Upland Employees Targeted In Internal Investigation

(February 20)  An outside investigative firm is conducting what is described as an “administrative investigation” into activities by one or more Upland city employees, the Sentinel has learned.
Norman A. Traub Associates, an organization of former police executives and attorneys engaged in workplace investigations and specializing in probes of public employees, was retained by senior Upland municipal officials to look into what has been alleged to be more than one instance of unspecified misconduct.
Evidence relating to the alleged misconduct was turned over to a Traub Associates investigator, Jeff Love, a foremer police lieutenant who is now an attorney. Love was apparently able to trace the evidence back to at least one city employee.
According to a city memorandum dated January 23 obtained by the Sentinel, the city has initiated an investigation into allegations of misconduct said to have occurred in the last five months of last year and continuing until last month.
“An administrative investigation is currently being conducted into the events which were reported on or about January 6, 2014 for alleged misconduct,” the memo states. “The city has initiated an investigation into allegations of misconduct said to have occurred from August 2013 to January 2014.”
The memorandum, from Stephanie Mendenhall in her capacity as the city’s administrative services director, informs the recipient that he/she will need to submit to questioning as part of that investigation.
“You will need to report to the human resources division on January 28, 2014 at (sic) answer questions relating to this administrative investigation involving possible misuse of city resources,” the memo states.
According to the memorandum, which was delivered to one of the employees suspected of the misconduct, “Jeff Love of Norm A. Traub Associates will be conducting this investigation.  In doing so, he acts with the full authorization of the city. You must cooperate fully and answer all lawful questions fully and truthfully.  You must do so without reservation.  You must obey any lawful order given.”
In addition to being the city’s administrative services director, Mendenhall is also the city clerk and director of human resources.
While the memorandum states the employee is to be allowed to bring his or her own recording device and/or representative to the questioning session, Mendenhall instructs the employee “You are ordered not to discuss this investigation or its subject matter with other current or former employees of the city, except for me or your representative.”
While the memorandum references “misconduct,” it does not specify what the misconduct is and it does not make specific reference to any violation of the law.
It is not clear why city administrators did not rely upon the police department to conduct the investigation. The Sentinel was unable to locate any spending authorization for work by Norman A. Traub Associates nor was a check to that company recorded in the most recent warrant register for the city.
At press time, the Sentinel had been unable to verify if the employee to whom the memorandum was addressed had attended the January 28 interrogation or what conclusion had been reached as a result of the investigation.

Markovich In Bid For 33rd District Assemblyman

(February 19)  Rim of the World School District Board Member Scott Markovich has officially announced he will vie to succeed Tim Donnelly as assemblyman in the 33rd District.
Markovich is among nine residents of the district, which includes the San Bernardino Mountain communities of Lake Arrowhead, Crestline, Cedar Glen, Cedarpines Park as well as the desert cities and communities of Hesperia, Apple Valley, Victorville, Barstow, Trona, Newberry Springs and Needles, who have given indication they will run now that Donnelly is making a gubernatorial bid.
A lifelong resident of the Mountain, Markovich said his indigenousness, his work as a contractor and his orientation as a moderate Republican distinguish him from the pack of competitors in the 33rd District.
“There was no hospital up here at the time, so I was born in San Bernardino Community Hospital,” he said. “My parents lived in Crestline at the time. Except for a few different but brief circumstances, I have lived the majority of my 52 years in Crestline and Cedarpines Park, where I built my own home. I’m a contractor. My wife and I both graduated from Rim of the World High School as did all three of our children. My parents both graduated from Rim of the World High School.“
Markovich attended San Bernardino Valley College and then Cal State San Bernardino, where he obtained a teaching credential for instructing special education students.
He has been employed in three different capacities, Markovich pointed out. He worked at McDonalds while he was a college student. He taught school after he got his degree. And he subsequently obtained his general contractor’s license and he now owns two companies, Empire Home Builders, a sole proprietorship, and Red Rooster Development, a corporation that specializes in building spec homes.
Markovich said he is a moderate Republican with fiscally conservative leanings and more progressive attitudes with regard to social issues.
He said his political outlook is shaped in no small measure by his work as a contractor.
“Because of my contracting background,” he said, “I understand what it is like to be taken advantage of by local or state or federal mandates. Government has infringed upon our ability to live freely as we choose, and government too often interferes with our ability to enjoy our lives. The United States came about to establish and protect our sovereign rights as citizens and individuals. Somehow our political leaders and rulers have lost focus on that. Most of the elected leadership in Sacramento are serving special interests and corporations rather than working at enhancing our freedoms and building the infrastructure of a society in which we can have businesses that succeed so we can have nice homes and the freedom to travel and do things that better our lives and the lives of our families and everyone around us. We have lost focus on the real reasons we elect officials to represent us.”
Markovich used a practical analogy taken from current reality to illustrate the role he believed government should play.
“We used to be able to go to the well with buckets and get all the water we needed,” he said. “But now the well has run dry. There is a drought. We have to pool our resources to dig the well deeper and build the infrastructure we need so we can have enough water to build houses and buildings for businesses and have water for fire protection.”
Government, which should facilitate providing resources to its people, Markovich said, is perversely serving to obstruct citizens from obtaining the resources they need.
“As a contractor, I have always known how to go to get a permit, pass the inspections, do a project on a budget, complete the project, achieve the goal. I know what mandates are and how they hurt us,” he said.
Markovich said he is not blindly opposed to regulation. He said he understands the necessity for order and the imposition of standards.
“There are things we do need to regulate,” he said. “I believe there has to be balance so we don’t overregulate. There has to be more pragmatic thinking about laws.”
He cited AB32, which is aimed at regulating exhaust emissions on commercial equipment, as an example of counterproductive regulation.
“My perspective is based upon my interaction with the truck drivers I deal with who deliver rock, gravel, and sand to the construction sites I work,” he said. “The law was supposedly aimed at huge operations, cement factories, other factories with smokestacks. Now those mandates are being applied to small vehicles and it is costing small operators upwards of $25,000 to comply with regulations and with superficial standards that have no helpful effect in terms of the environment or controlling pollution or any of the good things that were intended in the legislation. The trucks and the truck drivers were not the problem. Regulations have their role, but when all parties are not represented then they become mandates that inhibit the economy. The proper balance on this can only come from candidates who have been part of the middle class that have been subject to these misguided laws. We should not be throwing everyone into the same category.”
Markovich continued, “I really respect Thomas Jefferson. His contemporaries said that he was the most pragmatic politician of his time. There are politicians and there are statesmen. Statesmen go beyond entrenched partisanship and work for the common good and promote people rather than ideology. My goal is to not become a politician and instead try to be a statesman.”
An example of regulation that is proper, Markovich said, is the modulation of land use policy. A case in point, he said, is the Las Flores Ranch proposal, which would entail the construction of 15,540 residential units in Summit Valley.
“I am a contractor, so most people think I am pro-development,” he said. Nevertheless, he said, he took issue with not only the size but at a very basic level the concept of the Rancho Las Flores project. “Property development of this scale in the most beautiful wetlands in the High Desert and at the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains is not beneficial,” he said. “I understand property rights. When your development has significant impact on the environment and sanitation and the health and wellbeing of the community, these things have to be thought through to see if they are fundamentally environmentally and economically sound. Something like this might be good for the proponents and have some short term economic good for the community, but the water in the Mojave Basin is something that everyone shares in and building that project could impact the water and its availability throughout the 33rd District. We could all end up paying a huge price if we let the developers have their way out there.”
As one of the eight Republicans and a single Democrat in the field to replace Donnelly, Markovich said he believes he is distinguished from the others by his “conservatism on fiscal policy and opposition to things that are regressive and do not expand the economy and by my acceptance of freedom of choice on social issues. I am not against gay rights and I do not oppose a woman’s right to choose. I have personal values and ethics that I hold dear and there are things other people do that I would never engage in, but I do not feel it is my place or the place of government to infringe on people’s civil liberties and rights. In my life, early in our marriage when my wife became pregnant and then pregnant again, we were concerned about our careers and the burden of having children at that age. The right choice, we felt, was to choose life. We made the choice to have children. That was our decision. It was not dictated to us. There are things about other people’s lifestyles that I do not understand. But it is their right to choose for themselves. By putting restrictions on freedom into the law, it is counterproductive. I believe you should give people the freedom to make their own decisions.”
The question he has encountered more often than any other since making his candidacy known, Markovich said, is one probing his stance with regard to Second Amendment rights.
“Instead of going after guns and ammunition  and the people who have them, I think the government should work to ensure that there is responsible gun ownership. If gun owners are reasonable and responsible citizens, they should have the right to possess guns. There is a responsibility that goes with that. We need laws to keep us all accountable with respect to the exercising of those  rights and gun use. Guns allow us to protect ourselves until the government comes. Gun rights should stay as part of our lives and our country.”

Fourth District Race To Pit Congresswoman vs. Assemblyman

(February 19)  What promises to be the most spirited supervisorial race in San Bernardino County in the last generation was set in motion on Tuesday when Congresswoman Gloria Negrete-McLeod announced she will not seek a second term in the House of Representatives and will instead battle Assemblyman Curt Hagman for the right to succeed Gary Ovitt as Second District county supervisor.
The race will prove a crucial one in the partisan and ideological battle for the soul of San Bernardino County, which is one of the last bastions of Republicanism in California.
Currently three of the county’s five supervisors are Republicans. Though county supervisor is considered a non-partisan office, governance in San Bernardino County in general and on the board of supervisors specifically is highly politicized. Over the last twelve years, three of the members of the board of supervisors have served as chairman of the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee: Bill Postmus, Paul Biane and Ovitt.
Currently, Hagman, who represents the 55th Assembly District in Sacramento, is the chairman of the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee.
Negrete-McLeod is a Democrat. If she prevails, the board will be populated by a majority of Democrats for the first time since the 1970s.
Negrete-McLeod won  a position in Congress in 2012 after a contentious race against fellow Democrat Joe Baca in the heavily Democratically-leaning 35th Congressional District. Baca was an incumbent at the time, in the 43rd District. Following the redistricting that followed the 2010 Census, he had opted to run in the more Democrat-friendly 35th. He managed a comfortable  12,619 votes or 47.17 percent to 9,078 or 33.93 percent victory over Negrete-McLeod in the June 2012 primary, but was unseated in November of that year, with Negrete-McLeod polling 61,065 votes or 54.35 percent to his 51,281 votes or 45.65 percent. Negrete-McLeod’s victory came, ironically, after her campaign was boosted by $3.8 million in donations from a political action committee controlled by then incumbent New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Republican.
Prior to her election to Congress, McLeod, now 72, served on the Chaffey College Governing Board, in the Assembly and California State Senate.
“It is a great honor and privilege to have represented the constituents of this district for almost two decades in many elected positions including Congress, but my heart is here in the district,” she said in announcing that she would not vie for reelection to Congress. “I have chosen to seek election to the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors and not reelection to Congress. This was a decision not made lightly. However my desire to represent this community locally, where I have lived for more than 40 years, and where I have long served as an elected official, won out. My federal, state and local experience will allow me the opportunity to effectively represent the constituents of the Fourth District.”
Negrete-McLeod’s move, which has been rumored about for several weeks, represents a serious challenge to Hagman, a still up-and-coming politician who is more than two decades her junior. A former mayor of upscale Chino Hills who ran a successful bail bond business, Hagman was elected in 2008 to the State Assembly from a strongly Republican District in the extreme southwest end of San Bernardino County and the southeastern portion of Los Angeles County and northeastern Orange County, including the communities of Diamond Bar, Walnut, Brea, Yorba Linda, La Habra and Rowland Heights.
While San Bernardino County’s Fourth Supervisorial District includes  pockets which are saturated with registered Republican voters primarily in Chino Hills, the district on balance leans Democratic, covering Chino Hills, Chino, unincorporated San Bernardino County, Montclair, Ontario and the southern end of Upland.
Hagman, who at 49 is relatively young in comparison to Negrete-McLeod and Ovitt, is aggressive, ambitious and energetic. Last year, he commandeered control of the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee from its previous chairman, Robert Rego. That takeover was followed by reports that he would run for supervisor in San Bernardino County in 2014. Following his current term in California’s Lower House, Hagman is not eligible to run for the Assembly because of term limits. The next available state legislative position he would be eligible for, 29th District State Senator, is now held by Bob Huff and is not up for election until 2016. Thus, the position of county supervisor, an elected decision maker on a panel of five overseeing a 2.1 million population county with an annual budget in excess of $4 billion, appeared a suitably impressive one to keep Hagman’s political career intact.
While Ovitt denies that he was in any way pressured to retire in the face of Hagman’s potential challenge, in January he announced he would not seek reelection this year. Hagman, in control of the county Republican Party and vying for a position held by Republicans for the last 16 years and  seemingly facing no Democratic opposition with any fundraising horsepower, last month appeared a shoo-in in the June election.
The entrance of the congresswoman into the race entirely changes that outlook. As an incumbent in national office, Negrete-McLeod sports formidable fundraising capability and has banked money from past state campaigns – $900,000 – that can be used in the supervisor’s race.
Almost immediately upon Negrete-McLeod’s announcement, Hagman went on the attack, raising issues and votes on Negrete-McLeod’s part that he believes will reflect poorly on her with a majority of the district’s voters.
In a terse press release that came within two hours of Negrete-McLeod’s announcement, Hagman said, “I welcome Congresswoman Negrete-McLeod to the race. I look forward to hearing how she can make the county safer after she voted to release 20,000 dangerous inmates and voted to release even more through realignment.”
Hagman’s reference was to Negrete-McLeod’s votes as state senator to support legislation aimed at meeting federal mandates to ease overcrowding in the state’s prison system.
Hagman then cited her votes as a member of Congress.
“I¹m hoping her ideas for county health care services work better than disastrous Obamacare policies she helped implement and steadfastly defends,” Hagman said.
An hour later, Hagman told the Sentinel, “I am looking forward to her explaining her votes on Obamacare. In this district, crime is one of the higher level concerns voters have. The state of California released 20,000 prisoners into our communities with her support. I think she should explain that to the voters.”
But those issues will be less important than economic development in the Fourth District and San Bernardino County as a whole, Hagman said.
“While she was in the legislature, the Democrats took away redevelopment,” Hagman said. “Building infrastructure to help create jobs and improving our economic base is what people care about. I have created jobs all my life. She has been living on the government payroll. I know what it takes to make San Bernardino County competitive. I am strong on that issue. I am strong on policies to create jobs. She is strong on policies that make businesses that provide jobs leave. That is a major difference between us. I have to make the residents of the Fourth District see what those differences are.”
With regard to the county’s slow but steady slide away from one dominated by the Republicans to one in which the Democrats will be in ascendency, Hagman observed, “It is true that the demographics have changed over time” and he conceded that Democratic voter registration is up and Republican affiliation is relatively down. He said, however, “In general people are not voting along party lines in what is a non-partisan race. I see party affiliation and partisanship as less important than philosophy. I think the voters will look at our voting records and who was working to create jobs and opportunity for the people who live here. It’s more about education and taxes and jobs. Not all Democrats are happy about Obamacare. Gloria is one of its biggest supporters.”
As for Negrete-MeLeod’s decision to forsake her Congressional career and what appeared to be a safe seat for the foreseeable future, Hagman said, “I am disappointed that she could not handle the job. Being a U.S. Representative is a great honor. She wanted out of there. Basically, between the travel and the weather, she did not like going to work.”
Hagman said he was not daunted by the Democratic registration advantage in the Fourth Supervisorial District. He said being a Democrat gives a candidate an edge in terms of registration but that being a Republican gives a candidate an edge in terms of voter turnout.
“You can look at it any way you want to,” he said. “The Democrats hold a slight registration advantage. If you look at the turnout models, Republicans have much higher turnout, plus 11 or 12 percent in the primaries and plus 6 or 7 percent in the general elections.”
He was not deluding himself, Hagman said, with regard to Negrete-McLeod’s ability to wage a campaign.
“Gloria has been in government a long time,” he said. “She has money and she will hire the appropriate people who know how to run a campaign.”
With regard to Hagman’s criticisms of her prison realignment vote, Negrete-McLeod said, “He was in the assembly during that time. Did he not realize that our state and our governor had to let those prisoners go? Did he not realize we were under an order from the court and that a three-judge panel said we had to release those prisoners to relieve overcrowding? What does he not understand about that?  Hasn’t he read in the newspapers and seen the statistics that crime has gone down or is that something I have to call him to tell him? Those were hard choices but in the legislature you have to make hard votes.   Sometimes those votes are not popular but they are part of the job.”
Negrete-McLeod said that Hagman had mischaracterized her as the biggest supporter of Obamacare in Congress, noting that she had missed some votes on the matter when she was ill. Nevertheless, she acknowledged “At least 34 times I voted against the Republican efforts to either dismantle or abolish the Affordable Care Act . The Republicans wanted to undo it and even went to court. The Supreme Court eventually ruled that it was constitutional. The Affordable Care Act is working for senior citizens and others who do not have a way to get insurance. I am not interested in taking away people’s ability to find medical care.”
The congresswoman said that Hagman was mischaracterizing as well her attitude and voting record with regard to the support of small business owners and entrepreneurship.  “If you check my voting history in the California legislature you will see I was a moderate Democrat. If he is saying that it is typical of Democrats to vote for overregulation and weakening small business, than he is being a typical Republican in being opposed to any type of regulation. This is a non-partisan seat. Why is he bringing up these things from the past that have no bearing on the issues facing San Bernardino County? I am proud of my voting record protecting families and small businesses and making sure there is a safety net for those people who cannot help themselves.”
Negrete-McLeod said she did not want to go on the attack against Hagman, consenting only to say “Mr. Hagman was elected to the Assembly and in six years, he never made a hard vote. One of your principal jobs in the state legislature is to pass a budget. If you are going to say “no,” you should give a reason why you vote no. He did a good job of being against everything, but came up with very little in the way of ideas of his own.”

Long Languishing Rancho Las Flores Project In Summit Valley Resurrected

(February 18)  HESPERIA—The defunct Rancho Las Flores project, which was originally projected to result in the construction of 9,100 residential units in Summit Valley, has been resurrected by its current corporate successor as a three-phase 19,396 home development.
Shortly after the city of Hesperia’s 1987 incorporation, the Dana Point-based ARC Las Flores Corporation sought city approval of the 10,000-acre property at the city’s extreme south end that consisted of the 490-acre Las Flores Ranch and several adjacent parcels, including Bureau of Land Management property obtained through a series of land swaps.
Hesperia’s first city manager, Robert Rizzo, convinced members of the city’s maiden city council – Percy Bakker, George Beardsley and Bruce Kitchen, among them – that the project would generate economic development and create neighborhoods to rival those in upscale Orange County. Within two years, under Rizzo’s guidance as well as that of Hesperia Planning Director Rob Zuel, the scope of the project grew and in 1990, the city approved the Rancho Las Flores specific plan, which called for development of 15,540 housing units in eight phases.
The project never got off the drawing boards, however, and suffered setbacks after Zuel left the city in 1991, followed by Rizzo’s demise as city manager in 1992 following revelations about his illicit efforts to filter money from Orange County development interests into the campaign coffers of council member candidates amenable to the aggressive development proposals that would have doubled the city’s population.
The proposal remained active under succeeding city managers and the guidance of community development director Tom Harp and principal planner Dave Reno, but encountered significant challenges that retarded its progression, such as the economic downturn of 1991 and 1992, the listing of three species that inhabited the property – the  arroyo toad, the Least Bell’s Vireo and the willow flycatcher – as endangered.
In 1993, the project encountered a significant roadblock when the city of Barstow filed a lawsuit against upstream water users along the Mojave River, resulting in protracted litigation over water rights. The lawsuit led to a stipulated settlement in 2000 among the municipal and other water rights holders within the Mojave River Basin and a water allotment to Hesperia that brought into question whether Hesperia would have access to enough water to allow the project to proceed. The city subsequently sought to secure the project’s viability through the purchase of $30 million in water rights, deemed sufficient for ARC Las Flores’ purposes. The developers also obtained from the federal government clearance to proceed with the project subject to certain habitat protections for the endangered species living upon the property.
That ten year delay, however, resulted in the expiration of the project’s specific plan and its environmental impact report, requiring ARC Las Flores to reformulate those documents, which were not finalized until 2008. By that point, the economic downturn of 2007 inhibited progress on the project and in 2012 ARC Las Flores declared bankruptcy. Texas-based Terra Verde Group last year purchased the 10,000 acres for roughly $45 million.
The company has since rechristened the Rancho Las Flores project as the Tapestry Project, by which it intends to maintain the eight-phase nature of the undertaking.
Last month, Terra Verde’s director of development, John Ohanian, gave indication to the Hesperia City Council his company is now purposed to proceed with the project.  Without defining the terms he was using, Ohanian said the density of the residential units would fall in the “low-to-medium” range. The currently applicable specific plan calls for the construction of 11 schools on 207 acres,  372 acres of recreation facilities, two mixed-use town centers on 137 acres, public and civic buildings and a wastewater facility.
The project would retain an element of the historical nature of the property, with a portion of the residential neighborhoods being reserved for equestrian use and a 114-acre trail system built into the overall project as open space.
The massive subdivision would have three major points of access, including Ranchero Road and  State Routes 138 and 173, together with four lesser methods of ingress and egress, including the extensions of Summit Valley Road and Maple and Santa Fe avenues.

Second Massive Solar Project In Ivanpah Gets Federal OK

(February 20)  The federal government has given go-ahead to another large solar project at the extreme northeast end of San Bernardino County.
Tempe, Ariz.-based First Solar Inc.  is the proponent on the 2.6 square mile Stateline Solar Project, which is to be located just west of the California/Nevada border near Primm, Nevada. In giving its blessing to the Stateline Project, which is to lie within San Bernardino County, the Barack Obama Administration also endorsed First Solar, Inc.’s Silverstate South Project proposal, an even larger 3.8 square mile project east of Primm in Nevada.
Both are within the Ivanpah Valley, which occupies portions of both California and Nevada.
On December 30, BrightSource Energy Company’s $2.2 billion Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, the largest solar project ever built, went online. It is located about five miles from the Nevada border, some fifty miles northwest of Needles. It was tied into the state’s power grid last September.
BrightSource’s project consists of 173,500 heliostats, paired mirrors that track the sun and focus the captured thermal energy onto a 459-foot tall tower to produce heat to boil water to create steam to run an electricity-producing turbine, putting out 377 megawatts, enough electricity to meet the needs of 140,000 California homes.
First Solar’s Stateline project will likewise utilize mirrors and the sun to generate heat and run a steam turbine, thereby yielding roughly 223 megawatts, adequate electricity for 82,800 households.
While federal officials and some environmentalists are enthusiastic about the prospect of the availability of copious quantities of energy derived from essentially non-polluting solar fields, some environmentalists had opposed the project on the grounds that the massive undertaking would destroy habitat of the desert tortoise and other wildlife, interrupt or disconnect the passages by which wildlife transit in the desert, and compromise the majestic vistas from the nearby Mojave National Preserve as well as ones of the Soda Mountains, Silurian Valley and the Chuckwalla Valley.
The National Parks Conservation Association, the Western Watersheds Project and Defenders of Wildlife went on record against the approval of both of First Solar’s projects. During the five-year long application process for the projects, First Solar agreed to requirements by both the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that it acquire and set aside 7,200 acres of desert tortoise habitat elsewhere and bankroll $7 million in tortoise protection efforts.

Three GOP Candidates Emerge In 31st After Miller’s Withdrawal

(February 19)  Republican Congressman Gary Miller’s announced decision last week to not seek reelection in the Democratic-leaning 31st District has prompted three members of the GOP to step up in an effort to succeed him, despite the obvious disadvantage any member of their party will have in this year’s electoral contest.
Miller, who has been in Congress since 1999, decided not to seek an eighth term in Congress at least in part because his own electoral chances in the 31st were grim. Miller’s capture of the seat in 2012 was something of a fluke.
In 2012, California had switched to an open primary system, which ended sequestered party ballots and effectively brought to a close the tradition of guaranteeing that a Democrat would face a Republican in the November general election.
After the redistricting that followed the 2010 Census, the 31st District encompasses parts of Upland and Rancho Cucamonga, and stretches eastward across San Bernardino County through a large portion of Fontana, Rialto, Colton, San Bernardino and Redlands. Miller, whose previous district, the 41st, covered the southwestern portion of San Bernardino County and southeast Los Angeles County and northeast Orange County, was apportioned into other districts already held by Republican lawmakers after the 2010 Census. He chose to run in the 31st, gambling that his fundraising ability as an incumbent would offset the Democratic registration advantage his opponent would enjoy.
Members of Congress do not need to live in their district and are eligible for election as long as they live within the state they represent in Washington, D.C.
As it turned out, four relatively unknown Democrats – Pete Aguilar, Justin Kim, Rita Ramirez-Dean, and Renea Wickman – joined Miller in the 2012 31st  District race. In addition, another Republican, Bob Dutton, entered the fray in the 2012 primary. Despite the seven percent Democratic voter registration advantage in the 31st, simple mathematics hurt the Democrats as their vote was divided four ways, while the Republican vote was split two ways. Dutton and Miller proved to be the two top vote-getters and under California’s open primary arrangement, the November general election came down to a race between Republicans Miller and Dutton. Miller prevailed in that race.
For solid reasons, the Democrats consider the 31st District to be one that should naturally fall to them. Of the district’s registered voters, 127,690 or 41 percent, are affiliated with the Democratic Party.  Registered Republicans in the district number 104,938, or 33.7 percent. Independent political appraisers see the 31st as a Democratic asset as well.
Even  before Miller defeated Dutton in 2012, Democratic strategists set their sights on the 31st District and Miller, determined to prevent the disarray that tripped their party up in 2012 being repeated again. In short order, a game plan was hatched by which Aguilar, who had polled the most votes among the four Democrats in the 2012 primary, was chosen as the logical party standard bearer. By promoting Aguilar early, engaging in brisk fundraising on his behalf and warding off any other Democrats so a concentrated party electoral effort to advance Aguilar can be mounted, they believed Aguilar could beat Miller in a toe-to-toe slugfest in November 2014, despite Miller’s incumbency and formidable fundraising capability.
Consequently, Aguilar has been the beneficiary of a concerted Democratic fundraising and endorsement effort on his behalf. Seeing the writing on the wall, Miller opted out of the equation, announcing earlier this month that he was leaving Congress to devote time to his family.
Either lacking the political sense Miller possesses or possessed of determination to show the GOP flag no matter how dire their prospects, three Republicans – San Bernardino County Councilman John Valdivia, perennial elected office candidate Paul Chabot and Miller’s senior policy director Lesli Gooch, have issued announcements that they will test the waters in this year’s 31st Congressional District Primary.
Valdivia who last year handily beat an effort by a Democratic Party-affiliated group of local political activists to recall him from office, indicated that as an Hispanic Republican he believes he stands a fair chance of success given the demographics of the district.
Chabot is an anti-drug crusader who claims to have been one of the youngest drug addicts on record before he underwent rehab at the age of 13. He has served as a reservist in both the sheriff’s department and Navy and saw active duty in Iraq. Chabot previously sought election to the California Assembly and was actively campaigning to become assemblyman upon Mike Morrell’s anticipated departure from the Assembly to succeed resigned State Senator Bill Emmerson when Miller announced he would not run for reelection. Chabot initially indicated he would support Bob Dutton in his ambition to succeed Miller. After Dutton gave indication he would continue to pursue his previously announced decision to be elected county assessor, Chabot abruptly abandoned his pursuit of the assembly spot and jumped into the 31st Congressional District race.
Reminding the electorate that he is the most conservative of the candidates in the field, Chabot said, “This seat is too important to lose to a career politician who will give us more of the same – empty promises and failed results. Americans deserve elected officials who are willing to place the needs of the people they represent before partisan bickering in order to get things done.”
He claimed the endorsements of former Congressman Jerry Lewis and current Second District San Bernardino County Supervisor Janice Rutherford.
Gooch launched her campaign with an endorsement from Miller.
“Lesli has spent the past 15 years on Capitol Hill fighting for San Bernardino County families,” Miller said. “Lesli has worked tirelessly developing programs to ensure safe, decent, and affordable housing opportunities for Inland Empire families; securing funding and administrative victories to improve our streets and schools; and fighting to ensure Inland Empire small businesses thrive and create good paying jobs.”
Saying she was “disappointed” that Miller is departing Congress, Gooch said she has already secured $100,000 in campaign funding.
Counteracting Rutherford’s endorsement of Chabot, Fourth District San Bernardino County Supervisor Gary Ovitt endorsed Gooch.
Despite efforts by the National Democratic Party to get members of the party to coalesce behind Aguilar, there is concern that the Republicans could again capture the 31st Congressional seat as three Democrats other than Aguilar are in the race – Colton attorney Eloise Gomez Reyes, San Bernardino school board member Danny Tillman and former Representative Joe Baca. Gomez Reyes, Tillman and Baca have so far proven resistant to calls for them to drop out of the contest in favor of party unity.

Most Of Needles Lost Gas Service Much Of Wednesday And Thursday

(February 20)  Gas service to residences and businesses in Needles, San Bernardino County’s smallest and easternmost city, was shut off for nearly 24 hours this week.
According to a representative of Southwest Gas, the outage occurred Wednesday morning following what was supposed to be a routine test of lines, during which individual pipes are shut down temporarily. A Southwest employee inadvertently switched off the wrong valve, turning off the flow of natural gas to nearly all of the 4,844-population city. When the valve was reopened, the city’s lattice of gas pipes had lost their prime.
Restaurants and hotels had to shut down because of no hot water or cooking fuel. Homes were without fuel for cooking or heating water for showers.
While Southwest Gas maintained that 200 of its customers were without gas as of Wednesday night, reports were that at least 2,300 residents were without the service.
“Southwest Gas crews worked until 11:15 last night, and have restored service to approximately 200 customers, including all priority customers (elderly, etc.) and commercial. Restoration efforts are continuing this morning. Additional personnel from Las Vegas were brought in to assist and speed up the relight process,”  Stephen Miller, Analyst I, Communications at Southwest Gas Corporation, told a locally-based media outlet, ZachNews, on Thursday morning.
Southwest Gas established a command center for the service restoration effort near the intersection of East Broadway and Goodwill Street in Needles. Into the afternoon of Thursday, February 20, work crews were observed driving into and out of the command center, retrieving work orders for points all around the community.
As of mid-morning on February 20, the gas was not yet turned on at the Denny’s restaurant, nor the Taco Bell, nor the Carl’s Jr. and Green Burrito, nor the Munchy’s Mexican Restaurant, nor Lucy’s Mexican Restaurant, nor Cook’s Cuisine, nor China Garden, nor Valenzuela’s Café, nor Riverfront Cafe & Cocktails, nor Porky’s BBQ Restaurant, nor Burger Hut.
Gas was turned on at the River City Pizza Company, the Wagon Wheel, the Subway and Dairy Queen and Juicy’s Famous River Café and McDonald’s.
Information about the status of Domino’s Pizza and Jack in the Box was unavailable.

Allegations Of Irregularities In Awarding Of $40 Million Indigent Defense Contract

(February 14)  A delay in the selection and approval process for four lucrative county contracts for the provision of what is known as conflict representation for indigent defendants in the county’s courts has resulted in the exposition of a series of apparent irregularities in the rating and recommendation system being used in the competition for the contracts.
One of the competitors has now launched a challenge of the rating system that favored the politically connected firm that currently holds two of the county’s four regional conflict representation contracts, after evidence surfaced to show that the incumbent firm was allowed to revise its bid after several of its competitors came in at prices well below its offer.
The Constitution and California law provide for the right of all persons against whom criminal court proceedings are brought to be represented by counsel. The public defender provides legal representation to the criminally accused in the county who do not have sufficient money to secure lawyers on their own. In a number of cases, primarily ones in which there is more than one indigent defendant, a conflict arises that prevents the public defender’s office from representing both parties in preparation for trial as well as at trial.
California Penal Code Section 987.2 allows counties to contract with panels of attorneys, known as “conflict panels,” to provide defense representation services for indigent defendants the public defender is unable to represent. The county has contracted for adult indigent defense representation services since  1993. The costs for such appointed services are an obligation of the county. The county of San Bernardino Indigent Defense Program administers appointed representation service contracts, and the services of other court-appointed attorneys, investigators and experts for the county’s impoverished defendants.
Through December 31, 2013, four law firms had contracts to serve as conflict attorneys representing defendants in San Bernardino County.  The Law Firm of David Goldstein had a $9.35 million contract to provide conflict attorney representation in the West Valley region of San Bernardino County. The law firm of Carter Spring, Shank & O’Connor,  headed by Earl Carter and Jim Spring, had an $18.75 million contract to represent defendants in the East Valley as well as a $12 million contract to represent defendants in the county’s North Desert Region. Attorney John Burdick had a $1.875 million contract to do conflict representation in the East Desert region.
On September 26, 2013, County Chief Executive Officer Greg Devereux approved the solicitation of bids for court-appointed adult indigent defense representation service providers. A proposal evaluation committee consisting of representatives of the county and the Superior Court was formed to review the submitted proposals. When that committee did not arrive on a decision on which firms to extend the conflict representation contracts to by December, the board of supervisors extended the contracts with Carter Spring Shank & O’Connor, the Goldstein Law Firm and attorney John Burdick through March 2014 for $2,450,000, $1,070,000 and $200,000, respectively.
In response to the September 26 bid solicitation, six law firms submitted bid proposals for the work, including Earl Carter’s firm, under the name Inland Defenders; Burdick under the name Contract Defenders; Greenline Partners, headed by attorneys Daniel Greenberg and Raj Maline; Robert Ponce; the law firm of Brown, White and Newhouse; and the law firm of  Skipper, Singer & Associates.
The selection committee, the Sentinel has learned, was leaning in favor of hiring Carter as the conflict panel attorney for all four of the county’s geographical areas, having carried out a ranking of each firm based upon administrative, fiscal, record-keeping and audit compliance capability and resources; company reliability and financial resources; strength of representative capability and coordination and oversight of investigators; and cost evaluation.
The four members of the selection committee, which included Superior Court judges Annemarie Pace and John Vander Feer as well as chief assistant county counsel Michelle Blakemore and deputy county counsel Phoebe Chu, participated in that evaluation in which each committee member could assign the competitors up to 100 points each, for a total maximum score of 400 based upon the rankings of all four evaluators.
Carter Spring Shank & O’Connor scored a rank of 353. Contract Defenders scored 315. Greenline Partners were ranked at 309. The Ponce law firm achieved a 306 ranking. Skipper, Singer and Associates as well as Brown, White  & Newhouse scored an identical 240.
In late January, Greenline Partners caught wind of the intended recommendation of Carter and Spring as the contract recipient. On January 31 it submitted a letter of appeal in which the firm charged there was “faultiness [in] the evaluation process” or “biases” on the part of the evaluators.
The pending conclusion that Carter Spring Shank & O’Connor should receive the contract, potentially worth more than $40 million, Greenline maintains, “does not reflect the best interest of the county, nor does it support any notion of fairness.”
The bias in favor of Carter Spring Shank & O’Connor, also known as Inland Defenders, was demonstrated, according to Greenline, by the consideration that the committee ranked Carter Spring Shank & O’Connor more favorably than Greenline in terms of cost evaluation despite Greenline having significantly underbid Carter Spring Shank & O’Connor.
“This is notwithstanding the fact that over three years, Greenline Partners is approximately $2.25 million less expensive to the county than is Inland Defenders,” the appeal states. Moreover, according to Greenline, after all of the competitors had submitted their bids, the county permitted Carter Spring Shank & O’Connor to submit a lower bid than it had previously submitted.
“While Greenline Defenders was contacted to verify the low fees for some services, Greenline Defenders was never afforded the opportunity to adjust its bid to further compete. A January 2, 2014 fax from Inland Defenders to the county contained a revised fee schedule, merely one day before the intent to award was declared. Greenline Defenders believes that this was unfair and potentially a violation of due process of law,” according to the appeal letter.
Greenline took issue with the unfair treatment another of the firms bidding on the contract was accorded by the county.
“While Greenline Partneres was not directly affected by this particular example, Evaluator A gave Brown, White and Newhouse a 32/100[ranking],” the protest states. “They were awarded particularly low scores in categories that do not justify the low scores (cost, for example, receiving far lower scores than other bidders with the same fee schedule). Clearly there was significant bias against that bidder. The integrity of the entire process is compromised in that result.”
There were two significant conflicts of interest in the favorable treatment accorded Carter Spring Shank & O’Connor, Greenline asserted.
One involved Judge Pace, who afforded the Inland Defenders access to her during the evaluation process not given to others. The other involved district attorney Mike Ramos, who provided a written recommendation for the law firm, despite the consideration that the current and future contracts for conflict attorney service directly involve attorneys acting in an adversarial role to the district attorney’s office.
“During the bidding process, Earl Carter and Sean O’Connor were observed entering evaluator Hon. Annemarie Pace’s chambers,” the appeal letter states. “Carter and O’Connor remained there, according to the letter, “for approximately 40 minutes.” The letter goes on to say, “While the conversation that took place was not observed, the potential for impropriety and the conflict of interest is apparent.”
According to Greenline Partners, “Michael Ramos, the district attorney and professional adversary of the award recipient, not only listed himself as a professional reference, but wrote a letter of recommendation for Inland Defenders. This is clearly improper, and the potential for abuse and bias is readily apparent. A district attorney should not be endorsing any individual or organization as an adversary.”
The Sentinel has obtained a copy of that letter. It reads, in part:
“I have been the district attorney for the county of San Bernardino since 2003. We have the largest criminal caseloads in the state and I can say that our law and justice partners, including the defense bar, work hard at being efficient and seeking justice in our criminal courts. Mr. Carter’s defense attorneys’ work is no exception. These attorneys do not shy away from jury trials and are tough advocates for their clients, according to my attorneys who work with them and against them on a daily basis…  One may wonder why the district attorney is writing a letter for indigent defense attorneys, but it’s basic. They are tough, yet fair and ethical advocates as we seek justice for victims while protecting the rights of the accused.”
In the aftermath of the Greenline appeal, the county has postponed ratifying the Carter firm as the conflict panel attorney. Meanwhile, further information has surfaced, raising questions about the county’s readiness to confer all four of the regional conflict representation contracts upon Carter’s firm.
Documents on file with the county registrar of voters’ office and the California Secretary of State’s office show that Earl Carter, together with his recently deceased law partner Jim Spring, and his law firm, Carter, Spring, Shank & O’Connor, donated a total of $120,500 to district attorney Mike Ramos from 2004 until 2012. Additionally, together with his law firm and law partners, Carter has made $88,500 in political donations to all five current county supervisors, including $38,000 to Gary Ovitt, $32,050 to Josie Gonzales, $12,750 to Janice Rutherford, and $1,500 each to both Robert Lovingood and James Ramos.
The more than $200,000 in political donations made by Carter and his law partners to San Bernardino County politicians raised the specter of pay-to-play politics having tainted the judicial process. This tawdry image was worsened when allegations were made that Carter and his firm had earlier captured the two conflict panel contracts it currently holds and was about to take on all four such contracts because it made a practice of providing lackluster legal defense to indigent clients as a means of lessening the burden on the county’s clogged court system.
By putting up weak or non-existent defenses for the accused the firm represents or by persuading its clients to enter guilty pleas or accept plea bargains, criminal cases were disposed of expeditiously and court calendars cleared, critics of the Carter Spring Shank & O’Connor law firm alleged. To facilitate quick pleas, some who had been convicted reported, investigators from Earl Carter’s firm arrived at the county’s jails and detention facilities to interview clients with a plea arrangement document in hand. Those investigators would in many cases, it was alleged, persuade the defendants to sign the plea document at that point. Thus, many of the Carter firm’s clients never actually met with an attorney before paperwork on their cases was filed with the court, according to those questioning the quality of work done by Carter’s firm.
Repeated phone calls to Blakemore for comment went unreturned.
County spokesman David Wert told the Sentinel that the board has yet to award the conflict panel contracts but will very likely have the contracts in place and ratified by March, when the current contract extensions expire.
With respect to district attorney Ramos’s letter of recommendation on behalf of Carter’s law firm, Wert said, “That letter from the DA is not something over which the board of supervisors would have any jurisdiction. I am not aware of anything that would curtail the district attorney’s ability to write a letter like that. As to why he wrote it, that is something you have address to the district attorney. It is up to each individual [on the selection panel] as to whether the recommendation means anything. I do not think a letter like that would have any influence over the process because a recommendation from the DA was not one of the contract qualification criteria.”
With respect to Greenline’s contention that Carter’s law firm was given an unfair advantage in being able to submit a revised fee schedule after all of the competitors had submitted their bids at a point just before the panel made its recommendation,  Wert said that submission “wasn’t a second bite at the apple. The competitors had already been eliminated. What happens in these things is the panel decides who the top bidder was. At that point, county staff began negotiating to get a better price. In the exchange with Carter at that point the first issue was can we get a better price. It wasn’t an opportunity to get an advantage in the competition with Greenline because Greenline was out of it. It was an effort by county staff, not the panel but county administrative staff, to go and get a better price once the panel had chosen and before this went before the board of supervisors.”
As to the Carter firm being given a more preferential rating with regard to cost than firms that had submitted lower bids, Wert defended the panel’s ratings by asserting, “First of all, cost was only 30 percent of the consideration for awarding the contract.  This is not a dump truck full of sand or cement. You don’t automatically go with the lowest price. Submitting the lowest price doesn’t make you the best bidder. When you compare Carter to the other firms, you are comparing apples to oranges. Carter’s bid reflected prices for the entire county. Greenline only bid on two regions of the county. To make sure we were clear on the price evaluation, what the panel did is it broke down the prices by region and found that Carter was in fact lower than in the two regions Greenline bid in. Greenline was only bidding for the East Valley and High Desert. Carter’s price represented the entire county.”
Wert said he was not in a position to respond to the charges leveled at the Carter Law Firm regarding the alleged practice of having its investigators approach clients with plea agreements in hand before any investigation or evaluation of the cases or allegations or facts involved took place.
“I don’t know anything about that,” Wert said. “That is not something the county needs to respond to. That is something Carter needs to be accountable for if someone is making that statement.”
By press time, Earl Carter did not return any of nine phone calls from the Sentinel made to his office on February 11, 12 and 13 seeking his input. Nor did his law firm or the county supply data with regard to how many court appearances the Carter law firm’s lawyers have made on behalf of the indigent clients the firm represents or how many of those cases were taken to trial.
Maline told the Sentinel, “I don’t have personal knowledge of Inland Defenders’ investigators obtaining plea agreements from their clients in the jails.”
He did say, however, that he believed the way in which the county structured the arrangements for retaining criminal conflict attorneys was “flawed. The system has a built-in incentive that facilitates quick pleas. The indigent conflict attorneys do not have an incentive to fight the cases they take. They get the same amount of money if they make one court appearance or multiple court appearances.”
Wert said the suggestion that the county was acceding in an arrangement that facilitated those quick pleas was wrong.
“The court system is a separate entity from the county,” he said.
He dismissed the Greenline appeal of the panel’s recommendation as grousing that is typical of entities that fail to capture county contracts.
“The county administrative office feels the process has gone how it was expected to go and how it should go,” Wert said. “We would never expect someone who did not come out on top of the bid process to be happy about how things went. Those that lose do protest, and there are a lot of appeals. That is the nature of things.”
Wert said the “appeal has not made its way through the process. It is still going on. There is always the possibility the appeal will cause the panel to rethink things. We don’t want to say there is nothing to this before we hear the appeal. That would not be fair to the people making the appeal. The board has not been a part of the process yet; the process is still going on. The board is not going to have anything to do with the process until the appeal is considered and the administrative review is done and a report for the board is completed. The only reason this hasn’t come to the board is this appeal is dragging things out.”