefit major campaign donors.
That ordinance restricted individual donors from providing more than $3,900 to any single candidate per election cycle and small contributor committees from giving more than $7,800 per election cycle.
Members of the board, in particular Second District Supervisor Janice Rutherford, touted the measure as one that demonstrated a new ethos in governance at the county level and a determination to reform politics and do away with the pay-to-play reputation that dogged the county’s leadership. At the time, Rutherford said it was her and her colleagues’ intent to “make it clear to the voters and taxpayers of this county that the board of supervisors and other county-wide elected officials cannot be bought by large donors.”
On Tuesday January 28, however, the board second-guessed itself, revising the ordinance to allow candidates for county office to accept up to $4,100 from individuals and $8,200 from small contributor committees for a general election prior to the primary election.
The revised ordinance will also, according to county chief executive officer Greg Devereaux,  allow “in part that contributions may be made after an election only to the extent that the contribution does not exceed net debts outstanding from the election and does not otherwise exceed the applicable contribution limit for that election. This portion of new Subsection 12.4305(b) is based on the Political Reform Act
provision on this issue, i.e., Government Code section 85316. New Subsection 12.4305(b) also provides that contributions made to retire debt incurred for elections held prior to the effective date of the ordinance, i.e., January 1, 2013, are not subject to the contribution limits of the ordinance. This portion of new Subsection 12.4305(b) is based on Government Code section 85321. New Subsection 12.4305(b) reflects the intent of the county when adopting the original Campaign Finance Reform Ordinance.”
Rutherford, now the chairman of the board, is one of the two members of the board whose position is up for election this year.
In December 2012, more than three months after passing the ordinance, the county entered into a contract with the California Fair Political Practices Commission to enforce its provisions. San Bernardino County was the first and remains the only county in the state to contract with that state political activities regulatory agency to do its enforcing.
Devereaux suggested in the staff report that was submitted to the board prior to the vote on amending the ordinance that the changes should be made to bring the county’s campaign limitation standards in line with those at the state level.
“The FPPC and the county recommend that the campaign finance reform ordinance be amended so that it better comports with the provisions of the Political Reform Act,” Devereaux wrote in his report.
Higher contribution limitations tend to benefit incumbent candidates, since incumbents generally have greater contact with, access to and authority to impact political donors with business before government.
In this way, the board’s action this week would appear to have an immediate beneficial effect on Rutherford, who is eligible to vie for reelection in the Second District, and Curt Hagman, currently a member of the State Assembly who is running for Fourth District supervisor this year. The Fourth District incumbent, Gary Ovitt, announced earlier this year he will not seek reelection.

Inland Empire Utility Authority President Says Upland Should Hang Onto Its Water

By Terry Catlin
(January 27)  As a resident of Upland I am concerned about the poor fiscal health of the city and am interested in how the council will implement a “sustainable remediation plan’ to address both the internal and external factors that have adversely resulted in our current economic position.
While there are many recommendations that have been presented by the Fiscal Response Task Force to the city council for consideration, I want to  specifically address the task force’s Measure 13, which relates to privatizing the management of the water & sewer assets.
Compared to the other measures that have been identified, this measure asserts to provide the potential for an infusion of a one-time payment of $5 million  to $32 million  with annual lease payments of $1.5  million to $2 million, the most revenue of any other measure. Because of these favorable numbers, it has certainly received some attention and is characterized as one of the top 5 measures to pursue. (As a side note, the source of information for the numbers and the scope defining the extent of the privatization was unavailable).
The task force in its letter to the council provided its finding, opinions and direction as to the path Upland must take. Further, the task force recommends that time is of the essence to implement the prescribed work-out plan. It is my hope that the sense of urgency to avoid financial collapse or asserted bankruptcy may carelessly overshadow the need for careful, transparent, thorough and thoughtful examination of proposed Measure 13, if not for some of the other measures as well.
Upland is rich in its water resources and its water portfolio is the envy of other municipalities. Not only is there a diverse water supply, there is good water quality.
Water service is unique in several respects, unlike the typical provision of goods and services. A sufficient, clean, and reliable supply of drinking water is necessary of life, requiring careful planning, infrastructure, and qualified operations, not only for sustaining life but also for fire service. Private water suppliers generally plan for return on their investment and not for the long-term public goals and interests. Private utilities are not necessarily more efficient than public utilities. There must be a careful scrutiny of assertions of proposed savings or revenue generation to avoid the use of inaccurate assumptions, or comparisons to privatizations that are incomparable. Private firms have the incentive to invest only so much as they will produce financial results for them during their period of private control, ignoring the necessary long-term forward planning to meet public demands and regulatory standards for generations to come.
Much of the privatization of public water supplies in the United States involves American subsidiaries of large multinational companies, primarily French & German corporations. Private water corporations have identified U.S. public water systems as profitable to own and operate. While there are successful public-private partnerships, there are also notable failures.
Privatization is not always the right answer and we must recognize that private partners are not charitable organizations. The role of private partners is not that of performing magic. I urge the council to explore all of the possible methods to leverage its water supply portfolio for its own financial benefit while maintaining control of our precious resource now and for generations to come.
Independent of whether or not there is privatization of the water & sewer assets, water rates will increase. I’d prefer to have local, public control or management of future rate increases.
Catlin is the president of the Inland Empire Utility Authority and the general manager of a treatment facility run by a joint powers agency consisting of the cities of Chino, Chino Hills, Ontario, Upland and the Monte Vista Water District.

County Lowers Rent To Keep Dairyman Operating In Old Ag Preserve

(January 28)  A dairy operator in the former Chino Agricultural Preserve who was on the brink of disbanding his operation a little over two years ago has made arrangements to remain, pursuant to a favorable lease arrangement with the county for the property upon which the dairy is located.
For the last several years, dairyman Geoffrey Vanden Heuvel and his wife Darlene have been leasing the 74.57 acres located at 8315 Merrill Avenue in Chino to operate a dairy. Their present operation, paradoxically, came as a partial consequence of the decline of the local dairy industry.
In 1991, the county board of supervisors approved the Agricultural Open Space Land Acquisition and Post Acquisition Preservation program within the Chino Agricultural Preserve, using funds available to the county under the California Wildlife, Coastal and Parkland Conservation Act of 1988 and the Federal Agricultural Improvement and Reform Act of 1996. Nine major acquisitions totaling 371 acres were made utilizing Proposition 70 funds.
Proposition 70, approved by the state’s voters in 1988, authorized a $776 million general obligation bond to provide funds for the “acquisition, development, rehabilitation, protection, or restoration of park, wildlife, coastal, and natural lands in California.
The county also acquired fee title to the 74.57-acre dairy  at 8315 Merrill Avenue in the Ag Preserve, which is not part of the program properties. On May 21, 1996, the board of supervisors approved a purchase/leaseback agreement with Harry C. and Ruth Wiersema for the 8315 Merrill Avenue property. Escrow closed on February 7, 1997 and a ten-year lease with the Wiersemas commenced. Prior to the end of the ten-year term, the Wiersemas indicated they did not intend to request a renewal, and the property was advertised for lease to a new tenant.
The Wiersemas had sub-leased the dairy to Charles W. and Lynette E. Van Der Kooi, who continued dairy operations until a new tenant could be found.
On October 31, 2006 the board approved a nine-year, six-month, twenty-two day lease agreement with the Vanden Heuvels for the 74.57 acre county-owned dairy at 8315 Merrill Avenue  with a commencement date of February 7, 2007. In the first five years of that lease, the board approved one amendment to the deal, a sub-lease agreement between Vanden Heuvel and Van Der Kooi with a termination date of February 6, 2008, after which Vanden Heuvel became the tenant/dairy operator.  The dairy includes  a 2,440 square foot single family residence.
With the onset of the economic downturn in 2007, the dairy industry began experiencing rising feed prices and significant decreases in the price paid for milk. Many of the remaining dairy operations in the Chino Valley went out of business. Between November 2012 and March 2013, five dairies in the Chino/Ontario area disbanded their operations and sold their herds. Two of those were county-owned dairies acquired with Proposition 70 funds.
In December 2011, Vanden Heuvel requested that the county consider a reduction in the monthly rent because of a severe decrease in the income from his dairy operations. The county balked at that request. Then, according to  David Slaughter, the director of the county’s real estate services department, “Beginning in February 2012, the Vanden Heuvels began making monthly lease payments of only $8,500 instead of $11,250 as called for in the lease. While the Vanden Heuvels were technically in default, staff of the county’s real estate services department determined it was not in the best interest of the county to initiate eviction because a new tenant was unlikely to be found. More importantly, vacant dairies are difficult to secure from theft and vandalism, which, in some instances, have rendered dairies inoperable, too expensive to repair, and, consequently, unrentable.”
Instead of initiating a default proceeding, the county real estate services department conducted a market survey of comparable properties and determined that the market rent for a dairy of the size the Vanden Heuvels were operating was substantially below the rate set forth in the lease agreement. As a result of discussions with the Vanden Heuvels and with county counsel, the term of the previous lease in March 2013 was reduced by three years from August 31, 2016 to August 31, 2013 in order to decrease the monthly rent from $11,250 to $8,500, effective, and retroactive to, February 2012.
The Vanden Heuvels continued to operate their dairy after that revamped lease expired in September.  This week, Slaughter told the board of supervisors, “Prior to the expiration of the lease agreement with the Vanden Heuvels, [Geoffrey] Vanden Heuvel expressed uncertainty in his intent to continue to operate the dairy. The county commenced advertising the 74.57 acre dairy for lease, which, unfortunately, produced no interest in the property. Vanden Heuvel then approached the real estate services department about continuing to lease the dairy. During these discussions, Lease Agreement No. 06-1078 expired; however, Vanden Heuvel has remained on the property and continued to pay rent  under the holdover provision of the lease. Rather than amend the existing lease, the real estate services department negotiated a new lease agreement incorporating new standard lease language with Vanden Heuvel for the continued use of the 74.57 acre county-owned dairy and the single family residence retroactive to September 1, 2013 through August 31, 2016.
Under the lease terms Geoffrey and Darlene Vanden Heuvel, doing business as  J & D Star Dairy will pay monthly rent of $6,350, or  $76,200 annually for the dairy property and the 2,440 square foot home it includes.
According to Slaughter, the rent is “mid-range for existing dairy properties in the Chino area.”
The once-vaunted Chino Agricultural Preserve was formerly the most intensive milk-producing area in the world. Within its 17,000 acre confines were just under 400 dairies and 400,000 cows. With $800 million in annual dairy production in 1976, the relatively compact Chino Valley region alone was within the entire state of California a close third in milk output behind the much more expansive Tulare and Merced counties.
In the late 1950s, the Chino Valley had become a haven to dairy farmers, many of them of Dutch or Portuguese descent, who were displaced by the urbanization of southeast Los Angeles County. The preserve was formed in 1968 under the auspices of California’s Williamson Act — a 1965 law that was intended to preserve California farmland and to serve as a hedge against urban sprawl. The law granted substantial tax breaks to property owners agreeing to restrict their land to agricultural uses for at least 10 years. By 1970, the Chino Valley was the source for most of Southern California’s milk as well as a major supplier of the cheese for a much larger geographical area.
By the mid-1980s, growing numbers of dairy farmers in the preserve wanted out, as the local industry was itself being subjected to the same pressures that had been brought to bear on dairyman who had been forced to pull up the stakes of their Los Angeles County operations two decades before. Land speculators and developers eyeing the property and envisioning it as residential subdivisions supported politicians at the municipal and county levels to create a dairy-busting agenda that in time spelled the end of the preserve as a lasting entity.
In the late 1980s and into the 1990s, the county’s land use professionals were seeking to examine the desirability of maintaining the preserve’s dairies as a hedge against the burgeoning urbanization and to determine if the dairy industry had a reasonable prospect of sustaining itself in the changing environment. At the same time, the county’s elected leadership was heavily influenced by developmental interests, the major providers of political contributions. With a few exceptions, the supervisors leaned in favor of breaking up the preserve.
In 1986, the county took the first step toward deconstructing the Williamson Act’s applicability in the Chino Valley. By 1997, half of the dairies that had been operating in the preserve at its peak had left. The jousting between Ontario and Chino over annexation of the preserve had begun.
In 1999, while there were still 140 dairies operating in Chino Valley, the city of Ontario annexed nearly 8,200 acres of the 15,200 remaining acres in the preserve. Chino laid claim to the other 7,000. The county, for the most part, alternately passively and actively accepted the inevitability of the pending urbanization. Ontario drew up master plans for development of 31,000 homes, 5 million square feet of retail space and 5 million square feet of industrial space.
Chino designated over 400 acres for industrial development and earmarked 2,000 acres for new residences, with complementary plans for commercial development.
But that anticipated development came only in fits and starts. By 2005, the number of dairies had dwindled to 70. The eventual transformation of the land away from its agricultural heyday was under way in earnest. Nevertheless, the development community’s reach exceeded its grasp and the expected building boom within the preserve in the early 2000s failed to materialize. With the economic downturn of 2007, building in the area slowed to a crawl. The county, which had acquired some property in the area under the auspices of sustaining agricultural operations as well as under the assumption the land could be sold in relatively short order at a profit, became a landlord to several dairy operations the county’s political leadership and its political supporters wanted to see shelved.
Ironically, recent events have transpired to put the county in the position of continuing to prop up some of the dairy farms its political leadership a few years ago was angling to extinguish.

Fahrlender Resigns From Phelan Pinon Hills CSD

(January 26)  Longtime Phelan Pinon Hills Community Services District Board Member Joe Fahrlender has resigned from his position, effective January 15.
A fiscal conservative, Fahrlender refused on more than one occasion to support appropriations passed by his board colleagues over the years.
In recent months, Fahrlender, who  long had access to the county leadership of the Republican Party, expressed his doubts that Jim Brulte’s leadership of the GOP at the state level or Curt Hagman’s leadership of the party at the county level, could make inroads on the clout of the Democrats.
Fahrlender was the runner-up to Richard Hall in the 2012 race for the Division 3 position on the Mojave Water Agency Board of Directors.
Fahrlender became a Phelan Pinon Hills director on January 28, 2009. While he yet owns property in Phelan and has a legal residence there, he is now dividing his time between California and Arkansas.
As a result of Fahrlender’s resignation, the Phelan Pinon Hills Community Services District is undertaking a search to replace him for the two years that remain on his current term.
The district has now advertised for any interested candidates meeting the district residency requirement to submit a letter of interest, a personal resume and any other materials deemed by the candidate to be appropriate by 5 p.m. today (January 31) to the district’s office at 4176 Warbler Road in Phelan.

Land Cost Up, Construction Cost Down On Cherry-10 Interchange

(January 28)  The county of San Bernardino is preparing to pay half of a million dollars more than it earlier anticipated to acquire property for the Cherry Avenue Interchange Reconstruction Project.
The interchange project was previously slated as a  $61,546,000 undertaking to improve traffic access to the Fontana area through the I-10 Cherry Avenue Interchange, which lies at the far west end of Fontana near the unincorporated county frontier between Fontana on the east and the cities of Rancho Cucamonga and Ontario on the west.
On March 23, 2010, the county board of supervisors approved Cooperative Agreement No. C10191 with the  San Bernardino County Transportation Authority and the city of Fontana  to establish the roles and responsibilities for administering and funding the original $9,503,000 estimated cost of completing the right-of-way work for the project. The county was identified as the lead agency for the right-of-way services, which included property acquisition, appraisal, and utility relocation. On January 25, 2011, the board approved entering Cooperative Agreement No. C10191 with the authority and the city to establish the roles and responsibilities for construction and funding of the original $61,546,000 estimated construction cost for the project. In accordance with the agreement, the authority would serve as lead agency for the construction phase of the project.
According to Gerry Newcome, the county director of public works, “Construction costs for the project are anticipated to be less than originally estimated, but the right-of-way costs for the project have increased due to additional right-of-way work, such as property permit-to-enter agreements, billboard relocation support, cell tower site relocations, site clearance, and third party utility relocation work. The authority, county, and city have agreed to shift $500,000 of the fund savings from the construction phase to the right-of-way phase to fund the increased costs in that phase. Therefore, Cooperative Agreement No. C11091 for construction needs to be amended to reflect the reduced construction costs and the reduced financial contribution amounts from each party. Further, Cooperative Agreement No. C10191 needs to be amended to reflect the increased right-of-way costs and the required financial contribution amounts from each party. Since the construction savings are being used to finance the right-of-way increases, there is no net increase in required financial contribution from the parties.”
Thus, while the right-of-way cost on the project will increase by $500,000, from $12,503,000 to $13,003,000, there will be a $1,265,000 decrease in the cost of the construction phase of the project, from $61,546,000 to $60,281,000.
“With the adjustments,” Newcombe said, “it is anticipated that the net result is that the county’s overall share of cost for the project is not increasing and remains estimated at $18 million.”

Drought Has County Providing Wood Chipper To Crest Forest District

(January 29)  In reaction to the drought condition that has created uncommonly dry conditions this winter, mountain fire officials have reinstated the county’s curbside chipping program.
The lack of rainfall this season and most of last year has left vegetation in much of the San Bernardino National Forest parched.
Despite the cool temperatures, the fire hazard in the San Bernardino Mountains is unusually high. In reaction, the Crest Forest Fire Protection District has stepped up fire prevention efforts, including inspections aimed at hazardous weed and debris abatement.
The fire department has initiated and in large part completed inspections within two blocks of the forest boundary in the communities of Crestline, Cedarpines Park, Valley of Enchantment, Rimforest and Twin Peaks.
The intent of the stepped-up program is to have homeowners create and maintain “defensible space” around homes. Defensible space is created by clearing the area surrounding a structure of excess vegetation, wood debris or any other flammable materials.
In conjunction with this, the county of San Bernardino, which last year subsumed the Crest Forest Fire Protection District, is making a mobile wood chipper available to the community to perform curbside chipping.
The chipper is used to chip wood debris such as tree limbs and branches. That debris must be prepared by being reduced to a diameter of no larger than 10 inches in diameter in order to be fed into the chipper and thereby processed. The wood chips are then redistributed back onto the property from which they originated. In chip form, the flammability of the wood is degraded.
Information on the wood chipping program can be had by calling the county Land Use Services Department at (909) 884-4056 or the Office of the Fire Marshal at (909) 386-8400.