29 Palms Brings Takata In As Temporary City Manager

(June 17)  TWENTYNINE PALMS—Twenynine Palms has lured Andy Takata. the former Yucca Valley town manager and Banning city manager who is currently serving as the interim city manager in Calexico, to temporarily replace recently fired city manager Joe Guzzetta.
Takata will officially begin as Twentynine Palms interim city manager on June 24, and be paid $100 per hour for his services.
He was offered the position on a unanimous city council vote, four weeks after Joe Guzzetta was terminated on May 13 by a unanimous vote of the council, slightly less than a year after he assumed the city manager position. Guzzetta, the former director of the Joshua Basin Water District,  was provided with a one-year severance package by the city, such that he was essentially paid two years’ salary for one year of work.
Guzzetta replaced Richard Warne, who was likewise terminated by the city council in April 2013 just one month shy of his two-year anniversary with the city. He too was given one year’s worth of pay to depart, so he was in effect paid with three years’ salary for two years of work.
Takata is to relieve finance officer Ron Peck, who has been serving as acting city manager since Guzzetta was fired.
No commitment to Takata was made beyond having him in place as temporary city manager who will work at least 20 hours per week was made, and it is not known whether he will be in the running to compete among those candidates being considered for the full-time city manager’s post. That selection process could take up to six months.
Takata was with Yucca Valley from 2004 to 2010, and Banning from 2010 until February. He has been in Calexico since last month. Two weeks ago, the Calexico City Council voted to extend Takata’s contract as interim city manager there, staking him to a six month contract running until November 30. Reached at Calexico City Hall on June 16, however, Takata told the  Sentinel, “I never signed the contract. I am just on a short term assignment here and I leave Thursday [June 19].”
Takata said he is situated to be able to fill the Twentynine Palms position relatively easily. “I live in Banning and I have a house in Yucca Valley,” he said.
Takata said he will “work forty hours a week until I get up to speed and then probably 20 hours a week after that.”

Series Of Miscommunications, Misunderstandings & Errors Led To Dunn’s Exodus

(June 18)  The events that led to the resignation of Upland City Manager Stephen Dunn were a comedy of errors, miscommunication, misunderstandings and rash acts that were exacerbated by the secrecy surrounding the process in which most or all of the parties involved were unsure of or had no inkling of the actions of the others, the Sentinel has learned.
Though no clear consensus to remove Dunn as city manager ever emerged organically among the city’s five ultimate decision makers, i.e., the city council, events transpired in such a way as to make Dunn’s exodus a fait accompli. There were multiple levels of irony in the string of events, including the consideration that legal requirements which exist as part of the government code intended to protect public employees, together with other restrictions on the open exchange of information or a dialogue between the council members, worked against Dunn’s continued tenure as city manager.
In the end, Dunn’s intemperate reaction to the admittedly awkward and aggravating circumstance he was put in  resulted in three members of the council concluding that his remaining as city manager was no longer tenable.
On May 27, when Mayor Ray Musser announced Dunn’s pending departure at the end of that evening’s city council meeting, a full two weeks after his employment separation agreement was signed and thirteen days after it was approved as to form by city attorney Kimberly Hall Barlow, the story behind what had occurred remained shrouded in mystery. Over the last three weeks, the Sentinel has pieced together the events that led up to and resulted in Dunn’s departure.
Dunn, who in early 2011 was promoted from his position as finance director to serve as first acting and then actual city manager in the wake of the suspension of former city manager Robb Quincey in the wake of fallout from the events preceding the indictment of former Mayor John Pomierski, long enjoyed the support of the city council.
Among his early acts as city manager was the discharging of four of the city’s department heads and the cutting of 25 staff positions at City Hall. That prompted a campaign of anonymous letters sent to the city council, community leaders and the press attacking Dunn on a multitude of issues personal and professional. The council did not accede to the calls, stated both directly and indirectly in the letters, for Dunn’s dismissal. Through more than three years in his function as city manager, the city council had Dunn’s back.
What might be seen as a major turn toward Dunn’s demise as city manager occurred in February when Dunn, who had been working for three years with a salary and benefit package significantly below what was provided to his predecessor Quincey, asked for a raise. The city council, which is struggling with the city’s beleaguered financial condition, deliberated with regard to his request and turned him down.
The following month the council initiated Dunn’s routine annual review. After a first closed session discussion, the review was delayed for two weeks while the council undertook to fill out written forms providing their individual rankings of Dunn’s performance. Dunn’s contract ran through June 2015 and his continuing tenure seemed assured.
Nevertheless, legal prohibitions against the council members communicating with regard to official city business in any forums outside of the public or closed door sessions of the council led to a degree of uncertainty as to the outcome of the review. In particular, councilwoman Debby Stone, who was close to Dunn in part because of their shared membership in the Rotary Club, was Dunn’s greatest champion on the council. The advent of Dunn’s job review, which was routine in nature but followed closely upon his turned-down request for a raise, seems to have been misinterpreted by her as a preparatory move toward terminating him.
In reality, at that point only councilman Glenn Bozar held any significant reservations about Dunn’s management of the city, and he clearly lacked the political muscle, i.e., the accompanying votes, to force Dunn out. Stone, however, because of the spotty communication afforded the council under the rule of law, perceived that Musser and perhaps even Filippi and Brandt might join with Bozar to hand Dunn a pink slip.
Actually, Filippi was solidly behind Dunn, Brandt was philosophically and temperamentally opposed to making any drastic personnel changes at City Hall, and Musser, though smarting from some public criticism leveled at him by the city manager, felt obliged to keep Dunn in place at least until his contract expired some 15 months thereafter. Because of her misgivings about the others’ intentions toward Dunn, however, Stone balked at completing the written evaluation form relating to Dunn, possibly because she believed the delay would forestall any action the council might take toward terminating him.
Ironically, this suspension of the delivery of what would most certainly have been on balance a positive review for another two weeks had the exact opposite effect of what Stone intended. At that point, Dunn appears to have misinterpreted his review having been held in abeyance for nearly a month as, at best, hesitation at or strong differences over giving him a positive review, or at worst, a sign that he was about to be cashiered. Intemperately and ill-advisedly, he issued a memorandum stating he was taking, on his own initiative, a leave of absence.
This caught the council by surprise and Musser interceded to convince him to return to work at once. Nevertheless, the council’s review of his job performance languished, and Dunn at one point cleared his office of his personal effects, sending a signal that he anticipated being fired.
Word of the contretemps between the city manager and the city council at that point wafted beyond the confines of City Hall. Though statements were made for public consumption to the effect that whatever misunderstandings that occurred had been cleared up, that the long delayed job review had been concluded in Dunn’s favor and that Dunn was now back at the city’s helm and coolly in command of municipal operations, a crucial milestone in the Dunn drama had been eclipsed. The council was now faced with negative publicity – negative publicity for the city and negative comments vectored their way by some of Dunn’s supporters.
Despite efforts to make it appear as if City Hall was back to functioning as normal, the tension that existed behind the scenes of power in the City of Gracious Living was palpable.
With his future seemingly hanging in the balance and suspended by the slimmest of threads, Dunn inexplicably escalated the crisis, doubling down and demanding that in order for him to remain as city manager, a member of the city council – thought to be Bozar – would need to resign.
That threw Upland City Hall into full blown crisis mode. Councilman Brendan Brandt, whose previous Sphinx-like support of Dunn had long been the key to Dunn’s continuing viability as city manager, was jolted by Dunn’s histrionics. Yet another corner had been turned, with Brandt having been pushed over the edge. Shortly thereafter, Dunn was overheard demanding that the city council fire him, knowing full well that his resignation would excuse the city from having to fulfill all payments due to him under his contract and that being terminated would trigger the requirement that the city pay him the full $192,768 due him during the final year of that contract. By the second week of May, a consensus among Musser, Brandt and Bozar that the city would best be finished with Dunn had formed. On May 13, a separation agreement had been drawn up and it was signed by both Dunn and Musser.
Dunn, whose primary line of municipal operations expertise is finances, agreed to assist the city in finalizing its 2014-15 budget before departing on June 30.
This week, the council hired Martin Lomeli, the former city manager of La Verne, to serve as interim city manager most likely until November, by which point the city hopes to have hired Dunn’s permanent replacement.
Filippi offered up a wistful post mortem of Dunn’s managerial tenure.
“I supported him from day one,” Filippi said. “We had going on three-and-a-half years of working closely together. We came in almost a month apart. I took the oath as councilman on December 13, 2010 and he was asked to accept a promotion from finance director to the position of acting city manager in January 2011. I have always had positive relations with him and looked to him for guidance. I think he did an excellent job. I did not support his leaving. I do not know, exactly, what he was thinking toward the end there. The road has not been easy for him. He entered [the position of city manager] at a difficult time and so much upset. The mixed signals the council was sending and the actions being taken by three of them and the divisiveness probably created insecurity in Stephen. I’m speculating. I know he was working very hard to lead the city and trying to push through his own recommendations and those of the fiscal task force. I think he grew very frustrated going through delays.”
The end stage was particularly harsh, Filippi said. He said he could not describe what set of events proved to be the final straw. “You would have to ask the three members who wanted him to not continue,” Filippi said. “Three of the council voted to provide him an exit agreement. Obviously, he accepted it and the majority of the council provided it. I can’t tell you what happened in closed session.”
Filippi concurred that a whole series of misunderstandings, miscommunications and mistakes precipitated Dunn’s departure, which Filippi said at this point is irrevocable. “I didn’t want that,” Filippi said. “Stephen’s on his way to retirement. I hope he is satisfied with that. I am now looking toward working with Marty Lomeli.”

Trailing Aguilar By A Mere 209 Votes In 31st District Race, Gooch Seeking Recount

(June 19)  The supporters of 31st Congressional District Candidate Lesli Gooch will pursue a recount after the posting of the certified election count that found her trailing the second place finisher by 209 votes.
Under California’s open primary arrangement, the two top finishers in the June primary election face each other in the November General Election.
Gooch, a Republican, polled  9,033 votes or 16.96 percent. Another Republican, Paul Chabot, was the top vote-getter, with 14,163 votes or 26.6 percent. Pete  Aguilar, a Democrat and the best financed candidate in the seven-candidate field that competed on June 3, captured 9,242 votes or 17.36 percent.
The 31st District leans Democratic, with 42 percent of the district’s voters registered as Democrats and 33 percent registered as Republicans. Despite that, two years ago the seat was captured by Republican Gary Miller, who won after he and another Republican, Bob Dutton, captured the most and second most votes in the primary. They bested four Democrats in that race, including Aguilar, the mayor of Redlands. In this year’s primary race, four Democrats and three Republicans competed.
Gooch, who was a staffer in Miller’s office, was endorsed by him, the Redlands Tea Party Patriots and the San Bernardino County Republican Central Committee. Despite Republican hopes that she and Chabot could capture the two top spots in the race and perpetuate the GOP’s hold on the 31st District despite the Democratic registration advantage, the early unofficial, late unofficial and certified official election results showed her close but yet behind Aguilar.
Gooch was damaged by a vitriolic campaign against her that was waged by Chabot, a ploy which steered the lion’s share of the district’s Republican vote his way but ultimately had the effect of allowing Aguilar to capture second.
Among those indicating the Gooch campaign would seek a recount were Tea Party activist and Gooch supporter John Berry and  Gooch’s campaign manager Jeff Stinson.
An analysis of the results in several of the district’s precincts reflected voting patterns that were at odds with the Gooch campaign’s expectations given the demographic and historic voting patterns there. The recount, which will be paid for by the Gooch campaign, will begin with and concentrate on those suspect precincts. If significant shifting of the counts take place in those precincts, the recount will be widened.
A recount is permitted under state law. Nevertheless, the posted certified results are now considered final and can only be overturned by a certification of different numbers reflecting a different result as a consequence of the recount. That recount will be done manually.
San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters Michael Scarpello and his staff already performed a one percent manual audit of all of the county’s election results, finding that all results were verified.

Secret Survey Questions Elicit Concern Over Push Polling Tactics In Tax Vote

(June 19)  Concern is growing that Upland city officials are using a survey of city residents to maneuver around the provisions of state law aimed at preventing taxpayer money from being used to promote a ballot measure.
To guide it in redressing its financial problems, the city of Upland last fall created a fiscal crisis management task force which cataloged a host of cost savings and revenue enhancement options. One of those options the city is now contemplating is the imposition of a half cent sales tax coupled with an increase in business fees.
To put the city sales tax regime in place, approval of the tax by the city’s voters must take place. City officials favoring the tax hope to place a ballot measure before the city’s voters in November during the general gubernatorial election.
In April, the city council voted to appropriate $75,000 from the city’s general fund reserves  for the dual purposes of engaging  a firm to survey city residents about their support for the potential sales tax and business license tax measures and to engage the services of a public relations firm to assist staff in providing the public with what city manager Stephen Dunn called “accurate and correct information on many of the task force recommendations that will be addressed over the next 12 months.”
The city intends to pay $27,000 for the survey and $48,000 for the public relations campaign. It has been disclosed that there would be no bidding on the contract to lobby the public with regard to passing the half percent sales tax and other city revenue enhancement or cost cutting moves and the contract would be conferred upon the 20/20 Network, a communications firm specializing in media and community relations, branding, strategic planning and crisis management headed by Steve Lambert and Tim Gallagher. Lambert is the former editor of the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, the most widely circulated daily newspaper in Upland.
In early May, Lambert and Gallagher huddled with Dunn for a strategizing session. The precise details of what was discussed are not publicly known, though a central subject was enhancing the prospect that the sales tax initiative will pass.
The firm that will be conducting the resident polling with regard to the sales tax has not been identified. Councilman Glenn Bozar was the sole member of the city council to vote against the $75,000 expenditure in April  because, he said, “I don’t think it is necessary and it is an unwise use of public funds.”  At the June 9 council meeting, Bozar pressed Dunn to provide the council with the language that is to be contained in the survey questions. Dunn turned down Bozar’s request.
Even before Bozar’s request was made there was some level of concern in the community about what direction the city would be going in with the survey and its lobbying campaign. As the task force was undertaking its deliberations late last year, a number of vocal city residents began advocating against any tax increases, asserting that past decisions by the city council have conferred upon city employees salaries and benefits that are too generous and which are leaving the city in the position of having to pay exorbitant  pensions to employees upon retirement. In recent months the ranks of those voicing this concern have grown and they are calling for a renegotiation of the employment contracts with municipal employees to reduce ongoing and future operating costs and pension obligations before residents are called upon to cover those costs in the form of new taxes.
Bozar’s request of Dunn on June 9 appeared aimed at determining whether reports that the survey’s purpose was being suborned to further the public relations campaign relating to having the tax initiative passed were accurate. Ostensibly, the survey is being conducted to determine if city residents would be likely to pass the tax. Placing the measure on the November ballot would cost the city somewhere in the neighborhood of $20,000.  So, before going to that expense, Dunn and the city council wanted to determine whether seeking that approval would be an exercise in futility.  What has been suggested, however, is that the 20/20 Network had a hand in formulating the form of the questions to be asked in the survey, blending into the questions suggestions that would “push”  those responding to the survey toward a preconceived answer, i.e., that they are inclined to support the tax measure.  Poll results to this effect would then be used to persuade the council to not only put the tax measure on the November ballot, but would be used in the public relations campaign to be put on by the 20/20 Network to convince voters to support the measure, some have suggested.
Dunn’s refusal to provide Bozar or his colleagues with the survey language heightened already lingering suspicions that the survey to be carried out would be a “push poll.”
California’s Political Reform Act prohibits public financing of campaigns. In addition, Gov. Code Section 8314 and Penal Code Section 426 prohibit the use of public resources, such as office equipment, staff time, consultants or government-paid contractors or personal for campaign or political purposes.
Government Code Section 54964 prohibits an officer, employee or consultant of a local agency from expending or authorizing the expenditure of any local agency funds to support or oppose a ballot measure or a candidate.
Reached by the Sentinel this week, Dunn said the survey would likely be conducted “beginning next week.”  He said the form of the questions had been set but was awaiting “review by the city attorney.”
Dunn said that upon his authority as city manager none of the members of the city council were being given prior access to the polling questions because he did not want any advance disclosure of the questions that would skew the survey results.  He said he was not going to comply with Bozar’s request to see the poll questions “because we don’t want the council to share them with anyone. We don’t want the question out in the public domain before the survey takes place.”
When the subject of the concern over the questions’ form and that they might contain language exhibiting a favorable disposition toward the proposed tax proposal was broached, Dunn abruptly ended the interview and did not clarify whether the 20/20 Network had any input with regard to the formulation of the survey questions. Nor did Dunn entertain questions about whether the survey was intended to provide a scientific analysis of voter attitude toward the proposed tax or, in the alternative, whether the survey had been designed as a “push poll.”
City attorney Kimberly Hall Barlow was unable to provide any clarification on the language to be used in the survey questions. While she said she was sensitive to the perception that the survey could be used to influence voters with regard to the contemplated tax proposal, she said it was within the purview of city management to withhold the questions to be asked and their precise wording from full public disclosure until the survey is completed.
Pressed about what the city would be driving toward in conducting the survey, Barlow said, “I think what the city council wants is an unbiased survey of its residents.” Barlow acknowledged, however, that members of the council had not been provided with the survey questions to make that determination for themselves.
Queried on whether the city could withstand a legal challenge by a resident or citizens seeking disclosure of the survey wording ahead of the survey being conducted, Barlow indicated the city would be able to do so.
Mayor Ray Musser told the Sentinel this week that it was his understanding the city manager and the firm doing the citizen polling are “not going to let us see them [i.e., the survey questions]. I’m not sure where I am on that.  I don’t want to at this point throw Steve Dunn under the bus. I think it would be wise that we at least know what they are. I guess he is afraid we will influence [the survey results] in some shape or form. I would like to know if it is normally the case that the city council in a city where a survey is being conducted doesn’t get to see the questions beforehand.”
Councilman Gino Filippi, who has given indirect indication that he supports the city sales tax concept, told the Sentinel “I am comfortable with the direction Stephen wants to go. I have not seen the questions but assume I would approve of them. This council has a tendency to micromanage and I don’t endorse that. I trust Stephen Dunn and I trust the level of professionalism of the firm he has selected to do the work. He is the hired executive and he hired a professional team to complete this. I am satisfied with that.”
Councilman Brendan Brandt told the Sentinel, “I think the our [the council’s] function is to direct policy and not micromanage every aspect of the city manager’s job and I have confidence  in Stephen Dunn that he will manage the polling in a fashion so that we get the data we need as a council to decide whether the sales tax issue should go on the ballot. At the end of the day the questions will come out and if they are deemed to be too biased, that will be part of the analysis of whether we have valid data. I don’t want to get into the drafting of the actual questions. I have taken no position as to whether we should put this issue out to a vote.”

New Ownership At Yuciapa’s Best Lumber

(June 9)  Rod and Denise Pugh have purchased Best Lumber of Yucaipa  from former owner Margie Duval.
The new management of the business was commemorated in a a ribbon cutting with the Yucaipa Valley Chamber of Commerce on May 22.
Duval is to serve as a consultant to the Pughs, who currently reside in Rancho Cucamonga, during the next 12 to 18 months.
The first telling change to the store following the ownership transition is the introduction of a product line from Hawkeye Industrial Solutions.
Hours of operation at the store, located at 34789 Yucaipa Blvd., will remain 7:30 a.m. through 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and  from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sunday.

Homemade: Our Prehistoric and Historic Arrowweed Homes

By Ruth Musser-Lopez
June 20, 2014  Believe it or not! As extraordinary as it may seem, our county is the home of a little known and apparently quite sturdy and long-lasting home construction technology that does not require metal or nails and surprisingly involves the use of a native arrowweed for the walls.  The technology is credited to our San Bernardino County local Native Americans, the Pipa Aha Macav (People of the River)—the Mojaves.  Reportedly, in 1910, it was adapted by Euro-Americans, the Tryon Family in Needles, who stretched the technology to the limits, creating a large, long standing, three-story framed, 22 room structure using what appears to be arrowweed rods or wattle for walls, located at the end of “Dead Dog Road” which eventually became one of the busiest intersections in town, River Road and K Street, a block from the bridge crossing over into Arizona.
In our county, along the lower Colorado River where it often forms dense impenetrable thickets, Pluchea sericea, commonly called arrowweed was used by the Mojave for rancheria type home construction long before the arrival of Euro-Americans in the 1700s.
Mojave winter homes were partly subterranean which allowed for natural insulation against the cold of winter.  The walls of the upper portion of the dwelling were built of the rhizomatous evergreen shrub, the arrowweed, harvested from the surrounding riparian shorelines and backflows of the Colorado River. Arrowweed, characteristically straight and strong, was commonly used in prehistoric times for arrow shafts and for thatching the roof of dwellings as well as for wattle or rod-shaped lath in the walls.
The colorfully dressed Mojave women in calico skirts, who sold bead necklaces, decorated clay dolls and vessels at the Needles train depot during the late 1800s and the first half of the 1900s may have returned to traditional homes such as the “wattle and daub” dwelling shown at right made of arrowweed rod wall frames covered over with a clayish river mud and roofed with arrowweed thatch.  These homes were mainly occupied in the winter; partially subterranean, they were naturally insulated and easier to keep warm than the Euro-American Victorian style homes downtown Needles with all of their “gingerbread” trimmings.
The Tryon property has repeatedly changed hands over the years and recently in the past several months, the new owner Needles Mayor Edward Paget has sought information about the property and showed to me the photos of the house being constructed circa 1910 saying that the house is built of arrowweed.
Though tests were not available to prove that arrowweed is actually behind the green plaster walls in the Tryon structure, providing some evidence that arrowweed was used for the wall support framework, the diameter of the horizontal wall rod frame material roughly matches the diameter of the arrowweed used in the various wattle and daub structures shown in the images provided here as well as the diameter of the arrowweed being collected and carried by Mojave women in the historic photo image above.
In the 1970s, Gerald A. Smith of the San Bernardino County Museum worked with Fort Mojave tribal chairman Llewellyn Barrackman in providing an ethnographic documentation of the prehistoric past life ways of the Aha Macav.  He included in his publication, “The Mojaves” numerous photographs of “pole and mud” dwellings taken along the banks of the Colorado River that had been archived at the Museum of American Indian.   Smith called these structures “superior to those made by many of the other tribes of Southern California.”

Smith describes the winter house as this:  “They were rectangular in shape and covered with a sloping roof.  A shed-roofed structure projected from the front of the house to form a portico or covered porch.  Large cottonwood logs were used for the frame and for the horizontal beams of the houses.  Arrow weed was used for the roof thatch, and over this a covering of river mud was added.  Some of the houses were called mud and wattle houses because the walls made of logs and arrow weed, were filled solid with mud from the river sands.  The houses were constructed on sandy soil and were from twenty to thirty feet square.  The roof was very strong, and the Indians spent much time on top of the houses.  There were no windows, and, with the exception of the smoke hole, the door was the only opening.  Most of the fires for cooking were built outside of the houses.  The people spent most of their lives outdoors or in the shade of their ramadas.”
Having different dwellings for winter and summer was not uncommon for the Mojave since seasonal flooding of the Colorado River forced evacuation of the river bottom farm land.  For insulation and warmth, the winter house was made by excavating soil a few feet deep and building a cottonwood pole beam frame with arrowweed wattle and daub walls, and a roof of arrowweed thatch as Smith described above.
The Tryons large three story dwelling is also partially subterranean but apparently they did not take a lesson from the Mojaves and instead built a winter style home on the Colorado River floodplain.  According to a 1981 account published in the Needles Desert Star, when the Medleys owned the property during the period of 1947 through 1951 it was reported that the basement was often unusable due to frequent flooding.  Davis Dam was completed in 1951 creating Lake Mohave and channeling the Colorado River through the Mohave Valley at the east perimeter of Needles, thus controlling the river flow and for the most part eliminating floods.
Smith asserts that several families, ten to thirty individuals, could live together in an arrowweed winter house.  If someone died during the winter in the house, it might be burned down along with the individual’s personal property.  In the summer, people moved to be close to their farm lands on the river bottom where crude sheds were erected to provide protection from the sun while tending the crops.
The “pole and mud” or “wattle and daub” technology using arrowweed was still alive and well at the turn of the 20th century when the “Denair Subdivision” was laid out in Needles where the Tryons purchased their property.
According to the Needles Desert Star account (1981), “The House at the end of Dead Dog Road” was constructed by Claude and Anna Tryon after they purchased a quarter acre in the subdivision from John Warren in 1910.  It took 4 years to complete what was to become “The Desert’s Largest House” with a reported 3,600 square feet and “a total of 22 rooms, including 4 bathrooms, 2 kitchens, 5 bedrooms and 67 windows.”
“The Tryon Family remained the owners until 1947” the account went on to say.  “It was between 1914 and 1947 that the house acquired its notable reputation as a brothel, a gambling room, a speak-easy, and a haunted house.” (We’ll save the details of the haunt for the Halloween edition of the Glimpse).
It is interesting to note that the period of time that the Tryon family owned the home co-occurred with a rather reckless period in the wild west.  The gold mines at Oatman were performing at full blast and Needles was, at the time, a hub of gold mining activity servicing Oatman and was also the center of transportation across the desert and up and down the river.  During the prohibition and the “roaring 20s” Needles became what could be called  “bootlegging central” as well, with whiskey stills and hide outs at surrounding springs.   Evidence of an underground tunnel, now collapsed, has been reported which obscure thoroughfare is said to have once connected the Tryon basement with the business district around the railroad depot and is said to have been used to make unnoticed approaches and quick escapes to and from a reported brothel and whiskey supply.  After World War II, the Tryons apparently moved on, reportedly selling the house and property to the Medley Family.  The property changed hands numerous time over the years that followed.
It is unknown exactly when the plaster was applied to the arrowweed wattle—but sometime before 1963 when a new owner painted it and installed a tin roof.    The structure has had a coat of green paint at least since 1980 when I moved to Needles and it has over the years become locally referred to as “The Big Green House.”
In the early 1980s there was an attempt to commercialize it, and a new owner turned the first floor into a clothing apparel shop, “Clouds of Clothes,” with plans to open a bar and restaurant later.  New windows, floors and woodwork were to have been installed, but the enterprise was short lived.  During the 1980s, new markets were booming on the Arizona side of the river where sales tax isn’t as high, thus out competing markets on the California side.   That pattern has continued even into the present day.
The “Big Green House” property, a block away from historic Route 66, continued to change hands with the latest transaction being a sale by Anthony “Tony” Frazier, a Needles city council member, to the new proud owner, Mayor of Needles, Dr. Edward “Ed” Paget and his wife Jan.  Believe it or not, it may be safe to say that the beloved doctor-mayor, who has been actively looking to develop roadside attractions in Needles along Route 66, now owns what may become the biggest tourist attraction in Needles of all:  “The arrowweed ghost brothel and secret tunnel.”

County Passes $4.8 Billion 2014-15 Budget Amid State Cutbacks & Union Concessions

(June 19)  The board of supervisors on June 17 unanimously adopted a $4.8 billion balanced budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year that begins on July 1.
“The budget is geared toward achieving the Countywide Vision, while reflecting the county’s ongoing struggle to cope with a deep economic downturn and dramatic and continuing increases in pension liabilities,” said county spokesman David Wert.
The coming year’s budget is $165.2 million smaller than the current budget and closes a $21 million gap between projected ongoing revenues and expenses without using reserves to cover ongoing expenses. The gap was fueled primarily by $12 million in federal and state takeaways and the need to come up with $9.7 million to cover the costs of AB 109 state prison realignment.
The budget fills the gap mainly through anticipated concessions from labor union members. Those concessions consisted of union members agreeing to pick up 7 percent of their retirement previously paid by the county, as well as accepting up to a 50 percent reduction in annual promotional increases.
“If for any reason those concessions do not materialize, the only alternative will be to make deep and drastic cuts to other county programs,” Wert said.
County Chief Executive Officer Greg Devereaux described his staff’s effort to bring the Board a responsibly balanced budget as “two steps forward, one and a half steps back.”
At the board of supervisors meeting at which the budget was ratified, Devereaux said, “Our employee groups to date, other than one exception, have all have ceded to that request and have entered into contracts. They helped maintain the services levels in this county from dropping to the point where we thought they would have jeopardized our underlying economy.”
The San Bernardino Public Employees Association, which represents 12,000 county employees, on May 29 tallied its members’ votes with regard to a contract previously submitted to the association by Devereaux. That contract at that point failed to gain ratification. Two days after the board’s vote to approve the budget, five association bargaining units approved Devereaux’s latest contract offer.  One unit, the Professional Unit, rejected the contract.
The association vote came during a period of unrest and agitation by the Service Employees International Union Local 721, which is seeking to decertify the San Bernardino Public Employees Association as the union representing San Bernardino County employees.
Wert said of the budget passed this week, “The economy has improved and revenues are slowly on the rise. However, it will take the county several more years to recover from the recession, which put the county behind in funding infrastructure, pensions, and basic services.”
Wert said the economic downturn forced the county to make 47-percent cuts in non-public safety services such as parks, museums, and Registrar of Voters; get many employees to agree to forgo raises and fund their share of retirement contributions; and eliminate funding for community projects.
Wert said some needs have gone unmet, including jail staffing, adequate law enforcement patrol and Code Enforcement in unincorporated areas, roads and other needed infrastructure, and funding for worn out vehicles and other equipment.
The budget leaves 84 percent of the recently built 1,392 High Desert Detention Center expansion unstaffed and unused.  The county did set aside $11.5 million  for maintaining 222 beds at the jail, while deferring  full staffing at the facility until 2019. The High Desert Detention Center will accept the major brunt of  the impact of the state’s prison realignment, which has rerouted thousands of what would otherwise have been prison-bound inmates into county jails
“Ideally, we would have been staffing that jail today. We need those jail cells today,” Devereaux said.
In addition, there are  $117.1 million in county assets, including vehicles, computers, and machinery that are now beyond their useful life and there is no funding to replace them.
The county did a severe round of belt-tightening, consisting of  a 50 percent cut to all non-public safety general fund departments and elimination of funding for community projects.
The budget manages to build up county reserves, but reserves will only be at 13.8 percent, which is well below the 20 percent mandated by county policy. Healthy reserves are essential to maintain the county’s good credit rating and are necessary to fund large projects and to cover unexpected expenses.
“When we have an earthquake we will need this pot of money available,” Devereaux said.

County Wildlife Corner: Spotted Towhee (Pipilo Maculatus)

By Diane Dragotto Williams

(June 19)  With striking jet-black upperparts and throat, the Spotted Towhee makes a color statement as it inhabits open, shrubby, thick undergrowth in forest edges, and overgrown fields. Normal habitat is dry thickets, brushy tangles, chaparral, canyon bottoms, and even shrubby backyards. Actually a large sparrow with a thick, pointed bill, their flight wings are spotted and striped with brilliant white, and white bellies. Their warm rufous flanks match the dry leaves they spend their time hopping around in leaf litter.  Females have the same pattern, but are warm brown where males are black. In flight, white corners flash on their black tail.  Juveniles are brown with two white wing bars and darker brown streaking on the upperparts and underparts.
Pacific Coast birds deliver a fast or slow trilling song, and a whiny, cat-like mew call that is a slurred nasal “guee”.  In the spring, males climb into the shrub tops, and elevated perches to sing their buzzy songs. Early in the season, males spend their mornings singing their hearts out, trying to attract a mate. Male towhees have been recorded spending 70 to 90 percent of their mornings singing. Almost as soon as they attract a mate, their attention shifts to other things, and they spend only about 5 percent of their time singing.
Spotted Towhees use a two-footed, backwards-scratching hop called “double-scratching” looking for food, then they pounce on anything they’ve uncovered. They also climb into lower branches to search for insects and fruits. During conflicts between two towhees, you may see one bird pick up a piece of twig, bark, or leaf and carry it around as an indication of submission. Disturbed or alarm-calling towhees flick their wings while perched, sometimes flashing the white corners in the tail.  Towhees can fly long distances, but more often make short, slow flights between patches of cover.
In the breeding season, Spotted Towhees eat mainly insects including ground beetles, weevils, ladybugs, darkling beetles, click beetles, wood-boring beetles, crickets, grasshoppers, caterpillars, moths, bees, and wasps. Arthropods such as millipedes, sowbugs, and spiders are also eaten, and even small lizards and snakes. In fall and winter, they eat acorns, berries, and seeds including buckwheat, thistle, raspberry, blackberry, poison oak, sumac, nightshade, chickweed, and crops such as oats, wheat, corn, and cherries.
Solitary or in pairs, small family groups stay together after nesting season.  Eggs are gray-brown or creamy white, with flecks and dots of purple, red-brown or gray. Towhees often choose fairly exposed areas over sites deep inside a thicket, but within these areas they find a clump of grass, a log, or the base of a shrub to conceal their nests against. The female builds the nest beginning with a framework of dry leaves, stems, and bark strips. She lines this with an inner cup of fine, dry materials such as grasses, rootlets, pine needles, and hair. The finished nest is about 4 inches across, with an inner cup of about 2 inches across and about 2 and a half inches deep. Ground nests are built into depressions so that the nest rim is at the soil surface or only slightly above it. But occasionally nests can be built up to 12 feet high in a tree. But the most unusual behavior of this bird is when females divert predators by scurrying from the nest in the manner of a small rodent to distract an intruder!

Wildhaven Ranch is a wildlife sanctuary in Cedar Glen that gives programs to the public by appointments only.  Bears, Bobcat, Coyotes, Deer, Eagles, Falcon, Hawk, Owl and Raccoons are seen “up close and personal” in guided tours.  For reservations, call (909) 337-7389.

29 Palms Fire Department At Crossroads As City Mulls Funding Options

(June 12)  TWENTYNINE PALMS—A consensus that would unite the Twentynine Palms Water District and  Twentynine Palms municipal officials over financially sustaining the fire department or possibly paving the way for a city takeover of its functions continues to elude the community.
Advocates for the department nevertheless remain committed to forging an alliance of local agencies that will allow for the modernization and expansion of the department.
Since 1958, the fire department in 29 Palms has been overseen by the water district. The department grew to include two fire stations and seven firefighters to cover the 55 square miles within the Twentynine Palms City Limits and the 33 square miles of unincorporated county area that also falls under the water district/fire department’s 88-square mile jurisdiction. The city does not contribute to, participate in or subsidize the fire department’s operational budget, which is infused entirely by a special tax on landowners within the fire department’s service area.
For some, the gradual growth of the local population over the decades, the incorporation of the city in 1987 and the continuing fire hazards and need for modernization of the department’s first response medical care capability seemed to be an impetus for the city itself to assume from the Twentynine Palms Water District authority over the fire department.
Over the years, there had been suggestions to that effect, leading to some preliminary discussions, the most serious of which took place in 2007, when the city and the district began earnest discussion of annexing the fire department to the city, and formed what was dubbed the Joint Agency Fire Department Committee to look into the matter. On June 9, 2009, then-city manager Michael Tree told the council that if the transfer were to be made it would be best to do it totally and in one fell swoop rather than in stages. But because of complications with regard to the authority for the special tax that sustains the fire department and the formula for the distribution of tax revenues, as well as the discrepancy between the city limits and the district’s service area, the city elected to forego the takeover.
Efforts to beef up the fire department in a way that was independent of the city were made. In 2012, for example, a ballot initiative, Measure H, was offered to the voters for approval. Measure H would have increased the special tax customers of the Twentynine Palms Water District pay from the current $80 per unit to $120 per unit with an additional $6 per year increase for the next 10 years to provide enhanced fire protection and emergency medical aid to the community. Voters nixed the initiative, with 850 votes of endorsement, or 48.27 percent, and 911 in opposition, or 51.73 percent, during the mail-in balloting concluded on April 17, 2012, in which 1,761 voters, or 32.93 percent of the 5,421 eligible to participate, returned ballots.
Shortly thereafter, the community was given a wakeup call by the county’s Local Agency Formation Commission, which oversees jurisdictional issues throughout the county. In its five-year service review of Twentynine Palms delivered on May 7, 2012 stated that the demands of operating the fire district have for some time been outrunning the water district’s funding ability. The report, authored by Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) executive officer Kathleen Rollings-McDonald, assistant executive officer Samuel Martinez and project manager Michael Tuerpe, said LAFCO’s review of the water district’s financial books “identifies a significant deficiency in funding” such that “the water district’s fire operations are unsustainable as presently financed.”
Rollings-McDonald told the water district’s board members that the district would have to overcome the financial challenges facing the fire department, or cede control of the department to another entity by July 1, 2013. She said the water district could either hand the department’s downtown station over to the city of Twentynine Palms and the Lear Avenue station in the unincorporated county area to the county fire division and thereby surrender the special tax to both of those entities or in the alternative invite the county fire division to expand its sphere of influence and annex the water district’s territory for the purpose of providing fire service, complete with an arrangement to have the county inherit the special tax.
Consequently, the water district board acceded to cooperating with the county for subsuming the fire department. Before that takeover was effectuated, however, San Bernardino County Fire Chief Mark Hartwig made an analysis of likely staffing levels for the department were it to move under his ultimate command. He proposed  reconstituting the seven member Twentynine Palms Fire Department into a four-member force, consisting of one captain and one firefighter/paramedic at Station 421 in downtown Twentynine Palms and two firefighters/paramedics at Station 422 on Lear Avenue, with a total operating budget of $1 million to $1.3 million annually. Hartwig considered several other staffing scenarios, eventually determining that the most likely form the department would take would be one captain and two limited-term firefighters composing one engine company which would operate out of one station, most likely the one in town.
The water district board balked at the concept of not only surrendering local control over the department but seeing it gutted as well. The water board, defying Rollings-McDonald’s direction that the water district give up control over the fire department by July 1, 2013, elected against allowing the county takeover to proceed.
Instead, the water district board directed Thompson to utilize its annual anticipated revenues of $1,241,000 and operate within those fiscal parameters.
In fitting his operations within that paradigm, Thompson last year was forced to shut down the Lear Street station and consolidate all operations to serve the entire 88 square mile district out of the downtown Twentynine Palms Fire Station.
Meanwhile, at Twentynine Palms City Hall, officials proved reluctant to take on any more responsibility than is already the city’s purview. Former city manager Richard Warne resisted calls to have the city commit any of its resources to assist in fire department operations or contemplate expanding the city’s services to included a takeover of the department. In January 2013, Warne gave an unequivocal recommendation against the city taking up the financial burden of operating the fire department, calling the fire department “insolvent,” while warning the city council, “The city cannot take on the fire department’s open-ended responsibilities.”
The city, Warne said, was constrained by the “new reality” of   uncertain and diminishing revenue available to Twentynine Palms and government entities throughout California. Inflation and labor costs were making operation of the fire department too expensive, Warne said, while criticizing Thomposn and the water board for having “no plan to bring expenditures into line with revenues.”
In November 2012, Cora Heiser had been elected to the city council, displacing John Cole, after a campaign in which she repeatedly stated that city participation in the revamping of the fire department was part of her political agenda. Some of her remarks were interpreted to indicate that she was favorably disposed to a municipal takeover of the fire department altogether.
Warne’s January 2013 assessment, however, foreclosed, at least temporarily, further talk of a city takeover of the fire department.
Five months after Heiser was sworn into office and three months after Warne’s castigation of the water district’s financial management of the fire department, the city council in April 2013 dismissed Warne as city manager, a move seen in some quarters as one that opened the way for city involvement in the funding and perhaps operation of the fire department. A full year elapsed however, with no substantive action in that direction. Late this spring, in response to community activism and statements made by the water district’s directors which called into question the city’s continuing reluctance to pitch in with regard to defraying the cost of fire department operations, councilman Jim Harris said the city had not taken up the issue because no specific request for assistance had ever been formally made by the water district.
Harris implied with this statement that the city council would seriously entertain working with the water district to ensure the fire department is provided with adequate means to look after its public safety function.
Water district board members took this as their cue to seek a formal dialogue with the city, i.e., an open public meeting,  where just such an eventuality could be discussed.
The night before the water board’s May 28 meeting, the Twentynine Palms City Council took up the issue of a joint city council/water district public hearing related to fire department operations. Councilman Jay Corbin indicated reluctance to begin any form of public dialogue with the water district until the city is given an exhaustive profile on the water district’s financial condition as pertains to fire department operations. Specifically, Corbin said he wanted to know what economies the water district has imposed upon the fire department since the failure of Measure H in 2012.  Corbin said he wanted the district to outline how it intends to use any money the city would supply to the district. Moreover, Corbin said he wanted to know if the money would be used for covering the department’s current operational shortfalls. If so, he said, he wanted the district to specify how it proposes to make up for continuing shortfalls in future years. Corbin also said he wanted the water district to spell out if the city would have control over fire department spending if city money were made available to the district.
Corbin’s questions were augmented by one from councilman Joel Klink, who wanted to know whether the water district is still collecting the special fire tax from the Desert Heights area even though the fire station is closed.
At issue is the share of the general property tax levy both the city in its 55 square mile jurisdiction and the county in the 33 square mile portion of the water district in which it has jurisdiction receive.  Citizens have been calling upon the city to participate in the financial sustenance of the fire department based upon at least two considerations. One is that the city of Twentynine Palms has the most favorable arrangement of all of the county’s 24 cities for the pass-through of property tax revenue – 26 percent. Property tax pass-throughs vary city to city in San Bernardino County, with some cities receiving as little as 7 percent of the property tax collected. The second issue is the consideration that of the county’s 24 cities, 23 of them, i.e., all except Twentynine Palms, participate directly in some or all of the financing of their respective fire departments’ operations.
Corbin was able to delay the joint meeting between the city council and the water district board that many were anticipating could take place as early as the middle of this month when on May 27 he convinced council members Klink and Heiser to support his motion to postpone the joint meeting until the district provided answers to the questions he and Klink had posed.
Members of the water board took umbrage at the delay, with several expressing what ranged from disappointment to anger to outrage to disgust at the  council’s unwillingness to initiate what they consider a long overdue dialogue between the city and  the water district.
While Harris and Mayor Daniel Mintz were amenable to facilitating a joint meeting, some members of the community were taken aback by Heiser having sided with Corbin and Klink in insisting upon preset conditions for the powwow.
Two weeks later in a free-ranging conversation with the Sentinel, fire chief Jim Thompson struck a diplomatic tone in assessing the viability of the city and district coming together to advance the effectiveness of the agency he heads and ensure its future viability.
“I believe this meeting will eventually happen,” he said. “I think it’s just going to take a couple more weeks. Obviously, the water board directors are willing to sit down in a joint meeting. It is getting the council to agree to that sit down that is required. Both sides represent the same citizens, so there is a common interest there.”
Thompson indicated part of the reluctance on the city’s part logically derives from the consideration that the water district/fire department service boundaries are not coterminous with the Twentynine Palms city limits. He acknowledged that city officials had a legitimate concern about preventing city money from being utilized in that part of the district beyond the city limits. He hinted that once the dialogue begins, efforts to get the county to make a similar contribution as the city to the fire department’s operations could be undertaken as well.
The department boasts two fire stations, its headquarters, Station 421 located at 6560 Adobe Road  in the city, and Station 422, located at 3834 Lear Ave. in the unincorporated county community of Desert Heights.
Previously, the each station was staffed 24-hours a day by a three-person engine company consisting of a paid company officer and two volunteer reserve firefighters. Last year, the Lear station was shuttered and now all fire department operations are run out of the Adobe station. The professional personnel in the department are now limited to Thompson, captain Matt Helmkamp, captain Robert Marquez, engineer Tim Cole, and engineer Lee Martin. The district also has a single person clerical staff position that has been vacant through attrition since March 2013. These are augmented by 28 reserve/volunteer firefighters, all of whom have attended a fire academy. Four of those are local volunteers. The others are aspiring firefighters from more distant areas in San Bernardino County, or Los Angeles, Orange or Riverside counties. Each serves a one-day 24 hour shift per week in Twentynine Palms. The 24 who do not reside in or near Twentynine Palms return to their distant abodes upon the conclusion of their shifts. Thompson said the assistance being sought from the city of Twentynine Palms would be utilized only within the city and for operations relating to fire protection and emergency medical response within the 55 square mile confines of Twentynine Palms.
“We won’t be opening the Desert Heights station until we get the ballot measure passed and increase the fire tax,” he said. “What we want is to get together with the city and at least start a conversation about fire protection. The Adobe fire station was built 44 years ago and the living quarters  has not been upgraded. Legally, the water district has responsibility for the fire department. Legally, the city is not responsible for maintaining the fire department. But cities have an ethical and moral responsibility to ensure public safety. In the case of Twentynine Palms, it is a confirmed fact that you have a city that is getting a higher percentage of the general tax levy than any other city in the county. It is also the only city in the county where none of that general tax levy or any city general funds go to fire protection. To be fair, in the county area, Desert Heights, no portion of the general tax levy goes toward fire department operations either. The county receives a good percentage of that tax levy. So there is an issue there where the city rightfully would want to make sure the county is included in this discussion. We would like that, too.”
Thompson continued, “When you put all those financials together, you have to ask, ‘Why did this occur? How is it that they could just shortchange the fire department this way?’ I think the likely answer is this was an unintended consequence of Proposition 13. At this point everyone is reluctant to take on something that happened in 1978, but the way I look at it is, why not try to fix that problem now so we’re not dealing with it for the next 30 plus years.”
Looking down the road, Thompson said making a case to those living within the district that the public safety program the fire department provides merits augmentation through an assessment regime will be a linchpin in ensuring the fire department’s viability. He said that in “two to three years” the department will need to replace its quick attack 250 gallon tank primary response vehicle and in “five to seven years it is going to be time to look at another engine if we don’t want to get too behind the curve on our replacement cycle. Today we don’t have money to put into an apparatus reserve.”
He bristled at the suggestion that the fire department was being profligate with the funding entrusted to it. “Show me another fire department in California that has 24-hour daily staffing of five  that runs on $1.2 million a year,” he said. “That isn’t payroll. That is payroll and operations, electricity, equipment, fuel, all costs.”
The Sentinel has learned that water district president Sam Moore is lobbying Mayor Daniel Mintz to use his influence with the council to convince it to expedite the aforementioned joint meeting and resurrect the Joint Agency Fire Department Committee.