Generous Pensions Have City In Red, Bozar Says

(February 13)  Upland City Councilman Glenn Bozar this week sounded an alarm to his city’s residents, warning that the City of Gracious Living must deal with a  pension liabiliy that is on the verge of overwhelming it.
Fully 73.6 percent of the city’s operational costs consist of paying for personnel, including meeting  current payroll, covering workers’ compensation and paying the pensions of retired employees. Projections are that those costs will increase, leaving less and less of the money in city coffers available for taking care of its physical needs, such as paving streets, maintaining trees, sidewalks and parks and the  upkeep of other city infrastructure.
In 2013-2014 the city’s pension costs stand at $6 million. The most reliable figures currently available show the city will incur an additional $1.5 million in pension costs next year, 2014-15, escalating to $7.7 million the annual amount city pays  into the public employees’ retirement system.
Bozar said he had made an in-depth effort to study the issue and had learned that the increases in pension costs were outpacing the city’s growth in revenue.
“The most stunning revelation that came out was when city manager [Stephen] Dunn was  talking about this issue and he disclosed that the $4.2 million generated out of the Colonies [commercial subdivision] goes to paying these pension costs,” Bozar said.
“How did we get here?” Bozar asked. He then referenced page 4-10 os a 13-year-old budget task force report which explicated how city officials in the year 2000 assumed “a false sense of security” by relying on data and projections provided by representatives of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS). Those pension fund representatives maintained that the retirement system, including coverage for Upland, was “superfunded” well into the future. City officials, who were influenced by the public employees retrement system board, believed, Bozar said, that the city  could continue providing generous retirement benefits to employees without having to make equally escalating contributions to the system.
“In 2001, the city was told that we could [rely upon available money from the California Public Employees Retirement System to pay for the pensions of city public safety employees for 35 years and our miscellaneous employees indefinitely,” Bozar said. “That was what was put forth by the Public Employees Retirement Board.”
Bozar said those board members, who also participate in the retirement system, had a conflict of interest in making that false projection.
“They benefited from this,” he said.
The city relied uponfalse projections, Bozar said. “When we look at the dates, you can see that  in the first four years [1999-2000 to 2003-04] we paid nothing into this Public Employee Retirement System fund. This was a dream world the Public Employee Retirement System board was in. Then things went wacky in 2004-5. The city paid over $2 million in 2004. Then it doubled the following year. It went down the following year. After that, our previous city manager negotiated a higher formula and you can look and see our pension liability from that point is going up and up and up. The projected cost for the next fiscal year is $7.7 million.”
Also appearing before the city council on February 10 was one of Bozar’s appointees to the  most recently formed city fiscal task force, Robert Nelson, a former corporate chief financial officer and certified public accountant. Nelson  said the city had been far too generous in making promises to its employees in the past with regard to guaranteeing their pensions and it now must take action to either undo what was done or significantly curtail operations to be able to afford providing those too-generous payments to people who are no longer working for the city.
“The biggest cost driver of this general  fund is high wages and benefits that amount to  74 percent of the budget,” Nelson said, saying the financial burden was putting the city into “a death spriral. This is impossible to sustain. Today the public is slow in waking up  to what this means, but we see the  evidence in man of the bankruptcies of California cities. Upland is now on that road.”
Bozar said, “We’re very grateful and appreciative of the employees who now contribute,”  but he reiterated that employees who have worked with the city for most or all of their careers are eligible to retire and get 90 percent of their top pay while they were with the city. That formula is breaking the city’s bank, he said.
“What we are faced with in the immediate and near term is ‘How do we come up with this money?’ We. have to work with our employees who do a great job” to find a solution, he said, or face dire consequences for both the city’s residents and employees.
He said he was against outsourcing, that is, closing out city departments wholesale and contracting with other municipal agencies or private companies for services. But he warned that the outsourcing solution would become increasingly attractive in the future because it would allow the city to get out from under its pension obligation with regard to its future workforce.
“Why do we want to outsource?” he asked, pausing for effect before answering, “To get rid of these salaries and pension costs.” He noted that under the current pension system, the formula for calculating pensions is tied to salaries, so that increasing employee salaries automatically increases pensions.
After his assessment of the city’s financial state, Bozar nevertheless expressed confidence that a solution could be found. “We have to work together with employees and get costs under control,” he said.
City manager Stephen Dunn was less sanguine, saying, “It’s not a problem that we can solve.” He noted that outsiders had a too simplistic notion of how the city’s listing financial ship could be righted.  “It’s really easy to fix what you are not responsible for,” he said. “We do have a lot of work ahead of us.”
He said he had been unfairly set upon by critics who had complained that he had advocated unpalatable solutions to the city’s financial problems, such as selling the city’s water assets.
“People are saying [about me] ‘You want to do this and are wanting to do that.’” The truth is, he said, he was merely providing the city council with money generating or money saving options to consider and that it was up to the council to make the decisions.  “I want to give you guys ideas, and have staff do the work so you guys can make decisions based on the best information available. People get the feeling we can just go to the expenditure side [and make cuts]. Our pension costs are eating us from the inside out. We have reduced our work force in the last two years by 25 percent. The amount of work hasn’t decreased.”
Bozar, pointing out that contracts with employees will remain in place until June 2015, said the council and senior staff should begin to chart now how they will approach the issue of getting concessions from employee unions on salary and pensions in the succeeding contracts.
“We need to start laying the foundation now,” he said.

Mojave Water Agency Holds Off On Purchasing Arrangement With Cadiz, Inc

(February 13)  The Mojave Water Agency’s Tactical Advisory Committee has recommended against the agency relying upon water available from the Cadiz Water Project as part of its integrated water management plan.
Los Angeles-based Cadiz, Inc. is undertaking what is officially known as the Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project, a plan to siphon billions of gallons of water from the East Mojave Desert for use elsewhere.  Since the 1980s, Cadiz, Inc. has operated a 500-acre organic grape, citrus, melon and pepper farm in the Cadiz Valley, thereby obtaining water pumping rights. In 2012 Cadiz, Inc.arranged to have the Santa Margarita Water District, to which it is contracted to deliver a portion of the water to be extracted from the desert, assume lead agency status for the project’s approval. Many of those opposed to the project considered that to be a conflict of interest.
San Bernardino County contemplated, but in March 2012 ultimately elected against, challenging Orange County-based Santa Margarita’s assumption of that lead agency status on the project. Instead on May 1, 2012 the county entered into a memorandum of understanding with that district and Cadiz, Inc. and its corporate entities, including the Fenner Valley Mutual Water Company, allowing Santa Margarita to oversee the environmental impact report for the project and conduct the public hearings related to project approval.
On July 31, 2012, the Santa Margarita Water District Board of Directors approved the Cadiz Water Project and certified the environmental impact report for the Cadiz Water project.
On October 1, 2012, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors gave approval to a groundwater monitoring plan to facilitate completion of the project.
Cadiz intends to import the lion’s share of the water to Orange and Los Angeles counties but is also looking to sell water to other entities in Riverside and San Bernardino counties.
The Mojave Water Agency, which oversees water usage in the western Mojave communities of Apple Valley, Adelanto, Hesperia, Baldy Mesa, Victorville and Barstow, Helendale and Oro Grande, is interested in augmenting that region’s water supply and has done so by purchasing water from the State Water Project.
As part of its Integrated Water Management Plan, the agency contemplated becoming one of Cadiz, Inc.’s customers.
Last week, however, the Mojave Water Agency heard protests from various individuals opposed to the Cadiz project.
Historically, entities in San Bernardino, Redlands, Riverside, Rialto, Anaheim and Los Angeles have sought to commandeer water originating in the western Mojave Desert, all of which included elaborate schemes involving large scale aqueducts to carry the water down the Cajon Pass. None of those succeeded after residents of the Victor Valley opposed those efforts. Indeed, the Mojave Water Agency was formed in part to manage the West Mojave’s water resources and prevent it from being diverted elsewhere.
At least one of those protesting against incorporating Cadiz, Inc.’s water into the MWA Integrated Water Management Plan referenced those earlier efforts to seize the Victor Valley’s water for distant use, asserting the Mojave Water Agency would set a bad legal precedent and lose its moral authority to oppose any efforts to take local water if it went along with the Orange County raid on the East Mojave’s water supply.
Those opposed to the Cadiz project object to the use of the terms “conservation” and “storage” in the official name of the project, maintaining that the project purports to “conserve” water by exporting it for consumptive use. Legal challenges to the project, which are ongoing, contend that Cadiz, Inc. and the Santa Margarita Water District should have included the Metropolitan Water District, state or regional water resources control boards, and the California Department of Fish and Game, and the state Department of Water Resources as responsible agencies in the environmental impact reporting drafting process. The Santa Margarita Water District did not do so.
Opponents of the project also maintain that the county of San Bernardino should have been the lead agency overseeing the approval of the project and its environmental certification as opposed to the Santa Margarita Water District.
The MWA’s Tactical Advisory Committee on February 6, after a protracted debate, voted to advise the Mojave Water Agency board of directors to not incorporate Cadiz Water Project water as an element of its water management plan.
Cadiz, Inc. and the Santa Margarita maintain that there is adequate legal precedent for diverting water from one region to another.

Miller Withdrawal Sets Up 31st District Baca Vs. Aguilar Slugfest

(February 12)  It now appears that the real dogfight in this year’s 31st Congressional District race will be between Democrats Joe Baca and Pete Aguilar, now that the incumbent, Republican Gary Miller, has announced he will not seek re-election.
Ever since Miller in 2012 gained election in the 31st District, which leans Democratic, the prospects for the 2014 race have been closely watched and there has been much speculation about the eventual final matchup and outcome in the district race.
With the Republicans holding a majority of the seats in the House of Representatives and California being an overwhelming Democratic state, Miller’s hold on the 31st Congressional District provoked the Democrats to begin early and in earnest in their efforts to unseat him as part of a larger strategy to capture control of both houses of the legislature.
Miller’s 2012 victory in the 30th Congressional District, which had been redrawn after the 2010 Census, was an extraordinary occurrence.
In 2012, California had switched to an open primary system, which ended sequestered party ballots and effectively ended the tradition of guaranteeing that a Democrat would face a Republican in the November general election.
In the 31st District, which encompasses parts of Upland and Rancho Cucamonga, and stretches eastward across San Bernardino County through a large portion of Fontana, Rialto, Colton, San Bernardino and Redlands, four Democrats – Pete Aguilar, Justin Kim, Rita Ramirez-Dean, and Renea Wickman – sought election in 2012, as did Miller. In addition, another Republican, Bob Dutton, joined the fray in the 2012 primary. Despite the seven percent Democratic voter registration advantage in the 31st, simple mathematics hurt the Democrats as their vote was divided four ways, while the Republican vote was split two ways. Dutton and Miller proved to be the two top vote-getters and under California’s open primary arrangement, the November general election came down to a race between Republicans Miller and Dutton. Miller prevailed in that race.
With no little justification, the Democrats consider the 31st District to be one that should naturally fall to them. Of the district’s registered voters, 127,690 or 41 percent, are affiliated with the Democratic Party.  Registered Republicans in the district number 104,938, or 33.7 percent. Independent political appraisers see the 31st as a Democratic asset as well.
Even before Miller outpolled Dutton in November 2012, Democratic strategists were conferring about what steps could be taken to ensure that Democratic disarray in 2014 would not perpetuate Miller’s incumbency beyond the current Congress. In short order, a game plan was hatched by which Aguilar, who had polled the most votes among the four Democrats in the 2012 primary, was chosen as the logical party standard bearer. By promoting Aguilar early, engaging in brisk fundraising on his behalf and warding off any other Democrats so a concentrated party electoral effort to advance Aguilar can be mounted, they believed Aguilar could beat Miller in a toe-to-toe slugfest in November 2014, despite Miller’s incumbency and formidable fundraising capability.
Relatively early on, well-connected Democratic-functionaries acted to boost Aguilar.  In May 2013, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee selected Aguilar as one of five candidates nationwide to be included in its Jumpstart Program, which is intended to assist early-emerging Democrats seeking to unseat incumbent Republicans deemed to be vulnerable.
Party leaders convinced California’s two senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, to endorse Aguilar. Party donors, inside and outside California, were encouraged to provide him with campaign cash, and money started pouring into Aguilar’s political war chest. More attention was drawn to him, ensuring even more contributions, when the Washington-based news organization, Politico, in July named Aguilar one of “50 Politicos to watch in 2013.”
Joe Baca, who since 1999 had represented California in the Washington D.C.’s lower house in the heavily Democratic-leaning  42nd and 43rd Congressional districts with solid Democratic support, in 2012 found himself unseated when he was opposed by another Democrat, then-state senator Gloria Negrete-McLeod, in the race to represent the newly drawn 35th Congressional District. In the June 2012 primary Baca comfortably outpolled Negrete-McLeod 12,619 votes or 47.17 percent to 9,078 or 33.93 percent in a race that also featured Green Party Candidate  Anthony Vieyra. Nevertheless, in November 2012 Baca was vanquished by Negrete-McLeod, 61,065 votes or 54.35 percent to 51,281 votes or 45.65 percent, after Negrete-McLeod’s campaign was boosted by an infusion of $3.8 million in donations from a political action committee controlled by Republican New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, which paid for a $2.3 million television advertising blitz during the last week of the campaign.
Baca for the last ten months has defied members of his own party in their promotion of Aguilar, and he is using the name recognition he has with local voters, his indirect and residual political clout as a former member of Congress, together with an insider’s knowledge of issues and alliances to obtain big money backing from national and even international players to regain entrance to the House of Representatives. He is joined by Democratic Party activist Eloise Reyes and San Bernardino school board president Danny Tillman in challenging Aguilar.
With Miller out of the picture and no other Republicans having immediately stepped in to make an attempt to succeed Miller, the National Democratic Party’s emphasis on promoting Aguilar is very likely to be tempered in the days ahead, as it now appears quite likely that the seat will fall to a Democrat, as Miller and his prodigious fundraising capability are out of the picture.
There was nonetheless a minor indication that a Republican candidate might crop up to show the flag for the GOP in the 31st. Paul Chabot, who is already seeking state office as a successor to Michael Morrell should Morrell need to vacate his current position in the Assembly as a result of his candidacy to succeed resigned 23rd District State Senator Bill Emmerson, said he has been approached by members of his party to run for Congress in the 31st District. Chabot said he would not diverge from his current ambition with regard to the state Assembly unless Dutton does not leap into the breach.
“I am humbled by the overwhelming number of calls and emails offered by my friends and supporters to run for the congressional seat,” said Chabot. “My position is clear – I am 100 percent behind Dutton who ran for the seat in 2012, if he chooses to run. If he decides not to run, I am seriously considering making a bid.”
In announcing he would not seek reelection, Miller said he was doing so for “family reasons,” making no mention of the consideration that the Democratic Party was targeting him.
“When I came to Congress in 1999, my children were grown and out of the house. Today, we have a full house again. My wife and I are raising our three grandchildren,” he said. “It has been a great honor to spend so many years in public service, striving to make a difference for Southern California families. While there is still a lot of work to be done, it is now time for me to pass the baton.”

Chino Hills Commissioner Resigns Over Mistreatment Of Animals And Activists

(February 12)  Chino Hills Public Works Commissioner Barry Fischer on January 29 tendered his resignation in apparent protest over the city’s policies and actions with regard to animal control.
The 72-year-old Fischer, who was named by the major newspaper in Chino and Chino Hills, The Chino Champion, as Chino Hills Outstanding Citizen of the Year in 2013, has been active for several years in advocating that Chino Hills operate on its own or contract with a no-kill animal shelter.
He has decried city policies and city council decisions which run counter to that goal, in particular the city’s ongoing contract with the Inland Valley Humane Society, which has a policy of euthanizing animals that come under its stewardship if adoptions are not effectuated within a 30-day deadline.
An outgrowth of Fischer’s dedication to that issue was his inability to accept  the city’s code enforcement and ensuing legal action against Charles and Lisa Price, who had taken it upon themselves to operate a private non-kill animal adoption clinic which had saved hundreds of dogs and cats from being put to sleep at the Inland Valley Humane Society facility. Ultimately, the Prices were prosecuted and convicted and sentenced to jail time for what Fischer saw as their acts of compassion and courage.
Fischer said that Charles Price was an individual of “high moral character” whose military service and volunteer work demonstrated a personal value system that should have been embraced by the community.
Fischer was councilman Peter Rogers’ appointee to the commission. In tendering his resignation,  Fischer sought to vector the community’s attention to the upcoming annual renewal of the city’s contract with the Inland Valley Humane Society in July, and suggested that city residents insist that the council either end its relationship with the society or alter the contract it has with it for animal control services to disallow the euthanizing of animals originating in Chino Hills that are taken in at its shelter.

Board Delays Decision On Appeal Of Rejection Of Helendale Solar Field

The board of supervisors this week delayed until February 25 upholding or overturning the county planning commission’s denial of Sunlight Partners, LLC’s application for a conditional use permit to establish a 7.5 megawatt photovoltaic solar power generating facility on 80.6 acres in Helendale.
On October 17, 2013, the county planning commission conducted a public hearing to consider Sunlight Partner’s application for the conditional use permit pertaining to the project. The planning commission heard testimony from the general manager of the Helendale Community Services District, who expressed concern that the project would impact the adjacent property owned by the district, which is currently used as a park. The district stated impacts to scenic vistas from the park related to dust and blow sand originating from the project site. While the matter was continued until the November 7, 2013 county planning commission meeting, the commission, by a vote of 3-2, directed staff  to prepare findings for denial of the conditional use permit based on the project being inconsistent with the goals and policies of the general plan, which require land use compatibility. County Land Use Services Department staff indeed prepared and presented findings for the denial of the project to the planning commission.
At its November 7, 2013, meeting, only four of the planning commission’s five members were present. In addition to staff’s findings for the denial of the project, the commissioners who were present were provided with the applicant’s revised site plan that incorporated an increased setback from the park property to reduce impacts related to aesthetics and blow sand. The revised site plan showed an increase in setback from the park property to the fence line from 15 feet to 249 feet.
According to Tom Hudson, the director of the Land Use Services Department, “This design change solves an inconsistency in the initial study/mitigated negative declaration related to the minimum distance from the proposed facility to the existing off-site residences. The revised plan was presented to the planning commission for consideration.”
Additional testimony was provided by the Helendale Community Services District reiterating concerns regarding the potential impacts on the adjacent property, including blow sand and impacts to view qualities. The representative of the Helendale Community Services District also stated that she did not agree that the revised site plan presented at the hearing would reduce those impacts.
At the conclusion of the public hearing, the planning commission voted 2-2 on the item with one commissioner not present. By rule, the project was denied for not having the required majority vote for approval.
On November 18, 2013, the applicant filed a timely appeal of the planning commission action to deny the project. The issues raised in the appeal application included making reference to the consideration that the planning commission dismissed staff’s original recommendation to approve the project based on findings that the project complies with the county’s general plan and development code that was supported by analysis contained in the planning commission staff report.
Moreover, according to the appeal, the findings for denial were not supported by evidence, and the denial of the project violated the California Solar Rights Act.
Three months later, in his report to the board of supervisors on Tuesday, Hudson said, “Notwithstanding the outcome at the planning commission, staff is recommending that the appeal be granted and that the project be approved. Staff believes that the revised site plan submitted by the applicant between the October 17, 2013, and November 7, 2013 planning commission meetings mitigated the concerns initially raised by the Helendale Community Services District and the planning commission. The significant increase in project setbacks assuages the concerns expressed as to aesthetics and blow sand. The increase in setbacks also resolves the issue of the minimum distance from the proposed facility to the existing off-site residences. Findings for approval have been provided based upon these revisions.”
In his presentation to the board of supervisors this week, Hudson recommended that the board overturn the planning commission’s denial of project approval in November, be he also made available the proposed findings for denial that were prepared at the direction of the planning commission and which were adopted by virtue of the 2-2 vote.
The board did not vote on the matter on February 11, postponing its decision until February 25.
The proposed project site is situated in an unincorporated county area in the desert. The primary facility access point is proposed on Smithson Road, which runs along the southern project boundary. A secondary access point is proposed on Wild Road along the northern project boundary.
The project is to entail photovoltaic panels mounted on single axis trackers, supported by steel piers driven into the ground to an appropriate depth, as determined by soil conditions. The height of the panels will not exceed nine feet. The trackers will form rows running north and south. The design proposes five concrete pads, approximately 20 feet by 40 feet that would support 500KV inverters and mechanical components. Electricity generated onsite will be delivered to the existing electrical transmission system at the connection point along Smithson Road. The site will be surrounded by an eight foot high chain link fence with a security video monitoring system. The electricity produced by the panels will be sold to Southern California Edison under two long-term power purchase agreements. The first agreement was executed in January 2012 and required power generation by July 2013. An extension has been requested. A second agreement was executed in December 2012 and requires power generation by June 2014.

Top Forensic Pathologist’s Pay Increased

(February 11)  The county board of supervisors this week gave the coroner’s office’s lead forensic pathologist a $6,000 raise to ensure that her pay grade is not exceeded by her lesser-experienced colleagues.
Dr. Chanikarn Changsri has been with the coroner’s division since March 2006. The coroner’s division investigates deaths within its jurisdiction to determine the manner and means of death. In certain instances, forensic pathologists conduct autopsies to provide expert diagnosis as to the cause of death.
One year ago, on February 12, 2013, the board of supervisors updated benefit language and contribution levels for the top tier of employees within the coroner’s division to ensure consistency with all employment groups in the county and included a salary increase to maintain parity with other counties.
On August 6, 2013, the board of supervisors approved Agreement No. 13-671 with Dr. Brian Hutchins to provide services as a forensic pathologist. Dr. Hutchins’ contract included an updated salary schedule starting at $72.12 per hour with 2.5% step advancement to a maximum hourly rate of  $101.90 per hour. Sheriff John McMahon, who also serves as the county’s titular coroner, requested that the board approve “an amendment to Dr. Changsri’s contract to align her salary at the top step of this new pay scale given her nearly eight years of service to the county.”
According to McMahon, “This increase will also enhance the department’s ability to retain this critical position.”
The board approved upping Dr. Changsri’s pay from $98.55 per hour to $101.90 per hour.

CWCapital Sells Montclair Plaza To Los Angeles-Based CIM Group

MONTCLAIR (February 12) —Heavily debt-laden CWCapital has sold Montclair Plaza to Los Angeles-based CIM Group, it was announced on Wednesday.
Since 1969, Montclair Plaza has been one of the largest commercial venues in San Bernardino County, and the sales tax revenue generated there has given Montclair a level of financial clout beyond its relative size. With its 36,664 residents, Montclair is the 16th most populous of San Bernardino County’s 24 cities.
In recent years, the once grand plaza has seen its stature diminish as other large-scale shopping operations such as The Mills in Ontario, Victorian Gardens in Rancho Cucamonga, The Shoppes in Chino Hills and the Tanger Outlets in Lenwood near Barstow have lured shoppers away.
Nevertheless, Montclair Plaza remains viable and its sale to CIM Group is an indicator that the plaza will reach its half-century mark as an ongoing and energetic mercantile concern.
In selling the Plaza, CWCapital, with a reported $2.57 billion in debt, simultaneously sold six other properties.
CIM Group has a reputation for committing to upscale commercial and hospitality properties in urban areas such as the Two California Plaza, a 52-story building in downtown Los Angeles and the Redbury Hotel in Hollywood.

County Yet To Be Visited by Light Brown Apple Moth Devastation

(February 11)  San Bernardino County remains free of the peril represented by the Light Brown Apple Moth, according to county agricultural commissioner John G. Gardner.
The Light Brown Apple Moth, a serious pest impacting grapes, citrus, pome fruits and stone fruits, is a threat to California agriculture and to the economy of California, causing barriers to the export market. Damaging to a broad range of plant species, the Light Brown Apple Moth will take as a host many trees and ornamental species, giving it the potential to cause serious damage to natural areas and urban settings as well as to agricultural crops.
According to Gardner, “The Light Brown Apple Moth was first discovered in the San Francisco Bay Area in the fall of 2006; since then it has been detected in 24 California counties. To date, San Bernardino County has not detected the Light Brown Apple Moth. A Federal Domestic Quarantine Order was established on May 2, 2007 that required, in addition to other actions, additional Light Brown Apple Moth trapping to ensure continued interstate movement of regulated plants and plant products. San Bernardino County has performed Light Brown Apple Moth detection and trapping services on behalf  of the state through annual agreements since July 1, 2007.”
Those traps have been placed on trees and near crops at various locations throughout the county.
Gardner indicated the county would continue to monitor the situation.
“Traps will be placed alongside existing detection trap sites, so no additional personnel or resources will be required to fulfill this agreement,” Gardner said.
The state has agreed to compensate the county in an amount not to exceed $52,491 to reimburse the county department of agriculture for its staffing costs from last October through September of this year, based on the number of trap placements and time spent inspecting/servicing the traps.
By participating in the program, Gardner said, the county is benefiting itself through taking steps to see that “economic value is maintained by ensuring continued interstate movement of regulated plants and plant products. Performing these detection activities to prevent the Light Brown Apple Moth from taking hold in the county and causing damage is far less expensive than remediation costs if a significant presence occurs as a result of delayed detection activities.”

Another Collision On Treacherous Yucca Trail Results In Two Deaths

(February 10) YUCCA VALLEY— A double fatality collision on Yucca Trail on February 6 underscored the extremely dangerous traffic conditions on that road.
The deadly mishap occurred at the corner of Yucca Trail and Warren Vista Avenue at approximately 1:09 p.m., when a red 1984 Ford Bronco driven by 64-year-old Jesse Torres, 64 of Yucca Valley, was broadsided by a westbound black 1997 Jeep Grand Cherokee driven by 23-year-old Brooke Nemeth, of Yucca Valley.
Torres and the passenger in his vehicle, Melissa Torres, 36, also of Yucca Valley, were northbound on Warren Vista and attempting to cross Yucca Trail. Both were killed in the collision and were pronounced dead at the scene.
Nemeth was treated and released at the scene.
According to a witness, the Bronco approached the stop sign at the intersection and was moving slowly into the intersection when it was struck. The accident report contained a statement from Nemeth that she was traveling at the posted speed limit of 50 mph and did not see the Bronco in the intersection.
The Jeep impacted the passenger side of the Bronco with tremendous force, resulting in both vehicles careening northwest through the intersection until they ended their deadly progress in the right shoulder of the westbound lane on Yucca Trail.
San Bernardino County firefighters extricated Jesse Torres from the vehicle but were unable to revive him. Melissa Torres had recently relocated to Yucca Valley from Junction City, KS.
The Major Accident Investigation Team from the Morongo Basin Sheriff’s Station is investigating the collision. Driver impairment from both alcohol and drugs has been ruled out as a factor in the crash.
The accident has renewed public calls a four-way stop sign at the intersection and a reduction of the speed limit along that span of Yucca Trail, where several other serious traffic accidents have occurred.